Divine and Self Keeping, Both
As with just about every Bible subject, there is an extreme at each opposing end of the spectrum. Some religionists insist that God keeps man securely saved and safe. "Manís spiritual preservation is wholly of God, without any participation or human condition," say they. Hence, the doctrine of "once saved, always saved." The opposite doctrine involves human self-sufficiency and efficacy. "Salvation and preservation is altogether determined by man, God merely watches from afar," say they. The first mentality results in no sense of urgency and responsibility on the part of man, the "God does it all" thinking. The second mindset promotes the thinking of the too often average Pharisee of Jesusí day, "I take all the credit" (Luke 18: 9-14).
While such verses as Joshua 1: 7 may not be speaking to the exact continuum that I am presenting in this treatment of God and man in the matter of spiritual preservation, there are certain applicable principles. Consider the resident warning:
"Only be thou strong and very courageous, that thou mayest observe to do according to all the law, which Moses my servant commanded thee: turn not from it to the right hand or to the left, that thou mayest prosper whithersoever thou goest."
God in the matter of manís preservation. The scriptures are replete with teaching that clearly and irrefutably shows God has an active and important role in the keeping of his children. Any theology that omits or denies divine keeping is a most sad and futile doctrine.
God keeps the mouth of the saved. The words we speak are so important as they can and do affect so many with whom we come into contact. Words can either encourage or discourage others and thus influence their salvation or being lost. Consider the Spirit led teaching of David:
"Set a watch, O LORD, before my mouth; keep the door of my lips. Incline not my heart to any evil thing, to practice wicked works with men that work iniquity: and let me not eat of their dainties" (Ps. 141: 3, 4).
God is able and does keep the saved saved. There are many verses in the Bible that set forth the assurance that God keeps his own people. Consider one of many:
"Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, To the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen" (Jude 23, 24).
God is involved in the keeping of the heart and minds of his people. The Christian finds much encouragement in verses that teach Godís important and powerful involvement in their salvation. Consider Paulís statement:
"And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus" (Phili. 4: 7).
God in his sovereignty and providence is actively involved in preserving his people from the wicked. The righteous have enemies, those who hate them because the righteous are who and what they are and they are, conversely wicked (cp. Luke 6: 27). Such resentment can result in bitter and cruel persecution. The righteous, though, have the promise of God seen in such verses as the following:
"Keep me, O LORD, from the hands of the wicked; preserve me from the violent man; who have purposed to overthrow my goings" (Ps. 140: 4, cp. 141: 8-10).
God is active in keeping the saved from presumptuous sins. Presumptuous sins are such by their essential nature that offer doom and spiritual recovery. From such, it is difficult to return (cp. Num. 15: 30ff.). Notice Godís presence in such circumstances of avoidance:
"Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me: then shall I be upright, and I shall be innocent from the great transgression" (Ps. 19: 13).
God is able and willing to keep the soul of the faithful. The view that God is a detached God is so cold, I do not know how any can embrace such a view. Yet, many do. Observe the prayer of David and the dependence that characterizes it:
"O keep my soul, and deliver me: let me not be ashamed; for I put my trust in thee. Let integrity and uprightness preserve me; for I wait on thee" (Ps. 20: 20, 21).
Now let us turn our attention to man in the matter of his own spiritual keeping and preservation. We have definitely observed the teaching of the Bible about Godís active role in manís salvation. I shall now prove that man also has a role and important part to play in the maintaining of his spiritual acceptance with his God. This is a Bible truth that many deny, yet, such is irrefutably taught. We shall notice some areas in general that stress manís volition and participation.
The saved are to keep themselves out of the business of others. So many human relationship problems are created and continued with destroying results due to meddling in other peopleís business. How can such be averted?
"But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men's matters. Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf" ( I Pet. 4: 15, 16).
Man is responsible for keeping his own heart. No man is totally passive as to his role and still pleasing and faithful to God. Those who say, "God does it all and overpowers human will and volition" are sadly mistaken. Consider the teaching of the Wise Man:
"Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life" (Prov. 4: 23, see also v. 24).
The mouth and the words it utters are to be under the control and guidance of man. Those who believe, "God controls my mouth to the extent that I have no responsibility regarding what is said or the consequences of my speech" are most foolish. David decidedly stated:
"I will take heed to my ways, that I sin not with my tongue: I will keep my mouth with a bridle, while the wicked is before me" (Ps. 39: 1).
Man is responsible for his body and its actions. Many would agree that those who wantonly engage in sin, all the while denying any responsibility for their actions are wrong. Yet, some professing Christians maintain a similar belief in saying that the spirit is not responsible for the deeds of the flesh. Yet, we read such teaching as the subsequent:
"But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway" (I Cor. 9: 27).
Christians are individually and personally responsible for effecting unity with fellow Christians. Unity is not something that is based on compromise and doctrinal concession. Such is clearly taught in Ephesus 4: 3-7). Notice the role of Christians in the matter of religious unity:
"With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Eph. 4: 2, 3).
Christians are enjoined by God to keep themselves in the faith. Paulís words to the fellow preacher Timothy rebound with human, individual duty and participation. Observe Paulís teaching:
"O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust, avoiding profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science falsely so called: Which some professing have erred concerning the faith. Grace be with thee. Amen" (I Tim. 6: 20, 21).
We have seen Godís role and part in manís salvation and also manís role and part in his own salvation. No one can successfully deny that the scriptures teach both God and man are involved. Is there, then, a contradiction? Nay, verily! The apparent contradiction is the result of what man fallaciously teaches about the role of God and man, such extremes as we mentioned at the outset. I do not know why it is so difficult for many to realize and accept that both God and man are active in manís salvation. Be it understood that we are not saying that the scriptures teach that man has an equally important role in respect to efficacy. Compared to the mercy, sovereignty, and grace of God, manís role is minuscule. Yet, man has a role without which man cannot be saved. Hence, the "whosoever willeth" expressions found in the scriptures (cp. John 3: 16).
Many passages, in fact, emphasize both God and man, their several responsibility. "Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure" (Phili. 2: 12, 13). Notice how Paul stresses manís part in "working out his own salvation;" (v. 12) and in the very next verse places the accent on Godís involvement (v. 13). It is not, "Divine and Self Keeping, Which?" but rather, "Divine and Self Keeping, Both." Since both God and man are respectively involved, man can elect to go his own way and, thus, "fall from grace" (Gal. 5: 4). He can, put another way, elect to "receive in vain Godís grace" (2 Cor. 6: 1).
In the sublime subject, then, of manís spiritual preservation and keeping, both God and man are necessary. Any doctrine or theology that denies this Bible truth is patently false. I close by including another wonderful passage in which both God and man are clearly seen as active in manís sanctification: "And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it" (I Thes. 5: 23, 24).