Here we are at the end of this Calvinistic discussion and no, I have not scratched the surface of the debate over reformed theology. Instead I wanted to get my thinking down on paper- eh, er, uh... cyberspace about what I think the Holy Spirit has taught me about the nature of God and salvation. The 'P' of the Tulip is my favorite- as it is with most Southern Baptist. It just seems to be something that most of us have 'gotten' about the nature of God and salvation.
The Perseverance of the Saints is an essential doctrine to many of us because it states that salvation is God's work and not ours. Calvinists and non-Calvinists alike tend to agree on this one. If we can lose salvation through our own work then salvation IS of our own work and we know it is not. The Calvinist adds to this that his soteriology is systematic and uniform on this point and that the free will/Arminian is inconsistent here. Of course, I am not going to get into too many details here but for the sake of clarity let's put a few facts down. One, the Calvinist is exactly right that once one adopts the idea that Grace is granted without condition, and that once it is granted Grace can not be refused, and once it has been given it must have its salvific effect, then one can only conclude that no action on the part of the beneficiary could possibly undo it. As far as Calvinist thinking goes the only way for one to lose their salvation would be for God to choose of His own will to arbitrarily cast them out and God is not arbitrary. So, for the Calvinist their is nothing to defend here. God saves those whom He will and He will never reject them. They will live for however long and then go to be with Him in Heaven forever. Once they are saved they will be forever saved because the nature of God is steadfast and sure.
For the Arminian Perseverance seems out of place. I submit that it is only out of place if we fail to understand the nature of our salvation- which we often do! I believe that if we understood what salvation is then we would understand why it Perseveres. We begin dead in our sins (Total Depravity, which everyone believes we just disagree on the degree). Then God calls us by His Grace (Irresistible Grace- which we all believe in His grace we just are unsure how 'irresistible' it is). We are moved by his sacrifice for us on the cross (Limited Atonement? I am convinced that we all hold the same position here; Christ death impacts all of creation and all Men but only some are saved by it). We are undone by the knowledge that we can not save ourselves and our need for a savior (Unconditional Election- again we agree more than we disagree on here, neither the Calvinist nor the non is promoting the idea of works righteousness: We can not earn election). The savior comes and gives us life. Here is the bottom line for Perseverance: Life is eternal and therefore can not be lost. John 3:16 declares that those who believe in Him have (present tense) eternal life. The reason this life must be eternal is obvious from 2 Corinthians 5:17 once we are saved we become a 'new creature'. This is very descriptive wording. A 'new creature' can not choose to become the old creature. The butterfly can not choose to be a caterpillar again. He can choose not to fly, he can crawl around on the leaf if he wants, but he will still be a butterfly- a new creature. It is not in his nature to go back and it is not in ours. So, for the Arminian who chooses to obey the call of God and for the Calvinist who has no choice but to obey the call of God our election has the same end; a new creature in Christ Jesus.
But some will throw out seemingly Biblical objections like Hebrews 6:4. The problem is two fold when passages like this confuse us: We don't understand the nature of our salvation and we don't read the whole passage in context. Let's look at it to see what I mean.
Hebrews 6:4- For it is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5- and tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6- if they fall away, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.
This passage taken by itself seems to indicate that those who are saved can be lost (fall away) and not be able to be restored. I will repeat myself one more time for emphasis at the risk of sounding arrogant: we do not understand our salvation and that is what I think the writer of Hebrews was getting at. Look at the list, it seems fool-proof doesn't it? Enlightened- has knowledge and perhaps understanding, heavenly gift- seems to indicate God's grace in some form, the Holy Spirit? Surely this is referring to someone who is saved yes? The goodness of the Word of God- only saved people understand this surely. The powers of the age to come? Wow, we are all praying for such powers in our lives. So, this then describes one who has been saved and then of course, in vs. 6 salvation is lost and that proves that salvation can be lost. I disagree. The reason I disagree is not that this passage does not agree with my theology but rather if we look at the whole passage we see the author making a very different point here.
Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things- things that belong to salvation. 10- for God is not so unjust as to overlook your work and the love that you showed for his sake in serving the saints, as you still do.
Well that's odd yes? The writer seems to indicate that salvation can be lost and yet is convinced it wont happen to the Hebrews. Why couldn't it? If salvation can be lost then surely we are all in danger at any moment of giving in to sin and throwing everything away? But the writer disagrees. He says they wont. Look at why he believes they will not fall away. Verse 10 says that they love and care for the saints for His sake. Could it be that one who 'tasted of the heavenly gift', one who has been enlightened with knowledge, one who has even 'shared' in the Holy Spirit and experienced the powers of the things to come still has not been transformed by salvation? It is not these things the writer values as an essential sign of salvation. It is the loving of the brethren that is a true sign of a transformed life. Wow! When was the last time you judged someone on their knowledge? Their spiritual prowess? How powerful they are? But what the writer of Hebrews values in making this judgment about his friends is their love for the brethren. Do you judge others by how much the love the brethren? Maybe we should since that is the one category that the writer valued.
As a short aside to this post let me say right now that this is a scary concept for me. If we judge our fellow brethren in this light most of them don't look to secure in their salvation. We have a lot of people promoting knowledge today. They say if you believe xyz then you are ok, if you believe abc we will not call you condemned but you are in real trouble and we won't fellowship with you. If you believe mno, well, that is just silly, no one believes mno so if you do you are a heretic. This is not how the writer of Hebrews judges the Church. Using his category of love those who have knowledge and power are irrelevant, it is those who love who have truly demonstrated that they are transformed- and will never lose their salvation. When I look at my fellow Southern Baptist who are willing to disfellowship so easily and NOT serve each other for almost any reason- even based on the Calvinist/nonCalvinist debate- It saddens me. Would the writer of Hebrews write to us today and say, 'Oh, of course you guys are saved, you love each other so well it is obvious' or would he say, 'Right guys, back up to verse one: These are the elemental things and you are not ready for the real meat at all.'
I believe in the Perseverance of the Saints. The real question is who are the saints? Love is the bottom line here and it seems to be a scarce commodity.