Easy Chairs & Hard Words – Part 3

February 18, 2008

by Douglas Wilson 

“At last,” I thought. “Now we should be able to talk about what brought me here in the first place.” Pastor Spenser and I were both settling in chairs with the conversation already well under way. 

“I know what your position is,” I said. “But I am afraid that I still don’t know why.” 

“And what is my position?” he said, smiling. 

“Well, I assume that you believe that it is not possible for a Christian to lose his salvation…that’s correct, isn’t it.” 

“Sort of.” 

I grinned. “Way to come down clearly on the issue.” 

Pastor Spenser laughed. “There would be a lot more peace in the church if Christians learned to frame their questions more biblically.” 

“How do you mean?” 

“The question is posed as to whether a Christian can lose his salvation, the pros and cons line up, and debate the question as it was posed. But salvation is not a personal possession of ours, like car keys, which can be misplaced by us.” 

“So what is the real question?” 

“The way the question is usually asked, we wonder if a Christian can lose his salvation, which is the same as asking whether a Christian can lose Christ. Some say yes, and others no.” 

“And you would say…?” 

“I would ask whether Christ can lose a Christian.” 

“I don’t get you.” 

“Christians are those who are redeemed or purchased for God through the blood of Christ. We have been bought with a price. Now if someone, so purchased, winds up in Hell, then who has lost that person’s salvation?” 

“I’m sorry, I must be thick. I still don’t get what you are driving at.” 

“Christians cannot lose their salvation, for the simple reason that their salvation does not belong to them. It belongs to Christ. If anyone is to lose it, it must be He. And He has promised not to.” 

“Where does the Bible teach that we are His possession?” 

“There are many passages which cover this…too many to cover tonight. Why don’t we just look at several? I’ll give you a list of others.” 

“Fair enough.” 

“In Revelation 5:9-10, the new song in honor of the Lamb states that He has redeemed us to God by His blood – from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation.” 

“And…” 

“In 1 Corinthians 6:20, it says, `For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.” 

“It seems pretty clear.” 

“Right. In salvation, Christ does not become our property; we become His. So in discussing this, we must remember that all the saving is done by Him. Those who want to maintain that salvation can be lost are really saying that He is one who loses it.” 

“This throws the whole debate into a completely different light.” 

“It does. And frankly, it is the difference between grace and works.” 

“How so?” 

“To assert that a man can lose his salvation through what he does or does not do is to assert, in the final analysis, salvation by works.” 

“But the church in which I grew up taught that you can lose your salvation, but they also preached salvation by grace.” 

“Not quite. They preached a conversion experience by grace. But how is that experience to be maintained and protected? And by whom? They begin with the Spirit, but seek to finish through human effort.”  I must have looked confused, so he continued. 

“Were you ever taught that you could, by committing certain sins, place yourself outside of Christ?” 

“Yes, and it terrified me.” 

“Now, let’s say that you committed such a sin, and then were killed in a car wreck? Where would you go?” 

“To Hell.” 

“And why?” 

“Because I had sinned, and a holy God cannot look on sin.” 

“And your salvation, or lack of it, was up to whom?”  

“You are arguing that it was up to me. I can tell you that it certainly felt that way. The more I wanted to serve God, the more condemned I felt.” 

“Don’t you see that your insecurity was the result of your salvation riding on a roulette wheel…every day?” 

“How so?” 

“If you died on Monday, you go to be with the Lord. If you died on Thursday, off to Hell. On Sunday night, you are heaven-bound again.” 

“You are saying that this is salvation by works?” 

“What else can we call it? And it produces two kinds of people. One group is confident in their own righteousness, but they have watered down the righteous standards of God in order to delude themselves this way. The other group is comprised of sincere people, who, because they are honest, realize that they are under condemnation.” 

“It seems a little strong to say that they are professing salvation by works, though.” 

“Paul rebuked Peter to his face at Antioch, and why? Because Peter did something as “trivial” as withdrawing table fellowship from Gentiles temporarily. But Paul knew that the gospel was threatened by this. How much more is it threatened through teaching that a Christian can do a “work” which will blow his salvation away? This teaching makes salvation depend upon the works of men.” 

“You contrasted this with grace.” 

“Correct. Salvation by grace is a gift from God. “Salvation” by works is man’s attempt to earn his way into the presence of God, or in this case, his attempt to earn his right to stay there.” 

“But what is to prevent someone from saying they are “saved by grace,” and then going to sin up a storm?” 

Pastor Spenser laughed. “Nothing at all. Sinners can say and do what they please. Until the judgment.” 

“But how would you answer the objection?” 

“There are two things worth noting about it. One is that having to answer it places me in good company. The apostle Paul had to answer the same objection in Romans 6, against those who objected to his message of grace. Secondly, the answer is the one Paul gives. Recipients of grace do not get to decide to receive forgiveness grace, while passing on death to sin grace. How can we who died to sin, still live in it?” 

“But aren’t there some who teach that salvation can be lost simply to keep this type of person from presumption?” 

“There are some who insist on teaching that Christians can lose their salvation out of a concern they have for ‘holiness’. They say that if this is not done, then people will abuse grace. But if you hold the biblical perspective, you do not consider grace a possession of ours, to be abused or not. Rather, grace belongs to God, and He never abuses it.” 

“This means what?” 

“In Ephesians 2:8-9, we learn that we are saved by grace through faith. In the next verse, we learn that we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works prepared beforehand by God. God’s grace is never truly abused because it belongs to God. Those outside abuse the name grace, but they cannot touch the thing itself.” 

“You sound like you have very little respect for those on the other side of this issue.” 

“That is not quite true. Some of them are teaching another gospel, and the condemnation of the apostle is sufficient for them. But there are others who are true Christians, and who hold this position because of their reading of certain texts…Hebrews 10:26, for example.” 

“You respect them?” 

“Yes. I believe them to be wrong, but their error proceeds from a desire to be honest with the text. With the purveyors of a false gospel, the error comes from an almost complete confusion of grace and works.” 

“What about Hebrews 10:26?” 

“We are almost out of time. Why don’t I read that passage, adding some comments of my own based on the context of Hebrews. Then you can go back through the book with that context in mind. It should be helpful in chapter 6 as well.” 

“Fine.”

 “For if we sin willfully by going back to the sacrifices of bulls and goats after we have received the knowledge of the truth that Christ was the once for all sacrifice for sin, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins because temple sacrifice of bulls and goats is a system that is fading away, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries because they are sacrificing their bulls and goats in a temple that will be destroyed in just a few years.” 

I laughed. “Is all that in the Greek?” 

Pastor Spenser grinned. “No, but it is in the context. Read through the book of Hebrews with the impending destruction of Jerusalem in mind, and consider the problem caused by professing Christians who were being tempted to return to Jerusalem in order to sacrifice there. The fire that was going to consume the enemies of God in this passage is not hellfire.” 

“So what is the basic issue here?” 

“It is grace; grace and works. Works is a barren mother; she will never have any children, much less gracious children. Grace is fruitful; her children are many, and they all work hard.”

****

This is Part 3 in a series of 6.

 

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