Thursday, December 24, 2009

On Losing Salvation, Part I: Trashy Theology or Cherished Concept?

I am finished reading Norman Geisler’s work “Chosen But Free: A Balanced View of Divine Election.” After finishing the book, my curiosity drove me to read through some of the appendices. And one of the sections I wanted to read was titled “Appendix Four: Answering Objections to Free Will.” I noticed a statement Calvinists use in their attacks on self-determinism (free will allows man to make his own choices of his own choosing):

“Salvation is not dependent on man but on God, and so it cannot be lost by man. Salvation cannot be gained by man’s will (John 1:13; Rom. 9:16); therefore it cannot be lost by it” (Norman L. Geisler, “Chosen But Free: A Balanced View of Divine Election,” Second Edition. Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 2001, page 185).

I think it’s safe to say that most of the evangelical world believes that salvation comes by faith in Christ alone. While God is solely responsible for salvation’s existence, God does not select human beings for faith--- rather, He allows all who desire to be saved to come to Him by faith. Our faith, like Abraham’s, is what God counts as righteousness, not our works (Romans 4).

So “salvation is not dependent on man but God,” if by this statement Calvinists mean that God did the work of salvation. I would disagree with them when they say that God chooses people to be saved and damns others. In the words of Norman Geisler, “There are no conditions for God’s GIVING of salvation; it is wholly of grace. But THERE IS ONE (AND ONLY ONE) CONDITION FOR RECEIVING THIS GIFT---TRUE SAVING FAITH” (Chosen But Free, 185).

While God gives salvation of His own desire to do so, He bestows it upon those who come to Him by faith in Christ. The Lord gives salvation of Himself, and we receive salvation by faith in Him. There is nothing contradictory about the “give-and-take” relationship regarding salvation between God and man.

However, Calvinists do not stop there in their assessment of salvation. They go further:

“Salvation is not dependent on man but on God, and so it cannot be lost by man. Salvation cannot be gained by man’s will (John 1:13; Rom. 9:16); therefore it cannot be lost by it” (185).

Since salvation is dependent on God (who gives it), it cannot be lost by man (who receives it). There is a problem here, though, regarding giving and receiving the gift of salvation. If a person gives a gift and I receive it, once I receive the gift, it is MY responsibility to guard the gift. The giver of the gift no longer has the right to “guard” the gift for me. The giver no longer has responsibility for the gift. No matter what happens to the gift, I am now responsible for it (since the gift is now in my possession). The giver of the gift cannot give me the gift and keep the gift at the same time, guard the gift for me, etc. Once the gift has been given to me, I am to keep the gift and put it to good use.

This is no different with salvation and the Christian life. Peter tells us that we are “stewards of the manifold grace of God” (1 Peter 4:10)and that we are to work out our own salvation (Philippians 2:12). If this is true, then we are supposed to guard the grace that we have been given, whether it be spiritual gifts or the gift of salvation. God is not responsible for guarding that gift for us. We are responsible to Him and accountable in the end for what we have done with what God has given us.

Matthew 25 is probably the most outstanding chapter in all of Scripture that addresses this truth. Starting in verse 14, Jesus tells the parable of a man who goes into a country far away, and leaves his money in the hands of his servants. He gives to one five talents, to another two talents, and to another one talent. After a time, the master returns and calls each of the servants to come report on what they’ve done with the money. The first one gives a good report---he takes his five talents and makes five more. The second one also does well---he takes his two talents and makes two more. Both of these servants receive a “well done” (vv.21, 23).

What about the third servant? Well, he hid his master’s money in the ground. When he came before the master, he had an excuse:

“Lord, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you have not sown, and gathering where you have not scattered seed. And I was afraid, and went and hid your talent in the ground. Look, there you have what is yours” (vv.24, 25; NKJV).

The master was so outraged with the servant that he not only took the talent the servant had (v.28), but he also cast the lazy servant into “outer darkness” (v.30).

The parable itself is about the Lord, who is our Master. We are His servants, and the money represents the “talents” and abilities He has given us. For those of us who use our talents, we will be rewarded; but for those who abuse our talents and throw them away, we will suffer eternal punishment (v. 46).

Someone may very well say, “That’s all fine and good...but how does the parable of the talents connect with salvation?” Salvation itself is also a gift (Rom. 6:23), and we are charged not to neglect it (Hebrews 2:1-4). If we do, we will have to answer to God for how we wasted His grace. This is why the writer of Hebrews wrote,
“Therefore DO NOT CAST AWAY YOUR CONFIDENCE, which has great reward. For YOU HAVE NEED OF ENDURANCE, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise” (Heb. 10:35-36, NKJV).

The word for “cast away” (NKJV translation) in the Greek is “apoballo,” which means “to throw away, to take off, to lose.” The writer is saying that we should not throw away our assurance. And how can we do that? By not enduring: “for you HAVE NEED OF ENDURANCE.” Our assurance comes with our endurance. Without endurance, we have no assurance of our faith in the end.

Losing salvation is viewed by many to be the most ridiculous teaching ever passed on in the church. However, I think there is more biblical evidence for it than has been previously believed. The early church fathers certainly believed that one could only have PRESENT assurance of salvation (not final or future) and Calvin himself argued that God does not always bestow grace forever upon a person: “Thus we dispose of the objection, that if God truly displays his grace, it must endure forever” (Book 3, Chapter 2, Paragraph 11). In addition, he believed that God only gives “present mercy” to some (Book 3, Chap. 2, par. 11).

I will cover more on “losing salvation” in my next post.

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