Saturday, November 22, 2008

Once Saved, Always Saved

As I prepare to enter the Catholic Church tomorrow, I am once again being questioned about the Biblical basis for Catholic teachings. My father, a wonderful Christian, and a beloved pastor to the groups he teaches, is more-or-less an Evangelical. Needless to say, we disagree on some issues. Since this has come up again, I'll probably be shifting my focus a bit from politics to apologetics.

My father says the Bible teaches that, "Once we are saved, we cannot lose our salvation." I think the Bible says the opposite (to an extent).

The Bible does clearly state in some places that Salvation is something that has already been accomplished:
Ephesians 2:8-9: "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God—not because of works, lest any man should boast."

Romans 5:1
: "Therefore, since we have been justified through faith..."
These verses, and I'm sure many more, point to the idea that salvation is an event in the past. So if we're already saved, we don't need to worry about losing salvation, especially when the scriptures also say:
Romans 8:38-39: "neither death nor life[...], neither the present nor the future[...], nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God..."
So we "have been justified" and nothing can "separate us... from God," so it seems obvious that once we are saved, we remain saved. But what if things are more complex? First, the list in Romans 8 is a list of external factors, so that seems to leave it open as to whether we can separate ourselves from God. In fact, the idea that you can indeed separate yourself from God is clearly present in the scriptures:
Galatians 5:4: You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.

Romans 11:22
: "Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off."
Now, what if there were other verses that suggested that we had to do something to remain in God's family?
1 Corinthians 9:27: "I pummel my body and subdue it, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified."

Hebrews 10:36: "You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised."

James 1:12:
"Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him."

Revelation 2:5
: "Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place."

Philippians 2:11-13: "Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling."
So, it seems there is strong scriptural support for the idea that we can lose our salvation. Let's also look at this verse from the story of the Prodigal Son:
Luke 15:24: "For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found."
In this story the father represents God. His son leaves his family, and is "dead" to his father. Then he returns to his father, and is once again "alive." Though the primary purpose of this parable is to show the love and forgiveness God offers, it also implies that one can be in God's family, but then leave it, and once again return.

We can see similar issues presented in our own lives. Most Christians believe that children who die before the age of reason are likely to be given the grace to go to heaven, since they have committed no personal sin. But then these same children, once they reach the age of reason, and commit sin by their own fault, have "alienated" themselves from God, unless they seek the forgiveness offered by Jesus Christ.

Further, we can find verses that point to the salvation of believers as being a future event:
Matthew 10:22: "And you will be hated of all men for my name’s sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved."

Romans 13:11
: "For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed."

Romans 2:13-16
: "For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified … on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Jesus Christ."
So there is an apparent contradiction. We "have been justified," but we are waiting for the time when we "will be justified." Of course, as Christians who believe the Bible is the inspired word of God, we recognize that these must just appear contradictory. It seems that we have been saved in a certain sense, yet we continue to work out our salvation, and we also await our coming salvation. This is all consistent with Catholic theology, but is not consistent with a view that salvation is only a past event for believers.

Let's also take a brief look at what some early Church Fathers said on the matter:
Justin Martyr, Against Heresies 5:26 [A.D. 156] "Eternal fire was prepared for him who voluntarily departed from God and for all who, without repentance, persevere in apostasy."

Didache 16 [A.D. 70] "Watch for your life’s sake. Let not your lamps be quenched, nor your loins unloosed; but be ready, for you know not the hour in which our Lord comes. But you shall assemble together often, seeking the things that are befitting to your souls: For the whole time of your faith will not profit you if you be not made complete in the last time."
Biblical evidence for "Once Saved, Always Saved" is not very strong, and the evidence against it seems quite a bit stronger. This is probably why even many Protestant groups disagree on the matter. And this certainly does not provide a strong case against the early Church Fathers, and the Catholic Church, which has always taught that salvation could be lost.

Some great articles on this topic:
Once Saved, Always Saved
It's Not Over 'til It's Over

And related topics:
"Assurance" isn't Assuring (by a Protestant seminarian)
The Church Fathers on Mortal Sin

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