David Bates, on his blog Restless Pilgrim, has written a three-part analysis of “Once Saved, Always Saved,” the Protestant notion that “the elect” can never lose their salvation. He gave me permission to cross-post here. (By the way, if you’re wondering about all the references to tea, he is a Brit living in the US.) Without further ado, here’s part one:
I recently had some comments on my Once Saved, Always Saved post by a chap called MackQuigley. In that post I presented several passages as evidence that it is possible to lose one’s salvation. Mack disagreed with my article and said that I had misapplied these passages and that they did not, in fact, support my case.
In his final comment, Mack went through each of the passages I quoted and gave a brief summary of his own interpretation in an attempt to prove that it is not possible to lose one’s salvation. Since he graciously took the time to explain his position and challenged my post in a charitable manner, I would like to return the favour and offer a reply.
I’m going to break up my response into a few different posts, collecting together the passages where Mack used similar argumentation to disqualify the texts. For each passage, I’m going to quote the Scripture under examination, append Mack’s comments and finally offer my own rebuttal.
There are quite a few Scripture passages to address here – seven in total – so this’ll take a little bit of time. It’s probably a good idea to put on the kettle and brew up a nice cup of tea before we continue…
Text #1: 1 John 5:16-17
“If anyone sees his brother commit a sin that does not lead to death, he should pray and God will give him life. I refer to those whose sin does not lead to death. There is a sin that leads to death. I am not saying that he should pray about that. All wrongdoing is sin, and there is sin that does not lead to death”
[This] sin is the fleshly sins of Christian[s], some of which are serious enough to result in early physical death (1 Corinthians 5:5). The soul remains saved, this passage does not send any Christians to hell.
Mack asserts here that the “death” referred to by John is a physical death and not a spiritual one. Obviously, I disagree with this assessment…
The life and death of St. John
I would like to draw Mack’s attention to some verses which appear earlier in St. John’s epistle:
Exhibit A: “…we have passed out of death into life“ – 1 John 3:14
Is the “death” of which John speaks here physical or spiritual? Clearly, it’s the latter.
Exhibit B: “…God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son – 1 John 5:11
Is the “life” here physical or spiritual? Again, it’s clear that it is spiritual; the Beloved Disciple is describing supernatural life which comes through Christ.
Exhibit C: ”He who has the Son has life; he who has not the Son of God has not life” – 1 John 5:12
St. John again explains that Jesus grants us supernatural life, but he then goes on to say that a person without Son “has not life”. What’s another way of saying “has not life”? That’s easy, “has death”. Those without the Son are spiritually dead.
Given this context, when John speaks about “death” in the main passage under consideration, it’s far more likely that he is referring to a spiritual reality rather than a physical one.
I could say more in favour of the traditional Catholic interpretation of this passage, but I would like to instead consider this passage from Mack’s perspective and see if his interpretation holds water.
Sin, smiting & salvation
Let’s assume that the text is, in fact, talking about a physical death. Does this interpretation really strengthen Mack’s case?
Following Mack’s interpretation, the person being described here has committed a sin worthy of physical death! The actions of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:9-10) spring to mind. The person in question has angered God so much that He smites him! Would we really expect such a person to be immediately whisked into God’s glorious presence in Paradise? If I commit a grievous sin I’m rewarded with the beatific vision? Honestly, that seems rather counterintuitive to me,…
Making sense of life
I would also assert that, if we assume that John is talking about physical death, the passage quickly becomes unintelligible. To demonstrate this, allow me to re-render the first part of the verse, adding the qualifying word“physical” in the places where I think Mack assumes this meaning:
“If anyone sees his brother commit a sin that does not lead to physical death, he should pray and God will give him physical life”
Does this sentence make any sense? Clearly not. With the inclusion of this additional word, John is now describing the situation where a Christian has committed a sin but has not died. John says that the recipients of his letter should pray for this man…but why?
Assuming Mack’s interpretation, John tells his readers that if they pray God will “give him physical life”. What on earth can that mean? I mean, it has already been established that the man is still physically alive because his sin was not too serious! What then, is this “life” which God would give him? It surely has to refer to spiritual“life” and, if the “life” is spiritual, why would one assume that the “death” mentioned is non-spiritual?
So once saved, always saved? I’m afraid it doesn’t sound like it to me…
Text #2: 2 Peter 2:20-22
“If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning. It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them. Of them the proverbs are true: ‘A dog returns to its vomit,” and, “A sow that is washed goes back to her wallowing in the mud’”
[Peter] says they “escaped the pollutions of the world” which is an external filth, not an internal one. These people evidently adopted religion but were always unsaved because they never trusted Christ: they remained pigs and dogs, and their true nature won out eventually. But the saved person is a new creature: “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” 1 Cor. 5:17.
I have to admit I’m rather confused by Mack’s comments here as they seem to completely fly in the face of this passage. Additionally, Mack begins with what seems to me to be a rather odd suggestion…
The muddy pearl
Mack asserts that the “pollutions of the world” are external, not internal and that the one has no consequence on the other. Quite frankly, what is being described here sounds more to me like Libertine Gnosticism than Christianity. Does he really think that being polluted by the world has no internal consequences? I have thirty-three years of life experience which begs to differ!
Also, consider these words of St. James:
Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. – James 4:4
What happens to the enemies of God? Will they be saved?
As I indicated above, Mack makes a lot of assertions in his response which I can’t see grounded anywhere in the text. For example, he asserts that the people here “never trusted Christ”. What in the passage leads him to conclude this? In fact, St. Peter says the complete opposite, saying they “[knew] our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” and “the way of righteousness”!
Although they once knew Christ, the passage goes on to say that they became “again entangled” and decided to “turn their backs on the sacred command“. Mack asserts that they were always entangled, but if that were the case, why does St. Peter say that they became entangled “again”? How does that make sense? Also, is it possible to “turn [your] back” on something without ever having first embraced it?
St. Peter then quotes two proverbs, one about a dog which “returns” to its vomit, and another about a sow which“goes back” to the mud. Again, is it possible to return or go back to something which you have never left? Of course not!
For example, if I were locked up in jail and was rescued by my friends but subsequently recaptured, did I never actually leave the prison? Of course I did! I escaped…but I was recaptured. Likewise, St. Peter is saying that these people have been recaptured by sin. Earlier in his epistle, he gives us a clue as to how this will happen:
“…there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their licentiousness, and because of them the way of truth will be reviled” – 2 Peter 2:1-2
So, to conclude, St. Peter at no point says that “they never trusted Christ”. In fact, he doesn’t get even get close to saying this. His language and all the imagery he uses communicates that these people previously tasted the Heavenly gift but have subsequently spat it out.
So once saved, always saved? I’m afraid it doesn’t sound like it to me…
I’ll examine more of Mack’s responses in the next post.