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Sunday, 21 July 2013

He Who Overcomes...

I have a good friend at the church I attend, who I knew for a few years. One of his strong characteristics is that he is devoted to prayer and spiritual matters. So I approached him to ask  for prayer over some emotional concerns. We began talking, and he suddenly came up with a statement that he does not believe in Once Saved Always Saved (OSAS). Later in the talk, with a little provocation on my part, he revealed that he is a follower of David Pawson. He then went to defend him, saying how helpful he has been to him and that he knew the Bible "inside out."

This young man had read my blogs, and my support of OSAS, or Eternal Security of the Believer, as it is also referred. Yet my heart fell, even though I tried to hide my disappointment. Here in the UK, Pawson, from a Methodist background, is a national celebrity in the Christian world. I would say that he is the British equivalent of the American Dan Corner, who also spends a lot of his time debunking OSAS. And that's why I feel the need to write. Because of his celebrity status, many Christians like my young friend who quickly and without hesitance side with Pawson, and uphold his esteem as someone greater and much better educated than any "ordinary" Christian believer such as myself. Let's face it: Pawson had studied for a M.A. degree in theology at Cambridge, he had also stood in front of an audience in public venues many times, he wrote books, he made sermon recordings and videos. He also speaks regularly on C.B. Radio (Christian Broadcasting.) Little wonder my friend is one of many Christians who feels besotted by him!

British celebrity David Pawson.

I once read of a Methodist church declaring that OSAS is "the devil's doctrine" which would lead to a licence to sin. If Eternal Security had really had its origins from the devil, then we hit a serious problem. The Bible says that the whole world lies in the power of the evil one (1 John 5:19, also 2 Corinthians 4:4, John 12:31, Ephesians 6:12.) If we consider that neither Roman Catholicism or Eastern Orthodox churches accept OSAS as true, neither does many Protestant denominations - Pentecostal, Church of Christ, Methodists, Anglican Church, Assemblies of God - neither of these believe in Eternal Security, even some members of Baptist churches don't believe in it either, like my young friend.  Thus, a huge majority of mainstream Christians may justify such a declaration that OSAS is the doctrine of devils -  until we add to these, the cults: Mormonism, Jehovah's Witnesses, Christian Science, Unitarians - none of these believe in it, either. Then not to mention Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hindu and Confucianism - which the idea of eternally saved would sound strange to all of them. And even atheists, who is out against the concept of the existence of God, would see OSAS as an odd doctrine, along with the agnostics, people who are unsure about the existence of God.

Therefore by concluding that Eternal Security is from the devil, then as one who has power over an unbelieving world, he has failed miserably in promoting this "lie" - the doctrine accepted by a tiny percentage of the world population. Or in re-wording; if OSAS is from the devil, then why does the large majority of the population believe in the unbiblical idea that one has to either work to earn one's salvation or to strive to keep it?

No doubt, if I was to sit at the feet of Pawson, I would be shown all the verses which disprove OSAS and be encouraged to strive to attain eternal life, with the single present tense of "I am being saved" rather than the threefold; "I am already saved" (spirit, regeneration) "I am being saved" (soul, hence sanctification) and "I will be saved" (body, a future resurrection).

If I were to debate with David Pawson, or Dan Corner for that matter, no doubt they would verbally knock me out, so to speak. Their knowledge of the Bible, I must admit, are immense. But unfortunately, my experience in associating with them, whether its reading their literature, listening to a recording or watching a video, had never known to edify or build up my faith, let alone cause me to sing for joy to the Lord. I have read in one of his books that holiness is based on fear of punishment rather than on love, which casts out all fear. (1 John 4:18) His explanation was that because we are imperfect, perfect love cannot yet work in us, therefore justifying the need to fear. If this is true, then this may have been the motive underlying my friend's fervency in prayer, which seemed to have matched those who hold the same view of salvation.

To write a full debate on this matter would take several blogs, for such a debate would be too much for a single blog. But I would like to quote a few verses and compare:

And this is the will of him who, that I shall lose none of all he has given me, but raise them up on the last day. John 6:39.

My sheep listens to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them from my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them from my Father's hand. I and my Father are one. John 10:27-30.

I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours, you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. John 17:6-7.

So all believers in Jesus Christ are gifts to the Son from the Father for dying on the cross to atone for their sins. If we were to compare the above verses with these below, would we get a flat contradiction?

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death. Revelation 2:11.

To him who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it. Revelation 2:17.

He who overcomes will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out his name from the book of life, but will acknowledge his name before my Father and his angels. Revelation 3:5.

To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne. Revelation 3:21.

Laodicea, to the church there Jesus said that he too, had to overcome.

David Pawson has written books and made video and audio recordings on these verses, breaking to smithereens any concept of Eternal Security. So comparing all these verses, the impression that comes over is that on one hand, we are gifts to the Son from the Father. The second group implies that a degree of human effort is needed to attain eternal life and not be blotted out of the book of life. In short, Pawson - and others like him - insist that we must hold fast to what we have been taught or else we end up in Hell.

Suppose a believer fails to overcome? Apparently, according to Pawson, the Lord Jesus will blot his name out of the book of life and his soul will suffer forever in Hell. There are a few serious problems with this idea, which I wish to list here:

1. The Son finds that the Father's gift wasn't satisfactory. It's very much like returning a purchased item to the shop after discovering a flaw, or looking at a gift horse in the mouth. Jesus may not be necessarily happy with everything the Father had given him.

2. The Father's omniscience is denied. He selects someone for Jesus, only to find out that this believer failed to meet his credentials. In other words God does not know what is going to happen next.

3. That the Atonement made on the cross was not sufficient enough to have taken effect without the believer's ability to overcome through his own will and power. In short, the crucifixion has failed to atone fully. This is the central core of the Roman Catholic Catechism which demands the need of Sacraments for the sinner to receive forgiveness and attain Heaven.

4. What was that which had to be overcome? The person's sinful habit? Or to remain faithful? In that case we are left with either a sinful Christ or one whose faith was threatening to waiver. In Revelation 3:21, Jesus himself overcame in order to sit on his Father's throne. What if he had failed to overcome?

So where Pawson's interpretation of these verses (and there are three more very similar verses within these two chapters) indicate a believer must either overcome or perish, both John (who many believe wrote Revelation) and Paul had different ideas about overcoming.

In 1 John 5:4-5, most likely the same person who wrote Revelation also wrote in one of his letters:

For everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory which overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.

Paul backs this up. In Romans 8:37:

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

This set of verses looks to me that they give a satisfactory explanation to those found in Revelation. The person who believes that Jesus is the Son of God is already an overcomer and more than a conquerer, because Jesus himself achieved these victories on the cross. It is exactly the same with righteousness. The righteousness we have as believers is his righteousness, imputed into our accounts through faith. He was the one who conquered. He was the one who overcame. Both these victories are imputed into our accounts through faith. And what is this faith? According to John's own testimony, it is believing that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.

To say that Jesus Christ had overcome sin would mean that he himself was sinful, unless he overcame our sins. Rather, I tend to believe that what he overcame during his life were the three temptations: turning stones into bread while hungry, accepting a throne from Satan, and putting on a spectacular show to convince onlookers that he was the Messiah. It was a possibility that Satan also tempted him in the Garden of Gethsemane not to go to the cross because of the horrors associated with it.

Then what was the case with Judas Iscariot? Wasn't he a believer? A disciple? One of the apostles of Christ? According to Pawson, Judas was as much of a believer as the rest of his disciples. In Mark 6:7-13 (along with Matthew 10:1-15 and Luke 9:1-6) Judas was paired up with another disciple and sent off to preach the Kingdom of God with the others, two by two, making six pairs in all. We are not told whose Judas' partner was, neither do we have any record of feedback on what he got up to. Chances were that it was Judas' partner who did the preaching, healing and casting out of demons while Judas himself gave backing support. But according to Pawson, Judas failed to overcome temptation and ended up hanging himself as he stepped into a lost eternity.

But it was John who gave a greater insight of Iscariot than the other three Gospel writers. In John 12, we have Mary, the sister of Lazarus and Martha, breaking an expensive jar of perfume and annointing the feet of Jesus with it, filling the room with fragrance. Judas objected, pretending to be concerned for the welfare of the poor. But John narrates that he didn't care for the poor, instead he wanted the perfume sold so he could dip his hands into the money bag. As treasurer, this has been going on for some time. Obviously, he did not believe that Jesus was the Christ, nor did he care, for he was more concerned for his own welfare and kept on stealing what was donated to the group.

In the next chapter, we have Jesus washing the disciple's feet, which must have included Judas' feet. When Peter got rather excited, Jesus explained that not all of them were clean, referring the one exception to Judas, vs.10-11. After the last supper, Jesus prayed for his eleven followers, (chapter 17) and he declared that both Father and Son had protected the eleven, and kept them safe from falling (eternal security) - except for the one doomed for destruction so that the Scripture would be fulfilled, v.12. The fulfilled Scripture referred here was most likely Psalm 41:9 which reads:

Even my close friend, whom I trusted, he who shared my bread, has lifted up his heel against me.

Another proof of God's omniscience, which makes Pawson's ideas look rather foolish. To "lift up his heel against me" after up to three years dipping his hand into the purse with dishonest intent, shows every sign that throughout the three years of Christ's ministry, Judas remained an unbeliever - even though he had plenty of time and opportunity to repent and believe Jesus as the Messiah. And God knew all this from eternity past.

David Pawson is a well-educated man with a thorough knowledge of the Bible. Thousands of Christian believers across the land adore him and uphold his authority. Personally, I don't believe Pawson is deliberately trying to trip us up. Rather, I believe that he is concerned that clinging to OSAS will lead to spiritual slackness and on to a licence to sin. My own experience as a believer in Eternal Security refutes this. God has saved me through faith in Jesus Christ. It is God who keeps me safeguarded and protects me from falling. My wish is to see more and more people come to the knowledge of the Truth and believe, especially my elderly parents.

Much of Pawson's teachings - which includes writing, audio, video recording and radio broadcasting - was gotten from Cambridge, where he collected a M.A. degree in Methodist theology. But it looks to me like he had taken a huge array of verses from different areas of the Bible and re-arranged them to form a theoretical chessboard - very much the same way as the Watch-Tower Society of Jehovah's Witnesses handle the Bible to support their theology of prophecy with movable dates.

My friend in church says that David Pawson was a big help to him. How much more of a greater help would Pawson could have been if he devoutly embraced OSAS?


  1. Hi Frank, neither do I believe in 'once saved always saved' either. There are four different types of ground that the sown seed falls on and there are many if's in Jesus' commands and instructions. We have to work out our own salvation. In John ch 15 v.2 Jesus says 'He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful'. He is the vine and we are the branches.

  2. Dear Frank,
    Thank you for your excellent exposition of this topic. Once saved. always saved is the only doctrine that gives the finished work of Christ its proper honor and due. If we need to keep working to be saved, His statement "It is finished" makes no sense. Because we did not work to gain our salvation, there is nothing we can do to lose it, and we do not work to keep it.

    Nonetheless, being saved once and for all is not a license to sin habitually, nor does it mean we should sit around idly without bearing fruit. Either is an indication that the person may not be truly saved, for we should be a new creation in Christ.

    Phil. 2:12 speaking of "working out your own salvation" follows a discussion of Christ's crucifixion and Lordship, and is followed by: "13 For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure." We are helpless to save ourselves and even to do God's will (working out our salvation) -- it is only the indwelling Holy Spirit Who can do this if we yield to Him.

    God bless,

  3. I don't know what to think here, but it's a great post and much food for thought.

  4. Great post, Frank.

    I Peter 1:5 says we are kept by the power of God, and as Jesus said he is greater than anyone and no one can take us out of his hand. As you pointed out, everyone that is his child overcomes. I John 3:9-10 declares, "Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother."

    Rather than leading us to sin, a belief in eternal security frees us to focus on pleasing god rather than worrying about making a mistake.

  5. David wants to stop the saved from simply going to Church and then going home and doing nothing until the next sunday. So sometimes a bit of the threat of the rod that will get the person going.. However its sobering to know that your name may be blotted out of the book of life - as the Lord decides - it should wake up the lukewarm in Christ to get saved and be and active servant :-)