What about "falling away"?

Note two passages in the book of Hebrews: 
Hebrew 6:4-6.  It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5 who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, 6 if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.
Hebrews 10:26-31.  If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, 27 but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. 28 Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29 How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know him who said, "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," and again, "The Lord will judge his people." 31 It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
If all are reconciled to God, why these warnings about "falling away"?  

This question is best answered when we understand that salvation is a matter of relationship - of fellowship (covenant communion) with God.

The gospel proclaims that God's love never ceases, and Christ's love in us, ministered by the Spirit, for the Father and for all humanity never ceases (the picture from the parable of the prodigal son above is a powerful illustration).

We can participate in the fellowship in which God has included us in Christ, or we can resist it (God grants us freedom to choose). But either way, the relationship that includes us exists in Christ between God and all humanity. The stunning truth is that God, in grace, has "accepted" us "in the beloved" (Ephesians 1:6, KJV).  In that sense, all humanity is elect and saved in Christ ("the beloved" of the Father). It is not therefore a question of losing one's salvation, but a question of participating in the salvation we already have. If we don't participate in it, it is akin to not having it, and in that spirit, we cannot enjoy the fruit of it. But we do have it, whether we participate in it or not.

It helps to stop thinking of salvation as a sort of moment-in-time reward that can be won and lost, and start thinking of salvation as being in loving fellowship with the God who made us, sustains us, loves us and dwells in us.

In other words, salvation isn't something we "have," per se; it is something we participate in. Maybe we could compare it to "having" electricity, but to have it is meaningless unless you plug in a light or an appliance and actually use the electricity. Not the best analogy, but I trust you see what I mean.

To not remain in Christ is to not participate with Christ through the Spirit in the Father. That participation is what salvation is. So to not participate in it is like not having it. We participate in faith, trusting Christ to be for us who he says he is for us. The Spirit works in us, transforming us into the image of Christ. The Spirit also works to bring us back when we stray, because God is always faithful in his love for us even when we are not faithful. So from God's side, Christ came into the world not to condemn the world, but to save it, and that is what he did—save it. 


From our side, we can trust him and participate in that salvation, or we can refuse to trust him and ignore or resist that salvation, which means to ignore or resist our fellowship with him. Either way, God saved us in Christ, but only if we embrace that grace can we participate in the joy of knowing God - our experience of his salvation that is assured and thus secure in Christ.

The above mentioned passages in Hebrews 6 and 10 warn Christians (believers) who are participating in this salvation in Jesus, not to turn away ("fall away") from that participation in unbelief. To do so has serious consequences. The strong admonition,therefore, is to "hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful” (10:23). The goal of the author is to spur believers on to greater participation through love and faith (v24).  He is optimistic about their response, for he says that these people “are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved” (v39).

The Bible affirms that all who participate, through faith, in the salvation that is theirs in Jesus Christ are "safe" (saved), and nothing "can snatch them out of his hand.” The gospel emphasizes the infinite faithfulness of Jesus Christ, and his total sufficiency for our salvation. Thus there is every reason for us to have a sense of assurance, and every reason to confidently invite non-believers to receive (subjectively/personally) what is already theirs (objectively/universally) in Jesus.

We need not worry about our salvation, asking, “What if I fail? " The fact of the matter is that already we have failed. Jesus is the one who saves us, and he doesn't fail. Can we fail to accept him?  Yes, but even here we can trust him to do his work - to share with us his faith (see Galatians 2:20, KJV). Trusting in Jesus, we have joy, not fear. We have peace, not anxiety.

Comments

  1. Not Saved by Faith Only

    Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only. (James 2:24)

    It cannot get any clearer than the verse in James that good works are necessary for Christians to truly have the life that Jesus promises.

    Common objections...

    James is not speaking of salvation. But notice that the verse immediately preceding refers to Abraham's saving faith...

    And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. (James 2:23)

    The book of James is hard to understand and therefore this verse should be ignored. In fact, Martin Luther wanted to remove this book from the Bible.

    But the verse is actually easy to understand for those who accept Catholic teaching.

    Shame on those Protestants...interpreting the Bible as their sole authority with preconceived doctrines.

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  2. It is, sadly, common to misunderstand the nature and the place of both faith and works. As noted in the original post, a key is understanding that salvation itself is a *relationship* with God, not a mere *transaction* that is somehow purchased by our faith or by our works. Salvation (as a relationship) is created for us and with us in the person of the God-man Jesus. We are then able to participate in that relationship by sharing in Jesus own faith and Jesus own works, which continue in our world through the agency of the Holy Spirit, to the Father's glory.

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  3. When Mike Feazell came to Manila, he was asked if a Christian can lose his salvation. His answer was "I don’t know. All I can say is this, for the hundredth time, the only people in hell are those who want to be there. God loves everybody and wants you to come to him and he breaks his neck to get you to him. So you got to do some work to not stay there."

    Why hedge? Because GCI's unstated position is that there is salvation for people who are in hell? Why not come out with it if it is?

    Are we being shackled by trying too much to be theologically correct? We know no one's got the right theology a hundred percent so we can still say this is what we believe although we are not sure.

    it's helpful to understand salvation is indeed a relationship. A relationship takes two to make it work. So if a person refuses to participate in this relationship then he/she loses this relationship/salvation.

    Or in another way to look at it, the logic of Trinitarian theology dictates some people will lose their salvation since all of them have been saved in Christ already in the first place but not all people will accept this salvation.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Ting, you address a couple of issues: assurance of salvation for believers, and the possibility of a change of mind of those in hell. I address the former in the post. As to the latter, I think Mike went about as far as Scripture takes us - understanding that God loves people in hell. We are not given in Scripture to know how that works out, and so we can not say any more.

    Be careful not to reduce salvation to a "moment in time" transaction as though it were some sort of commodity. It is not, it is a personal relationship forged in Jesus between God and humankind, in which we may participate (or not).

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  5. The Council of Trent, in answer to Luther's exposition of the Biblical truth of Justification by faith alone, went a step farther than Gregory the Great.

    They were not content to say that assurance was dangerous and not desirable, they declared that it was a mortal sin to claim assurance of salvation.

    They went still farther and, with full Papal authority and sanction, hurled anathemas and consigned to eternal damnation all who dared preach or believe such a doctrine.

    Let any who doubt this read the section on justification in the Decrees of the Council of Trent, and see how specifically and clearly the Jesuits spelled out how deeply Rome hates the doctrine of Assurance. Here are the actual words used by the Council of Trent:

    Whosoever shall affirm, that when the grace of Justification is received, the offence of the penitent sinner is so forgiven, and the sentence of eternal punishment reversed, that there remains no temporal punishment to be endured, before his entrance into the kingdom of Heaven, either in this world or in the future world, in purgatory, let him be accursed. Council of Trent, January 1547.

    ReplyDelete

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