Tag Archives: salvation

A Change of Mind about Repentance: Do you Dare?

Hi Gang,
I am getting incredibly close to settling in on what I’m doing with my life.  In particular, I want to focus on FAITH & WORKS for a while…I think it is a subject I understand and that crosses many strategic parts of theology [and on-the-pavement Christianity].
In the meantime, I just posted a blog offering some fresh thoughts on Repentance as it relates to sharing the gospel.
Check it out NOW:
Grace and peace,
Fred Lybrand
What is Home & School


The False Branch Theory and John 15


So I’m in the shower (weird how we think there) and I’m going over John MacArthur’s view of John 15 about abiding (in my mind).  I listened to MacArthur at a pace of 6 tapes a week for two years in my early days after coming to faith.

He described the branches that were ‘thrown in the fire’ as false branches (Judas Branches).  Lest you think I’m making this up, I tracked it down:

There were the true branches and there were the false branches in the analogy. The true branches are represented by the eleven and the false branches are represented by Judas Iscariot. That whole thing flows out of the context of Judas’ betrayal. And at that point, the “In Me” simply means “identification.” I don’t think you can push too much theology into that “in Me” and say that it means absolute conversion. It’s attachment at that point, that’s all. And I think you have a Judas branch, and I think what it’s saying is that there will be people who will attach themselves superficially to Christ but in evidence bearing no fruit at all, will ultimately be cut off and cast into the fire because they show they have no life, because if they are had any life at all, they would have fruit. So I think it’s a graphic illustration of the whole context of what the disciples have just been through with them as compared to Judas.

(from: http://www.biblebb.com/files/macqa/1301-N-8.htm )

So, I did a little more digging and found that my old pastor and teacher Ken Gangel said something similar in the Holman NT Commentary on John 15:

15:6. Verse 6 narrows other possible interpretations of verse 2. We struggle a bit with the words, “he cuts off.” But thrown away and withers takes it further than we want to go in any reference to people who may have been true believers at one time. Certainly the words thrown into the fire and burned could never refer to those who were at one time true believers.
Blum treats this carefully and wisely:

These words have been interpreted in at least three ways: (1) the “burned” branches are Christians who have lost their salvation. (But this contradicts many passages, e.g., 3:16, 36; 5:24; 10:28–29; Rom. 8:1.) (2) the ‘burned’ branches represent Christians who will lose rewards but not salvation at the judgment seat of Christ (1 Cor. 3:15). (But Jesus spoke here of dead branches; such a branch “is thrown away and withers.”) (3) the “burned” branches refer to professing Christians who, like Judas, are not genuinely saved and therefore are judged. Like a dead branch, a person without Christ is spiritually dead and therefore will be punished in eternal fire (cf. Matt. 25:46) (Blum, p. 325).
Kenneth O. Gangel, vol. 4, John, Holman New Testament Commentary; Holman Reference, 283-84 (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000).

Yes, of course it is strange that fire means literal hell in an analogy…and…yes, of course, it is strange that ‘in Me’ doesn’t mean ‘in Me’ (within their own view) consistently throughout the passage.

But what really struck me under the 98 degree stream of water was the whole idea of a FALSE BRANCH.

The reason this struck me (all these years later) is that there is NO SUCH THING in reality as a FALSE BRANCH.  There are parasites (mistletoe) that look like they belong to the tree, yet Christ clearly (and easily could have said that) said the were vine branches.  Back then there were no such things as ARTIFICIAL BRANCHES either.  Artificial came along with wax and plastics and science (‘contrived by art’ around 1300AD).  Christ is using a real, live thing as an illustration.

When the Lord uses sheep, He says some of the sheep are “not His.”  He does not say that they are false sheep (you know…look like the real thing…but really aren’t sheep).  False prophets are still real people and false teeth are still used for teeth….and, we know where these things come from.

But, where would a false branch come from?  In nature (certainly in the NT era) no one had a notion or word for ‘false’ branch (any more than they would have for a false rock, stream, or fish).  The branches are real, and they are In Christ.  Obviously you must understand Him to be speaking of losing salvation or losing reward (see 1 Cor 3).

From Whence Cometh this Interpretation?

Necessity…and…it turns out to be a wonderful example of eisegesis, or imposing meaning on a text.  Since Blum/Gangel exclude any alternate meanings of the word ‘dead’ in the context, they miss the obvious nature of the warning for believers.  Therefore, with that as impossible and losing one’s justification as impossible (I agree)—all that is left for MacArthur, et al, is to make up the notion that there could exist in Christ’s mind (and on the earth) the idea that some branches (in Him) are actually fake or artificial branches.

I love these guys and I have no bones to pick, but all of us must learn to be very, very careful when we handle the Word of God.  Saying, “It must mean A because B is false elsewhere, can easily tempt us not to read the actual words of the text.”

My practice is to try to settle on a meaning from the immediate passage BEFORE I compare it to other places in the Word.  The comparison is valuable, but it is a dangerous way to interpret a passage by imposing meaning from elsewhere right off the bat!  The Analogy of Scripture is great, but you must inductively begin with the parts rather than than the whole.

So, what do you think?

Fred Lybrand


Face it, You are at Least a Little Bit of a 5 Point Calvinist!

So, in studying the Canons of Dort, I’m reminded of the statements of dear friends and mentors like Dr. Radmacher who have said (to the effect), “I’m a O.O Calvinst and a O.O Arminian.” I mention Dr. Radmacher because he has been very vocal about this issue in recent years, but it doesn’t diminish my love or appreciation for him.  We all must learn to disagree graciously…and on this one, I just disagree.  Of course, I regularly have disagreements with myself as well (so, I’m very in-discriminant in the matter!). The idea is that if you buy one part of the “5 Points” of Calvinism, you must necessarily buy them all.  I’ve addressed this elsewhere.  While I find some of the points in Dort untenable , I find other points quite wonderful.

ARTICLE 11 (under the First Head of Doctrine) And as God Himself is most wise, unchangeable, omniscient, and omnipotent, so the election made by Him can neither be interrupted nor changed, recalled or annulled; neither can the elect be cast away, nor their number diminished.

ARTICLE 5 (under the Second Head of Doctrine) Moreover, the promise of the gospel is that whosoever believes in Christ crucified shall not perish, but have eternal life. This promise, together with the command to repent and believe, ought to be declared and published to all nations, and to all persons promiscuously and without distinction, to whom God out of His good pleasure sends the gospel.

Article 11 is basically saying that the saved / justified / elect cannot, for any reason, lose their salvation.  This was a huge point the Reformers recovered (thought there is some muddling in the matter as they invite an over-dependence on works/fruit as proof of faith…to be discussed later…or see www.backtofaith.com).  Surely, those of us who believe in eternal security have to agree with Dort on this one.

Article 5 is a plain statement of the gospel…whosoever believes in Christ crucified shall not perish, but have eternal life…how clear would I want it?  I know there are some who question if faith in Christ’s crucifixion should be included (see GES Gospel: Lybrand Open Letter), but I certainly find this statement to resonate with my own soul and the forgiveness I have found through faith in the Savior and His finished work.

The point is that as one works through the system of Dort (or Westminster, or the Remonstrance, or Augsburg, etc.), one will find point on which he agrees and points on which he differs.  Taken as a ‘whole’ system, one can be forced to reject or accept…and yet, is that really an accurate description of the view?

The challenge is in the logic of the system, and in theology, it tends to come down to a couple of errors we consistently see:

1.  Bad premise, bad conclusion

2. Good premise, non sequitur conclusion

These are oversimplified, but just because something seems logical, it nowise means it is logical.  Certain points are often pushed along until the absurd becomes the nauseating.  Please know, all sides fall into this from time to time.  Theology is too often built on the shaky cliffs of inference, conjecture, and speculation.  What might happen if we ever dared to just affirm what the Scriptures say and leave the rest to class-time in eternity?

God bless,

Fred Lybrand

The Bible:Two Men Saved from Hell By Their Money?

I had a recent discussion with someone who is apparently deeply dedicated to the idea that we must be perfect on earth in order to get into heaven (at least that’s what it all sounded like to me over a series of correspondences).  So, I threw something I find interesting his way.

Notice these two lines are 29 verses apart in the same book of Luke:

Concerning the Rich Young Ruler: “When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”” (Luke 18:22, ESV)

Concerning Zacchaeus: “And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”” (Luke 19:8-10, ESV)

Then I said:

So here one person is told that he must give away ALL while the other is saved by giving HALF (etc.)….If your view is right, that people must become perfect in this life to get into heaven, then Christ must also have different standards for what this means for each person (Rich Young Ruler vs. Zacchaeus)…

Now, Luke knew good and well he was putting these events right next to each other.  So, why would Christ require all of one person’s wealth, but only half of another person’s wealth, to get into heaven?

Frankly, I’m surprised someone in the political arena hasn’t misused this interesting situation to explain why we should all have the same amount of money (socialism?) or the same amount of ‘no money’ (communism?).  Really, the point is evident.  Jesus is not concerned about our money, but about our neediness.  None of us ever takes nasty medicine or painful surgery until we need it.  Even the folks who obsess on cosmetic surgery have become convinced it is necessary for some result (beauty / youth / job).

The Rich Young Ruler was quite clear that he had done all the law required, so Christ upped the ante.  He offered the man an opportunity to see where his faith rested.  With Zacchaeus, the kindness of Christ entering his home opened up his need for Christ, and shortly, his own need to be generous.

The lesson here is that we Christian-types often miss the point because of our obsession with works in other people’s lives (if you want to get free from this, please read Back To Faith, its truths cured me!).  Lewis Sperry Chafer, the founder of Dallas Theological Seminary, said something really fascinating on an old cassette I found in a church closet one time.  In this message (from 1946-ish) he said something like the following to a group of would-be preachers,

Gentlemen, don’t preach against the world.  Don’t preach against the things in the world.  To the spiritually dying, everything in the world is the anesthetic for their pain.  To preach against is to preach more pain for those who don’t know the Savior.  Instead, preach grace.  Preach about the kindness of God and His love for them…this will be a better offer that will allow them to let go  of their pain-killer as they embrace God’s answer in Jesus Christ by faith.”

Well, he said it better than that, but Paul said it even better—

“That is the way we should live, because God’s grace that can save everyone has come. It teaches us not to live against God nor to do the evil things the world wants to do. Instead, that grace teaches us to live in the present age in a wise and right way and in a way that shows we serve God. We should live like that while we wait for our great hope and the coming of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ. He gave himself for us so he might pay the price to free us from all evil and to make us pure people who belong only to him—people who are always wanting to do good deeds.” (Titus 2:11-14, NCV)

The point is that grace teaches us…and the result is that we seek to do ‘good’.  How often do we get cause-and-effect twisted around to miss (completely) the power of God’s kindness…leading to change…leading to good deeds.  When Christians walk well and do it right, they are taught by grace to do good…not to do good to see if God might be gracious.


God bless,

Fred Lybrand

What makes someone an Agnostic and not an Atheist?


I received this comment in a previous post, and thought it might lead to clarifying a distinction about atheists and agnostics.

Here’s the note:

If you want to talk to atheists in Texas, go to Austin. Specifically the Atheist Community of Austin, and their cable access show “The Atheist Experience” or their podcast “The Non-Prophets”. (And no, they aren’t paying me to advertise.)

All I can say, and someone may already have said it, is that your definition of ‘atheist’ is wrong. All an atheist is is someone who doesn’t believe in a god or gods.

Certainly someone who asserted that there absolutely was no god would fit the definition of an atheist. But the definition of atheist isn’t so specific as to apply only to those people.

Here’s my response:


You are sort of making my point – it is about ‘belief’.

I think I’ve been fair in my postings [see My Favorite Conversation (ever) With an Atheist] about the distinctions in language on the term, but I’ll ponder the following critique:

There is, unfortunately, some disagreement about the definition of atheism. It is interesting to note that most of that disagreement comes from theists — atheists themselves tend to agree on what atheism means. Christians in particular dispute the definition used by atheists and insist that atheism means something very different.

The broader, and more common, understanding of atheism among atheists is quite simply “not believing in any gods.” No claims or denials are made — an atheist is just a person who does not happen to be a theist. Sometimes this broader understanding is called “weak” or “implicit” atheism. Most good, complete dictionaries readily support this.

There also exists a narrower sort of atheism, sometimes called “strong” or “explicit” atheism. With this type, the atheist explicitly denies the existence of any gods — making a strong claim which will deserve support at some point. Some atheists do this and others may do this with regards to certain specific gods but not with others. Thus, a person may lack belief in one god, but deny the existence of another god.

Below are links to a variety of references pages to help understand how atheism is defined and why atheists define it the way they do.

Now, with all that in mind, I suppose the question is what is the difference between an atheist and an agnostic? [http://atheism.about.com/od/definitionofatheism/a/definition.htm]

I’m thinking:

atheist = I don’t believe there is a god or gods [i.e. there is no God.]

agnostic = I don’t know if there is a god or gods [i.e. is there a God?]

My point is that, though many atheists believe they are atheists (which is fine, believe you are whatever you think you are), they are in fact agnostics.

So, what makes someone an agnostic and not an atheist?


Fred Lybrand