Thoughts welcomed. Sorry for any typos: The Matter of Permanence…
Thoughts welcomed. Sorry for any typos:
The Matter of Permanence of Salvation
Salvation seems to become a common point of discussion for people who have believed in Christ for a period of time. Not so much when a person first learns of Christ, and makes a commitment to Him. It is later, when the harshness of life causes convictions and responses to be put to the test. This, of course, is just one possibility for why the topic of salvation is brought up. There are other reasons the conversation could start. Whatever the case may be, things seem to revolve around two points:
1. A concern for one’s own soul, and/or the soul of another.
2. A desire to address one’s sin and behavior that does not model Christ, or the rest of scripture’s teaching.
These are great reasons to be invested in an understanding of the details and permanence of salvation. In pursuit of understanding, there are two dominating schools of thought that have emerged in this conversation. These primary arguments are summarized as:
A. One is able to lose their salvation.
B. Once saved, a person cannot lose their salvation.
Both of these ideas also entertain a similar point, though addressed differently. The similarity is that something of an individual’s decisions has called into question their devotion to God.
I leave space for that idea to stand separate from the rest of my writing in the hope that it is not muddied by anything else I say. I also hope that what remains of my writing on this topic fairly represents the ideas of these two schools of thought. It should also be noted, that while one of the above schools of thought is more agreeable to my sensibilities, there are God fearing men that aim to devote their lives to the Lord that have taken on the belief of the other. Both myself, and those of both schools of thought, have turned to scripture to justify their beliefs. I will attempt to highlight key scriptures that are often brought up in the conversation. There are other key scriptures that I will leave out. I am aware the topic comes up more often than what will be addressed here.
Before highlighting those scriptures, I would like to attempt to reduce this topic further by looking at it holistically. Pardon me if this is nonsensical and sounds naïve. Hopefully my point is neither. Argument A, as listed above, in its simplest presentation (pardon me if I have missed something), looks at a person’s return to sin, whether on a single incident or on repeated occasion (this portion of this school of thought seems to vary among different individuals), is a cause for an individual to have rejected what was done by Christ on the cross and shows that the person is no longer submitted to Christ’s Lordship. The person has returned to a state of self-glorification and pursuit of sin in their life, and, in short, is no longer a recipient of salvation. The state of sinful pursuit is certainly something to be taken very seriously, which is why this thought is one of two primary schools. Argument B, as listed above, in its simplest presentation (pardon me if I have missed something), states that once a person has been saved by accepting Christ as the Way, the Truth, and the Light, they are covered by the what Christ did on the cross for all eternity. From this point on, though, this school of thought breaks up into differing arguments, some stating that the grace of God covers all future sins, and that one need only to believe. Others state that a person is only covered by what Christ did on the cross if they truly devoted themselves at the time of proclaiming their devotion to Christ (for declaring His Lordship will be done by all, but devotion is not (James 2:19)). This latter group of Argument B asserts that while one may appear to have salvation for a time, they never truly surrendered their life to God, and therefore upon returning to sin they did not lose their salvation.
I am certain I missed details on both arguments. I understand that this debate is tied deeply into larger theological schools of thought that men of far greater education and prominence than myself have written on. I think the topic is worth coming back to later in order to fully flush out both stances. After all, a great deal of time has been taken by many to take hold of one of these stances. Ultimately, I would hope for people to shift their focus on a differing stance.
The above arguments exist for a few reasons. There is the concern that a person will be so downtrodden by the wrong that they have done before God that they come to believe there is no hope for them. They may believe that God could not possibly have mercy on one like themselves. Though assurance of salvation is important, it should not be used as a Band-Aid for a lack of understanding of God’s character. If one is concerned of how far God will go to show mercy, and what Christ did on the cross has become so diluted in meaning that it holds no significance and assurance in and of itself, one can turn to the Old Testament where God pours, POURS, out His mercy over and over again. King David, a man God not only loved dearly, but even went so far as to label as a man after His own heart, committed a series of egregious sins. He then repented and continued to serve the Lord (2 Samuel chapters 11 and 12). King Manasseh was a man who lived a life of seemingly indelible sin. However, the Lord rebuked him, by taking everything from him (kingdom, comfort, and freedom). Rather than responding in pride and anger, Manasseh repented, and went on to serve the Lord (2 Chronicles 33). Again, assurance of salvation is important, but it is not to be a Band-Aid for a lack of understanding of the character of God. If a person is struggling to understand who God is, they should always be pointed to where God makes claims of who He is. This is the Bible.
Alternatively, there are those that are concerned by the lackadaisical approach many are taking when dealing with sin. When one follows Christ they are submitting themselves to servitude (1 Corinthians 7:22). They are putting off their old self and putting on a new self (Ephesians 4:22-24). They are to follow after Jesus with such abandon that they would leave the funeral of a loved one to pursue the true life they have found (Matthew 8:22, Luke 9:60). Additionally, scripture calls in to question the signs of salvation in one’s life (1 John chapter 2). What then of the person who continues on in sin, never fighting to suffer alongside Christ so that they might also be glorified with Him (Romans 8:17)? And what of Hebrews 10:26-28, which goes on to warn that “. . . if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins. . .”. Additionally, Hebrews 6 calls attention to the actions of people who claim to know Christ. I highly encourage one to go read the ENTIRE book of Hebrews before latching on to any significance of what I have quoted and paraphrased. Nevertheless, the addressing of sin in the life of a believer in Christ is certainly a serious issue.
With these things in mind, I would like address my alternate point to the two primary schools of thought on the permanence of salvation. I think it is of upmost importance for a person to look at two areas in their own life when seeking assurance of salvation. In the case of looking at others, whether loved or not, and attempting to address whether the individual is saved or not, one should ask that individual with sincerity that these two points also be examined in their life. The two points are:
1. Repentance, and whether or not it is present in one’s own life.
2. The Lordship of Christ as addressed in one’s own life.
To elaborate, repentance is a changing of the mind. This should be a complete turn from ones current way of thought so that God becomes the focal point of all that one does. It involves total surrender. Lordship is making God the lord of one’s life. God should be the supreme authority, One that is submitted to and obeyed. God is often referred to as Lord without a full acknowledgement of what the word lord means. It is a word that defines an individual’s position, importance, and place in society. Inevitably, if God is made Lord, repentance occurs. If one is struggling with the nature of their sins, they MUST seek out the character of God and understand His mercy, grace, and forgiveness. If one is struggling with following the Lord in all their ways and being set free from “bondage to corruption (Romans 8:21)” and sin, they MUST seek out the Lord and learn what it means to be obedient and holy. If, upon reflecting on these two things, a person still has doubt on where they stand before God, they should look at these three verse and asses the way they apply to their life:
“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.”
Philippians 2:12 ESV
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”
Matthew 7:21-23 ESV
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.”
Proverbs 9:10 ESV
Reflect on these deeply and personally, and determine the assurance of your salvation. Whatever ones stance may be on the topic of the permanence of salvation, one must turn their focus and life to the Lord. If they have reason to question where they are with God in their own life, DO NOT BECOME DISTROUGHT, but fear God and seek Him. He is LORD. This should be properly acknowledged. Do not become discouraged though, for His love is great, His mercies are unending, and He wants you (Lamentations 3:22-23). Remember though, you were bought with a price (1 Corinthians 6:20). Look at scripture and the nature of God holistically, to the best of your understanding, and always seek to understand more of the Word and know God in a deeper manner.