“You can’t solve 2,000 years of church trouble in one meeting, Mikey,” one minister said. His face turned red, slightly shaking. His pulse was up, eyes wide. Around the table were ministers from many other denominations. I was curious, so I asked the dreaded question, “Why?” I was tired of reading about why people believed what they believed, and wanted to hear it from their own mouths. Why? I wanted to understand where they were coming from even if I didn’t agree. Peaceful discourse is very important to me, and I believe to God as well.
So the question of the day: “Is it possible for one to lose their salvation?” Many Christians immediately get offended, hot around the collar, end friendships, throw the TV out on the lawn, and start a riot in the streets when this question is asked. How do I know that? Because it’s happened to me…well not the riot part…but almost. Seriously though, I have lost many friendships over this one question.
Starting back in high school when I fell in love with Jesus, and started to find others who shared my passion and enthusiasm for Jesus, I started to see that this question was a strong dividing line. I found that friendly discourse was rare. It seemed the question itself brought feelings of anger and disrespect.
It all comes down to our definition of Salvation, which is very simple and yet very complicated. It’s simple enough that anyone with “child-like faith” can enter into Jesus Christ’s saving grace. It’s complicated enough that the pages of church history are filled with people being burned at the stake as “heretics” for standing on the “wrong side” of this line. The Catholic churched caught and martyred Calvinists and Lutherans in England, and then Calvinists turned around and did the same to Catholics in Holland and other places. Now we just walk away and don’t ask the really tough questions.
Why? Why do we not ask the tough questions? I think this goes back to our culture being so terrified of conflict that to “disagree” means “hate.” I mean, when people de-friend others because they support Trump (which I don’t, so take your finger off the un-friend button), it shows that people don’t know how to disagree agreeably.
This topic is going to be bigger than I can get to in one post. So this will be set in a series, starting with a run through of the Book of Hebrews. There are various ways to interpret words and passages of scripture, so I want to handle the text with the utmost respect. This means we’ll need to break down each passage carefully.
A couple of weeks ago in a sermon I touched on the nature of salvation and I said I didn’t have time to go into the subject of if we can lose our salvation. That sermon is found here:
We discussed “positional forgiveness” and “relational forgiveness.” And the question stated was, “do you lose your salvation every time you sin?” or “Is it even possible to lose your salvation?” I grew up thinking if I cussed right before I died, I’d go to hell. It was like you could lose your salvation like you lose your car keys!
The answer we landed on was that when you are saved, your sins are forgiven. This includes past, present, and John Wesley would be careful in saying “future” sins as well, but he did agree that they too were forgiven. His caution was that people would use it as a license to sin like James Bond’s license to kill. A wrong belief in this area could lead to negligence in your relationship with God and, over time, a searing of one’s conscience, leading to a probable “apostasy.”
When you are saved, you enter into a covenant relationship like a marriage. The legal side of this covenant is the canceling of sins: past, present, and future. This is like the marriage license, and the theological word for this is “Justification.”
And so you don’t have to ask forgiveness every time you sin to keep your salvation. But you DO need to ask forgiveness when you sin to restore the breach in relationship with God and not “grieve the Holy Spirit.” This is just like when I offend my wife, Cari by some boneheaded mistake or slinging of thoughtless words. This doesn’t mean I’m not married anymore, or have “lost my marriage” and have to go back down to the courthouse and get another marriage license. It does mean I need to be sorry and tell her that I know how dumb I was and ask for forgiveness to be restored into unhindered relationship and intimacy. This is the natural way of a RELATIONSHIP.
Now one of the rules of proper “exegetical interpretation” (fancy words for: interpreting the Bible in a proper, God fearing way) is not to take a doctrine further than the author’s intended meaning. Another rule is to consider the context of the “full council of the Word of God.” That just means, you have to look at what the author said in other places and look at the big picture of what scripture is saying. You will get a feel from repeated emphasis as to what is most important. Another rule is not to base your belief off of an obscure text. An obscure text is one where the meaning is unclear. What we DO base our belief off of is the clear, repeated emphasis of scripture.
I want to say that I highly respect my Baptist, Presbyterian, and Calvinist brothers and sisters and understand if you don’t agree with the following assessments. Great scholars on both sides of the theological isle have made great points along the way. This is just part of the peaceful discourse that I want to put forth to let us “reason together.”
But the question we come to today is, “Is it possible to lose your salvation.” In a few places the Bible calls this “falling away” or, “apostasy.” The Greek word apostasia, means “a defiance of an established system or authority; a rebellion; an abandonment or breach of faith.” This speaks to a deliberate turning away.
When it comes to Salvation, it is almost always followed by a contingency statement. Matthew 24:13 says, “But he who endures to the end will be saved.” If you look at the context of the New Testament, you’ll see that, yes, God forgives all sin; past, present, future. But there is a way to break that contract through apostasy or neglect.
To take the “legal” or “justification” route to an extreme that the author did not intend would be like saying you are married (another covenant) because you have a marriage license. To focus on the “legal” side of salvation to the neglect of the “relational” side of marriage or salvation, I believe, is to mishandle the Word of God and we have to be oh, so careful about doing that.
What do I mean by contingencies? These are “IF” statements that imply two outcomes depending on choices made. Let’s look at a few.
Colossians 1:21-23 “And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled 22. in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight”
So far, so good. We were alienated and enemies of God. He has reconciled us. Then we come to the next verse which starts with the word “if.” 23. “if indeed you continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel…”
This puts forth the contingency statement of “if” followed by “you continue in the faith,” implying that the opposite is true if you do not continue, and are “moved away from the hope of the gospel.”
From this passage we learn:
1. We are reconciled “IF” we continue in the faith.
2. If we move away from the Gospel we are no longer reconciled to Christ.
3. That it is, in fact, POSSIBLE to “move away” from the Gospel (which also implies that we were once close to the Gospel/saved).
4. All of this implies free will. How? Because if we didn’t have free will, there would be no need to give a command or encouragement to do something.
Let’s just peek through the Book of Hebrews to look at some contingencies.
Hebrews 2:1 “Therefore we must give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard” (Whose responsibility? Our responsibility. Why?), “lest we drift away.” This shows that it is possible for believers to “drift away.”
Hebrews 3:6 “but Christ as a Son over His own house, whose house we are if we hold fast …to the end.” This verse says that we are a part of Christ’s house (saved) “if we hold fast.” How long? “To the end.”
“If” statements indicate that the opposite is possible “if we do not hold fast until the end.” Whose responsibility is it to “hold fast?” Our responsibility. Why would the writer even mention it if he were not trying to encourage us to do the thing he said to do?
Hebrews 3:14 “For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end…” This verse indicates that we are saved only IF we hold fast what we had in the beginning, to the end.
Hebrews 4:1 “Therefore, since a promise remains of entering His rest, let us fear lest any of you seem to have come short of it.” This verse indicates that there is a “promise” to “enter His rest” but to “fear,” meaning, don’t take this lightly, “lest you come short of it.” Again, through neglect or willful apostasy, we turn from God and “come short of it.”
Continuing this thought of entering the “rest of God,” we come to…
Hebrews 4:6 “…those to whom it was first preached did not enter because of disobedience.” This shows that there will be those who “enter it” speaking of heaven, and that those who it was first preached to (Israelites in the wilderness), did not enter because of disobedience. Once-saved-always-saved proponents will say that this rest is not talking about a “heavenly rest” but rather a “faith-rest-life.” That is, a rest that we find while on this earth through faith. That could be implied secondarily but “rest” here leans heavily toward “heaven,” not just happiness on this earth.
Why is that important?
The reason once-saved-always-saved-ers want it to only mean, “rest by faith in this life,” is because to say it is an “eternal rest” would mean we would have to face the fact that one could lose their salvation through disobedience (1 John chapters 1, 2, and 3) which would topple their theology. If we can keep the idea of “Rest” about the here and now in this life, then we can also cling onto the 1 Corinthian 3 passage that speaks about how our works will be burned but our souls will be saved as though through fire (we’ll discuss this next week). This gives them “eternal security.”
But Mikey, that’s talking about the Old Testament and the Israelites, not us.
but then the next verse brings it home:
Hebrews 4:11 “Let us (people of the New Testament) therefore be diligent (who is to be diligent?) to enter that rest, lest anyone fall according to the same example of disobedience.” This verse tells who to be diligent? It tells us to “be diligent.” Why? “Lest anyone fall by the “same example” of disobedience.” This links us to them and this means that we too (like the Israelites) can be disobedient and not “enter that rest.” We can start out good, escape Egypt and our old lives, cross the Red Sea into salvation, and by disobedience we can turn back and fall in the desert without receiving “Rest,” or in our case “eternal rest.”
Hebrews 4:14 “…let us hold fast our confession.” This is the same repeated lingo from throughout Hebrews saying to “Hold fast to our confession,” or to our “faith” in Him. Again, the ball is in our court to “hold fast” to our faith.
Skipping right through Hebrews, we come to Hebrews 10:26 “For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27. but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries.”
I’m going to break that verse down more next week because it has theologians scratching their heads. It’s complicated.
Hebrews 10:38 it says “IF ANYONE DRAWS BACK, MY SOUL HAS NO PLEASURE IN HIM.” “Draws back,” implies that he had started, but then reconsidered and drew back. “has no pleasure in him,” could mean God is merely “disappointed in him,” but that doesn’t seem to fit the context because the next verse says: 39. “But we are not of those who draw back to perdition, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul.”
Let’s unpack that. There’s a lot of meat there. This suggests that there is an ability to “draw back.” How far? To perdition. What is perdition? The Greek word implies “Hell.” So he’s talking to this crew in Hebrews saying that he doesn’t believe that “we” are of the type to turn back (leading to hell). On the other hand “those who believe,” do so “to the saving of the soul.” This suggests that the saving of the soul happens as those who believe, believe to the end, as repeated all the way through Hebrews and other places in the New Testament.
When he says, “we are not of those who draw back,” some may take that a little too literal and think that those who are saved, literally “are not of those who draw back,” or that “it is impossible to draw back if you once believed.” But I think it’s easy to see the context of this is like a football coach saying, “Boys, we aren’t of the kind to draw back!” as a rallying Braveheart speech. To say that it’s literally “impossible” to draw back is to take the text further than the author’s intended meaning.
Hebrews 11:15 “And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out of (Egypt), they would have had opportunity to return.” This is speaking about the Israelites in the wilderness, saying that they could have gone back. The parallel the author intended to his New Testament audience was that we too can turn back to our old lives as well, and therefore, to a place of perdition.
Hebrews 12:15 looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up…16 lest there be any fornicator or profane person like Esau, who for one morsel of food sold his birthright. 17 …he found no place for repentance, though he sought it diligently with tears.”
This passage suggests that even living in bitterness or sexual immorality (for more on this topic, read here: https://mikeylittau.wordpress.com/2016/03/01/how-far-is-too-far/) can cause one to “fall short” of the grace of God and likens it to selling his birthright—losing what he had.
This seems to be leaning toward a need to “hold fast” to your confidence which ends up in “great reward” which leans toward “eternal life” or “Rest” on the other side, but that we only get there “IF” we “finish the race” with “ENDURANCE“as it says in Hebrews 12. Chapter 10 ends by saying that we need Endurance. Chapter 11 goes into the “heroes of the faith” who we are to emulate their endurance. Chapter 12 encourages us to run our race with endurance. 1Corinthians 9:24 says to “Run in such a way that you may obtain it.” Endurance reflects the language of “hold fast,” spoken repeatedly earlier in Hebrews.
Nobody who gets a divorce (a breaking of a similar covenant-picture) thought on their wedding day that they would end up here. It happened through thousands of little selfish decisions along the way, leading to a lifestyle of resisting each other, and finally one person walked away and broke the covenant.
I leave you with this question: Why do we seek a contractual agreement with God over a RELATIONAL covenant? My guess is that there is a part of us that is scared to death that we are going to “fall short,” or “lose our salvation” not because it’s impossible to live for God, but because we want to sin. If i can secure my salvation by making the scriptures say that it is a contract, that it’s all on Him, and that I have no part in “holding fast” or living up to my end of the “marriage vows” to Him, then I’m off the hook.
But what if this RELATIONSHIP with God is just that…a RELATIONSHIP? Which means we have to show up too.