Friday, January 21

Someone asked me the other day what I think of the doctrine of eternal security (I am amazed at how big a deal this terminology is for some people.) -- or more precisely the version of it which states "once saved, always saved." Once someone has confessed Christ as Savior can he or she lose the salvation which comes with such a confession? Can we lose our salvation?

Volumes have been written on this topic and it is probably unnecessary to summarize everyone's thinking at this point. However, I want to suggest that the reason this creates such an issue for some people is that many of us hold to a faulty premise regarding what constitutes salvation. We have come to think of salvation as a kind of heavenly entry ticket -- a document to be possessed. (Perhaps this idea that comes from over-extending the forensic nature of the language of "justification" in the Apostle Paul's writing. If you push on the metaphor too hard it collapses on itself. And it doesn't help that evangelists sometimes appeal to people to "come receive salvation" as though it was something being handed out at the front of the room.) But from a broad biblical perspective salvation is not a commodity to be possessed; it is, rather, something that happens to us on an ongoing basis as we grow into being new people, recreated into the likeness of Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18, 5:17)

For example, in St Paul's writing:

We HAVE BEEN SAVED (past tense): Titus 3:5 (ESV) ...he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit...

We ARE BEING SAVED (present tense): 2 Corinthians 2:15 (ESV) For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing...

We WILL BE SAVED (future tense): Romans 5:9-10 (ESV) Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.

Let me put it another way. The statement "once saved always saved" is wrong -- not because someone loses their salvation when they sin but because we are not "once saved" in the first place. Salvation is not something that we come to posses but something which increasingly posses us. We are constantly in need of being saved. Conversion is a process of turning to the Lord on a moment by moment basis -- something which we enter into.

Sure there are definitive points when we start to turn to the Lord -- when we begin to exercise faith. And in a very limited sense that is a moment of salvation. But it is followed by an infinite number of moments of salvation as we receive God's grace and as the Holy Spirit re-forms us. It is more of an in-process state of being than a possession, commodity, or a boarding pass that we keep in our pockets.

Those who are familiar with the traditional Protestant distinctions between justification, sanctification, and glorification, will perhaps recognize that this approach tends to blur those distinctions. This is a more holistic way of looking at salvation. If we start chopping things into little pieces and over-defining things we're going to find ourselves drifting from the biblical understanding -- for the Bible is not as inclined to draw sharp distinctions and to create systems and an order of salvation (ordo salutis).

Does this mean that we need to worry over our salvation? Certainly not! God is merciful and faithful. He will complete the process -- Philippians 1:6 (ESV) And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. We can live with confidence. Yet at the same time there is a is a recurring admonition in the New Testament for believers to "hold fast" -- 1 Corinthians 15:1-2 (ESV) Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you -- unless you believed in vain.

And so we live with the tension of knowing that we are totally and eternally secure in Christ. But our security is only in Christ -- and so we have to constantly cling to him to continually receive what no one can take from us.

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