Last time we talked about holding fast the title deed of our salvation—which is faith. “Faith is the title deed of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen.”
Back in the old days when I lived in Calgary—yes I know, I am going back a long way—I used to know an old saint named Andy Svensen. He was an amiable old man with a permanent twinkle in his eye—and a permanent question on his lips whenever he greeted me.
“Are you still saved?” he would smile, eyes twinkling, as he shook my hand. I had no idea how long Andy had been saved—a long time. I had only been saved a few months.
“Yes,” I would smile back confidently, “I’m still saved.”
I didn’t know it at the time, but I realize now that Andy was making a doctrinal statement by asking that question. Once-saved-always-saved.
It’s good doctrine… as long as it’s held in tension with the many ifs in the Bible.
And you that were once alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath He reconciled
In the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in His sight:
IF ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel… (Col. 1.21-23).
For we are made partakers of Christ IF we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast unto the end (Heb. 3.14).
Today, IF ye will hear His Voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation, in the day of temptation in the wilderness, when your fathers tempted me, proved me, and saw my work forty years (Heb. 3.8).
The writer of Hebrews applies the whole story of Israel failing to enter their promised land to us in our day. For we too have a promised heritage—and that’s what salvation is all about. God’s purpose is to bring us into our inheritance, the fullness of the salvation Christ purchased for us on Calvary with His own blood.
The implication is that it is possible for us to fall short of this salvation as they of old fell short… if we do not continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the Gospel. Instead of overcoming in the wilderness, they were overthrown in the wilderness (1 Cor. 10.5). The same with us… if we believe not, as they believed not—that is, disobey as they disobeyed (Heb. Ch. 3). It is possible to fall short of the Promise if we cast away our confidence, which hath great recompense of reward (Heb. 10.35). It is possible to fall short in the trial of faith if we don’t continue to come to the Throne of grace for the provision we need in every trial. The provision is there at the Throne of grace—no matter how great the trial. The greater the trial the greater the grace, and the greater the provision. But neglect or disobedience on our part—call it lack of faith—could sever us from our promised salvation.
It’s quite the thing to discover that God charged those in the wilderness of not believing in Him. “…They believed not in God, and trusted not in His salvation” (Ps. 78.22). That’s quite the statement, but that’s what God said. Whatever they held doctrinally, He said, “they believed not in God.” They had been saved from destruction in Egypt by the blood of the lamb, and rejoiced as they crossed the Red Sea. “There did we rejoice in Him” (Ps. 66.6). But now in the wilderness… where did their faith go? God was in the process of unfolding this great salvation, but “they trusted not in His salvation.” They lost the joy. This did not look like salvation—this huge trial they were in. “They believed not in God.” The true test of whether or not we believe in God is what happens in the fiery trial. It may be affliction, or difficult circumstances, or unjust treatment, or persecution… or the furnace of time when God’s promise seems nowhere in sight. “Manifold trials,” Peter calls them. It’s all the fiery trial where our faith is assayed—whether it is genuine or not. Do we continue to believe in God… or not? Do we continue to come to the Throne of Grace for the provision God has for us in this trial, or like Israel of old in the wilderness, do we draw back? They drew back. Drew back unto what?
For we are not of them who draw back unto perdition, but of them that believe unto the saving of the soul” (Heb. 10.19).
…So there are ifs in the Bible. If we do not heed them there is no guarantee of salvation.
The beautiful thing about the New Covenant ifs is that they do not rest upon our own shoulders alone. Yes, we have a part in it, we are to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling. But this work is working with God.
For it is God that worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure (Phil. 2.13).
What a wonder. This is cause for great rejoicing and comfort. We have an Advocate—the Holy Spirit—who is committed to securing our part in the New Covenant as much as God’s part. If it were not so, the New Covenant could not rightly be called a better covenant (Heb. 8.6). Why is it better? Well, what was wrong with the old one? It was the people. God found fault with the Old Covenant because of the people.
For if the first had been faultless, then should no place have been found for the second.
For finding fault with them, he saith, Behold, the days come when I will make a New Covenant… (Heb. 8.8).
The New Covenant, then, is better because it contains provision for our complete success! Jesus our great high priest is—not only on the Throne of Grace in Heaven, but also right here in our hearts by the Holy Spirit—“the surety of a better covenant” (Heb. 7.22).
So there is cause for much rejoicing. We can have the joy of the Lord every step along the way as much as when we first crossed the Red Sea. Yes, “there did we rejoice in Him.” But let us “hold fast the confidence and rejoicing of the hope steadfast unto the end” (Heb. 3.6). We can do this step by step along the way—all along the way—as we continue to tap into the provision of the Throne of Grace.
Which brings me back to my old friend Andy Svenson. He’s gone to his reward now. But I recall once when I visited Andy in his little three-room house in Bowness—he was a bachelor, had never married. He greeted me at the door with a handshake and a smile– and his favourite question– and invited me in. I liked the little place: it was a bit cluttered, but clean. The good, homey smell of coffee had long since percolated into everything in the house. We visited for a bit—this old man with his wisps of white hair and this young man who had not yet parted ways with his hippy-style locks. And then Andy asked me: “Do you like to sing?”
Without waiting for me to answer he got out a tattered old hymn book and started to, well, sing… holding the book so I could read the words too.
Sweeter as the years go by, sweeter as the years go by,
Richer, fuller, deeper, Jesus’ love is sweeter,
Sweeter as the years go by.
This is how it should be with us, beloved. Yes, the ifs are there. And we must heed them. But as we heed them with the help of the Holy Spirit, this will be our song all along the way.
…Which, it just comes to me, is what A Mending Feast is all about.