This is probably one of the most frequently asked questions at my Bible prophecy forums, even though it is not directly related to Bible prophecy.
When the question is asked in a public forum, I always avoid answering it because I have found that it is an explosive topic that is not productive to deal with publicly. So, I usually answer the question by saying, “I’m sorry, but your question is not relevant to Bible prophecy, so I would suggest that you discuss it with your pastor.”
Armenian Versus Calvinist Viewpoints
For those of you who may not be familiar with the issue, it is a debate between those with an Armenian viewpoint and those with a Calvinist view. The Armenian argues that it is possible for a Christian to “fall from grace” and thus become lost. The Calvinist argues that once a person is saved, it is not possible for him or her to lose their salvation.
I believe the extremes of both viewpoints are unbiblical. The extreme Armenian will argue that every time you sin, you lose your salvation unless you immediately repent. I grew up in a church that taught this theology, so I know it well. It creates an acute sense of spiritual insecurity and contributes to emotional instability. As a kid, I remember witnessing people coming forward time and time again at our church services to confess their sins and be re-baptized over and over, to make sure they were saved.
The ultra-Calvinist position is just as bad in my opinion. According to this theology, God predetermines who is going to be saved and who is going to be lost, and there is nothing anyone can do to change their fate. To me, this concept makes God out to be a monster.
I ran across a tragic example of this view several years ago when I was listening to an audiotape of a sermon that had been delivered at a Baptist Church in Denton, Texas. The guest speaker, who was a well-known theologian, began his sermon by asking, “How many of you here this morning have received Jesus as your Lord and Savior?” After a brief pause (during which I imagine most of the people present raised their hands), the preacher said, “I have bad news for you. Every one of you who raised your hand is lost because you are too naturally depraved to receive Jesus of your own free will. You are therefore trusting in your own works. The fact of the matter is that God has either predestined you to be saved, or He has not, and there is nothing you can do about it.”
When it comes to more moderate views on both sides, I could present a seemingly iron-clad argument on behalf of either position, depending on the verses of Scripture I chose to use. And I have found that when that is the case, the truth of the matter usually lies somewhere in the middle.
Here’s where I have come out on the issue. I believe we are saved by faith apart from works, and I believe we are kept in a saved condition by faith apart from works. But I do not believe that when I accepted Jesus in faith that I surrendered my free will and became a robot. I believe I still have the freedom to reject my faith in word or in deed — in word, by renouncing Jesus; in deed, by persisting to live in open sin.
As long as I am walking in faith with the Lord, I can say with absolute confidence that I am saved. But I believe it is possible for me to lose that faith, and I base that conclusion on experience as well as the Scriptures.
In my experience I have seen far too many professing Christians walk away from their faith, abandoning their families and getting in bed with the world. I recently read the testimony of a Muslim imam (spiritual leader) who for many years was a Southern Baptist pastor. For years he taught that Jesus was God in the flesh and that our only hope of salvation was through putting our faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior. Today, he denies the divinity of Jesus and argues that He was just a great prophet preparing the way for the greatest prophet, Mohammed.
Those who believe in “once saved, always saved,” respond to examples like this by quoting 1 John 2:19 where the Apostle John states that some apostates who had left the Church had done so because “they were not really one of us.” In other words, moderate Calvinists will always argue that those who renounce their Christian faith or who become apostate in their beliefs, never were true Christians in the first place.
I’m sure this is true in many cases, but I’m also equally sure it is not true in all cases. I say that with confidence because there are scriptures which, in my opinion, make it clear that a true believer can fall from grace. Take, for example, 1 Corinthians 15:1-2. In this passage, Paul speaks of the gospel he had preached, “by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you.” If? The New Testament is full of such conditional statements. Consider Hebrews 3:12-14 —
12) Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil,
unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God.
13) But encourage one another, day after day, as long as it is still called “Today,”
so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.
14) For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the
beginning of our assurance firm until the end…
Christians are being warned in this passage to resist evil lest they become hardened by sin. And they are further warned to hold fast in their faith until the end. Why the warning if there is no danger in falling away from the faith?
This is a persistent theme throughout the book of Hebrews. For example, in chapter 6 there is reference to those who once were “enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been partakers of the Holy Spirit” and then have “fallen away” (Hebrews 6:4-6) How can anyone be a partaker of the Holy Spirit without being born again? This has to be speaking of a true Christian.
In like manner, the Apostle Peter describes people who have “escaped the defilements of the world by the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” and then have become entangled once again in the world. He says their latter state is worse than their first, observing, “it would be better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn away.” He concludes with a vivid illustration, saying that such persons are like a dog who “returns to its own vomit” (2 Peter 2:20-22).
A Case Study
There is another reason I don’t like to spend time dealing with this issue. That’s because when you get down to the bottom line, the two moderate viewpoints agree!
I’ll explain what I mean with an illustration. Let’s consider a fellow — we will call him Tom — who has never had any religious experience in his life. He marries a believing woman, and she starts pressing him to go to church with her. He finally agrees, and the message touches his heart and convicts him. He spends several days reading the Bible and then calls the pastor to inform him that he has decided to accept Jesus as his Lord and Savior.
The next Sunday he goes forward and makes his confession. He is baptized, and he starts attending church faithfully and gets involved in an in-depth Bible study. Within two years he has become a deacon of the church and one of its youth leaders.
And then, one night while surfing the Internet, he accidentally lands on a porn site and decides to take a peek. In a short time, he is addicted. His wife discovers the situation when they receive a credit card bill with over $500 in charges from porn sites. He confesses and asks her forgiveness, but the problem continues, and soon his children discover pornographic videos he has hidden in a cabinet.
The marriage breaks up. Tom begins drinking. He soon moves in with a woman who proves to be a drug dealer. A year later he is found dead from a drug overdose.
The moderate Calvinist would say, “He was never saved in the first place.” The moderate Armenian would contend that “he fell from grace.” Both would agree he was lost. So, why all the argument?
[Note: This teaching is included, along with many other teachings concerning salvation and the afterlife, in my book Eternity: Heaven or Hell?]
10 CommentsLeave a Comment
Thank you Dr. Reagan this was very helpful! You are right. This topic comes up on conversation many times.
I am not certain how I feel about this example at the end. We didn’t know Tom’s heart as God does. He could have still been saved. The Muslim imam, who made the choice to throw away his belief that Jesus was the Son of God, and embrace a false religion, was a perfect example of a soul once saved becoming lost. I believe that Jehovah will hold onto us and our salvation through many things, including sin in our lives, when we are sorry, try to change, ask forgiveness – even if we do it again and again- He knows our hearts. But when our hearts are hardened and the Holy Spirit no longer convicts us of our wrongdoing, and then we willfully determine we do not want God to be in our lives. In other words we willingly break our relationship with God, He will let us go. And if that person teaches others a false ways, it seems proof that Satan has entered that persons heart. We know when we belong to Jesus, Satan will not be able to enter our heart.
You articulated my thoughts as well. The case study didn’t fit to me and for lack of a better word, it hurt. Hmmm, something to think about. The longer I walk as a Christian the more gray areas I find. Less black n white. Jesus please come soon!
Being truly saved, Jesus convicts us of sin. Saved as a child(Baptist church) but sinful while in college. I’ve often thought back. Could I have gone to hell? Praise God that I made it to 79 years old. I’m sure a wise and Godly mother was praying for me as I do for my children. Enjoyed the article about the wheat and the tares. The church today, there is no conviction concerning sin. Just about grace and love and your best life now. I weep at night about the horrors happening in the world, praying for those who suffer. I have dreams: the glorious rapture, Christians still on earth during the tribulation, and our final departure; the world not wanting to go with us. Lastly, the horror of being in hell forever.
I have to disagree with Dr. Reagan. The Bible tells us, in many places, that we can know that we have eternal life, permanently. Here are some of the ones that come to mind. John 3:3, Titus 3:5, Ezekiel 36:26-27, James 2:26, Romans 8:30, 33-34, John 14:17, Romans 8:9, 1 Corinthians 12:13. John 3:15 reminds us that whoever believes in Jesus Christ will thus “have eternal life”. How can it be “eternal life” if I can have it today, and lose it tomorrow? Romans 8:38-39 pretty much sums it all up. Nothing can separate us from God, who are in Christ Jesus, and John 10:28 says, “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish – ever! No one will snatch them out of My hand.” Not even you can squirm out of His hand, or will ever want to, if you truly belong to Him. Finally, one of the verses that immediately came to mind, was 1 John 5:13, where John writes, “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, SO THAT YOU MAY KNOW THAT YOU HAVE ETERNAL LIFE”. Enough said.
I have been down many roads in life and even a cult. Thank God I was saved and delivered from all of that. I have come to the conclusion that once you are truly saved a born again believer you are sealed with the Holy Spirit!! You are locked in and saved 100% How can anyone become unborn again???? You are either saved or you are not!!! We are seal bought and paid for by the blood of Jesus Christ forever more we are his!!! He paid the price. To say we can possibly undo what Jesus Christ did on the cross is blasphemy!!
I have been struggling with osas for a long time .I believe it gives a false sense of salvation, as I believe i can walk away from my salvation, I went through a very bad divorce after my supposed pastor decided to marry my wife. After that I had a real bad taste for church,went back to drinking, Coralville woman etc….thankfully God was still working, as I realized if I died at this time I had turn my back on God,which scared the hell out of me,at that point I repented and currently an elder at the church I attend.i had become a Christian about 30,currently 53.Grateful,even through I chose the walk away,God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins if we repent.thanks
I consistently agree with Dr. Reagan’s articles! A question for some of the commentators on this subject: Why focus on OSAS and not address the rest of Calvin’s doctrine…namely, Predestination? Many who believe OSAS will also tell you they pray to God for forgiveness when they sin. Even Spurgeon stated “un-repented sin is unforgivable sin.” Along these lines…I once heard a well known Baptist (TV) preacher state (not verbatim) “Why do Christians constantly pray for forgiveness”?
One might answer this question by saying–why do Christians ‘constantly’ pray to God, giving thanks and asking Him to bless what He has provided for us at EVERY meal? Wouldn’t the first prayer after being saved suffice? Yes, Christians do ‘constantly’ pray to God for wisdom, strength, healing, guidance, for good health, humbleness and forgiveness for our daily, if not hourly, sinful ways! This topic might pose another important question…are you a ‘true’ Calvinist? Do you embrace ALL the tenets (look them up) of this doctrine?
An effort to clarify this subject might include consulting a dictionary to rediscover the meaning of these words (regarding predestination–as to WHO may be saved) *ALL, Everyone, Whosoever, Anyone, etc. (*words describing WHO can be saved in the Bible)
Lastly, which sin (committed by a ‘Christian’) would be serious enough for someone to say “That person was never really saved”? Would any of the 10 Commandments that imply a sin can be committed by merely an evil thought, (which is considered as evil as the actual act) be a gauge? Do some Christians actually believe they can speak for God, and decide who was ‘truly’ saved? Can they speak for the Holy Spirit? That’s a dangerous path to take.
SIN, repentance, apostasy and backsliding are clearly referenced in the Bible. Simply put–Sin separates us from God.
My personal belief is that to understand the Truth of this topic is not something to be avoided, but is of the UTMOST/CRITICAL importance for believers.
Our enemy would have us take this to the erroneous extremes – which is a great spiritual danger, either way. The road is “narrow” that leads to life, and we humans tend to “overcorrect” at times.
As the author has stated, there are multitudes of “if/then” conditional statements made throughout the Word of God in regard to “salvation”. The Truth is, we are not “finally/ultimately saved” until we have “endured to the end”… crossing the “finish line” into the Eternal Kingdom of our Lord… clinging-to/abiding-in “Jesus” as our only Hope/Way/Truth/Master, etc. in order to make it there (NOT OUR GOOD WORKS). Eternity is our “Promised Land”, and the Word tells us that what was written about the Israelites (not entering the Promised Land) was “written for our example”. Most of them did NOT make it into what was Promised for them; this does not make God a liar. This life on earth is our own “wilderness test” – and, the Bible says, how much MORE accountable are we who have the Holy Spirit!!
I have heard the OSAS proponents (they happened to be Baptist pastors) go so far as to preach a whole sermon about a former church member… and how she is still “saved” due to the fact she made a former profession of faith and was following Jesus – UNTIL, she decided to steal from her employer, break up a marriage/family, and run away with the married man with whom she had an affair. (He was a talk-show host for our local Christian radio station, no less).
I heard the same treacherous error taught at a church in regard to my own uncle. He had been delivered from drugs/alcohol and was a believer/proclaimer of Jesus Christ. That is, until he decided to turn back to the life he had been delivered from (turned back to his “Egypt”), believing that he was spiritually “safe no matter what” due to believing the OSAS lie. He became a drug-addict/drunk, and finally ended his life via “suicide by police”, as he ran at them in a demonic stupor, swearing at them with weapons. His pastor said he was still saved… and that is the message he gave to a room full of people at the funeral. That lie spoken was more tragic than my uncle’s falling-away.
I am not Calvinist, nor am I Armenian. I believe what the Bible says is True. The burden is on us to understand this, or be led astray by our great adversary.
if Jesus can’t keep me saved to keep me then how can I?