To begin our series examining each of the five points of Calvinism, represented in the acronym T.U.L.I.P., we’re going to begin with the last point—Perseverance of the Saints.

This point of the Calvinist doctrine is often employed to answer the question, Can a Christian lose their salvation? The Calvinist answer is a resounding no! If a person is truly saved, then they cannot lose their salvation in Christ. Sure they may stumble in their faith. Heck, they may even backslide, which is a weird christian-y term that means relapsing into sinful ways for a time. But, they will never actually lose their salvation.

Passages that are often brought to bear in support of the doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints are:

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)

I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. 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. (John 10:28-29)

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1:3-5)

What about Apostates?

These are wonderful passages, and they speak highly of God’s love for His children. But they still don’t quite settle the matter. After all, those of us who’ve spent a good deal of time in the church can think of people who were saved—had a “coming to Jesus” moment complete with the Sinner’s Prayer and baptism—only to then lose their faith sometime later. Not stumble, but actually lose their faith. I mean, there’s backsliding, and then there’s straight up rejecting one’s faith. What are we to make of the above passages in light of the fact that people sometimes do have the experience of finding salvation in Christ and then losing it?

The typical Calvinist response (and the one that admittedly coheres best with the rest of Calvinism) is that the person must not have ever really been saved. They went through all the motions. They may have even thought they were saved. But they must not have been part of God’s elect, and so, despite their conversion experience, they didn’t actually lose their faith because they never had it in the first place.

The first epistle of John contains a passage that seems to support this idea:

They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us. (1 John 2:19)

There you have it, some might say. Once a person is saved, they cannot lose their salvation, and anyone who appears to have lost their salvation was never actually saved in the first place. This certainly seems to answer the question in some regards, but only by then forcing us to ask other questions.

For example, people often spout the Calvinist trope, “once saved, always saved,” as a way of offering comfort to those who are struggling with faith and wondering if they might have lost their salvation (generally because of some backsliding-ly-ness). But if a person can have the full blown experience of being saved, while still never being saved, then how do I know that I actually am one of the elect? How do I know that I won’t have a falling out with God some day in the future? Unless we want to say that everyone who ever lost their faith/salvation was faking it all along (which many apostates will tell you is not the case), then there is no way of knowing that any of us is actually saved. So any confidence or sense of security that Christians have in their salvation is fanciful, since all of those not-really-saved people had that same confidence at one time.

And if my experience of being saved is so utterly disconnected from my actual salvation that I can have one without the other, then what the hell are we even talking about when we talk about salvation?

Abandoned, not lost

Perhaps there is another way to understand the security of salvation. More specifically, perhaps there is a difference between losing our salvation (having it snatched from us) and giving it up willfully. If we re-examine the passages mentioned in the first section above, we’ll notice that the focus is on the powerlessness of outside forces—death, life, angels, principalities, etc.—to take us away from God’s love and mercy, and eternal life. However, these passages lack any mention of our own volition to remain within God’s mercy. In fact, unless we want to project our own ideas and beliefs onto the text (which is a big no-no), we should not take these passages to mean that our security in God’s saving love is impervious to our own freewill decisions to choose otherwise.

As for the passage from John’s epistle, again I think sound interpretive principles will go a long way toward helping us to understand what’s going on. For those of you who don’t know, “epistle” in an old-timey word that simply means a letter, as in a message that someone writes to someone else. This is one of the places where Christian ignorance, or even myopia, can run amok.

There is something particularly weird (to say nothing of invasive) when we read someone else’s mail and start applying it to ourselves directly.

You see, John is speaking to a specific audience in a specific location at a specific time that is experiencing a specific situation. In other words, this letter was not written to 21st century Christians… not at all, not even a little bit. To make the point even stronger, John did not write this letter to you.

So, if (and that’s a big if) it is true that everyone who leaves the faith was never truly in it in the first place, then we might take John’s comments as an example of that truth. But, as I’ve said, I don’t think that actually is true. Either way, we should not take the apostle’s assessment of that particular situation as a universal principle that can or should be applied to (or projected onto) all people who ever leave their faith.

Ultimately, the doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints sort of takes human free will out of the equation, which actually makes sense because it is built on the preceding point in Calvinist theology—the doctrine of Irresistable Grace… which we’ll talk about next time.

| Scripture | 6 comments so far

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Rocky Munoz
Jesus-follower, husband, daddy, amateur theologian, former youth pastor, nerd, and coffee snob. Feel free to email me at almostheresy@gmail.com and follow me on Twitter (@rockstarmunoz)

6 Comments

  1. Theophilus, March 22, 2017 at 8:17 pm:

    Rocky,

    Some of what you’ve said is interesting, so maybe you can bear this out a little bit more in the comments.

    You place a lot of emphasis on the idea that our experience from salvation seems too far removed from our actual salvation on Calvinism. That’s right. Any Calvinist would tell you that you can have an emotional experience without actually being regenerated by God (which, to them, precedes faith). So what’s the problem? For you it might be that God wouldn’t do things that way. Our experiences often give us insight into reality, so why wouldn’t God allow our religious experiences to confirm our salvation? The issue runs deep.

    What runs even deeper, though, is your second response. It’s deeper because it cuts to the heart of the Calvinist/Arminian distinction: libertarian free will vs. compatibilist free will. It seems to me that your second response here is more adequately suited for Unconditional Election than Perseverance of the Saints, though.

    • Rocky Munoz, March 23, 2017 at 2:14 pm:

      Solid thoughts here, Theophilus! It is true that we are trapped in our subjectivity. My experiences, whether emotional or rational, are all I really have. Unlike God, who is omnipresent and imminent, I can never experience outside stimuli in a truly objective way. However, salvation seems to be something internal and even immediate to ourselves, which is why I would think that one could not have all the experiences of being saved, and yet not actually be saved.

      As for free will, I am definitely on the libertarian side. I’ve heard a few different people try to explain compatibilism to me, but every explanation eventually turns into just a euphemism for determinism—i.e., we have the experience of making choices, but we really couldn’t have made them otherwise.

      The Unconditional Election post is gonna be pretty lengthy though, so I’m trying to spread out the fun as much as I can. The idea of “once saved, always saved” is actually kind of nice sounding and there’s not as much to directly disagree with; but Unconditional Election… not so much. :)

  2. Cody, April 12, 2017 at 3:02 pm:

    Certainly I can see the appeal of perseverance of the saints but how I feel is no reason to belief something is true. I have heard some defend eternal security and eventually their arguments boiled down to “I want it to be true”. Not good enough for me, I want to know what the Bible says is true. I would say that the Bible is something beyond my experiences that I really have, though its true that no one can come to it with complete objectivity.

    As I read your post I was actually trying to think about it through the lenses of a Calvinist (as best as I can). What would they think or question. A few things that came to mind:

    In your response to Theophilus you said, “I would think that one could not have all the experiences of being saved, and yet not actually be saved.” My questions is have you had “all the experiences of being saved”? Doesn’t a Calvinist often argue, in verses that sound like its instructing us to persist in faith in order to be saved, that its really a description of someone who is saved. Meaning that, staying in the faith is not a task that a believer needs to make sure to accomplish but rather its a mark of a believer…or an “experience” of being saved. Thus, if you said you were a believer but now you say you aren’t you have not had all the experiences that the Bible describes.

    One other question, in the Romans and John passages it says that “no created things” and “no one” can take away your salvation. You objected that nothing else could take it away but one could willing decide to walk away from it. But wouldn’t even the person potentially losing their own salvation be consider in the phrase “no created thing” or “no one”. Is there anything in the context or original language that indicates that its no created thing (other than yourself) or no one (outside of you)?

    Thanks Rocky for your thoughts!

    • Rocky Munoz, April 12, 2017 at 11:46 pm:

      Excellent questions, Cody! I’ll do my best to be succinct in trying to answer them.

      To be sure, there are passages that are meant as descriptions of what a “saved” person does. For instance, although they are often taught as instructions, I think that the beatitudes are intended to be more descriptive of the life of a Christ-follower. However, other passages, particularly those that exhort believers to hold firm to their faith, are overtly prescriptive. Peter’s command to “be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness” (1 Pet 3:17) is clearly an exhortation to the early Christians and even uses the language of being taken away by outside influence (which alone is problematic for the Calvinist doctrine). Linguistically, the passage makes little sense if Peter is merely writing to his audience to describe for them something they themselves were already experiencing.

      Your question about whether there might be something in the original language of Romans 8:38-39 or John 10:28-29 is spot on. In the Romans passage, all of the items that are offered up as possible agents of apostasy—death, life, angels, principalities, things present, things to come, powers, height, depth, or any other created thing—are written as objects of the sentence (in the nominative case), whereas “us” is the subject (in the accusative case). So structurally the passage separates the two and lends itself toward not including us as part of that list of things. I suppose you could argue that each of us are still part of the rest of created things. But that would be like if someone said, “I don’t get it. Why does everyone hate me?” and you responded with, “Well, technically not everyone hates you. You don’t hate you.” I mean, yes that is technically correct, but its literal accuracy actually causes you to miss the point of what the person is trying to communicate. As for the John passage, in the original Greek it doesn’t actually say “no one.” Rather, a literal (albeit cumbersome) word-for-word translation would be, “and not not they might be destroyed into the age, and not will seize some them out of the hand of me.” It would be weird to say that John meant for his readers to include even believers in the idea of “no one” when that phrase isn’t actually in the text.

      Anyhow, I hope that helps. Let me know if you have other questions, or if perhaps I didn’t make any sense just now. :)

  3. Cody, April 14, 2017 at 4:47 pm:

    Thanks for the explanation here. Two questions from your reply…first, if what you say is true about the “no one” then why does every translation write it that way? (perhaps that’s less to the point of the discussion here) Also, what do you make of (your translation) “not they might be destroyed”? If Jesus says his sheep will not be destroyed is that not a definitive statement?

    Also, to stay in John, what would you say about John 6:37-39? Certainly you might say of verse 37 when Jesus says, “whoever comes to me I will never cast out” that Jesus would never do that but it doesn’t say you can’t cast yourself out. But 39 is a little more tricky because Jesus says “that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me” That also seems like a definitive statement, right?

    Thanks!

    PS: I was also surprised that you didn’t deal with the Hebrews passages that often get brought up.

    • Rocky Munoz, April 26, 2017 at 6:34 pm:

      Sorry it took me so long to reply here, Cody. I wanted to make sure I got the series finished on time first.

      As for why most (perhaps all) English translations include “no one” in John 10:28, it is probably because doing so makes for a smoother translation in English. The verb for “will seize” (harpazo) is in the third person singular. So while John does not actually include “no one” in the passage as a concept of its own, when you translate from the Greek to the English it’s a perfectly viable translation, though we should be careful not to extrapolate more out of the tense of the word than is warranted.

      As for Jesus’ sheep not being destroyed, it doesn’t say that they will not be destroyed, but that they are given eternal life so that they might not be destroyed. The verb in the Greek is subjunctive (something wished for), not definitive.

      Regarding John 6:39, the verse reads, “This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing.” Of course, I would agree it is God’s will that none who come to believe in Christ (cf. v 40) should be lost. But, then again, just because God wants something doesn’t mean He gets it… in my opinion.

      You’ve piqued my interest. Which Hebrews passage are you referring to?


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