Proposition: “The New Testament Scriptures teach that a child of God, having received the remission of sins, can then fall from grace and, without repentance, be eternally lost.” Allan Turner affirms; Keith Saare denies.
Turner’s First Affirmative (posted 01/01/07): In obeying the gospel, we make Jesus Christ the absolute Lord of our lives. As a result, our past sins are washed away by the precious blood of Jesus and we are spiritually “born again.” Thus, a crown of “glory” or “righteousness” now awaits us in heaven, according to 1 Peter 5:4 and 2 Timothy 4:8. Thus, if we have been truly converted, and are content to remain that way, then no one, nor thing, can take away from us the salvation we now possess in connection with Jesus Christ. The great apostle Paul makes this point very clear when he said:
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we are killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.” Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:35-39).
Thus, every Bible believer knows (i.e., he or she believes) that God, who is all-powerful, cannot, and will not, fail to provide the heavenly home He has promised to all those who exercise trust and faith in His Son. Echoing this consolation, Paul said, “...for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day” (2 Timothy 1:12).
But even though God’s omnipotence assures our salvation, and we certainly take great comfort in this, the fact remains that the Bible teaches we can live our lives here on this earth in such a way as to lose that which God’s faithfulness guarantees.
The Old Testament Principle
To demonstrate that this is a perfectly legitimate biblical principle, I’ll start in the Old Testament with David’s warning to his son, Solomon:
As for you, my son Solomon, know the God of your father, and serve Him with a loyal heart and with a willing mind; for the Lord searches all hearts and understands all the intent of the thoughts. If you seek Him, He will be found by you; but if you forsake Him, He will cast you off forever (1 Chronicles 28:9).
Can we fail to see that free moral agency (i.e., free will) serves as the foundation of this passage? Solomon, David says, is to serve God with a loyal heart and willing mind. If he genuinely seeks the Lord, he will find Him; but if he forsakes Him, God will cast him off “forever” (i.e., eternally). In other words, being in a right relationship with God (viz., being saved) is conditioned upon one’s continued faithfulness to Him. When we add to this what the Holy Spirit spoke through Ezekiel, we begin to see a definite pattern developing:
Behold, all souls are Mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is Mine; the soul who sins shall die... But when the righteous turns away from his righteousness, and commits iniquity, and does according to all the abominations that the wicked man does, shall he live? None of his righteous deeds that he has done shall be remembered: in his trespass that he hath trespassed, and in his sin that he has sinned, in them shall he die (Ezekiel 18:4,24).
Although it seems clear that these Old Testament passages teach that salvation is conditioned upon one’s continued faithfulness to God, Keith may object to these by claiming they say nothing about the salvation offered to us in connection with the blood of Christ, as taught in the New Testament. But he would be wrong about this, for Romans 3:21-26 makes it clear that the blood of Christ was the propitiation for the sins that were committed under the first covenant. That is, “the sins that were previously committed” in verse 25 are not the sins committed before one is converted under the New Testament, but refers to sins committed and forgiven prior to the cross. In other words, the only basis upon which sins may be forgiven is the propitiatory sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and it was upon this basis that God forgave sins even during the Old Testament era, and even before the historical event of the propitiation/atonement had occurred. Because God is who He is, He knew (foreknew) that the cross would occur at a particular point in time (cf. Acts 2:23), thus He was able to dispense its benefits before the fact. This means that being saved and not cast off eternally means the same thing under the Old Testament as it does the New, and man’s continued faithfulness, as the Bible makes crystal clear, was and is a required condition no matter what covenant one operates under.
The New Testament Principle
Turning, then, to the New Testament, we should not be surprised to see the same principle at work, and this is exactly what we see. When Jesus sent out His twelve apostles in what has come to be called the Limited Commission, He said: “And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved” (Matthew 10:22). Now, if enduring faithfully to the end was not necessary to being saved, then why did Jesus teach that it was? Did He mean what He said?
Again, when Jesus prophesied the destruction of Jerusalem, he said, “But he who endures to the end shall be saved” (Matthew 24:13). If enduring to the end wasn’t necessary in order to be saved (i.e., if once one is saved, he’s always saved, as Calvinists teach), then why did Jesus say what He said? Once again, did Jesus mean what He said?
When addressing the Jews who believed in Him, in John 8:31-32, Jesus said, “If you abide in My word, you are my disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” IF is the optimum word here. Therefore, was not Jesus saying here that a “disciple indeed” (i.e., a true disciple) is required to continue abiding in His word? Notice that these individuals were already believers, for this is the clear implication of their need to be continuing to abide in His word. Keith, does Jesus’ conditional statement here mean anything? If it does, and who would be so bold as to deny it, then what does it mean? Please, tell us plainly, Keith. I believe and teach that if one is a true disciple of Christ, he will continue to abide in His word. Therefore, if continuing to believe His teaching is a condition of true discipleship, does this not teach that it is possible for believers to stop believing and to cease being disciples? If this is, in fact, what Jesus was teaching, and I believe it is undeniable that it was, then how does such comport with your “once saved, always saved, impossible to fall” doctrine?
Thus, Continuing To Abide Has Always Been A Requirement
With this in mind, consider what Jesus taught in John 15:1-2, 6:
I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. ... If anyone does not abide in Me, and I in him, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned.
Keith, how can you deny that this passage says anything about the conditional nature of staying saved and the possibility of a believer becoming lost? How? If what Jesus said here isn’t teaching that the branch must continue to remain faithful to the Lord, then what is it teaching? That this is exactly the point of Jesus’ remarks is made clear by what Paul wrote in Romans 11:21-22 as he encouraged/warned the Gentiles to remain faithful to the Lord:
For if God did not spare the natural branches, He may not spare you either. Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off.
The original olive tree here is Old Testament Israel, with the natural branches representing Jews. The present version of the olive tree portrays spiritual Israel, namely the church, with the combination of natural and engrafted branches representing Jews and Gentiles who have exercised faith in Jesus Christ. That Paul, in the context, makes two points that totally refute “once saved, always saved” doctrine seems clear to me. First, when the natural branches (viz., the Jews) were confronted with the gospel, they refused to believe it. Consequently, they were “broken off” (v. 20). Thus, those who were believers in Jehovah and, therefore, in a saved condition prior to their hearing of the gospel, if they rejected it, “fell” because of their unbelief (v. 22), and were, consequently, “broken off.” Rejected, then, by God, is not one safe in concluding that these lost their salvation? Second, those Gentiles who heard, believed, and obeyed the gospel and were, as a result, grafted into the olive tree (i.e., spiritual Israel), were warned by Paul to remain faithful, lest they, too, be “cut off.” Keith, is it not clear enough that Paul taught that if disciples do not continue in “His goodness” they will be cut off? How can you possibly deny this?
Moreover, it is clear that what Paul taught in Romans, he also taught in 1 Corinthians 15:1-2:
Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.
In the context of what Paul says here, he wrote of those who had known the facts of the gospel concerning Jesus (vv. 3-4), who had received them (past tense), who were standing in them (present tense), and were saved by them (again, present tense). How can there be any doubt, then, that Paul was writing here of those who truly “believed” (v. 2)? And how can there be any doubt that their remaining saved was conditioned upon their continuing to “hold fast the word” that Paul had preached to them (v. 2)? How could anyone reading what the Bible says about this conclude that a child of God, having received the remission of sins, cannot fall from grace and, without repentance, be eternally lost?
The Bible Teaches A Child Of God Can Fall From Grace
Therefore, and with these passages firmly imprinted in our minds, why are some intent to argue that one cannot be “cut off” (viz., lose one’s salvation)—i.e., that one cannot fall from grace? Consider, if you will, what Paul said about this when he wrote to the Christians at Galatia, who were apparently being tempted to go back to the things prescribed under the Old Covenant in order to be justified:
Indeed I, Paul, say to you that if you become circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing. ...You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by the law; you have fallen from grace. ...For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love. (Galatians 5:2,4,6).
How can one think that Paul is not describing a state of lostness here? That Paul is writing to those who had been saved is obvious from the context, because you can’t be estranged or severed from a relationship you never had. How can one fall from grace unless he was, at one time, standing in it? And finally, if “stand[ing] fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free” (v. 1a) isn’t talking about being a Christian, then what?
In the NKJV, the Greek word translated “estranged” in verse 4 is katargeo. It means, according to Thayer, “to cause a person or thing to have no further efficiency.” This is why, in the KJV, it is rendered “become of no effect,” and in the ASV as “severed.” Therefore, if what Paul says here isn’t to be taken as just a whole bunch of religious gobbledygook, then a Christian can so conduct himself as to be severed from Christ and, as a result, be “fallen from grace.” In truth, this is so plain that only a Calvinist could not believe it.
Clearly, the Bible teaches a child of God can fall from grace, and it says so not just in Galatians 5:4, but over and over again. Does any of this mean a child of God will fall from grace? No, it doesn’t. What it means, though, is that it is possible for a child of God to fall from grace, and if he does, his hope of reaping eternal life, while he remains in this condition, is completely nonexistent (cf. Galatians 6:7-9).
In this regard, notice what Paul said to the Christians at Colosse:
And you, who were once alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works [this is what they once were], yet now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death [that is, He saved them], to present you holy, and blameless, and irreproachable in His sight [this is talking about something He will do]—if indeed you continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel which you heard...(Colossians 1:21-23).
Notice that the “if indeed you continue in the faith....” is another conditional statement that says Jesus will present us holy, blameless, and irreproachable if we continue in the faith. The unavoidable implication is that one may choose not to “continue in the faith” and, as a result, be “moved away from the hope of the gospel.” This would not be due to a lapse in the Lord’s protection, nor would it be the triumph of an enemy power. Instead, this would be due to the free exercise of one’s will. But if the “once saved, always saved” doctrine that you and your religious cohorts advocate is true, then why this warning from Paul that continued salvation is conditioned upon our continued faithfulness?
In writing 1 Thessalonians 3:5, Paul wanted to know whether the brethren at Thessalonica were continuing in their journey of faith, or whether perhaps Satan had been successful in tempting them to go astray. If so, he believes the labor he expended on them would have been “in vain.” How could this be even possible if a child of God can’t fall from grace, as you Calvinists teach? But, if the “once saved, always saved” doctrine you advocate were really true, then Paul’s concern would be not just nonsensical, but completely heretical, as well. Consequently, your doctrine cannot be true.
What The Holy Spirit Says Vs. What Calvinists Believe
Your man-made doctrine says it is not possible for one, once saved, to depart from the faith and be lost. But the Holy Spirit teaches something entirely different. That this is true is demonstrated once again by what Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 4:1, which says, “Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons.” Will you argue that these folks who “depart from the faith” were never really saved in the first place? I think you must. But how do you know this? In other words, where is the book, chapter, and verse for such a teaching?
Consider, now, what the Hebrew writer, inspired by the same Holy Spirit, had to say about this:
Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; but exhort one another daily, while it is called “Today,” lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end (Hebrews 3:12-14).
Once again, the consistent New Testament teaching is that we must “Beware.” But, beware of what? If a child of God can’t “fall from grace,” as Keith believes, then what is the Hebrew writer talking about? Verse 14 makes it clear, taking into consideration the perfect tense of gegonamen, that not only have we become (and now are) “partakers of Christ” (which, according to verse 1, has to do with our “heavenly calling”), but we shall remain this way “if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end.” Again, our continued faithfulness is essential to maintaining our heavenly home (i.e., salvation).
Consider, also, what James said about this, “Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins” (James 5:19-20). Now, James thought it was possible for a Christian to “wander from the truth,” and that the final result, if one wasn’t brought to repentance, would be spiritual death. But if this isn’t the clear import of what James says in this passage, then what is?
Then there are the words of the great apostle Peter, who said:
For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning. For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them (2 Peter 2:20-22).
Consistent with his doctrine, Keith must argue, if he does so at all, that the subjects of these verses could not have been saved, for “once saved, always saved” is the doctrine he has chosen to defend. But how he can determine from these verses that those who “have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” were not saved individuals is simply beyond the course of what the Bible says about this. The conditional “if,” which relates directly to being “entangled” and “overcome,” is not teaching that this is something that will or should occur, only that such is, indeed, possible, which is something that Keith’s “impossibility of apostasy” doctrine cannot and will not allow. Furthermore, that the “latter end” for these folks could actually be worse than before they obeyed the gospel is simply beyond the capacity of a “once saved, always saved” religionist to comprehend. Nevertheless, this is what the passage teaches. The implication, I think, is that the latter condition is worse than their original condition before obeying the gospel because genuine repentance becomes more difficult after one has know the Lord and then willingly turns away from Him. In fact, I think this may be the key to understanding the very difficult passage in Hebrews 6 that says:
For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and having tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame (verses 4-6)
That these folks, without a doubt, are saved, cannot be questioned, or so it seems to me, for they possess five characteristics of those who are in a saved state. 1) They are “enlightened,” i.e., they possess true knowledge and understanding of the gospel. 2) They have “tasted the heavenly gift,” which refers to the gift of salvation in general (cf. Ephesians 2:8-9). 3) They have “become partakers of the Holy Spirit,” having drunk, as it were, the “living water” (cf. John 7:37-39; 1 Corinthians 12:13). 4) They have “tasted the good word of God,” believing and receiving it promises. 5) They have tasted “the powers of the age to come,” which refers, I think, to the already experienced resurrection from spiritual death (cf. Ephesians 2:5; Colossians 2:12-13), and all this in anticipation of the future resurrection of the body.
Now, I may not understand all the ramifications of this passage, but the fact that these individuals, by their own actions, had reached a state whereby they could not be brought to repentance means it would be “impossible” for them to be saved in a future state in heaven. Remember that Hebrews 3:12-14 teaches that one needs to “hold the beginning of [his] confidence steadfast to the end” in order not to lose the “heavenly calling” (Hebrews 3:1). This is further amplified by the fact that a child of God who has been saved from his past sins, who then, in turn, sins, can be forgiven, if he will but repent (cf. Acts 8:22) and confess his sins (cf. 1 John 1:9). The fact that those mentioned in Hebrews 6 were going to be lost was not due to the fact that they never had been saved, for the description of them definitely indicates they were. Instead, in their turning away from the Lord, they had so seared their consciences that they could not, indeed, they would not, be brought to repentance, which is a very sad state of affairs.
Although we may never be able to fully comprehend all the ramifications of this passage, we can all understand this: Some who “fall away” will never again meet the conditions of God’s grace, by repenting, and will, as a result, be eternally lost. Consequently, the New Testament Scriptures teach that a child of God, having received the remission of sins, can then fall from grace and, without repentance, be eternally lost. As this is the proposition I am affirming in this debate, then I submit that the affirmation of this proposition has been sustained. But there is more.
The Possibility Of Having Our Names Blotted Out
From the Scriptures, we learn...
- the names of disciples of Christ were recorded in heaven (cf. Luke 10:20b);
- Christians have their names written in heaven (cf. Hebrews 12:23a);
- Paul’s fellow servants had their names written in the book of life (cf. Philippians 4:3).
Thus, most in Christendom believe the book of life is the heavenly register of the redeemed. This certainly seems to be the correct interpretation in view of Revelation 20:15, which says that on the day of judgment anyone whose name is not found written in the book of life will be thrown into the lake of fire.
Up to this point, most, if not all, would agree on this. But, it is just here that a clear cut dichotomy occurs. Many believe that once one’s name is enrolled in the book of life nothing can happen that would cause it to be erased. This belief is commonly referred to as “once saved, always saved.”
There are several reasons this teaching has arisen, but one has to do with the fact that some have failed to deal correctly with Revelation 3:5. A quotation from a discussion under the heading “Book of Life” in the Wycliffe Bible Encyclopedia (Moody Press, Vol. 2, page 1038) illustrates this point:
Rev. 3:5 also speaks of being blotted out of the book of life, meaning here the list of the saved. Some say that such a blotting out is possible and implied. But that a saved person could thus lose his salvation is felt by many to contradict those passages which teach the security of the believer in Christ. Consequently, these interpreters have taken one of the following approaches: (1) Rev. 3:5 does not explicitly say that anyone’s name will be blotted out; (2) this register originally has everyone’s name on it, but when a person finally rejects Christ his name is blotted out; (3) the book of life in Rev. 3:5 is the register of profession from which names will be erased, whereas the Lamb’s book of life (Rev. 13:8; 17:8; 20:12,15; 21:27 referring to the Lamb’s book of life though not specifically so called in every verse) contains only the names of genuine believers from which no names can be erased.
Yes, there seems to be all sorts of explanations about what this passage teaches, but consider with me what the passage itself actually says:
And to the angel of the church in Sardis write; “These things says He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars: ‘I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your works perfect before God. Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent. Therefore if you will not watch, I will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you. You have a few names even in Sardis who have not defiled their garments, and they shall walk with Me in white, for they are worthy. He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot his name from the Book of Life, but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’” (Revelation 3:1-6).
But in stark contrast to what Jesus said, the Westminister Confession of Faith, which was written in 1643 and is held dear by many Calvinists, says:
They whom God has accepted can neither totally nor finally fall from the state of grace: but shall certainly preserve therein to the end and be eternally saved (Henry Bitterson, Documents of the Christian Church, London: Oxford University Press, 1963, page 347).
Similarly, there is the much quoted statement by Dr. Sam Morris, who was, before his death, a well-known pastor of the First Baptist Church in Stamford, Texas, who said:
We take the position that a Christian’s sins do not damn his soul! ...[A]ll the sins he may commit from idolatry to murder will not make his soul in any more danger. ...The way a man lives has nothing whatever to do with the salvation of his soul (Morris, A Discussion Which Involves a Subject Pertinent to All Men, pages 1-2, via Handbook of Religious Quotations, page 24).
However, if one can understand anything, then he ought to understand that Revelation 3:5 teaches, by necessary inference, that the Lord can, and will, blot out the names of all who will not overcome through His blood. Therefore, I ask you, Keith, to seriously consider the problem of harmonizing this passage with the teaching of “once saved, always saved.” As you do so, and in addition to the many passages listed earlier, consider the various falling away and stumbling warnings found in the New Testament (cf. 2 Thessalonians 2:3; Hebrews 12:15; 2 Peter 1:10). If it is not possible to fall or stumble, as you claim, then why did the Holy Spirit see fit to include these warnings?
I’ll stop here and await your response.
Keith Saare has 14 days to respond. As soon as he does, a link will be posted below.