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.

Aside

Why I Came Back to WordPress.com

Wordpress

Back to Basics

Back in 2011 I started getting into apologetics. Admittedly, prior to that year I had not even heard the term, but once I did I was hooked. I decided to dabble in blogging, as I began to accumulate enough information to be dangerous. I tried a couple of different platforms before I landed in the WordPress.com world. After I got past the learning curve I really started digging WordPress. Eventually I got even more adventurous, registered a domain, and started hosting my own WordPress-based site. I had that site for about two years, and it was a great learning opportunity. Recently I got hacked in some fashion, and some of my site links were redirecting perspective readers to sites with highly inappropriate content – I was not too happy. This, however, turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

I decided to come back to WordPress.com, and forgo the self-hosted site experience. I have discovered a bunch of great benefits such as:

  • No cost – always a positive
  • A community of folks with at least one thing in common – we are all bloggers
  • An opportunity to focus on what’s important

I realized that I spent way too much time on the look and feel of my website, and not nearly enough time on the initial intention of my foray into blogging – apologetics. I feel like I can focus once again on the content of my writing without being distracted with wondering if my site has the right look, or features, or whatever. I am really looking forward to getting back to basics, and, God willing, give folks something to chew on with regard to Christian worldview. Here we go!

Baptism, Salvation, and the Age of Accountability

PHOTO CREDIT: NT Blog

PHOTO CREDIT: NT Blog

Ask a Christian – Baptism and Salvation

I received a question recently submitted through the Ask a Christian feature on this site. This is a feature I kicked off a while back in hopes that individuals with questions about Christianity would submit those questions, and allow me to take a stab providing answers to the best of my ability. This particular question is as follows:

What happens if you die as a child, and haven’t been baptized?

This is certainly an important question. As a parent I am concerned about many things related to my children. The chief of these concerns is their relationship with God. I have Baptist Christian views, so you might imagine I find baptism to be an important part of believer’s walk with God. Keep in mind I do not find baptism to be important because I have Baptist views. Rather, I have Baptist views because I find such views to be biblical. With that said, let’s take a look at baptism, salvation, and something often referred to as the age of accountability.

Isn’t Baptism Just for Baptists?

Many Christian denomination believe in baptism albeit with different nuances. Some examples are Roman Catholics, Methodists, Presbyterians, and – of course – Baptists.

What is baptism?

Peter writes the following in 1 Peter 3:21-22:

21 Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ ,22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.

In this passage Peter writes of baptism as “an appeal to God”. Does Peter mean that it is the act of baptism that saves? Notice Peter qualifies this statement by indicating it is “through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” that this appeal must go. No power exists in the act of being baptizes, but only in the saving power of Jesus. Of high importance is the idea that no act that we can perform (or have performed on our behalf) can add to our salvation. We are saved “sola fide” – by faith alone – so we cannot boast in ourselves (Ephesians 2:9, 1 Corinthians 1:28-31), but in God. The bible describes a faith-based salvation. If baptism were a requirement of salvation then we would leave the door open to a works-based system of salvation. This is simply an unbiblical perspective that we should be wary of. To say we have to be baptized to be saved is to say that the work of Christ on the cross was insufficient, and that full salvation requires our personal intervention through the act of baptism. Are we really prepared to say that we have individual power that is greater than that of Jesus? I am not.

I should pause here a moment to note that there are multiple “types” of baptism indicated throughout the bible (baptism with fire, baptism into the Holy Spirit, and so on). Where I say “baptism” here I am referring to water baptism – the type of baptism that comes to most of our minds when we hear the term. Water baptism is more symbolic than effectual. John the Baptist exclaims the following in Matthew 3:11-12:

11 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

John is referring to Jesus in this passage (“he who is coming after me”). This leads well into a good reason for being baptized if you are a believer… Jesus was baptized (Matthew 3:13-17). The primary focus of a follower of Christ should be to try to emulate Jesus as closely as possible. Additionally, baptism is a symbol of our commitment to strive to be more Christ-like. A symbol of our old life, our bondage in sin, being washed away to be born anew (1 Corinthians 6:11).

Salvation

OK, so while baptism is a biblical, symbolic affirmation of our commitment to Jesus, what then is salvation?  One of the most straight forward ways I have seen salvation explained is via the following three aspects:

Three aspects of salvation:

  1. Justification – Separation from the penalty of sin (Acts 2:21; Ephesians 2:4-10; 1 Timothy 1:12-17)
  2. Sanctification – Separation from the power of sin (Romans 8:1-5; Philippians 2:12-16; 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11; Hebrews 10:8-10)
  3. Glorification – Separation from the presence of sin (Romans 8:23-30; 2 Timothy 2:10-13)

A good summation of this concept has been written by Paul Tautges. In his article Tautges clarifies the above three aspects of salvation by referencing tense (justification – past, sanctification – present, glorification – future). For the purposes of this article I will focus on justification. Justification for followers of Christ was accomplished through Jesus’ work on the cross. Jesus paid the penalty that all of us, as sinners, should have paid. In contrast to sanctification, which is a process of the Holy Spirit working in us, justification was accomplished instantaneously. Even if we wanted to do works to “ensure our justification” we would not have the time to do anyway. That which Jesus accomplished in a moment (our justification) we could not hope to accomplish in a lifetime by our own hand.

I will not go in depth into each of the above three aspects of salvation; however, I have included some scripture references to support each. Additionally, I strongly suggest reading Romans 8 in its entirety, as this chapter covers all three aspects of salvation fairly comprehensively. The important takeaway for the question at hand is the instantaneous nature of justification. An 80 year old man is no more or less justified than an 80 second old baby boy.

The Age of Accountability

We know we are sinners from the time of our conception basis Psalms 51:5:

Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.

So if we are sinners from the time we are conceived, are we held accountable for our nature of sin before we even understand we are sinners? The prophet Isaiah explains in Isaiah 7:15 when Jesus will reach what might be referred to as the age of accountability:

He shall eat curds and honey when he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good.

Of course, Isaiah does not give us a specific age that this understanding will begin. So, we cannot know when a child should be considered accountable for his or her sin nature. We do have some insight into how Jesus felt about children by way of Matthew 19:13-15:

13 Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, 14 but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” 15 And he laid his hands on them and went away.

For Jesus to say the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to children is not a statement to be take lightly, but does this mean that if a child dies before he or she understands good or evil that his or her soul is bound for Heaven?

Conclusion

Truly only God knows who goes to Heaven, and who does not. We can, however, make some inferences based on what we know from scripture. We know God is perfectly righteous (Proverbs 2:5-10; Job 37:23; Isaiah 5:16). We know how Jesus feels about children (Matthew 19:13-15). One can infer from these facts that a righteous God who loves children would not condemn to hell those who have not yet even developed the faculties to understand good or evil.

So what happens if you die as a child, and haven’t been baptized. It really depends on what your relationship with God looks like. If you have accepted Jesus as your Savior then you should feel confident in your salvation. If you are thinking that you need God in your life, but have not pursued God, then you should talk to someone to see what that looks like. Again, only God knows who goes to Heaven, and who does not, as He is the final judge. A believer, however, should feel confident in his or her salvation when following biblical principles. Another thing I am confident in is that we all need God in our lives. Without God we are lost. With God we have hope, and all things are possible. God gives us good cause to be…

believinforareason!

Can God Create a Weight He Cannot Lift?

I have heard this question a lot lately… “Can God create a weight He cannot lift?”. In fact, I have heard the question so often as of late I thought the question warranted a post, so that I might help put the question to bed by addressing the question with a bit of logic. This question is generally asked to prove a point that God is not omnipotent. The question, however, fails in three ways:

  1. The question is logically contradictory.
  2. The questioner has made false, naturalistic assumptions about God.
  3. The questioner has incorrectly attributed specific constraints to God. Continue reading

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!

Stand to Reason Blog: Challenge: Does God Have Free Will?

Stand to Reason Blog: Challenge: Does God Have Free Will?.

Stand to Reason has bi-weekly question whereby readers of the blog can post questions for other readers to respond to. I found a recent question interesting. The question posted is as follows:

If morality is in God’s nature, then He is omnibenevolent, right? Does that mean that God cannot choose evil? So, if God cannot choose to do evil, does that mean He doesn’t have free will?

I have linked to the blog above. We should keep in mind when responding to this question that the Bible states that things do exist that God cannot do. For example, Hebrews 6:18 tells us God cannot lie.

Hebrews 6:18

so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us.
Does this mean that God does not have free will? I suggest taking a look at an article on letusreason.org before answering the question, which gives a list of things God cannot do. If you prefer the Cliff’s Notes version I can summarize as follows: God cannot do anything that is against His nature. So what is against His nature? Here are a few examples:
  • Sin
  • Deceit
  • Evil in general
  • Speaking falsehoods

I could go on, but I will not. God is good. The very basis of objective moral truths and duties. As such, anything contrary to God’s nature is not good, but let’s get back to the question. Does God have free will? The answer is, absolutely, yes. After all, how can a being without free will create beings with free will. Seems contrary in nature. Additionally, God makes choices all throughout history in a free fashion. God is both omniscient, and omnipresent. As such, God is in a unique position to exercise His free will with the benefit of knowing what the outcome of those choices will be until the end of time.

Let us take one more look at this from a different angle. Let’s take me. for example. I cannot throw a 1983 Chevy Malibu across the street. Does that mean I do not have free will? Certainly not. This does, however, speak to my limitedness, whereas God is unlimited. If God cannot do certain things doesn’t that limit Him? I contend that the fact that God cannot do the types of things listed above speaks to God’s power rather than perceived weakness. Items such as sin, deceit, evil,  and lies show a tremendous amount of weakness. The fact that God cannot engage in such activities means that God is so powerful that His power cannot be lessened by the issues of the world that plague mankind. How else can we have faith in God unless He is the ever-constant, omnibenevolent, omniscient, omnipotent, ever-graceful being that we know Him to be? I could never worship a God who is subject to the same weaknesses that I am through my sin-nature. Consider Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10:

2 Corinthians 12:9

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

2 Corinthians 12:10

For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
A weak God could not give us strength in the times of our weakness. Only a God who cannot do things such as those listed above can provide strength, as one additional thing exists that God cannot do… God cannot be weak. God is good/strong/benevolent/awesome, and that is why I am…
believinforareason