Apostasy, backsliding, and perseverance of the saints

Since I use the word “apostasy” here, I want to acknowledge Ruth Gledhill’s very worrying post Sharia in Iran: ‘Death to converts’. It seems that the government of Iran wants to impose the death penalty for “apostasy” from Islam, which will apply to those of other religions who have even one Muslim parent. But this is not my real theme in this post.

I have been having an ongoing conversation with John Hobbins about the conditions for Christian salvation. As I reported here, it started in the comment thread of this post on John’s blog, and it continued in the comments on this post. I think the discussion is more or less finished. Now I want to present here some of my conclusions, although I don’t think John will agree with them.

Before I can explain my position, and how it compares with that of other Christian traditions, I need to establish some definitions. Here is the first one, taken straight from the American Heritage Dictionary:

a·pos·tate (ə-pŏstāt, -tĭt) pronunciation
n.

One who has abandoned one’s religious faith, a political party, one’s principles, or a cause.

Then another one from the same source, redirected from “backslider”:

back·slide (băkslīd) pronunciation
intr.v., -slid (-slĭd), -slid·ing, -slides.

To revert to sin or wrongdoing, especially in religious practice.

To my amazement, when I quoted the first of these two definitions in a comment on his blog, John rejected it, the definition of “apostate” in this respected dictionary, in the following words:

You continue to impose an idiosyncratic definition on the word ‘apostate.’ The Mafia members I referred to, which the Church excommunicated because it judged them to be apostate – apostate not just as a matter of private opinion but in function of the power of the keys (on earth . . . in heaven), wanted to continue to remain members in good standing within the Church, with rights, for example, to a Christian burial. They had not renounced their faith.

But who called these Mafia members “apostate”? None of my first 50 Google hits on “mafia apostate” relate to this story, easily found by a search for “mafia excommunicate”, suggesting that the word “apostate” was not generally used in relation to it.

Well, let me say that for the purpose of this post I will follow the dictionary definitions of “apostate” and “backslider”, however idiosyncratic John might consider this. This is because I want to make a real distinction between two categories which I will label with these words.

Within a Christian context, I here define an apostate as someone who has explicitly abandoned their Christian faith, for another religion or a non-religious position; a backslider, however, I define as someone who after starting to live the Christian life has fallen into regular sinful ways. I would not consider an apostate someone who makes an occasional anti-Christian statement and is subsequently repentant, but only those who have taken a definite decision to abandon their faith. Similarly, I would not consider a backslider someone who commits an occasional sin, however serious, and is then repentant (aren’t we all like this at times?), but only those who repeatedly flout God’s moral standards and are unrepentant about it. On these definitions, the excommunicated Mafia members were not apostates, for they “wanted to continue to remain members in good standing within the Church”, but they were backsliders – at least if they had ever been brought up as good Christian children.

It is obviously possible for someone to be both a backslider and an apostate. But there is a clear logical distinction between the two. Apostasy is a matter of belief and confession; backsliding is a matter of ethics and behaviour. In the following discussion I use “fall away” as a more general term to encompass either apostasy or backsliding.

Now every orthodox strand of Christianity, having rejected the Pelagian position that

right action on the part of human beings was all that was necessary for salvation,

in principle upholds the Apostle Paul’s very simple conditions for salvation:

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

Romans 10:9 (TNIV)

But there is a slight difficulty with this, in that manifestly there are some people who become Christians by making this confession of faith, and who start to live a Christian life according to God’s moral standards, but then fall away, either as apostates or as backsliders. Indeed, some people fall away after many years as Christians, or having been in Christian leadership. The question which must then be answered is, are these people saved?

This partly depends on one’s understanding of salvation. Since one aspect of salvation is having fellowship with God in the present, one might argue that these people become saved when they become Christians and then become not saved when they backslide or commit apostasy. However, the aspect of salvation which most people have in mind when they ask these questions concerns their eternal destiny. In popular terms, will they go to heaven or to hell? More theologically, as NT Wright has recently argued in Time magazine, will they spend eternity in the kingdom of God or separated from him?

There are, as I see it, three possible positions concerning each person who falls away. One, which I will label X, is that they will be saved despite falling away. Another, Y, is that they were never truly saved, never truly Christians, and so will not be saved. The third position, Z, is that such a person was truly saved when they confessed Christ but on falling away lost their salvation.

But there is a complication here, which is that there are two separate ways in which a person can fall away, by apostasy as I have defined it, which I label A, or by backsliding, B. Some people, including myself, would hold that A and B relate to salvation in different ways.

So, let’s look at the different views, as I understand them.

Traditional Calvinism apparently believes Y of both A and B: both apostates and backsliders, at least unless they later repent, demonstrate that they were never truly saved. This is what Wikipedia calls the traditional doctrine of the perseverance of the saints.

But there is a problem with this position, which is that it destroys assurance of salvation. Any believer can see others who apparently used to believe just as genuinely as they do but have now fallen away. If the other person can do so, what assurance can they have that they themselves will not also fall away, and thus show that they were never truly saved?

The “Once Saved, Always Saved” position which John mocks (having misunderstood my position as this) is that X is true of both A and B: anyone who has once confessed Christ will be saved, regardless of subsequent sin or even of subsequent renunciation of their Christian confession. Wikipedia calls this the non-traditional doctrine of the perseverance of the saints (although I might want to dispute the neutrality of Wikipedia’s distinction between “traditional” and “non-traditional”).

It is this approach which has encouraged some Christians to lead people in half-understood prayers of commitment without any real preparation, thinking that by doing so they are populating the kingdom of God even if these “converts” are never seen again. Ironically this position comes close to the Iranian Muslim one in making apostasy impossible: once a Christian, always a Christian. But this is not God’s way of working: he respects human choice and does not force salvation on those who do not want it.

John’s own position seems more like Z for both A and B, that both apostates and backsliders can lose their salvation. He writes:

someone can “deliberately turn away” from the faith they once held dear, and thereby lose their salvation. … a committed believer who becomes a hit man in an organized crime organization, or an idolater, or a sorcerer, is termed an apostate, and thereby forfeits his or her salvation.

This is his definition of “apostate”, which I reject. He denies any real distinction between apostasy and backsliding, and holds that those guilty of either lose their salvation. This position is similar to what Wikipedia calls the Wesleyan Arminian doctrine of the conditional preservation of the saints.

The problem with this position is even more severe than with the traditional Calvinist position, for there can be no assurance of eternal salvation even for someone who is completely assured that they are currently a genuine Christian believer. No one can ever be sure that they will not fall into sinful ways. And so on this understanding the Christian life becomes a matter of legalism and fear that one might commit one too many sins and so be sent to hell.
My own position is based on making a distinction between what happens to apostates, A, and to backsliders, B. I hold that Z is true of A but X is true of B. That is, all who profess Christ are truly saved; those who become apostates lose their salvation; backsliders, however, do not lose it, but are saved regardless of their evil works, even if only “as one escaping through the flames” (1 Corinthians 3:15). This position is similar to what Wikipedia describes as the classical Arminian doctrine of the conditional preservation of the saints, but I would reject in favour of a more Wesleyan position the following part of that description:

The willful, deliberate act of apostasy is irrecoverable; it is not possible to recover salvation once it has been lost.

This position allows assurance of salvation, for anyone can be assured that they will be saved unless they make a deliberate choice not to be. They can therefore live the Christian life without fear of negligently losing their salvation. But it also preserves the human free will by allowing people the opportunity to choose not to be saved.

This position also has the great advantage over John Hobbins’ position that in it salvation is not at all by works. John’s position is partially Pelagian “salvation by works” in that final salvation depends on a believer continuing to do good works, or at least not persisting in evil ones, to the end of their life. It is Semipelagianism in reverse: not “it is necessary for humans to make the first step toward God and then God will complete salvation” but God makes the first step and then humans must complete their own salvation. But I, unlike John who calls himself a Calvinist, would identify with the “Most Arminians” in the following Wikipedia description of conditional preservation of the saints:

Most Arminians assert strongly that salvation and eternal security is “by faith, first to last” (Rom 1:17) and “not by works, so that no man can boast” (Eph 2:9), and they draw a distinction between works meriting salvation and works proving faith, which in turn secure salvation (Eph 2:10, James 2:17-26).[20] In the Arminian system, belief is the condition for entrance into the Kingdom of God, and unbelief – not a lack of good works – is the condition for exit.

Well, no doubt the Calvinists among my readers are in despair at the way I am desecrating their TULIP. A couple of days ago I tore out the “L” petal, and now I seem to be doing the same with the “P” petal. Will this flower have any petals left when I have finished with it? Maybe just half a “T”. But I am not planning a series, it is just that the two issues came up on other blogs at the same time.

0 thoughts on “Apostasy, backsliding, and perseverance of the saints

  1. Peter, thanks for this interesting article. I think I would agree completely with you, as I believe that it is possible to come to salvation and then to complete deny Christ and therefore lose salvation (if not, what the heck is the point of all those warning passages in the NT); likewise there are many who struggle with sin who I would assure that if they believe Jesus is God and Lord then they are saved.

  2. Thanks, Alastair.

    I just want to clarify one point. I by no means want to suggest that God doesn’t care about sins committed by believers. My position is not antinomianism. I believe that God does to some extent punish these sins, at least if they are not repented of. I do not believe in the Roman Catholic doctrine of purgatory, according to which (if I have got this right) those who sin after baptism, including John’s Mafia hitmen friends, spend a long time being punished after death but are eventually let into heaven. But I do believe in the biblical teaching that Christians who do not live good Christian lives “will suffer loss but yet will be saved – even though only as one escaping through the flames” (1 Corinthians 3:15). These are the people who ignore God’s standards of holiness and so are called “least in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:19), but note that they are in the kingdom of heaven, unlike those who are no more righteous than the Pharisees and scribes (Matthew 5:20).

  3. But how do you respond to the Bible verses that John has presented? There are passages in which Paul says that murderers and fornicators will not enter the kingdom. And, in Galatians, Paul warns Christians of this. The last chapter of Revelation excludes them as well. I know it’s fun to look at Calvin and Arminius and Pelagius and Wesley, but what do you say about Scripture?

  4. James, thanks for asking. I look for a start at 1 Corinthians 6:9-11. It is clear from the context that this short passage is about those who are not believers and do these things, among whom the Corinthians had formerly been. Similarly, as I understand it, Galatians 5:19-21, for in 5:24 we learn that those who belong to Christ do not do these things. Of course 1 Corinthians 5:11 is about Christians who do such things, and the wider meaning of chapters 5-6 is indeed a warning to people like that. But I refer again to 3:15 which implies that believers who are like this will be saved. Revelation 22:14-15 (reading “wash their robes” in v.14, not “do his commandments” as in some Bibles based on corrupt Greek texts) distinguishes the murderers etc outside the kingdom from those who have gained the right to be inside by washing with the blood of Christ. Of course as in 1 Corinthians 6:10 those who had been murderers etc can be washed and then enter the kingdom. What I am getting at is effectively the message of John 3:19-21: in the end it is up to each person whether to come into the light and be saved or to walk away from Christ and be condemned.

  5. Thanks for your response. Go is the gist of what you just said that passages like Galatians 5 and Revelation 22 are only talking about unconverted murderers, whereas God does not really count a Christian murderer to be a murderer (because of imputed righteousness)?

  6. Yes, James, I suppose so, although I am not sure that “imputed righteousness” is helpful wording. I am not saying that God holds Christian murderers entirely guiltless, and he does expect the church to discipline them as the Roman Catholic church rightly disciplined the Mafia hitmen. But ultimately they will be saved. Note 1 Corinthians 5:5 about an equivalent situation, where the aim of church discipline (although we don’t understand this precisely) is clearly the salvation of the persistently sinning brother.

  7. Peter,

    you misrepresent my position big time. I’m not so sure, however, that it’s worth the effort to correct your misrepresentations one by one.

    I will restate my position on the specific matter at hand, though it runs contrary to yours. A Mafia hitman, no matter how genuine his faith may have been before he became one, forfeits his salvation by sinning so egregiously. It is proper and wise for the church to subject such a person to excommunication.

    The assumption in this discussion has always been that the Mafia hitman persists in his sin – as you note in your 10:14 pm comment. If instead – an unlikely prospect, to be sure – the hitman genuinely repents, he will turn himself in, forfeit salvation in this life, but gain it in the next.

    What is curious, Peter, is that you like to point out odd consequences in other people’s positions, and then go on to revel in the odd consequences of your own.

    The language of scripture is full of threats towards believers who have fallen away in some sense – including that of falling into egregious sin. You, on the other hand, cannot threaten them with anything. OSAS, that’s your position, unless someone comes right out and says, “I’m a Satanist now. My Christianity is over.”

    But there is more than one way to serve Satan. Your position is a wooden one, bereft of spiritual discernment. Or perhaps in your life experience you have yet to make the acquaintance of the kind of person religions generally place on their “out” lists. If so, you need to get out more.

    You also seem to enjoy caricaturing the positions of Calvinists. In the face of this, I wear the label more proudly than ever, though I continue to seek to be as inconsistent a Calvinist as the witness of scripture demands.

  8. Pingback: Gentle Wisdom » Bible meme

  9. A Mafia hitman, no matter how genuine his faith may have been before he became one, forfeits his salvation by sinning so egregiously.

    So, John, you hold that a Christian who becomes a persistent sinner, a backslider on my definition, loses his salvation. This is just what I wrote. Where is the misrepresentation? Or do you believe something different of the person who renounces their faith without (otherwise) sinning?

    Yes, I suggested that you are an inconsistent Calvinist, but you seem to rejoice in that label, so again no misrepresentation!

    Yes, there is more than one way to serve Satan. If a former Christian becomes a servant of Satan in any way, they lose their salvation. Perhaps that is true of the Mafia hitmen, I don’t know, they are not my friends. If they have in fact deliberately given their lives over to evil, and want to remain good Christians only as an outward front, then maybe they have lost their salvation, if they ever had it. But I suspect that many of them originally joined the Mafia as the only way of getting out of poverty, and have allowed themselves to be sucked into regular sin against their better judgment. I accept that I don’t know people like this well, but I do know that churches and self-righteous Christians far too easily write off backsliders of all kinds rather than helping them to find a way out of the hole they have dug themselves into. I don’t say the Roman Catholics were wrong to excommunicate these people, but excommunication is intended to be a step towards restoration.

    I’m not sure I want to get out more if that means I will meet your Mafia friends, especially as they may now be after my blood!

  10. Hi Peter. You say, “Note 1 Corinthians 5:5 about an equivalent situation, where the aim of church discipline (although we don’t understand this precisely) is clearly the salvation of the persistently sinning brother.”

    But doesn’t that imply that the salvation of the persistently-sinning brother is not automatic, since it requires discipline in order to be retained? Is the discipline designed to bring him to repentance? If that is so, does that mean that continued repentance is necessary for salvation?

    Not that I’m being smug here, since there are plenty of sins that I still have. I just want to see your take on this.

  11. Interesting discussion on this. Way too much to get into fully, but I’d like to take issue with your use of 1 Cor. chapter 3, where you site the phrase “as one escaping through the flames”

    Read 1 Cor. ch. 3 in context, and you’ll see that it’s not necessarily addressing general believers, but rather the chapter is talking about about TEACHERS.

    The whole chapter speaks of leaders, and building on the foundation of Jesus Christ. It then warns that if leaders don’t build on that foundation, then their works (converts) will burn up, but they themselves will be saved.

    The chapter seems not to be saying that people can still be saved if all their works burn up, but rather leaders will be still be saved if all their work (not works) are of an inferior quality because they didn’t build on the solid foundation.

    I think this verse (or rather part of a verse) has been incorrectly used quite often, and may have the effect of giving people false assurance, when rather they should be warned of the potential dangers of their lack of committment to Christ.

  12. James, 1 Corinthians 5:5 means that we should not, as John apparently does, write off sinning Christians as having lost their salvation, say that it is “an unlikely prospect, to be sure” that they will repent, kick them out of the church and forget about them. Rather, we should work with them to bring about their restoration, which will ensure their salvation. I suppose if they are not prepared to cooperate with church discipline properly applied, that might be understood as apostasy leading to loss of salvation. But in the end it is for the Lord, not us, to decide whether such people lose their salvation.

    Andy, I accept that 1 Corinthians 3:5-9 is about teachers (3:1-4 clearly is not). But by verse 16 and following the subject has clearly become all believers. It is not entirely clear where the subject broadens out, but I see the “each one” and “no-one” of verses 10-11, clearly applicable to all believers, as indicating that from here on the passage applies to all. After all, building the church, in Paul’s model and as made very clear in chapter 14, is the task of all believers, not just a small number of teachers. And if, as some argue, vv,10-15 are about Apollos and/or Peter, why is Paul writing this to the Corinthians?

    Fee’s commentary is more or less with me on this: he writes (p.145) that 3:10-15 “is one of the most significant passages in the NT that warn – and encourage – those responsible for “building” the church of Christ. In the final analysis, of course, this includes all believers, but it has particular relevance, following so closely as it does vv. 5-9, to those with teaching/leadership responsibilities.”

  13. Peter,

    you say:

    1 Corinthians 5:5 means that we should not . . . write off sinning Christians as having lost their salvation . . . Rather, we should work with them to bring about their restoration, which will ensure their salvation. I suppose if they are not prepared to cooperate with church discipline properly applied, that might be understood as apostasy leading to loss of salvation. But in the end it is for the Lord, not us, to decide whether such people lose their salvation.

    I agree with every one of your points here, though the last one has to be qualified. It is up to us to forgive and to withhold forgiveness in the present, and this is even said to have permanent consequences.

  14. Yes, John, the church was given the keys to declare and perhaps withhold God’s forgiveness. Presumably, given the context in Matthew 18:15-18, the power to bind is related to church discipline. But evangelical thinking at least on these matters, justified by the rare future perfect tense in the Greek, restricts the keys to declaring what God has already decided.

  15. Philemon 2:12-13, where we are charged to work out our own salvation, but we are also told that it is God who *works* in us. We are also told that God works all things for the good of those who love him. There is that “if” clause in there, but the way I’ve viewed this matter is that if one is truly a Christian, then God will continue to conform them to the image of his Son, as he promises. But if one is not truly a Christian, and is one who says, “Lord Lord,” but is not known by Christ, then their fruit will show the evidence. So pragmatically, I have faith that God will save me because I love him, and I know his love is greater than mine, so in that I find security, yet I also feel that if somehow I am not in relationship with Christ, he will hopefully make that apparent before I die. In that thought I do tremble, but I do not feel much fear from that idea, and in fact the fear of that continues to lessen as I grow. Perhaps it is because my love is being perfected by our Lord, and fear is being cast out.

    I hope that made sense; I’m rather tired and this is SUCH a hard topic, as you have so readily made apparent ^_^. … I was going to say something short and sweet about salvation, but then I realized I couldn’t do that without raising a crap-ton of questions. Anyway, love Jesus.

    Peace!

    Stamati

  16. Thank you, Stamati. I think you mean Philippians 2:12-13. These are good thoughts. But I don’t just believe or hope I have a relationship with Christ, I know I have because I “walk with Him and talk with Him along life’s narrow way”. It is not just a matter of the head but of the heart. If you don’t have a more personal relationship, I am not suggesting that you are not saved, but I do suggest that you are missing out on what it really means to live as a Christian.

    I have just read about how your fingers got burned by Benny Hinn. I’m sorry about that. Benny certainly goes too far at times, and Roy said some silly things about him. But where he seems to differ from you is that he is really in touch with God. So apparently was Roy.

    If you look in the right places, you can find for yourself a real relationship with God that you can know day by day without getting into the excesses of Hinn. I’m not quite sure what to recommend, but Rick Warren’s “40 Days of Purpose” might help you.

    I’ll copy this comment on your own blog.

  17. I believe that a Christian can fall from grace and that the bible does not teach, once saved always saved. 1 Timothy 1:18-20, Paul tells Timothy to hold on to his faith and that Hymenaeus and Alexander made a shipwreck of their faith. They must have had faith and were saved to make a shipwreck of it. Also consider that Christ told the Church at Ephesus in Revelation 2:5, “repent therefore from where you have fallen”. Christians are told be faithful unto death to receive the crown of life from Jesus Christ in Revelation 2:10.

  18. Ken, I agree with you. But it is not clear that Hymenaeus and Alexander actually lost their salvation. Verse 20 seems to imply that they were put under some kind of church discipline with the intention of restoration, although we can only guess exactly what this means.

  19. I think a person can turn to the things of the world and we need to emphasis a spiritual life over material things. I live in the United States and many people only dream and strive to get a bigger house and material things instead of serving God.

    We need to go to church and be with our brethren, read the bible, sing songs of praise to God, and talk to God with prayer. If we don’t do these things sin can creep in slowly and we turn to sin instead of serving God. If you read 1John Chapter 3 esp. verses 4-10, John is talking about making a practice of sinning and if we make a practice of sinning, John says in verse 8, the one who practices sin is of the devil

  20. Hi Peter – I have been reading this blog and wondered if you would be willing to talk with me privately about this subject? Thank you……………..Brad

  21. Hello to anyone who may read this,

    I have stumbled across this blog quite by accident and cannot help but post a response to one sentence in this blog. I warn you up front…I am a full fledged 5 pointer so my beliefs here are completely man-made and incompatible with scripture. Or are they……..???

    So I would simply like to respond to what may look like an insignificant sentence, but one that so often wholly misrepresents the very foundation to the biblical doctrines that we conveniently call Calvinism, and most specifically relates to the “T” of TULIP: or Total Depravity, but also closely relates to Unconditional Election.

    Peter Kirk wrote: “But this is not God’s way of working: he respects human choice and does not force salvation on those who do not want it.”

    May I also insert here another quote that I hear more often… “God does not drag people into heaven kicking and screaming.”

    These 2 statements are saying the same thing, to which I and all Calvinists around the world (as a complete side note, and I realize I take the risk in text to sound a bit sharp, but look at this sentence for a brief moment. Does my usage of the word “WORLD” necessitate that calvinists must be covering every inch of the world? or that we must be locked arm in arm singing of the sovereignty of GOD around the entirety of the equator??) give a hearty AMEN!! God by no means forces His salvation on anybody. So then, who receives this great salvation? It must be those who want it, right? So who are these who want this great salvation? The scriptures are resoundingly clear…….NOBODY.

    We need look no further than the 1st 2.5 chapters of Romans where Paul artfully lays out this foundational doctrine in a perfect line of reasoning. He begins in Ch1:18 with general unrighteousness and disbelief, and continues with the consequences of these things. By chapter 2, Paul starts to turn our attention to ourselves lest we begin thinking these are all “other people” who are so unrighteous. He continues to build and condemns both Jew and Greek, whether with the Law or not, until we reach Ch3:10 where Paul climactically puts aside all pretense and leaves absolutely no room to argue that any person ever wants to follow God. He quotes the Psalms “There is none righteous, NOT EVEN ONE; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God; all have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is NOT EVEN ONE.”

    Can our GOD be more clear??

    So if nobody wants to partake of this great salvation, how then does anybody come under it? It seems something must happen, does it not?

    Here I could quote any number of New Testament verses which we could all quibble over, but I choose to go to some Old Testament prophecy.

    The 31st chapter of Jeremiah reveals a new covenant with the house of Israel. Earlier in the book, Jeremiah speaks of the great evil Israel has done in the sight of their God since the very beginning of His revelation to them, and the judgment that has come upon them. They indeed were under such judgment at the very time Jeremiah was writing with the destruction of Solomon’s temple and the capture by the Babylonians. At this time of utter disobedience, God says through his prophet, Ch31:31-33 “Behold, days are coming when I WILL make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them. But this is the covenant which I WILL make with the house of Israel after those days; I WILL put My law within them and on their heart I WILL write it; and I WILL be their God, and they shall be My people.”

    This new covenant which God promises to a disobedient Israel is the same new covenant that by His grace we (disobedient gentiles) are now partakers. This is how God saves!! While we were yet sinners he died for us! We were not looking for a savior. Indeed, there was not even one! In order to save us He must write it on our hearts. There is no other way. He does it all! All praise and honor and GLORY be to our God who has completely and utterly saved us because we were and are completely incapable!

    So does God force salvation on those who do not want it? Of course not, for no one wants it. He must first write it upon their hearts, and once it is written on one’s heart, who does not want it?

  22. Jon, I respect your beliefs and don’t expect to agree with you. But you can’t argue from “no one is righteous” and “no one is good” to “no one wants to be saved”. Many people are evil and unrighteous, know it, and at least in their better moments want to find a way out, to be saved from punishment or become a better person. Indeed we can find biblical examples of this – the repentant thief on the cross is one.

    Of course you can argue that they only want this because the Holy Spirit is working in them, but then you have to argue that for example the Holy Spirit is working in all those Buddhist monks who try very hard to become better people through their rituals. They don’t have a clue how to find salvation, but they are clearly looking for something. In fact it is undeniable that many people in the world are looking for a saviour from the mess of sin and shame that they are in, and finding all kinds of false saviours. What they need is people to preach to them the true Saviour.

  23. Peter,

    It is nice to see that you check your old posts; I was rather doubtful that anyone would see mine. On to a quick response….

    I make no jump at all that isn’t given in the Word of God. The Psalmist says “there is none who seeks God, all have turned aside,” not just “no one is good.”
    My statement of ‘no one wants to be saved’ is not the best since it can take on all sorts of meanings if not put in the proper context, so we’ll simply have to deal with the exact words of Scripture. Sure lots of people would like salvation, but how does the Buddhist monk try to attain it?…By being good. How did the scribes and pharisees try to attain it?…By following the Law…by being good, and would we have to say that the Holy Spirit was working in them? Certainly not! That is the very essence of our sin nature, to assume that we can attain salvation by our own means; by being good, which is a rejection of Christ. So I agree with you…I shouldn’t say that nobody wants to be saved, for obviously we all do (though on our own terms, not God’s), but I will repeat scripture…
    “There is none who seeks for God, all of turned aside.”

    I hesitate to write on because I’m afraid I’m thinking too non-linearly, but I really want to get back to the heart of my original post. It is to correct a “straw-man” argument that is so often used by the Arminian side, and I really hope that one day they will stop using it, because it really doesn’t help your arguement.
    Calvinists never say or believe that God would force his salvation on anybody who doesn’t want it. First I argue from scripture that there is no one seeking after God. There are no 2 sides of humanity, those who seek God, and those who don’t. Scripture is clear; we are all on the same playing field of wholely rejecting God. You speak of “free will”, but we speak of “freedom in Christ.” If everyone is rejecting God, then the only way that anyone can seek Him and find Him is if He gives them the freedom to do so. This is the freedom that John speaks of, “You shall know the Truth, and it shall set you free.” There is no freedom without the Truth. In fact, Paul says we are actually slaves to our sin. Do slaves have the freedom to no longer be slaves? By one means only…if the master, in HIS free will, gives them the freedom to do so. As followers of Christ, our freedom is in His salvation, in His Truth, NOT in our ability to choose Him or reject Him.

    And certainly we can all agree that what everyone really needs is people to preach to them the true Savior.

    Thanks for the response.

  24. Jon, I see all comments that come in on my blog. Perhaps a few other people are tracking them, but very likely no one else is reading.

    Well, despite the biblical verse which applied to a specific situation, it is no more true that no one seeks God than it is that no one wants to be saved. The world is full of people who seek God, in all sorts of mostly wrong ways. I accept that rather few seek him in a right and biblical way, and perhaps if anyone does that is a sign that the Holy Spirit is working in their lives. Maybe we are not all that far apart.

  25. Pingback: Gentle Wisdom » Can Christians fall away? The examples of Bentley and Obama

  26. I have enjoyed reading through this post and hearing the theological debates. I don’t know alot about theology. It is actually a topic I am interested in and want to learn more. I am very interested in apologetics, scripture, math, and logic.
    Scripture clearly states faith through grace. It is God who began the good work, it is God who finishes it. God does the selecting…Rom 9. God does the drawing…John 6. I make a free will choice to put my faith in Truth. Now the real question I find is when I was selected and drawn…after my heart became soft enough for me to accept his gift…was His love irresistible (any help on that would be appreciated)????

    True children of God are chastened when they walk away from the faith. I know from experience. I was WAY more miserable backsliding than before I knew…which is also covered by scripture in OT and NT. I know it is more than stating you “believe” in Christ…demons know that much. It isn’t my works that brings salvation but works are produced as the fruit of my salvation..evidence of a true rebirth. It is no longer I who live but Christ in me. Jesus died once for all my sin…past, present, and future. So when I accept Christ, all my sins are forgiven, so you can not lose your salvation!!(Rom 4.5, Rom 8.1)
    A person has assurance of salvation also “The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.” (Romans 8:16). 10 Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son. 11 And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.
    13 I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life. (1John 5:10-13)

    I know my thoughts are a bit scattered…Sorry about that. I haven’t been given much more than that. The ideas I presented I feel are clearly stated through out scripture. Any comments or direction for further study would be appreciated. Thanks for the discussion.

  27. David, welcome to this blog, and thank you for your comment. I am glad that God has led you back from backsliding. He will indeed complete the good work he has begun in you – with one condition, that you do not tell him to stop it and get out of your life completely. Even then he will not give up on you, but he will wait for your permission before coming back into your life.

  28. Interesting topic! I have a verse that contradicts your standing though…
    “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and do many righteous works in your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.'”
    – Matthew 7:21-23

  29. Michael, thank you for your comment. Of course I need to take this passage into account. I would suggest that the key phrase here is “I never knew you”. That means, surely, that these people were never true Christian believers, never truly saved, despite calling Jesus “Lord”. But I am not sure how to reconcile this with Romans 10:9.

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