Hold Fast

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you--unless you believed in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:1-2, ESV)

Location: Cochrane, Alberta, Canada

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Can Salvation Be Lost? (Part II)

Last time, I made the case that true salvation cannot be lost, using John 6 and Romans 8 as proof. I was going to move on to the "other extreme" of this issue - that is, those who believe that once they believe in Christ, they can do anything they want and grace will "cover it." That is a vitally important issue, and I will get to it next time (God willing). But my brother Brad brought up a good point in a comment to my last post, which I've copied here:

Jeff, I agree with you, but what is your take on Hebrews... chapter 6 is it?

Brad is right - I really can't move on until I've dealt with some of the verses commonly cited by the other side! So we'll look at Hebrews 6, but first...

An issue central to this whole problem is the question of "false faith." In other words, the Bible clearly teaches us that a person can have a kind of "faith" that is not a saving faith. One of the clearest Scriptural examples is the Parable of the Sower, found in three of the four Gospels. Here is Mark's version:

"Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it. Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and immediately it sprang up, since it had no depth of soil. And when the sun rose it was scorched, and since it had no root, it withered away. Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. And other seeds fell into good soil and produced grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold." (Mark 4:3-8)

Here is Jesus' explanation of the parable:

"The sower sows the word. And these are the ones along the path, where the word is sown: when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them. And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: the ones who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy. And they have no root in themselves, but endure for a while; then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away. And others are the ones sown among thorns. They are those who hear the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. But those that were sown on the good soil are the ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold." (Mark 4:14-20)

What does this story teach us? It's clear from this passage that faith can be false. A person may appear to be Christian, but his faith "has no root" - that is, it may be based NOT on the work of the Holy Spirit in the person in softening and changing their heart (that is, being born again), but rather may be a mere intellectual assent to the truths of the Christian faith, or a love for the earthly benefits (fellowship, a sense of purpose, etc.) that membership in the church brings. Or the "faith" of a person may be shaken and choked out by worries and worldly affairs.

Incidentally, this proves the foolishness (so popular today) of measuring a ministry's effectiveness by the number of "decisions for Christ". These decisions can clearly be false.

Now, by itself this passage doesn't prove that salvation can't be lost. But what it does prove is that what we, from our point of view, may think is "saving faith" may not be at all. True faith is proved by perseverance.

Now let's move to 1 John. Keep in mind the context; at the beginning of this book John squashes the idea that sinless perfection is possible. In chapter 1:8-2:1, he says,

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.

If Christians - to whom John was writing! - cannot claim to be without sin, and if John admits they can sin by telling them of their Advocate, Christ, then it's abundantly clear that "sinless perfectionism" is impossible in this life. "Good behaviour" by God's perfect and holy standard is thus impossible even for saved Christians, and so if salvation depended upon it, we'd all be lost. That being established, read this passage:

Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour. 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 it might become plain that they all are not of us. (1 John 2:18-19)

The false teachers of whom John spoke had obviously been a part of the church. They had appeared to be Christian; they had shown evidence of faith. When they left, though, John does not say they "lost their faith," or that they had "given up salvation." He said - note this - that they never belonged in the first place! If they really did belong - if their faith was true and genuine - they would have remained.

Or, in other words, a person who apostasizes - falls away from the faith - proves he was never a true Christian at all.

Remember my point from before? From Romans 8 and John 6, justification - God's declaration of a Christian as righteous - is a one-time, non-repeatable, infallible event. It cannot be reversed or proven wrong! And in case someone thinks justification is something that happens at the Final Judgement, look at Romans 8:29-30 again. Paul speaks in the past tense, of a completed event! Even glorification - eternal life - to Paul is a thing so assured, so certain, that he speaks of it as having already happened!

So justification cannot fail. It only happens once, during a person's life, and always results in eternal life. And as we've just seen, the appearance of saving faith in a human being can be false. And a person who falls away was never "of us", was never a real Christian, at all.

This established, now let's move to Hebrews 6.

For it is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they then fall away, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned. (6:4-8)

The author is speaking here of people who had sat under the instruction of the Word, had been given the Good News, had understood it, and had been active members of the Christian fellowship. These people then left, departed the faith. Or, in short, the same people Jesus had spoken of as having "received the word with joy," and then fallen away. The same antichrists John spoke of in his letter. Nowhere does it say these people are "saved," or "justified." It fails to prove the point, if one tries to prove salvation can be lost.

But they "tasted the goodness of the word of God!" They "shared in the Holy Spirit!" Doesn't this language indicate they were truly saved?

Not at all. An unsaved person who acts like a Christian and is active in a congregation does share in these things. They hear the Word of God, a blessing in itself. The Word even causes some growth - but the faith is still false. Remember the example of Saul, in the Old Testament? The Spirit came on him, and he even prophesied - yet he eventually was lost.

The Spirit is God, and may act on anyone - even an unsaved person - as He will. And this principle, of God's absolute control and sovereignty in our lives, is reinforced by verse 3 of this same passage: And this [that is, move from elementary to mature things] we will do if God permits.

The author here is warning his readers to be careful to hold to the teaching they had been given - to persevere in the faith. In the same vein as Christ's warnings that things would be worse for Capernaum than for Sodom because they saw Him and rejected Him, the author of Hebrews is warning that the punishment for those who reject the clearest, most explicit revelations of God's truth will be far worse than for the "average sinner."

Remember - although true, saving faith will always result in eternal life, only God knows for certain who has that faith. So we are to test ourselves to prove this faith in our own lives, and to live in accordance with the Word we have been given.

Read what comes after this passage:

And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises. (Hebrews 6:11-12)

Notice the points here:

1) We inherit the promises through "faith and patience," NOT works (verse 12)
2) We show the same earnestness (that is, holy living) to have assurance of hope, not to have salvation. (verse 11)

And what is assurance? Certainty that one is saved, that one is safe in the hands of God. Certainty that one's faith is the real thing, not a false faith. This certainty is a privilege, not a right - it is not automatic with salvation, but comes to those who strive to demonstrate their faith in their lives. Not all saved Christians have assurance, then, but the author's point is that it is available to them! But my point is this: if sin can "cost one his salvation," and if none of us is without sin, then assurance is impossible! Even Hebrews 6 proves this idea wrong!

The author moves on to speak of the certainty of God's promise, pointing out that God swore by himself (verse 13), the unchangeable character of his purpose (verse 17), that it is impossible for God to lie (verse 18), and that our hope is a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul (verse 19). Why would the author be speaking of God's sure promise and unchanging purpose as a basis for our hope, if we can lose salvation through our own actions?

So how does Hebrews 6 fit into the doctrine of eternal security? First, by warning of the deadly consequences of false faith, as a way of reminding us that we cannot afford to assume that our own, personal faith is the real thing - it must be tested! And second, by showing us how we can have assurance of our eternal security and salvation - through "earnestness," by proving our faith to be genuine through our lives. And third, by showing the basis of our assurance:

God's unchanging promise, and Christ's completed work on our behalf.


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