Apostasy is a term that has dropped out of usage for most Evangelicals. After all, “once saved always saved,” would make apostasy virtually impossible. Yet there are others who also live under the Evangelical umbrella who believe that a person, once truly saved, can nevertheless lose one’s salvation.
Is it possible for someone to lose their salvation? John 15 is one portion of Scripture that is frequently cited to support this idea, particularly verses 5-6,
I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.
To teach eternal security, so the argument goes, is to encourage slovenliness in the Christian life. Once someone has accepted Christ as Savior, that person, because they cannot lose their salvation, can now live the way they want to live—once saved always saved. On the face of it, this is a compelling argument against eternal security.
The conclusion is not warranted however, least of all by this passage. Those who argue that one can lose his or her salvation, do so on the assumption that one becomes a believer in Christ by an act of free will. (By free will we mean an autonomous and neutral force within our inner being that is free to choose or not choose God.) Even though the Holy Spirit may exert pressure on the person to believe, so the argument goes, God waits for that person to say yes. In the final analysis, it is up to the individual to accept the gift of salvation that is offered to all.
This emphasis on free will is invoked to vitiate the once-saved-always-saved position. The doctrine of eternal security is then made to look ridiculous: You prayed the sinner’s prayer and God is now stuck to you like fly paper and no matter what you do later in life, you’re still saved. This is wrong. There is another point of view.
First, we must jettison the phrases, “eternal security” and “once saved always saved.” Technically, they are correct but only partially so. They do not convey all that the Bible says on this subject. Partial truths can lead to distortions of the truth. Moreover, they present a truncated view of what is more accurately referred to as the “perseverance of the saints.” A true Christian is one who perseveres to the end and we persevere by grace (Phil. 2:12-13).
Second, we do not choose God; He chooses us (John 15:16). This changes everything and the objections above fall to the ground. When God sets out to do something, He does it and He does not make a mistake, nor does He change His mind (Romans 11:29).
The argument turns on the effects of the sin inherited from Adam on our inner being which includes the will. The effects of the fall are such that we are born with a disposition that, left to ourselves, we would never choose God (Genesis 6:5; Mark 7:21-23; Romans 1:18; 8:7). Left to ourselves, we would do what Adam and Eve did after they had sinned and they heard God walking in the garden in the cool of the day—hide. We were born with a disposition that naturally hides from God, sometimes in church. We cannot choose God because it is contrary to our nature, inherited from Adam, to do so. We cannot choose God because we don’t want to.
You didn’t choose God; He chose you. True, in an act of the will (yes, we have a will), you heard the offer of the Gospel and you responded. But in reality, the Spirit of God had been at work in your heart as the Word of God was being proclaimed. He changed your heart to enable you to respond to His call. In the final analysis, God chooses us, not we Him (John 1:12-13; 6:44; 10:26-27).
Third, and most important, this eliminates our tendency to presume on God. If we are one of His chosen, then we cannot live the way we want to live. If we are content to live an ungodly life then it is quite likely that we are not one of His chosen.
Ironically, if we are the ones that choose God, quite the reverse is true. Despite God’s prodding, in the final analysis, we call the shots. We can live the way we want to even if there is the possibility of losing one’s salvation. After all, nobody’s perfect and so one has to be really bad to lose one’s salvation and we’re not that bad, or, we will just be careful to stay away from the precipice. This is what Dietrich Bonhoeffer calls “extending grace to ourselves.”
Where is that line that one could cross to lose one’s salvation? Who knows? Those who hold that view unwittingly think they know. What happens when the emphasis is on the freedom of the will is that we are placing ourselves in control, dictating if, when, and under what circumstances we are saved and continue to be saved.
Consider the effects of God’s choosing, “. . . children born not of human decision, nor of a husband’s will but of God” (John 1:13). He changes these hearts of stone to hearts of flesh, by the Holy Spirit writing God’s law on our hearts: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26); “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God and they will be my people” (Jeremiah 31:33).
Since salvation is all of God’s grace, we look to Him for assurance of salvation. It begins by repentance and faith and it proceeds by repentance and faith. To condone sin or otherwise excuse it, is out of character for the elect of God. He does the choosing not we. The effect of His choosing is a holy life, “I will be their God and they will be my people.”
But, comes the rejoinder, what about those passages that speak about falling away including this one in John 15:6, are they mere hypotheticals? Let it be stated here that we take apostasy seriously. One can appear to be a Christian and the ethical teachings of the Gospel can have, outwardly at least, a positive effect on a person. A dead branch on a grape vine can look alive and can even draw life from the vine. That is why it is cut away. It is dead. It doesn’t bear fruit.
In other words, it is possible to come under the influence of the Gospel such that one manages to outwardly conform, as long as he finds it beneficial, to its ethical standards and otherwise derive blessings and benefits from it and yet not be saved. (See Romans 2:28-3:2)
There can be a falling away for those whose lives were influenced by the Gospel but never really transformed by it. Ironically, free will promotes presumption; election undermines it. “Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things [Christian virtues], you will never fall” (II Peter 1:10). It removes presumption while providing assurance, “Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies” (Romans 8:33).
I’ve written this rather lengthy article (for this publication) because of my own disquiet over the moral decline in the church in general and no ministry or church is exempt including BHOF.
This segment is dedicated to Hope Academy, our school now in its third year. We present to you a partial wish list for equipment and supplies and we thank you in advance for your generous support:
- Set of prepared microscope slides for high school Biology (1)
- iPad Pro (2)
- Graphing calculators (2)
- Chess sets (4)
- Finances for field trips
For a more complete wish list and ordering details, go to the following Amazon link:
As always we are so grateful to the Lord for your love and support.
Bob Hall for Naomi Woodmansee, Head of School
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City Lights is a publication of The Bronx Household of Faith, an urban church committed to bringing the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the streets of New York.
Co-pastors: Bob Hall, Jack Roberts,
Phone: (718) 220-3652,
Email: gro.f1487661874ohb@f1487661874ohb1487661874; Web: www.bhof.org