Salvation Lost, or Salvation Never Had?

SavedWithoutADoubt

How Saved Can a Person Be?

I have been reading Saved Without a Doubt by John MacArthur. In his book he mentions Hebrews 6, which is often cited as evidence for the idea that one can lose his or her salvation. Hebrews 6:4-8 reads as follows (ESV):

For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned.

At first glance this passage would see to indicate that if, once someone is saved, that individual turns from God, then his or her salvation is lost forever. Can this be true?

MacArthur Adds Clarity

With regard to those who believe it is possible to lose one’s salvation MacArthur writes in Saved Without a Doubt,

Because they believe that warning is addressed to Christians, some interpreters think Hebrews 6 teaches that salvation can be lost. If that interpretation were true, however, the passage would also teach that, once lost, salvation could never be regained – that the person would be damned forever. There would be no going back and forth, in and out of grace, as most people who believe you can lose your salvation seem to assume. But Christians are not being addressed, and it is the opportunity for receiving salvation, not salvation itself, that can be lost. It is unbelievers who are in danger of losing salvation – in the sense of losing the opportunity to ever receive it.

So what leads MacArthur to believe that it is not followers of Christ who are being addressed? Notice the language used in the passage: those, them, they. The author is no using inclusive language such as us or we. It sounds as though the passage is referring to individuals who have come close to being followers of Christ, but never made the full commitment thereby essentially remaining unbelievers.

Author and Pastor Bob Deffinbaugh offers a rather famous example of such a person in Judas Iscariot. Here is someone who was in Jesus’ inner circle, but still remained ignorant who Jesus really was, and what He came to do! This makes me think of the times I have heard non-believers spout “if only” statements to indicate the type of evidence that would be sufficient for them to believe in Jesus (“If only God would write his name in the sky…”; “If only God would appear to me, even if just for a moment…”; etc.). Judas had first hand witness to Jesus’ ministry, and he still missed the point.

Can a Christian Lose His or Her Salvation?

Billy Graham does a much better job of answering the question of whether or not a Christian can lose his or her salvation that I likely would, so I have provided his answer below:

Only God knows if someone has truly and sincerely repented of their sins and given their life to Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, but if they have, they now belong to Him forever, and their salvation is secure. The Bible says that nothing “will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:39).

Remember: When we come to Christ, He comes to live within us by His Spirit — and He will never depart from us. And when we come to Him, God adopts us into His family and we become His children — and He’ll never disown us or disinherit us. If He did reject us, it would mean our salvation depends on how good we are. But we can never be good enough, for God’s standard is perfection. Our salvation depends solely on Christ, Who died to take away all our sins.

Does this mean it doesn’t matter how we live? Absolutely not! If we live sinful lives, it may well mean that we haven’t given ourselves to Christ after all, and we’ve even deceived ourselves into thinking we are saved when we really aren’t. The Bible warns, “As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead” (James 2:26).

Make sure of your commitment to Jesus Christ, both as your Savior and as your Lord. Then thank Him that you now belong to Him forever — and ask Him to help you live a life that reflects His love and purity every day.

I really appreciate Graham’s perspective here, and I think there are a few key takeaways:

  1. Only God truly knows our hearts (God knows if we are committed, or just trying to fake it ’til we make it)
  2. Once His, always His
  3. Our salvation is evidenced by our fruits (Please do not misinterpret this to mean our salvation is because of our fruits or works)

You might notice some Calvanistic theology here (i.e. perseverance of the saints). At one time I was not a fan of Calvanist views; however, as I grow in my faith and understanding I admittedly find myself agreeing more and more with those views.

So How Can We Be Sure of Our Own Salvation?

How do we know? I mean how do we really know that we are saved? I offer as suggestive evidence of salvation the following criteria:

  • The individual affirms basic Christian doctrine such as: The Holy Trinity, the death and resurrection of Jesus, inerrancy of scripture (John 8:24; 2 Timothy 3:16; 1 Corinthians 15:1-4)
  • You can see it in an indvidual’s fruits (Ephesians 2:10; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Matthew 7:17)
  • The individual is guided through conviction of the Holy Spirit (John 16:13)

This is not, of course, meant to be a checklist. As Graham mentioned in his writing above only God truly knows our hearts. God is perfect in his judgement. It occurs to me that if we are truly honest with ourselves we know what our true intentions are. Every time I sit to write a blog post I ask myself who I am writing for. Am I writing for myself? Or am I doing what I can to further His Kingdom? Pride can be tall tree, and truth a sharp ax (Hebrews 4:12).

We cannot be sure of our salvation if we are resting in our own deeds. We can only be sure of our salvation if we rest in Christ. As Graham mentioned, if we could lose our salvation then salvation would depend, at least in part, on how good we are. Here is the hard truth… we are all sinners. None of us is good. No, not one (Romans 3:10). That is the bad news. The good news is our salvation is not dependent on us. Christ is sufficient. It is in this fact that I take great comfort in knowing that I have been, am, and always will be saved.

Believinforareason – and the Reason’s Not Calvinism

Lately I have been thinking about Calvinism – what it means, whether it makes sense, and how it relates to Hobbes (OK, just kidding about the Hobbes part). According to Theopedia.com,

Calvinism is named after 16th century Reformer, John Calvin whose overall theology is contained in his Institutes of the Christian Religion (1559). Sometimes Calvinism is referred to by other names such as “Augustinianism” because Calvin followed Augustine(A.D. 354–430) in many areas of predestination and the sovereignty of God.

Theopedia further explains Calvinist doctrine can be summarized in five points referred to by the acronym “TULIP”. Each of the following excerpts of the acronym are taken from the Theopedia.com entry for Calvanism.

“T” is for…

Total depravity

Calvinism teaches that humanity is totally depraved. Due to the Fall, the original relationship that Adam and Eve enjoyed with God was severed by sin. This affected the entire human race, corrupting the heart, mind, and will of every person born. Thus, people’s natural actions and affections, whether viewed by man as bad or good, are never pleasing to God. The Calvinist understanding of total depravity does not mean that people are as evil as they possibly could be. People still make good choices (from a human perspective), but no matter how good they may be, they never gain favor with God. While total depravity is commonly associated with John Calvin, this theological viewpoint is based on the theology of Augustine (b. 354).

While I believe human beings are sinful by nature I believe labeling us all as “totally depraved” is a bit much. I do agree with Calvin that making good choices relative to human perspectives is not congruent with doing that which pleases God, I disagree with Calvin’s stance that we will never gain favor with God. I have said in the past, and this view still hold true for me today, that God is the definition of good. As such, anything contrary to God’s will is less than good. Thus, considering humans have both free will, and access to the Word of God we can and do sometimes make choices that are purposefully congruent with God’s will. Logically, such choices would be pleasing to God, which would likely, in turn, mean that we would find favor with God having made such compatible choices. Why am I so sure? Because, folks are still allowed into Heaven. If that is not a demonstration of having favor with God than nothing would be. So while I would agree that humanity is pretty jacked up, let’s save the phrase “totally depraved” for the extra tough cases.

“U” is for…

Unconditional election

Unconditional election is the doctrine which states that God chose those whom he was pleased to bring to a knowledge of himself, not based upon any merit shown by the object of his grace and not based upon foreseen faith (especially a mere decisional faith). God has elected, based solely upon the counsel of his own will, some for glory and others for damnation (Romans 9:1521). He has done this act before the foundations of the world (Ephesians 1:4–8).

Unconditional election is a tough pill to swallow. The most important bit here is the indication that God has chosen “some for glory and others for damnation”. This is flat out incorrect when compared to what scripture teaches. The verses referred to in Romans are intended to drive home the point that God can do as He pleases. These verses are not intended to indicate that God arbitrarily picks and chooses people for damnation or glory like some luck-of-the-draw plane boarding. Attention all passengers, if your ticket reads “Zone 1” you are destined for damnation. Thank you for choosing air Hell, and better luck next time. Furthermore, the verses mentioned in Ephesians 1:4-8 are meant to explain that all of our sin was destined to be paid for by the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, not that the sin of some folks would be cleansed by the blood of Jesus Christ. This specific doctrine speaks directly to predestination. The fact that God knows what is to come is not the same as God putting specific pieces in play to cause specific outcomes.

“L” is for…

Limited atonement

Limited atonement (also known as “definite atonement”) is a doctrine offered in answer to the question, “for whose sins did Christ atone?” The Bible teaches that Christ died for those whom God gave him to save (John 17:9). Christ died, indeed, for many people, but not all (Matthew 26:28). Specifically, Christ died for the invisible Church — the sum total of all those who would ever rightly bear the name “Christian” (Ephesians 5:25).

I think this concept of limited atonement requires further clarity. Christ did not die only for those pre-chosen by God to be destined to know His glory. Rather Christ died for the past, present and future sins of all of those who accept Jesus as lord and savior. I would agreed  with the last bit stating “Specifically, Christ died for the invisible Church — the sum total of all those who would every rightly bear the name ‘Christian'”. To me this means that Christ died for those who actively seek and maintain a positive relationship with God, and share the good news with others so they may do the same. As long as we stay away from the concept of predestination this limited atonement piece makes sense to me.

“I” is for…

Irresistible grace

The result of God’s irresistible grace is the certain response by the elect to the inward call of the Holy Spirit, when the outward call is given by the evangelist or minister of the Word of God. Christ, himself, teaches that all whom God has elected will come to a knowledge of him (John 6:37). Men come to Christ in salvation when the Father calls them (John 6:44), and the very Spirit of God leads God’s beloved to repentance (Romans 8:14). What a comfort it is to know that the gospel of Christ will penetrate our hard, sinful hearts and wondrously save us through the gracious inward call of the Holy Spirit (1 Peter 5:10)!

I have written in a previous post, The Morality of God in the Old Testament Part 1: Would a Moral God Kill Children?, about how God does not directly harden the hearts of humans, rather God allows the circumstances that lead to the hardening of hearts. The same can be said of the softening of hearts. After all, God is committed to this free will thing, and directly influencing decision making negates the purpose of free will. While the grace of God should not be underestimated, I do not believe people come to God because he has pre-chosen them to be knocked over the top of the head with grace. If this were true, why even bother with the charade of free will. Furthermore, if God truly wants us to love Him, why intervene at all? Can someone really love anyone if that person is left with no other choice? There is no “I” in me, so this doctrine is not for me.

“P” is for…

Perseverance of the saints

Those called and justified will certainly be glorified (Romans 8:28–39). The work of sanctification which God has brought about in his elect will continue until it reaches its fulfillment in eternal life (Phil. 1:6). Christ assures the elect that he will not lose them and that they will be glorified at the “last day” (John 6:39). The Calvinist stands upon the Word of God and trusts in Christ’s promise that he will perfectly fulfill the will of the Father in saving all the elect.

Interesting that Romans 8:28-39 is used here. Even in the above explanation it seems that these “elect” have favor with God. How can people have favor with God, yet be totally depraved? Apparently tulips are contradictory. Once again we should touch on the concept of election and predestination. While I would agree that God has some level of predestination for us in that after Jesus’ death and resurrection God predestined those who chose to seek Jesus to be saved for eternity by Jesus, God did not pick and choose who would seek this opportunity.

Free Will is Incompatible with Calvinism

Free will, and predestination simply do not jive. How can we have free will if some plan has already been set in place that dictates exactly what the outcome of our lives will be? Simply stated – we cannot. How can we show love true love to God if we are not allowed the choice not to love God – we cannot. How can we ascertain the point of life in a if all of the most important choices in life have already been made for us – we cannot. It is for these reasons that I am not a Calvinist. Fortunately, Calvinism is not my only option. I have choices, and the freedom of will to make such choices. That is why I am…

believinforareason!