Ben over at Arminian Perspectives has a good post on “eternal security” and how this doctrine does violence to the plain reading of numerous passages of scripture. Check it out.
Category Archives: perseverance
Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. Hebrews 10:22-23
In this post I want to look at some of the different views on the possibility of losing salvation. Before looking at each view it’s important to ask two questions:
1) How is Salvation “gained”? By works, by faith, or by decree?
2) How is Salvation “kept”?, By works, by faith, or by decree?
I’m going to propose 5 views, that come about through the way we answer these two questions.
View #1) Salvation is gained by works, it is kept by works. Net result: Salvation can be easily lost.
This view says salvation is dependent on what we do. If we do enough good and avoid enough bad then God gives us get a ticket to heaven. This view is popular among nominal Catholics and Protestants. It is also popular among some heterodox groups like the LDS.
The main problem with this view is that it makes Jesus’ death unnecessary. If we can make it on our own why did he need to die? And a practical concern with this view is that one never knows how much work to do to obtain salvation. As a result there is no security. Scriptural support for this view is essentially zero.
View #2) Salvation is gained by faith in Jesus, it is kept by good works. Net result: Salvation can be easily lost.
One can become a true Christian, but if he sins once he loses his salvation and must repent again to get it back. One must be in a “state of grace” to get to heaven. Lather, Rinse, Repeat. This view is common among Catholics and also some Arminians.
The problem with this view is there is no security for the believer. One accidental sin can cause you to forfeit your salvation. In its more extreme forms this view also leads back to a “works” view of gaining salvation. It envisions a “Santa Claus” type God, who’s making a list and checking it twice. This view leaves us open to deception from the enemy who is eager to convince us that we’re no longer saved. It can also actually encourage sin. Just confess it after the fact and you’re good to go again (Romans 6:1-2)
View #3) Salvation is gained by faith in Jesus, It is kept by faith in Jesus. Net result: Salvation can not be “lost”, but it can be forfeited.
In this view losing Salvation is a possibility, but it only comes about by a deliberate choice and doesn’t happen by accident. It must be walked away from. This is the view of many Arminians.
Problems: this view must be reconciled with passages which seem to imply that salvation can not be forfeited (like John 10:28). And like view #2 it also potentially leaves us open to deception from the enemy who is eager to convince us that we have lost faith and committed the unpardonable sin.
View #4) Salvation is gained by faith in Jesus, It is kept by decree of God. Net result: Salvation can not be lost one we have believed.
In this view we must believe to be saved, but once we have believed we are “sealed” by God, and there is no longer a possibility that salvation can be lost. This view is popular among some Arminians, Southern Baptists, and some other groups groups like Calvary Chapel.
The strength of this view is that the believer has both full assurance and security in Christ. The weakness is that it discounts the many warning passages in scripture. It can also result in believers thinking they have a license to sin.
View #5) Salvation is gained by decree of God, It is kept by decree of God. Net result: Salvation can not be lost.
Faith in Jesus is an inevitable result of God’s eternal decrees. It does not come from anything in the believer. Those whom Jesus died for will certainly be saved. This view is often called “monergism” and is popular among Calvinists.
Problems with this view: First, it has the same weaknesses of view #4 (discounts the warning passages, gives a license to sin). Secondly it denies assurance. Those whom God decrees will certainly be saved, but no one knows what God has decreed. This view can cause us to doubt the good character of God, and can easily lead to a fatalistic attitude.
Works, Faith, and Decree
It’s important to note that while there are at least 5 views on the possibility of losing salvation, there are really only 3 views on how salvation is given to us by God, and only three views on how salvation is kept. In each case it is by works, by faith in Jesus, or by unconditional decree.
The Arminian distinctive – We all agree on question #1: Salvation is given by God through faith in Jesus.
For Arminians, we all agree that salvation comes through faith in Jesus, however, there is disagreement on how is salvation kept. It has often been assumed by Calvinists (and others) that all Arminians believe salvation can be easily be lost. This is an unfortunate misunderstanding. The heart of Arminianism is that salvation comes by faith in Jesus. However, there is diversity on the second question: How is salvation kept? As a result, out of the 5 views described, Arminians can logically hold to view #2, #3, and #4.
It has been my observation that some Christians (Southern Baptists in particular) don’t want to be labeled Arminian because they strongly disagree with view #2. This aversion to the Arminian label is unnecessary. One can hold to view #4 and still be Arminian. The root issue for Arminians is that salvation is genuinely offered by God to all, and the means he has ordained for us to be saved is through our faith in Jesus Christ.
My point here is not that this issue of losing salvation is unimportant or irrelevant to Arminians. It clearly is very important, but there is disagreement on the issue because of the way we answer the second question, not the first one. As Arminians we need to allow room for differences of opinion on the matter, and we need to teach others that not all Arminians hold to view #2 or even view #3.
There are several scripturally reasonable positions that can be taken on this issue. And to be fair, none of the views are without difficulty. No matter what our understanding, may we show love to those believers who disagree with us.
Upon first glance one of the appealing aspects of Calvinism is the doctrine of Eternal Security, or the “P” in TULIP — “Perseverance of the Saints”. This is the concept that if you are one of the elect, you cannot lose your salvation. You will certainly be saved. This concept seems great on the surface, but there are some underlying problems with it.
First, Calvinism discourages the unsaved from seeking God, because Calvinism classifies individuals into one of two categories – the elect, and the non-elect (reprobated). If you believe that you are one of the reprobate you will never seek God’s mercy. Why put your trust in a God who has determined to damn you? This error prevents people from trusting in God, because it distorts God’s character. If you are one of the reprobate, you are without help and without hope, you CANNOT be saved. Or so says Calvinism.
A second concern: you may think you are saved, but actually be damed. You may have the “false hope” spoken of by Edwards, Calvin, and others. It may seem to you that you are saved, and God may even indicate this to your spirit. But God by his inscrutable council has the right to give you false hope and damn you in the end.
A third concern: This doctrine takes away the joy of the believer – a flip side of the “false hope” doctrine. A believer may actually be saved, but think that he is not. This poor believer spends his life in terror of God’s judgment, even though he is covered by the blood of Jesus. The enemy of our souls is more than happy to tell us the lie that God doesn’t accept us. Calvinism lends itself to the lies of the enemy, because we all fail God in some way. If we fail God, Calvinism says we must not have ever been a believer in the first place.
Thus in the Calvinist system there is no security. No one can ever really know if he is saved or not.
Calvin says there are two types of call: The general call (which goes to all) and the special call (which goes for the most part to the elect). According to Calvin even those who have received the “special call” might not be saved in the end. Calvin says that it may well be that God is only giving them temporary illumination, and will justly forsake them at a later point because of their ungratefulness (bold mine):
There are two kinds of call. There is the general call, by which God invites all equally to himself through the outward preaching of the word-even those to whom he holds it out as a savor of death, and as the occasion for severer condemnation. The other kind of call is special, which he deigns for the most part to give to the believers alone, while by the inward illumination of his Spirit he causes the preached Word to dwell in their hearts. Yet sometimes he also causes those whom he illumines only for a time to partake of it; then he justly forsakes them on account of their ungratefulness and strikes them with even greater blindness.
So the general call is worthless. It doesn’t save save anyone. It only provides the “occasion for severer condemnation”. And even the special call provides no security, because God can “justly forsake” those who have received the special call.
Contrast the view of Calvin with what scripture says: The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are Gods children (Romans 8:16). And: if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. (Romans 10:9-10) Scripture teaches that we can be secure. If we believe, we will be saved. And the Holy Spirit testifies to us that this is true.
We can have faith in Jesus, trust that He is good, and trust that He has no hidden agenda. But Calvin says no, you can’t trust God. God -could- just be messing with you and will justly forsake you at a later time.
The end result is that the Calvinist has no security because he cannot trust the heart of God, and cannot discern the council of God. The Calvinist can’t trust the heart of God because God has a secret agenda. The Calvinist can’t discern the council of God, because God might not intend for him to be saved in the end. In fact God may be temporarily illuminating the Calvinist now as “the occasion for severer condemnation” down the road. And this “severer condemnation” is the right of God (so says Calvin).
In conclusion, this Calvinistic doctrine takes away the joy of the Christian, and it takes away the hope of the non-Christian. This system lends itself to the lies of the enemy who wants all to believe that they have no hope, and contradicts scripture which clearly states that God desires all to be saved.