Monday, June 2, 2008

Can you lose your salvation?

Can you loose your salvation?

Frankly, I am a bit surprised that this one made it onto the sermon list. With a little room for semantic tweaking, I think most evangelical Christians believe that salvation is something that CAN be lost.

So, what is the semantic deal?

Well – died in the wool Calvinists would argue that God does the choosing and being God, he does not choose those who will end up turning their backs on him. They would say that someone who appears to be saved, but then turns his/her back on God at some later date was never saved to begin with. They may have thought they were saved at some point, but they never really were because they were not one of the elect.

Those of the more Wesleyan tradition would argue that while God knows who will accept him, he offers us a role in the process. He allows us the freedom to choose. If we can choose to follow Christ we can also choose to cease following Christ. More plainly stated, we can loose our salvation.

Both groups agree that those who follow Christ to the end of life will be saved. The idea that a person can be saved as a child and then live a demented and immoral life, all while still saved is not theologically sound in either camp. The difference lies in the starting point, not the finish line.

Jim also pointed out that losing one’s salvation (Wesleyan interpretation) is not an easy thing to do. For example, he does not believe that a person who’s last mortal act is driving in excess of the speed limit will, necessary, suffer in hell for breaking the law of the land. He argues that there are certain sins – so antithetical to the nature of God – that they might preclude a person from the reward of heaven and destine them for hell. In his sermon Jim stated four such sins: sexual sin, gossip, drunkenness, and greed – but did not give a scriptural reference for any of these.

There are a couple of places in scripture where “deadly” sins are listed. The first is in Proverbs 6 and the sins are as follows:
A proud look
A lying tongue
Hands that shed innocent blood
A heart that devises wicked imaginations
Feet that run to mischief
A false witness that speaks lies
And a person that sows discord among brothers

Since three of these have lying at their root I would say that telling the truth is pretty important to God.

Galatians 5 has a pretty impressive list as well:
Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. (KJV)

A careful reading of this passage certainly does include the four Jim mentioned, but it adds several others – and a few of them ill-defined in modern day English.

Finally, the Catholic Church has traditionally defined seven deadly sins – so called mortal sins – that would destroy the life of faith. In other words, cause a person to loose their salvation.

These are: lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, and pride.

I think it is pretty easy to see where Jim came up with the four he chose to highlight, and he never implied that it was a complete list. But we must be careful not to pick and choose. We might not struggle with drunkenness, but gluttony… I think a quick post-church survey all the buffet’s in Anderson can answer that one for us.

Let’s take a look at the three lists and see where the commonalities lie.

Pride – 2/3
Lying – 1/3
Killing the innocent – 1/3
Wicked imagination – 1/3 or 3/3 depending on how you define it
Running to mischief – 2/3
Sowing discord – 2/3
Gluttony – 2/3
Drunkenness – 1/3 (you could lump this with gluttony, but American Christians would really be uncomfortable with that)
Envy – 2/3
Wrath – 2/3
Lust/sexual sin – 2/3

Nothing directly shows up on all three lists – so it is probably best to avoid all of these sins or risk losing your relationship with God.

More recently, the Vatican has compiled a new list (not exhaustive) that is more apt for the modern age. Although these are more national than personal in nature, they are still an interesting representation of the larger issues the church must now face. The so-called seven modern social sins include:
Environmental pollution
Genetic manipulation
Obscene wealth
Infliction of poverty
Drug trafficking
Morally debatable experiments
Violation of the fundamental rights of human nature.

What do you think? Is it possible to lose your salvation? Is committing these sins the key or is it something deeper? Perhaps, the only unforgivable sin, the real deal breaker that will cause a person to lose their salvation (if they ever had it to begin with) is a continuing attitude of rebellion toward God’s offer of the free gift of salvation.

Remember - I do not claim to have the answers, I am just trying to get the discussion going.


SteveB said...

I'd like to know where you get the idea from that "most evangelical christians believe that...". (It may be true, I honestly don't know). Also, what is this semantic tweaking that must be carried out?
Contrary to you, I'm delighted that this question made it to the list. It is afterall a question of vital importance that should profoundly affect one's christian life, whichever side one comes down on. I also believe that God does not play games with his people and that salvation is most gloriously assured, and that this provides the greatest possible motivation for perseverance and holiness. Of course if this is shown not to be the case, I would change my view. I am open to argument. Scripture trumps unaided logic and reason and there are difficult passages for both sides. That said, I would strongly argue that the weight of logical argument comes down on the side of eternal security.

Burton Webb said...


The semantics I am referring to are the ones associated with the question of whether a person was saved at all...

If you are of the eternal security persuasion, where would you land with this one: A person who is saved in childhood decides later in life to reject that faith and live a life of abject sin. Are they saved? Once saved, always saved, right?

If you are like most of the folks from the Reformed tradition that I have spoken with, you will probably argue that they were never really saved in the first place. They were not really one of the elect. OK - that's fine, but at some point they (the person involved) thought they were saved, and now (from their perspective) they have lost that faith.

Semantics - You might say they were never saved; they might say they lost their salvation. It depends on the point of view.

Where we agree completely is that for a person following God, who has accepted the Gift of salvation, and is pursuing holiness - their salvation is "gloriously assured".

Yep, these are tough issues and fun to talk about. Remember, I don't claim to have all the answers.

SteveB said...

Hello Burton:
A person is either saved or they are not. And eventually it is God who decides who is, and who is not. Someone who is genuinely saved, is saved. Their salvation was not dependant on their actions before they were saved, and it is not dependant on their actions afterwards. How do we know that any of us are saved?
I would say that the backslider should have good cause for doubting their salvation, and if I were a pastor or holding some responsibility in the church, I would treat that person as an unbeliever and not permit them to play a role in the church. Such a person should in anycase have a distinct lack of assurance of their salvation -- and yet, and yet, there will be some who escape judgement as one escapes from a burning house...
The problems I believe are much greater if it is possible to be saved/unsaved/resaved etc. It is simply a nonsense is it not? What about missionaries who go to the field, and through circumstances et al, lose their faith? No-one should then go to the mission field in case that happens to them? Given that it is our eternal destinies that are on the line, we should all stay out of harms way. We should all lock ourselves away to preserve our faith.
Also, I think my charge against the Arminian view in this, is one of inconsistency. This thought that salvation is so conditional and dependant on me, is largely anonymous in preaching and evangelism and in worship. "Come to Christ and have eternal life" -- but there is a footnote that is not mentioned. We sing "blessed assurance Jesus is mine...oh what a foretaste" -- but it might not be a foretaste and if you believe your salvation can be lost, I would contest the grounds for such a person singing such a song. We should re-write our songs that speak of assurance: "Blessed assurance Jesus is currently mine / Oh what a potential foretaste of possible glory divine." And no-one can say where this line is below which we are lost, and above which we are OK. To me the gospel unravels if my salvation depends on my corrupt will.
I'll close this post with one observation: I was in a meeting today where the text was Romans 6 -- which nicely connects with our chat. "Shall we go on sinning etc?" I was struck by what Paul says and what he does not say. You would think, would you not, that this is the opportunity par excellence for him to mention the frailty of our salvation. Here is a person who is abusing the gospel by deliberate, wilful sin for weird motives. But it is amazing [at least to me] that the Apostle makes no mention at all about the eternal security of the person -- and this is exactly THE occasion when he would say it. It is tailor-made. Shall we go on sinning? By no means. By such actions you will lose your salvation. No. He says instead that we have died to sin [and there's a whole load more complicated stuff that needs to be said about what that means]. But we read that chapter just today. I'll leave it with you!


Burton Webb said...

Thanks Steve - good comment.

Personally, I fall in the middle on this one.

Like you, I think that God ultimately decides. He is the arbiter, not us. Knowing we are saved is a question of faith. I believe I am saved because I have faith in God's promises - salvation is not contingent on anything I do beyond accepting the gift of salvation.

That said, much of the Christian faith is asynchronous dichotomy. How can salvation be our choice (as stated several places in scripture) and dependent on God's providence (also stated several places)? A simple, either/or approach to this dichotomy will not suffice. Perhaps the answer is that both are correct and our understanding is insufficient.

I believe that the creation (nature) gives us some insight into the character of God. The creation is one revelation of God and Scripture is another. Therefore, let me give an example from the world around us which might shed some light on this issue.

At one level, the universe is a very predictable place. If you take a ball and throw it into the air I can measure several physical characteristics of the ball, the amount of force used, and the direction of all of the forces involved in the throw and predict with extremely high accuracy where that ball will land. It's landing is predestined by it's trajectory, etc.

At another level the universe is completely unpredictable. The particles that make up that ball are all moving, all of the time. Some of the sub-atomic particles are moving in ways that we cannot measure. Not because we lack the technology, but because they are fundamentally unmeasurable. Though I can tell you where the ball will land, what makes up the ball is a mass of unknowable variables. Sounds contradictory doesn't it? And yet, it works astoundingly well.

I wonder if this tells us something about the character of God. Can he both know the outcome and allow for seemingly random events? Is it possible that this is the best way to construct a balanced, functioning universe? I wonder?

These are just ideas - not conclusions. But I find them interesting fodder for discussion.