Of all the blessings of retirement, alongside time spent on gym workouts, swimming, Starbucks, and jigsaw puzzles, is taking long walks in the morning. I am very fortunate where I live. Rather than in a city, where sidewalks are hemmed in between buildings on one side and constantly roaring traffic on the other, instead our back garden gate opens onto one of a network of off-road footpaths, on which I can walk for miles without ever encountering traffic. A good length of the walk passes through woods as a day-hike trail, or in Queen's English, the Rambler's Route, which is also the ideal path for dog-walkers and an occasional off-road cyclist.
And a perfect occasion for meditation. As with other times, thinking about spiritual things, which is high on the meditative agenda. Like the moment I had a vision of a dining table covered with a white tablecloth and adorned with many good things. This has come as a result of asking myself whether on this blogging page I put too much emphasis on the grace of God and neglecting the part about the works God has planned for us as believers. Perhaps I can be accused of "easy believism" - a label I am prepared to accept. Because in reality there is no other option when it comes to salvation. It can be rather alarming when a man inspired by the Holy Spirit writes that for anyone who keeps the Law perfectly - then stumbles slightly at just one point - is guilty of breaking the whole Law. Blimey! What hope is there for any of us otherwise?
Like the true story someone once told me back in 1979. These two fellows from our church flew to America for a holiday during the Summer of that year to stay at the home of the host they knew. On one particular occasion, the host was driving rather fast along the freeway with his two guests when he was stopped by a police car.
"What was the speed you were driving?" asked the officer.
"Er sixty, I think."
"And what is the legal speed limit?"
"Fifty miles an hour." the driver answered sheepishly.
"Indeed. That is why we are giving you a ticket. By the way, what is your occupation?"
"I'm a post-grad student."
"Huh-huh, and what are you aiming to be?"
"Er-ha-hum, I am studying Theology."
The driver received his ticket and had to pay his fine. Despite his calling, he had broken the whole law, and therefore appeared in Court alongside thieves, murderers, fraudsters and other transgressors. He broke the whole law by one minor offence. And that is regardless of how much theology he was learning and how many times a week he prayed in the college chapel. He broke the law and a penalty was demanded by justice. Or for someone else to pay on his behalf. If that did happen, all he had to do was to accept the atonement on his behalf and he will be free from the penalty of that particular offense. Before the substitutionary payment was made, the driver could not work to earn his reprieve, because the offence was committed and a penalty was demanded. After the payment was made, justice was satisfied and the offender could not add anything else to make it more satisfied, neither could he work to avoid undoing the pardon he has received.
Throughout my forty-plus years as a believer, I have come across sermons and writings about what Jesus had spoken about in Matthew 18:21-35. It's about the unforgiving servant. Arminian Christians had used this parable as proof-text that salvation can be lost if a believer refuses to forgive the offence committed by a fellow believer. The story is about a king who was owed ten thousand talents by one of his servants. The servant couldn't pay it back, so he fell on his knees to plead. He was forgiven and set free from his debt. Now this guy should have been so happy to have danced through the whole palace, even hugging and kissing his fellow servants. Instead, he found someone who owed him the equivalent of a few quid, and instead of releasing him as he had been released, he had the poor fellow thrown into prison. The other servants were distressed over this, and reported back to the king. The master then had the first servant thrown into prison to be tortured, until he paid back all that he owed.
But this story does not teach the loss of salvation as many would believe. For starters, nothing about the Gospel is mentioned. Nothing about salvation or the redemption from sin and the receiving of eternal life. Nothing about regeneration. Also, no mention about being adopted into God's family. Instead, there was a ruler whose servant owed him a huge sum of money. That was all. One very important point appears to have been overlooked, even by post-graduate preachers and writers. That is the servant was released from his debt, not redeemed. There is a big difference between the two. It was the king's own choice purely for the servant's benefit. As everything else stood, the debt remains unpaid. Not long afterwards, the servant was forced to repay, because no substitutionary payment was made. The story is a world away from the tale of some rich relative stepping forward to pay on the servant's behalf in full redemption from his debt.
We can now thank and praise God for sending his dear Son Jesus Christ to make a substitutionary payment on our behalf by dying on the cross, buried in a tomb, and raised to life three days later. By believing this in our hearts, we are forever acquitted. The debt of sin owed to Infinite Justice paid in full. As Paul wrote afterwards: if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus, and believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead, you will be saved (Romans 10:9). And John backs this up: that everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God...(1 John 5:1). This is not a chicken-or-egg issue. Confession can only come out from a heart belief.
And here is where I find to be the greatest source of Eternal Security. Unlike the king forgiving his servant for the servant's benefit (and a financial loss to the king himself), God has redeemed us for his own sake. In other words, the glory, honour, and majesty of God is forever tied to our redemption. It is the risen Jesus who gets all the glory, as beautifully narrated in Revelation chapter five. The glory of God to the entire heavenly host is the reason for once saved always saved.
I can therefore ask: Can we sin, that grace may abound?
Answer: Yes we can. And we do.
But Paul does not ask that question. Rather, he asks: Shall we sin, that grace may abound? (Romans 6:1).
Answer: By no means!
And I love the way Paul would have spoken as an English gentleman as depicted in J. B. Phillips Translation - What a ghastly thought!
The two questions are quite different. Because in reality, we still sin, even after redemption. That was why John the apostle wrote that anyone who says he is without sin is deceived, the truth is not in him, and in effect calling God a liar (1 John 1:8). But we have the power to choose not to sin if presented with a definite choice (as opposed to spontaneity). Instead, living a righteous life as a believer is pleasing to the Lord in the sense that such living is glorious to God in the sight of all men.
Hence the vision of a well laid dinner table while out on a morning walk. I tried to reason out the vision. A table is a board supported by four legs. That is, the traditional school desk type of furniture. Then I thought about the Cross of Christ. A cross has four stems radiating from the point where the two beams meet at the joint. These correspond with the four legs, which can also symbolise the four Gospels, each narrating the crucifixion, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The board is the eternal life which the gospels offer, the gift of salvation itself. On the table top is a white table cloth. It is a brilliant white covering, free from any spot or blemish. This is the righteousness of Christ. Finally, all the utensils represent the works done by the believer. There are all types of articles on the table: a silver lampstand, delicate china dishes and serving vessels, pots and cutlery made of stainless steel, but unfortunately an unwashed wooden carving board has also found it way to the table, greasy and unsightly.
All the items on the table serve one purpose, to contain food and liquids for the benefit of those sitting at table. None of the utensils, dishes, or cutlery are there for their own benefit. They are there for the benefit of the diners. I this is where I connect the vision with our Christian lives. We live for the benefit of others. It is worthwhile noting that nobody puts any items under the table. They will be of no use there. The table is supported by its four legs, and has no need of further support by anything else placed underneath. The whole furniture will not benefit whatsoever if things are piled under it in an attempt to further or strengthen its support. At worst, the table may become lopsided, allowing everything on it to slide off. Works done in order to "remain saved" has no value to either God or man. In addition, none of the items on the table itself contribute to its structure. The top will always be supported and held in place by its four legs. And that is true whether there are piles of dishes on it or nothing at all. Salvation is not dependent on our works.
But God is very particular on how a Christian should live his life. It is all about unbelievers seeing the glory of God in our lives so they too may be converted and believe. Jesus did say that all men will know that you are my disciples if you love one another (John 13:35). Since God himself is love, the only way that unbelieving mankind can see this love is through us. And through this love for one another and also to them God will be glorified.