God and his “responsibilities”
There are some Christians who erroneously believe that it is God’s responsibility to make sure that born again believers are kept, and some even believe in the concept that God keeps us from falling (sinning). They might suggest that if a true Christian falls away and is no longer a child of God, then God’s power was not great enough to keep him, as though the Bible says it is God’s responsibility to keep people by force.
The truth is that we have a free will and we are therefore able to walk away from God without him preventing it from happening. If we on the other hand repent and come to him (or return back to him) he will accept us (keep us) us rather than rejecting us. Had it been up to God to make sure that we do not fall (sin) then we would of course not sin a single time for the rest of our lives. If we sin, it is always our fault and never God’s fault.
God created us to seek him and come to him, which means that we can. We have also been provided with the ability to repent, which we are all requested to do.
Acts 17:24 God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands;— 26 And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation;27That they should SEEK the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though HE BENOT FAR FROM EVERY ONE OF US. — 30 And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent
Clearly not everyone seeks God, nor repents, which means that God has chosen to create us with free will and with the ability to both obey and disobey. This does not hurt his “sovereignty” (a non-Biblical word – KJV).
But what about verse 2 Thess. 3:3? Does it not suggest that God in fact is the one who keeps us, and does so no matter what we do? No, he can indeed keep us from evil, but he does not promise to do so unconditionally – and he does not promise that we will never be affected by persecution or pain. If we walk our own ways and even seek to be tempted, then we cannot expect to be kept from the snare of the devil since we have chosen to remove ourselves from God and his protection.
2 Thess. 3:3 But the Lord is faithful, who shall stablish you, and keep you from evil.
The word “keep” in the above verse is a translation of the Greek verb φυλάσσω (Strong’s 5442, phylassō). The same word can also be translated observe, beware, save, guard and watch.
When we read the examples below (words in green are based on another verb) where this word is used, we can see clearly that what is “kept” is not necessarily kept unconditionally or for ever. A choice is involved. We can for instance read that shepherds “keeping” watch over their flock, but this does not mean that sheep can never ever stray away and be lost. We can also read warnings such as “Little children, keep yourselves from idols”, which is evidence of that we can not sit back and expect God to take this responsibility instead of us. If some of us do to get involved with idols, then we can be certain of that it is not due to God lacking in power but due to our own choices when we oppose God’s commandments.
Matt. 19:17 And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.18 He saith unto him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness,19 Honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.20 The young man saith unto him, All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet?
Mark 10:20 And he answered and said unto him, Master, all these have I observed from my youth. (+ Luke 18:21)
Luke 2:8 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
Luke 11:28 But he said, Yea rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it.
Luke 12:15 And he said unto them, Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.
John 17:6 I have manifested thy name unto the men which thou gavest me out of the world: thine they were, and thou gavest them me; and they have kept thy word.7 Now they have known that all things whatsoever thou hast given me are of thee.8 For I have given unto them the words which thou gavest me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came out from thee, and they have believed that thou didst send me.9 I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine.10 And all mine are thine, and thine are mine; and I am glorified in them.11 And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are.12 While I was with them in the world, I kept them in thy name: those that thou gavest me I have kept, and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition; that the scripture might be fulfilled. — 15 I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil. — 18 As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world. — 20 Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word;
John 7:16 Jesus answered them, and said, My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me.17 If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.18 He that speaketh of himself seeketh his own glory: but he that seeketh his glory that sent him, the same is true, and no unrighteousness is in him.19 Did not Moses give you the law, and yet none of you keepeth the law? Why go ye about to kill me?
Acts 12:4 And when he had apprehended him, he put him in prison, and delivered him to four quaternions of soldiers to keep him; intending after Easter to bring him forth to the people. — 19 And when Herod had sought for him, and found him not, he examined the keepers, and commanded that they should be put to death. And he went down from Judaea to Caesarea, and there abode.
Acts 16:3 Him would Paul have to go forth with him; and took and circumcised him because of the Jews which were in those quarters: for they knew all that his father was a Greek.4 And as they went through the cities, they delivered them the decrees for TO KEEP, that were ordained of the apostles and elders which were at Jerusalem.5 And so were the churches established in the faith, and increased in number daily.
Acts 21:23 Do therefore this that we say to thee: We have four men which have a vow on them;24 Them take, and purify thyself with them, and be at charges with them, that they may shave their heads: and all may know that those things, whereof they were informed concerning thee, are nothing; but that thou thyself also walkest orderly, and keepest the law.25 As touching the Gentiles which believe, we have written and concluded that they observe no such thing, save only that they keep themselves from things offered to idols, and from blood, and from strangled, and from fornication.
Rom. 2:25 For circumcision verily profiteth, if thou keep the law: but if thou be a breaker of the law, thy circumcision is made uncircumcision.26 Therefore if the uncircumcision keep the righteousness of the law, shall not his uncircumcision be counted for circumcision?
Gal. 6:13 For neither they themselves who are circumcised keep the law; but desire to have you circumcised, that they may glory in your flesh.
1 Tim. 5:21 I charge thee before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, and the elect angels, that thou observe these things without preferring one before another, doing nothing by partiality.22 Lay hands suddenly on no man, neither be partaker of other men’s sins: keep thyself pure.
1 Tim. 6:13 I give thee charge in the sight of God, who quickeneth all things, and before Christ Jesus, who before Pontius Pilate witnessed a good confession;14 That thou keep this commandment without spot, unrebukable, until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ: — 20 O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust, avoiding profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science falsely so called:
2 Tim. 1:12 For the which cause I also suffer these things: nevertheless I am not ashamed: for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keepthat which I have committed unto him against that day.13 Hold fast the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus.14 That good thing which was committed unto thee keep by the Holy Ghost which dwelleth in us.
2 Pet. 2:5 And spared not the old world, but saved Noah the eighth person, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood upon the world of the ungodly;
2 Pet. 3:17 Ye therefore, beloved, seeing ye know these things before, beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own stedfastness.
1 John 5:18 We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not; but he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not. 21 Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen.
Jude 21 Keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.22 And of some have compassion, making a difference:23 And others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire; hating even the garment spotted by the flesh.24 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,
There is also another verb often translated “keep”, which is τηρέω (Strong’s 5083, tēreō). This word can also be translated observe, reserve guard, watch, preserve, hold fast, etc – i.e. it is often used interchangeably with the verb φυλάσσω above. The examples show that there is a choice involved in this case as well.
Matt. 19:17 And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.
Matt. 23:3 All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not.
Matt. 27:36 And sitting down they watched him there
Matt. 28:20 Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.
Mark 7:5 Then the Pharisees and scribes asked him, Why walk not thy disciples according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unwashen hands?6 He answered and said unto them, Well hath Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.7 Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.8 For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men, as the washing of pots and cups: and many other such like things ye do.9 And he said unto them, Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition.
John 8:51 Verily, verily, I say unto you, If a man keep my saying, he shall never see death. 52 Then said the Jews unto him, Now we know that thou hast a devil. Abraham is dead, and the prophets; and thou sayest, If a man keep my saying, he shall never taste of death.— 55 Yet ye have not known him; but I know him: and if I should say, I know him not, I shall be a liar like unto you: but I know him, and keep his saying.
John 14:15 If ye love me, keep my commandments.
John 14:21 He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.22 Judas saith unto him, not Iscariot, Lord, how is it that thou wilt manifest thyself unto us, and not unto the world?23 Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.24 He that loveth me not keepeth not my sayings: and the word which ye hear is not mine, but the Father’s which sent me.
John 15:10 If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love. — 20 Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also.
Acts 15:5 But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed, saying, That it was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses. —24 Forasmuch as we have heard, that certain which went out from us have troubled you with words, subverting your souls, saying, Ye must be circumcised, and keep the law: to whom we gave no such commandment: — 29 That ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well. Fare ye well.
Acts 21:25 As touching the Gentiles which believe, we have written and concluded that they observe no such thing, save only that they keep themselves from things offered to idols, and from blood, and from strangled, and from fornication.
1 Cor. 7:37 Nevertheless he that standeth stedfast in his heart, having no necessity, but hath power over his own will, and hath so decreed in his heart that he will keep his virgin, doeth well.
2 Cor. 11:9 And when I was present with you, and wanted, I was chargeable to no man: for that which was lacking to me the brethren which came from Macedonia supplied: and in all things I have kept myself from being burdensome unto you, and so will I keep myself.
Eph. 4:3 Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. — 7 And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
1 Ti. 5:22 Lay hands suddenly on no man, neither be partaker of other men’s sins: keep thyself pure.
2 Ti. 4:7 I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith:
Ja. 1:27 Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.
Ja. 2:10 For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.
1 John 2:1 My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous:2 And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.3 And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments.4 He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.5 But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him.6 He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked.
1 John 3:22 And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight.23 And this is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment.24 And he that keepeth his commandments dwelleth in him, and he in him. And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us.
1 John 5:2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments.3 For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous.
Jude 1:6 And the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day. — 21 Keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.
Rev. 1:3 Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand.
Rev. 2:26 And he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations
Rev. 3:3 Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent. If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee. —8 I know thy works: behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it: for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name. — 10 Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth.
Rev. 12:17 And the dragon was wroth with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.
Rev. 14:12 Here is the patience of the saints: here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus.
Rev. 16:15 Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame.
Rev. 22:7 Behold, I come quickly: blessed is he that keepeth the sayings of the prophecy of this book. — 9 Then saith he unto me, See thou do it not: for I am thy fellowservant, and of thy brethren the prophets, and of them which keep the sayings of this book: worship God.
We also have a noun tied to the the above Greek verb, which is τήρησις (Strong’s 5084, tērēsis):
1 Cor. 7:19 Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but the keeping of the commandments of God.
We also have the verb παρατίθημι (Strong’s 3908, paratithēmi), and in this verse we can clearly see that the righteous are not forced to remain righteous by God as though they would lose their ability to sin. It is true that it is not likely that a born again Christian would like to return to the world and his/her old vomit, but once in a while it still happens:
1 Pet. 4:18 And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?19 Wherefore let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to him in well doing, as unto a faithful Creator.