5. Perseverance of the Saints – Calvinism

It may come as a surprise to many Christians that “Eternal Security” (or once saved always saved) was completely unknown to the Church prior to the development of Calvinism during the Reformation. Even St. Augustine, whose philosophies led to the development of Calvinism, did not hold to “Eternal Security.”

The Scriptures teach that the believer has security in Christ, and that nothing can separate us from Him. God is entirely faithful to keep His end of the covenant. However, the Word of God also makes it perfectly clear that the believer still has a free choice to continue in Christ, or to abandon Him and void his covenant with God. 

No doubt many (particularly Baptists) who have been in agreement with our first four articles will immediately reject this one. The resistance to the consistent Arminian position on the security of the believer is based on a straw man erected by Calvinists. Reformed theologians constantly charge that any departure from “once saved always saved” demands that we also abandon salvation by grace through faith without works. So, before we get into the specific passages that teach a true Christian can abandon the Faith and become apostate, let me set the record straight regarding why it does not logically follow that a departure from “once saved always saved” necessitates a return to Catholicism, and salvation by works.

The argument of Calvinism is that IF our perseverance in salvation is in any way dependent on our own actions or choices, then we are in fact doing something to stay saved. And this translates into “works.” But, (Baptists and others) who reject the first four points of Calvinism, should not accept this argument any more than the same argument regarding initial salvation by Calvinists. Calvinists teach that the mere CHOICE to accept God’s free gift is a “work.” Granted, if maintaining one’s salvation demanded doing certain tasks, or refraining from certain sins, then the Calvinists would have a good point. The problem, however, is that most Calvinists, as well as other Evangelicals and Fundamentalists, do not distinguish between true Arminianism and Wesleyanism.

Wesleyanism has much in common with Roman Catholicism, because living a holy life is directly connected to one’s salvation. That is, committing a certain “sin” directly causes the loss of salvation. The problems with such a theology are easily apparent, particularly when compared with Paul’s Epistles. Salvation is either by God’s grace, or it is by a combination of God’s grace and our own efforts. Catholics and Wesleyans claim the latter. But, consistent Arminians do NOT in any way connect salvation with one’s own works. The difference between the consistent Arminian’s views on how a Christian can “fall away” and the Wesleyan / Catholic view is the difference between night and day. Here’s why. 

In consistent Arminianism, receiving the gospel in the prescribed manner is all that is required to receive salvation. The sinner exercises his God-given free will to accept the free gift of salvation being offered to him without strings attached. Perseverance in that salvation is precisely on the same basis as initial salvation. Continuing to believe the gospel is required for continued salvation, NOT works or holy living. Faith is something that must be cherished, not abused or neglected, (Heb. 2:1-3). Unbelief is what separates the ungodly from fellowship with the Creator. And unbelief is the only thing that can separate a once-believing Christian from his Lord and from his salvation. Read the words of James Arminius himself on this topic.

“I subjoin, that there is a vast difference between the enunciation of these two sentences: (1.) ‘It is possible for believers to decline from the faith;’ and (2.) ‘It is possible for believers to decline from salvation.’ For the latter, when rigidly and accurately examined, can scarcely be admitted; — it being impossible for believers, as long as they remain believers, to decline from salvation. Because, were this possible, that power of God would be conquered which he has determined to employ in saving believers. On the other hand, if believers fall away from the faith and become unbelievers, it is impossible for them to do otherwise than decline from salvation, — that is, provided they still continue unbelievers.

Therefore, whether this hypothesis be granted or not, the enunciation cannot be accurately expressed: For if this hypothesis (their perseverance in faith) be granted, they cannot decline; but if it be not granted, they cannot do otherwise than decline. (2.) But that first enunciation includes no hypothesis; and therefore an answer may be given to it simply, either that it is possible, or that it is impossible. For this cause, the second article ought to be corrected in the following manner: ‘It is possible for believers finally to fall away or decline from the faith;’ or rather, ‘Some believers finally fall away and decline from the faith.’ This being granted, the other can be necessarily inferred, — ‘therefore they also actually decline from salvation’.”1 (bold mine)

The Scriptures, from beginning to end, indicate that the willful forsaking of God results in damnation.

1 Chronicles 28 

9 And thou, Solomon my son, know thou the God of thy father, and serve him with a perfect heart and with a willing mind: for the LORD searcheth all hearts, and understandeth all the imaginations of the thoughts: if thou seek him, he will be found of thee; but if thou forsake him, he will cast thee off for ever

Many passages teach that a true believer is required to maintain faith in Christ and the Gospel unto the end. It is not that good works merit “perseverance” any more than good works merit initial salvation. But, the very same faith in Christ and the Gospel we exercised the moment we first believed must continually be maintained throughout our Christian life. That is, we must not forsake Christ and the Gospel. 

Romans 11 
19 Thou wilt say then, The branches were broken off, that I might be graffed in. 
20 Well; because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not highminded, but fear: 
21 For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee
22 Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off

In Romans 11:20 above, notice the contrast drawn between Christians and the Jews who were cut off. The Jews who were cut off were in a state of “unbelief.” Paul said that we “stand by faith.” That is an ongoing standing within the sphere of salvation through a continuous faith in Christ and the Gospel. We must continue to believe, or we will depart from God through unbelief. In this passage, Paul warned the Roman believers of the POTENTIAL for Christians being cut off, and used the example of the unbelieving Jews who were actually cut off.

1 Corinthians 15 

1 Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand
2 By which also ye are savedIF ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain

Colossians 1

21 And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled
22 In the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight: 
23 If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard,… 

In both 1 Corinthians 15:1-2 and Colossians 1:21-23 above, Paul made it clear that perseverance in our faith in the Gospel message preached is necessary to our remaining within the sphere of salvation. In both passages his warning is that we not be moved away from our faith in the Gospel. That is, being seduced from the true Christian Faith to “another gospel” that cannot save. By renouncing the true Gospel and embracing a false Gospel, one can have “believed in vain,” and no longer be saved. In both passages, Paul used a first class conditional statement. IF his readers “keep in memory” the pure Gospel Paul taught, and IF they are not “moved away from the hope of the Gospel” Paul preached, they can rest in their security as Christians. In Greek, a first class condition does NOT mean that the results are guaranteed, as many argue. Rather, it means that Paul is assuming it to be true for the sake of argument. In other words, Paul was saying, “IF you continue in the faith (and lets assume that you do)…”. Or, “IF you keep in memory what I have preached to you (and lets assume that you do). In 1 Cor. 15:2, Paul indicated the result if they do not maintain their belief in the Gospel, “unless you have believed in vain.”

The following passage gives the best snapshot of the mechanics of how a Christian can become apostate.

Hebrews 3 

1 Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling,… 
12 Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God
13 But exhort one another daily, while it is called To day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.
14 For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence stedfast unto the end;

In this passage Paul explained the only way a believer can become an apostate. It is UNBELIEF, the complete absence of faith. Habitual sin is not the direct cause of falling away, but it can be a catalyst for hardening the heart, leading to unbelief. Unbelief is the only thing that actually separates the former believer from God. And unbelief can only come when the heart of the believer is allowed to become completely hardened. Being seduced into receiving a false Gospel (heresy) in place of the true Gospel, and the hardening of the heart through continued sin and resisting the Spirit’s correction, are the two ways the New Testament indicates that apostasy is possible. This is why Jesus warned believers in the Olivet Discourse, referring to BOTH of these as the means by which most believers will “fall away” from the Faith in the very last days.

Matthew 24:9-13 (NASB)

9 “Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations on account of My name.
10 “And at that time many [of the aforementioned believers] will fall away and will deliver up one another and hate one another.
11 “And many false prophets will arise, and will mislead many.
12 “And because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold.
13 “But the one who endures to the end, he shall be saved.

There is no question that Jesus was referring to Christians in this entire passage. When He said, “you will be hated by all nations on account of my name,” He had His Church in view. When He said, “many will fall away,” He was speaking of a sub-group within the larger body of believers previously mentioned. He then listed both of the ways apostasy of believers is possible. First, many false prophets will seduce some from the Faith with a false Gospel. This is already happening within the Charismatic movement which currently has many false prophets, false apostles, and false teachers. It is also happening through some of the cults, and possibly even through certain eschatological systems like full preterism (which denies the resurrection). The second danger Jesus described is identical to what Paul said in Hebrews 3.

Because of the seduction of sin, the agape (God’s love) of MOST Christians will grow cold. This is the “hardening through the deceitfulness of sin” that Paul warned about in Heb. 3:13. Both the seduction to a false Gospel by false prophets, as well as seduction into continuous sin, leads to a hardened heart, and quenching the inner voice of the Spirit. In BOTH cases, one resists the Spirit which is both the teacher of the Gospel and the true doctrine of Christ, as well as the one who convicts us of sin. By resisting the Spirit, we harden our hearts. This is why Hebrews repeatedly quotes the Psalm that says, “Today if you will hear His voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation.” The “provocation” is a reference to Israel’s finally turning away from the promises of God at Kadesh Barnea, when they refused to enter into the promised land despite God’s assurances that He would go with them and defeat their enemies.

In our refutation of “Perseverance of the Saints” we want to be careful not to go to the other extreme. At that extreme we find what is commonly called “Wesleyanism” and Catholicism. John Wesley taught that when a person sins, he loses his salvation. He needs to repent and regain his salvation. Catholicism teaches that certain sins separate us from salvation (some permanently), and that restoration is attained through confessions and penance. Both of these are wrong, because they place works as a necessary means of salvation and perseverance in salvation. The Bible is crystal clear that works do NOT play a role in salvation. Nor does our own sin directly interfere with our salvation. It comes down to FAITH in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, faith in the promises of God. Paul repeatedly pointed out that “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him as righteousness.” 

It is God’s imputed righteousness that is acceptable, not our own self-righteousness. But, sin brings on God’s correction and conviction of the Holy Spirit. How we deal with God’s chastisement and conviction will determine how hard or soft our hearts become. Submission to His correction and conviction softens the heart. Rebellion and resistance hardens the heart. And a hardened heart can eventually become inhospitable to our faith. Once that occurs, many former believers abandon God by abandoning their belief in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

We remain secure in Christ because God is faithful. He will never leave us or forsake us, or even cast us out when we fail Him. But, we can forsake Him. We have the potential to be seduced by “the roaring lion” who walks about seeking to devour believers. We can succumb to sin, or to heresies, and consequently harden our hearts to the voice of the Spirit. When that reaches the point where we completely reject Christ and the Gospel, there is no more room for repentance (Heb. 6:4-8 & Heb. 10:23,26-31). The apostate is essentially in the same position as the “reprobate” we discussed in the first article. While the reprobate was never saved, the apostate was formerly saved. However, both have resisted God’s Spirit to the point where they have made a final decision to permanently forsake Him. Both are beyond the reach of God’s grace, and His drawing them. He simply lets them go their own way and never again pricks their conscience or draws them toward repentance. They are spiritual zombies. They usually become outspoken enemies of the true Gospel. And their hatred of the Gospel is often worn on their sleeves.

“Believers” cannot lose their salvation. “Believers” are totally secure. However, “Believers” can become “unbelievers” and consequently forfeit their salvation. A “believer” remains within the sphere of “salvation” by faith, not works. This is why John wrote, “But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7 NKJ). This passage refers to believers. The “cleansing” is in the present tense, indicating a continual process as we “walk in the light.” Yet, the “cleansing” is also conditional, depending upon our continued walking in the light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. As Paul wrote, “And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight — if indeed you continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel which you heard (Col 1:21-23 NKJ).

Before leaving this topic, I would like to say a word to my Baptist brethren who reject the first four points of Calvinism, but maintain “once saved always saved.” This position is not consistent, in my opinion. It is the lack of consistency to the concept of free will that makes “Four point Arminians” (or perhaps we should call you “One Point Calvinists”) unable to answer many of the arguments of Calvinism. If nothing else, I hope that this article has enlightened you to the fact that a departure from OSAS is NOT a return to Catholicism, or in any way implies salvation by works. Consistent Arminianism (Free Will) is a far cry from Wesleyanism or Catholicism. Many Baptists are trying hold a middle ground between Arminianism and Calvinism that is untenable. To be consistent, Baptists must either become “Reformed Baptists” (Calvinists) or else “Free Will Baptists” (Arminians).

Copyright © Tim Warner – 10/2003

Next 6. God’ s Will

9. Where Does Calvinism Lead?

Notes


1. Arminius, The Works of James Arminius, Baker Book House, 1986, Vol. I, pp. 741-742

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