googlef87758e9b6df9bec.html A Sure Word: Can a person lose his salvation? Part 1

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Can a person lose his salvation? Part 1

There are some theological issues I won't debate with other Christians because I believe they are of little consequence. An example is the question of predestination (aka, election). God clearly commands us to share the gospel so I will share the gospel. What's the use of debating whether a person has the free will to respond or if God gives him the ability to respond?

There are some issues, of course, where I take a definite position and this includes the question, can a person lose his salvation? In my opinion, what a person thinks about losing his salvation reveals how he thinks a person is saved. If someone thinks a person could lose his salvation by sinning, for example, it may be because he thinks salvation is earned by good works. What's more, if it is possible to lose my salvation, I want to be sure I know if mine is at risk.

Concerning losing salvation, one website offers this analogy:

Suppose a friend gave me a brand new car which he paid out of his own money, and simply gave me the title and keys and said, "It's yours, Tom. Enjoy it." All I can do is reach for the keys and title and say, "Thank you!" Let me ask you a question. Is the car a free gift to me or did I have to earn it? It's free, right! But let me ask another question. Is it going to cost me money to keep and maintain the car? Sure it is. I'm going to have to put gas, change the oil, give it tune-ups, wax the car, and so on. The car is costly to keep, but it was free when I received it. Salvation works the same way. I can't earn it. God freely gave me my salvation since Jesus paid for it through His sacrifice on the cross. But once I receive it, I must take care of it.

Really good analogies are scarce. I think this analogy fails on a single point: If the car represents salvation, at the end of the day, would he still have the car or not? If he didn't put gas in the car, he may not get the full benefits of it, but he still owns the car, doesn't he? Suppose the person who gave him the car said, “I'm going to give this to you but if you don't take care of it, I'm taking it away.” In that case, did he ever really own the car? It's more like the true owner is just letting him drive it for a while. Rather than demonstrating how a person keeps his salvation, I believe this analogy better illustrates the misunderstanding some people have over the issue.

I want to make a short series about the subject where I present my argument against the possibility of a Christian losing his salvation and then rebut some of the more common arguments in favor of it.

This subject came up once in my Sunday School class when we were studying Hebrews. The verse that prompted the discussion was Hebrews 6:4-6:

For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.

Many people cite this passage as Scriptural support for the idea one can lose his salvation. However, I believe the passage is vague. Read the passage again carefully and consider what it is saying. 1) It clearly says, “if they shall fall away,” it would put Christ's death on the cross to open shame. 2) It clearly says “if they shall fall away,” it is impossible for them to become saved again. What is not clear from the passage is whether or not it is actually possible to “fall away.” I can see how one might have the impression it's possible but it isn't overtly stated from a straight reading of the text.

I admit some passages in the Bible are a little difficult to understand and I think it's dangerous to build doctrine on passages that are difficult to understand. In order to understand a difficult passage, we need to seek out other passages that discuss the same subject and aren't difficult to understand. We can then use the clear reading of the other passages to help us better understand the more vague ones.

For the record, based on my understanding of the clear passages in the Bible, I interpret Hebrews to mean something like, “If a saved person could fall away from the faith, it would make a mockery of Christ's death and it would be impossible for them to become saved again since Christ only died once on the cross.” Over the next few posts, I intend to offer clear, Scriptural support for what some have called, “eternal security.” Please stay tuned!

Read the entire series:

Part 2

Part 3
Part 4


Steven J. said...

I am handicapped in my understanding of the Bible by my willingness to accept that some seeming contradictions in the Bible are real contradictions -- that different authors had different concepts of God's nature and purposes. If some passages are most naturally read as teaching "once saved, always saved" (or, equivalently, "if not still saved, then never really saved"), and others imply that salvation can be gained and then lost, then quite possible the Calvinist-Arminian divide (in the most general sense) goes all the way back to the first century and partisans of both views contributed to the New Testament.

It seems to me (checking several translations) that most versions do not say "if they fall away," but simply refer to those who have fallen away (and for that matter, English often uses "if" to indicate, not that a condition is purely hypothetical, but that it occurs in some cases but not all: e.g. "if you were born after September 1, you must start first grade in the year you turn seven, not six"). The next two verses go on to discuss the uselessness of land that brings forth only thorns rather than fruit -- the obvious implication is that this concerns those who once professed faith in Christ but have fallen away, and suggests, again, that the author is not discussing something he regards as merely an impossible hypothesis, but rather is addressing a real problem.

Early extrabiblical writings indicate that Christians faced a problem: some Christians, facing persecution, recanted their Christianity, and then, when persecution abated (it was usually sporadic and local), tried to rejoin the church. Church leaders were divided on when, or whether, to permit this (most were, despite this passage, willing to allow repentant apostates to become Christians again). This, again, suggests that this passage in Hebrews is not (despite warning that the author was moving beyond the basics into some heavy-duty theology) discussing abstract theological niceties but addressing a problem his readers were confronting.

Biblical sayings such as "he who perseveres to the end will be saved" (Matthew 24:13) also suggest that not all persevere; it is hard to see the point of bringing up, so often, conceivable but impossible alternatives (such as not persevering if perseverance of the saints is the uniform teaching of the New Testament). Of course, again, the classic Calvinist position is that those who do not persevere to the end did not lose salvation but rather never really believed and hence were never really saved -- a triumph of theological logic over experience, I think.

RKBentley said...

Steven J,

Thanks for your comments. It's true that the term “if they shall fall away,” in the KJV, gives a more hypothetical sound than other translations but, judging by any translation, I believe the context reveals the author is talking about people who were never Christians. Chapter 6 begins with, “therefore,” meaning it's drawing a conclusion to a point made in chapter 5. Looking back then, we can see Chapter 5 ends with the author talking about people who have claimed to be Christians for a long time but don't seem to understand anything about God. Hebrews 5:12 NASB says, “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food.” It seems obvious he's talking about people who don't even understand the gospel.

I think this is made even more clear later in chapter 6. Verses 7-8 say, “For ground that drinks the rain which often falls on it and brings forth vegetation useful to those for whose sake it is also tilled, receives a blessing from God; but if it yields thorns and thistles, it is worthless and close to being cursed, and it ends up being burned.” Jesus told us that we can judge people by their fruits and I believe this is what the author of Hebrews is doing. There are people who drink up the blessings of the church but only produce thorns and thistles. They're not Christians.

I stand by my interpretation. The author is exposing these “Christians” as counterfeit by pointing that it is impossible for a true Christian to fall away and then come to Christ again. It could be as you have suggested – they are people who deny Christ during persecution and profess Him when it's vogue. That would be impossible. Therefore, they were never Christians.

You've raised a verse in Matthew. That's on my list of verses to cover in my series so I'll address it when I come to that. Thanks again for visiting.

God bless!!