“This is a difficult statement; who can listen to it?” (John 6:60)
Young pastors struggle with questions that arise from the congregation in the middle of their teachings. You’re holding forth on some rich teaching and someone blurts out, “But, pastor, doesn’t Paul say such-and-so?”
Sure enough, Paul did say such and so, and said it in two or three places so strongly and clearly no one but the most resistant can deny. However, what he said does not fit with the point you were trying to make. Now, you have no choice but to deal with it.
Until that moment, you always liked the Apostle Paul and considered him one of your favorites.
You find yourself remembering—treasuring, even—something the Apostle Peter said about Paul: “In all (Paul’s) letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction” (II Peter 3:16).
That’s a good verse to remember, young pastor. The time will come when you will need to refer an insistent questioner to it. After reading it—never quote it; the heckler (smiley-face goes here) needs to see it in black and white in his own Bible—you will then say, “If Peter had difficulty getting a handle on some of Paul’s writings, it’s no stretch to think you and I might.”
I‘d like to do two things here: list five such Scriptures you will be asked to render a verdict on, young pastor, and then make a few observations concerning the need to have an answer to every such question.
1. “I have loved Jacob, but I have hated Esau” (Malachi 1:2-3).
Someone asked me about this last night. That’s what has kept me thinking about this matter and what awakened me in the middle of the night (it’s now 3:47 a.m.) calling me to the laptop.
Dr. Clyde Francisco was arguably the greatest Old Testament/Hebrew scholar our denomination produced. I heard him say in a conference that all the Lord is saying here is: “I really liked Jacob, but I couldn’t stand Esau. Nothing more.”
And yet people build entire theologies around their interpretations of this verse.
Will that satisfy your questioner, young pastor? Probably not. There’s something inside us that wants every text, every verse of Scripture, to yield up profundities worthy of Solomon or the Lord on the mount.
My questioner last night followed up with, “But what will I say to a friend who asks me this and is suffering and feels that God hates him/her?” I said, “Tell them to struggle with it the same way they do a hundred other issues they have with God.”
Anyone who does not have issues with God is not paying attention. I say that with the deepest reverence.
2. “For in the case of those once enlightened … and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance” (Hebrews 6:4-6).
Now, this text is a problem primarily for those of us who believe “once saved, always saved,” a.k.a. “the security of the believer.” If you are of the opinion that one can walk in and out of salvation—have it today, lose it tomorrow, get it back Thursday—you might even like this passage (although it presents problems for you, too, of a different nature).
My short answer is “the writer of Hebrews—and no one knows who that was—is giving a hypothetical situation. He/she says ‘if one actually did come to know Christ and then were to lose that salvation, it’s impossible to get it back.’ ”
Don’t miss that. Verse 6 says, “… it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God, and put Him to open shame.”
For you to be saved twice, Christ would have to go to the cross a second time.
Many a denomination teaches that it’s possible to lose your salvation, but I don’t know a one that says if you do lose it, you can’t get it back. Those teaching what’s called “apostasy” (falling away) generally have no trouble encouraging the fallen to get up and come back in the house.
And with that, we might as well go right into number three …