For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self‑controlled, upright and Godly lives in the present age, while we wait for the blessed hope‑‑the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.
The true grace of God leads us out of sin to walk soberly, righteously and in godliness so that we may be justified, declared righteous, before God. “For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous (lit. be justified)” (Rom 2:13). We are proved righteous, declared righteous, justified when we pass the tests God gives us to see if we will in fact walk uprightly in the power He gives us. Cf. James 1:2‑4, 12; 1 Pet 1:6‑7, 4:12 (lit. “the fiery ordeal…which is for your testing.”) and esp. 1 Cor 9:27 where Paul himself is fearful to not fail the test (NIV “disqualified” = grk. adokimos = reprobate, tested and found to have failed). One is not justified, declared righteous, when he continues to walk in sin. But on the other hand, we must be careful to never suppose that we are able to satisfy God’s righteous requirements in our own fleshly strength. We are justified only and entirely by God’s grace. But His grace makes us righteous by leading us out of sin and giving us the power through the Holy Spirit to walk uprightly in a way we never could in the flesh. The test is whether or not we will. When we do we cannot boast, for the life we live is His, and it is His righteousness, not ours.
The true grace of God is a gift of life‑‑true life. That though sinners by birth, deserving only of judgement, God in His grace is willing to give us a new life through His Son and through the Holy Spirit so we may not be slaves to sin but slaves to righteousness. His grace forgives us of our former sins‑‑the blood of Christ atones for them. Christ died in our place. He received our judgement so that God’s justice would be satisfied. How wonderful is His grace! But that’s not all. His grace is twofold: It forgives us of our former sins but also leads us out of sin through the power of the Holy Spirit so we may walk uprightly and be holy.
It is at this point that a false harlot church perverts the true grace of God by not enduring sound doctrine (i.e. the whole truth). She is perfectly willing to teach that God’s grace forgives us of our sins, for this is what people like to hear. But she neglects or waters down the necessary collateral truth that God’s grace also leads us out of sin to walk in righteousness. Those guilty of such perversion have done so in order to draw after themselves large numbers of people and not turn them away with the harsh demands of the gospel. They are very religious, very sincere, and suppose they are helping God out‑‑serving Him‑‑by “saving” all those people. But in fact they are those of whom the Scripture speaks most harshly. It calls them “deceitful workmen” and servants of Satan (2 Cor 11:13‑15). They are the false prophets of Scripture, the ravenous wolves who appear in sheep’s clothing (Mt 7:15). They think they are serving God and have a false security that they will inherit eternal life (Mt 7:21‑23). But they are deceived and deceiving others (2 Tim 3:13). They travel over land and sea to make a single convert only to make him twice as much a son of hell as they are (Mt 23:15). They are caught in Satan’s trap for this very purpose of doing his will (2 Tim 2:26). They are savage beasts in the midst of the flock “who distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them” (Acts 20:29‑30). They are the blind who lead the blind right up to the pit (Lk 6:39), the false prophets who lead the masses down the broad road to destruction (Mt 7:13‑15). They are “shepherds who feed only themselves,” who have “taken the way of Cain” and “rushed for profit into Balaam’s error.” “They follow their own evil desires” and “boast about themselves and flatter others for their own advantage” (Jd 12, 11, 16, cf. vs. 4). “They mouth empty, boastful words and, by appealing to the lustful desires of sinful human nature, they entice people who are just escaping from those who live in error. They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves to depravity‑‑for a man is a slave to whatever has mastered him” (2 Pet 2:18‑19). Blackest darkness is reserved for them forever (Jd 13). “Their end will be what their actions deserve” (2 Cor 11:15).
Because of the harsh condemnation the Scripture pronounces upon these men we forget that outwardly they appear very sincere and godly (they are dressed in sheep’s clothing) and can hardly believe that such words could refer to any religious people we know. But “Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness” (2 Cor 11:14‑15). Perhaps the reason we find it all so difficult to believe is because we do not understand the eternal consequences their harlotry brings to those they lead astray. The perverted doctrine of God’s grace gives such false disciples a false security that they are pleasing God. But, in fact, having been fully trained by their teachers, the false prophets, they are just like them (Lk 6:39‑40). They turn God’s grace into a license for sin (Jd 4) not knowing the horrible consequences, not knowing they are receiving a mark on their hand or forehead that recognizes them as a slave to sin, a son of this world, instead of a slave to righteousness, a son of God. “For a man is a slave to whatever has mastered him.” And just as God marks those who are His (Ex 13:16, Dt 6:8, 11:18, Ez 9:4,5, Rev 7:1‑3) so does Satan mark those who are his (Rev 13:16). God’s sign or mark upon the hand was to be a sign of obedience to God’s law. Satan’s mark is one of man‑made religion, building a tower of Babel, trying to earn salvation through the works of one’s hands that can only result in an outward form of godliness. God’s sign upon the forehead is one of knowing His word, His way, and reflecting upon it, having it ever before one’s eyes so as to be careful to walk in His ways. It is a visible sign of Whom one serves. Satan’s mark upon the forehead is just the opposite. It is a mark that gives one a false security that he is saved because he knows some truth.
“If anyone worships the beast and his image and receives his mark on the forehead or on the hand, he also will drink of the wine of God’s fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of His wrath. He will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment rises forever and ever. There is no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and his image or for anyone who receives the mark of his name. This calls for patient endurance on the part of the saints who obey God’s commandments and remain faithful to Jesus (i.e. remain faithful as His Bride and do not engage in harlotry)” (Rev 14:9‑12).
What happens is that an individual is introduced to God’s grace‑‑perhaps even by a false prophet‑‑and genuinely experiences His love and forgiveness. He comes to believe in Christ and is redeemed from sin. And yet although set free, bought back from the old master of sin by the blood of Christ as a ransom, although given the Holy Spirit to walk in righteousness, to walk in love and so be justified before God, he is deceived by the false prophet with his perverted doctrine of God’s grace and is led by him back to serve the old master sin. He is enticed by the empty boastful words of one who appeals to the lustful desires of sinful human nature (2 Pet 2:18) and so is led astray by the harlot (Prov 7:6‑27). He seals his eternity by choosing to walk in sin rather than righteousness. And yet at the same time he believes he is serving God and has a false security that he is saved because of the perverted doctrine of God’s grace.
“It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, if they fall away to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace” (Heb 6:4‑6). Christ paid the ransom once. If one is once redeemed out of sin and then goes back to serve the old master sin, there in no longer any sacrifice for sins left. To be redeemed again would be to crucify the Son of God all over again.
Hence Scripture admonishes us to see “that there be no immoral or godless person like Esau, who sold his own birthright for a single meal. (Esau was to inherit the blessing, the inheritance from Abraham that typifies eternal life. But he loved the flesh more than God and so…) afterwards, when he desired to inherit the blessing (of eternal life), he was rejected (related to the word for reprobate), for he found no place for repentance, though he sought for it with tears” (Heb 12:16,17 NASB, cf. again Heb 6:6).
A similar warning is found in the example of Saul, Israel’s first king. Though outwardly religious his heart was corrupt and he only honored God with his lips. The prophet Samuel rebukes him, “‘Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the LORD? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams. For rebellion is like the sin of witchcraft, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, he has rejected you as king.’ Then Saul said to Samuel, ‘I have sinned. I violated the LORD’S command and your instructions. I was afraid of the people and so I gave in to them. (He didn’t want to turn away the numbers). Now I beg you, forgive my sin and come back with me, so that I may worship the LORD.’ (He wants to repent). But Samuel said to him, ‘I will not go back with you. You have rejected the word of the LORD, and the LORD has rejected you as king over Israel! He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind'” (1 Sam 15:22‑26,29). Like Esau, Saul found no place for repentance either.
Paul warns, “I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. (They were “saved”. They had received God’s grace and been delivered from the land of bondage and slavery.) They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them: their bodies were scattered over the desert. Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of ages has come. So if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” (1 Cor 10:1‑6,11‑12, cf. esp. Heb 3:7‑4:11).
For indeed, “If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth (i.e. we go back to the old master sin) no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgement and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted (blasphemed, cf. Mt 12:31) the (Holy) Spirit of Grace? It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb 10:26‑29,31).
“If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning. It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred commandment that was passed on to them. Of them the proverbs are true: ‘A dog returns to its vomit,’ and, ‘A sow that is washed goes back to wallowing in the mud'” (2 Pet 2:20‑22). The truth of the gospel and its hope is no longer of any value to these. Indeed, Jesus warned, “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces” (Mt 7:6). The sad and horrifying reality is that such as these can no longer be touched by the truth. They are reprobates doomed to an eternal hell because they were led astray by the false prophets with their perverted doctrine of God’s grace. They are completely deceived by it into thinking they are serving God when in fact they are serving Satan. The truth cannot touch them because they believe they already have the truth. And so when confronted by the truth they violently oppose it, just like the Pharisees did Jesus, just like Jerusalem did the prophets, just like those with only an outward form of godliness have always resisted the truth. They trample it underfoot and then turn and tear to pieces the one who brought it.
From an eternal perspective we see then the importance of understanding the true grace of God. We see the importance of the numerous Scriptural commands to not be deceived by a perverted doctrine of God’s grace that does not lead one out of sin (cf. 1 Cor 6:9, 15:33, Gal 6:7, 1 Jn 3:7). We also see the importance of heeding Scripture’s command to beware of those who espouse such doctrines, regardless of how “godly” and “sincere” they may seem (Mt 7:15, 16:6,11,12, 24:4,11,24, Lk 20:46, 1 Jn 2:26, etc…). And we see that Scripture is fully justified in its severe condemnation of these men, because of the awful consequences of their sin for those they deceive. “Things that cause people to sin are bound to come, but woe to that person through whom they come. It would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around his neck than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin. So be on your guard!” (Lk 17:1‑3). May we take heed to ourselves lest we be deceived, and lest we deceive others.
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