Soteriology: The Doctrine of Salvation – Part 12
by Jonathan Hamilton
This is going to be a bit longer article than usual, but it is worth it in order to be able to say: this is the last post in this series! I cannot stomach typing the words “Part 13” on a future post. This has been a long road, but I’ve tried to provide as comprehensive of coverage of the doctrine of salvation as I could with the limited class notes that I was able to record during lectures. In this article, we will briefly touch on several more topics: Eternal Security, Assurance, Chastening, Regeneration, and Adoption. For those who have been along for the whole ride, I hope it has been worth your time – the doctrine certainly is; my coverage of it …. well that’s a different story.
Can I ever be lost once I have been saved? No. Once a person is saved he can never again be lost. Salvation wasn’t gained based on what he did, so it can’t be lost based on what he does. But salvation has to be objectively real in the sight of God. Not everyone who professes salvation possesses salvation.
One of the most common objections is that eternal security provides a license to sin. But John makes it clear in 1 John 3:4-10 that the saved person does not go on sinning. Our problem is that we don’t know where the line is between sinning sometimes and habitually sinning. And if we don’t know where the line is the best thing we can do is to stay as far away from the line as possible.
Calvinists refer to this doctrine as the perseverance of the saints.
Why do we believe in eternal security?
1: Romans 8:28-39 | It is dependent on the work of the Father. If you are God’s child, you cannot be separated from God’s love. You also, if justified, cannot not be glorified. Glorification will happen.
2: John 10:27-30 | It is also based on the work of the Son. If I come to Christ, and He says to me, “You have eternal life,” and then I sin later and He takes it away from me, was it ever eternal life to begin with? No. On the other hand, if they’ve been given to Christ, they cannot be taken away.
3: Ephesians 1:13-14 | The Holy Spirit is the earnest money of our inheritance. If God reneges on the promise, He loses the earnest. And He’s not about to lose the Holy Spirit.
Passages Used To Attempt To Refute Eternal Security
Some OT passages are dispensational in nature, and cannot be applied to us. The most obvious is Psalm 51:11 where David prays “take not Your Holy Spirit from me.” This is not talking about salvation. David had been an eyewitness to God’s removal of the theocratic anointing of King Saul and he is in great fear because he doesn’t want to be left on his own. It’s got nothing to do with even David’s salvation, let alone ours.
Some passages are actually talking about loss of reward at the judgment seat of Christ. 1 Cor. 3:11-15 is an example of this. The apostle Paul has just been rebuking the partisan attitude of the believers in Corinth. In this partisanship they have chosen team mascots. Paul is one of the mascots, and he doesn’t like it a bit. He uses two analogies (farmer; building) to show that he and Apollos are not pitted against one another, but on the same side. In this chapter he’s actually talking to church leaders at Corinth, pastors. And if you, as pastors, invest in wood, hay, and stubble, you’re going to lose it. Fire destroys these. So you’ll be saved, but the reward you might have had will be lost. [Incidentally, one of the most amazing parts about this passage is that God rewards leaders according to their labors. He doesn’t reward according to results. This is immensely comforting to the discouraged pastor on the backside of North Dakota who’s been brutalized and never seen his church grow big. Has he wasted his life? No. The Lord will reward him according to his labors.]
And some passages are simply referring to the physical death of believers as a result of chastening. Romans 8:13 teaches that as a Christian lives carnally, he is moment by moment courting death. I John 5:16-17, a very difficult passage no matter what side you take, teaches that God doesn’t treat all sin the same. Some sins are worthy of death.
Assurance (subjective) is not the same thing as salvation (objective). Assurance comes in three ways:
1: It has to rest on the promises of God. The question isn’t are we hanging onto God, the question is “Is God hanging on to us?” 1 John 3:18-21
2: We gain assurance through self-examination. Do we see progressive sanctification at work?
3: Romans 8:14-17 | Assurance comes from the Spirit of God. We may lose our assurance if we are sinning.
If someone is struggling, where do we direct them? To the Gospel. We are not trusting our self-examination or our subjective feeling or even our conversion experience. The question is, “Are we trusting Christ?”
Hebrews 12:4-13 | If you never receive chastening, particularly if you can persist in sin and not receive chastening, you should examine yourself as to your salvation. Every Christian gets chastened. Our fathers chastened us according to their desires but He chastens us for our good. Don’t grow discouraged under chastening, let it encourage you to spiritual growth.
James 5:13-16 | Sickness may be a result of chastening. The anointing with oil is not medicinal or mystical, it’s symbolic. We can do this today. But the main point is not the anointing with oil. The main point, since this may be a result of sin, is to call the elders for real spiritual counsel. If sins are discovered they can be confessed and forgiven and you can be healed.
1 Cor. 11:27-32 | Abuse of the Lord’s Table may be judged with sickness or death.
Ananias and Sapphira provide a convenient example of the sin unto death. God may not always use such immediate and automatic means, but that does not mean He has stopped judging His children.
Some chastening may be to prevent sin, or to accomplish His purpose. God allows some suffering that He might manifest His grace (Paul’s thorn in the flesh), or to mature the believer (James 1:2-4). At the end of the day, God simply allows some suffering to go unexplained. He doesn’t owe it to us to explain it.
Our minds need not automatically go to chastening when in suffering. But if there’s obvious sin in my life, it ought to be a consideration. If there’s someone living in a sinful pattern, we are justified to ask the person if they have considered that this might be God’s chastening. If you see someone sinning willfully as a pattern of life with no chastening, you ought to question their conversion.
The expression “born again” is used in sort of a general religious sense loosely, and in an undefined way. Specifically, regeneration is new birth. It is the beginning of new life. We change at regeneration. We are made alive spiritually. That life comes from God’s Spirit. Regeneration is the work of the Spirit of God (John 3:3-8). The Holy Spirit is the Agent of the new birth; it is something He does and He does it on His own initiative.
But not only is regeneration new birth. When you are born, you have a father. And when you are born, you are born into a family. You get into God’s family through birth (John 1:12), not adoption.
This new life in us is what results in the conflict with sin. The flesh has strong desires against the Spirit, and the Spirit has strong desires against the flesh. There ought to be evidence of a change in our lives, and this change is related to regeneration.
Adoption is distinct from regeneration. Regeneration tells me how I get into God’s family, adoption tells me where I stand in God’s family. It’s not about whether you’re part of the family, it’s about whether you’re viewed as an immature child or an heir of the family (according to Roman custom). “Child” is a regeneration term. “Son” is an adoption term. A child is under a tutor. Slaves boss him around. But when he becomes a son, he’s treated as an heir of the house.
Gal. 4:5-7 | Romans 8:14-15
Adoption has three time frames (like many aspects of salvation):
1: Planned in eternity past
2: Enjoyed as a status presently
3: Completed at the resurrection
Does faith cause regeneration, or does regeneration cause faith? (Remember, the order of salvation discussion is pertaining to logical order, not chronological order)
1: Regeneration causes faith: John 3:8 | John 1:13
How would you believe without some change in your nature? You are dead previously. (Many Calvinists)
2: Faith causes regeneration: John 1:12
But how can a person who is dead believe if regeneration doesn’t precede faith? There has to be a “preliminary work” that happens prior to faith, which happens prior to regeneration. It is this: sanctification of the Spirit (2 Thess. 2:13). If regeneration does not cause faith, something back there has to, and this verse supplies us with the “something.” (Some Calvinists and all Arminians)
In a sense, both positions believe God is doing the same thing, they just use different labels. The substance of the debate is pretty narrow.