Q – On page 80 of your book By Grace Alone,” you say that the elect are forever secure from any temptations of Satan. To me, it seems like such a hard concept to visualize. In this day and age there are so many temptations and evil doings it’s unreal. So, are you basically saying that those elect people are ones who always worship God and never turn their backs to Him? Even with all the temptations in this world? I kind of see what your saying but it also seems like there’s a chance to be tempted.
Jim – Let’s take this one piece at a time and I’m sure you’ll see how it all fits together. Your first question was – “On page 80, you say the elect are forever secure from any temptations of Satan. To me, it seems like such a hard concept to visualize.”
Page 80 is in the chapter about our eternal security, called “The Perseverance of the Saints.” I think the statement you’re referring to reads, “The elect are eternally secure from the powers of Satan that seek to pull us away from God’s protective hand.”
What I did not say was that believers would never be tempted. Surely, all of us – being Adam’s flesh and blood kindred – are subject to temptation. But, let’s be clear. There is no sin in being tempted. Christ, the sinless One, was tempted during His earthly ministry –
“For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.” (Heb. 4:15)
Temptation, by the way, is not exclusively from the devil. As you rightly pointed out, temptations come constantly from the world, the society, the culture, and our own sinful minds. It’s hard to watch television and not be tempted.
Surely we want to reduce the amount of temptation in our lives wherever and whenever we can. But, God uses temptations and trials in order to build character and strength into us. The more we strive to resist the temptations of life, the stronger we grow in our spiritual journey.
“Blessed is the man that endureth temptation, for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him.” (James 1:12)
But, temptations are really only a problem when we act on them, and they grow to their sinful fruition.
“Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man: But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death. Do not err, my beloved brethren.” (James 1:13-16)
So, God allows temptations in our lives, just as Christ was tempted in all points like we are. But, He – as our substitute – overcame temptation and remained spotless. So, even though we fall into temptation and often stumble, we can have confidence that the perfect One has attained a perfection in which we will share. His righteousness will be imputed to us, just as our sin was imputed to Him. And, our failures will be overshadowed by His accomplishments.
Still, trials and temptations come. That’s the stuff of life. But, we must always remember that, even in the darkest hours of temptation, God is still with us, guiding us, caring for us, and ready to help us out.
“There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” (1 Cor. 10:13)
Now, on the other side of this coin, I did say that we are eternally secure from the power of Satan to ensnare us, or cause us to fall away from God’s protective hand. God is all-powerful and no created being (which Satan is) can overthrow His purposes. If God has elected us, redeemed us, and predestined us to share His eternal home, then we are as secure as God is powerful. Only a complete overthrow of His divine authority can ever wrest us from our reward.
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, of nakedness, or peril, or sword? … For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. ” (Rom. 8:35, 38-89)
“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me; and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand.” (John 10:27-29)
By the way, the word “man” was added by the translators. The original Greek version of that verse reads – “Neither shall any pluck them out of my hand.” Not just any man, but anyone at all! No devil, no demon, not even yourself. We are secure because we are saved by the most powerful being in the universe. And, as we all know, the strongest One wins every time.
Next, you said, “So are you basically saying that those elect people are ones who always worship God and never turn their backs to Him?”
Nope. I’m saying that the elect of God may stumble and fall, but they will never be utterly cast down. They will not be perfect; they will be saved by the perfect One. They will endure hardship and trials, but they will persevere, never completely lose their faith (though they may be rebellious, at time), and always return to the Father just as the prodigal son did. Why? Because the Father loves them too much to allow them to destroy themselves. His faithfulness to His own word is on the line and He will never give the devil the chance to gloat and rejoice over “the one that got away.”
There have been no more rebellious, stiff-necked people in history than the nation of Israel. God has revealed Himself to them repeatedly for close to 5,000 years. But, they still refused His law, killed His prophets and rejected His Son. Nevertheless, God constantly promised – and will keep those promises! – to restore Israel to the grandest nation on earth. They will all turn to Him, because He will turn them. They will look on the Son and cry for Him as a mother cries for her only son. They will “look upon me whom they have pierced” (Zech. 12:10). Why? Because God is faithful to His word and will perform every promise He made to them – not because they are faithful, but because He is!
That’s the God we serve. He knows our pitiable estate and our penchant for failure. But, He loves us as children and shepherds us as sheep. He protects us from Satan, from sin and from ourselves. He does for us what we cannot do for ourselves.
So, will we fail? Yep.
Will He chasten us? Yep.
Will He abandon us?
Then, you wrote – “I kind of see what your saying but it also seems like there’s a chance to be tempted.”
These are important questions. If you are mired in legalism and believe that God will cast you off for your lack of performance, then you live in fear and bondage. Only if we understand God’s gracious provision and His faithfulness to His purpose can we have any real peace. Sure, we’re tempted. Sometimes we hold up under the trial and get stronger. Sometimes we fail the test and have to be succored, loved, picked up, dusted off, and put back in the fray. That’s God’s part.
“The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord; and He delighteth in his way. Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down; for the Lord upholdeth him with his hand.” (Ps. 37:23-24)
Trust the One who loved you before the foundations of the world. Don’t beat yourself up over your failures. Recognize the times you’re being tempted and strive to honor God in your reaction to the trial. Do the next right thing and leave the consequences up to God.
And, when you stumble, don’t be afraid. Go running back to the throne of grace to find the forgiveness and comfort you need. He knows you better than you know yourself…and, He loved you anyway.
Hope that helps.
Q – All of this reminds me…God introduced Himself to me when I was at my worst -unbelieving, stuck in sin, lost, rebellious. How could anything I do as a Christian ever change that?
Jim – Exactly. I couldn’t have said it better.