Wednesday, December 28, 2011

What is Salvation, Part 4

Q: What is salvation and can you lose it?

There's the saying "once saved always saved". Using the scripture that no one is able to snatch them out of the Fathers hand. (John 10:29) but it says in verse 27 My sheep hear my voice, I know them and they follow me. So the no snatching is referring to those who hear and follow, in other words who are obedient to His Word. So, the ones that do not heed the call of the Lord and follow can be snatched?

What about sin hardening the heart? (Hebrew 3:13)

Shipwrecked faith? (1Tim 1:19)

I have heard the saying - "It's not how you start the race but how you finish it."

In Hebrew 3:14 For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end,

If you aren't a true follower of Christ then how can you have the strength on your own to even run the race. It is because of Christ and who He transforms you to be that you would even want to run the race at all. So maybe some were never saved at all?

A: The first three posts in this series (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3) dealt with the first half of this question; namely, "What is salvation." In the last two parts, we will turn our attention to "can you lose it?"

Whether intentionally or not, this question strikes at the heart of a theological debate that has existed amongst believers for centuries. Needless to say, it is probably expecting a bit much of a blog post to resolve all of the issues relating to this on-going theological discussion! What will follow is an attempt to be faithful to the witness of Scripture as it pertains specifically to the question above ... but you probably don't need to travel far or long before you can find someone who will disagree (perhaps vehemently!) with me.

The slogan "once saved, always saved" refers to a doctrine of grace called the Perseverance of the Saints, which in Reformed theology ("Calvinism") means that a person who has been unconditionally elected by God for salvation will receive the gift through the regeneration of the Holy Spirit and will become a child of God and is incapable of losing this salvation.

The flip-side to this theological position allows for the possibility that genuine believers must endure until the end in order to attain salvation (see #7), and that falling out of grace is a genuine possibility.

It must be understood that these beliefs form a continuum along which positions vary by individuals and groups in their particular beliefs. Therefore, it is impossible to account for every nuance of every place along this spectrum (and, as a result, many could exclaim, "You've not properly described my position!"). The purpose of this post is not to describe each position along the spectrum, so you'll have to forgive the broad strokes that have been used to paint the varying positions!

In the most general sense, at the extremes of these positions are those who believe that those God has foreordained to salvation through Christ will receive that salvation (His grace is "irresistible"), no matter their spiritual condition at death or the Lord's return (this is the stereotypical "once saved, always saved" position). The other extreme claims that genuine believers can obtain saving grace, but "lose" their salvation through personal sin and rebellion. Once falling out of grace, repentance is necessary to be restored to a right standing with God. Therefore, it is possible in this view that the "back sliding" follower of Christ is in danger of Hellfire, were he or she to die in their back-slidden state.

There is also debate amongst various camps as to whether or not "back-sliders" are genuine Christians. The argument from the Calvinist side says that the Preserving Grace of God will keep genuine converts in the faith, therefore someone who believes and falls away was never truly "saved." This answer attempts to account for the many who profess Christ and then walk away -- their profession wasn't genuine, so "once saved, always saved" doesn't apply because they were never saved in the first place and therefore didn't "lose" anything!

It wouldn't be difficult to trot out several "proof texts" from God's word in order to support any of the various positions along this wide spectrum of beliefs. It would also not likely be fruitful.

The Bible speaks much about salvation. It clearly gives encouragement to believers that they can never have their salvation stolen from them (e.g. John 10:28-29; Romans 8:35-39). The Bible also clearly warns about the reality of false conversions (e.g. Matthew 7:22-23, 13:24-30) and falling away from the faith (e.g. 1 Timothy 4:1; 2 Peter 3:17). The Bible also explicitly states that the good and faithful promises of God are for those who endure until the end, not simply for those who start (e.g. Hebrews 3:14, 4:11) and fall away.

So does the Bible contradict itself? If not, then how can we make sense of these various positions?

The Scriptures do not contradict themselves because although it speaks about not being able to "lose" your salvation and also gives earnest warnings not to fall away and examples of individuals whose faith did not endure until the end (e.g. 1 Timothy 1:19; Hebrews 3:13), it is not discussing the same thing in the same sense.

For something to be a contradiction, it would mean that both "X" and "not X" are true at the same time and in the same sense. An example: it is contradictory to say that the Bible teaches that Jesus is the (one and only) way to salvation and that the Bible teaches that Jesus is not the (one and only) way to salvation. The Bible clearly teaches the former and denies the latter (John 14:6).

The issue of "once saved, always saved" is a bit more complicated.

There are really two issues at play here, which are different "senses" of the same terminology. When describing the Grace of God, the Scriptures clearly teach that this grace is able to preserve and keep the believer in the faith (e.g. Acts 20:32; 1 Corinthians 10:13; Titus 2:11-14). This sanctifying grace of God provides the strength to endure until the end and the promise of forgiveness for stumbling along the way (1 John 2:1). This is the first sense of God's grace -- it is able to preserve those who walk in it.

There is a second sense to the preserving grace of God -- that the individual must strive to stay in it (John 15:4-10; Acts 13:43; 2 Corinthians 6:1; 1 Peter 5:12; 1 John 2:3-10). This is a different "sense" because it is not a warning that something can be "lost" or "stolen through force" but is a warning to not "give up through an act of your own will."

These are very different realities.

The most helpful biblical metaphor for understanding this scriptural truth is that of adoption into the family of God through Christ (John 1:12-13; Galatians 4:4-7; Ephesians 1:5; 1 John 3:10). When someone receives Christ as Lord (through repentance) and Savior (through faith), they are "born again" into the family of God. As children of the Almighty, they are heirs to salvation.

As God's children, our inheritance is based on our position not on our performance. As children, we are heirs. You cannot "perform" (through religious works) your way into God's family, but if you are born into His family ... then you're in. When my son disobeys me, I discipline him as a son ... but I don't kick him out of my house! In the same way, God disciplines those whom He loves (Hebrews 12:5-11) but He doesn't kick us out of the house (John 14:2-6).

In this way, you can never "lose" your status as a son or daughter, and therefore your salvation cannot be "lost." This truth should be a source of great assurance and blessing to the child of God: our Heavenly Father will never disown us nor change His mind about us (Malachi 3:6; Hebrews 13:8).

However, the warnings to God's children are that we should not forfeit our right by choosing to disown God and return to the kingdom of darkness after He has given His grace (Hebrews 10:23-31). The preserving grace of God is able to be resisted and given up by the individual who prefers the passing pleasures of sin to the promises of God (Hebrews 3:13-14). Choosing to walk away from salvation is different than "losing" it.

Can a believer lose their salvation? No, they cannot. Nothing can cause a person who has been born into the kingdom and family of God to be "un-born" and therefore lose their right of inheritance (which is theirs by virtue of their familial status as son or daughter of the King).

However, Apostasy is a real possibility for believers and will be the topic of the final post in this series.

6 comments:

P. Scott said...

Still going strong. Free will...a blessing or a curse? I agree that Salvation cannot be lost...but can a gift of grace be returned? I eagerly await the last chapter in this quest for understanding. Thanks P. Joe

Rita said...

This is deffinately getting interesting. I never heard of this way of explaining of those that walk away. Can't wait for the next one.

JRK83 said...

Thanks for the encouragement, P. Scott! You want me to add your questions about Free Will (blessing or curse? and return a gift of grace?) to the list?

JRK

JRK83 said...

Hi Rita,

Apostasy is rarely discussed, particularly in "once saved, always saved" circles.

Hopefully, we'll all gain some clarity after bringing Apostasy to light!

Thanks for your comments! I'm glad someone is enjoying this site beyond me and Scott ... ;)

JRK

Anonymous said...

Definitely a subject that could be more "preach time" from the pulpit. Ties in, I think, with the Fear of the Lord.

JRK83 said...

Hi Anonymous,

Thanks for your comment! I agree with you on this tying in to the Fear of the Lord. We recently hosted a simulcast of a great conference on this topic -- all of the messages are available for free online here.

Pastors are charged to preach the whole counsel of God ... it's tough to get everything in with 30 minute chunks once a week!

Take care,

JRK