To my readers, let me first say that I'm thankful the Lord has let our paths cross once more. I've been busy in the work of the Lord, as I'm sure you have, and am back to indulge the Word of the Lord with you.
I noticed this morning that I had a copy of R.C. Sproul's booklet titled "Can I Lose My Salvation?," a booklet that tackles some interesting passages that I've studied at length regarding the doctrines of salvation and apostasy (yes, if you read 1 Timothy 4, the Doctrine of Apostasy, Falling Away, or The Great Divorce (to use a familiar title from C.S. Lewis's book that bears the same name).
I've only been able to read the beginning so far, but what I've read already troubles me because it proceeds down a path that so many believers tread down. And I think the interpretation made is short-sighted and does not do justice to the whole counsel of God.
R.C. Sproul mentions passages such as Hebrews 6, 1 Corinthians 10:14, 1 Timothy 1:18-20, and 1 Corinthians 9:27, but eventually goes on to argue that these warnings, as serious as they may be, are not suggesting that genuine believers can fall; rather, these are designed to wake up false believers who have professed Christ but do not possess Him:
"While some will return after a serious fall, some will not, because they never actually had faith. They made a false profession of faith; they did not possess what they professed" (R.C. Sproul, Can I Lose My Salvation? (Crucial Questions) Book No. 22. Reformation Trust Publishing, August 2015, page 15).
In the end, though, Sproul appeals to 1 John 2:19 and Matthew 7:21-23 to state his belief that the issue is false professions of faith and not genuine ones that go awry due to what Hebrews says is an issue of hardening one's heart against the deceitfulness of sin (see Hebrews 3:13).
Let's examine Matthew 7. Jesus has just taught about false prophets and that their fruit, whether or not their sayings come true, will tell you the true nature of the prophet (whether he or she is genuine and has the Spirit of God or is a devil and lacks the Spirit of God). "So then, you will know them by their fruits," Jesus says in Matthew 7:20, NASB).
In verse 21, Jesus begins with the statement that "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter" (v. 21). In verse 22, those who are rejected come and tell the Lord of the things they've done: prophesied, cast out demons, and performed miracles, all actions that appear to make these persons saved. And yet, Jesus tells them "I never knew you" in verse 23, which says that they were never saved to begin with.
Yes, Sproul and I agree here: these individuals, though doing some amazing miracles in the name of Jesus, were never saved. Try to wrap your head around the fact that these persons performed miracles by the Spirit of God but were never saved. Some things in Scripture are mysteries, but I fear that a system called Calvinism and its adherents claim the word "mystery" for many teachings that are biblically faithful but challenge their own interpretations of Scripture.
But Sproul claims that genuine believers cannot fall away from Christ because of Matthew 7. The only problem with this is that one must consult the words of Jesus as a whole, in every place possible, to arrive at a conclusion either way. True, he can't tackle every verse in his book, but he's too quick to dismiss truths in passages like Hebrews 6 by saying, in essence, that Matthew 7:21-23 cancels out the concept of genuine believers falling away and apostatizing from the faith.
In actuality, though, Sproul would be wrong, terribly, terribly wrong. Matthew 7:21-23 does exist, and its truth is genuine: there are some who will "fake salvation" and are never of the Lord's people though they may assemble in church and go through the rituals of saved persons (they may even deceive genuine believers). However, where I disagree with Sproul is that Matthew 7 cannot be used to refer to all believers who fall away because, if it does, then it contradicts other passages of Scripture such as the Parable of the Ten Virgins in Matthew 25:1-13.
In Matthew 25, there are five wise and five foolish virgins. Five virgins have oil in flasks to accompany their lamps but five are foolish and bring their lamps (with oil in them) but do not bring along an additional flask to refill their lamps. Both the wise and foolish virgins sleep, waiting for the Bridegroom. At midnight, the cry goes out to go meet the bridegroom for the marriage feast, but only five are ready.
The five foolish virgins, those whose oil has depleted from their lamps, ask the wise virgins for some of their oil. This is where we see the wisdom of the Wise Virgins: they tell the Foolish to "go instead to the dealers and buy some for yourselves" (Matt. 25:9). While the Foolish are buying oil, the Wise have gone to the chamber to meet the bridegroom and the door is shut. The Foolish come in late, but the Bridegroom refuses to open up to them.
Yes, this shorthanded version of the parable is not meant to dishonor it but to conserve space and time for the point of emphasis. What is the emphasis? That this Parable tells us, to first be brief and then descriptive, that there are those who have the expectation of heaven but will not reach final salvation because they live their lives in Christ unprepared. Simply put, one can be a believer and end up on the outside of glory looking in.
Let's examine what I mean. First, let's remember that these are virgins and that the parable pertains to "the kingdom of heaven" (25:1). Virgins are pure, spotless, and undefiled, so it can't be said that these persons are unbelievers. They are wearing white, a symbol of purity, that they've been "washed" and cleansed from their former sins, and are part of the Lord's people (John 13:8; 1 Corinthians 6:11; Revelation 7:14).
Next, the five foolish virgins, who were cleansed, saved, and had an expectation of heaven (that comes to all who confess and believe) missed the marriage feast because they were unprepared. The oil was running out of their lamps and they did not have additional oil with which to refill their lamps (v.8). When these five foolish virgins, who had their lamps and had expected to meet Christ, came to the door after it had been shut, they cried for the Lord to open to them but He did not. He says "I do not know you" (Matt. 25:12), not "I never knew you," as the Lord had said to some in Matthew 7:23. The Lord's words that "I do not know you" is present tense; unlike the word "never," it does not assume that the Lord never knew the foolish virgins.
I hope you're starting to see the problem with Sproul's interpretation: it overlooks the fact that some individuals were never saved and are never joined to Christ, but others can be joined to Christ and fall away from faith because of sin. Sproul can explain Jesus' words in Matthew 7, but how can one explain away the virgins, the spotless bride of Christ, that miss heaven in Matthew 25?
John 15: Are there branches that were never joined to the Vine?
Perhaps Sproul would say that these individuals were never joined to Christ in the first place because, if they were, they would have been prepared. Well, this is problematic because, if we take Sproul at his word, Jesus made claims that were merely hypothetical and not true. First, Matthew 25 is problematic for Matthew 7's "I never knew you" being applied to all who Jesus will turn away in the end. Sure, it applies to some, but R.C. Sproul's desire to use Matthew 7's response as a blanket claim for all unbelievers in the end is a hermeneutical stretch.
Let's examine John 15. We can understand that Jesus stresses the importance of bearing fruit in the Christian life: "I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing" (v.5); "My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples" (v.8). These two verses tell us that the Christian life is about bearing fruit, that we glorify the Father when we bear fruit.
And yet, John 15 poses problems for Sproul's claim that those who do not bear fruit were never saved. Here's what Jesus says that disagrees with Sproul's claim:
"Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away" (John 15:2a).
"If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned" (John 15:6).
These verses are problematic for Sproul's claim that there are only true believers and fake believers; rather, there are not two but three types of individuals: 1) those who believe and bear fruit, 2) those who believe but do not bear fruit, and 3) those who never believed and thus, never bore any fruit. Remember, those who are in Jesus but do not bear fruit are branches severed from the vine that dry up and are tossed in the fire. What the Lord is saying here is that these temporary believers will experience eternal punishment and torment in Hell. However, their end does not negate their faith at the first or prove that their confession was inauthentic.
The question before us is as follows: did Jesus state a mere hypothetical when He spoke of "every branch in Me that does not bear fruit"? If Sproul is right, then no such branches exist in Christ that don't bear fruit. And yet, Scripture says that these branches "He takes away" (John 15:2), meaning that Christ severs them from the Vine (Himself, as He states in verse 1). These branches, the ones that don't bear fruit, are "thrown away...and dry up" (v.6).
But, Sproul has said that there are no such branches in Christ. It appears as though, to protect his belief in the Doctrine of Eternal Security, he has had to part ways with alternative verses in the New Testament and only "prooftext" with two passages that lean heavily in his favor. Proper hermeneutics, however, requires us to make the most of not only the passages that agree with us, but those that don't - and Sproul's approach of the subject in these few pages I've read doesn't make much of anything out of the severe verses. Sproul simply says that "these verses pertain to those who were never saved."
If Jesus's words are to be believed, then there are those "in Me," in Jesus, that will not bear fruit. There are branches in Jesus that are connected to Him by faith that will bear fruit, but there are branches that will not bear fruit. Those who do not bear fruit in the Christian life are severed from the Vine (which seems to imply that these branches are disowned by the Vine, Jesus, and the farmer, the Father) and no longer can bear fruit. If the branch, the believer, were never saved to begin with, there would be no expectation of the branch bearing fruit. To believe the position we've discussed here, that all who fall away from the faith have false professions, means that we must believe the exact opposite of Jesus' teaching.
As I've iterated before, sure, there are those who are never saved, who masquerade as genuine Christians. But not everyone is masquerading as nothing more than a fake believer in disguise. Why would Jesus mandate branches to bear fruit if they're not in Him and lack the Holy Spirit, who sanctifies believers so that they produce the fruit of the Spirit?
Take care, and be blessed, until next time.