I preached a sermon on 5/11/14 that challenged our church community to be courageous enough to ask questions. The church practiced asking questions by… submitting 1 question that they had about the Christian faith at the end of the service.
The questions were compiled and organized into different categories. I’ve been challenged to answer a question routinely, so I am going to post my response (not necessarily ‘official church positions’) on the blog. I will answer in 500ish words or less, which will hopefully spur on further conversations and not more data mining.
I received 2 questions that are getting at the same thing, so I’ll start there today.
“Do you believe in once saved always saved?”
“Is it possible to once have ‘accepted’ Christ and lose your salvation?”
This discussion is interesting. One position (Eternal Security or “Perseverance of the Saints”) says that one cannot lose salvation, ever. If it appears that one is turning away from God after Christian conversion, some would conclude that they were not a Christian to begin with, in order to retain their position.
The other position says that one can leave Christianity/lose salvation after a genuine conversions.
These positions are usually the result of other doctrines, not least one’s preference to Reformed or Arminian/Wesleyan positions on election/free will, etc.
A couple of things to consider:
1. Both positions can be defended with an array of NT texts. Here is a sample of each to get a flavor:
“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” (John 10:27-30)
“It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance. To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.” (Hebrews 6:4-6)
1b. The texts written to support the idea that one can lose their salvation is (generally) written to Jewish-Christian communities. The Jewish doctrine of “zeal” stressed obedience to God at all and any cost. This zeal doctrine shaped mid-to-late 1st century Jewish revolution movements and convinced those faithful to God to kill/assassinate their enemies as devotion to God. Perhaps the spirit behind the warning passages are a different application to this same development in the 1st century.
These warning texts, then, should be expected. These texts were used to provoke faithfulness to Jesus amid communities that had entered into a malaise of faith. (e.g. Hebrews and James)
The texts to support the Perseverance idea are generally written to the Gentile-Christian audience. These promises would have been equally evocative for them as the warning passages for the Jewish-Christians. The Gentiles were non-Jews entering into the Jewish story at its climax. It would have been easy to assume that one in their community was a 2nd class citizen, that (s)he didn’t belong. Hearing of one’s secure state before God, regardless of their starting point or family of origin, would have been massive.
Both sets of texts in this issue help to nudge a believer in different situations to the same place. I had a doctrine teacher once say that this stale mate cannot be resolved. Ministers, then, need to use these texts at different moments in congregational life, whether their community needs to hear security or if they need to hear warning.
2. The “thing behind the thing” in this issue is the classic legalism vs antinomianism (“cheap grace”) stale mate. On the one hand, we need to help people feel secure in their faith in Christ, that God loves them and that Jesus died for them “while they were sinners.” (Romans 5:8) On the other hand, being a Christian also means engaging in transformation. God meets us where we are, but doesn’t leave us where we are.
What is asked is, “Will salvation ‘stick’ to/in me, even if I make mistakes?” Some say, “Yes and always yes.” Others say, “Yes, but you’ve got to grow up, or else.”
One of the question-askers wanted my take on the issue.
Reminder: this is not the official church position or even shared by all staff persons, perhaps.
I’ll put it this way: God’s ability to keep me in the covenant family is greater than my ability to walk away.
Sounds like “Switzerland,” perhaps. But, that is how I’d answer it today.