The Assurance of Eternal Security (pt. 1)
I will commend J.C. for being faithful to his chosen convictions. He is a tried and true Arminian, defending his synergistic presuppositions with the kind of dogged devotion found among the many hard-core King James Onlyists I have run into. I must confess I appreciate the consistency as well as the purity of J.C.'s thought. Most non-Calvinists I have found are a muddled bunch who don't know what convictions they wish to defend regarding God's role in man's salvation. They just know they don't like Calvinism. J.C. isn't like this.
I had a few email exchanges with him, but honestly, real life and other interests took precedence over haggling with an internet gadfly who would never be satisfied with any of my responses. J.C. seems to pride himself as being a great Arminian apologist/debater, even keeping a running tally on his website of all his "encounters" with any Calvinistic oriented blog commenter who has the tenacious willingness to work through all his banal rhetoric and sophomoric argumentation.
Probably one of the better smack downs J.C. had, along with some of his buddies, which took place right around the same time he was emailing me, was with the Triablogue guys. If you have a rainy afternoon and want to do some worthwhile, entertaining reading exposing the folly of J.C.s "theology" as the main subject, these posts and comments will provide hours of stimulation: see here, here, here, here, and here.
At any rate,
My purpose with these articles I plan to write is not meant to address J.C. specifically. I don't wish to get into a flaming blog battle that is merely centered around personalities. Of course I say that now only at great risk of having the combox deluged with his supporters, but it is a risk I will have to take. None the less, my interaction with his argumentation did stir my thinking regarding what I believe to be significant question concerning our understanding of the nature of salvation. It is a question that has great bearing upon the Christian's spiritual psychology as to how he or she views God's grace and the hope of salvation in general. The question being,
When a sinner is saved is his hope of eternal life secure and most certain, or must he fret over the possibility of forfeiting his salvation with the committal of some unknown sin which will cause him to forsake his relationship with the Lord and thus bring him to being disowned by God and ultimate eternal damnation? In other words, is a Christian's salvation eternally secure, or is it conditioned upon his ability and willingness to maintain it with his good works of obedience? Simply put,
Can a Christian lose his salvation?
Now some who read this may ask why it matters. Historically, however, this is one of the key defining distinctions between classic Roman Catholicism and the Reformed, Protestant faith which reclaimed the Christian faith in the 1500s.
Roman Catholicism taught, and still teaches, that Christ's death merely makes a sinner saveable. Christ's atonement on the cross did not specifically secure anyone's salvation, but only opened up the opportunity for all men to be justified by their own merit as they cooperate with the Holy Spirit.
Thus, a person's justification is not grounded upon the finished work of Christ alone, but is dependent upon the person's devotion to Catholic sacramentalism and it has to be a faithful devotion unless the person forfeits his or her hope of salvation by committing any sorts of sin. In order to accomplish his faithful devotion, the person is first to be baptized, where at which point the Holy Spirit is infused in him so he now has the opportunity to be a faithful follower of Christ. His "faithfulness" is then defined by keeping the mass, going to confession, praying the rosary, paying alms, going on pilgrimages. At the end of his life, the faithful Catholic will be given last rites before death, where after death he enters purgatory to spend time burning off any remaining sins that will still stain him and then it is only after his release from purgatory that the person can be even certain of final salvation as he is ushered into the presence of the blessed Virgin Mother and her dear Son.
The Reformers on the other hand correctly taught that a sinner's salvation is not at all grounded in any human efforts he or she brings to the salvific table as it were. Instead, salvation as outlined in the whole of scripture is based upon God's gracious determination to save a people unto Himself. That determination was established in eternity past and is made complete in the Cross work of Jesus Christ. Christ's death and Resurrection both turns away God's just wrath against those sinners and in turn most certainly secures the sinner's salvation. On account of Christ, the sinner is now justified in a divine legal transaction in which Christ's perfect righteousness clothes him, thus reconciling him to God in a permanent relationship.
There was nothing a sinner could do to earn God's saving favor while he was in a state of rebellion against God and there is nothing the sinner can do after he is made right with God to maintain a standard of holiness to keep divine favor as he now lives unto God. His salvation was graciously imparted to him by Christ's justifying work and his righteousness is also maintained by God's empowering grace working in his life. Hence, a sinner is saved by grace, kept by grace, and can be confident of eternal life because of that grace.
Now, in all fairness, I wish to make it clear I do not believe J.C. and his pals are Roman Catholic. Never would I argue that they are. However, their view of salvation is similar to Rome's along two important lines: 1) Christ's death did not secure the salvation of any one person particularly, but only made all men saveable, and 2) eternal life is conditioned upon the synergistic effort of a person exercising good works in cooperation with God's Spirit in order to maintain proper obedience so as not to forfeit salvation.
These two points are essential in understanding why certain believers insist that a Christian can loose his salvation. For if Christ's death did not secure any one person's salvation, but merely made all people saveable, and that saveability is dependent upon the person first believing with faith and then continuing in cooperation with God's Spirit as he accomplishes good works as outlined in the Bible, then any departure from the stated objectives for maintaining his salvation can very possibly place that salvation in peril with the risk of loosing it forever. God has clearly upheld His end of the salvation plan by making a way for men to be saved, so if the sinner does forfeit his eternal life by engaging in some form of disobedience, then God cannot be blamed for cutting him off. He had done what was needed to be done in order for a sinner to be saved and it was the sinner's fault for not maintaining the necessary steps to be pleasing to the Lord.
With this little bit of background, I hope the reader can now understand why I say such a view of salvation is blasphemous. It not only makes God into an impotent deity with no power to actually save anyone, at least without the cooperation of the sinful person, but it still remains a works oriented faith that really doesn't distinguish the uniqueness of what Christianity is as the only true way to heaven from all the other false religions. On top of this, I believe it makes God into being a liar as to His promise to give eternal life to those who believe in faith. John states that the purpose of God sending His son into the world was to give eternal life to those who will believe in Him. Is that a legitimate promise or not? And if it is a legitimate promise, then why can't I be assured that God will come through with His promise in spite of my faults? I could not trust the word of God if I could loose my salvation with some spiritual mis-step.
The doctrine of eternal security doesn't hang alone. Eternal life with God is the consummation of all the doctrines of salvation. The whole purpose of God decreeing His plan of salvation, electing a people to be called by His name, sending His Son to redeem those people, and then sending forth His Holy Spirit to empower those people to live righteously, is to securely bring those people into eternal life. To suggest a Christian can lose his salvation undoes the divine work leading up to eternal life.
To suggest we can lose our salvation means we have it in our power to take out the heart of flesh that was given to us by God and replace it with the heart of stone God initially took out of us (Ezekiel 36:26). It means we have it in our power to renounce our citizenship in Christ's kingdom and transfer back to the kingdom of the devil. It would be like Lazarus committing suicide a couple of months after being raised from the dead by Jesus (John 11).