Once Saved, Always Saved, Thrice Around

This is the second part of my answer to a thought-provoking and in-depth comment by DJ AMDG. His initial comment was sparked by a discussion here, and you may want to read pt. 1 of the response before you start here (although you don’t have to). His comments are in red, my responses are in black. Let’s begin:

If your interruptation of Heb3:14 were correct, than the NT authors failed
us in not being clear what assurance meant.

Actually, the “once saved always saved” doctrine’s a relative newcomer to the theological scene, as far as I know. I don’t think people have always been confused. Plus, couldn’t you make this argument about any doctrinal confusion? If two believers have a good-faith dispute over the meaning of the verse, it must mean the NT writers failed us? Personally, I’m more partial (for a lot of reasons, not least of which is the Biblical support that I see for it) to the idea that the same Holy Spirit who inspired those NT writers also inspired the Church which infallibly interprets problematic verses or themes when we can’t figure them out individually.

I refuse to believe that even Jesus failed the nuance test in John 10:27 where he talked about his followers given eternal life, never perishing, and that no one can change that.

I don’t think Jesus needs to fulfill any “nuance test.” I think He spoke as He desired to, and since He’s God, that’s that. But the Jews in John 10 also felt He failed the nuance test: see John 10:24.

More to the point, what Jesus is driving at is that His sheep are safe from their enemies (satanic and human), specifically in this case, the Jews who want to kill Him. A good analogy is Eden: God creates a paradise safe from death and destruction, but that doesn’t mean that man can’t muck up the works (we did). Elsewhere, the NT writers draw another analogy: the fallen angels. Those guys were in Heaven and still managed to screw things up. So if the omnipotent God allows Satan and his minions to fall, to go from the heights of Heaven to the depths of hell, why can’t He allow Christians living in a world of temptation (and who sin and stumble constantly) to fall?

Besides this, we know that He allows us to sin: why would He preserve our free will to sin, but not preserve our free will to allow us to suffer the full weight of the consequences of sin? Certainly, He could have prevented our free will, and kept us from losing the Faith, and even kept us from sinning ever, at all: but all the available evidence suggests that’s not what His plan looks like.

As for the claim in v. 29 that, “no one can take them (the sheep) out of the Father’s hand,” this is true. But that doesn’t mean we can’t leave the Father’s hand. If we eat the apple, or declare our non serviam, or willingly choose mortal sin over God, we can sever that relationship: no one takes us out of His hand: we leave, and He allows us to leave. At the most, I think one would have to say that John 10:29 deals with external threats to our salvation. So do almost all of the other verses (like Romans 8:39) which are cited to in defense of OSAS. The security which God is providing is like when a father tells his kids: “I won’t let anyone come and get you in the night.” That’s a radically different thing than “you can’t leave the house at night.”

All that being said, I’d like to go back to the nature of God logic test again. If God is perfect, and his works are perfect, and his gift of salvation is perfect, and there is nothing I can do to take it/earn it (it’s a gift), then once given – it doesn’t make sense that the gift wouldn’t perfectly work.

Let’s both agree at the outset that God could have designed the system of salvation differently than He did. Your comment, then, assumes that the function of the gift is to provide salvation at the expense of free will (because of your assumption that any free will automatically leads to sin). If the function is, instead, to pay for salvation conditioned upon our faith working in love, then the function works perfectly. Example: if I buy a movie ticket for my friend, he neither earns the ticket by showing up, nor renders the movie ticket defective by failing to show up, or showing up and leaving. It functions just fine. Operator error on our end doesn’t render the system any less functional.

Although your lifeboat analogy makes sense in terms of actual life boats on the sea where people want nothing more than to be saved from drowning, that’s not what Jesus is and that’s not what our natures’ reveal. If his gift of salvation is like the lifeboat you describe, than it’s not a perfect gift. It doesn’t work. You forget that we (those who need the lifeboat) have deceitful lying hearts. Our fallen nature wants to sin. Our fleshly desires are – fleshly. The NT reminds over and over not to give into that nature, but to “hold firmly.” Jesus knows that.So, if I’m right, and Jesus’ gift of salvation is as you said like a lifeboat, he must construct the lifeboat in such a way
that those he offers it to CANNOT defeat it’s purpose. Otherwise, what’s the point? How is his gift of salvation any different than what we already had in The Law?

This seems to be premised upon an idea of total (or even utter) depravity: that if we’re left with even an ounce of free will, we’re just going to misuse it. We have within us both a desire to do good and a temptation to do evil. Without God’s grace, we’ll choose evil. The real question, then is: does God’s grace permit us to do good, or force us to do good? [do good can be replaced with “follow faithfully,” “refrain from sin,” “obey,” etc.]. Catholics believe that grace (even common grace, but especially the graces given through the sacraments, including Baptism) empower us to do the good works which God has prepared for us (Ephesians 2:10).

The Law was given to the people so that they might know the way to
righteousness. Some (a very few according to scripture) followed The Law in such
a way that they did indeed garner God’s favor. You might say that they managed
to stay on the imperfect lifeboat just long enough to reach (not the shore) but
Jesus’ perfect lifeboat. Yet, many failed to hold firm to The Law. They simply
couldn’t. The Law was a terribly imperfect lifeboat.*

The Law was a terribly imperfect lifeboat* because it was so hard to navigate. All of the excessive rules and regulations were making people miss the point: that the lifeboat is a means to an end, not an end unto itself. That they follow the Law not so that they’re great legalists worthy of praise, but because they’re humble servants doing what their Master set out for them. Jesus fulfills the Law, and replaces it with the “spirit of the Law,” loving God and loving neighbor.

If God (or those He has left in a position to lead) says “jump,” and you jump, it isn’t the act of jumping which is intrinsically of worth. It’s the fact that you’re obeying God, or those He has set over you. Within the system of the Law, things had gotten so bad under the Pharisees, that you weren’t told, “Jump,” you were told “carry this impossibly heavy load of regulations” (cf. Matthew 23:2-4). Under the New Covenant, the spirit of the law is radically simplified, and we have recourse to God to forgive us when we fail: we’re not trying to do the right number of jumps to earn our way into Heaven, but we are trying to jump as often as is pleasing to God.

Now, you might be tempted to argue that The Cross of Salvation works the same way as The Law but now, however, the “gift” is offered to all people – not just the Jews. The offer to join the Brotherhood of the Saved has now been expanded to everyone. That that is the difference between the two “gifts.” If you believe that, than I’ll gladly point you to plenty of non-Jews whose discipline of The Law was found pleasing to God. Further, there are those prior to The Law who neither had Christ nor had The Law and yet whose lives were still pleasing to God.

I think we agree that the Law was not a means of salvation distinct from Christ, but rather pointed forward towards Him. Every faithful follower of the Law who was saved was saved because Christ was pleased with their obedience. This is how Romans 2:14-15 explains that Gentiles have always been saved, and it’s the way that the New Covenant operates as well (Hebrews 10:16). In the New Covenant, we have a clearer manifestation of the will of God, we have His atonement for our sins (paid retroactively for those already dead, of course), the opening of the gates of Heaven, and we have the institution of the Church and the sacraments. It’s not a coincidence that Christ only uses the term “covenant” once, and it’s at the institution of the Eucharist (). While Catholics believe you can get to Heaven without knowing the name Jesus (just like all of the pre-Christians did), it’s certainly much easier when you do.

Regardless, to some extent I don’t think we’re saying different things. It’s a now and future truth. Option 1 is: you’re either SAVED NOW or you WILL BE SAVED later. Option 2 is: you are NOT SAVED NOW or you WILL NOT BE SAVED later. There is no option 3 or option 4 where the previous two options’ factors rearrange.

It is possible for one to have his or her name blotted out of the Book of Life: Psalm 69:28 and Revelation 3:5 speak to that possibility. So while God knows and ordains those who will finally make it, there is a very real sense where options 3 and 4 are correct: people can “get saved,” and can likewise lose their salvation. It’s more than just a nominal change: Titus 3:7 says that we can “become heirs,” which is Option 3 (going from unsaved to saved). 2 Peter 2:15 describes those who “have left the straight way and wandered off,” which is Option 4. James 5:19-20 is clear that if we don’t bring them back, they’ll inherit only death. God knows whether we will finally end up in Heaven, who will finally inherit salvation, but that doesn’t mean we won’t wander in and out of the family.

Let me say lastly, although we may not agree on this (even though I think we do) I deeply appreciate your writing and your spirit in defense of the Catholic faith. May God bless your efforts, Joe so that others may come to know him and still others will be encouraged in their exisiting faith.

DJ AMDG, you’re another in an increasingly long line of incredibly gracious Christians I’ve encountered through this blog. People like you are why I enjoy doing this.

Like I said yesterday, if anyone wants to add to what I feel is a very fruitful discussion, please feel free in the combox or by e-mail.

*Edit: DJAMDG adds:

I wanted to correct one thing I said in drawing an analogy between The Law and your lifeboat. I thought about while working on a paper today, so I figured I should correct myself. The Law wouldn’t really be the lifeboat so much as the manual to the lifeboat of Our Deeds. (Per Romans 2:1-16.) The manual was/is perfect (in contrast to what I said regarding The Law as a terribly imperfect lifeboat). Our ability to follow The Law (our “deeds lifeboat”), however, is greatly imperfect. (Again, Romans 2:1-6)

He’s absolutely right, so far as I can tell. Consider my own comments likewise amended (I just didn’t feel like going and reworking that section, since I’d already written it when I realized he’s posted a follow-up comment).

1 Comment

  1. I was planning a lengthy response, but I’ve decided against it. I think it would have taken us off track, raised up contentious arguments about belief vs. deeds, and it ultimately wouldn’t have been beneficial. I think you and I actually believe the same thing. I think the problem is in our interpretations of “being” and “time”…or perhaps our ability to express them. Either way, I believe the following:

    1) Salvation & righteousness based on faith: Romans 10:9-10

    2) All have heard or will hear of Jesus and the way to salvation (one way or another): Romans 10:14-20 (specifically 20)

    3) That some will declare per Romans 10:9-10 but that “speaking” is not the same as “confessing” – Some witness only to the words and fail to witness to the heart. It is only in confession of one’s heart that salvation is attained.

    4) That those who only “speak” of their belief in the Lord may be those that Jesus refers to in Matthew 7:21-23. That they are not saved (unless their hearts change/confess), and that these are likely the “believers” you and I might “theologize” about as being “saved” but then possibly losing “salvation” later. In reality, they were never “truly saved” to begin with.

    5) Understanding or agreement on “how” justification / salvation works is not critical for orthodoxy, but that understanding of Romans 10:9-10 (and other places where scripture defines what is required for salvation) is critical for receiving salvation. [I’m not saying here one need know the verses or even the theology, just that they understand to receive the gift of salvation requires only a confession of faith and condition of heart (penitence)].

    6) That passing judgment on brothers’ salvation (whether they only “speak” of Christ or actually have “confessed” with their hearts) is wrong and pointless (Romans 14:1-12), and that such disputes can actually cause those brothers to stumble (Romans 14:13-19).

    7) That the unity of the church (John 17:1-26) in mission (Matthew 28:19-20) is the most critical theological “discussion” of our time. Far more critical than OSAS, which I’m sure will anger many of my Reformed friends.

    I deeply enjoy this correspondence, Joe. I would still be practicing my Catholic faith today if 1) my religious education included teachings on how to defend the doctrine of the church, as opposed to which multiple choice answer is correct, and 2) grace filled dialog in loving community with people who really loved Jesus and were allowing him to be Lord in their lives.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *