Can Christians be Lost?
THE POSSIBILITY OF APOSTASY
by Mike Johnson
Consider this question. Can one who has been born again, i.e., one who has entered into a proper relationship with God, conduct himself in such a way so as to be eternally lost? Many say that one cannot. They hold a doctrine known by such names as "once saved, always saved," "the impossibility of apostasy," or the "perseverance of the saints."
This doctrine is stated very clearly in a book by H.A. Ironside, called The Eternal Security of the Believer.
"When we speak of the eternal security of the believer, what do we mean? We mean that once a poor sinner has been regenerated by the Word and the Spirit of God, once he has received a new life and a new nature, has been made partaker of the divine nature, once he has been justified from every charge before the throne of God, it is absolutely impossible that the man should ever again be a lost soul." (1)
This view is found in many of the creed books and in the teachings of countless people. Although popular, this doctrine is not found in the Word of God!(2)
There are many passages which show clearly that a child of God can fall from grace. We will examine a few of these in this article. However, before we do, I would like to explain the way that the typical "once saved, always saved" advocate will approach these passages. Generally, they will take one of two approaches. With some passages, the proponent of this doctrine will respond by saying that the verses are not speaking of people who are actually Christians but only of those who profess to be Christians, admitting that the verses are speaking about a lost person. They will say, on the other hand, that other passages are speaking about a Christian, but the verses are not saying that the one under consideration is actually lost. The person, they say, has only lost the joy of his salvation. Thus, it is necessary with any passage that we present, to show that a Christian is under consideration and that this Christian is actually described as lost. Consider a few passages.
Galatians 5:4 plainly says to Christians "ye are fallen from grace." It seems that some were teaching that it was necessary to obey certain aspects of the old law to be saved such as circumcision. Paul told them (v. 1) that "Christ hath made us free," and they were not to be "entangled again with the yoke of bondage." He further told them (vs. 2-4) that if they were circumcised, Christ would profit them nothing, that they would be a debtor to do the whole law, and that Christ would become of no effect unto them. He then added, " . . . whosoever of you are justified by the law, ye are fallen from grace." Could it be any clearer? A child of God can fall from grace.
Most would have to admit that those under consideration were in a lost state. How then would the "once saved, always saved" advocate explain this passage? Typically, it would be said that a Christian is not actually under consideration in these verses.
It is very plain that he is addressing Christians and talking about Christians in these verses. Earlier in Galatians, such passages as 1:2, 4, 6; 3:13, 27-29; 4:5-7 make it clear that Christians are addressed. Chapter 4 is concluded by a discussion of the allegory of Hagar (who depicts the old covenant) and Sarah (who represents the new covenant). Verse 31 says, "So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman, but of the free." Then in 5:1 Paul said, "Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage." These had been made "free," and had escaped the "yoke of bondage," (the old law) and were in danger of being "entangled again." He is speaking to Christians, and these Christians, if they went back to the old law, would fall from grace.
How can a person fall from something that he was never in? Also, we are saved by "grace" (Eph. 2:8-10). If we fall from grace, how then can we be saved? We can fall from that by which we are saved.
II Peter 2:20-22
II Peter 2 describes certain false teachers. Not only did they teach false doctrine (v. 1) but they were very immoral. Read the entire chapter for a full description of these ungodly people.
There is no doubt that they were, at the time of this writing, in a lost state. The chapter speaks of their "swift destruction," (v. 1), says that their "damnation slumbereth not" (v. 3), and points out that they "shall utterly perish in their own corruption" (v. 12).
These "servants of corruption" (v. 19) are spoken of in verses 20-22 which says:
"For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning. For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them. But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb, the dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire."
Again, most would agree that verses 20-22, in addition to the earlier parts of the chapter, are describing a lost person. The argument from the advocates of the doctrine of the impossibility of apostasy states, as one might expect, that these verses do not refer to one who was ever actually a Christian at all--only to one who pretended to be.
However, verses 20-22 speaks of them as having escaped the pollutions of the world, and they did this through the knowledge of Jesus Christ. After escaping, they became "again entangled therein, and overcome". Their last state is described as worse than their first state, and it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness (so they knew it) than after knowing it, to turn from the holy commandment. One who is described as having escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of Jesus Christ, and as one who had known the way of righteousness is certainly a Christian. In addition, verse one speaks of them having denied the "Lord that bought them," and verse 15 reveals that they had "forsaken the right way."
These were not pretenders. They were Christians--people who had entered into a proper relationship with God. However, they become false teachers and also very immoral. Consequently, they would be lost!
An argument presented on this passage puts great emphases on the fact that a dog and sow are mentioned in the verses and not sheep. They say that since sheep are not mentioned then he must not be talking about Christians in this text. Consider the following quote from Ironside.
"Does it say, 'But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb, The sheep is turned to its own vomit again?' No, it does not. It says, 'The dog is turned to his own vomit again?' How many of these dogs there are! They escape the pollution of the world temporarily by the knowledge that comes through the Lord Jesus Christ. If you were brought up in a Christian home and taught the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ from your youth, you escaped a great deal of the pollution of the world. But after you have known all these things, you can turn aside; you can take your own way into the world and live in its filth and pollutions. What does that prove? That you used to be one of Christ's sheep but are no longer? Oh, no. What then? It proves that, 'The dog has gone back to his own vomit again, and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire.' " (3)
First, this response ignores the context which clearly indicates that these had been saved. Secondly, the point is not that the sow was still a sow and the dog was still a dog. The point is that a change had occurred, and then there was a return to the defiling thing. The time that the sow was dirty would represent the time when a person was not a Christian; the time when the sow was washed would represent a person becoming a child of God; finally, the returning to the mire would represent that person going back into sin.
II Peter 1:4-11
It would be very difficult to say that these verses do not apply to a Christian. Peter is speaking "to them that have obtained like precious faith with us through the righteousness of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ" (1:1). He says further that they had been given all things which pertain unto life and godliness "through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue." Verse four says, "Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust."
Verse five starts out by saying "and beside this." This rendering does not really show the connection of verses 5-11 to the previous verses as well as it should. The ASV says, "Yea, and for this very cause" while the NASB says, "Now for this very reason." Hence, in light of the fact that they had received "exceeding great and precious promises" that they might be "partakers of the divine nature," and had "escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust," they were to (i.e., for this cause) add the various traits listed in verses 6-8. So CHRISTIANS are to add "these things."
Verse eight says that "if these things be in you and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ." Someone who could be described as "barren" and "unfruitful" is certainly in a lost state. (Note John 15:1-6.)
Those who lack "these things" are also described (v. 9) as blind. They are blind in the sense of being "spiritually blind"; they are unable to see spiritually as they should. They also are unable to see afar off which means that they are unable to have the spiritual and the moral perception that they should have had. They can only see things which are near, i.e., things of an earthly nature. It is also said that the person has forgotten that he was purged from his old sins. Isn't this sad? He has forgotten the most glorious event which has ever happened to him? He may remember his conversion, but he has forgotten the value and importance of it. He is in a state of spiritual ruin.
Verse 10 says, "Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall." If there is no way that saved people can be lost, what is the point telling them to make their calling and election sure? How can it be more sure than what it already is? Also, it says that if a person does these things, he "shall never fall." What if a person does not do those things (i.e., add the virtues)? He would, of course, then fall. Thayer, in his Greek Lexicon, describes the word translated "fall" (ptaio) to mean. " b. To fall into misery, become wretched . . . of the loss of salvation, 2 Pet. i. 10)." (4)
Typically, those who believe in the impossibility of apostasy will argue that these verses, although speaking of a Christian, are not saying that the person who fails to follow the instructions would actually be lost. In the Thrasher-Garrett Debate, Garrett said, regarding this passage, "That is, they shall not fall from their steadfastness nor lose that clear sight and assurance which they now are experiencing, namely, as being partakers of the divine nature and purged from their old sins, which those neglects might put out of their sight; and so lose them the sense and comfort of their salvation."(5)
It is clear that the "comfort" of their salvation is not being spoken of in the verses under consideration. Instead it is talking about their actual salvation. If a person does not add "these things," he is described as barren and unfruitful in the knowledge of Christ, blind and unable to see afar off, and as one who has forgotten that he was purged from his old sins. He has not made his calling and election sure, and has done the opposite of what a person must do to keep from falling. Does this sound like a saved person: someone who is headed to heaven? Certainly not!
Verse 11 also makes it clear that he is not merely talking about the "comfort" of their salvation. It says, "For so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ." The NASB says, "for in this way."
Without a doubt, II Peter 1:5-11 teaches that children of God can fall from grace, if they do not follow the instructions of adding these virtues to their faith.
John 15:1-6 records the Parable of the Vine and the Branches. It says:
"I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit. Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned."
We learn that Jesus is the vine, and his disciples are the branches. If a branch does not produce fruit, Christ purges it. It is then cast into the fire and burned. He points out the need to abide in Him, and we do this by bearing fruit.
This parable teaches conclusively the possibility of apostasy. It seems quite obvious that these verses are discussing a man who would be lost (note v. 6). The advocate of the doctrine of "the perseverance of the saints" is forced into saying that these verses speak only of one who has professed Christianity. They would say that the one represented by the "unfruitful branch" was not actually saved to begin with. Ben M. Bogard, a well-known Baptist debater from many years ago, responded to John 15 in this way. "Now notice. There is the vine and the branch. There are two sorts of professed Christian--the real and the nominal. The professors, and possessors--you can't tell the difference by looking at them, for some of them camouflage so completely they seem to be in the Lord."(6) In another debate, D.N. Jackson stated, "The vine was in Christ in the sense that your heart may be in a thing sometimes. How is that? You'll say my heart is with you, and yet it may be just a profession."(7)
There is no doubt that he is speaking of people who were actually saved. In verse two, Jesus said "every branch IN me" that beareth not fruit. So the branch would actually be "in Him." It does not say "every branch in me professionally that beareth not fruit, he taketh away," nor "every branch not in me, but is so camouflaged that people cannot tell if they are in me, but they seem to be in me, that beareth not fruit he taketh away." He also told them (v. 3) "Now ye are CLEAN THROUGH THE WORD which I have spoken unto you." Does not this describe a saved person? When he said "abide in me," this indicates that they were "in Him" at that time. Jesus was not exhorting those who "professed" to be in Him to "abide in Him," but those who were actually in him.
There may be cases where we can't tell if a person is a real Christian or not. Yet, Christ knows those who are His (II Tim. 2:19), and Jesus said, "every branch in me."
Jesus is clearly showing that those who are in a proper relationship with God could, by not bearing fruit, cease to be in a proper relationship with God and thus be lost!(8)
Acts 8:5-25 describes the conversion of the people of Samaria and of a sorcerer named Simon. Many responded to Philip's preaching and became Christians. Verse 12 says that they believed and were baptized. This is what Mark 16:16 says that one must do to be saved. Verse 13 points out that Simon also believed and was baptized, and then he " . . . continued with Philip, and wondered, beholding the miracles and signs which were done." Eventually Peter and John came to Samaria from Jerusalem in order to bestow the gifts of the Holy Spirit upon the people (vs. 14-17).(9) Upon seeing them bestow the gifts, Simon offered them money and said, "Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost." Peter then rebuked Simon very sharply, and told him that his heart was not right in the sight of God. He said, "Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee. For I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity."
Most would agree that he was in a lost state based on what Peter told him (20-22). So, we have a man becoming a Christian, committing sin, and then being lost. The "once saved, always saved" supporter will generally object at this point by saying that Simon was not really a Christian at all--he just pretended to be.
It is true that sometimes a person may say that he believes and not really be a believer. We cannot read a person's heart. However, Simon was not such a person. In verse 13, Luke is not just expressing an opinion about Simon. Instead, we have "INSPIRATION" saying that Simon believed, so we know that he did. Please note further that Simon did exactly the same thing that the Samaritans did--he believed and was baptized. Consequently, he was a saved person who became lost.
I Corinthians 10:12, 9:27
In I Corinthians 10, Paul is warning the Corinthians against falling away. He tried to encourage them not to be lulled into a false sense of security thinking that they could not fall. To enforce his point, he brings up the Jews who were highly favored by God but committed sin and were punished by Him.
The children of Israel crossed the Red Sea by faith (Heb. 11:29). It is clear that they were favored by God. They all ate the spiritual food (v. 3); they drank the spiritual drink (v. 4), and the spiritual drink was Christ (v. 4), yet they sinned-- they fell from God's favor. We are told that they lusted after evil things (v. 7), they worshiped idols (v. 8), some committed fornication (v. 8), some made trial of the Lord (v. 9), and some of them murmured (v. 10).
Why bring all of this up? It is brought up to warn the Corinthians. Verses 11-12 say, "Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come. Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall." Certainly, it was possible for the Corinthians to fall from grace. Why did he give the warning to "take heed lest ye fall" if it was impossible for them to fall? There is no need to warn someone of a danger which does not exist.
I Corinthians 9:27 says, "But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway." The NKJV says, "discipline my body." (Some translations say "buffet.") Paul is saying that he had to practice "self-control." If he did not, even when he had preached to others, he would end up being a "castaway." The word "castaway" is translated "disqualified" (NASB, NIV). It means to not stand the test or to not be approved. The word translated "castaway" comes from a Greek word (adokimos) and is translated "reprobate" in various passages. Romans 1:28 is one place where the word is used. It says, "And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient."(10) Please read the context of this verse in Romans and see if you think that it refers to the saved.
Some argue that all Paul meant in I Corinthians 9:27 is that he feared that he might do something which would cause his brethren to reject him and not allow him to preach to them, i.e., they would cast him aside as a preacher. A person who would say this is not very knowledgeable about Paul. In Galatians 1:10 he said, "For do I now persuade men, or God? or do I seek to please men? for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ." Further, in this context Paul is talking about an "incorruptible crown" which they were striving for. This prize awaited them at the end of the Christian race.
The book of Hebrews was written to Hebrews (or Jews). Many Hebrews had become Christians, and there was a tendency for them to return to the religion in which they had been reared. They wanted to go back to the law of Moses and observe the various ceremonies found therein. The book of Hebrews shows the superiority of Christ and Christianity over Moses and the law of Moses. The aim of the book is to keep them from departing from the faith by going back to the old law.
The superiority of Christ over Moses is shown in verses 4-6 of chapter three. Christ is described (v. 6) as a son over his own house while Moses, though "faithful in all his house," is described as a servant.
After speaking of Christ as a "son over his own house," verse six says, "whose house are we, if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end." We are "His house"which is "the church" (I Tim. 3:15). The "if" shows that the Christian must, however, persevere (Note also verse 14).
Milligan, in his commentary on Hebrews, gives a paraphrase which helps us to see the connection between this section of Scripture and the section which follows.
"Since it is true, he says in substance, that Jesus as the Apostle of God is so much superior to Moses; and since it is also true, that your belonging to the house of God under him, and your enjoying the blessings of the New Covenant through him, depend on your holding fast the confidence and the boasting of your hope even to the end of life, you should now take as a warning to yourselves the following solemn admonition made by God to your fathers; and beware lest there be also in any of you an evil heart of unbelief."(11)
Starting with verse seven, the children of Israel are given as an example of people not to follow.(12) These Christians were told not to harden their hearts as the children of Israel had done in the "provocation, in the day of temptation in the wilderness: When your fathers tempted me, proved me, and saw my works for forty years." Israel frequently provoked God in the wilderness. It is thought that this provocation may refer specifically to a time near Mt. Horeb when Israel murmured for water (Ex. 17:1-7). Israel sinned, and they were unable to enter their "rest" which would be the land which God had promised them. When they sinned and died in that state, they would obviously have been lost.
In verse 12, the writer warns the Hebrews to not make the same mistake that the children of Israel did. He said, "Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God." Thus, "don't have an evil heart of unbelief; don't depart from God." These verses certainly show us that: 1) the heart of a child of God can become evil, and 2) a child of God can depart from Him.
Verse 12 is clearly speaking to Christians. This is the whole scope of the book. He addresses them as "brethren." He speaks of "departing from" God indicating that they were Christians. It would be nonsense to exhort a person to not depart from God, if departing is something which is impossible to begin with. God will not save the alien sinner in unbelief; He will not save the Christian in unbelief either.
Hebrews 6:4-6; 10:26-31
In verses 1-3, the writer exhorts certain ones (who he had characterized earlier as "babes" in Christ- v. 13), to "go on unto perfection." He wanted them to become mature; they needed to leave the elementary principles.
In verses 4-6, he tries to get them to see the dangers to which they were exposed. These verses say, "For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame."
The writer starts out by speaking of that which is impossible. Before identifying what is impossible, he describes the characteristics of whom it is said. These characteristics are:
- once enlightened. This would surely refer to one who had become a Christian. Light in the Scriptures refers to holiness, happiness, and knowledge. God's Word gives light (Ps. 119:130; Ps. 119:105), and Jesus said (Jn. 8:12), "...I am the light of the world; he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life" Paul, in Ephesians 5:8, describes Christians as "light in the Lord," and tells them to walk as "children of light." Thayer defines the Greek word used in Hebrews 6:4 to mean, " . . . enlighten spiritually, imbue with saving knowledge of the gospel: hence . . . of those who have been made Christians, Heb. vi 4; x. 32...."(13) These people had been translated from darkness to light; from God to Satan; they were Christians.
- have tasted the heavenly gift. The word used here, translated "tasted," means to "partake of" or "experience." There are various ideas about what the heavenly gift is. It is said by some that this refers to Christ. Other views have it referring to the Holy Spirit, the remission of sins, or the Lord's Supper. It is possible that the gift has a broader meaning and refers to the new life in Christ which Christians enjoy. If so, this would be inclusive of many aspects of the Christian's blessings. Regardless, it speaks of one who is a Christian.(14)
- were made partakers of the Holy Ghost. Doesn't this sound like a description of the Christian?
- have tasted the good Word of God. They had experienced the help and benefit of God's Word.
- and the powers of the world to come. They had participated in blessings which were associated with the age, or world, to come. This may have some reference to miraculous powers which they had, in some sense, shared in. Again, this clearly is speaking of one who is a child of God.
Let us go back to what is impossible for them to do. Verse six says, "If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance . . . " It is clear that he is speaking of Christians as we have seen. These Christians could fall away, and, in so doing, they would be crucifying the son of God all over again and be putting Him to an open shame (v. 6). They would be lost!
The objector will frequently make much of the word IF found in verse six, and say that he is only speaking hypothetically. "He is only saying 'if' he falls away which really can't happen." From what I understand the word "if" was inserted into the King James Translation by a person named Beza who was a disciple of John Calvin, and there is no justification for it whatsoever in the Greek. The NASB says, "and then have fallen away"; the ASV puts it, "and then fell away"; Weymouth says "and then fall away"; Goodspeed translates it "and yet have fallen back." Even if the "if" should be there, the Hebrew writer is still showing us that a child of God can fall from grace. What is the point of even saying this if apostasy is something which is impossible?
Hebrews 10:26 says, "For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins." This is found right after the writer admonishes them to not forsake "assembling of ourselves together." This verse makes it clear that the Christian can commit sin, and the rest of the verses make it plain that he would be lost. The writer is speaking of those, including himself, who had obtained the "knowledge of the truth." Milligan points out, "The word rendered knowledge (epignosis) means more than a mere objective knowledge (gnosis) of the truth. It rather denotes a full experimental knowledge, such as we gain by the active application of our minds to the study of the truth."(15) Read verses 27-31 for yourself, and see if there is any possibility that he is saying that the person described in 26 is still saved.(16)
Passages from I & II Timothy
In I and II Timothy, Paul calls Timothy's attention to a number of things which can happen to a person's faith. Those who teach "once saved, always saved" usually teach that people are saved by "faith only." It should then be no trouble to see that if one loses the very thing which has saved him, then certainly he will be lost on the Judgment Day. Please note some things which a person can do to his faith. He can:
- make shipwreck of his faith (I Timothy 1:19). Paul told Timothy to "war a good warfare" and then he said (v. 19), " Holding faith, and a good conscience; which some having put away concerning faith have made shipwreck." The term "shipwreck" is a powerful term. Is one whose faith is described as "shipwrecked" saved? Certainly not! One can, of course, survive a shipwreck. In a similar way, one whose faith has become shipwrecked can repent and come back to God.
- depart from the faith (I Timothy 4:1-4). Here Paul said, "Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats . . . . " The "faith" would refer to the gospel of Christ--the teaching of the New Testament as a whole. The NIV says, "abandon the faith" and the NASB and ASV say, "some shall fall away." One who departs from "the faith" no longer has it-- he has left it. The person is described as "giving heed to seducing spirits," and "doctrines of demons." He speaks "lies in hypocrisy," and his conscience has been "seared with a hot iron." Does this describe a saved person? Is this person just as saved as one who contends earnestly for the faith (Jude 3) and opposes the doctrines of demons?
- deny the faith (I Timothy 5:8). This verse says, "But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel." In this context, Paul is speaking about the responsibilities that Christians (v. 16) have to provide for their own. In verse eight, he states the consequences of not doing that (These verses show that a person can deny the faith by his actions as well as by his words). If he does, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. Generally, even an unbeliever will understand the importance of providing for his own.
- err from the faith (I Timothy 6:10). Paul is here speaking of the love of money and says, "which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith." He would have to be speaking of Christians here as he errs FROM the faith. If a person cannot err from the faith, why mention it? Can a person err from that which saves him and still be saved?
- have his faith overthrown (II Timothy 2:18). Verse 18 describes Hymenaeus and Philetus who are said to have erred from the truth (they taught that the resurrection was already past), and they had "overthrown the faith of some." So our faith can be overthrown! These brethren had erred themselves, and had caused others' faith to be OVERTHROWN.
The verses cited speak of five things which can happen to our faith. If any one of them happens to a person's faith, that person would certainly be lost!
James 5:19-20 says, "Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him; Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins."
It is clear that he is talking about Christians here. He is addressing "brethren" in these verses, and he says "if any of you" do err from the truth. Thus, those who are brethren can "err from the truth." Further, how can a person err from that which he does not have?
If this brother errs, he can be "converted" (v. 19b.) What if this sinner is converted from the error of his way? Verse 20 tells us that the one who converts him, "shall save a soul from death," and "shall hide a multitude of sins." It is very clear that the person who errs (a Christian) is in a lost state.
What is the "death" spoken of that the erring one is saved from? It is obviously spiritual death (1:15; 1:21), i.e., the second death (Rev. 20:6). Physical death will occur whether a person sins or not. Spiritual death, which involves a separation from God, comes about as a result of sin!
Not only would the person who converts the sinner from the error of his way save a soul from death, but he would also "hide a multitude of sins." Some translations says "cover." To hide, or cover, sin means to have it forgiven. Note the parallelism of Psalms 85:2 which says, "Thou hast forgiven the iniquity of thy people, thou hast covered all their sins." Nehemiah employs this same figure when he prayed (Neh. 4:5) concerning his enemies, "And cover not their iniquity, and let not their sin be blotted out from before thee . . . . " (Note also I Peter 4:8 & Proverbs 10:12.)
Sometimes it is argued that the term "brother" refers to a brother in the sense of a Jewish brother. Thus, he is not speaking of the possibility of a Christian falling. From James 2:1, it is clear that those addressed as "brethren" had faith. The NASB says, "My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism." He is speaking to brethren whose faith was being tried (1:2-3), and, in the same context of verses 5:19-20, of those who could pray (5:13-16). There is no reason to think that verses 19-20 refer to "brethren" in the sense of "Jewish brethren." Instead, Christians are addressed, and it is clear that if they err from the truth that they could fall from grace.
Who Really Has Security?
People who believe the doctrine of "once saved, always saved" usually place much emphasis on, and take great comfort in, their doctrine. In fact, to many who hold this view, it is viewed as one of their most important doctrines. They also have a tendency to view any group who does not hold this position as greatly inferior. They may ask someone who holds a different view, "Where is your security?"
The Bible does teach "security" for Christians (note Jn. 10:27-29, Rom. 8:31-39, I Pet. 1:3-5). It does not teach, however, that we have "unconditional" security.
Consider a person who has been a "faithful Baptist," for example, for many years and suddenly turns to a life of sin. His sinful activities may include such sins as fornication, drinking, and gambling How would this be explained? Has this person fallen from grace? "No," it would be said, "the man was never really saved to begin with." (This would typically be said even though the man might have been very active in the denomination for many years, even though he might have been a "Sunday School" teacher, and even though he might have claimed a "salvation experience.") They seem to be saying this, "If you've got it, you can't lose it; if you lose it you never really had it." Consider Ironside on this subject:
"I do not know how many times I have had individuals come to me with a hypothetical case like this: 'Suppose a man who joined the church, who professed to be saved, who for a number of years was a very active Christian worker, perhaps a Sunday School teacher, perhaps an elder or a deacon in the church, maybe a minister; but after some years of apparent consistent Christian living and helpfulness in testimony he turns his back on it all, returns to the world, and utterly repudiates Christianity and now denies in toto the gospel he once professed. How does that square with your doctrine of the eternal security of the believer?' That does not touch the matter at all. The apostle John tells us how we are to understand a case like that. He says in the second chapter and the nineteenth verse of his first Epistle, 'They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not of us,' or literally, 'that they were not altogether of us.' That is, it is possible to do all the things that I have spoken of and yet never be regenerated. It is quite possible to join a church, to make a Christian profession; it is quite possible to observe the Christian ordinances, to teach and to preach, and yet never be born again. If one teaches and preaches the truth, it will produce good results, and will do men good whether the teacher or the preacher be real or not, for it is the truth that God uses."(17)
This seems to be a very convenient explanation. But I wonder, how many thousands have throughout the years ended up, as they would say, being only "pretenders." In fact, what kind of security does a Baptist really have? How does a person today know whether or not he is one of the mere "professors"? The man described above who went astray (and who is labeled as never having been saved) may have had the same claim of a "salvation experience," as the active member. He may have seemed sincere; he may have appeared to be very devoted to the Lord. So, how does the active member know whether or not that someday the same thing will happen to him? Is it being said that the many thousands "who went astray but were never really of us" were all dishonest, i.e., they knew the whole time that they were just pretending? How much security do the proponents of this position really have?
Often, those who hold this doctrine will claim that they are saved based on some past "salvation experience." If this person begins to doubt his salvation, his experience cannot be repeated. He memory may certainly grow dim in time. Yet, those who have complied with the plan of salvation as taught in God's Word (Rom. 10:17; Jn. 3:16; Acts 2:38, 17:30-31; Rom. 10:10; Mk. 16:16) can, at any time, read what they did to be saved, and be assured of that they have done what it takes to be a child of God.
An examination of these passages make it very clear that the doctrine that a child of God cannot fall from grace is false. Paul said that we must take heed lest we fall (I Cor. 10:12), and Peter points out that we must do certain things to keep from falling (II Pet. 1:6-10). I Corinthians 15:58 tells us that we are to be, "...stedfast, unmoveable, always abound in the work of the Lord...." A belief in the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints, can cause us to fail "take heed," to fail to add to our faith, and fail to endeavor to be steadfast as the Bible commands. This doctrine has many serious consequences.
1. H.A. Ironside, Litt.D., The Eternal Security of the Believer (Nepturn, New Jersey: Loizeaux Brothers) pages 6.
2. The doctrine has its origin in the Calvinism. The basic idea of this doctrine is that if you are not among the elect, you cannot be saved. If you are, however, of the elect, there is nothing you can do to be lost. This number cannot be increased or diminished. Thus the doctrine of the "Impossibility of Apostasy."
3. Ironside, p. 32-33.
4. Joseph Henry Thayer, D.D. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1974) page 55.
5. Thomas N. Thrasher, and Eddie K. Garrett, Thrasher-Garrett Debate on Unconditional Salvation and Apostasy (Gospel Defender Publishing Company, 1974) page 59.
6. N.B. Hardeman and Ben M. Bogard, Hardeman-Bogard Debate (Nashville, TN: Gospel Advocate Company, 1938) page 257.
7. Roy E. Cogdill and D.N. Jackson, The Cogdill-Jackson Debate (Marion, IN: Cogdill Foundation Publications, 1977) page 182.
8. Some use these verses to try and justify denominationalism. They say that Jesus is the vine and the denominations are the branches. Clearly Jesus is not saying any such thing. The verses show that Jesus is the vine and INDIVIDUAL CHRISTIANS are the branches.
9. Verses 17-18 show that the gifts of the Holy Spirit were bestowed upon Christians by the laying on of the apostles' hands (Note also Romans 1:11; Acts 19:6).
10. See also I Timothy 3:8, Titus 1:16, and II Corinthians 13:5 where the same word (adokimos) is found. In these three passages, it is translated "reprobate" (KJV).
11. Robert Milligan, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews (Nashville, TN: Gospel Advocate Company, 1973) page145.
12. Verses 7-8 are taken from Psalm 95. Verse 7 says, "Wherefore (as the Holy Ghost saith...." This makes it clear that the writers of the Old Testament were speaking by the inspiration of God.. David gave the admonition, but the writer of Hebrews said, "the Holy Ghost saith." (Compare II Peter 1:21 and II Timothy 3:16-17).
13. Thayer, page 663.
14. It has been argued that eating and tasting are two different things, implying that this verse is a description of those who are not really Christians. The same word, however, is used in Hebrews 2:9 which speaks of Jesus tasting death for every man. Jesus certainly experienced death.
15. Milligan, page 365.
16. Hebrews 6:6 and 10:26 are not saying that a Christian can never, no matter what he does, receive forgiveness of his sins (Note I Jn. 1:8-10; 2;1-2). We cannot, however, receive forgiveness, no matter what, if we continue in our sins without repentance. Also, if one rejects Jesus, who is and will be our only sacrifice, then there is no possible way that salvation can be obtained.
17. Ironside, page 8.
[Editors Note: Thanks to Mike for the article! Mike can be reached at: Mike Johnson, 2137 Penhall Drive NE, Huntsville, AL 35811, email@example.com]
Email the Editor at firstname.lastname@example.org
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