Sunday, December 28, 2008

The platelets - preservatives within the blood.

When I was first converted I used to give a talk about the blood based on the text "The blood of Jesus Christ cleanses is from all unrighteousness".

Considering the mess it makes when it is spilled it is hard to think of blood as a cleansing agent. But, of course, the white blood cells are just that. Without them we become infected with the foulest infections but they are there in the blood to seek out every bacterium wherever it is in the body. No nook or cranny exists but a white cell finds a way in and eats the germ.

That's not all blood does. Red cells carry life-giving oxygen. Watch an anemic patient who is given a blood transfusion. Where they were weak and listless, hardly able to raise themselves from their bed, they become invigorated, vibrant and energetic. "The life is in the blood" says the Bible and you can see what it means. The blood of Jesus Christ not only cleanses, it brings new life.

But apart from red cells and white cells there is a third type of cell that is not much spoken of - the platelet. What does a platelet do? It rushes to fill in holes so the blood doesn't seep out. And that is my topic today. What is it that prevents our faith from seeping away?

I Peter 1:4-5 talks about our inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade - kept in heaven for us, who through faith are shielded by God's power until the salvation that is ready to be revealed at the last time.

The doctrine of the final perseverance of the saints (or preservation if you prefer) is the final 'P' in TULIP, one of the five points of Calvinism that many people abhor. The doctrine is logical; it seeks to give glory to God for everything. We are saved through God's intervention - we cannot save ourselves because we are Totally depraved - not that we are extremely horrible in every part, but that every part of us has been touched by the corruption of sin; even our wills so that we cannot choose for ourselves to believe God whose Unconditional election instead chooses us - He chooses us not because we have any merit, but because He loves us. Our salvation was achieved on the cross, but the atonement although available to all who would choose to be saved is Limited to the elect because only those who are chosen by God are able to choose Him. It is all of grace and none of works, but this grace is Irresistible - despite our sinful hearts we cannot resist Him, and since it is He who saves to the uttermost it is He who Preserves for eternal life would not be eternal if it had an end.

Nevertheless, TULIP does not carry universal approval, for some will say that it is a man-made concoction produced by selecting certain texts and ignoring contradicting ones, and in any case it does not concur with our experience, for it is clear that some do fall away.

So, there are some who doubt the final preservation of the saints, but there are some that distort it. It is not true that one conversion experience in a great tent somewhere sets you up for life. Alec Motyer tells of the time when he, as a curate in London, was given the task of following up those who had 'gone forward' at the Billy Graham Haringey Crusade. It was a soul destroying experience, he said, for every door he knocked at was either closed to him or greeted him with an embarrassed confession that yes, he had gone forward, but it was a thing of the moment. We all know of people who seemed wonderfully saved, but six weeks later were living their lives in exactly the same way they always had.

Jesus in the parable of the sower, tells is that are many kinds of soil on which the seed falls, and although it may spring up, if it has no roots it will wither and die. In Mark 13:13 it is he who stands firm to the end who will be saved. Salvation is not for those who 'make a decision' but for those who repent; those who think again; those who change their way of thinking, not just change their mind to have it changed back again next week.

We need to be a Gospel people, who always keep the cross before us. Some think the Gospel old hat; an old story that needs to be told to children, but when we are mature please explain to us exactly what Leviticus is about; help us to understand Ezekiel; reveal to us what Revelation means; dare to take us through the second half of Daniel. If we don't continue to keep the Gospel before us we will grow cold in our faith, not recognising the love of God.

Don't assume that the 'old man' within you is dead; he is only sleeping. We need to be a people of repentance. Backsliding follows for those who think they don't need to repent. "Give us this day our daily bread" is followed immediately by "Forgive us our trespasses". There is no such thing as sinless perfection this side of the grave.

Jesus' followers were called disciples because they were under discipline, and we, too, must discipline ourselves if we are to follow him. Prayer, bible reading, and the fellowship of other believers all preserve us - they are the means of grace employed by the Holy Spirit.

I know my faults only too well and perseverance isn't one of them. I am easily distracted. I have one of those wood pigeon minds that pecks a bit here, then there, then over the fence in someone else's garden. I would never eat my way through a whole field of wheat - I'd be too attracted by the barley across the way. I think I have four books on the go at the minute and I'm following about seven TV series. How could I be expected to persevere? Only in God's strength. Ephesians 6:10 tells us to be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power. That is the only way it is possible. You see, we are shielded by God's mighty power.

If it doesn't seem true - you've seen too many fall away - then consider whether they were truly saved, and if you think they were then consider whether they are just backsliding and one day will return. Martin Lloyd Jones tells of a man who seemed to have made a shipwreck of his faith and was so distressed that he was on his way to jump off London Bridge. As he passed by Westminster Chapel he remembered that he had promised himself that he would hear MLJ preach one time before he died. He went in, but was barred from the sanctuary because MLJ was praying. He heard his prayer - "We pray for those here who are backsliding". That day he was wonderfully restored to faith. If your friends or relatives seem to have fallen away then pray for them. Even if you do not see them restored in this life, even if they show no evidence of it, who are you to make that judgement? Thank God only God is required to judge one man from another. Shall not the judge of all the earth do right?

What about those texts that suggest that the saved may yet be lost? We must read every text in context but this is an eternal promise: "All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father's will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day."

It is because we have the shield of God's power that we are safe. When you put your hand in the hand of the one who holds the Universe in place, He won't let you go no matter how slippery you are.

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