Recently at church we examined Romans 9. The second service Question and Answer time brought forward the question of this post. If you are interested in the sermon which has since brought forth this article, check it out here on Youtube. https://youtu.be/5gC20q8uSS0?t=1963
Not only is the general topic of Predestination and God’s justice on the line in Romans 9-11, but also the question of “Do all Christians persevere to the end? A popular way of bringing out this question is “can a Christian ‘lose’ their salvation?”
I will give my thoughts on the subject, but I thought I would add a resource for those who want to look at the idea more. This article does a pretty good job of laying out the territory in Protestantism on this subject. However, it does lean to the Calvinist side in its overall approach, defense, and resources that it cites.
Theopedia - Perseverance of the saints | Theopedia
What the article lacks 1) a discussion on the early Christians after the Apostles, some of which knew the Apostles and 2) the actual context of the numerous passages that are cited to support a lean in the Calvinist direction. If both of these lacking elements were looked into I think they will be shown to affirm Paul’s own view, which comes in Romans 11:11-24 about the natural branches being cut off by their own unbelief.
All that being said, we find in the Scriptures enough data to somewhat validate either position on this subject. This happens on numerous doctrines. We see this happen in other disciplines, where there is enough data to form two or more schools of thought.
The Bible does say
1. “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me; and I give eternal life to them, and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand” John 10:27-28. There are many verses we could add to this side of the equation.
The Bible also says
2. “For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either” Romans 11:21. There are many verses we could add to this position as well.
Because there are enough verses (or data) for both the Arminian and Calvinistic positions to feel somewhat justified, I (at least at the Pastoral level) put this doctrine in the second of the following categories.
1. On Essentials Unity: These are Creedal Doctrines that we should all agree on.
2. On Non-Essentials Liberty: These are non-creedal doctrines where there has typically been some disagreement in the body of Christ. This is at least true in Protestantism from the 1500’s onward.
Since there has typically been some disagreement throughout the centuries (At least since Protestantism began in the 1500’s), I think there is good room in the body of Christ to have some different views on the subject while being part of the same local Church. In fact, I think this gives us a quality that the world is looking for. Thus, I welcome disagreement.
Pastor Isaac’s View
My own view is not the Calvinist position or the Arminian position in their entirety. My view is that historically this is how theology (and other disciplines) often work. One view is presented, a counterview is presented to overcome the original view, and then some insights from each view are brought into a synthesis (thesis, anti-thesis, synthesis. Here are my affirmations and denials.
Affirm God’s total foreknowledge of all events that take place in human history.
Why: I think God knows every counterfactual. In other words, he knows what everyone will do in every situation, including the situations they will actually (in reality) find themselves in (Molinism). I also think that God has total concept knowledge, which interacts with his counterfactual knowledge to know what each person will do in reality (Leibnizian divine foreknowledge). He can look at Peter and say, "You will deny me three times" and even Peter disagrees (although ends up proving Jesus correct) because Jesus knows Peter better than Peter knows Peter.
Affirm that God’s foreknowledge includes what his creatures will do with their free-will.
Deny that God determines all things by his direct power; this is especially related to free-will. In other words, God is not fating/controlling all things to be a certain way. He knows what way they will develop, but he is not forcing them.
Why: I deny this because I think this implies that God is the one doing the sending to heaven and the sending to hell. But, I find that picture of God to contradict justice. It would be unjust for God to forcible damn individuals who he did not allow to decide for or against him in the first place. Moreover, it would be even worse for God to have pre-planned just to make some for damnation.
Deny that God has pre-planned, without the choices of human beings, which persons will go to hell and which persons will go to heaven.
Affirm that Humans have free-will.
Why: I affirm free-will in the libertarian sense of the term. Namely, that the wills of humanity are free from the pre-determining power of God to control their decision. God does pre-determine the kind of world that gives them free-will, or allows sufficient conditions for free-will, but he does not control those decisions. Those would not be decisions at all. I think this is necessary to hold up God's goodness. To take away this free will would prove a bad God indeed.
Affirm that God’s offer of salvation needs to be accepted and not forced on any person. I accept synergism (God and humanity working together). This is like a marriage proposal. The person being asked to marriage needs to have the freedom to accept or deny the request. Synergism = God and humanity working together
Why: The whole system is rigged if God is doing the asking, the deciding, the “marrying” and the damning or saving. This would truly be the puppeteer controlling the puppets.
Deny monergism (God doing all the work). Monergism looks to me like a forced marriage proposal. God asks “Will you marry me” and then God answers for humanity “Yes” or “no” depending on whom he decides will be saved or not. This makes little sense to me logically and proves morally wrong.
Affirm that God works to persevere his children in their faith, and that if they continue to co-operate with his grace, they will receive glory in heaven.
Deny that no one can leave the faith
Affirm that Apostasy is possible, albeit improbable (or minute). Most people who enter the faith will go forward in faith.
Why: Once again, the concept of freedom is harpooned if apostasy is not possible. This make divorce impossible. Yet, it would be wrong of God to force people to stay in a relationship with him after entering into it. God can give them all of his gifts, but he has to allow humanity to spurn them if they want to.
Deny that one or even many sins automatically cause one to lose their salvation. Christians can and do sin. Some Christian community’s have wrongly thought that each sin needs another walk forward to the altar to get re-saved. This is incorrect. Confession of sin should take place but sins themselves do not automatically take one out of the body of Christ. They could lead to one deciding to turn their back on Christ (Which is the Biblical definition of apostasy…see Galatians 1:6), but this would practically come after large or many sins over time and avoiding God’s grace to help them through their troubles. It would need to come with a specific act of the will, knowingly turning away from Christ and towards something else.
Affirm that God is the one who ultimately knows where a person is at with their salvation and what will constitute that person being considered in the faith or not. This is basically saying that there is more that meets the eye than just what we humans know about a person. Their affirmations and or denials of the faith are fully known by God as well as the circumstances of those affirmations or denials. We should leave the outcome up to God. For those more philosophically bent, we should keep exploring what circumstances would constitute responsible actions of denial and acceptance.
Affirm that good Christian believers can think differently on this subject from me and still embrace the Trinity.