Editor’s note: This article is the tenth in a series of 12 columns that will be published in 2012 addressing the always controversial theological issues surrounding how Southern Baptists understand the doctrine of salvation. The Witness welcomes letters to the editor on this subject as the series is published throughout the year, keeping in mind the irenic spirit modeled by Mark Rathel, who teaches theology at The Baptist College of Florida.
James Arminius and his followers the Remonstrants did not directly affirm a Christian could lose salvation. Rather, they expressed a desire for additional study of Scripture on this issue. The confession of faith set forth by Arminius’ early followers stated, “But for the question whether they [Christians] are not able through sloth or negligence to forsake the beginning of their life in Christ, to embrace this present world, to depart from the holy doctrine once delivered to them … this must be the subject of more exact inquiry in the Holy Scriptures, before we can teach it with full confidence of our mind.” Calvin and his followers adamantly condemned the possibility of a Christian losing salvation and quite often being reborn again. Southern Baptists, almost uniformly, affirm the security of the believer or perseverance of the saints. Non-Calvinist Southern Baptists strongly affirm the security of the believer. A famous Baptist aphorism stated, “The faith that fizzles before the finish was faulty from the first.”
The issue has great practical relevance. In response to the question, “Can a Christian lose salvation,” a Southern Baptist stalwart of a previous century wrote, “The affirmative answer is full of consolation, but the negative excites fear and disquiet.”
What is the basis for the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints?
First, the doctrine of perseverance makes sense of other precious doctrines, namely, justification and eternal life. Justification is God’s act whereby he declares an individual acquitted. This legal declaration cannot be overturned. Romans 8:32 states, “Who can bring an accusation against God’s elect? God is the One who justifies” (HCSB). Second, the Bible affirms that eternal or everlasting life is a present possession of a believer (John 3:15-16; 5:24; 1 John 5:1-13). Can an individual possess eternal life in 2011 and not have eternal life in 2012. Is life really eternal if you can possess eternal life and then somehow lose it?
Second, the saving work of the Trinity serves as the comforting assurance for every believer. God the Father keeps the believer (1 Pet. 1:5; 1 Cor. 1:8). Peter described believers as “kept by the power of God.” The imagery is one of a sentinel continually on duty. The Holy Spirit seals the believer (2 Cor. 1:26: Eph. 1:30; 4:30). Sealing involves the act of authentication, signal of ownership, and protection. In addition, the Holy Spirit functions as a pledge, earnest, or down payment of our final salvation (2 Cor. 1:22b; Eph. 1:14). The Greek term “pledge” meant a deposit guaranteeing the full payment at a later date. In addition, the Spirit provides a testimony to the reality of a believer’s salvation (Rom. 8:14-17). The God the Son promised the completion of salvation. Jesus promised to “never cast out” one who comes to Him (John 6:37-39).
Further, He affirmed that His followers would never perish (John 10:28). In the Greek New Testament the grammar contain a double negative—an emphatic denial of the possibility. Moreover, Jesus noted that no one can snatch a believer out of His and the Father’s hands (John 10:28-29).
Third, Calvinists often cite Romans 8:28-31 as teaching a “golden chain” of salvation from eternity past to eternity future proceeding from foreknowledge, to predestination, to effectual calling, to salvation, to justification, to glorification. Because the first is true, all the others are true and no part of the chain can be broken.
What about the strong warning passages, particularly the passages in Hebrews 6:4-8? Southern Baptists have expressed several different interpretations of this difficult passage. First, some view the warning passages as an important means appointed by God for perseverance in holiness. A 19th century Baptist theological textbook used the following illustration: “As the rock in the mariner’s chart guides him from being dashed to pieces, so these warnings preserve the spiritual mariner from destruction.” Second, some Baptists claim the passage describes unsaved individuals, people who have made a public profession but do not have the inner reality of true salvation. Third, perhaps on a popular level, the most common understanding of the passage understands the biblical text as referring to a hypothetical possibility, not a real possibility. Fourth, some Baptist scholars, most notably David Allen of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, interpret the passage as descriptive of loss of rewards.
The Bible teaches the doctrine of both the perseverance of believers as well as the preservation of believers. True believers will persevere in the faith. God will preserve believers. The expression “once saved, always saved” does not communicate the richness of the biblical truth. The phrase implies to some that one may live a life of unfaithfulness and be saved in the end. In truth, the biblical emphasis on the security of the believer functions as a call to sanctification and holiness rather than an excuse for apathy and a life of sin.
You must be login before you can leave a comment. Click here to Register if you are a new user.