Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Eternally Saved?

I've been talking about the issue of eternal, irrevocable salvation with a number of people, including my wife, my brother, and others. This has prompted me to issue forth the thoughts on the issue that have been going around in my head, for all the world to see. First, let me get it out in the open: I honestly don't know the answer to the question of whether or not a person can lose their salvation once gained. I used to blindly belong to the "once saved, always saved" camp, but now I must admit I'm on the fence. My official position is no position. Fortunately, I do not think my lack of position, nor a lack on the part of anyone else, affects either my own salvation, or anyone else's. God is the ultimate, and indeed ONLY, arbiter of salvation, and I do not think the possibility of losing one's salvation is necessarily a "stumbling block" (1 Corinthians 8:9) to new believers that Paul was warning about.

(Aside: if you pound away on a new believer that he must live a perfect life or risk eternity in hell every time he says a swear word, then yes, perhaps this would be such a stumbling block. But I do not think my own ambivalence will cause any new believers any consternation.)

Let me also state that I do not believe that a particular sin can cause a person to lose their salvation, with one exception I will discuss below. We all sin. As reader Geology Boy pointed out in an email (and which I only paraphrase here), Jesus died once and for all for ALL of our sins (and here, let "our" refer to the saved. I'm not even going to get into a discussion of predestination and salvific election here). Thus, to say that new sins we commit after the point of salvation somehow cause us to lose that salvation is saying that Christ's sacrifice was somehow limited, flawed, or imperfect, which it absolutely was not. I believe the Catholics teach that one loses one's "State of Grace" upon sinning, only to reobtain it at the point of confession and forgiveness. However, I do not believe this implies a loss of salvation, but a loss of "innocence", for which they then invented the doctrine of Purgatory (i.e, if you are graceless at the time of death, but are still saved, you must go somewhere to purge yourself and become innocent again before entering heaven, a place of perfection which can incur no imperfection on the part of its constituents).

Another criticism of mine is an argument frequently made by some among the "once-saved always-saved" camp. A person becomes active and faithful in the church body, having made that initial acceptance of Christ. Then, perhaps because of a history of habitual sin, that individual backslides and reverts to their sinful ways. They fall away from the church and revel in their sin. The OSAS folk often declare "well, he must never have been saved in the first place!" I loathe this pronouncement, and think it has no place in the church. I believe this is precisely the judgement Christ was referring to when he told is to "judge not lest we be judged". I can't find the reference at the moment, but one of Paul's letters, I believe, instructs us that those among us (Christians) who refuse to repent will ultimately be "given over" to their sins, so that (my own words here) they can be purified by the fire of their sinful life -- it never says they lose their salvation or never were saved.

SO, the question remains: IF a person can lose their salvation, WHAT would they have to have done to cause that to occur, if no series of sinful behaviors could cause that loss? First: I DO believe that we must be forgiven to enter heaven. Fortunately, I also believe that forgiveness occurred at the moment of Christ's atoning death, and we receive that forgiveness once and for all upon accepting Christ as our Savior. However, this whole discussion was largely prompted by a reading of Matthew 12:31-32, which in the NASB states:

31"Therefore I say to you, any sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven people, but blasphemy against the Spirit shall not be forgiven.

32"Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, either in this age or the age to come."

Geology Boy also pointed out that to say that God cannot save everyone is to say that there is something that is too big for God, which, if one considers that the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is what saves us, could be construed as "blasphemy of the Spirit". I AM NOT SAYING THIS IS BLASPHEMY OF THE HOLY SPIRIT, only that it might be. Honestly, I do not know specifically what this thing may actually be. After all, we Trinitarians (aka REAL CHRISTIANS) believe that God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are One God in Three Persons, so how can one speak against one without speaking against the other? However, the key point here is that these verses do not say "cannot forgive", but "will not forgive." So God chooses not to forgive that particular sin, even though it is well within His power to do so. God could end suffering, pain, disease, poverty, and sin, without even thinking about it, but He, in His infinite wisdom, chooses not to. Similarly, God could forgive every single possible sin that anyone could commit, but chooses, in this one exception, not to.

So, what does this have to do with a loss of salvation? Well, as I indicated above, if you are unforgiven, I believe you are not saved. If you "blaspheme the Spirit," then, you are unsaved, regardless of past sins. So: suppose a truly saved individual were to recant, willfully and unambiguously (e.g., not at gunpoint, and not in a drunken stupor), their faith in God and Jesus Christ. Would this person then be saved? Like I discussed above, some OSAS proponents would say this person was NEVER saved, as a truly saved individual could never recant. I don't believe that argument. Would this be classified as blasphemy of the Spirit? Possibly. It is like saying "Although salvation is perfect and eternal, I say that the Holy Spirit cannot save me!" This is certainly speaking against the Spirit, so it may constitute an unforgiveable sin, and hence, lost salvation.

I recognize the relative incoherence of my arguments. There are a lot of thoughts on this issue going around in my head, and it's difficult to sort them all out. However, I think I've stated a few of the louder arguments rattling around up there. Like I said, I just don't know. I guess I believe that it MIGHT be possible, but it's really damned hard.



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