What the Bible actually says about apostasy: Romans and the Salvation of the Mature

by Jay Guin

The conservative Churches of Christ often start with the assumption that the rules dramatically change after salvation. They assume the standard gets tougher, that God holds us to an ever-higher standard. And in the sense that God wants us to grow and mature, that’s true. But does the salvation bar rise ever higher? Is God less gracious to the saved than to the convert? Let’s see what Paul says to that very question —

Romans 5:8-10

(Rom. 5:8-10a) But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. … 10 For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son … .

In these verses, Paul is talking about our justification — our pardon. He points out the amazing fact that God forgave us while we were still sinners and God’s enemies. We forget that we were not yet God’s children and not yet part of his church when he first forgave us. Rather, he forgave us so that we could become his children and a part of his Kingdom.

Paul then teaches a most extraordinary lesson —

(Rom 5:9-10) Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! 10 For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!

We are now much more saved than when we were first baptized! It’s so important, Paul says it twice!

Take a moment to let this thought wash over you. Savor it. We know how utterly clean and washed we were at our baptism. Our souls were made spotless. Not a single sin was left charged to our account. We received the freshest of fresh starts.

Paul says that now that we are God’s friends, having been reconciled, it’s obvious that God will be even more — much more — willing to forgive! You see, baptism not only shows us the complete washing that takes place when we are immersed, it also shows the washing that will continue thereafter.

Now, we urgently point out that we are capable of surrendering this magnificent salvation. We can fall away. But that’s not the typical case. No — we are actually continuously cleansed and forgiven now that we’ve been saved.

Romans 15:7

We could profitably work through the next several chapters of Romans, and show how the same point is made over and over, especially by contrasting chapter 7 to chapter 8, but for the sake of space, we skip all the way to chapter 15.

(Rom. 15:7) Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.

The “then” (”wherefore” in the KJV) says this is the conclusion from what has gone before. We’ve studied already Paul’s teachings on grace in chapter 5. The whole book is about grace, actually, and here’s the end of it all. We need to take extra care to get this verse right!

The first “accept” is in the present tense in the Greek, which implies continuous action — ”continuously accept.”

The “accepted” is aorist, referring to a particular point in time. Thus, we can very accurately translate —

(Rom. 15:7) [Continually] accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you [at a particular point in time], in order to bring praise to God.

At what particular point in time did Christ accept us? It’s obvious enough: when we were saved. We can think of no other possibility.

“Just as” translates kathos, which means, according to Strong’s Dictionary,

just (or inasmuch), as, that — (according to, even) even, as, how, when

A couple of good parallels would be —

(1 Cor 11:1) Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.

(1 Cor 13:12) Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

In this verse, kathos means “in the same way.”

Hence, we can refine our translation —

(Rom. 15:7) Continually accept one another, then, [in the same way] Christ accepted you [when you were first saved], in order to bring praise to God.

Now ponder this one for a while. Paul says that whether I accept someone should be based on the very same test on which I was accepted when I was baptized! That test is simply faith, penitence, and baptism, right? Just the 5 steps the Restoration Movement has taught for nearly 200 years.

We never ask a convert his position on divorce and remarriage, instrumental music in worship, or even elder re-affirmation. We just ask whether he believes Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.

Why? Plainly, because that’s the only question that matters at this point. It defines our faith — meaning those other questions aren’t about faith. They are about the teachings of Jesus and the apostles, and hence very important, but they aren’t “faith,” and so we don’t ask about them.

Hence, if a 13-year-old girl submits to baptism on a genuine confession of faith, with a genuinely penitent heart, and is sufficiently baptized, she’s saved. And this is not the least controversial among us in the Churches of Christ. She’s saved even if her congregation teaches error on divorce and remarriage. Either way, she heard, believed, confessed, repented, and was baptized — and so she’s saved.

If that’s true (and it is), then Romans 15:7 commands that when a 50-year old elder in the church down the road — who is a penitent man of faith in Jesus — has the audacity to disagree with me on any of “the issues,” I must take him to be in error (I mean, who thinks his own opinions are wrong?), but I can’t consider him lost. Cannot. He is, after all, penitent and a believer.

That conclusion is entirely consistent with Romans 5:9-10, which tells us that the elder in error is “much more” saved than when he was baptized.

The standard by which we stay saved today is the same standard by which we are first saved! (Other passages that teach this include Romans 11:20; Galatians 3:2-3; 1 Peter 1:5.)

Now, this seems to defy common sense. We expect people to mature. We expect to be held to higher standards as we grow. Shouldn’t there be a time when God requires us to actually get these answers right?

Well, of course, God wants us to get the answers right. That’s why he inspired the Bible! The problem is that we ask the wrong question. We assume that no one would even study the Bible unless God would send him to hell if he didn’t!

Isn’t that the underlying assumption? We want to ask: why study the Bible if I can go to heaven without bothering? But this just entirely misunderstands both human nature and the nature of God.

I study the Bible because I love God and want to be a good child and servant. I want to be the best husband, father, and elder (and writer) I can be. But I don’t have any idea that I’m doing this just to stay out of hell! It doesn’t work like that.

I mean, I bought my wife a birthday present the other day. The only reason I did it was because she’d divorce me if I didn’t.

Okay. I lied. And you knew it. What I said was obviously ridiculous. Real husbands and wives don’t work that way. I bought her the present because I love her, and giving her pleasure pleases me. Fear never once entered the equation.

Just so, I do things for my parents, although I expect no reward and have no fear of punishment (they are just way too old to spank me!). When I was younger, those things did motivate me. But now, I’m better and more effectively motivated! I do these things out of love and because, out of love, I enjoy doing them.

That’s not to say that the Christian should have no fear of damnation, but that the mature Christian has a much higher motivation.

And, of course, we study to better understand God’s will because the Spirit is making us holy, but this is, in part, because we want to be holy. Isn’t that much of what it means to repent? God, through the Spirit, is writing his law on our hearts and minds. The Spirit — in cooperation with our own efforts — is working in us to will and to act according to God’s purposes.

Finally, as suggested in Hebrews 11, we study God’s will because we believe his promises and we crave the best understanding possible so we can know and participate in those promises. He promises far more things than salvation. Salvation is just the beginning.

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16 Comments on “What the Bible actually says about apostasy: Romans and the Salvation of the Mature”

  1. Alan Says:

    If that’s true (and it is), then Romans 15:7 commands that when a 50-year old elder in the church down the road — who is a penitent man of faith in Jesus — has the audacity to disagree with me on any of “the issues,” I must take him to be in error (I mean, who thinks his own opinions are wrong?), but I can’t consider him lost. Cannot. He is, after all, penitent and a believer.

    That’s the core principle of Christian fellowship. Absolutely biblical, absolutely true, and well said.

  2. Royce Ogle Says:

    Jay,

    Since God the Holy Spirit draws us to Jesus and the truth of the gospel, and we are born of the Spirit (from above), and given eternal life (which is in fact Jesus’ life), and the Holy Spirit is making us holy, and granted us repentance, and Jesus is the author of our faith, and God has written his law in our hearts, and the Holy Spirit produces in us the fruits, love…etc. Just what do we contrubute to our eternal salvation?

    I’ll speak only for me, “One helpless and hopelsess sinner”.

    Royce

  3. Jerry Starling Says:

    Jay,
    Many will have trouble accepting this, because in their mind “we” exist only to be a counter-point to “the denominations.”

    If our exact understanding of the Word of God is seen to be an idol that we worship instead of trusting God totally, then our reason for being is gone.

    That is why so many respond, “If that’s true, then that means we might as well …” (and each one will have his own statement of what we might as well do)

  4. Anonymous Says:

    Sorry guys but my salvation doesn’t depend upon what the church of Christ denomination has to say. I depend on Jesus as my Savior and not anyone or anything can ever take His place. Jesus is not a baptismal pool.

  5. D'Angelo Joyce Says:

    Jay, I have no problem as far as I can see with what you wrote above? But, Romans 15 must be filtered through (1 Cor 5; Matt 18). Christ accepts us only as far as we are penitent and faithful. The purpose of withdrawal is to physical show what God has already done–otherwise we are breeching a fellowship God never did.

  6. mattdabbs Says:

    Jay,

    In 1 Cor 5:12 Paul talks about the responsibility of those in the church to judge those in the church and not those outside it. I think it is interesting that Paul still sees those who are the object of church judgment/discipline as “inside the church.” Somehow people feel like if someone has done something wrong that they are outside the church. Paul here says there are people who do wrong who are still “inside the church.” Maybe I am reading too much into that verse.

    What is interesting to me is that those who think any error puts one outside the church then continue to go on and judge that person as being outside the church. If that is the stance they take, then they clearly should follow this verse and leave that person alone. So either way you interpret this verse, those on the far conservative side of the spectrum of fellowship issues have some changes to make in regard to what Paul is saying in this verse.

  7. Brad Adcock Says:

    Romans 15 doesn’t have to be filtered through anything. If what is written in Romans 15 wasn’t enough to get what Paul was trying to say across, he’d have kept writing. Paul would have said something like, ‘But wait till the first letter I wrote to the Corinthians makes its way to you; Oh, and don’t forget to read what I wrote here with a copy of Matthew close at hand. There’s no way you’ll understand any of this without them.’

    Don’t misunderstand what I’m saying. I’m not taking issue with your suggesting those other verses in relation to Romans 15. Those other verses might further enlighten us as to what was intended on the whole. We all know too many people today just take single verses or parts of passages and without connecting to their immediate context or to God’s Word as a whole attempt to make them say whatever they want. But saying one scripture must be ‘filtered’ through another seems belittling to me; as though it’s somehow less important.

    May be just my negative connotation to your word choice, D’Angelo. Don’t mean to be nitpicky. Please don’t take it that way. 🙂

  8. Jay Guin Says:

    Matt,

    I think you’ve made an important point. Paul is clear that we are only to judge those within the church, and this is to encourage them to refresh their repentance so they stay in the church.

  9. nick gill Says:

    We contribute ourselves, Royce — we CHOOSE to stand with Him. I agree with you… it doesn’t seem like it is worth very much, but God disagrees with both of us, and since He made us, it is his opinion of us that counts.

    Romans 12:1 “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”

  10. nick gill Says:

    The conservative response would be (I know because I’ve made Matt’s precise point on a conservative list-serv):

    “They might still be in the local church, but the membership of the local church does not reflect membership in God’s assembly in heaven.”

  11. Royce Says:

    Romans 11:5
    “So too at the present time there is a remnant, CHOSEN by grace”

    Colossians 3:12
    Put on then, as God’s CHOSEN ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience,

    1 Peter 2:4
    As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God CHOSEN and precious,

    John 15:16
    You did not CHOOSE me, but I CHOSE you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.

    Just a sampling of scores of verses that say God does the choosing. Remember, dead men can’t choose.

    Royce

  12. Jay Guin Says:

    Guys, once again, this is not the place to argue any of the 5 points of Calvinism.

    I’m going to start deleting off-subject posts.

    I re-extend my offer to host such a discussion at OneInJesus, but my agreement with the other participants is that discussions here must stick to the subject at hand.

    I’ve not done a good job of enforcing that rule — announced months ago — but I will now. Henceforth, I will delete off subject post without further warning — and moderate violaters.

    This is a lot of trouble on me, and I’m pretty busy, so I’d really appreciate voluntary compliance.


  13. Romans 15 doesn’t have to be filtered through anything. If what is written in Romans 15 wasn’t enough to get what Paul was trying to say across, he’d have kept writing. Paul would have said something like, ‘But wait till the first letter I wrote to the Corinthians makes its way to you; Oh, and don’t forget to read what I wrote here with a copy of Matthew close at hand. There’s no way you’ll understand any of this without them.’

    Paul didn’t need to write that because they had the miracles such as knowledge, wisdom, prophecy, discernment, and so on to know without having direct access to those other letters. Instead of miracles today, we have the whole of the NT for comparison to get the same effect.

    That is what I understand from passages like 1 Cor. 13 and the like.

    In Truth and Love,

    Ernie

  14. Anonymous Says:

    Do a study on the many countries who do not have a written Bible in their language, and the many countries who do not allow Bibles there.


  15. […] What the Bible actually says about apostasy: Romans and the Salvation of the Mature, by Jay Guin […]


  16. […] We considered this verse in an earlier post, where we demonstrated that the verse can be properly translated, […]


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