This post is part of my series Life as a Calvinist in the SBC.
An old joke tells of a man who walked into a barber shop one day for a shave. He went in, got his shave, and went on about his business. A day went by, then two, then three, and the manâ€™s face remained clean shaven. He was astonished and finally returned to the barber shop and asked what had happened. The lady working asked him to describe the person who gave him the shave. â€œOh, that was Grace who shaved you,â€ she responded. â€œSheâ€™s new here, but weâ€™ve found that once youâ€™ve been shaved by Grace, you never need to be shaved again!â€
Such is the Calvinist doctrine of the perseverance of the saints: once saved, always saved. Once chosen by God, bought by Christ, and regenerated by the Spirit, we are eternally secure. We cannot give up our own salvation, and nothing can take it from us.
Some people use the word ambivalent when they mean apathetic. To be apathetic is to not really care about something. To be ambivalent is to care deeply but to be pulled between conflicting opinions.
In the original Remonstrances, the Arminians adopted an ambivalent position on eternal security. On the one hand, they said no believer, while remaining faithful, can be removed from salvation. Satan cannot knock us from Godâ€™s grasp. But on the other hand, they left open the possibility that a believer might abandon faithfulness and so take himself from Godâ€™s grasp.
Later, John Wesley came along and took a firm position that believers might indeed lose their salvation, that those who once received grace and regeneration could fall so far into sin and faithlesness as to lose the salvation they had received and thus be liable to eternal judgment.
Most Baptists lean the other way, and this is the only point that clearly distinguishes most non-Calvinist Baptists from classical Arminians: while Arminius was ambivalent, most Baptists take a firm position that believers cannot lose their salvation. The Baptist Faith and Message, the confession for the Southern Baptist Convention, states:
All true believers endure to the end. Those whom God has accepted in Christ, and sanctified by His Spirit, will never fall away from the state of grace, but shall persevere to the end. Believers may fall into sin through neglect and temptation, whereby they grieve the Spirit, impair their graces and comforts, and bring reproach on the cause of Christ and temporal judgments on themselves; yet they shall be kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation.
This is essentially the same as the Calvinist view of perseverance, a similarity which has led some people to refer to themselves as 1-point Calvinists.
There are many, many places to go to show eternal security. In my previous post I mentioned that Philippians 1:6 is one of my favorite verses. It is also one of the best to show security:
What God has started, he will complete. Neither Satan nor ourselves are powerful enough to undo the work of God. If he has begun to save a person, he will complete that salvation, leading us safely across the Jordan and into the promised land.
For the Calvinist, this promise is rooted on Godâ€™s initiative and Godâ€™s grace. We cannot lose what we did not begin. God began the work of salvation, God holds it, God will complete it.
In Romans 8:37-39 Paul writes to give assurance to suffering believers. His immediate context is to reassure believers that nothing coming against them is able to overcome the work of God. In the midst of this reassurance he gives a general word about our security in Christ:
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (ESV)
In Christ, we are more than conquerors. In Christ, we are victors, children of grace, heirs of salvation. In Christ, nothing can separate us from the love of God. Nothing. Nothing in the spiritual realm, nothing in the physical realm, nothing in all creation can remove us from Godâ€™s love. This includes we ourselves – there is no way that we can fall away from the grace of God. If we are in Christ, we cannot cause ourselves (nor would ever want to cause ourselves) to be removed from the love of God.
This message is repeated several times (the following references taken from John Piperâ€™s booklet on TULIP):
The prevailing pattern is that God holds his people secure. We do not do it, God does it. We did not cause it or earn it, we cannot lose it. Just as Jesus took hold of Peterâ€™s hand so that he would not plunge beneath the waves, he holds us so that we do not plunge to judgment. Were he to release his hold, we would certainly be lost. In 2 Corinthians 5:5 we are told that the presence of the Holy Spirit is our guarantee that God will do what he has promised. God is dwelling within us to ensure we arrive safely home.
The Evidence of Faith
Scripture repeatedly states that our assurance rests in Godâ€™s hands. We will persevere because God holds us and keeps us and secures us. This does not mean nothing is required of us, but it does mean God will provide whatever is necessary, even that which is necessary from and through us.
What is necessary is our perseverance in faithfulness and obedience. He is no Christian who claims Christ only to turn to and remain in a life of sin.
Paul offers a strict warning in Romans 11:22: Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but Godâ€™s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off. He says it is not enough to claim Christ, there must be a continuing in him, a life lived in light of his kindness, otherwise even those who profess Christ will be cut off.
Jesus warns us agains those who talk the talk but do not have the heart:
21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ (ESV)
Being a believer isnâ€™t about walking an aisle or praying a prayer, nor is it about being busy with things we might consider religious or noble. Being a believer is about having our lives transformed by Jesus Christ, with a new heart replacing our old hearts of stone. As believers, we are not free from sin, but our lives should show a gradual growth in sanctification as we become more like Christ. Even in this growth, sin is a lifelong struggle, but as the struggle continues, our lives give continued evidence that the trajectory is being set by God. Jesus says that only those who do the will of the Father will enter Heaven. In the ultimate sense, this was accomplished in Christ who fulfilled perfect righteousness on our behalf, covering us with his righteousness so that we might stand before the Father and have no lack. But there is a sense in which as believers we continue to have this obligation of obedience to the Fatherâ€™s will.
Some Christians will stumble when they read these words in 1 John 3:6: No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. It could be all the more puzzling to find this verse in the same letter that tells us If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us (1 John 1:8). The answer to the puzzle of 1 John 3:6 is found in 1 John 3:4-5: Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that he appeared to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. The picture goes on from there to tell us that John is not expecting sinless perfection, but he is expecting that believers will have lives which show that we put off sin and put on Christ. No one who makes a practice of sinning, or no one who goes on sinning is of the Father.
When we become Christians, something changes. Regeneration, or the new birth, takes what was dead and makes it alive. In the words of the Old Covenant prophecy:
25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. (ESV)
When God brings forgiveness and regeneration, we become new creatures with new hearts, filled with the Spirit of God. Thus Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 5:17, Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. A real, definite change accompanies conversion. If that change, evidenced by a life that shows a growing desire and pursuit of holiness and righteousness, is not present, the claim to conversion is suspect.
In Philippians 2:12-13, Paul tells us, Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. With fear and trembling we are to work out our salvation. There is work involved in salvation. It is fearful work. This is a matter of terrible importance, for eternity is at stake. But Paul assures believers that God is at work in us, turning our will and our work to the pleasure of his good will. The work we are to do is work that God does through us. This is one assurance we can have of salvation – that we see Godâ€™s hand at work in our lives.
They Were Not Of Us
What, then, of those who do not grow in holiness, who do not show Godâ€™s hand at work, who do not hold to the path? What about those who fall away into a life of sin while still claiming to be believers? Even more, what about those who once seemed so faithful but now abandon Christianity altogether? What happened to their security?
John had to deal with this question in his first epistle. There had been Christians who had turned from faithfulness to heresy. This would raise questions in the minds of others – if they could fall away, how do I know I am secure? Did they lose their salvation? Were they cast aside for some reason? But John offers this assurance:
Yes, John says, these people went out from us. But they were never really part of us. They were not fully integrated members of the body of Christ, healthy branches attached to the vine. They did not have regenerated hearts, transformed minds. We know all of this because they left us. Had they truly been part of the body, they never would have left. John is so convinced that God holds his children secure, that any who leave the body give evidence that they were never Godâ€™s children. So it is with all today who might claim Christ yet live like the world, or those who say they were once believers but now pursue other religions or no religion at all. They came from us, they once walked with us, but they were never part of us.
This is an important point to note. While I believe there are carnal Christians – regenerate believers who have nonetheless fallen into a period of turning – I believe such periods will always be brief and always end with repentance. If someone claims to be a Christian but lives a life of perpetual sin, there is no reason to believe his claim. He needs evangelism. He needs the gospel. He needs salvation.
Well this wraps up the five points of Calvinism. In the next few posts I want to chase a few rabbits and deliver a final thought or two to the Calvinists and non-Calvinists of the SBC.