CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

“Once Saved, Always Saved”

Jul 11, 2017

The question as to whether a Christian can lose his salvation is another one of those hard-core theological debates that gets thrashed around ad infinitum, ad nauseam. Positions are usually entrenched, the opposition view is often misrepresented, and heat rather than light far too often results.

As is so often the case, the debate is far more complex, detailed and nuanced than many folks realise. Which is why in part I tend to shy away from such debates. Not because I have nothing to say but because I realise a whole lot more needs to be said than what a short article allows for, if I want to do the topic justice.

So no matter what I now say on the matter, it will not suffice for many folks. Indeed, Christians on both sides will accuse me of rank heresy and being ensnared by the devil! Thus it may be foolish of me to wade into all this, but perhaps I can say a few brief introductory words nonetheless.

once savedThe phrase in my title is of course a rather unfortunate phrase, and it is mainly used by those who are critical of the concept of security of salvation. I don’t use it, and no, I am not a die-hard Calvinist either. I simply seek to take seriously the whole of the biblical witness. And as I have said so often, we must take seriously both the warning passages in Scripture as well as those that speak to God’s ability to keep those who are his.

I am not a fan of making airtight theological boxes to contain one’s pet theological position. Scripture can be at times a bit too sloppy for such hermetically sealed theological suitcases. Often we will have biblical socks and shirt sleeves hanging out of the case.

That is, no one theological system can do full justice to all of Scripture. Arminians will tend of course to emphasise those passages that speak of losing one’s salvation, while Calvinists will tend of course to emphasise those passages that speak of a believer’s eternal security.

The verses that seem to go against your preferred option are often just ignored or played down. It seems we should take them all seriously, whether or not we can turn all of it into a neat, tidy theological package. Better I think to live with a bit of tension here, and have a package that is not as precise and orderly as we might like.

And on this issue, both sides can appeal to heaps of passages. For every verse the Arminian can throw up about losing one’s salvation, the other side can throw up a verse about our security in Christ. The issue is how we interpret all these passages in light of the totality of Scripture.

So a list of some of the key passages does not take us all that far, but let me offer just some of each anyway. I do this in part because often it seems each side is not even aware that opposing texts are to be found on this!

Eternally secure:

-Psalm 37:23-24 The LORD makes firm the steps of the one who delights in him; though he may stumble, he will not fall, for the LORD upholds him with his hand.
-John 3:16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
-John 6:37-40 All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.
-John 10:28-29 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.
-Romans 8:38-39 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
-Ephesians 1:13-14 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.
-Philippians 1:6 being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
-2 Timothy 1:12 That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet this is no cause for shame, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day.
-Hebrews 7:24-25 but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.
-Jude 1 Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and a brother of James, To those who have been called, who are loved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ:
-Jude 24-25 To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy— to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.
-1 Peter 1:3-5 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.
-1 John 2:25 And this is what he promised us—eternal life.

Can fall away:

-Jeremiah 6:8 Take warning, Jerusalem, or I will turn away from you and make your land desolate so no one can live in it.
-Mark 4:16-17 Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away.
-1 Corinthians 10:11-12 These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!
-Galatians 4:8-9 Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods. But now that you know God—or rather are known by God—how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable forces? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again?
-2 Timothy 2:12 if we endure, we will also reign with him. If we disown him, he will also disown us;
-Hebrews 3:12-14 See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first.
-Hebrews 12:16-17 See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son. Afterward, as you know, when he wanted to inherit this blessing, he was rejected. He could bring about no change of mind, though he sought the blessing with tears.
-I John 2:19 They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.
-2 Peter 2:20-22 If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning. It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them. Of them the proverbs are true: “A dog returns to its vomit,” and, “A sow that is washed goes back to her wallowing in the mud.”
-Revelation 3:3 Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; hold it fast, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you.

Bear in mind that all these passages can be contested by those on the other side, and alternate interpretations of them can certainly be found. The important warning passages in Hebrews for example (Heb. 2:14; 3:7-4:13; 5:11-6:12; 10:19-39; 12:1-29), have been the subject of plenty of debate, with differing views as to how they are best understood.

And as mentioned, this is only a small part of the overall discussion. Bigger issues must be addressed as well, such as how we understand salvation itself. And then biblical terms that frighten some believers also really deserve a close inspection – terms such as election and predestination. But that is yet another bunch of articles!

One way to get a handle on this is to run with the customary way Protestants at least usually speak of salvation: it contains three aspects: justification, sanctification and glorification. The first one is the initial transaction whereby we are saved by grace through faith. Ephesians 2:8-9 for example speaks of this being God’s work.

But the entire reminder of your life as a believer involves sanctification. This is about becoming more and more Christlike, and less and less full of sin and self. It goes on till the day we die, and it is indeed a cooperative effort. God is certainly faithful to help bring this about, but we have hundreds of commands in the New Testament that we must obey to make it happen.

Thus we are to do plenty of things here: die to self, put off the old man, resist temptation, make no provision for the flesh, put on the new man, take up our cross daily, etc, etc. I have explained all this often. See for example: billmuehlenberg.com/2015/03/22/sanctification-cooperating-with-god/

The problem for some folks is that they will take justification alone, and think they are a Christian, while ignoring sanctification. But it just does not work that way. And this is where some careless Christians – or more likely those who may not be Christians at all – may want to sloppily toss around “once saved, always saved”.

That is, they think they can live like the devil, all because 25 years ago they put their hand up at an emotional gospel meeting. They think because they ‘made a decision’ for Christ way back then, that is all there is. But that is not how Scripture presents things.

So if a person is living a lie such as this, and throws that phrase at me, I will inform him that he is dead wrong. However, it is an altogether different matter if someone was justified and now cooperates with God on a daily basis to grow as a Christian, do what is right, and seek to move away from sin, self and the flesh.

They have an assurance of salvation, based on God’s word, that they are indeed God’s blood-bought people. They are not proud or presumptuous, and know it is God’s grace on a daily basis that keeps them on the right path. Sure, they may fall, they may sin at times, but they know it is wrong, don’t like it, repent of it, and seek to move on.

So if such a person in those circumstances uses the phrase in question, then I have no problem with it. They have a right biblical understanding and are not taking their faith cavalierly. They know that Paul insisted that we “work out our salvation” (Philippians 2:12) as part of the sanctification process.

And they are certainly aware of the many warning passages in Scripture, and do take them seriously, yet they believe God is at work in their life, and they are making slow but steady progress. And with that they have the assurance of salvation that some of the texts I listed above speak to.

It is at this place that a lot of confusion can arise. Those who rightly will want to stress God’s grace and his role in salvation will often turn purple whenever they hear the word “works” mentioned. As I said, as to justification, our works just will not cut it. But the ongoing process of salvation – sanctification – does indeed involve our works, rightly understood.

And we are not saying we are saved by good works, but that saving faith is evidenced by good works. This is a fairly common Protestant way of putting things. Paul and James are both right: a true saving faith will be witnessed in good works.

On this issue of properly trying to understand how works fit into these matters, let me finish with just a few representative quotes of many:

“Believers are required to do good works (Rom. 8:13). . . . But good works are impossible, apart from being in Christ (John 15:5).” Mark Jones

“We have been clear upon the fact that good works are not the cause of salvation; let us be equally clear upon the truth that they are the necessary fruit of it.” C. H. Spurgeon

“In respect to justification, grace stands opposed to works (Rom. 4:4-5; 11:6). However, in respect to sanctification, grace is the source of works. This simply means that whereas we are saved by grace and not of works, we are saved by grace unto good works. Good works are the fruit, not the root, of God’s saving grace (see esp. Eph. 2:8 -10).” Sam Storms

“We do not seek to obey the Lord in order to obtain either his forgiveness or his covenant blessings. Rather, it is because we have already received these gifts by grace that we seek to show our love and gratitude in and through our obedience.” David Jackman

“We are not saved by good works, but we are saved for good works. Those different prepositions make all the difference in the world! Good works are the evidence of salvation, not the cause of it. If there are no works or change of life to follow salvation, then it should be questioned whether the person is truly saved.” Steven J. Cole

“Christ justifies no one whom he does not at the same time sanctify.” John Calvin

“In their zeal to eliminate good works as a requirement for salvation, some have gone to the extreme of arguing that good works are not even a valid evidence of salvation. They teach that a person may be genuinely saved yet never manifest the fruit of salvation—a changed life…. If a person is genuinely saved, his life will change for the better (2 Corinthians 5:17). He is saved ‘for good works’ (Ephesians 2:10), and there is no way he can fail to bring forth at least some of the fruit that characterizes the redeemed (cf. Matthew 7:17).” John MacArthur

These quotes seek to avoid two errors that often arise here: on the one hand, those who argue that works are needed to become a Christian, and on the other hand, those who say no works are needed in any sense. Both are extremes to be avoided here.

I still need to write many more articles on related matters such as the biblical view on assurance, how we are to understand the warning passages, what we are to make of things like having one’s name removed from the Book of Life, and so on. But this short piece may help at least set the stage for a bigger more proper debate, and hopefully clear away a few misconceptions and misunderstandings.

And I realise that some of you may have come to this article in the hopes of learning what my answer is to this question, only to feel let down that no such clear cut answer was forthcoming! As I say, I take to heart the various passages which speak to our assurance of salvation in Christ, but I also take seriously the many warning texts.

Future articles may make things a bit more clear, however, so stay tuned!

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20 Responses to “Once Saved, Always Saved”

  • As is becoming the norm here of late with such articles, let me be the first to comment. If you think I am now the devil incarnate because I have not clearly affirmed your particular position on this question, perhaps you can take your wrath and venom elsewhere! And having read, studied and taught theology and biblical studies for many decades now, I am more or less aware of the various arguments involved, so no need to try to ‘educate’ me on these topics. But if you can come here in a polite and civil fashion and share your thoughts, you are welcome to do so, thanks.

  • Hi Bill, good article.
    Surprised though in your dissertation you didn’t refer to Galatians 5:1-5 and particularly verse 4, “You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace”.
    Parallel translations are stronger then the NKJV quoted herein.
    Blessings
    Bob

  • Thanks Bob. Of course it was not my intention to offer every single relevant text here in this piece. If I did the article would be far longer. And I did not intend to cover every aspect of the debate, as I mentioned a few times in my piece. How we are to understand the place of the law, the concept of ‘works of the law,’ and a host of related issues is the stuff of many more articles. I only wanted to offer a few brief introductory remarks here. Much more needs to be said of course, and many facets to the debate need to be discussed in much more detail.

  • I have a simple theory! It works for me! I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed, but I do know “Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” I’m prone to stuffing up all the time, things I can’t mention here, but when I think of my actions, fear of the Lord grips me at the thought I could lose my salvation – even be blotted out from the Book of Life because God did not pull me out of miry clay to live for self again. Then there are other warnings like wasting my “talents” I had shivers run up my back, when I read this warning. So working out my salvation with fear and trembling compells me to fall to my knees in repentance like the sinner whom Jesus compared with the religious Pharisee who did everything right…”which of these two will enter heaven” I pray I will continue to think of myself less than others. God is a holy and righteous God who gives life and takes life. But I know Gods love for me. That is what makes me rever Him with awe at His majesty and power. To Him be all the praise.

  • Thanks William. That is not a bad approach to all these matters!

  • And for what it is worth, I have actually already penned an article on the issue of the Book of Life and having your name removed from it:

    billmuehlenberg.com/2017/04/17/security-falling-away-book-life/

  • Hi Bill, I thought it was a very well balanced article and if it is ok with you, I would like to print it off for our New Christians Group. Putting it crudely, you get to the “guts of the issue” in under 3,000 words. Before I penned a response, I went for a brief walk outside. I’m certain I could hear in the distance, a lot of electric grinders starting up all over the place. It must be all of those “die hard” Arminians and Calvanists furiously sharpening up their knives and getting their bows and arrows ready for good measure. I do like William Lemon’s response, in my own case, I too am not all that bright when it comes to discussing the finer points of Theology. However, I do trust The Lord Jesus Christ with everything that I am, and I daily work at my Salvation and my obedience to His Word with the best of the abilities and gifts that He has given Me. Bill I get a lot out of these “juicy” articles, please keep them coming. Blessings, Kel.

  • Nice summary.
    Here’s another way to look at it: Once we get saved, we then embark on collecting treasure in heaven (Matt 6:20).
    Why not? It is a command actually. Nothing wrong with a bit of heavenly materialism, so long as you understand that it is gained by applying the reversed life-rules of the Sermon on the Mount – servanthood, poor in spirit, persecuted, forgiveness, loving your enemies, doing good to those who hurt you…
    That takes faith.
    Since no-one can naturally love their enemies, they need to be saved first. So the order is automatic – get saved and THEN start collecting treasure in heaven.

    And here’s another way I like to look at it. Since we ARE the reward that Jesus paid the ultimate price for, the only appropriate response is to live one long “thankyou”. Let’s make Jesus feel like the price he paid was a bargain. Imagine if he got more than he expected! He so deserves it.

  • The once saved always saved debate is an important one as biblical levels of persecution approach Western Christianity. There was a video shown on you tube a while ago of a Middle Eastern Christian captured by ISIS who was given the opportunity to renounce Christ and profess Mohamed; or die. The man renounced Christ, professed Mohamed, and ISIS promptly slit his throat before he could change his mind. Jesus warned his disciples that 9 “… you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. 10 At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, 11 and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. 12 Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, 13 but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. Mt 24. I am very troubled by our local ardent soothsaying Calvinist preacher whose seems to be confusing “dont worry” with “dont even think about it”. Me, whilst I am Arminian leaning, I believe firmly in educating people fairly in the two views rather than indoctrinating people in one view. To me, having a good understanding of both arguments not only assists in discerning what is being preached to you, but it prepares you either way. Not just with this debate but with all the historical and current debates. I also firmly believe it is far better to say to the Almighty, ” I dont know” or, “I am not yet sure”, than it is to in blind faith, nail your colors to the cross, preach what you have been indoctrinated in, only to find out come judgement day, you concluded wrong. In finishing here is a worthy quote from AW Tozer

    I was preparing to go to Nyack College. Before I left there was one burning question I had in mind, and I went to Dr. Tozer and said, “Could you give me some advice concerning the problem of Calvinism versus Arminianism?”

    And I’ll never forget the advice he gave me. At the time I thought it was rather inconclusive and not too helpful. But I listened carefully. He said, “My son, when you get to college you’re going to find that all of the boys will be gathered in a room discussing and arguing over Arminianism and Calvinism night after night after night. I’ll tell you what to do, Cliff. Go to your room and meet God. At the end of four years you’ll be way down the line and they’ll still be where they started, because greater minds than yours have wrestled with this problem and have not come up with satisfactory conclusions. Instead, learn to know God.” (emphasis mine)
    Rev Chris Westergren

  • I believe “once saved, always saved” because the scripture says it is impossible for God to let us out of His hands once we have professed faith in Him. If works cannot save us, then how can a lack of works — or even sinful works — get us lost again? We are to do works to show our faith and obedience to God by serving Him and helping others, but we are saved by faith and grace alone.

    People who stray off the “straight and narrow” still are saved, according to the Calvinist interpretation of scripture. However, those who stray will miss opportunities to serve the Lord, and they will miss earthly blessings and heavenly rewards they otherwise could have had. Likewise, people who accept Christ late in life do not have so many more years to serve Him and work for rewards in the hereafter.

    My husband and I once were in a church where some elderly members could not understand the parable about the workers who were hired early and the workers who were hired late, and yet both groups received the same reward. These elderly folks thought it unfair that the last-hired group should receive any reward at all or be used by the Lord to represent people who accepted Christ late in life and did not have time left to serve Him and lay up treasures in heaven . “They should have to work for their salvation instead of being ‘given’ something,” they argued. I tried to explain it by giving the example of two celebrities who had married late in life. I said, “This man and woman are just as much married as anyone. However, because they married late, they no longer can have children, one of the expected blessings of marriage. They undoubtedly will not celebrate a 50th wedding anniversary because, as finite human beings, they cannot live that long. Still, they are just as much married as the people who married at 18 and 21. They simply cannot have the same kind of life or the same benefits from marriage as the young people can.” This answer seemed to suffice for a while, and then they returned to their original dilemma. They probably still were in doubt when they eventually passed away, and I hope they came to an understanding once they entered heaven.

  • Hmmm. If I am in Christ, I don’t think He will chop off part of His body. He will do things that keep His body clean and active in His Fathers’ purposes. The question is simply am I in Christ? or am I still in Adam? The Rev. Dr Chapman would be aware that Galatians is about the body of Christ living in the freedom of the grace of our Lord, not primarily about the question addressed here? If I am in Christ I am required by my Father and His Son to mature in the grace relationship God has given; it is the vocation of Satan to question the sonship of the sons of God just as he tried to position himself between the Son and the Father in that other wilderness. Thus his children are about their evil fathers’ business in our Australian (Western) society on steroids now!. Let the people of God stop being in debates that Christ has settled (mirroring the mediaevals who debated the number of angels on the point of a needle) and get on with the job, for Jesus’ sake. But perhaps I’m just a grumpy old man? Cheers Bill, that’s a great quote from Dr. Tozer via Rev Chris Westergren, Let’s take the prophet Hoseas’ advice to “follow (press) on to seek the Lord” Israel was being “destroyed for lack of knowledge” – of the Lord, not intellectual problems in “theology”, He is no optional extra to theology – HE is IT – I guess Spurgeon found that out the snowy morning the Primitive Methodist (unlettered) preacher told him “Look, look, look and live!” I guess he just never stopped looking after that. And who was better read in theology than that teenager? I love the theology that makes me see Him, the grinder type (thanks, Kelvin) is just a (cough) pain as you clearly think and I think you are in the company of Martin Luther. God bless in Christ. Rob Worthington.

  • According to the sheep and the goats there are people who thought they were “once saved” but apparently were not.

  • Hebrews 6: 4. It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit,
    5 who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age
    6 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.
    This clearly talks about those who have accepted the Lord Jesus, who are filled with the Holy Spirit. Then they turn away.
    Yes, it is clear it is possible to lose what you have gained through Christ.

  • Romans 11:13 I am talking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I take pride in my ministry 14 in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them. 15 For if their rejection brought reconciliation to the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? 16 If the part of the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; if the root is holy, so are the branches.

    17 If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, 18 do not consider yourself to be superior to those other branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you. 19 You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.” 20 Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but tremble. 21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either.

    22 Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off. 23 And if they do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. 24 After all, if you were cut out of an olive tree that is wild by nature, and contrary to nature were grafted into a cultivated olive tree, how much more readily will these, the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree!

  • I’ve always found Dr. Michael Eaton refreshsing on this topic as an “encouraging calvinist”: www.michaeleaton.org/notes/blog
    and www.michaeleaton.org/notes/blog/2016/12/17/calvinisms
    He has also written a clear book on this topic: ‘No condemnation: a theology of assurance of salvation’. I found it balanced in many ways.

  • John 6:25-71 , the Bread of Life Discourse, clearly shows us the path to sanctification and while one may argue as to whether Christ is truly present in the Eucharist, it is revealing that in John 6:66 ( the numerical reference is interesting) many of those who had followed Jesus turned away and went back to their old lives.

  • Practically speaking I concur with William Lennon’s simple approach. I find the parable about the sheep and goats, written to believers, sums up how we should live before God. Not all that profess and confess Jesus shall be saved. There are caveats to our name being written in, and remaining in, the Book of Life.

    Much of this debate comes down to word definitions and semantics. You didn’t seem to mention, or I missed it, that Calvinists are quick to justify their position that if someone does “fall away” then they were “never in Christ” in the first place – I find that to be disingenuous, and just as impossible to justify as the other extreme where people are justified by how good they are.

    It is good to be reminded of scriptures that warn us that we must be ready at all times for Christ’s return and not found wanting (as per Robert Stephen’s comment) such persecution is a reality and that the devil puts believers in that position indicates that he see a real point to forcing believers to take a stand, and know that God turns from those who reject Him. The scriptures about dying to ourselves and hating all else but Jesus mean just that – we may have to choose between the safety/life of a loved one and Christ.

    Practically, while it is a critical piece of theology, I come back to the realisation that the more people argue about this (something that ultimately only God knows the answer in fullness to), the less time they are spending on getting to know God intimately and living for Him, as shown in the Robert Stephen’s Tozer quote.

    Practically, if we are looking to fall back upon a legality of irreversible salvation in the scriptures regarding our salvation despite a life spent and wasted on carnality and creating our own gospel to which we’re beholden, then we have sorely missed out, and if we are living a Christian walk with a desire to be holy as He is holy and yet live perpetually in doubt about our salvation then we are missing out on the beauty of the Love which will never allow anything to come between us and God.

  • Personally I always get excited about these ‘two sided’ issues. Instead of analysing them to choose which ‘side’ I’m on, I conclude at the outset that both sides must be true if they are both set out in scripture, and the task is not to tease them apart but to weave each thread of the two sides together into an overarching picture, as if into a perfect tapestry, which can only be clearly seen when all the threads (verses) are in place. Some of these ‘double sided disputes’ are easier than others to sort out – in my mind I don’t have any problems with the weaving together of the God of love and the God of justice, for example. Others are more challenging, but I always proceed towards greater understanding with the assumption that both seemingly opposed positions will always end up holding together in a perfect and necessary tension. My question is not ‘Which position is true?’ but ‘How do these positions fit together?’ It’s sometimes just too mighty and glorious for my finite mind to grasp – but that is precisely the challenge that spurs me on to seek deeper understanding.

  • Thank you Bill for the article. I will just continue to try and live a good Christian life and hope it will have been good enough to get me into Heaven eventually. I daresay I will find out in the not too distant future that I could have tried harder but I believe in the Divine Mercy so hopefully I will spend eternity with the Lord sooner or later.

    I was very interested in your comments about the old couple Sheila because it never seems fair to me either that latecomers should get the same reward as those who have been faithful all their lives. However, I can’t help thinking that previous, wasted opportunities to accept the Lord will also be taken into consideration and the reasons for them as only God knows what is in a person’s mind.

    This reminds me of a very dear friend of mine who was baptised a Catholic but was never brought up to practise her faith. Yet she is a good person who believes in Jesus and is very open to listening on matters of faith. Therefore, a few years ago I realised it was time I approached her to do something more about the faith she had been baptised in by attending an RCIA programme in the parish where we lived. She declined the invitation and said ‘I’ll just listen to you.’ Naturally, I left it at that as I did not want to lose her friendship and knew it had to be her decision to find out more about the faith she was obviously not against as she had accompanied me on functions organised by the Church on quite a few occasions. For example, carol singing, pilgrimages etc. At the time I was flattered by what she said but I remember thinking that God might think that just listening to me talk about Jesus would not be enough that He might want a firm commitment that she was not prepared to give. She could have had very good reasons for declining but we never discussed them. I know I should have been brave enough to ask why.

  • Thanks Patricia. In a related article on Christian assurance of salvation I quote one person who defined this assurance as follows: “a believer’s confidence that he or she is already in a right standing with God, and that this will issue in ultimate salvation.” I went on to say that this has been one of the major stumbling blocks between Protestants and the Catholic Church. Simply put, the latter thought it presumptuous to speak about certainty of salvation, but the former felt there was solid biblical warrant for this. You might want to have a read of that article where I offer many biblical passages: billmuehlenberg.com/2017/07/13/on-christian-assurance/

    While no believer wants to be presumptuous about salvation, and we must be careful, and there may be false converts, Protestants believe that the initial work of salvation – what we call justification – has nothing to do with hoping we are good people or hoping we have done enough good works. The Bible makes it clear throughout that there are none good, we are all sinners, and we are all under the wrath of God. That is why Jesus came – to take our place and take out punishment that we deserved, so that those who come to Christ in faith and repentance can find new life.

    And it is a gift, not something we can earn or merit. As Ephesians 2:8-9 puts it: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” Notice the tense of the verb: “have been saved”. It is not ‘I hope one day…’, but a present assurance of salvation.

    Sure, after we receive that gift of salvation, we then cooperate with our Lord to grow in grace and demonstrate our saving faith by good works – what we refer to as sanctification. So Protestants say our saving faith is made evident by good works, or that good works follow from saving faith, while non-Protestants think in terms of good works leading to saving faith. So we differ here, but thanks for your thoughts.

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