Tuesday, December 31, 2013
A friend of mine told me about an Evangelical friend of his - I’m not sure how the topic came up - who claimed, “I’ve been saved; I don’t need to repent!” This flabbergasted me. I could not believe that any Christian could claim that they did not need to repent.
I wanted to know more. Not knowing which particular church this friend frequents, I decided to do some investigating. I rocketed out a few emails to Evangelical churches in my area – hoping to start a dialogue - and I asked them once very simple question: “How are we saved?” Only one church got back to me. The following is how our exchange went (I’ve omitted certain details at the request of the individual to whom I spoke with; I have his permission to publish this on the condition that those details are not revealed and that he be referred to under a pseudonym; we’ll call him “Martin”):
Me: Martin, thank you very much for getting back to me. Would you mind answering for me how we are saved, and more specifically, if you could explain the concept of “eternal security” to me or “Once saved, always saved” as it is otherwise referred to.
Martin: I’d be happy to do that, Stephen. First of all, and I’m sure Catholics would agree with this, we are saved by Christ. Just have a read of John 3:16; if you believe in Christ, if you believe that He is God, if you believe that He was sent to us to save us from our sins then you will be united with God in Heaven. At --church name omitted-- we uphold the tradition of Eternal Security or “Once saved, always saved” as you put it. We believe that once a person gives their life to Jesus, begins a personal relationship with him, and they claim that Christ is Lord, then nothing – no force on earth – can separate them from God. You can find this in scripture too; it says in Romans (8:35-39):
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or anguish, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Even as it is written, for thy sake we are killed all the day long; We were accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Basically, once you give yourself to Christ, you’re His forever and by the promise made in John 3:16 you will meet Him in Heaven.
Me: Amen to all that, Martin, and you’ll find that Catholics will agree with most with what you’ve said there - especially where being saved by Christ is concerned - but there is something you said I wanted to question you further on. Regarding Eternal Security, Amen that nothing shall separate us from the love of Christ; we know that God is all loving, merciful, and forgiving, but what if someone was to be “saved” one day, but sin Mortally the next day? Romans 8:35-39 doesn’t mention murder, sexual immorality, adultery, breaking any of the 10 Commandments, etc. What if someone who was “saved” one day was to sin in one of these ways after being “saved”? Are they still saved?
Martin: We believe and maintain that nothing shall separate us from the love of Christ, as it is written.
Me: Again, Amen to that, Martin. God loves us no matter what, but what if we reject His love willingly by sinning? Consider this:
“If anyone sees his brother sinning, if the sin is not deadly, he should pray to God and he will give him life. This is only for those whose sin is not deadly. There is such a thing as deadly sin, about which I do not say that you should pray. All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that is not deadly.” - 1 John 5:16-17
The author of 1st John points out quite clearly a distinction between types of sin, i.e. sin that is deadly, and sin that is not deadly. The Catholic Church further identifies this distinction as Mortal Sin (the sin that is “deadly”) and Venial Sin (sin that is not deadly). Now you and I both know that in Christ, in God there is life, but the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). We believe that a person unrepentant of their Mortal Sin will not be joined with God in Heaven. So I ask you this question: if a person that is “saved” sins Mortally, are they still saved?
Martin: We don’t believe in a distinction between sins; sin is sin, and by the blood of Christ we are saved from them all.
Me: Amen to that, Martin, but you haven’t answered my question: if a person that is “saved” sins Mortally, for example if they murder someone after being saved, are they still saved?
Martin: Well, Stephen, if there’s a person that’s been saved that commits murder after giving themselves to Christ, then perhaps they weren’t being genuine about giving themselves to Christ to begin with.
Me: So they weren’t really “saved”?
Martin: It would appear so, yes.
Me: Are you suggesting that Christ couldn’t “save” that person?
Martin: No, that’s not what I’m suggesting. What I’m suggesting is that that person internally had no intention of giving themselves to Christ that day and because of this they went on in their sinful ways.
Me: Interesting. Martin, are you familiar with the parable of the Prodigal Son? Was the son not already in the “Father’s House” (which represents full union with God/salvation) before he left?
Martin: Of course.
Me: Okay, based on your own understanding of that parable, are you able to tell me how the son found himself out of the Father’s house?
Martin: Of course, Stephen. In summary, the son basically told his father, “You’re dead to me” and took his share of the inheritance and willingly left his Father’s House.
Me: In your opinion, was the son saved?
Martin: He was in the Father’s House; he was saved.
Me: But he left the Father’s House, and according to your logic - based on what we’ve already discussed - because he willingly left the Father’s House, he was never “saved” to begin with. How is this possible if he is in the Father’s House - with the Father - to begin with?
Martin: Stephen, it’s a parable, a made up story to teach the follower’s of Christ a lesson. It’s not meant to reveal the answers to the theological questions we have today.
Me: Wow, Martin, wow! Did you just suggest that Christ’s… Christ, the same “yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8), His teachings do not reveal any theological truths today?
Blogger’s note: that was the last message I left with “Martin”; I haven’t heard from him in three weeks. Suffice to say I’m disappointed that the exchange has seemingly come to an end as I would have loved to have learned more about Eternal Security (“Once saved, always saved”) from “Martin”.
What I find strange is how “Bible believing” Christians - not just from Evangelical churches - claim that Eternal Security is biblical yet at the same time they ignore passages in the Bible that very clearly contradict it! Since I did not get a chance to do a full and proper exegesis of the Parable of the Prodigal Son with “Martin”, I’m going to do a very quick on here. Here’s how we can break it down:
- the father in the parable represents God
- the father's house/home represents heaven/salvation/full union with God
- the son could be anyone one of us, but one that has sinned and turned away from God
The son starts out in his father's house - he is already “saved” - but he turns his back on his father and he makes a conscious decision in doing so. An Evangelical Christian might argue that if a person has lost their salvation then they weren't really saved to begin with (as demonstrated in the dialogue above). If you're in the father's house, YOU'RE IN THE FATHER'S HOUSE! Nothing can take you away, but that does not necessarily mean that you can't go on ahead and walk out if you so choose to (yes, it all boils down to free will). If we were "assured" of our salvation, then the father in the parable would have stopped his son from leaving his house even after his son had implied, "You are dead to me" and sinned against him (Luke 15:21).
By leaving his father, the son has to make a conscious decision to abandon his father and his house/home, something that would require a monumental amount of pride to accomplish, and by doing so the son as well says, "I don't need you". Choice can go either of two ways: You choose to either in communion with God, or you choose to abandon Him. In the same way, you can choose to come to God through His son, Jesus Christ, and be saved (John 3:16-17) but if you sin (mortally; 1 John 5:17) you can destroy that communion with God. The son in the parable chose to destroy the communion he had with his father and destroy the relationship. Did this mean his father stopped loving him? No, not at all, and this did not mean that the father did not want his son to be with him in his house. We have to remember that only those who persevere until the end will be saved (Matthew 24:13) and that we cannot love God if we have sinned against Him; the son could not love his father because he was dead to him. The son is welcomed back into his father's house only after he has humbled himself and repented for his wrongdoings; his father forgives him and celebrates his return to life (Luke 15:32).
So let’s take a look at just a handful of scripture passages that tell us that we need to repent in order to be saved… or, at the very least, tell us that we’re not “once saved, always saved” (bolded for emphasis) and that we must endure until the very end:
"'Not every one who says to me, `Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven." - Matthew 7:21
"Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God's kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness; otherwise you too will be cut off." - Romans 11:22
"Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling;" - Philippians 2:12
"For if we sin deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful prospect of judgment, and a fury of fire which will consume the adversaries." - Hebrews 10:26-27
“And Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and be baptised every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’” - Acts 2:38
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.” - Hebrews 12:1
“… and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved.” - Matthew 10:22
“Strive for peace with all men, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” - Hebrews 12:14
“Blessed is the man who endures trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life which God has promised to those who love him.” - James 1:12
“If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not live according to the truth; but if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” - 1 John 1:6-10
“If a man does not abide in me, he is cast forth as a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you will, and it shall be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.” - John 15:6-10
“I am coming soon; hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown.” - Revelation 3:11
“My brethren, if any one among you wanders from the truth and some one brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.” - James 5:19-20
“Look to yourselves, that you may not lose what you have worked for, but may win a full reward.” - 2 John 1:8
“But when a righteous man turns away from his righteousness and commits iniquity and does the same abominable things that the wicked man does, shall he live? None of the righteous deeds which he has done shall be remembered; for the treachery of which he is guilty and the sin he has committed, he shall die.” - Ezekiel 18:24
I’ve only scraped the surface there, but let’s finish off by saying this: Even if you’re “saved” tomorrow, if you commit a Mortal Sin after that, you must repent again and seek forgiveness, time and time again! Catholics should know and understand that this is precisely why we have the Sacrament of Reconciliation; we have a physical place where we can go, confess our sins, and reconcile ourselves with God and the Church again, and again if necessary. Why? Because the Church recognises that we have an inclination to sin (concupiscence). Repentance is a voluntary act of the will - led by grace - as living a life in cooperation with God’s grace to grow in holiness is. Both require humility, to devoid ourselves of the sin of pride and place our trust in the transformative power of Christ.
"Eternal fire was prepared for him who voluntarily departed from God and for all who, without repentance, persevere in apostasy." - St. Justin Martyr (Irenaeus, Against Heresies 5:26 [A.D. 156]).
… and why? We do not repent and seek forgiveness because we don’t want to go to Hell, no. There is no love in doing (or not doing) because we fear the consequences, but rather we do (or not do) out of love. We admit fault and say sorry because we love God, and as doing harm to someone that we love may destroy the relationship with them, so too does Mortal Sin - rejecting the love God has for us - by our own fault destroys the relationship we have with God. That does not mean though that God stops loving us, but as the sacred scriptures and the Church teaches, to love God is to do His will and to grow in holiness (Matthew 5:48).
“We cannot be united with God unless we freely choose to love him. But we cannot love God if we sin gravely against him, against our neighbour or against ourselves: ‘He who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.’ Our Lord warns us that we shall be separated from him if we fail to meet the serious needs of the poor and the little ones who are his brethren. To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God's merciful love means remaining separated from him forever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called ‘hell’". - Catechism of the Catholic Church, par. 1033