Saturday, November 3, 2018
John’s expectation and doctrinal position concerning salvation
As argued in part two of my “Two Evangels” study, I believe that both the “evangel of the Circumcision” and the “evangel of the Uncircumcision” are the means through which God calls people to whatever eonian expectation for which they were pre-designated by him. If one has been pre-designated by God to enjoy an eonian allotment that is in accord with Israel’s prophesied, covenant-based expectation, then one will, at some point in their lifetime, be called by God through the evangel of the Circumcision (which, as argued in part three of the aforementioned study, I believe to be constituted by the truth that Jesus “is the Christ, the Son of God”).
What differentiates those in the body of Christ from those who responded in faith to Peter’s message in Acts 2 or Acts 10 (for example) is not our denial of the truth of the gospel of the Circumcision; in accord with the words of Matthew 16:16 and John 20:31, we believe that “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God” just as strongly as those who responded in faith to Peter’s messages in Acts 2 and 3. Rather, what distinguishes us from these believers is that we were not called to our expectation through this particular evangel. Our belief in the evangel of the Circumcision is not what resulted in our justification, because our calling is through the evangel that was entrusted to Paul to herald among the nations (which, again, is the evangel that those pre-designated to become part of the body of Christ will, at some point during this mortal lifetime, be given the faith to believe).
Now, as argued in my study, ”God’s covenant people” (as well as in my study on Acts 15:1-17 and Matthew 25:31-46), I believe there are two general categories of people who have been (and will be) called through the gospel of the Circumcision, and who will be enjoying an allotment in the kingdom that is to be restored to Israel after Christ’s return to earth: (1) faithful members of God’s covenant people (including both Jews and proselytes) and (2) God-fearing, righteous-acting Gentiles (i.e., those among the nations who take the God of Israel seriously by blessing his covenant people, and who thus belong to that category of righteous Gentiles referred to by Christ as the “sheep” in Matt. 25:31-46). An example of someone in the second category of people who will be enjoying an allotment in the kingdom that is to be restored to Israel would be Cornelius (see Acts 10:2, 22, 31; cf. Acts 15:13-17), and an example of someone in the first category of people who will be enjoying an allotment in the kingdom is the apostle John.
Not only did Christ himself affirm that John will be sitting on one of twelve thrones and judging the twelve tribes of Israel during the eon to come (Matt. 19:28-29), but John also included himself as being among those who “shall be reigning on the earth” as “a kingdom and priests to [Christ’s] God and Father” (Rev. 1:6; 5:10; cf. 20:4-6). John, therefore, will be among those who, at the time when Satan’s thousand-year imprisonment ends (and Satan goes out “to deceive all the nations which are in the four corners of the earth”), will be dwelling in “the citadel of the saints and the beloved city” referred to in Rev. 20:9. This, of course, means that John’s allotment during the eon to come will be on the earth, and the “kingdom of God” in which he will be enjoying his allotment is the kingdom that is going to be restored to Israel.
In contrast with John’s eonian destiny, we know that the eonian allotment of every member of the body of Christ will be “in the heavens” (2 Cor. 5:1-9; Phil. 3:20) and “among the celestials.” (Eph. 1:3; 2:6; cf. 1:20). It will be in the Lord’s “celestial kingdom” that we in the body of Christ will be enjoying our eonian life (2 Tim. 4:18). This is the “kingdom of God” in which “flesh and blood is not able to enjoy an allotment” (1 Cor. 15:50-53). Based on the clear-cut distinction between the terrestrial expectation of the apostle John and the celestial expectation of those in the body of Christ, we can conclude that John was not in the body of Christ. And given the fact that only those called to be in the body of Christ are presently being “justified through the faith of Christ,” it also follows that John was not justified through the faith of Christ, either. Instead, John’s justified status was based on faith and works (which is in accord with what we read in James 2:24). Consider the following argument:
1. Everyone called through the evangel that Paul heralded among the nations is justified through the faith of Christ when they believe, and everyone who has been justified through the faith of Christ is in the body of Christ.
2. Every member of the body of Christ has an expectation that is distinct from Israel’s earthly, covenant-based expectation.
3. The expectation of the apostle John is in accord with Israel’s earthly, covenant-based expectation.
4. Therefore, the apostle John is not in the body of Christ, and was not justified through the faith of Christ.
In regard to the category of saints to whom the apostle John belongs, we know that, during the time of Christ’s earthly ministry, members of God’s covenant people had a covenant-based obligation to keep the precepts of the law. We also know that, in conjunction with the requirement that they believe “that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God” (John 20:31), God’s covenant people could not expect to receive eonian life in the kingdom that is to be restored to Israel apart from having the same sort of obedient, law-keeping conduct that faithful Israelites such as Zechariah and Elizabeth had (Luke 1:5-6; cf. Matt. 5:17-20; 7:21-23; 19:16-17; 23:1-3; etc.). In regard to their qualifying for life in the future kingdom, their faith IN God and his Son could not be separated from their faithfulness TO God and his Son (which consisted in obedient, law-keeping conduct, as opposed to “lawlessness”).
In light of these facts, let’s consider the following questions: When did this ever cease to be the case for Israel? When was it revealed to any of the twelve apostles (or to James) that the believing Jewish remnant within Israel could expect to receive eonian life in the kingdom that is to be restored to Israel apart from both faith and their keeping the precepts of the law (such as the ten commandments)? When did the twelve apostles stop believing that the salvation of God’s covenant people hinged on both faith and righteous conduct (or “works,” as James wrote)? I submit that there is no record that it ever ceased to be the case that the salvation of God’s covenant people required both faith and works, or that the twelve apostles ever stopped believing this to be the case.
None of the twelve apostles – John and Peter included – were ever given any reason to believe that keeping the precepts given by God to Israel had become optional, or that righteous conduct was no longer required for them to receive an allotment in the earthly kingdom of God. What changed after the calling of Paul was not the way by which members of God’s covenant people could qualify for Israel’s covenant-based expectation (i.e., eonian life in the earthly kingdom). Rather, what changed was the introduction of a new expectation that is distinct from Israel’s covenant-based expectation, and the formation of a new company of believers who were being called by God to this new expectation through the evangel of the Uncircumcision entrusted to Paul. Thus, by the time Paul was given his “administration of the grace of God” and began dispensing his evangel of the Uncircumcision among the nations, it became the case that people were being called to two different eonian expectations through two different gospels.
The position of the twelve apostles and a supposed “absence of evidence”
One brother in Christ who rejects the position summarized above recently asserted (as an objection to the “two gospels” position), “Nowhere do we read that any of the apostles taught salvation by grace and law, or law alone.” I’m not sure why this brother felt the need to add the words “or law alone” to his objection, since the view that any Israelite has ever been saved by “law alone” is obviously false, and has never - to my knowledge, at least - been affirmed by anyone who holds to the position which he rejects. This fact would make the “law alone” part of his objection a straw-man, and we may therefore dismiss it. But what shall we say in response to the objector’s assertion that none of the apostles are said to have “taught salvation by grace and law?”
By speaking of salvation “by grace and law,” I assume that the objector was referring to a salvation that involves both God’s grace (which I believe to be an essential element in the salvation of anyone who has ever lived, or ever will live) as well as righteous, precept-keeping conduct (i.e., the sort of conduct that Christ exhorted his disciples to have so that they could be "entering into life"). So is it true that there is no recorded instance of any apostle teaching Jewish believers that their salvation – i.e., their entrance into the kingdom that is to be restored to Israel – depends (at least, in part) on righteous conduct/keeping the precepts of God? Well, let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that there is not a single verse written by any of the apostles of Christ that indicates that the salvation of the Jewish believers to whom they wrote depended on both their faith and on their faithful, precept-keeping conduct. Would this be evidence against the position that the twelve apostles considered both faith and righteous conduct a requirement for the salvation of those to whom they wrote? Not at all.
To demonstrate the irrelevance of the objector’s assertion, consider another similar assertion: “Nowhere do we read that any of the twelve ‘minor prophets’ (i.e., Hosea through Malachi) taught that the covenantal obligation of Israelites involved circumcising their male children, resting on the Sabbath and not eating certain kinds of animals.” Although this statement is, as far as I can tell, true, I think a perfectly reasonable (albeit curt) response would be, “Okay, but so what?” One would be making a more relevant and valid point by instead saying, “Nowhere do we read that any of the twelve ‘minor prophets’ (i.e., Hosea through Malachi) taught that the covenantal obligation of Israelites had ceased to involve circumcising their male children, resting on the Sabbath and certain dietary restrictions.” Apart from some specific situation that required that one of these aspects of Israel’s covenantal obligation be addressed, why should we expect these prophets to have explicitly taught that Israel’s covenantal obligation still involved circumcising their children, resting on the Sabbath and avoiding certain foods? It would be absurd to understand their silence on this subject as suggesting that, perhaps, Israel could suddenly stop circumcising their children, start working on the Sabbath, and start eating pork and shrimp.
Keeping this analogy in mind, let’s now consider again the objector’s assertion that we “nowhere read that any of the apostles taught salvation by grace and law.” Assuming - as is reasonable - that the majority of those who were being taught by the twelve apostles were members of God’s covenant people (whether Jews or proselytes), then one question that could be asked in response to the objector’s assertion is, “Where do we read that the twelve apostles taught that God’s covenant people no longer had to keep the precepts of God in order to receive an allotment in the kingdom that is to be restored to Israel?” Unlike the assertion of the objector, this question correctly presupposes what we know to be true concerning the salvation of God’s covenant people before and during Christ’s earthly ministry (see, for example, part three of “God’s covenant people”).
The erroneous assumption underlying the objector’s assertion is that the twelve apostles had, at some point subsequent to Christ’s ascension, abandoned the doctrinal position to which they held during Christ’s earthly ministry (and which Christ himself had affirmed in his teaching) concerning what was expected of an Israelite if he or she was to “enter into life” in the kingdom of God. Again, we know for a fact that Israel has, from the beginning, had a covenant-based obligation to keep the precepts of the law given to her by God, and that no Israelite could qualify for eonian life in the kingdom (and take part in the “resurrection of the just”) apart from having the sort of righteous, law-keeping conduct that faithful Israelites such as Zechariah and Elizabeth had (Luke 1:5-6). We also know that, in conjunction with the requirement that an Israelite believe the evangel that “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God” (John 20:31), the sort of faithful, precept-keeping conduct that characterized the life of Zechariah and Elizabeth continued to be essential to the salvation of those who came to believe this evangel (Matt. 5:17-20; 19:16-17; 23:1-3; etc.).
This means that the twelve apostles would’ve had to reject what they’d learned from Christ during their time with him in order to come to believe that God’s covenant people no longer had to keep the precepts of the law in order to receive an allotment in the kingdom that is to be restored to Israel. And this means that the burden of proof is not on those who believe that the twelve apostles continued to affirm that the salvation of Israel required both faith and works (as is explicitly affirmed by James in his letter to the twelve tribes). Rather, the burden of proof is on those who deny this. And their “burden of proof” involves presenting a verse or passage of scripture which explicitly reveals that the twelve apostles no longer affirmed this.
Consider the following argument:
1. Before and during Christ’s earthly ministry, the salvation of God’s covenant people (i.e., their taking part in “the resurrection of the just” and “entering into life” in the kingdom that will be restored to Israel) required both faith and works/righteous conduct (i.e., keeping the precepts of God).
2. During Christ’s earthly ministry, the twelve apostles believed that the salvation of God’s covenant people required both faith (i.e., faith in God and that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of God”) and works/righteous conduct.
3. The burden of proof is, therefore, on those who believe that, at some point subsequent to the ascension of Christ, the twelve apostles came to no longer believe that the salvation of God’s covenant people required both faith and works/righteous conduct.
For those who believe that the twelve apostles eventually came to reject a belief that had been taught/reinforced by Christ himself during his earthly ministry, this burden of proof is bad enough. But it gets worse. For not only is it not revealed that the twelve apostles ever came to reject the idea that the salvation of God’s covenant people required both faith and works, but there are a number of statements found in the letters of those who wrote to believing Israelites that are either explicitly or implicitly inconsistent with the idea that the twelve apostles came to believe that the salvation of God’s covenant people was “through the faith of Christ” rather than based on their own faith and works.
The salvation of John based on both faith and righteous conduct
We’ve already considered the eonian expectation of the apostle John (which, as shown above, is in accord with Israel’s earthly, covenant-based expectation). But a case could just as easily be made that John understood the salvation of himself and those to whom he wrote as being based on both faith and precept-keeping, righteous conduct (rather than “faith alone”).
In John’s first letter, we read the following in 1 John 1:6-9: “If we should be saying that we are having fellowship with Him and should be walking in darkness, we are lying and are not doing the truth. Yet if we should be walking in the light as He is in the light, we are having fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, His Son, is cleansing us from every sin. If we should be saying that we have no sin we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we should be avowing our sins, He is faithful and just that He may be pardoning us our sins and should be cleansing us from all injustice.”
Notice how, according to John, one’s being cleansed from sin by the blood of Jesus depended on one’s conduct – i.e., “walking in the light as he is in the light” (rather than “walking in darkness”). John and those to whom he wrote were being “cleansed from every sin” by Jesus’ blood if they were doing this. What did John mean by “walking in the light” rather than “in darkness?” In the next chapter it is clear that walking in the light involved “keeping his precepts,” “keeping his word” and thus “walking as he walks” (2:3-6). And to be doing this meant (or at least essentially included) “loving [one’s] brother,” rather than hating one’s brother (vv. 8-11), and “believing in the name of [God’s] Son, Jesus Christ” (3:23-24).
To be “believing in the name of Jesus Christ” is, or course, to be believing the evangel of the Circumcision. And for those to whom John wrote to be walking as Christ walked meant keeping the precepts that Christ kept during his earthly ministry. Only by striving to do this would the Jewish believers to whom John wrote be “remaining in the light” and not “walking in darkness.” Moreover, John explained that one of the reasons for writing was so “that [those to whom he wrote] may not be sinning” (2:1), and John elsewhere clarifies that by “sin” he means “lawlessness” (3:4) – i.e., breaking the precepts of God. However, when the believers to whom John wrote did sin, they had to “avow” their sins so that their sins could be pardoned and they could be “cleansed from all injustice.”
John went on to say that it was those who were “doing the will of God” who would be “remaining for the eon” – and, in the immediate context, doing the will of God clearly involved (although should not be understood as being limited to) “not loving the world” or “that which is in the world” (1 John 2:15-17). In the larger context of John’s letter, “doing the will of God” must be understood as involving “keeping [God’s] precepts” and “doing what is pleasing in his sight” (1 John 3:22-24). Thus, one’s “remaining for the eon” – i.e., having eonian life – required not just believing in the name of Christ (which, being the evangel of the circumcision, was essential), but also keeping his precepts and loving one’s brother (rather than “the world” and “that which is in the world”). It must be emphasized that the only “righteous” status of which John wrote in his letter is that which depended on the precept-keeping conduct of those to whom he wrote. John did not seem to be aware of any other “righteousness” that the recipients of his letter could have except that which was based on the righteous conduct that was expected to accompany faith in God and Christ (conduct which involved “keeping [Christ’s] precepts,” “keeping his word” and “walking as He walks”).
For John, it was because those to whom he wrote were keeping Christ’s precept to “be loving the brethren” that they were aware of having “proceeded out of death into life” (3:11-13). On the other hand, anyone who was not loving the brethren was a “man-killer,” and consequently had “no life eonian remaining in him” (v. 15). For those to whom John wrote, keeping Christ’s precept by loving the brethren was just as essential to having life eonian as “believing in the name of the Son of God” (1 John 5:13). It was, in other words, just as essential for their salvation as it was when Christ first gave his disciples this precept, shortly before his death (John 15:12-14). It was by keeping Christ’s precepts that they remained in his love (John 15:9-10). But how were the recipients of John’s letter supposed to be “loving the brethren,” so that they could know that they had eonian life remaining in them? In 1 John 5:2-3 we read, “In this we know that we are loving the children of God, whenever we may be loving God and may be doing His precepts. For this is the love of God, that we may be keeping His precepts. And His precepts are not heavy…”
In 1 John 2:24-25 and 28-29, we read, “Let that which you hear from the beginning be remaining in you. If ever that which you hear from the beginning should be remaining in you, you, also, will be remaining in the Son and in the Father. And this is the promise which He promises us: the life eonian…And now, little children, remain in Him, that, if He should be manifested, we should be having boldness and not be put to shame by Him in His presence. If you should be perceiving that He is just, you know that everyone also who is doing righteousness is begotten of Him.”
Notice that the promise of “life eonian” is only said to be for those who are remaining in the Son and the Father, and it is only those who remain in Christ who we’re told will not be “put to shame by him in his presence.” And – based on v. 29 – we know that those who remain in Christ are those who are “doing righteousness” and are “begotten of him.” Concerning what it meant to be “remaining in Christ,” John went on to say: “…everyone who is remaining in [Christ] is not sinning...let no one deceive you. He who is doing righteousness is just, according as he is just. Yet he who is doing sin is of the Adversary…everyone who is not doing righteousness is not of God, and who is not loving his brother” (1 John 3:6-7). John also stated that the way in which those to whom he wrote could know that they were “in [Christ’” was that they were “walking according as He walks” (1 John 2:6).
What did John mean by “walking according as He walks?” John was, of course, one of Jesus’ twelve disciples, and had observed Jesus’ “walk” very closely for approximately 3 ½ years. And what did John observe? Did John observe Jesus breaking the precepts of God, and living a life of lawlessness? Or did John observe Jesus faithfully keeping God’s precepts? Obviously, John observed Jesus faithfully keeping the precepts of God as found in Scripture, and living by “every declaration going out through the mouth of God.” And it is according to the “walk” of the One of whom John had been a disciple for 3 ½ years that those to whom John wrote were exhorted to walk in order to “remain” in Christ. From these and other verses and considerations, it is clear that John understood being “in Christ” as a conditional state of affairs that involved both the faith and the obedient conduct of those whom John exhorted to “remain in him.”
Everything John wrote in these and other verses is in perfect accord with what John learned from Christ himself during Christ’s earthly ministry. In John 15, we read that Christ provided his disciples with a “grapevine” parable in order to help them better understand their relationship with him. Christ told his disciples that every branch in him not bringing forth fruit would be removed by God (v. 2). And if someone didn’t remain in Christ, we read that they’d be “cast out as a branch,” which would then wither and be cast into the fire (v. 6). Those “cast out” are undoubtedly the ones who, according to John, will be “put to shame” by Christ in his presence (and who, in the words of Hebrews 10:26-27, will have “a certain fearful waiting for judging and fiery jealousy”).
From everything said above, it should be evident to the reader that the apostle John - no less than James, the brother of Jesus (who, of course, famously stated that faith without works is dead, and that justification requires works) - believed that the salvation of those to whom he wrote (and, by implication, the salvation of he himself) was not “by faith alone.” Faith in Christ was clearly essential to the salvation of John and those to whom he wrote (and thus worth emphasizing), but faith alone was not sufficient. In regard to whether or not one’s sins remained pardoned - and whether or not one would be “remaining for the eon” - one’s conduct was equally important.
Keeping in mind that John included himself as being among those who “shall be reigning on the earth” as “a kingdom and priests to [Christ’s] God and Father” (Rev. 1:6; 5:10; cf. 20:4-6), I’ll close this article with a consideration of the requirement(s) for salvation as described in the following excerpts from the book of Revelation (which was, of course, written by John):
“I am aware of your acts, and your toil, and your endurance…But I have against you that you leave your first love. Remember, then, whence you have fallen, and repent, and do the former acts. Yet if not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, if ever you should not be repenting…To the one who is conquering, I will be granting to be eating of the tree of life which is in the center of the paradise of God” (Rev. 2:2-7).
“Become faithful until death, and I shall be giving you the wreath of life…the one who is conquering will not be injured by the second death” (Rev. 2:10).
“I will give to each of you as your works deserve…the one who is conquering and who is keeping my acts until the consummation, to him will I be giving authority over the nations” (Rev. 2:23, 26-28).
“I am aware of your acts, that you have a name that you are living, and are dead. Become watchful, and establish the rest who were about to be dying; for I have not found your acts completed in the sight of my God…Yet you have a few names in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy. The one who is conquering will be clothed thus in white garments, and under no circumstances will I be erasing his name from the scroll of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his messengers.” (Rev. 3:1-5)
Notice that, in the above passages, Christ wasn’t merely talking about receiving something in addition to salvation. He was talking about salvation itself – i.e., having eonian life during the last and greatest eon (that which pertains to the “new heaven and new earth”). Having access to the “tree of life,” receiving the “wreath of life” (and avoiding the “second death”) and not having one’s name erased from “the scroll of life” are undoubtedly about being saved rather than unsaved. It should also be noted that every believing Israelite who will enjoy eonian life on the new earth will also enjoy eonian life in the kingdom during the next eon as well (in other words, there won’t be an Israelite enjoying eonian life on the new earth who didn’t have eonian life during the thousand + years preceding the creation of the new earth).
Notice also that being granted to “be eating of the tree of life” (which will be available to everyone who will be living on the new earth), being given the “wreath of life,” and not having one’s name erased “from the scroll of life” was conditioned on a person’s “conquering.” And in the context, “conquering” clearly involved faithful conduct (“keeping [Christ’s] acts until the consummation”). And from Rev. 14:12 it’s further evident that the “conquering” which Christ had in mind involved “keeping the precepts of God and the faith of Jesus.” Thus, the salvation of those to whom Christ delivered the messages found in these chapters is not such that it will come to pass irrespective of what they do or don’t do; rather, to be worthy of the salvation that is available to God’s covenant people during the eons of Christ’s reign will require continued obedience, diligence and faithfulness on their part (apart from which they won’t be granted to eat of the tree of life and won’t avoid the second death, etc.).
Given this fact, we can conclude that, even apart from what John wrote in his first letter, his salvation was based on both his faith and his righteous conduct. Consider the following argument:
1. John and the believing Jews he addressed in his first letter had the same calling and expectation as the believing Jews addressed in Revelation 2-3.
2. The salvation of the believing Jews addressed in Rev. 2-3 was based on both faith and righteous conduct.
3. The salvation of John and the believing Jews addressed in his first letter was based on both faith and righteous conduct.
 Many Christians believe that, when Christ gave his disciples a “new precept” (John 13:34; cf. 15:12-14), he was replacing every other precept given by God to Israel with this precept. According to this interpretation, it’s as if Christ told his disciples, “Don’t worry about keeping the original ten commandments or any of the other precepts that God gave us to keep. All you have to do now is keep this one precept: Love one another as I have loved you.” But this interpretation is absurd. It would be like a student disregarding everything he’d previously learned every time his teacher taught him something new. Jesus’ “new precept” to his disciples was not understood by them as contradicting or replacing the other precepts of God. Moreover, we know that this interpretation cannot be correct, as it contradicts other clear verses (such as 1 John 5:3).