Friday, August 08, 2014

Response to a Baptist preacher influenced by Zane Hodges' view of 1 John, part 2 of 2

The following is the second part of a letter I wrote to someone who had read my study "The Just Shall Live by Faith": Faith and Salvation in All Its Aspects.  I thought that the questions and answers were important enough to post here.

2.) You also stated, on the same section above, "So if I manifest them one day and not another day then I am saved one day and not another day." Here you are confusing eternal security--which is objective, not experiential, and unchanging, with personal assurance of salvation, which is subjective, experiential, and changeable. A true believer is always just as secure as the saints in heaven already. He is secure whether or not he has assurance. A believer can lack personal assurance, but he cannot lack eternal security. That is evident even from a text like 1 John 5:13; not all believers know they have eternal life. If you believe, say, that someone who has said the sinner's prayer and then commits a murder a week for ten years should have assurance of salvation, we would need to see the passages of Scripture that teach this--but there aren't any. In fact, we are specifically told not to be deceived into thinking in such a way:

Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind,
10 Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.
11 And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Cor 6:9-11)

If we say that fornicators, idolators, adulterers, etc. inherit the kingdom of God, we need to not be deceived, because Scripture says in many, many places that they don't. For another example:

14 Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city.
15 For without are dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie. (Rev 22:14-15)

Let's be sure that our thinking on these matters comes from Scripture alone, and let's remember that the many passages like 1 Cor 6:9-11; Rev 22:14-15, etc. are just as inspired as John 3:16. The truth--which I demonstrated in my study with careful, detailed exegesis--is what I said in the paragraph right before the one your questions are on.  I had said: "Can the believer's faith fail him in particular trials? Yes, certainly. Can he fall into spiritual declensions and periods in which his faith is growing weaker? Sadly, the answer is an unequivocal affirmative. However, notwithstanding all such concessions, it is nevertheless those only who are JUST who will LIVE, and will do so because they exercised saving faith, entrusting themselves to Christ as both Lord and Savior, at the moment of their justification and regeneration."

I want you to be aware of where the position that you (at least seem) to be advocating, that assurance of salvation is based simply upon professed faith and nothing else at all, so that saying a holy life is part of Biblical assurance is, in your words, to take the joy out of the gospel, comes from. It was popularized by a man named Zane Hodges, who wrote a book called The Epistles of John: Walking in the Light of God's Love, in which he tried to overturn the Christian consensus that 1 John presented persevering righteousness, belief, and love as the tests of spiritual life. Hodges was a false teacher. In addition to his new view of 1 John, he taught that a lost man does not have to be aware of, know, understand, or believe in the deity, death, and/or resurrection of Christ, but can still be born again. He held to many other wretched heresies. He was an unregenerate false teacher. His view of 1 John did not exist in print until the 1950s, at which time it was still very obscure, and only began to enter and corrupt Baptist churches very, very recently. It did not exist for the first 95% of church history. The fact that a changed life is part of assurance of salvation was universal among true (Baptist) churches, and even in the Protestant world, until a time after your parents were born. Hodges' view is not the faith "once delivered unto the saints" (Jude 3) but a dangerous heresy. We need to recognize and reject it and continue to hold to the Biblical, Baptist faith of our Baptist forefathers, or, if we are going to reject the position on 1 John taught by Baptists from the 1st century until the 1970s or later--then we ought to stop calling ourselves Baptists and call ourselves something else, like "Hodgeites." If we are willing to lay down our lives for the first century Gospel, then we need to reject Hodges' view of 1 John for the historic Baptist doctrine, the view that is perfectly obvious from a natural reading of 1 John and many other passages of Scripture when interpreted literally, grammatically, and historically.  By the way, I have a very difficult time thinking that our Baptist forefathers and everyone else for 95% of church history were "attack[ing] faith" and "tak[ing] all the joy out of the gospel" by teaching what I wrote above, so that nobody could exalt faith and have joy in the gospel until Zane Hodges and a few other non-Baptists like him came along and popularized a new view of 1 John.

3.) In a later note, you wrote: "Often they doubt it the most if you make all these requirements." I would suggest that we consider that the Apostle John made the requirements, not me. All I did was study every passage in the OT and NT in the "just," "live," and "faith" word groups, classify all these passages, and draw exegetical conclusions from them. Before we say that I made up requirements that lead people to doubt their salvation, we really ought to carefully exegete passages such as the 1 John 3 text above and show that they don't really mean what they plainly say, and show that the rest of my exegesis is in error. If the Apostle John says things like "We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren" (1 Jn 3:14), then we actually know that we have passed from death to life because we love the brethren, not come to "doubt it the most" by "mak[ing] all these requirements." Godly people actually get assurance from verses like 1 John 3:14, not come to doubt, or such verses are not the truth.

4.) You asked, "Have you ever doubted your salvation?"

Answer: I'm sure that I have, although I don't think I have for a long time. I can't remember the last time I had a problem with doubting my salvation. Books like 1 John are very comforting and assuring.

5.) You asked: "In witnessing would you take someone who had just been saved to Jn 3:36 and tell them [sic] that they [sic] have eternal life now that they [sic] have believed?"

Answer: Since Jn 3:36 is a verse about how to get eternal life, not a verse about the subjective peace and joy from assurance, it would not be the first place I would go to explain assurance. I would use Jn 3:36 to explain how to get eternal life, since that is what it is about, and I would use verses about assurance to explain assurance. I would go to the passages actually about assurance, such as 1 John. The Lord Jesus told people who had just been saved that if they had just been truly converted and had just become His followers, they would continue in His Word--something Paul also says and something found in many other passages of Scripture (Jn 8:30-32; Heb 3:14; Mt 24:13; etc.), so I would tell someone who has newly professed conversion what the Lord Jesus and the Apostles told people like that. They knew a whole lot better than I do what to tell people, and so following what they did is going to be the best thing I can do.

When I was an undergrad in college I had read a variety of stuff on soulwinning from the Sword of the Lord which left my evangelistic methodology shallow. I led lots and lots of people to repeat the sinner's prayer and then sought to give them assurance because they made a decision. None of them ever came to the church I was a member of at the time. I wish I could go back now and tell those people, almost all--I hope not all, period!--of whom I almost certainly made two-fold children of hell what Christ told people in John 8:30-32 instead of telling them what the Sword of the Lord organization told me to tell them. Unfortunately, I can't do that. However, I would encourage you not to follow my bad practice and don't waste years of your life misleading people, but instead turning many to righteousness, so that you can shine like the stars forever and ever (Dan 12), instead of giving people false assurance for a number of years, like I did. When you stand before the Lord you will be very glad if you use the passages actually about assurance to give people assurance instead of using other passages that aren't about assurance and so giving people false assurance.

6.) Two other comments you made were: "Acc. to the previous how can he be assured if it is based on a focus on himself and not on the Bible?" At the end, when I stated "Receive His promise--be assured of your salvation--and go on in your Christian walk from strength to strength," you commented: 'This is contradictory to the previous [sic]. Here you are saying it is based on the promise but early [sic] you said it is based on what a person does??"

My response: First, where did I say that a person is to focus on himself and not on the Bible? If you could quote the part where I said a person is to "focus on himself and not on the Bible," I would appreciate it. I will then immediately take that sentence out. Perhaps we should carefully consider what the historic Baptist position actually advocates first, and not fall into Hodges' heresy based on a misrepresentation. Most people don't fall into Hodges' heresy through careful exegesis of Scripture, but through setting up straw men, like that the historic Baptist and orthodox Christian view of 1 John is to "focus on himself and not on the Bible," and then, based on such misrepresentations, they adopt Hodges' heresy as the (alleged) only other alternative. Let's avoid that snare.

The way Hodges would argue--which I suspect is what you are advocating--is that if a holy life, love for the brethren, etc. have anything to do with assurance, then one must be focused on himself. However, this is not the case, for the following reasons.

A.) Most importantly, Scripture never, ever presents the matter this way. Hodges has to torture the plain teaching of many passages of Scripture to come to his position--for example, in relation to the 1 John 3 text quoted above, he taught that some saved people are children of the devil. That is what one has to do to if he is going to deny the plain teaching of the passage that believers practice righteousness as a lifestyle. 

B.) Secondly, the holy life of the justified is not self-produced moralism, but it is part of the purchased inheritance that they have through the cross of Christ. Regeneration--based on the cross--shatters the power of sin over the newly redeemed person. Sanctification--purchased by the cross and applied progressively by the Holy Spirit--is based on the cross. Christlikeness flows out of the cross. It is not based on self-sufficient moralism. When 1 John plainly says, over and over, that the children of God cannot practice sin because they are born of God (1 John 3:9), the Apostle is pointing to a fruit of the cross, not to self-sufficient moralism. Furthermore, honest believers see and get assurance both through the change Christ (not they themselves) has wrought in them, 1 John 3, and they also characteristically confess their sins and look to the cross for cleansing, another mark of the children of God which brings them assurance (1 John 1:9). Consider 1 John 1 in context:

1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life;
2 (For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;)
3 That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.
4 And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full.
5 This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.
6 If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth:
7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.
8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

In the Apostle John's day, there were proto-Gnostics who had left the fellowship of the church (1 Jn 2:19), and John is writing to assure those who did not follow the proto-Gnostics of their salvation. He reminds them of the reality of the incarnation, contra the Gnostic docetism (1:1-2). He says that they--all believers--are really the ones in fellowship with God, not the proto-Gnostics. (While there is a clear right with God/not right with God distinction in Scripture, in context 1 John 1:3 is not distinguishing some believers as in fellowship with God from believers who aren't; he is saying that all the church members/saved people he is writing to are in fellowship with God and know God because they are saved; it is like 1 Cor 1:9, where all believers are in the fellowship of His Son; or Jn 17:3, where all who have eternal life know God, a fellowship term. See the vast majority of commentaries on 1 John for more information.) John wants the church to have full joy because they are the ones who have eternal life, not the proto-Gnostics (PG's), v. 4. John's message is not new but old; God is holy, and those who are in saving fellowship with Him (all believers)  walk in the light, v. 5-7, unlike the proto-Gnostics, who didn't care about holy living because they thought the body/flesh was unchangeably sinful and only the spirit was holy, and unchangeably so. All believers are in fellowship with God, unlike the PG's, and the blood of Christ continually cleanses them from sin, v. 5-7. The PG's said they had no sin, but believers characteristically confess their sins, v. 8-10, and God has forgiven and does forgive them, and progressively cleanses and purifies them from all unrighteousness through progressive sanctification, a process that will culminate in glorification. These facts assure the church that it was they, not the PG's, that are the ones with eternal life, for 1 John 1 describes them, not the PG's. 

Thus, both the change believers see Christ has wrought in them (1 John 3), and the fact that they confess their sins and recognize that they have not arrived (1 John 1:8-10) point to the cross. Neither is self-dependent moralism. The contrast is not "either you believe in self-dependent moralism or you adopt the view of Zane Hodges," but the contrast is between the Biblical and historic Baptist view--which is Christ-focused and Christ-dependent--and the view of a heretic whose ideas have only very, very recently begun to infiltrate a minority of Baptist churches. Let's reject the view of Zane Hodges, let's be Christ-dependent and Christ-focused, and let's be honest with the Scripture Christ inspired and recognize that the Holy Spirit says that the new life He imparts to His people is one of the things that gives the saints assurance.

5.) I will respond to one final comment you made--I think the rest are answered above. You said: "If a person doesn't have assurance and shouldn't have it when they [sic] are in sin, that is like an earthly father saying you are not my son because you are doing such thing [sic]. Knowing one is 'accepted in the beloved' is the greatest environment for growth, Eph 1:6." Of course, I believe, and stated in my study, that having assurance is important for Christian growth. I entirely agree with you on that. In relation to your analogy, I would point out that you didn't give any verses for your position. The verses on the believer's adoption and sonship actually show that the sons of God are like God their Father--the image of God has been and is being renewed in them again so that the dominion of sin is shattered, they are becoming holy like God their Father (Col 3:10), and will be perfectly holy like Him in glory in the future, 1 John 3:2. The passages on sonship actually associate a holy life with sonship. For example, 1 John 3:2-3--the sons of God purify themselves, even as He is pure; those who are Christ's brethren as sons of God are predestinated to be conformed to the holy image of His Son and the sons of God are led by the Spirit of God to mortify the deeds of the body, Romans 8. Scripture teaches the children of the holy heavenly Father are like their Father, and children of the devil are like their unholy father. A more Biblically accurate analogy would be the following. Let's say there were two families living next to each other. In one family the parents were both blue eyed, blond-haired, light-skinned people from Norway. In the other family the parents were both very dark skinned, black, curly-haired, brown-eyed people from Africa. If two children were playing outside of their houses, and one child had blond hair, blue eyes, and white skin, while the other had very dark skin, black hair, and brown eyes, but both children said they were the children of the Norwegian family, which one would be telling the truth?

Friend, let's recognize that the view of Zane Hodges on 1 John is false and one of the many heresies that he held. Let's hold to the view of 1 John, and the view of assurance, held by our Baptist forefathers for the first 95% of church history. Let us passionately love the truth, and because we love it, let's hate every false way, such as the Hodges view of assurance and of 1 John, and let's strive together with all our might to keep it out of every true church, for many people will be burning in hell eternally because they were given assurance by someone with Hodges view when they weren't really saved. Let's love God, love the gospel, and earnestly contend for all the faith once delivered to the saints--a faith once delivered in the first century, not by Zane Hodges in the late 20th century.

With love for Christ and for you,

Thomas Ross


Bobby Mitchell said...

This is excellent work, Brother Ross. I trust the Lord will be glorified in it.

Kent Brandenburg said...

I too appreciate Brother Ross, his diligence, and work. He does work that many times we don't or can't take the time to do. I hope others take advantage of his expertise and tremendous work ethic. Please.

KJB1611 said...

Dear Pastors Mitchell & Brandenburg,

Thanks. I'm glad you found it helpful. I thought that it could strengthen many of the Lord's people and churches; thus, I posted it.

I deeply regret that the person who I originally wrote to did not think the same way as you brethren did about the letter. Part of his
response was that he did "not really want to read" what I had written--and, as far as I know, never even read it. This was because he did not feel it "helpful . . . spiritually when I get into these
discussions . . . it . . . is harmful to me. . . . I really do get weary of the way you handle things[.] . . . Does that mean everyone else is wrong and you are right? . . . I . . . do not want to be distracted by this[.]"

It is certainly true that if someone took selected comments any of us have made to others, we ourselves could end up looking very bad, for
who has always used his mouth--or his pen--in an absolutely Christ-like, perfectly holy way? Nevertheless, I cannot help but think that the conclusion that reading my letter is harmful
spiritually, unhelpful, distracting, and wearying, because I think everyone else is wrong and I only am right (while I am advocating a view held by Baptists for 2,000 years, and opposing one that did not even exist for 95% of church history), is not one that is pleasing to the Lord, especially if it means that the person who originally got
the letter will continue to preach error to people from pulpits, counsel people individually, and give them assurance in a Hodges sort of way, rather than being willing to return to the doctrine of
assurance taught by Christ, the Apostles, and the Lord Jesus' church for 2000 years. Taking the time to write this letter was an act of love, compassion, shepherding, and discipleship, and it would be a
good idea to get "distracted" by such a letter long enough to find out that what you are telling people about salvation is wrong so that they don't burn in hell forever and ever. It would be obedience to the
command in James to be quick to hear but slow to speak and slow to wrath.

I am grateful that, by contrast, there are many people in my own assembly, and also many brethren in other assemblies like those
shepherded by both of you, Pastors Mitchell & Brandenburg, who find such material as this letter encouraging and God-glorifying. It is a
blessing to know that many historic Baptists love the true gospel, resist and detest the heresy of Zane Hodges and those influenced by him, care enough about the Bible to be willing to study what it teaches and learn from others, and intend, by God's grace and for His glory, to pass all the truth down until the Rapture.

KJB1611 said...

I have now posted this letter, both parts 1 and 2 together, here:

KJB1611 said...

The link has changed to: