Category Archives: Salvation

What Is the Meaning of Peter’s Exclusive Claim in Acts 4:12? – #9 Post of 2017

In Acts 4:12, the apostle Peter boldly tells the Jewish Supreme Court about the name of Jesus Christ, “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” We moderns are offended by exclusive religious claims because we’re confident that nobody has the truth about spiritual matters. So what do we make of Peter’s statement? Was he just speaking to the people of his time and place?

Darrell Bock, in The Gospels and Acts (The Holman Apologetics Commentary on the Bible), tackles the issue of Peter’s intentions:

Since Peter, just like anyone else among the early Christians, could not have known the sheer size of Earth or the number of its people groups and how long it would take to reach the whole world with the gospel, it has been suggested that ‘under heaven’ ought not to be taken to mean that Jesus is the only way people can be saved. Might it just be that Jesus is the only means of salvation among the Jews and the people groups his ministry touched?

Witherington (1998, 194) correctly observes, ‘Peter is no advocate of modern notions of religious pluralism’ (also John 14: 6; 1 Tim 2: 5; Heb 2: 3). The consistent message throughout the NT is that Jesus is the only Savior for humanity. Human ignorance about the size of Earth’s landmass and human population has no bearing on the central facts of humanity’s need for redemption and the one means of redemption that is provided. Of course the exclusiveness claim offends many readers, and they seek to avoid it by noting the primitive geographical understanding of biblical times. Two considerations speak against such an argument.

First, the Roman Empire was like a sponge when it came to religion. Romans accepted all kinds of gods and religious ideas that came from the far corners of their vast empire. A trip to Caesarea Philippi, a locale where Jesus did some of his ministry, shows the presence and awareness of many of these gods. So Peter and the other apostles were well aware of the plurality of religions, and they understood that many of these originated in faraway places they would never visit. They preached the exclusivity of Christ within the context of the religious melting pot that was the Roman Empire, and so the fact that there were other world religions about which they were ignorant does not mitigate their claims about the exclusivity of Christ.

Second, and more importantly, the claim was that Jesus meets an internal need all people everywhere have. Their claim was not that other people did not seek to be pious; they knew that virtually all people are religious. Their claim was instead that Jesus alone can remedy what is wrong with us. The disciples were so committed to this idea and its exclusiveness that they devoted themselves to getting the word out as far and wide as they could. The claim of there being no other such saving name under heaven indicates how comprehensive a solution Jesus is in the apostle’s view.

Bock, in , addresses the fear that people today have of exclusive religious claims:

There is an exclusiveness to Jesus’s work that is not popular today. It is seen in our culture as a blow against religious diversity as well as the cause of great religious and political strife throughout history, especially in European history up to the Enlightenment. But a key point is often missed. It is when religion is imposed that it does damage. Here we see apostles making an appeal and leaving the decision and consequences to individual response. There is no effort to impose the faith, only to inform about it and to stress the responsibility every creature ultimately has to be responsive to the living God.

In addition, the offer of Jesus is made to all without discrimination. Thus the exclusiveness of the benefit is directly related to one’s willingness or unwillingness to be connected to the benefits. The church’s call is to be loyal to God in sharing the message and doing so in such a way that its impact on believers’ lives is evident. The call is not to impose the gospel on others. Some will not welcome such a testimony. They are left to go their own way with its tragic consequences. To others, however, the gospel will supply the sweet savor of real life and will open new vistas to how one can live and have fellowship with God.

#5 Post of 2014 – How Were People Who Lived Before Jesus Saved?

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

We know that today the contents of the gospel involve the deity, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. But what about people who lived before him?

Theologian Norm Geisler explains:

It seems that there are at least four sine qua non explicit soteriological beliefs (or “elements of saving faith”) for all times:

(1) God exists.
(2) We cannot save ourselves from our sinfulness.
(3) God’s grace is necessary for our salvation.
(4) We must believe in God and in His grace to receive salvation.

All of these are found in one crucial text: “Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Heb. 11:6).

The first, third, and fourth qualifiers are stated—(1) God exists, and (3) He graciously rescues those who (4) seek Him by faith—and the second is implied, i.e., (2) we sense the need to come to Him in faith and ask for His help, recognizing that we cannot overcome sin on our own. Without these aspects of faith (belief), it seems impossible for anyone, at any time, to be saved. This is the “universal plan of salvation.”

So what is this universal plan of salvation? How is it that Old Testament and New Testament believers both believed the same gospel?

While God’s stated content of salvation differed for Abraham and Paul, the same basic message was preached to both. Paul says there is only one gospel (Gal. 1:8), but he quickly clarifies that Abraham believed this one gospel (Gal. 3:8). The content as revealed to Abraham was,

[God] took him outside and said, “Look up at the heavens and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness. (Gen. 15:5–6)

Geisler continues:

This act of faith is used in the New Testament as an example of how we receive justification before God (cf. Rom. 4:3). When Paul spelled out the contents of this same gospel (cf. Gal. 1:8), he included far more revelation; namely, explicit belief in the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ for our sins (cf. 1 Cor. 15:1–6).

The gospel itself did not change; however, required salvific belief regarding the content of that gospel did change. Even if it could be argued from certain verses (e.g., John 8:56; Gal. 3:16) that Abraham somehow foresaw the Messiah someday coming as his Seed, it would still not be demonstrated that all believers in the Old Testament era had to know and believe the gospel as later (more fully) revealed in order to be saved. There is no evidence that every saved person from that time comprehended and embraced this, nor did any of them know that Jesus of Nazareth was the foretold Promised One.

In summary, every person who has ever been reconciled to God has believed that God exists, has recognized that her sins have separated her from God, that only God can save her, and thrown herself on the grace of God to be saved.

#8 Post of 2014 – What Does “Inherit the Kingdom” Mean in 1 Cor 6:9-10?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Duck Dynasty patriarch Phil Robertson recently cited 1 Cor 6:9-10 when asked about sin in a GQ article. Here is the passage:

Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. (NIV)

What everyone has been focused on is the fact that “homosexual offenders” is included in this passage. The apostle Paul is clearly giving a list of vices that should be avoided, with homosexual behavior included in the list.

But what hasn’t been discussed, at least not that I’ve seen, is what “inherit the kingdom of God” means. This phrase appears twice in these two verses, and clearly Paul is claiming that not inheriting the kingdom of God is a bad thing.

Some Christians will argue that this phrase refers to entrance into heaven, and that it is targeted at non-Christians who are not saved, but I think this is wrong. We know that a thief did go to heaven – the thief on the cross. In addition, common sense tells us that many people who have truly professed faith in Christ have subsequently been drunk, or slandered, or stolen. Right? So it follows that true Christians have also committed the rest of the sins in Paul’s list.

If “inherit the kingdom” doesn’t mean enter into heaven, then what does it mean? Theologian Joseph Dillow provides the answer in his book The Reign of the Servant Kings. Listen to what he says.

[Paul] is not warning non-Christians that they will not inherit the kingdom; he is warning Christians, those who do wrong and do it to their brothers. It is pointless to argue that true Christians could never be characterized by the things in this list when Paul connects the true Christians of v. 8 with the individuals in v. 9.

It is even more futile to argue this way when the entire context of 1 Corinthians describes activities of true Christians which parallel nearly every item in vv. 9-10. They were involved in sexual immorality (6:15); covetousness (probable motive in lawsuits, 6:1); drunkenness (1 Cor. 11:21); dishonoring the Lord’s table (1 Cor. 11:30–for this reason some of them experienced the sin unto death); adultery (5:1); and they were arrogant (4:18; 5:6).

Yet this group of people that acts unrighteously, . . . and that is guilty of all these things has been washed, sanctified, and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 6:11)! They were washed and saved from all those things, and yet they are still doing them. That is the terrible inconsistency which grieves the apostle through all sixteen chapters of this book.

His burden in 6:9-10 is not to call into question their salvation (he specifically says they are saved in v. 11) but to warn them that, if they do not change their behavior, they will, like Esau, forfeit their inheritance. As Kendall put it, “It was not salvation, then, but their inheritance in the kingdom of God these Christians were in danger of forfeiting.”

This, of course, does not mean that a person who commits one of these sins will not enter heaven. It does mean that, if he commits such a sin and persists in it without confessing and receiving cleansing (1 Jn. 1:9), he will lose his right to rule with Christ. Those walking in such a state, without their sin confessed, face eternal consequences if their Lord should suddenly appear and find them unprepared. They will truly be ashamed “before Him at His coming” (1 Jn. 2:28).

According to Dillow, then, “inherit the kingdom” in the context of 1 Cor 6 is referring to rewards in heaven, not entrance into heaven. The Christian who persists in committing the sins enumerated by Paul will lose her rewards in heaven.

This is no small threat. Christians face losing a seat at the wedding feast, forfeiting their reign with Christ, and not hearing “Well done, good and faithful servant” at the judgment seat. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to give up any of those things.

#10 Post of 2014 – Is Christian Salvation Unjust or Unfair?

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

Many non-Christians have accused the Christian God of being unjust or unfair because he asks that they recognize their sinfulness before the Creator-God, recognize their need for forgiveness, and then place their trust in Jesus Christ and his atoning death. They argue that this is just too narrow, too exclusive. God, the argument goes, is simply unjust and unfair.

But if we look at the biblical data, we see that regardless of how exactly God determines who will spend eternity with him, his selection is eminently just and fair.

First, we know God is loving and merciful. See this blog post on God’s love in the Old Testament and this post on God’s mercy in the Old Testament. There are several more passages that can be highlighted:

“The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love. The Lord is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made” (Ps. 145:8-9).

“But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt 5:44-48).

“But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy” (Titus 3:4).

“This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:10).

Second, we know that God is just and morally perfect. See this post on God’s moral perfection in the Old Testament. But also consider these passages:

“Shall not the God of all the earth do right?” (Gen 18:25)

“He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples with equity” (Ps 98:9).

“The Lord within her is righteous; he does no wrong. Morning by morning he dispenses his justice, and every new day he does not fail” (Zeph. 3:5).

 “For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed” (Acts 17:31).

“God will give to each person according to what he has done” (Rom. 2:6).

Time and again the Bible reassures us that God will deal lovingly, mercifully, and justly with all of humanity. As Glenn Miller notes in his excellent article, “Notice, that there will be NO excuse of ‘not fair’ with God’s judgment…no one will argue that their situation is Unfair!” When we all stand before God, not one of us will dare to accuse God of unfairness or injustice.

“Inherit the Kingdom”: What Does that Mean?

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

The phrases “inherit the kingdom,” “inherit the earth,” and “inherit the land” occur several times in the New Testament (NT). Many readers assume that these phrases are referring to entrance into heaven. Theologian Joseph Dillow, in his book The Reign of the Servant Kings: A Study of Eternal Security and the Final Destiny of Man, argues that this is a mistake.

Speaking of the phrase “inherit the kingdom,” Dillow writes:

We find the phrase in Mt. 25:34; 1 Cor. 6:9-10; 15:50; Gal. 5:21; and Eph. 5:5. In addition, the phrase “inherit the land” is found in Mt. 5:5. In each instance we find that, in order to inherit the kingdom, there must be some work done or certain character traits, such as immorality, must be absent from our lives.

The fact that such conditions are necessary suggests that the term is not to be equated with entering the kingdom which is available to all, freely, on the basis of faith alone but with something in addition to entering. Indeed, the very use of the word “inherit” instead of “enter” in these passages suggests that more than just entrance is meant.

Let’s take each of these passages and see what is being discussed in context with inheriting the kingdom.

Matthew 25:34-36 – The clear conditions for inheriting the kingdom are caring for others by feeding, clothing, and visiting them in prison.

1 Corinthians 6:9-10 – The clear conditions for not inheriting the kingdom of God is having the following character traits: immorality, idolatry, adultery, prostitution, homosexuality, thievery, greed, drunkenness, or being a swindler.

1 Corinthians 15:50 – The kingdom is inherited by those with resurrection bodies.

Galatians 5:19-21 – The conditions for not inheriting the kingdom of God is engaging in the following acts: “sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.”

Ephesians 5:5 – The conditions for not inheriting the kingdom of God is being an “immoral, impure or greedy person.”

Matthew 5:5 – The meek will inherit the earth.

So, inheriting the kingdom and inheriting the land, at least in these verses, cannot refer to entrance into heaven. If that was the meaning, then we would have a massive conflict with the clear teaching that entrance into heaven is by faith alone. Dillow offers an alternative meaning which makes much better sense of all these verses we just examined.

In conclusion, “to inherit the kingdom” is a virtual synonym for rulership in the kingdom and not entrance into it. George N. H. Peters is correct when he says, “To inherit a Kingdom, if it has any propriety of meaning, undoubtedly denotes the reception of kingly authority or rulership in the Kingdom.” All saints will enter the kingdom through faith alone (Jn. 3:3), but only obedient saints who endure, who overcome, and who perform works of righteousness (e.g., ministering to Christ’s brethren) will inherit it, i.e., rule there.

“Inherit the kingdom” is referring to rewards in heaven, not entrance into heaven.

What Does the Old Testament Teach about the Inheritance of the Saints?

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

As we’ve discussed before on the blog, there are two kinds of inheritance for Christians: 1) entrance into heaven and 2) reigning (rewards) in heaven. Many evangelicals mistakenly interpret all New Testament (NT) passages about the believer’s inheritance as referring to entrance into heaven, when this is clearly not the case (see this post and this post).

Theologian Joseph Dillow, in his magnificent book The Reign of the Servant Kings: A Study of Eternal Security and the Final Destiny of Man, explains that the concept of two kinds of inheritance originates in the Old Testament (OT), in particular with the Israelites’ Exodus from Egypt and eventual entrance and possession of Canaan. The NT writers had ancient Israel in mind when they spoke of the inheritance of NT believers.

Dillow lays out several principles about inheritance that can be taken from the OT:

1. There is a difference between inheriting the land of Canaan and living there. The former refers to ownership and the latter to mere residence.

2. While Israel was promised the inheritance as a nation, the condition for maintaining their inheritance right to the land of Canaan was faith, obedience, and completion of one’s task. The promise, while national, was only applied to the believing remnant within the nation. Even though many within the nation were not born again, the New Testament writers use the nation as an example (1 Cor. 10:6, Gk. typos) of the experience of the born-again people of God in the New Testament.

3. The inheritance is not to be equated with heaven but with something additional to heaven, promised to those believers who faithfully obey the Lord.

4. Just as Old Testament believers forfeited their earthly inheritance through disobedience, we can also forfeit our future reward (inheritance) by a similar failure. Loss of inheritance, however, does not mean loss of salvation.

5. Two kinds of inheritance were enjoyed in the Old Testament. All Israelites who had believed and were therefore regenerate had God as their inheritance but not all inherited the land. This paves the way for the notion that the New Testament may also teach two inheritances. We are all heirs of God, but we are not all joint-heirs with Christ, unless we persevere to the end of life. The former refers to our salvation and the latter to our reward.

6. A child of Israel was both an heir of God and an heir of Canaan by virtue of belief in God and resulting regeneration. Yet only those believers in Israel who were faithful would maintain their status as firstborn sons who would actually receive what had been promised to them as an inheritance.

Dillow then connects these conclusions to the NT:

The relevance of these conclusions to the doctrine of the saints’ perseverance [in the NT] is obvious. First, if this is in fact the Old Testament view, it surely must have informed the thinking of the New Testament writers. If that is so, then many passages, which have been considered as descriptions of the elect, are in fact conditions of obtaining a reward in heaven.

For example, Paul warns the Corinthians, “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God?” If “inheriting the kingdom” means “going to heaven,” then Paul is saying no wicked person can go to heaven. Such an interpretation would be consistent with the [Calvinist] system which says that the permanently carnal Christian is a fiction.

If, on the other hand, “to inherit the kingdom” refers not to entering heaven but to possessing and ruling in the kingdom as it does in the Old Testament, then an entirely different interpretation of the passage emerges. Instead of warning merely professing Christians that they may not be Christians at all, he is telling true Christians that, if they do not change their behavior, they may be in the kingdom, but they will not rule there.

Were the NT writers concerned with people getting into heaven by expressing trust in Jesus Christ? Obviously. That is the gospel message in its simplest form. But, they were also extremely concerned about what a person who has placed his trust in Christ does with the rest of his life. How you, as a believer in Christ, conduct your life determines your rewards in heaven.

There is no point in winning the lottery if you do nothing with the money after you win. Likewise, the person who places their trust in Christ, but then fails to follow Christ for the rest of their life, is like the lottery winner who receives the check in the mail and then sticks it under the mattress.

Is Salvation Temporally and Geographically Limited?

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

A common and unfortunate misconception about Christianity is that only a temporally and geographically limited group of people will be saved. The gospel message started out in ancient Palestine, spread throughout the Roman empire over the next several hundred years, continued to spread throughout what is now modern Europe and north Africa, spread to the Americas in the 15th century, and then was brought to the rest of Africa and Asia in subsequent centuries.

Here is the problem. What about all the people who never heard the gospel over the last 2000 years solely because it took centuries for the message to be carried throughout the world (there are still many places today that have not been reached). For example, the gospel wasn’t brought to the Americas until after the 15th century, so what happened to all the native Americans who lived before the 15th century?

The Bible speaks to this issue pretty directly, but many people miss it.

First, take a look at Rev 5:9:

And they sang a new song: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.”

Notice what this is saying. At least some people from every people group will be saved! This statement seems to be inclusive of all times and geographies.  

Second, take a look at Rev 7:9:

After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.

So it’s not just a few people from each tribe and nation, but a “great multitude that no one could count.” Again, it seems clear that a very large number of people composed of every people group that has ever lived will be saved.

Third, Jesus (a Jew) indicates that many non-Jews will be in heaven. Look at Matt 8:10-11 and Matt 24:31:

When Jesus heard this, he was astonished and said to those following him, “I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. (Matt 8:10-11).

And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other. (Matt 24.31)

Biblical scholar Glenn Miller comments: “Notice that Jesus uses the phrases ‘many'(!) and ‘east and the west’ (a general idiom for ‘from all over the world’).”

What are we to make of these verses? Well, it seems that the idea that salvation is temporally and geographically limited is wrong. God has reached and will continue to reach people from every nation, tribe and language.

What Is the Purpose of the Tests in 1 John? Part 2

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

In part 1 we saw that the tests in 1 John cannot be about justification, about being born again. Joseph Dillow, in his book The Reign of the Servant Kings, explains what he believes the purpose of John’s letter is, and therefore the purpose of the tests.

Where is John’s purpose to be found?

It is found where one would often find a purpose statement in a book or letter, in the opening paragraph (1 Jn. 1:3):

“What we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, that you may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ (NASB).”

His purpose in writing to these regenerate people is so that they may walk in fellowship with God! As Braune puts it, “The manifest purpose of the Apostle [is] to preserve his readers in the fellowship with God.”

He is not writing to test their salvation; he is writing so that his “joy may be made complete” (1 Jn. 1:4). His joy was present; it had “begun” because they had been born again. But he wants to complete this joy by seeing them walk in fellowship. The completion of his joy does not refer to his desire to obtain assurance that they are really saved, but as the apostle himself explains, “I have no greater joy than this, to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” He wants to rejoice that his saved children are walking in the truth!

Dillow reminds us what Jesus told his disciples:

Jesus used the term in the same way when He addressed His regenerate disciples: “If you love Me, keep My commandments. . . . These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full” (Jn. 15:11-12). To have one’s joy “made full” is not to become a Christian but, being a Christian already, to act like it!

What hasn’t been mentioned so far, but is covered extensively in Dillow’s book, is the fact that John is also writing this letter to counter Gnostic teachings that have influenced his readers. Gnostic teaching is not putting believers in danger of losing their salvation, but it is putting their fellowship with Christ in danger. In other words, their justification is not the issue, but their sanctification.

Dillow concludes:

How can [John] know they are walking in the truth, and how can they know it in the face of the confusion introduced into their midst by the Gnostics? The Gnostics were maintaining that a child of God could have sin in his life and still be in fellowship, abiding in Christ! The remaining portions of [1 John] . . . present several tests of whether or not a Christian is walking in fellowship with God, tests by which the falsity of the Gnostic teaching could be discerned. They are not tests of whether or not these born-again children are really Christians.

What Is the Purpose of the Tests in 1 John? Part 1

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

In the previous blog post we argued from Joseph Dillow’s book, The Reign of the Servant Kings, that John’s intended audience in 1 John are true Christian believers who have been born again and regenerated by the Holy Spirit. If this is the case, then how are we to interpret all of the tests John gives his readers in the epistle?

Dillow explains that some theologians misunderstand the purpose of the letter.

It is common to seek the purpose of John’s epistle in his closing words: “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, in order that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 Jn. 5:13 NKJV).

According to the [strong Calvinist] interpretation, then, John writes to give believers several tests by which they can reflect upon whether or not they are saved. If they pass these tests, then they are truly saved. However, such a view of the purpose of the epistle depends entirely on the interpretation of the tests.

Are these tests of life, tests of whether or not one is born again, or tests of whether or not one is walking in fellowship with God? One cannot assume the former, which is the very point in question, and then use that to determine the meaning of the purpose clause. To do so is to argue in a circle. In a word, are they tests of regenerate life, or are they tests of abundant life?

The above verse is written to those “who believe,” that is, to regenerate people. How do born-again people acquire assurance that they are born again? It is not by reflecting on their works. Rather, as the immediate antecedent to “these things” says, “the one who believes in the Son of God has the witness in himself” (1 Jn. 5:10). He who believes has the Son, and “he who has the Son has the life” (5:12).

Although works can be a method of assessing one’s sanctification (process of becoming more Christ-like), the method for assessing your justification (regeneration by the Holy Spirit and adoption by God so that you can enter heaven) is to simply assess whether you are right now placing your trust in Christ alone for your salvation. You either are or you aren’t. Christ is the sole object of our salvation and our assurance. There is no need to wonder about whether you are being good enough or whether your works are sufficient to prove that you have been justified.

To argue that the tests of 1 John are there to help a person assess their justification is simply missing the boat. Our justification is about our belief, our faith, our trust in Christ for who he is and what he has done.

But if the tests in 1 John are not about our justification, then what are they about? The answer in part 2.

Do Christians Work for Their Inheritance? Part 2

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

The New Testament (NT) writers often speak of believers gaining or losing a future inheritance from God. In many cases, the inheritance is gained or lost because of the works of the believer. Since we are clearly taught elsewhere in the NT that gaining entrance into heaven is only by faith, then what are we to make of acquiring or losing an inheritance from God by works of good or evil?

In part 1, we started looking at theologian Joseph Dillow’s answer to this question from his book The Reign of the Servant Kings: A Study of Eternal Security and the Final Destiny of Man. How do we interpret the many passages in the NT that speak of Christian believers gaining or losing an inheritance from God based on meritorious works?

Dillow first reminds us of the existence of carnal Christians, Christians who have turned their back on Christ and his teachings.

It is plain that the New Testament not only teaches the existence of the carnal Christian but of true Christians who persisted in their carnality up to the point of physical death (see Acts 5:1-10; 1 Cor. 5:5; 3:15; 11:30; Heb. 10:29; 1 Jn. 5:16-17). They will, having been justified, be in the kingdom; however, they will not inherit it (see Gal. 5:21; Eph. 5:5; 1 Cor. 6:9).

Inherit what?

Vine points out that the term [inherit] is often used of “that which is received on the condition of obedience to certain precepts (1 Pet. 3:9), and of faithfulness to God amidst opposition (Rev. 21:7).” Only the obedient and faithful inherit, not all who are saved. It is a “reward in the coming age” and “reward of the condition of soul which forbears retaliation and self-vindication, and expresses itself in gentleness of behaviour.” Vine points out that it is “the reward of those who have shown kindness to the ‘brethren’ of the Lord in their distress.”

The Sermon on the Mount illustrates the concept of merited rewards.

The Savior says, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit [kleronomeo] the earth” (Mt. 5:5). The subject matter is our reward in heaven: “Rejoice and be glad because great is your reward [misthos] in heaven” (Mt. 5:12). The idea of rewards is repeatedly emphasized in the Sermon, which is addressed primarily to the disciples (5:1).

The word misthos basically means a “payment for work done.” Jesus is speaking of the inheritance here as a reward for a humble, trusting life. There is no indication that all Christians have this quality of life. In fact, it is possible for a Christian to become “saltless” (Mt. 5:13) and be “thrown out.” True Christians can lose their saltiness, their testimony for the Lord. When they do, they forfeit their reward in heaven. Furthermore, He specifically says that the disobedient believer who annuls “one of the least of these commandments” will be in the kingdom (Mt. 5:19) but will be “least” in contrast to “great” in that kingdom.

It seems that there are two kinds of inheritance: entrance into heaven and rewards in heaven. The first inheritance cannot be forfeited, but the second can. Most of the time in the NT, when inheritance is mentioned, rewards in heaven are the subject. Dillow explains:

While entering the kingdom has often been equated with inheriting the kingdom, there is no semantic or exegetical basis for the equality. Even in English we acknowledge a distinction between entering and inheriting. A tenant, for example, may live on or enter a landowner’s great estate, but he does not own or inherit it. . . .

[T]here is no reason to assume that entering the kingdom and living there is the same thing as owning it and ruling in it. The heirs of the kingdom are its owners and rulers and not just its residents. Kendall agrees, “In other words, salvation is unchangeable but our inheritance in the kingdom of God is not unchangeable. Once saved, always saved, but our inheritance in God’s kingdom may change considerably.”

Here is the bottom line: whenever the writers of the NT are talking about a future inheritance to be gained or lost based on the works and character qualities of the Christian believer, the subject is rewards in heaven, not entrance into heaven. If you remember this simple rule, a number of difficult passages will become clear to you. As a born-again believer, your entrance into heaven is secure, but your rewards are not.