Monday, October 16, 2006

Monday's Question

Q. Can a Christian's salvation be lost?

A. This question actually contains several other questions. I would like to refer to three questions that are contained within this question, answer each one, and then proceed to provide Scriptural proof for my last answer.

Can someone who claims to be a true Christian be lost? YES

Can someone who seems to be a true Christian be lost? YES

Can someone who is a true Christian be lost? NO

The Bible passage which I will now present prove that a truly regenerated (born again) Christian can not be lost. This is not to say that they can't stumble and fall, just that they can't fatally. This is not to say that a person can say a "sinners prayer" and be assured of their they are saved no matter whether their life bears fruit of their salvation. We only have security in Christ only in so much as we are truly in Christ, and those truly in Christ WILL produce fruits and they WILL persevere in the faith.

The passages I'm refering to are divided into two basic categories: "Descriptions of a True Believer" and "Descriptions of What God Does For The True Believer".

Descriptions of a True Believer
  • They will never perish and are never snatched out of Christ's hands (Jh.10:28)
  • The will be raised on the last day (Jh.6:39-44)
  • Their inheritance is imperishable, does not fade away, and is reserved in heaven (I Pe.1:3-4)
  • They conquer and can't be separated from God's love (Ro.8:37-39)
  • They are born again of imperishable seed (I Pe.1:23)


Descriptions of What God Does For The True Believer
  • He protects them with His power through faith unto the end (I Pe.1:3-5)
  • He perfects His good work in the saints until the day of Christ Jesus (Ph.1:6)
  • He sustains them to the end so they will be guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ (I Co.1:7-9)
  • He rescues them from evil and brings them into His heavenly kingdom (II Ti.4:18)
  • Christ saves completely those who who come to God through Him, and always lives to interceed for them (He.7:25)
  • He keeps them for/by Jesus Christ (Jude 1:1)
  • He prevents them from being snatched out of Christ's hand (Jh.10:28-29)
  • He lets them stumble but keeps them from falling, He upholds them with His hand (Ps.37:23-24, Ps.121:3)
  • He keeps them in His own name (Jh.17:11)
  • He is determined to lose nobody and will raise believers on the last day (Jh.6:39)
  • He guards them from the evil one (II Th.3:3)
  • He causes them to walk in His laws and obey them (Eze.36:27)
  • He puts fear in their heart so they don't turn away (Je.32:40)
  • He sanctifies them and keeps them, because He is faithful (I Th.5:23-24)
  • He keeps them from stumbling and presents them blameless (Jude 1:24-25)
  • He establishes them and seals them with His Spirit as a guarantee (II Cor 1:22, Eph.1:13-14)
  • He doesn't forsake His saints, He preserves them forever (Ps.37:28-29)


These verses provide a comprehensive all-encompasing refutation of the idea that a truly regenerated (born again) believer could ever lose their salvation. On the basis of the believers new nature, their new status, and God's faithfulness and power, there is no way in which any true sheep of the fold of Jesus Christ could ever perish. Not only do all these texts support the idea that true believers never perish and always endure unto the end, the concept is indirectly supported by many Biblical concepts and doctrines, including but not limited to: God's sovereignty, election, God's love for the elect, the work of the Holy Spirit, the efficacy
(effectiveness) of Christ's redemption, etc.

As convincing as the evidence I have just presented is, there are some verses which are difficult (but not impossible) to explain and reconcile with the great doctrine truth of the surety of the "perseverance of the saints". Here are the ones mainly used by those who want to teach that truly regenerated believers can be lost: He.6:4-6, He.10:26-31, II Pe.2:20-22, etc. Giving an exegesis of those passages is beyond the scope of this answer, but that can be found elsewhere. These passages do genuinely speak of apostasy and departure from professed faith, but a survey of context and a careful attention to what the author is saying and not saying undoubtedly shows that they don't in one iota contradict what the Bible teaches about perseverance.

We see, in the visible church, many people who abandon their profession in the Lord Jesus Christ. This does not prove that true believers lose their salvation, because we are not infalliable and we can't see in their heart as to whether they were ever really true salvation. We can only share the suspicion that John had, "They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us." (1 Jh.2:19 - ESV) The Bible does not say that those who do not continue in their faith lose anything, but rather that they do not have it at all (see II Jo.1:9).

As professing believers, we can have assurance of being presented blameless and above reproach on the last day before God on the basis of His work on the cross for us. However, we lose that assurance if we don't "continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel" (Co.1:23 - ESV). Why? Because true saving faith keeps on keeping, and if we don't keep on keeping, we don't have true saving faith.

--
Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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15 Comments:

Blogger fritzmb said...

Mark, in your last paragraph you said: "we can have assurance" ... "we lose that assurance". That seems to contradict what you just spent your entire post explaining.

9:22 AM  
Blogger Mark said...

fritzmb,

I don't see any contradiction here Could you elaborate. I assume you may not familiar with the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints?

Let me explain myself... This post defends the idea that true believers never perish, not the idea that people who have assurance never perish. In my view, it is possible to have false assurance and not really be saved. And I also believe it is possible to be saved and be to some degree lacking in the area of assurance (hinted at in 1Jo 3:19-21). So.. we need to see assurance as ultimately tied to but distinct from the reality (or lack thereof) of our faith.

Say there's a man with a Christian profession, with both others and himself considering him a true believer. But later he manifests a sinful lifestyle, departs from his profession of faith, and lives as such until he dies. In my view, that hypothetical man commited apostasy and subsequently lost his assurance and his profession of faith. However, he did not lose his salvation. Why did he not lose his salvation? Because he never had it to begin with, he'd be among those to whom Christ says "I never knew you". "I thought I was saved" will never do when we stand in front of God, only salvation in reality.

11:58 AM  
Blogger Mark said...

continued..

The Bible clearly states that there are those who have many of the trappings of salvation (partaking in many things, members of the visible church in good standing, a solid profession and knowledge of the faith, assurance, etc.) but are not saved. We don't always know which ones they are, but they do exist!

As professing believers, you and I have eternal security, but only in so far as much as our faith is a real "non-dead" heart penetrating enduring faith (given from above) and not a false assurance. If it is a false assurance, that will be ultimately manifested in our walking away from our so-called "faith in Christ". So in essence, our continuance and endurance becomes proof for what is normally not externally visible--the inward reality of our faith (1 Jh.2:19, Co.1:23). If a person perminantly walks away from their profession, is it proper to suppose that they had that sort of faith that protects them unto the end through the power of God? (I Pe.1:3-5) Was that the sort of person that is confirmed unto the end? (1Cr 1:8) I say no, and therefore that puts them into the category of "never truly among us" although they may have been phsyically and visibly so.

11:59 AM  
Blogger Mark said...

continued..

I'm avoiding both the conclusion of "True believers perish" and also avoiding the conclusion of "Anyone who names the name of Christ will not perish"? I believe both of those conclusions can be biblically disproven, and what we have left is the Biblical truth the reality of security in Christ and the necessity to persevere. People with fruitless lives do not have true faith, but they are not without salvation because they are fruitless, but rather they are fruitless because they do not have salvation.

Is this more clear?

Interestingly.. taking this position puts me at odds with both those who teach that a person born of "imperishable seed" can perish and those who teach that a prayer followed by the remainder of life as an athiest guarantees salvation.

While some chose to emphasize the warning passages in exclusion to the security passages, and other chose to emphasize the security passages in exclusion to the warnings, I am consciously trying to harmonize in an attempt to interperet the Scriptures "as they speak".

12:00 PM  
Blogger fritzmb said...

Mark,
I will attempt to elaborate:

Are you saying that for a person to "have assurance of being presented blameless and above reproach on the last day before God on the basis of His work on the cross for us" is not the same thing as salvation? (In my understanding, that would be the promise or assurance of salvation that we have as true believers -- am I misunderstanding you here?)

You say we can have that assurance, and I agree. (I assume at this point that you are not talking about a false assurance -- In my view, there is not really "false assurance", but rather the possibility of a false assumption on our part of our assurance.) However, in the next sentence you say, "we lose that assurance if we don't 'continue in the faith,...'". In your explanation in your comments, you keep referring to a false assurance, but in the initial sentence you sound like you are talking about a true assurance. That is where I am confused by your explanation.

I agree, some people may falsely believe they have assurance (salvation), and they may not truly be saved. The state of that person not being saved may manifest itself in them walking away from God, and acknowledging that they have lost that assurance, which was initially false in this case. But by the same token, if the assurance was false, they may continue in that deception for the rest of their life but never loose their false assurance.

In my understanding, assurance of salvation is something God gives us, not something we have on our own. Any true assurance is from God. A false assurance is deception and error.

3:20 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

6:16 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

fritzmb,

Thanks for the elaboration. I think our differences in approach may be that we undestand the term "assurance" differently.

It *seems* to me that you are making "assurance" the essence of faith (based on what you have said). That may be our ultimate difference in definitions. I believe, based on scripture and reason, that assurance is NOT the essence of faith, and while it is closely tied to our salvation is distinct from it. This is, I believe, the position which has historically been held by evangelical theologians of almost all stripes.

Easton's Bible Dictionary says: "This full assurance is not of the essence of saving faith. It is the result of faith, and posterior to it in the order of nature, and so frequently also in the order of time. True believers may be destitute of it."



You say "Are you saying that for a person to 'have assurance of being presented blameless and above reproach on the last day before God on the basis of His work on the cross for us' is not the same thing as salvation?"

Here's the distinction that needs to be made to make sense of this: "Being presented blameless" is our salvation. Knowing for certainty that this is the case of US, would be our assurance. Of course, they can't be strictly separated, but there must be some distinction.


You may disagree with that, if thats the case I'm interesting in hearing about that. Or maybe we are just thinking of two completely different things when we think of assurance.

So, when I am speaking of assurance. I'm moreso speaking of "how we know that we know Christ" than"how we know Christ". In a sense, for techies out there, its meta-faith. I think hymn-writer Augustus Topaldy was right on when he said that faith is the hand that reaches to Christ and the assurance is the ring that Christ places on our hand.

You are right, true assurance proceeds from God, specifically the Bible often talks about the Holy Spirit's role in that. But besides the Holy Spirit's relevatory role, we also learn that assurance comes from things like fruits, love manifested in our hearts, etc.

I also totally agree that false assurance is not from God.

The topic of assurance is deeper than some might think. There are the issues of objective/subjective basis, of degres of assurance (Bible texts make clear that we need to press on to "full assurance", etc.

P.S. I'm still not sure I understand what you are getting at regarding my use of "true assurance" and "false assurance", though.

10:19 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

In case anyone is interested, here a few study verses on assurance:

* 1Jo 3:18-24

* Hbr 10:22

* Hbr 6:11-12

* Col 2:2

10:26 PM  
Blogger meg said...

mark- you say that a true Christian cannot be lost. i would LOVE to believe that but let me present a scenario for you, all of which is true. a good friend of mine have used to have a friend (their friendship has sadly died away) that was a strong Christian. WAS, i say b/c a few years ago he decided that God didn't exsist and is now a fullblown atheist. he doesn't believe in heaven or hell. he doesn't think there is even a God. can you tell me that he is not lost? can you tell me that he is still gonig to heaven?

11:34 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

Hi Meg,

Great question/comment/scenario!

If you read what I wrote, you will find that I believe that a person who perminently abandons their faith was never saved to begin with.

The Bible teaches that "For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world" (I Jo.5:4) and it also teaches that true Christians conquer (Ro.8:37-39).

This individual described does not seem to fit that description of one who has been born again.

So, this person who turned into an athiest will not be saved. He may have fooled others (and maybee even themself), but they can't fool God. Not everyone who seems to be a strong Christian really is one.

If he abandons his faith permanently, he is lost, not because he lost his salvation, but rather because he never had it if he didn't persist in his profession.

I John 2:19 - "They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us."

7:27 AM  
Blogger fritzmb said...

Mark,
(Up front, let me apologize for being so long winded, but I thought the topic deserved significant explanation.)

I understand (though I disagree with) your position that a person cannot lose their salvation, because if they walk away from God they never had salvation in the first place. My “confusion” comes from how you stated that means a person loses their assurance.

As you suggest, I think we are operating with two different definitions of assurance. I see two definitions:
1. God’s promise or assurance of my salvation.
2. How I know/believe/feel/understand/trust (maybe you have a better word rather than these five) that God has promised me salvation.

Based on dictionary definitions, I think both are valid definitions of assurance. However, not being a theologian, I may not be properly interpreting what “has historically been held by evangelical theologians of almost all stripes” as “assurance”.

I have been focusing on the first definition, while I think you are focused somewhat on the second definition, although you appear somewhat to mix the in the first definition.

If we are totally “in tune” with God, definition 1 and definition 2 will always be in sync, but obviously in this case, we are talking about people who may not be in tune with God.

Using these two definitions I see four possible scenarios:
1. I am saved, God has assured me of this, and I feel that assurance.
2. I am saved, God has assured me of this, but for whatever reason I do not feel that assurance.
3. I am not saved, God has warned me of this, but I feel assurance.
4. I am not saved, God has warned me of this, and I do not feel assurance.

Although I don’t think you believe this, it almost appears from your examples that you seem to be adding a possible fifth scenario:
5. I am not saved, but God has allowed me to have assurance, and I feel assured.

In your example in your previous comment, you appear to say that person went from either:
· scenario 3 to scenario 4, or
· scenario 5 to scenario 4.
I agree that it is possible for a person to move from scenario 3 (they were deceived or deceiving) to 4 (they realized/manifested the truth of their non-saved state).
Since scenario 5 does not make sense to me, I don’t think it is possible to start in that scenario and move to scenario 4.

Hopefully, all of us will abide in scenario 1, although I think you have suggested, and I agree, that at some times we may be in (or slide in and out of) scenario 2.
If a person is in scenario 3 or 4, I hope we both agree that we would like them to move to scenario 1.

Obviously, our difference comes in that I believe your example (or any other similar situation) could also be describing a person moving from scenario 1 or 2 (saved, whether feeling that assurance or not) to scenario 3 or 4 (unsaved, whether feeling assured [deceived – false assurance] or not).

11:21 AM  
Blogger fritzmb said...

Mark,
One more thing.

Being a "techie", I think I understood your reference to meta-faith, based on my understanding of metadata. However, is that a term you just made up, or is it a theologically understood term? I haven't researched it deeply, but just tried a Google search to see if someone else explained it the way I thought I understood it. All of the references I saw referring to meta-faith related to things like interfaith mysticism and other non-Christian religious experiences. I don't think that is what you were refering to, was it?

11:50 AM  
Blogger Mark said...

Fritzmb,

Thanks for the very clear explanation. I understand what you mean. I think you did a wonderful job of sorting through some of the fog that was in my mind here.

I was speaking moving from 3 to 4 or possibly staying in 3 without moving to 4 (which is more likely).

If by "allow" you mean "condone or give creedance to" and not "permit it to exist for a time", then I'm in agreement that #5 is wrong. Although I'm still kind of thinking about how, if, and in what sense sense 2 Th 2:11-12 applies to this.

As you stated, we disagree about whether one can move from 1 or 2 into 3 or 4.

Here's a few questions.. Can one know that they've moved from 1,2 into 3,4? If yes, does the Spirit directly reveal the fact, or is it more so subjectively infered by the lack of basis for subjective assurance (uncertain conscience, lack of fruits, prevelant sins, etc.)? Is it possible to move from 1,2 into 3,4 for any sin, or just for the sin of apostasy?

12:31 PM  
Blogger fritzmb said...

Mark,
By "allow", I guess I did mean "condone or give credence to", so I'm glad we agree on that.

2 Th 2:11-12 seems to me to be addressing a specific point in time, not general issues of the current salvation process.

As I see it, a person could know that they have moved from 1 or 2 into 3 or 4. (At least to the extent that we can "know" our salvation state.) (I don't know that they would know the exact moment of transition. I believe only God knows that with certainty, just as only God knows our salvation state with ultimate certainty.) However, if they are moving to 3, they may be deceived and thus not realize their lost condition.

I may be threading on thin ice with the following, but here I go. In actuality I am glad God is the judge and not me. It is up to Him to decide those who are His. As best I understand it, apostacy (that's not a word I use regularly, but I think I understand the general meaning) would be the sin committed when someone walked away from God, denied the faith, etc. I would say people would lose their salvation for the sin of apostacy. However, apostacy may manifest itself in many ways. It may be manifested as the commission of other sins, or it may simply be manifested by denying/renouncing God. God knows the heart, and that is what matters.

4:23 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

fritzmb,

Regarding "meta-faith", I'm wasn't using that as any sort of set theological term, I was just grasping for a way to describe knowing that we know Christ. I don't know whether anyone has used that before, so it may be unorthodox :) )

Everyone,

On apostasy... To the casual reader, it may not be self-evident that it is coherent to believe both that truly regenerate believers can't lose their salvation and that there is such a thing as apostasy. So perhaps it may be helpful for me to explain my view of apostasy a bit further...

From my studies of the Biblical teachings (and examples) regarding apostasy, I've noticed that the Bible usually places apostasy in a particular context. For example, Judas' betrayal was not just an isolated incident, it flowed from who he was (identity) all along, namely a "devil" (John 6:70). And the passage I quoted from I John which describes how the disciples perceived those who abandoned their association with the body of Christ bears witness to this. There is no evidence that they looked upon these "abdondoners" as having had a good identity and just stumbled into sin somewhere along the way. But rather they viewed their lack of continuance as a sign that they had an altogether different identity. An identity that was never rooted into the identity of the group.

But talking about apostasy is diffcult! Why? Because as you pointed out it is only God that knows the state of other peoples hearts infallibally. The person who believes truly saved individuals can perish still has to admit that they could not present one concrete case of someone who lost their salvation within their personal experiences. While they may be able to provide examples of people who abandoned public professions, due to our finiteness, we can't ever eliminate the possibility that their faith was a charade.

How do we deal with ones like Demas? What are we to make of them? Their start seemed so good. They were so profitable in ministering to the church, but yet what happened? From a temporal perspective, it is far too easy to conclude that they lost their salvation. Is that really what happened? I don't believe we can see into their hearts, so we must exclude empirical surety as to whether they were ever saved or not. All we can do is apply the Word's principles in non-direct ways, IF/THEN combinations that still don't necessarily give us an answer.

Here is one way to look at it.. there are two views of apostasy: the internal view and the external view. I will refer to this later in this comment.

I'd also like to elude to the fact that as temporal beings, we are very limited in our ability to see things as God does. We are able to comprehend true knowledge about Him, but we could come nowhere near comprehensive knowledg eon this side of eternity. When we see a Judas or a Demas busy professing and serving, and then reverted to the world and wickedness, we see it as a progression, a change of states. However, we can not try to squish God, who obviously trancends time, to limit Him to that perspective. When God looks at the serving Judas, He also can see the betraying Judas. And when He sees the working/serving Demas, He also sees the "loving the world" Demas. This is related to why apostasy is primarily a matter of identity. When we see a believer make a profession of faiith, we see one who we feel is now one of the visible church, one who is now making a start. But God sees that persons begining, He also sees their end. It would be very incoherent and naive to assume that God sees our "beginning" with out the end in mind as well. Can God, through His Spirit, speak to one in the beginning "You are my child, part of my beloved church, one of my sheep who will never persih" while before Him is future reality that this one is soon to be under His wrath? Remember, God is not limited to our view of the progression of an apostate (our view is highly linear and future-ignorant), He never" newly" becomes aware of the persons apostate/betraying identity. He knows it from eternity.

As humans, we will always have to deal primarily with the external view of apostasy, hence the tendency for some to assume that everyone abandons their profession actually loses true salvation. And also from this external/internal tension, we are able to exlain why someone like me is able to consistently believe that apostasy happens.

We have to acknowledge and confess that there is an internal view, which we are to some degree ignorant of. We generally all agree that the internal view of apostasy doesn't always match the external view of apostasy, so we are left with only one option: carefully search the scriptures about how we are to regard those who walk away from their profession. It all centers around a number of more basic theological questions:

- What is the nature of true saving faith and regeneration?
- What characterizes true believers?
- What promises and protections do true believers have?
- How does God deal with His New Covenant people?

I believe that the passages I presented in my blog post address these sorts of questions. The more I think, the more I see how interconnected all theology is.

8:04 PM  

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