Friday, May 7, 2010

"Limited" Depravity and "The Worse State," Part II: Examining 2 Peter 2:20-21

“What does the Doctrine of Total Depravity (and the Calvinist Doctrine of Eternal Security) have to do with each other? Well, if total depravity is true, then the doctrine of eternal security cannot be; for if a person struggles with sin before salvation, and struggles with sin after salvation, then the Spirit’s work is RESISTIBLE, and therefore, cannot be IRRESISTIBLE. If the Spirit’s work can be resisted, then passages such as 2 Peter 2:20-21 confirm this view of grace.”

I ended my last post with the above words. The first part of this discussion was to show that total depravity shows how far humankind as a whole plunged into sin. If this be the case, then why is it that the Spirit is “irresistible,” and cannot be resisted? What I hope is becoming clear though, is that the Doctrine of Eternal Security rests on the notion of irresistible grace: if God irresistibly draws people to Himself, then they cannot fall, no matter what they do. This explains why believers can still sin and be eternally secure.

But it’s remarkable that the Scriptures themselves disagree with this Calvinist belief. As I quoted in the last post, Paul’s words to the Romans in Romans 8 show us that our choice lifestyle (whether to live by the flesh or Spirit, Rom. 8:13) can have spiritual consequences---whether good or bad.

Now Calvinists would say that such people were “never saved to begin with.” And a little over a year ago, I believed the same thing. However, the Bible says that those who believe and fall away are in worse condition than those who never believed:


The word for “have escaped” is “apopheugontes,” which consists of two words, “apo” (away from) and “pheugontes” (fleeing). Combined, the verb is translated “having fled from” or “having escaped from.” Notice that they escape from these corruptions but then “are again entangled in them and overcome.” This shows us that there are those who will come to the knowledge of the truth, but then go back to the world. The implied statement here in 2 Peter 2 is that there are people who come to Christ but then depart from Him and go back to the sin from which they came.

And then, there’s a curious statement about the spiritual condition of such a person:

“The latter end is worse for them than the beginning” (2 Peter 2:20).

What are “the latter end,” and “the beginning” states discussed here? The latter end refers to “turn[ing] from the holy commandment delivered to them” (v.21), while “the beginning” refers to “not hav[ing] known the way of righteousness” (v.21). So to turn from the gospel is WORSE than to never have believed it to begin with.
This statement in and of itself poses problems for Calvinism: According to Calvinism, once a believer becomes saved, he or she cannot fall away from the faith. However, if this is true, why does Peter write and affirm the exact opposite, that man CAN fall away from the faith?

But it shows something that I think Calvinists have never paid attention to: that is, the effects of total depravity. Humans are of such a depraved nature that the person who turns to Christ, escapes the world, but then returns to the world, is the person that is given over to their sin (“entangled and overcome”, 2 Peter 2:21). Peter states that these apostates have “fallen” beneath their original state: while they were unbelievers at first, they are now apostates, which is a WORSE STATE to be in than a state of unbelief.

But what about eternal security? If the Calvinistic Doctrine is right, then why is it that man can rebel and “fall beneath” his original status (which is to be “born in sin”)? If man can fall beneath his ORIGINAL UNBELIEF, what secures man from falling from his ORIGINAL (INITIAL) BELIEF? This is a good question indeed, and Calvinism must answer this question with an answer much different from “they were never saved to begin with.”


lookinhard said...

How very honest you seem to be in your explication of this point. It is clear from the passage you cite that it is indeed possible for a saved person to become again ensnared in the pollutions of the world and lost. This concept is taught here and in Hebrews 6, 4-6, where it is indisputable that those being discussed were indeed once saved and then apostatized. As with the 2 Peter passage, many in the diehard "once saved-always saved" crowd will attempt to show that those described in the Hebrews passage never were saved to begin with, a real stretch when considering the language of the passage ("once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost"). Others argue that these did not really apostatize in any complete or permnent way, but merely "sidestepped" a bit from the true path of righteousness. That can not be reconciled with the Greek used here ("parapipto") defines a damning departure from the faith. The word is used in the Septuagint in a couple of passages in Ezekiel(14:13 & 15:8) where the context shows a wholesale decline by Israel into idolatry--hardly a little "sidestepping."

Deidre Richardson said...

Dear Lookinhard,

Thanks so much for commenting on this post. It means so much to know that you enjoyed reading it.

I have a problem with the Doctrine of Eternal Security when it comes to such passages as these. In the last year, I've read close to some 60 or more books on both Calvinism and Arminianism (30 each), and I cannot find a satisfactory explanation (or even encounter) that successfully shows me how passages like this cannot refer to a believer. The language is clear enough and, if reading the Bible is simple to understand, then how can this reading of the text be wrong?

Theologians do this all the time. And when it comes to Arminius's concept of apostasy (some call it "losing faith"), Arminius talks about how a person falls when he or she turns from a state of faith to a state of unbelief (when someone decides to "divorce" God). The word for divorce is actually "apostasiou" in the Greek; this word, as you can see, is where our English word "apostasy" comes from.

Thanks again and may the Lord bless you for commenting. For more posts, read through my work in the section titled "The Doctrine of Perseverance/Eternal Security."