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Tue, Sep. 5th, 2006, 10:39 pm
essius: Again raising the biblical and theological question of apostasy's possibility

A little over a week ago I made some inquiries in my journal into the possibility of apostasy. Then, I set out to find how someone who believes in genuine apostasy would interpret John 6:39 and Romans 8:30. I began my inquiry in christianity, and am now expanding my inquiries, elaborating on my view, and hoping that other Acts 17:11-type Christians will join me in exegesis, dialogue and wholesome debate to help ascertain the truth of the matter.

So far, many have presented important and much-appreciated points regarding my inquiries and the views and assumptions my inquiries presuppose. Let me start off with where we have come to this point. First, in response to my first post, lhynard suggested that concerning John 14:16 I was “putting too much stock in the English word ‘forever.’” After all, “The Bible was not written in some magic language of preciseness. It is possible that this verse indicates what you are saying, but it is equally possible that the verse is indicating a promise to remain forever if accepted.” My response and challenge to him was as follows: If you can invalidate the translation from the Greek into the English with respect to the word ‘forever,’ with its many implications, I welcome it. I am not a student of Greek. So for those who know the Greek, I ask: If the Greek word does not imply everlastingness, then what does it imply, and why was the word ‘forever’ used? Furthermore, what evidence is there that it is just indicating “a promise to remain forever if accepted”?

Second, in my second post, golodhgwath remarked that salvation “is not merely a transaction that happens upon conversion. It is true that we are saved when we turn to God. He has snatched us from the fire, as it were. But we have the ability to jump back into it, if we so choose. On the other hand, to be saved is to be saved in the [final] analysis. The question being, did we persevere in repentance?” Of course, this latter question—its importance notwithstanding—is not the inquiry I am pressing. Rather, can a person who begins the race, who receives Jesus into her heart as Lord and Savior, fall willfully and completely away? I agree with golodhgwath that salvation is not a one-time transaction at conversion. On the other hand, I believe that the justificatory element of salvation is indeed a one-time thing. I rest this assumption on the revelation of justification as accomplished (i) by grace (Rom 3:24), (ii) through faith (Rom 3:22, 10:10), (iii) accomplished in the past (Rom 5:1), (iv) necessarily but conditionally leading to glory (Rom 8:30). I believe that once we have been justified by grace through faith, we are new creations (2 Cor 5:17), and the sinful efficacy of the old self persists only in and for those who fail to renew their minds (Rom 12:2; Eph 4:23), who do not “put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph 4:24). But, I submit, the new self will never cease to await the being of its put-onness. The very possibility of its nonbeing in the Christian soul is what possibilizes grieving the Holy Spirit (Eph 4:30). The Spirit never leaves, never forsakes. I do believe that all Christians will have to give an account before God (2 Cor 5:10), but that since Jesus Christ is the foundation (1 Cor 3:11), the only thing we can lose is rewards (1 Cor 3:12-15). I do not agree with golodhgwath that we can jump back into the fire. The sinful nature was crucified (Rom 6:6; cf. Gal 2:20). It is possible to sin, but I believe that the Spirit keeps us from being wholly devoted to sin ever again—i.e., I believe that metanoia is a very real turning point in a person’s life, not just the picking up of a new fad.

I also wish to point out the distinction between the doctrines of Eternal Security and of Christian Assurance. The former is ontological—i.e., of being. The latter is epistemological—i.e., of knowing. (It is one thing to be secure, and another thing to know that one is secure.) My primary concern at the moment is the former; the latter, only secondarily. I believe that God secures us, for that is His Will (Jn 6:39). We receive assurance of this security only when we are working out our salvation (i.e., undergoing/embodying spiritual sanctification) with fear and trembling (Phil 2:12). Now, I hold that justification necessarily leads to sanctification, which then leads to glorification—but that is not to condense everything in the Christian life into one single moment. It is simply to see that the connections are necessary; but the necessity is in the relation, not in the person considered in themselves (due to the gratuitous nature of grace). There is still the further necessity of historical actuality, and thus necessity and contingency embrace, as it were. Holding to Eternal Security does not make having Christian Assurance a matter of course.

Next, I would like to address tutal comment that Scripture “warns believers that it is possible to lose faith: 1 Cor. 10:12; 1 Pet. 5:8; 2 Pet. 3:17; Heb. 2:1-3; 3:12-19; 6:4-8.” First, I would reiterate that I believe it is possible to have unformed faith in God (Jas 2:19), but that such a faith is not virtuous—nay, it is dead! (Jas 2:17). (John Calvin, nota bene, rejected the formed/unformed view, but his attacks on the Schoolmen show little acquaintance with Thomas Aquinas’s presentation of the view.) So, to address the first text: 1 Cor 10:12 does not imply that anyone will fall who has (had) formed (in them) the virtue of faith—indeed, it could even be that the very admonitions against falling away (such as this) in the Word of God are precisely what keep any of the elect from falling away.

Second, even if one falls from his or her “secure position” (2 Pet 3:17), I am not convinced that falling has to imply falling off of the foundation that has “already been laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 3:11). After all, if a person can survive the fire of 1 Corinthians 3:13-15, cannot such a person survive a temporary slip? (If the verdict on this is ultimately no, it still does not prove that these admonitions are among the sufficient graces that help us to all persevere from justification to glory.)

Third, regarding Hebrews, it is written that we have come to share in Christ “if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first” (3:14). Certainly it is not the case that ‘P if Q’ logically implies ‘not-P if not-Q,’ but the lack of logical implication does not militate against interpreting the author of Hebrews as making such an implication rhetorically. What do we think? If we do not persevere, is it not evidence that we never shared in Christ to begin with? And If we have been foreknown by God and predestined by Him to be conformed to Christlikeness, then will we not persevere as Christ persevered? If we have been justified in Him, surely we will also be glorified, having suffered as He suffered—obedientially, lovingly, perseverantly!

Finally, I have one additional for those who believe in apostasy: Why would God begin a work in someone and fail to carry it out, since the perseverance of His Efficacious Grace is not incompatible with radical (but intellect-based) human liberty (as I have argued before and can argue again)? I think the answer is that He would not, and that those who fall away are those who never understood the Gospel to begin with (Mt 13:18-23). I do not think this view need be held naively or callously—just biblically.

[Cross-posted to my journal, christianity, and sovereigngrace.]