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.

By Grace (God’s Part) Through Faith (Man’s Part) – UPDATED

“who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began, but has now been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, who has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel,” (2 Tim. 1:9-10)

God offered salvation to all mankind according to his grace and by the death of Jesus Christ even before the beginning of time. No work of man could have brought about salvation since mankind had not been created at the time God devised his plan. However, salvation is not by grace only; it is by grace through faith. Some say salvation depends solely on God. If this affirmation were true, we would have to conclude that God has grace and faith, which is impossible. He is omniscient – all knowing – and thus, does not have faith. According to Hebrews 11:1, “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen”. God does not have hope because he sees and knows everything. Romans 8:24 says, “[n]ow hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for that he sees”? Man is who has faith, and therefore, we conclude that man must appropriate God’s grace through faith: “for by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8). Salvation is a gift of God that we obtain through our faith. We cannot be saved without faith because it is impossible to please God without it. We must believe that he exists, and that he rewards those who diligently seek him (Heb. 11:6). The word of God teaches that, although salvation is a gift of God, man has a part to play in order to be saved because faith is a requirement that must be fulfilled by man.

If man is saved through his faith in God who has offered his grace, then we need to know what faith is. As I mentioned earlier, according to Hebrews 11:1, it is “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1). Faith is having confidence or assurance in our hope of salvation and being convicted about the things that we do not see, for example, the existence of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. When God commands us to do something, although we do not understand it completely or see the connection or how it is possible, we still have to do it in order to please him. Therefore, faith is not just the mental process of believing; it involves taking action according to the word of God. In Hebrews 11:6-30, we are given many examples of people who manifested their faith in the actions that they carried out: by faith, Noah prepared an ark; by faith, Abraham obeyed and offered up Isaac; by faith, Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau; by faith, Jacob blessed each of his sons and worshipped; by faith, Joseph gave instructions; by faith, Moses suffered affliction with the people of God, forsook Egypt, kept the Passover, and the sprinkling of the blood; by faith, the people of God passed through the Red Sea by dry land; by faith, the walls of Jericho fell down after being encircled seven times; by faith, the harlot Rahab did not perish because she received the spies with peace. All of these people obeyed God and took action. They had obedient faith, not inactive belief (cf. Rom. 16:26). All of these people did not necessarily understand what they were doing or why they did it. There were even some that did not want to do the things that they were commanded to do or laughed about it. We can take Sarah as an example of this. In Genesis 18, Sarah laughed when she heard that she was going to have a son, and she was later confronted about it. However, moving to chapter 21, we see that she did indeed conceive and give birth to Isaac, which shows that she took action in carrying out God’s plan. Sarah had doubt in her heart, but she did what God commanded, thus showing her faith. This is a great lesson for us in that even when things don’t make sense to us, when we obey God’s commandments, we have the assurance that he will do what he has promised (Heb. 11:1). I also believe that not fully understanding is part of God’s plan in showing that his wisdom is much higher than ours, and therefore, we cannot boast in our knowledge or in anything that we do. 1 Corinthians 1:20-29 says:

18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, And bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.” 20 Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. 22 For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; 23 but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. 26 For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. 27 But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; 28 and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, 29 that no flesh should glory in His presence.

This passage teaches, first, that God is much wiser than man. The foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. It also teaches that God used the foolishness of this world (or what we think is foolish) to bring salvation to those who believed. What I understand from this is that our faith does not come from the fact that we see something and so we believe it. Our faith comes from the evidence, that is, what is produced by that something. The accounts of Naaman and of Jericho confirm this idea. What people believe is foolish is what actually saves us, and God did it that way so that we could be saved by our faith in him.

Now, some will say that God creates faith in us because Hebrews 12:2 says that Christ is the author and finisher of our faith: “looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

We have to understand Hebrews 12:2 in its context. When you go to verse one, you’ll see that it begins with “therefore”, which is a word that mean “for that reason” or “in that case.” “Therefore” requires us to go back to Hebrews 11 in which, beginning at verse 4, there is a long line of people who showed their faith in obedience to God. They are the cloud of witnesses to which the author of Hebrews is referring in 12:1. Now, jumping down to Hebrews 12:2, it says that Jesus is the “author and finisher of our faith.” The question is what exactly does “author” mean. It does indeed mean “creator” in certain contexts such as in Acts 3:15; however, in this verse, considering the whole context starting from Hebrews 11, it means “founder”, “pioneer”, or “line-leader.” This last meaning really gives us the true idea because he leads the line of all the faithful men and women mentioned in chapter 11. That is why the author exhorts Christians to look to Jesus because he is the leader of faith and he carried out faith to completion, thus he is the “perfecter” or “consummator.” “To consummate” means to complete or to carry out to completion”. Christ was the ultimate faithful one because he carried out the will of the Father, never wavering and never committing any sin. Notice that chapter 12 is focused on endurance and discipline in the faith. The idea is that we have to endure in putting aside all sin and not grow weary in the work of the Lord because Christ did exactly that. He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death (Phil. 2:8) in order for us to have salvation. We can look to Jesus as the ultimate example of faithfulness to God.

But don’t the Scriptures teach that all we have to do is believe? In John 6:29-40 Jesus teaches that we must believe in order to have eternal life. However, in Matthew 7:21, he teaches that the one who does the will of his Father will enter the kingdom of heaven. In John 14:12, he teaches that whoever believes in him will also do the work he does, and even greater works (he’s talking to the disciples here, but we also learn from this). Later, in the same chapter he teaches that if you love him you will keep his commandments. Jesus commanded us to believe, and in believing, we keep his commandments. There are things that Christ has commanded us to do, along with believing, that pertain to our salvation. Now, if God creates faith in us or puts his faith in us, why does he need to command us to have faith or believe? He actually wouldn’t have to command us to do anything. Psalm 119 is a great chapter that describes the word of God. Verse 160 says the following: “The sum of your word is truth, and every one of your righteous rules endures forever.” That is to say, the totality of his word and every single thing he says and commands is truth, not part of it – all of it. If this is true, then we should strive daily to obey his word in all parts that pertain to us in this Christian era, not so we can boast, but because this is simply what he has commanded (cf. Luke 17:10) and we trust him. Jesus said, “be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Rev. 2:10). So, I know that if I have obedient faith, God will give me the crown of life, not because I deserve it, but because, by his grace, he has put a plan into place in which, if I choose (on my own free will), I can do the things required of me to be saved.

There is no doubt that God has already done the work necessary for us to be saved. However, he has given us the responsibility to accept it. God gave us free will to choose what is right or wrong. If God creates faith in us, that contradicts this basic principle. If God does not wish that any man perish (2 Peter 3:9), everyone would be saved because he would create faith in everyone. We understand from Acts 10 & 11 that he is not a respecter of person. Just because God wills for us to do something, doesn’t mean that we humans will follow along. He does not force us; we make the decision to be conformed to the image of Christ or not. We make the decision to harden our hearts or not. If God were forcing us to do these things, he wouldn’t be a just God because he would arbitrarily granting salvation to some and condemnation to others. Ezekiel 10 teaches that God is sovereign and just. Every good deed that we carry out is done in Christ because we choose to submit to his authority, not because he forces us to. There will come a day when he will make every knee bow to him (Rom. 14:11). Romans 14:12 says that each of us will give an account of himself to God. We won’t give an account of God. We are not going to tell God that he put faith in us. The sinner is not going to blame God for not putting faith in him. He is going to give an account of HIMSELF, not of God. If God is going to judge us (Rom. 14:10), and he expects us to give an account of ourselves, we can only conclude that we are going to be judged on our choices, which we have made on our own free will, according to our discernment.

Since faith is understood as obedience to the commandments of God, we must know what God’s commandments are concerning salvation. We learn about salvation by hearing the preaching and teaching of the gospel or by studying the Scriptures (Acts 17:10-11; Rom. 10:17). The message of the gospel is expressed in simple terms. God manifested himself in human form, and dwelt among us as Jesus Christ. Although he lived just like us, he fulfilled all righteousness and committed no sin (Matt. 3:15; 2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Pet. 2:22). The very people he came to save crucified him unjustly, and his blood was spilled in order for man to receive forgiveness of sin (Matt. 26:27-28; John 1:1, 14; 1 Tim. 3:16). This sacrifice was an act of grace, which is God’s part. Now, we must do our part and appropriate that grace through faith by being obedient to the commandments of God. We must confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Rom. 10:8-9), repent of our past sins (Acts 17:30-31), and be baptized or immersed in water (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38, 22:16). As a result, we receive forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit, and the Lord adds us to his church (Acts 2:38,41,47; cf. Matt. 16:18). When we rightly divide the word of God (cf. 2 Tim. 2:15), these are the commandments of God concerning salvation revealed in the Scriptures.

Many reject the plain and simple teachings of the Bible and manipulate God’s word in order to formulate their own false doctrines (2 Cor. 11:13-15). They deceive themselves (cf. 2 Tim. 3:13) by believing that they have no role in their own salvation. Logically, this kind of doctrine takes all the responsibility off of them. Whether they are saved or lost would not be their fault, but rather God’s. They state that man is saved by grace through faith without understanding what faith truly is. They also deny the essentiality of baptism, and repentance for that matter, in the plan of salvation. However, when one studies the Scriptures with an open and honest heart, it is difficult to deny that God has devised a plan based on his matchless grace and man’s obedient faith.