It has been my experience with fellow believers when seriously discussing important doctrinal, but perhaps non-essentials that sooner or later someone says something like “It’s a non-essential, it’s not a big deal and we don’t want to be divisive.” So unity becomes more important than truth. I personally don’t believe truth should be subordinate to wrong headed thinking.
Now I am not saying we should be divisive, especially on non- essentials, but I am not talking about picking the color of the new carpet. The Bible tells us to admonish one another (Acts 20:30-32; Romans 15:14); we need to do that, especially in this day and age of rampant exegetical error of the Holy Scriptures. It’s kind of like shooting a rifle. If your sights are off 1/16”, then 100 yards down range you miss your target by 10 feet.
While most Evangelicals I know accept the doctrine that they can have assurance of their salvation. I have found it true in my life that there are the low times, when I have stumbled and I am weak or depressed due to sin in my life or circumstances I can’t control, that I do question my salvation. I think there is scriptural basis for this. Recall the story of Elijah in 1 Kings. He makes a fool out of the prophets of Baal and calls down fire from God to consume the alter, the water-soaked sacrifice and the rocks and then in the next instant he is trembling in his boots and hiding from Jezebel (1 Kings 18:17-19:3). We all have our down times and it is at these times of weakness or despair the questions come. Am I really saved? How can I sin like that if I am. Can I lose my salvation? Make no mistake; these questions come from Satan. (1 Peter 5:8)
I think it is critical that we be Biblically anchored in what we believe doctrinally, even in certain “non-essentials”, so when Satan challenges us and waves of doubt break over us; our faith, our witness and ministry are not capsized.
In Sperry’s book Major Bible Themes, he says, “While believers in Christ accept the doctrine that they can have assurance at any given moment in their experience, the question is often raise, ‘Can a person once saved, become lost again?’ Since the fear of losing salvation could seriously affect a believer’s peace of mind, and because his future is so vital, this question is a most important aspect of the doctrine of salvation.”[i] As well as, I might add, his sense of spiritual communion with God.
Why am I doing this study? I was involved in a Bible study at my church, a friend and a brother in Christ stated that he believed that a Christian could lose their salvation. He didn’t say it that directly, but as soon as his statement hit me, I did a mental double take. He went on speaking, but I interrupted him “Wait a minute”, I said, “Are you saying you believe we can lose our salvation?” “Yes” he stated I think we can lose our salvation.” I challenged this statement by quoting Jesus’ statement from John 10 where Jesus says “no one will snatch them out of My hand.” My friend’s response was, “Yes no one can snatch us out of His hand, but we can leap out of His hand.”
The Underlying Problem
I am doing this study as an argument to show that it is in fact impossible to lose your salvation. The question then becomes, can we, in fact “choose to leap out of God’s hand, as my friend stated? This is the question that this study will attempt to deal with. But it does not matter what Don Edwards says; what matters is what the Bible say?
It is my firm belief that the non-essentials so many Christians do not want to take a stand on in the name of unity, often have a big bearing on the richness, fullness and effectiveness of our lives, ministry and witness as Christians.
I was raised Presbyterian; my wife Betty, a Lutheran. Both congregations historically practice infant baptism. I do not believe it was a biblical practice 50 years ago, nor is it today. In fact, I believe it is a more dangerous practice today. Why? Fifty years ago the Judeo-Christian foundation, while crumbling, was still in tact. Postmodernism was not as prevalent in the U.S. or the church to the extent that it is today. Today people have a less of a grounding and understanding in scripture than in past decades.
Baptism, is a non-essential for salvation (Luke 23: 42-44), and saves no one by itself. Yet it is taught, overtly in some churches; covertly in many, that baptism conveys salvation all by itself or is needed in addition to Christ’s atoning death. Infant baptism, in itself, is not a big deal. It is arguably not biblically based and is not ever described in the Bible, let alone prescribed.
The larger issue I see here with infant baptism is that it is too often done in a way that tacitly, if not explicitly sends a subtle or not so subtle message, that the baby being baptized is saved and is now a Christian. This is totally opposed to what God’s Word teaches!
Too many people today are cultural christians (small “c”) at best and go to church only rarely. One time might be the baptism of their child or that of a relative or friend, and of course weddings and maybe Christmas and/or Easter. What they witness at church usually only enforces their erroneous views of Christianity and their own relationship, or lack of relationship to Jesus Christ. Following are some concerns that stem from this and from my own experience and observations.
- The baptized child is brought up believing that because this he or she was baptized as a baby, he is automatically a Christian, even though there was no act of the will on his part and no conscious effort to choose or reject Jesus Christ. (John 3: 5-7)
- The parents of the baby often believe he or she is now a “Christian” and is now protected with this “fire insurance policy” is destined to go to heaven no matter how he or she lives their lives.
- Then there is Confirmation Classes, but in many cases confirmation is just a rubber stamp and re-affirmation of the existing lie that the child is saved.
- Lastly at the root of it all is the lack of the Church to disciple its flock. When Jesus directed the Church to make disciples in Matthew 28: 19 it was not a suggestion—it was; it is a command!
Proof is that if you go into a majority of churches today on any given Sunday morning no one even carries their Bibles. When they do “study” the Bible many, so-called evangelicals, come to the Bible with their presuppositions firmly entrenched and wrench from the scripture what they wanted it to say.
A.W. Tozer posited this in his The Knowledge of the Holy written over 60 years ago:
The church has surrendered her once lofty concept of God and has substituted for it one so low, so ignoble, as to be utterly unworthy of thinking, worshipping men. The low view of God entertained almost universally among Christians is the cause of a hundred lesser evils everywhere among us [emphasis mine]…no people has ever risen above its religion, and man’s spiritual history will positively demonstrate that no religion has ever been greater than its idea of God. Worship is pure or base as the worshiper entertains high or low thoughts of God.”[i]
I believe Tozer is profoundly right and his admonishment is one we should not take lightly.
If you doubt what I say look what the Barna Research Group said in a poll from September, 2000,
“The United States has so many unchurched people that the nation has become one of the primary mission targets of Christians who live in other countries around the world.” [Emphasis mine]
First I think we must ask…how does man gain salvation as taught by the Bible. How exactly does that happen; what does the Bible say?
The Bible says,
“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works…” Eph 2: 8-9a.
The Bible says,
“9 that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; 10 for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. 13 for “whoever will call on the name of the lord will be saved.”
Romans 10:9-10, 13
The Bible says,
If God’s gift of eternal life and man’s true road to heaven is by and through the love of Christ, by confessing our sins verbally and believing in our hearts truly that Jesus Christ was crucified, died and was buried and bodily rose from the grave…then this gift comes by grace through faith and not by works.
Only God’s unmerited favor through Jesus’ death on the cross brings true salvation and eternal life with God. Therefore, can we lose this gift by works or by our actions? To do so would make a mockery of Jesus atonement. So we see in the verse above God’s Word teaches that we cannot lose our salvation by works anymore than we can gain our salvation by works. Salvation is by grace; through faith in Christ alone–period.
Below is John 10:27-30, the verse I quoted in part to my friend, only in full context.
27 “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me;
28 and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand.
29 “My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.
To interpret these verses in context when Jesus says my sheep hear my voice, he is talking about those that believe in Him; His followers. Then Jesus promises three things to his followers- 1. I give them eternal life; 2. They will never perish; 3. No one will snatch them out of my hand. No one will snatch them out of my hand!
Why is it no one can snatch them or to personalize it; why is it no one can snatch us out of Jesus’ hand. In verses 29 and 30 we see that, “My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.”30 I and the Father are one.” [emphasis mine]
Now take note of the way John phrased these verses. He uses the phrase “snatch them out of my hand” twice. Why does he do that? Why not just use that in reference to Jesus; or to just God the Father? He repeats the same phrase twice, once in reference to Jesus and once in reference to the Father. Why didn’t he just say no one is able to snatch them out of God’s hand? John even says here in verse 30 that Jesus and God are the same, so why repeat it?
I believe it is for emphasis. We know that God is not a temporal being; therefore he doesn’t have an actual hand. Jesus tells us you cannot be snatched out of my hand and God the Father say’s you cannot be snatched out of my hand. So the hand of Jesus and the hand of God the Father guard us. Of course again, this is figurative language, but the Father and Jesus make up two-thirds of the Trinity and they are two different persons in the Trinity. What a bargain; two “hands” for the price of one salvation!
Verse 30 tells us in a direct way that Jesus is God. I and the Father are one. Did you get that? I and the Father are one! I AND THE FATHER ARE ONE!! And God is GREATER than anything, anybody, and any force. Therefore, if we think we can leap out of God’s hand that means only one of two things:
- We are more powerful than an Omnipotent, Infinite God, which means we, in fact, must be a God. Hello, is this Shirley McLaine? How scary is that?
- If we are more powerful than God then obviously God cannot really be God. God must be so weak, so feeble he can’t really save anyone anyway! What part of the Bible can we believe; the Bible is a book of myths and fairy tales. That also makes God a liar! Our faith is now worthless. Hello, Jesus Seminar? Hello, Rabbi Kushner!
If, as my friend suggests, we can leap, run, or walk out of God’s hand, an action we choose to do and by an act of our will and our works; then that means the gift we received by faith through grace we have now rejected by works. Jesus agonizing death on the cross was pointless and the power of The Resurrection, if there was a resurrection, is nonexistent! The saving work that God ordained in Scripture was not consummated.
If you take the premise we can leap out of God’s hands to its logical conclusion then, we are in the wretched state expressed by Paul,
But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; 14 and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we testified against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised.… if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied. (I Cor. 15 17,19)
Returning to John 10:28 Jesus plainly says, “I give eternal [forever] life to them and they will never [there is no way and nothing, NO-thing that can cause them to] perish”. In verse 29 He declares, “My Father…is greater than all, GREATER THAN ALL. God is the only infinitely existent, necessary, non-created being and no one [no person, no woman, no man, not ourselves] is able to snatch them out of my Father’s hand.”
It is sheer and utter hubris to believe we are stronger or greater than God. It is nothing less than the idolatry of the garden “Sin has many manifestations, but its essence is one. A moral being, created to worship before the throne of God, sits on the throne of his own selfhood and from that elevated position declares, ‘I AM.’ That is sin in its concentrated essence; yet because it is natural it appears to be good.”
God is outside of time. Therefore, His “hand” is also outside of time. We live inside of the time, space continuum, where there is a past, present and future; yesterday’s sins, today’s sins and tomorrow’s sins.
God , on the other hand, is in the eternal present outside of time, yet He dwells in and sustains creation (not in an animistic sense). Our minds are temporal and think sequentially. It is difficult for us to comprehend this.
[i] Tozer, 46.
Concluded in Part II
[i] All Scripture quoted is from the NASB, unless other wise noted.
[i] Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy, vii.
[i] Chafer-Walvoord, Major Bible Themes, 220.