[Dec 04]—Losing My Religion, Part Two

          I promise, this is the last entry I’ll have on this subject (eternal security) for a while. I just wanted to conclude with some final thoughts on this topic.
          First, I want to make clear that I have a lot of respect for a lot of Christians who disagree with me on this. I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt and ascribe to them the best of motivations. They’re really troubled by the Antinomianism which is rampant among professing believers, and I echo their concerns. There are a lot of people out there who claim the name of Christ and who don’t show it at all. They attend church (maybe just on Christmas and Easter), they might give money to the church (usually not a lot), and they give lip service to believing in the Savior. Worst of all, they live in egregious sin with no repentant attitude at all. I’m firmly convinced that they’re exactly the type of people whom James was addressing in the second chapter of his letter. Their “faith” is dead, as evidenced by their lack of works. They have the same “faith” as demons, and without repentance they’re going to end up in the same place. 
        My siblings on the other side of this issue are concerned with this, and I wholeheartedly share this concern. Where we parts ways is that they claim that my teachings on eternal security will lead people to exactly what we’re seeing: lackadaisical “Christians” who show no desire to truly follow Christ or please him. 
         I have two answers to that: 1) I have to teach my understanding of what the Bible teaches. If someone abuses what the Bible says for their own ends, my only solution is to teach the entirety of Scripture, which will protect against heresy. 2) This same argument could be leveled against the simple teaching of salvation by grace thru faith. In fact, this is exactly what Catholics and Muslims say against it: That people won’t care about leading a godly life if they know that they can sin and sin and sin and sin and get away with it. Paul was accused of this, and he answered not by changing his message to suit the critics, but to answer (using an entire chapter) that they were misunderstanding what he was teaching. 
Now I need to tackle one of the primary passages which people present to teach conditional security, today’s passage in Hebrews. Quite frankly, it’s kind of a mystery to me that they’re using it, but let’s take a closer look. 
I for one think that the author’s referring to people who heard the Good News, seemingly believed, and then “fell away.” They never really believed in Christ; they’ve experienced some great things by being in a worship service. But for the sake of argument, let’s assume that he’s talking about real believers. I have to concede that if they’re aren’t real believers, the author uses some strange descriptions of them: They’ve “tasted the heavenly gift. . .shared in the Holy Spirit. . .tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age.” But if they really were saved, whatever this passage is teaching, it flatly contradicts what my friends are teaching. They're claiming that you can truly believe in Christ, be saved, then later on (somehow) lose that salvation then hopefully regain it. Every proponent of conditional security whom I've ever met believed that once you've lost your salvation, you can regain it later by repenting. In stark contrast, the author doesn’t say he hopes they come to their senses and get saved again. Whomever he's addressing here, he says it’s impossible for them to come to repentance. As someone once quipped, this is the "Once lost, always lost" position. 
Now, I have to humbly submit three questions to my friends on the other side of this issue:

A) What exactly does it take to lose your salvation? In all my conversations about this, I’ve never gotten a straight and satisfying answer. Usually it’s “falling away” or “willful disobedience.” What does that mean? How is that different from the sins which I commit daily? Do you mean that if I sin once, no matter what it is, I’m lost again? And if not, why not? Usually that’s not what they mean. Usually they mean some sort of egregious sin, or maybe a number of them. How many? Murder? Adultery? But Jesus said that if I look at a woman or hate my neighbor, I’ve committed adultery or murder in my heart. Do you not believe that every sin--no matter what it is--is ultimately worthy of eternal condemnation? 

B) How is this compatible with a message of salvation by grace thru faith? How did I get saved in the first place? By placing trust in Christ. So how do I stay saved? Well, usually the proponents of conditional security say things like “read your Bible,” “stay in fellowship with other believers,” “pray regularly,” etc. But those are things that I do. If I make it to Heaven someday, how can I say up there “This is completely your doing, Lord.”  How can God get all the glory for my salvation if I do something to keep it? I'm sorry for the brutal frankness, but how is this not works salvation?

        Can I open a really deep concern of mine? I've had lots of conversations with friends on this, and with most of them, I have no reason to doubt their salvation. As stated, I just think they're being inconsistent in their theology. But I've had long conversations, as demonstrated in the comments of this posting, that really disturb me. My dear anonymous friend--quite frankly--seemed to be flirting with works salvation. Then I would try to nail down what he actually believed as far as how to be saved, and he'd supposedly affirm salvation by grace thru faith plus nothing. Then we'd go a little bit further, and he'd come right back and say something that sounded all the world like he believed that it's partially his works that'll get him into Heaven! It was rather frustrating at times.
        Since I'm being so open here, let me just observe something about our exchange. I've thought thru his arguments and I've come to a sobering conclusion: If someone believes in conditional security, if you'll give them enough time and they're really consistent on this issue, then eventually they'll reveal that they don't really believe in salvation by grace thru faith in Christ alone. How could they?
        Take for example his view of Romans 8:17 versus mine. I look at that verse and--based on the Bible's clear teaching elsewhere that we're saved by grace thru faith in Christ alone--I take it to fall into the very common category of "If you truly belong to Christ, here's how you can tell." But my friend looks at those verses and says "The way to be glorified is by suffering for him." That's works salvation, not what the Bible teaches.
        You see, in my view (which I think is the only way to interpret the Bible consistently)  the Lord takes the initiative in saving us, then our works are an inevitable response to that. But the way he looks at it, our works cause him to save us.
        To all my conditional-security friends, I'd have to ask: "How is he wrong?"

C) And finally, how is this compatible with a humble attitude for a Christian? Most of my friends on the other side of this are humble people who'd never think of claiming credit for themselves. To be frank, I’d submit that they’re not really being consistent in their theology. They believe that 1) God has saved them by grace thru faith plus nothing, but 2) keeping salvation is based—at least in part—on their personal performance. It seems to me that to really believe that and act on it, you have to either downgrade the seriousness of sin, or surrender to despair.

        I want to reiterate here that while I wholeheartedly disagree with my friends on this, I love them and have respect for them. For the most part, I have no doubt that they're dear fellow siblings in Christ, and we just have to disagree on a major aspect of soteriology. 
       To someone who’s sitting on the fence on this, I want to make one last appeal. I know we talked about this yesterday, but it bears repeating. The God of the Bible, who sent his Son to die for you, doesn’t want you guessing as to whether or not you’re going to Heaven. Near the end of his epistle, John tells us that “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.” Not guess. Not hope. Know.  He wants you to know that you have eternal life like you know your middle name. I really hope this blesses you and gives you confidence to go forward in him.
       And as a final reminder, if you're interested, I've set up a page that lists my postings on this issue. 

Lord Jesus, you love me. Not like the world loves, not like any human love at all. In my small and completely inadequate way, let me reflect that love back to you. By your grace. 

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