I do not believe that there is any way to lose (or give up) salvation. Or at least I do not think there is. Yet some verses in Scripture are pretty difficult to interpret this way. To get right to it, there are two major problem passages which come up often. I usually don’t spend much time on them, but by request I am now going to tackle them.
The Trouble Texts
For it is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have once been enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, since on their own they are crucifying again the Son of God and are holding him up to contempt.
For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overpowered, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than, after knowing it, to turn back from the holy commandment that was passed on to them. It has happened to them according to the true proverb, “The dog turns back to its own vomit,” and, “The sow is washed only to wallow in the mud.”
2 Peter 2:20-22
The Trouble with the Texts
Both of these passages make it sound very much as though salvation is something you can lose. After all, enlightenment, tasting of a heavenly gift, sharing in the Holy Spirit, and tasting the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come sounds a lot like being saved. Yet of these people the author implies they can fall away from this grace and so be completely impossible to restore to repentance. After all, he says, they are essentially crucifying Christ again, but He rose once for all. So what hope remains for them?
[fquote align=”right”]I do not believe you can stop being a true believer, but when faced with these verses I am very tempted to jump ship.[/fquote]
Same goes for the 2 Peter passage. These people escaped the entanglements of the world through the knowledge of Jesus, but have again been entangled and overpowered, now worse than they ever were. They knew the way of righteousness and then turned back from it. They left the vomit of their sin and came back to it. How can that not be someone losing his salvation?
Let me approach this honestly: these texts make me uncertain. I do not believe you can stop being a true believer, but I do not hold to this with certainty. I am willing to follow Scripture wherever it leads, and when faced with these verses I am very tempted to jump ship from my current position. Of course, this raises greater questions as well. It is the Calvinist position that believers are eternally secured, secured to persevere in the faith by God’s preservation through the Holy Spirit. I daresay this position is logically necessitated by Calvinism. So if someone can lose his salvation, does this make Calvinism false? If so, and if these verses teach you can lose your salvation, then where am I left?
What Are the Possibilities?
Obviously, there are only a few ways this can go, so I’ll lay them out. First, Calvinism could be true and these verses could not teach that you can lose your salvation. This is what I suspect is true, and I will elaborate why later on. There is also the possibility that Calvinism is false and these verses still do not teach you can lose your salvation. This is unlikely. If Calvinism is false, I think these verses would make pretty good evidence that salvation can be lost. Another possibility is that Calvinism is true but these verses do teach you can lose your salvation. This is an odd possibility, so I will have to elaborate on it. The final possibility is that Calvinism is false and these verses teach you can lose your salvation. This position seems self-explanatory. Let me go on about these last two possibilities, though.
Calvinism True/Lose Salvation True?
One interesting possibility is that Calvinism is true, but it is also possible to enter a state of grace and then fall from it. You can have temporary saving faith.
"How could this be?" you ask. "I thought Calvinism said ‘once saved, always saved.’ How can an elect person not be saved in the end?"
[fquote align=”left”]The idea is that God may grant some non-elect people grace sufficient for a temporary faith.[/fquote]
The OSAS moniker isn’t really accurate for any Calvinist, but on that point I digress. See, there is an old-fashioned Calvinist doctrine we sometimes call the “temporary faith of the reprobate.” Basically, the idea is that God may grant some non-elect people—people who are not predestined to final salvation—grace sufficient for a temporary faith. This faith, however, is not rooted deeply, or is overtaken by other concerns, per the Parable of the Soils. Eventually they cease to believe, and they return to a state worse than before, further condemned for rejecting the enlightenment they had been provided.
This view comes from John Calvin himself, and some early Calvinists. For example, directly on topic, here are Calvin’s closing commentary notes on the Hebrews text:
But here arises a new question, how can it be that he who has once made such a progress should afterwards fall away? For God, it may be said, calls none effectually but the elect, and Paul testifies that they are really his sons who are led by his Spirit, (Romans 8:14;) and he teaches us, that it is a sure pledge of adoption when Christ makes us partakers of his Spirit. The elect are also beyond the danger of finally falling away; for the Father who gave them to be preserved by Christ his Son is greater than all, and Christ promises to watch over them all so that none may perish. To all this I answer, That God indeed favors none but the elect alone with the Spirit of regeneration, and that by this they are distinguished from the reprobate; for they are renewed after his image and receive the earnest of the Spirit in hope of the future inheritance, and by the same Spirit the Gospel is sealed in their hearts. But I cannot admit that all this is any reason why he should not grant the reprobate also some taste of his grace, why he should not irradiate their minds with some sparks of his light, why he should not give them some perception of his goodness, and in some sort engrave his word on their hearts. Otherwise, where would be the temporal faith mentioned by Mark 4:17? There is therefore some knowledge even in the reprobate, which afterwards vanishes away, either because it did not strike roots sufficiently deep, or because it withers, being choked up.
John Calvin, Commentary on Hebrews
Now, this view is not to say that the non-elect have been truly born again, adopted as sons of God, sealed with the Spirit, and the like. However, they have been connected to some degree to Christ by faith, and they receive grace to live for a time nearly like a true believer. However, without the help of the Spirit to indwell them, they will eventually abandon this faith, and at this point they have truly condemned themselves.
Technically speaking, you could say this view doesn’t count as “losing your salvation,” since you were never truly born again, but those who had temporary faith were still given grace by the Holy Spirit, and in all respects would appear to be a believer, even to themselves, so I think for all intents and purposes it counts.
[fquote align=”right”]One problem is that this view simply seems a bit, well, sadistic.[/fquote]
So what of this view? Well, on the plus side, it does easily handle these texts, allowing for someone to fall from a certain state of grace. Also, it has history with Calvinism, so that helps it fit in the theological framework of which I am most convinced.
There are downsides, as well. One problem is that this view simply seems a bit, well, sadistic. Unconditional election can be hard enough, but that some of those who are not elect will be granted temporary faith by God so that they even believe for a time and think they will be saved, even though they will certainly not be—well, that just seems pretty cold. It might be one thing if they came to a fallen faith with purely human, sinful reasoning, but this is God granting them doomed faith. That’s scary.
One other issue with this view is that there is simply lacking Biblical evidence. There’s just not Scripture around to suggest that God would grant someone faith that is by nature temporary. This is an inference based on Scripture appearing to suggest that we can lose salvation, while also teaching monergism and unconditional election. It almost seems to be an ad-hoc, Band-Aid doctrine to fix a recognized inconsistency.
So we’ve possibly eliminated one option and seen the problems presented by these texts. In the next part of this two (or possibly three) part series, I’ll address the other possibilities, and perhaps finish (though that may be reserved for a third part).