By Wayne S. Walker
One of the tenets of Reformed theology which John Calvin adopted and propagated was that of “the preseverance of the saints.” Often it is referred to as the doctrine of “once in grace, always in grace.” Or stated as a proposition, it reads, “A child of God cannot so sin as to lose ‘his soul eternally.” Much has recently been said, and needs to be, concerning the relation of Calvinism to modern heresies among our brethren, but it is my purpose to examine this particular doctrine as it would be presented by a sectarian preacher of the Calvinist persuasion.
The Arguments For
A primary argument made for this kind of teaching is an emotional one. It may be asked, “If your son did not do what you asked, would you completely reject him as you claim God will His unfaithful children?” The fact that many have been disinherited in times past does not seem to deter the inquirer. Nor does the fact that we cannot` determine what God will or will not do by what man thinks or does, since God is not to. be. limited by human feelings. By applying a little reason to the situation, I think we can see a point that is overlooked. Suppose I were to make a promise to my hypothetical son-say a new car upon graduation from college: But if he should drop out his junior year, am I still obligated to give him the car? The obvious answer is no, even though he is my son and I still love him. The reason he would not receive the promise is that he did not complete the stipulations on his part. A The application is that God has promised His children eternal life, if they remain faithful to Him and do His will. But if those conditions are not met, God is under no obligation to carry out His promise, even though it involves His own children.
Emotion is not the only basis for argument, however. Calvinists know well how to twist Bible passages in attempting to prove their doctrine, all the while wresting the scriptures to their own destruction. A favorite passage in 1 John 3:9, “Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.” The word “commit” is not in the original language, and the present construction of the Greek verb indicates habitual and persistent sin. That is, a child of God no longer lives in sin. The word “cannot” does not necessarily imply absolute impossibility (see Gen. 19:19, 42:22) but rather conditional or permissive impossibility. Notice also that the one “born of God” is the one that “doeth righteousness” (1 John 2:29), that is, continues to do righteousness. Besides, if this verse taught the impossibility of apostasy, it would have John contradicting himself, for in 1 John 2:1, he said he wrote to his readers that they sin not. Why write this warning if it were not possible for them to sin, or be in danger of losing their souls through sin? John recognized the possibility of apostasy.
Other passages similarly perverted are John 3:16 and 5:24. We are told, “It says, `shall not perish’ and `shall not come into condemnation.’ ” But note the condition of believing in both verses, again in the present tense denoting continuative action. No one denied that the true and faithful believer will not perish, but the question is, can a believer become an unbeliever? Hebrews 3:12 answers the question, “Yes!” John 10;28 is also misused: “Neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.” But of whom is Jesus speaking? Verse 27 says it is His sheep who hear His voice and follow Him. The possibility exists . that some of His sheep will not follow. Another misapplied verse is 1 Corinthians 10:13, where Paul said that God will make a way of escape for the Christian in temptation. This is supposed to mean that since God has provided a means of escape, therefore a Christian cannot sin. However, the verse in no way intimates that a Christian must take the escape route. All it says is that there is a way out of temptation for the Christian to take if he will; many will not, though, and will yield as revealed in James 1:14-15.
Two more passages worthy of examination are Ephesians 1:13-14 and Romans 8:34-39. According to this false doctrine, the seal of the Spirit is set upon Christians to make it impossible for them to fall. While it is true that the Holy Spirit is given us as a seal to guard and protect us, it~does not discount the possibility of the seal being broken. Nowhere is it stated that the Holy Ghost must remain as a seal on someone who does not want to be sealed any longer. The Spirit can be grieved (Eph. 4:30). Then we are told, “Nothing can separate us from the love of Gold.”‘ Not even unfaithfulness on the part of a Christian, I suppose. Something did separate Demas from God, though-the love of the world (2 Tim. 4:10). Something separated the Ephesians from the Lord, too; they left their first love (Rev. 2:4). What Romans 8 actually teaches is that one who truly loves God (verse 28) and keeps his Word will not be separated from the love of God.
What Saith the Scriptures?
Turning from the defensive, we now present scriptural teaching concerning the possibility of Christians falling. 1 Corinthians 10:12 warns, “Let him that thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he fall.” It is argued that the context concerns the Israelites before the cross who were not under the New Testament dispensation. This reasoning is a misuse of the context and unnecessarily restricts it. The point Paul is making is that those Israelites fell because of their sins; so you Corinthian’s take heed lest ye fall. In Galatians, Paul plainly tells some “children of God by faith in Christ Jesus” (3:27) that “Ye are fallen from grace” (5:4): The reason they were fallen was that they were “removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel” (1:6). There is no doubt the Bible teaches a child of God can fall from grace. The question now is whether that fallen Christian will still be saved.
In Hebrews 6:4-6, the writer spoke of some !`who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of-the Holy Ghost, and have tasted of the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come” who later fell away and became so hardened that it was impossible to renew’ them unto repentance. Their state was that they had crucified “to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.” Now, can one in that condition have a home in heaven, even though he was once enlightened? Again, we turn to 2 Peter 2:20-22 and read of some who had “escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” but had again become entangled in them. Peter said that “The latter end is worse 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.” If a person who has been born again yet falls in sin will still be saved, how is the latter end worse than the first? If one who has sinned in this manner is worse off than one who has never become a Christian, how can he go to heaven? Then in Galatians 6:1, Paul encourages his spiritual minded brethren to restore those who were overtaken in a fault. Why attempt to restore such people if they, as Christians, will be saved despite their sin?
Some Calvinist preachers have made statements to the effect that they could murder, rape, prostitute themselves, even commit idolatry, and it would still be impossible for them to go to hell because they are supposedly born again children of God and He could never go back on His promise to save them. Let us see what the Bible says. Can a Christian lie? Ananias and
Sapphira did in. Acts 5:3. Revelation 21:8 says, “All liars shall have their part in the lake that burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.” No distinction is made between “regenerate” liars and unregenerate ones. Can a child of God get drunk? Evidently it is possible, for Paul warns the Ephesian saints against it in Ephesians 5:18. Yet of drunkenness it is said, `that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God” (Gal. 5:21). There is no difference here between drunkards who are Christians and those who are not. Again, can one born again commit fornication? Yes, for a brother could be a fornicator (1 Cor. 5:11). But no fornicator “shall inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor. 6:10). Nothing is said about children of God who commit fornication as opposed to fornicators of the world. The Bible teaches that a Christian can commit sins that are worthy of eternal punishment, and if they do, they will lose their souls in hell.
The apostle Paul recognized the possibility of apostasy in 1 Corinthians 9:27. He realized that through his body, he could sin in such a way as to be rejected or cast away. The verse does not say he would be rejected by his listeners, as some claim. The word means “disqualified”. in the original language. Disqualified from what’?-from running the race and gaining the prize of verses 24-26. The parable of the sower also shows that a child of God can fall from grace. In Luke 8:13-14, Jesus told of some who heard and received the Word, yet in time of temptation, or through the cares and pleasures of this world, fell away. Will they be saved eternally?
Someone might ask, “Well, do you ‘ believe in eternal security or not?” Yes, I believe in eternal security, but I believe what the Bible says about it, and that is, that it is conditional. In 2 Peter 1:10, after listing the characteristics that one must possess to be a faithful, growing Christian, the apostle said, “For if ye do these things, ye shall never fall.” Note that well-“if ye do these things.” “If” introduces a condition. Truly, Christ is “the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him” (Heb. 5:9). The true Christian who constantly seeks to manifest godly qualities in his life shall never fall. But his eternal security is conditional on his remaining faithful. On the other hand, one who fails to meet the conditions and does not continue to obey, forfeits his eternal security, for God is no longer bound to keep His promise.
The teaching that a child of God cannot so sin as to lose his soul in hell is a false teaching invented by the devil and is a cop-out: It allows a person to soothe his conscience and “feel saved” in spite of the sin he may allow in his life. Certainly not all who believe unconditional perseverance of the saints actually think this way, at least consciously; but anyone who accepts the doctrine does not have to be so careful with his life as one who knows that when he yields to the temptations of Satan, his sin may cause him to lose his eternal security. Then,’ do I doubt my salvation? Not a bit. I know that as long as I act in harmony with God’s will that I will be eternally saved. And the fact that if I get out of step I may be lost provides additional motivation to live as God would have me to. I would hope that all who teach impossibility of apostasy will come to recognize the teaching for what it is-a damnable departure from the teaching of God’s Word.
Truth Magazine XXI: 2, pp. 28-29
January 13, 1977