Can Christians Lose Their Salvation? A Brief Discussion on 1 John 2:19

Calvinism teaches that we cannot fall from grace once we have been saved by God. The Westminster Confession of Faith states the following in chapter 17, section 1:

They, whom God has accepted in His Beloved, effectually called, and sanctified by His Spirit, can neither totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace, but shall certainly persevere therein to the end, and be eternally saved.

This teaching is known as “perseverance of the saints” or “once saved, always saved.” Calvinists believe that losing your salvation is evidence that you were not truly saved in the first place (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, p. 788), and they cite 1 John 2:19 to support this claim:

19 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 they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us.”

However, when we read this passage closely, we come to realize that it does not make reference to people who where seemingly saved and subsequently fell from grace, but rather it refers to antichrists who never believed and confessed Christ as the Son of the living God. Reading verses 18–23 reveals the true intent of John’s words:

18 Little children, it is the last hour; and as you have heard that the Antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come, by which we know that it is the last hour. 19 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 they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us.

20 But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you know all things. 21 I have not written to you because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and that no lie is of the truth.

22 Who is a liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist who denies the Father and the Son. 23 Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father either; he who acknowledges the Son has the Father also.

Notice that John says in verse 19 that the antichrists that were among the Christians were not of them. That is, they were deceiving the people by pretending they were Christians. However, eventually they would depart from the group, and thus, all would see that they truly were not followers of Christ. The antichrists were people who denied the Father and the Son (vv. 22–23). They did not believe in Jesus Christ and were infiltrating the church. John talks more about them in his second letter: “For many deceivers have gone out into the world who do not confess Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist.” John wrote to Christians to warn them of those who would bring a different doctrine than the one they had heard (2 Jn. 10).

Christians today can learn from John’s letters in regards to the beliefs of our present society. There are several groups that deny the deity of Christ or even his existence. We must guard ourselves against their claims and continue to spread the word that Jesus is the Son of the living God. Without his sacrifice, there can be no salvation. We must also beware of the false doctrines taught by Calvinists. The Scriptures are clear on matters of salvation and teach that if we practice sin, even as Christians, we can indeed fall from grace. In his letter to the church of Galatia, Paul explains that those who attempted to be justified by the Mosaic law had fallen from grace (Gal. 5:4). Additionally, the Hebrews writer exhorts Christians to be careful that they do not fall short of the grace of God by defiling themselves with bitterness (Heb. 12:15). Just with these two passages we learn that losing our salvation is possible and that we must be careful not to practice those things that would separate us from God.

 

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An Analysis of Romans 5:12-21

In his letter to the Romans, Paul proclaims that the gospel is the power of God for salvation to those who believe. Therefore, if you believe in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, you are made righteous (or just) by your faith. It is within this context that Paul explains the typological association between Adam and Christ in Romans 5. Verses 12–21 are normally used to support the claim that human beings are born sinners and that our sin nature is due to Adam’s sin. This doctrine is called original sin. According to the Westminster Confession of Faith, the guilt of Adam’s sin has been transferred to us throughout the generations (Chapter VI, Sections III and VI):

“They being the root of all mankind, the guilt of this sin was imputed; and the same death in sin, and corrupted nature, conveyed to all their posterity descending from them by ordinary generation.”

Every sin, both original and actual, being a transgression of the righteous law of God, and contrary thereunto, does in its own nature, bring guilt upon the sinner, whereby he is bound over to the wrath of God, and curse of the law, and so made subject to death, with all miseries spiritual, temporal, and eternal.”

Although the Reformers claim that we are now born sinful (See The Covenant of Works: Do This and Live written by Derrick Brite), Romans 5:12–21 does not teach that we today are guilty of Adam’s sin. What we learn from this passage is that, like Adam, we are all sinners (Rom. 3:9-12,23) and that we suffer the consequence of sin, which is death (Gen 2:17; Rom. 6:23; Jas. 1:15). Additionally, through the death of the one Man Christ, we are all made righteous when we believe (Jn. 3:16; Rom. 5:18).

Paul’s statement in verse 12 shows that sin exists in the world today because one man, who was in the world, sinned. That is, God created this man on the earth, and then this man sinned. Voila! Sin is in the world. Some take this further to say that his sin, or the guilt of his sin, was passed on to subsequent generations; however, that conclusion is false. The consequence of his sin was death (Gen. 2:17). Therefore, Paul explains that since we all sin, we also suffer death (Rom. 5:12): “…and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned…”

I believe one of the errors that teachers of original sin make with Romans 5:12–21 is that of equating sin with death or believing that both sin and death transferred to us. However, when we properly analyze these verses, we see that it is impossible to replace the word “death” with “sin.” Verse 15 says, “[b]ut the free gift is not like the offense. For if by the one man’s offense many died, much more the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abounded to many.” Christ is being compared to Adam. Adam’s sin brought death to all in the same way Christ brings eternal life to all. Paul’s discussion is dealing with death versus life, not sin versus life. Notice that verse 16 says, “and the gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned.” The phrase “that which” refers back to “death”, not “sin.” It would not make sense to say the following: “And the gift is not like [sin] which came through the one who sinned.” This sentence negates the dichotomy of death versus life that is presented in verse 15. It also conflicts with verse 17: “for if by the one man’s offense death reigned through the one, much more those who receive abundance of grace and the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.” Once again we see that it is the consequence of sin –death– that reigns through Adam, and not sin itself.

Now, some will use verse 19 to further prove their doctrine of original sin: “For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners….” Notice, however, that the verse ends saying “so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous.” Proponents of original sin make the unnecessary conclusion that the guilt of Adam’s sin was passed on to all without any disobedience committed on our part. We would have to make the claim then that Christ’s righteousness was also transferred to us without any obedience on our part. Ezekiel 18:20ff proves that claim to be false. The father’s sin or righteousness is never transferred to the son. Individuals reap the consequences of their own actions (Ezek. 18:20,26-28).

20 The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.

26 When a righteous person turns away from his righteousness and does injustice, he shall die for it; for the injustice that he has done he shall die. 27 Again, when a wicked person turns away from the wickedness he has committed and does what is just and right, he shall save his life. 28 Because he considered and turned away from all the transgressions that he had committed, he shall surely live; he shall not die.

The guilt of Adam’s sin is not transferred to us. We are guilty because we choose to sin. God determined that the consequence of sin would be physical death, but there is also a second death brought about by sin (Rev. 21:8) – a spiritual one. However, we have the opportunity to be righteous through Christ if we choose to turn away from our sins in order not to suffer that spiritual death.

A Review of “Misread Text: Isaiah 41:10”

The five-point Calvinist doctrine has permeated several denominations. According to Jonathan Merritt’s article “The troubling trends in America’s ‘Calvinist revival’”, there appears to be a resurgence of Calvinism in America, and the adherents to this doctrine have been called “neo-Calvinists.” The five points of Calvinism are represented with the mnemonic device TULIP: T –Total Hereditary Depravity, U – Unconditional Election, L – Limited Atonement, I – Irresistible Grace, and P – Perseverance of the Saints. I have been working on a series of posts in which I refute the Calvinist approach to the concepts of predestination and election, showing that the doctrine conflicts with basic truths found in the Bible concerning God’s righteousness and man’s free will. Reformed Baptist James Smetanin, an author at The Reformed Alliance, recently published an article titled “Misread Text: Isaiah 41:10.” It is part of a series in which the author explains the true interpretation of particular texts that are often pulled out of context in order to accommodate a personal experience or theological belief. I believe it’s a great idea because, as the author rightly points out, all too often Christians are not aware of the implications of a verse when the surrounding context is considered. However, the problem is that the conclusion of the essay is meaningless within the framework of Calvinism.

The text discussed is Isaiah 41:10 (ESV): “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Smetanin argues that, although one may find comfort in this passage in times of fear, the context reveals that the intent of the verse is not to console, but rather to warn all people of the judgment of God. A fear concerning one’s soul is what is of concern, not the fears of this world. The author gives an interpretation of the passage beginning at verse one and ending at verse nine. My intention is not to comment on his exegesis of the text. What I take issue with is the exhortation that follows. He points out that the verses deal with sin, redemption, and judgment, and that there is urgency for people to repent and to accept Christ as their Lord and Savior. A person that believes in the five points of Calvinism have the understanding that God has predestined certain individuals to be saved and others to be lost. There is nothing that one can do to change their condition, as it has been determined before the foundation of the world. The author affirms his belief in this doctrine in warning those who oppose God and his people: “They will have no chance of redemption, as God has already determined their fate.”

Smetanin (and any Calvinist for that matter) has no room to make an exhortation of repentance to any man, since they believe that their fate has been determined and sealed even before God created the earth. What is the sense, then, of calling people to repent if they have no chance of salvation? Aren’t they depraved to the point that God himself has to call them personally to turn from their wickedness? If an alien sinner studied the Bible from a Calvinist perspective and believed it, they would come to the conclusion that they have two options: repent or remain a sinner. However, the problem is that the decision really isn’t theirs, it’s God’s. If they realized this, then what exactly would they have to do? Nothing! They would just need to wait until God does the calling, and he may never call because it just probably wasn’t meant to be. Sorry.

That is not the plan of salvation that is taught in God’s word. Christ came to this earth as the Incarnate Word of God (John 1:14) to die for the sins of all mankind (John 3:16). His gift of eternal salvation is not limited to a select group of people; it is for all those who obey him (Heb. 5:8-10). You must hear the gospel of Christ (Rom. 10:17); that he was crucified, buried, and raised by God on the third day (Matt. 27:37 – 28:6). After you hear the gospel, you must believe it (Acts 16:30-31) and repent of your sins (Acts 2:38). Then you have to confess before men that Christ is the Son of the living God (Matt. 10:32; Matt. 16:16) and be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins (Matt. 28:19; Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38). We are not the ones who work in baptism (Titus 3:5), but rather it is God who works to make us new creatures in Christ (Gal. 6:15; Col. 2:12). He forgives us of our sins, gives us the gift of the Holy Spirit, and adds us to the church of Christ (Acts 2:38,47). Once you have come into a covenant relationship with God, you must continue to live faithfully, and at the end, you receive the crown of life (Rev. 2:10). There is no one aspect of this plan that is more important than the others. The sum of his words is truth (Ps. 119:160), not faith alone, not grace alone, not baptism alone. Every single part of God’s plan to save mankind is essential.

God bless you.

The Sovereignty of God and the Will of Man #3

Predestination and Salvation

The gospel of Christ is the power of God to salvation to those who believe (Rom. 1:16). If we do not study God’s word to come to an understanding of it, we cannot believe the gospel (cf. Rom. 10:17), and therefore, there is no salvation (2 Tim. 3:15). That is why it is important to rightly divide the Scriptures (2 Tim. 2:15). When studying God’s word, we must understand passages in terms of the immediate context, which are the verses before and after, the context of the chapter, the context of the book, and the overall context of the Bible. Additionally, we need to know the meaning of words and how they are used in the Scriptures. In this series of posts, I am dealing with the sovereignty of God and the will of man as they relate to God’s plan of salvation. I have discussed the importance of not allowing a particular interpretation of the Scriptures to contradict the basic principles of God’s character and man’s nature. The Calvinist view of concepts such as predestination and election is in opposition to the righteousness of God and the free will of man. It conflicts with the Scriptures due to an incorrect interpretation. One of the misinterpreted passages is Romans 9:20-24. These verses have been used to prove that certain individuals have been predestined to salvation, and others have been predestined to condemnation. The issue is that this belief is due to either not analyzing the verses within their context or completely misunderstanding the context. In this post, I will discuss Romans 9:20-24 and resolve the contradictions presented by Calvinist theology.

As I mentioned, it is important to understand the meaning of words used in the context of the Scriptures. The verb “to predestine” is used in several verses of the Bible (see Acts 4:28; Rom. 8:29-30; 1 Cor. 2:7; Eph. 1:5,11), but contextually, it has nothing to do with the Calvinist view of predestination. According to Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, it is a translation of the word proorizó, which is the combination of pró “before” and horízō “to establish boundaries”. That is, it means “to limit in advance” or “to determine beforehand”. Some synonyms found in different Bible translations are “to predetermine” or “to foreordain”. We could take 1 Corinthians 2:7 in three Bible translations as an example of the use of proorizó by Paul in discussing the plan of salvation that was determined by God before the beginning of time. These translations illustrate a clear meaning of the word – to determine before. No other definition can be derived.

King James Version: “But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory”

New American Standard Bible: “but we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory”

English Standard Version: “But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory”.

The letter that Paul wrote to the Romans is rich with doctrinal topics that are outside the scope of this essay. However, it is important to keep in mind that one of the main issues that the early church dealt with was the fact that Jewish Christians were binding the Law of Moses on newly converted Gentiles. They taught that, in order to be saved, the Gentiles had to be circumcised according to the Law of Moses (see Acts 15). Paul responds to this false teaching in his letters to the Christians in Rome and Galatia by revealing to them the great mystery of the gospel (Rom. 11:25). He explains in Romans 1 – 3 that both Jews and Gentiles were under sin (Rom 3:9), and that they could not be freed from sin by works of the Mosaic Law, particularly circumcision. The only means by which a man could be justified was through the death of Jesus Christ, which was offered by God as a gift and appropriated by man through faith (Rom. 3:21-26). Justification is attained by faith apart from works of the law because God is the God of both Jews and Gentiles (vv. 28-30). For this reason, there is no longer any condemnation for those who are in Christ (Rom. 8:1). As Paul continues his discussion, he focuses on the role of his kinsmen, the Jews, in the salvation of the Gentiles (Rom. 9:1-5 ESV):

1I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit— that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh. They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.

The Jews had rejected Christ and demanded his crucifixion (cf. John 19:6). Although Paul felt great sorrow for his race, the rejection of Christ and of the gospel by the Jews was part of God’s plan, which was spoken forth by the Prophets (cf. Isa. 53). God knew that the Jews would not accept the good news of Jesus Christ, and he used that rejection to offer salvation to the Gentiles (Isa. 56:8; cf. Jn. 10:16). The book of Acts reveals the fulfillment of God’s promise in the salvation of several Gentiles, such as Cornelius in chapters 10 and 11 and Lydia and the Philippian jailor in chapter 16, just to name a few. Paul then says in Romans 9:20-241:

20 But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” 21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? 22 What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23 in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—24 even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?

The Calvinists use this passage to prove their view of predestination. Based on verse 22, they claim that God has prepared certain people for destruction and others for mercy, which is false according to the context. This passage refers to the fact that God used the rejection of the Jews in order to save the Gentiles. Verse 22 says that God “endured with much patience”. That is, he abstained from punishing the Jews (cf. Rom. 3:25), who were steeped in sin. Paul referred to them as “vessels of wrath prepared for destruction”. The word “prepared” is used in the original Greek text as a verb that is expressed with the meaning of doing something to oneself (Thayer’s Greek Lexicon). Therefore, we understand verse 22 to mean that the Jews prepared themselves for destruction by hardening their own hearts. They stored up wrath for themselves (Rom. 2:5) by not submitting to the righteousness of God (Rom. 10:1-4). In doing this, they served as God’s vessels in order to make known the riches of his glory for the vessels of mercy, which were not only the Gentiles but also the Jews who believed. Reading chapters 10 and 11 helps to further comprehend God’s plan.

The Jews were God’s chosen people. He always intended to save them, and he secured that promise by making covenants with their forefathers (e.g., Gen. 6:18, 15:18). However, he incited jealousy in them by turning to other nations, and he was justified in doing so because Israel was a disobedient people (Rom. 10:18-21). Paul then explains that, although they stumbled, it was not so that they would fall. That is, God did not predestine them to be completely destroyed or lost. These same vessels of wrath would still have the opportunity to be saved (Rom. 11:11-15):

11 So I ask, did they stumble in order that they might fall? By no means! Rather, through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous. 12 Now if their trespass means riches for the world, and if their failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean!

13 Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry 14 in order somehow to make my fellow Jews jealous, and thus save some of them. 15 For if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead?

It is clear in this text that Israel’s trespass brought salvation to the Gentiles, which in turn, would make Israel jealous in order that they also would seek salvation. In this way, God grants salvation to both Jews and Gentiles, that is, the whole world (11:25):

25 Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. 26 And in this way all Israel will be saved…

God was loyal to the covenant that he made with Israel’s forefathers (11:28-29): “28 As regards the gospel, they are enemies for your sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. 29 For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.” These verses teach us that God keeps his promise. He has not revoked the gift of salvation. All you need to do is accept it by being obedient (Rom. 16:26).

These chapters most certainly reveal the everlasting wisdom, love, and mercy of God (Rom. 11:30-36). They also show that he does not show partiality towards men and would never predestine specific individuals to be saved or lost. What he predestined, or determined beforehand, was a plan. His plan involves an election, which I will discuss in the fourth part of this series. I will argue that God’s election as taught in the Bible is different from the type of election taught in Calvinist theology.

Footnotes

1. Since it deals with election, Romans 9:6-19 will be discussed further in part 4 of this series. Predestination and election are closely related.