Friday, July 11, 2014

Once Saved Always Saved, Eternal Security, Perseverance of the Saints, and the Devil

There are innumerable questions that are posed in the minds of Christians daily. As a believer grows in maturity these questions usually grow in  depth. More mature Christians can often get caught up trying to answer these technical, deep, and enigmatic questions and forget that there are people struggling with a lot of the more basic questions. A question after all, no matter how 'small' (a relative idea), still needs answered. So, in an attempt to answer these questions I will be starting a series of answers to basic questions here on this blog.

This is the first in this series. In Christianity there is almost no topic more important, essential and basic than that of salvation. However, there are many different views on it. So, as a Christian who believes the Bible (in its original writing) is God's word it is important to look beyond our cultural understandings (for example, American Evangelical, Southern Baptist, British Anglican, Egyptian Coptic, Greek Orthodox, etc.) and look at what God has written in his word (or the best translations of it). 

Salvation in scripture is used in mainly three ways: 1) in the Old Testament it is almost exclusively used to refer to the Israelites being saved from the surrounding nations--a physical salvation 2) in the New Testament it is used often of a Christian being saved from their life of sin--spiritual regeneration and 3) of a Christian being saved from God's wrath in the great and terrible day of the Lord--eschatological [es-kuh-tl-oj-i-kuhl] (end) salvation. 

So, Christians typically have questions about 2 or 3 above. The main questions involving these two aspects of salvation are 1) Am I saved? (assurance of regeneration) and 2) Will I be saved when I am before the judgement seat of God? (assurance of eschatological salvation). Here I will be talking mostly about number 2.

There are three different ways of referring to assurance of eschatological salvation. They are 1) once saved; always saved 2) eternal security and 3) perseverance of the saints. All of these are terms which could describe biblical assurance of eschatological salvation. The problem is that the first is very vague, the second is a little less vague, and the third is least vague. That is to say, OSAS (once saved; always saved) could mean a lot of different things depending on your view of God and salvation. I will describe what each of these typically means and what each of these means within a biblical context.

First, OSAS typically means that once you become a Christian (American Christian colloquialism: get saved) that you can't lose your place in heaven. Another way to put it is once you make a decision to ask Jesus to forgive you and let you into heaven and keep you from hell then he will do it because he agreed to in the Bible and he will never go back on the agreement. The problem with this view is that there is no repentance or regeneration (generating a dead soul), so when the person simply asks for forgiveness then he can go back to his sin, like a dog to his vomit, because he does not have a new heart and therefore does not hate his sin and therefore has no desire to turn from it (repentance).

The only biblical description of OSAS is that of somebody who hates their sin and has a new heart (regenerate). Jesus said that if you loved him then you would keep his commands and John says that if you don't keep his commands then you don't love him. When somebody understands Jesus love for them (dying on the cross for their sin "while we were enemies" [Rom 5:10]) then they will love Jesus with the same kind of love. 

1 John 4:19 We love because He first loved us.

1 John 3:16 This is how we have come to know love: He laid down His life for us. We should also lay down our lives for our brothers.
 If we understand and believe that Jesus really did lay down his life for us while we were sinners and enemies of him (Rom 5) then we will love him. John also tells us how we love Jesus.
3 For this is what love for God is: to keep His commands. Now His commands are not a burden, 4 because whatever has been born of God conquers the world. This is the victory that has conquered the world: our faith.
We see then that the missing ingredient in the unbiblical version of OSAS is belief (or faith). If somebody believes and has faith then they will love Jesus and if they love Jesus then they will keep his commands. So, when somebody asks how a Christian can be saved and then go on sinning and still be saved in the end (typical OSAS definition), the answer is they can't. Yet, if you have been truly born again with a new spiritual heart then you have truly seen your need for Christ's death and you believe it and you love him for it and therefore will not want to sin but keep his commands. However, this is still too vague and people will likely still find fault. Let's get more narrow.

Secondly, we have Eternal Security. The typical usage of this term simply means that God will never take back his gift of eternal life no matter how bad you sin--just look at the Apostle Paul. This is better than the the OSAS terminology because it acknowledges (implicitly) that God keeps you secure. The problem with this is again that it allows the idea that you can just ask Jesus to forgive you without being born again--without a regenerated spiritual heart--and that he must do it because he keeps his word. We have already seen that this is not biblical. Now we have a term that at least implies that God is actively keeping the Christian from hell and secure in his position in heaven which is biblical.

Thirdly, there is Perseverance of the Saints. This is used within groups who are deeply committed to a doctrine called Sola Scriptura (Latin for scripture alone). The only place it is used unbiblically is by people who misunderstand the term. I really don't understand the misinterpretation because this is a pretty straightforward term. However, if you misunderstand the historical and biblical meaning of either or both perseverance or saints then I could see how you could come away with an unbiblical interpretation. So, let's define terms.
Perseverance: this is to be differentiated from determination. This a biblically related term that describes biblical ideas like steadfastness and conqueror, victor, overcomer, or prevailer (Revelation 2 & 3). This simply refers to the idea that you will continue on the course or finish the race.
Saints: a saint in biblical terms is not somebody who is extra, extra holy or who has received the designation from a church organization. It is someone who is made and continues to be made holy by God. This is anyone who has been born again and has received a newly cleaned, regenerated spiritual heart.
Biblically, the term means that anyone who has been truly regenerated by God's power will continue to be made holy until the end and thus prove that he has persevered. So, those who persevere to the end are those that love God because they have faith and believe that Christ died for them while they were sinners and enemies of him and therefore keep his commands and repent and turn from their sins.

So, to sum it up in more simple terms, a true believer will always love God because he understands what he did for him and will not continue his sinful lifestyle because he has a new heart--he is a new creation. While a false believer will turn back to his sinful life because he does not have faith and does not have a new heart and does not love God because he doesn't really believe what he did for him. Can you imagine not loving a God who willingly came to live in his fallen creation just to die for those who were his enemies and in open rebellion toward him (you and I) and just trying to take his gift without wanting to obey him and share his love with others? To me it just doesn't follow--non sequitur.

Ultimately, the problem is really that we are naturally more likely to say, "The devil made me do it" than we are to say, "The Lord makes me persevere." In biblical reality, the devil doesn't make us sin, but tempts us--we are responsible for our sin as well. Just as well, the Lord does cause us to persevere, but we are commanded to persevere. The beauty of this doctrine is that we are commanded to do something that, without a regenerated spiritual heart, is impossible to do, but we are fully equipped as new creations to do it.

2 Corinthians 5:16-17  English Standard Version (ESV)

16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

Revelation 3:10  Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB)

10 Because you have kept My command to endure, I will also keep you from the hour of testing that is going to come over the whole world to test those who live on the earth.
(To the Church in Philadelphia)