Once in Grace Always in Grace?
I have read a lot of arguments that Christians can fall away, but at least some of them are really inconclusive. You must both prove that the person who was saved really lost their salvation and you must prove that they really were saved in the first place.
Inconclusive “Insecurity” Arguments
Even if someone is appointed to be Elder in the church (Acts 20:17, 28-30) or even an apostle (i.e. Judas), that doesn’t necessarily mean that that person was ever in grace to begin with.
In other places it may not be speaking about individuals. The branches that were grafted back in (Romans 11:13-23) were not people who had been saved and then lost, but its talking about Israel being lost as a nation or people. The seven churches in Revelation are another example of this. In other places it may just be speaking of the world as a whole (e.g., I Timothy 4:1).
The Bible teaches that there are different rewards given in eternity for one’s service to Him (Matthew 16:27, Luke 19:12-27, I Corinthians 3:12-15). So any passage, such as II John 1:8, which only indicates the loss of reward, but not eternal punishment, is not a valid argument that any believer’s salvation is not eternally secure.
Those who don’t believe in (unconditional) eternal security are not saying that God doesn’t know who is going to be saved and who isn’t. Some of the verses Calvinists use are only acknowledging this fact. But what then do we really mean when we say that a saved person can’t fall away? We are saying that if one had died while in grace, that person would have been saved, but because he walked away from the grace he had received, his salvation is lost.
The Bible speaks of some specific individuals who believed and then were (possibly) lost. The first example is Simon the Sorcerer. It clearly says that he believed (Acts 8:13) and later Peter said to him, “Thy money perish with thee…Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right in the sight of God. Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee.” (Acts 8:20-23) The word for perish implies eternal condemnation. We don’t even know if Simon was ultimately saved or not. He asks them to pray for him and doesn’t even say whether they did or didn’t. Even though it said Simon believed, it seems like his attitude was wrong from the start and therefore his status was questionable. James 2:19 says, “Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.” So I guess even this passage is really inconclusive.
The problem with I Corinthians 9:26-27 is twofold. Does becoming a “castaway” really mean the loss of one’s eternal salvation? How can you really be sure? Furthermore, Paul says that he keeps his body under subjection so that he WON’T become a castaway. One could argue that since he has made his decision to do so, the result is that he can’t fall away. Furthermore, one could speculate that the one who doesn’t make this decision isn’t really in grace.
Galatians 5:4 says, “Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace.” This sounds like a pretty promising verse, but does “fallen from grace” really mean a loss of salvation?
It’s hard to find a Scripture that really proves this conclusively. Be careful.
Inconclusive “(Unconditional) Security” Arguments
Likewise, the verses that the (unconditional) “eternal security” crowd uses also seem very inconclusive. A sheep is always a sheep, but it doesn’t necessarily have to always be one of HIS sheep. And just because no one can pluck you out of God’s hand (John 10:25-30), doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t leave the safety of God’s hand voluntarily. John 6:37 says, “All the father has given to me shall come unto me and he that comes to me I shall in no wise cast out". Again, Jesus will not cast you out, but you can leave of your own volition. I John 2:19 only proves that SOME people in church are false converts (the ones who “went out”). And the above argument about the Bible referring to certain groups of people (the Church in particular) instead of individuals also applies to some supposedly Calvinistic verses (e.g., Philippians 1:6, I Peter 1:4-5, Ephesians 1:5).
Then there’s Romans 8:35-39. One way to explain this verse is to say that it does not teach that we can never be separated from the salvation which is in Christ because love and salvation are two different things. (God loves even the sinner, even if he knows that he will not be one of the ones who will repent and be saved in the end. See Matthew 5:43-44.) An explanation which I prefer, however, is that it does not teach that YOU cannot separate yourself from the love of Christ even though it teaches that all of these other things can’t. This exception can be taken for granted.
Because the list of inconclusive passages that both sides use seems almost endless, I will stop here and now focus on the ones which really address the issue. I do believe that it is possible for a real Christian to fall away (and thereby lose eternal salvation once had) and here are the verses that are most convincing to me:
Hebrews 10:26-27 indicates that someone can “receive the knowledge of the truth” but then there is only a “certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation” because “there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins” because they sinned “willfully”.
James 5:19-20 says, “Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him; Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins.”
II Peter 2:20-22 says, “For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning. For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them. But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire.”
Some passages indicate that not only can someone fall away, but if they do, they can never (or may never be able to) be restored. I must admit that I find Hebrews 6:4-6 to be particularly puzzling because it seems hard to reconcile with James 5:19-20, other similar passages, testimonies of Christians, and my own experience. My only explanation is that this is not inclusive of all who come to Christ (the context going back to the previous chapter is about those who “useth milk [being] unskilful in the word of righteousness” as opposed to “them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil” Hebrews 5:13-14.) This is definitely counterintuitive to me. For more thoughts on this, click here.
Hebrews 6:4-6 says, “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.”
I John 5:16-17 says, “If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it. All unrighteousness is sin: and there is a sin not unto death.”
But there’s more than Two Sides of the Issue
Most Christians have been convinced that one has to believe one of two positions. One is that once one has received grace, it is impossible to “lose” it (or to throw it away). The other one is that every moment of your life, from the time of your baptism to the minute of your physical death there is always a possibility that you will be caught off guard and lose your salvation in a moment of temporary foolishness. Have you ever considered that the Bible may teach some middle ground position?
Is it possible that one CAN take steps (beyond what’s required to receive grace) which CAN make one’s eternal salvation unconditionally secure even though SOME who have received grace (but who haven’t taken such steps) MAY fall away?
I have heard some preachers use the term “soundly saved” to indicate this. II Peter 1:10 says, “Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall”. Matthew 10:42 (Mark 9:41 is similar) says, “And whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward.” God can prevent someone from losing their salvation by supernaturally preventing them from committing a “sin unto death” (Genesis 20:3, 6).
The term “soundly saved” also implies that there are some who are saved, but not “soundly”. In the parable of the sower (Mark 4:16 and Luke 8:13), it indicates that some receive the word with joy, but then fall away because they have no firm roots. (The strict Calvinist has to say that either these don’t really lose their salvation or are never really saved to begin with even though they “receive the word with joy”.) Consider also the argument about I Corinthians 9:26-27 above. Some may chose to take the step of keeping one’s body under subjection and some may not, making the difference between one who becomes a “castaway” (which could really be a loss of salvation) and one who doesn’t.
You may disagree with me, but I think that it is clear that a middle ground position (which may be better understood with more studying) is the correct one. But whether you are a strict Calvinist or a die hard Arminian, you do need to “make your calling and election sure”. So what are “these things” that, if we do them, will “make our calling and election sure”? I leave it to you find the answer in the verses preceding II Peter 1:10. (Click here to read about baptism.) Then you will be able to say with confidence, “I will not fall away!”