Many of you are Grace Partners and supporters of Grace To You. As a result you received the same letter from John that I did detailing the apostasy of a man named Steve. How tragic that letter is! I don’t think that there is any real need to reproduce that letter here; suffice it to say, that Steve, who thought he had been a Christian, who had pastored for over ten (10) years, and who had received “much help” from Grace To You walked away from the God that he had professed.
So, many of us would say, how can that be? How can something so tragic with such monumental consequences take place? Naturally, the accompanying interview between MacArthur and Phil Johnson on a recorded CD gives the ultimate answer – Steve was never a Christian at all.
Johnathan Edwards had asked three (3) penetrating and eternally important questions in the preface of his book, The Religious Affections. More than likely there are not any greater questions that could ever be asked, unless it be “What must I do to be saved?” Those three (3) question are as follows:
"What are the distinguishing qualifications of those that are in favor with God, and entitled to His eternal rewards?"
"What is the nature of true religion?"
"And wherein do lie the distinguishing notes of that virtue and holiness that is acceptable in the sight of God?"
We are ever in need to be reminded of the profound statement made by Jesus Christ, “Strait is the gate and narrow is the way that leads to life, and few there be that find it.” (Matthew 7:14)
Hebrews 12:14 is an equally challenging and chilling passage of Scripture that I have been meditating on and off for quite some time – “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” (ESV)
Strive for the holiness, what holiness? It is not the physical acts of holiness or sanctification such as church attendance, bible reading, giving, serving, or acts of separation that is being spoken of. We are to seek after, follow after, strive to detect and determine the work or effect of the Holy Spirit in our lives as the evidence of true redemption.
The distinction is important because the writer is not talking about the fact that you have been set apart as holy for God, or that you do holy things. The idea that is conveyed in this word is the underlying truth of the reality of salvation in your life. This reality has been made possible and is being made possible by Christ and accomplished by Christ through the working of the Holy Spirit in your life. It is the effect in Christians, so that the "hagiaomos" or the sanctifying effects of the HS is the living form of the Christian state. Let me say it another way – this holiness that the writer is talking about is the working of the Holy Spirit that is made evident by His fruit.
The fact that the HS is present in our lives and demonstrates that presence by conforming us to the image of Christ is the sufficient evidence that we are true believers. Not because we do or don't do certain things. Yes, the flip side of this coin is that we do and don't do certain things because salvation is evident in our lives - but let's not get side-tracked. The atonement of Christ is the basis or foundation of the Christian life. The sanctifying effect of the Holy Spirit is the moral form which develops out of the atonement of Christ and by the way without this work of the Holy Spirit no one can see Jesus Christ. So, do you see the distinction? We are striving after, or seeking to know certain the effects of the Holy Spirit in our lives. We are not striving after church membership, church attendance, or any so called Christian activity.
We are striving after the moral influence of the Holy Spirit in our lives; which of course will produce true Christian activity. Otherwise, how would we differ from the Pharisee or the hypocrite? We are to be constantly, continually and actively striving for the effects of the Holy Spirit in our lives since this is the gauge by which we have certainty that we are the children of God.
This is what Steve missed. Steve, it seems, got caught up in visible signs of “sanctification” without having been diligent and earnest in seeking the signs of the presence and influence of the Holy Spirit in his life. This is how people can think they are believers for long periods of time, and even pastor churches who have never been brought to the saving knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
May those who name the name of Christ never forget this warning and admonition by the writer of Hebrews. May those who name the name of Christ never be found to be apostate due to the fact that the the effect of the Holy Spirit is missing because He is missing in their lives.