Do These Passages Show You Can Lose Your Salvation?
First, let me compliment you on your Web site - very clean and neat.
Here's a couple of thoughts for the "what-its-worth" department on the question about Hebrews 6 being difficult to reconcile with a "once saved, always saved" viewpoint:
What about if you just read it as it is and accept it as such? The writer of Hebrews was not attempting to write some kind of "crypto-Greek" for his readers (then and now) to struggle with and try to figure out how this Greek word or that Greek phrase could be translated to support what we THINK the passage means. The writer of Hebrews was simply writing a sermon to the Jews and trying to get his point across. Doesn't it seem rather unlikely that we should all have to go through all sorts of literary and mental gymnastics to try and come up with the meaning of these "difficult" verses? Instead, let's just accept them at face value, as the holy word of God.
I would suggest to you that the Bible does not teach eternal salvation, although it sure would be nice if it did. The Bible warns Christians that they can "fall from grace" (Gal. 5:1-5), be "cut off" from salvation (Rom. 11:18-22), have their names removed from the Lamb's Book of Life (Rev. 22:19), by committing certain sins and not repenting of them (cf. Eph. 5: 3-5; 1Cor. 6:9; Gal. 5:19, Rev. 21:6-8).
In a chilling reminder of the possibility of losing salvation by separating oneself from Christ, Paul says, "I drive my body and train it, for fear that, after having preached to others, I myself should become disqualified." (1 Cor. 9:27).
Here are a couple of additional passages that pretty much spell out the fact that one can lose one's salvation:
- Matt: 6:15
- Matt: 19:21-35
- Matt: 10:22-32
- Luke 12:41-46
- 1 Cor. 15:1-2
- Colossians 1:22-23
- Hebrews 3:6, 14
- Rev. 2:10, 25-36, 3:1-5
- 2 Peter 2:20-22
These passages give a pretty strong witness to the fact that we can fall away and, if we do not repent and come back to Jesus, we could suffer the consequences for all eternity.
Anyway, you asked for thoughts, so these are mine. Let me know how they sit with you.
Thank you for writing and expressing your views. I'm glad that you take the time to ponder some of these matters. In most cases, your approach to the Scriptures is correct. If the most literal sense makes the best sense, then we should pursue it no farther. However, to be a careful thinker on issues such as these we must realize that some texts aren't so clear cut.
One of the things that leads someone in the field of Biblical Hermeneutics (the study of accurate Scriptural interpretation) to look more deeply at a passage is when it seems to be giving a contradictory teaching on some particular of theology. Now I am far from an expert in Hermeneutics, but I do know that there are several passages in the New Testament that argue for the position of eternal security. I have listed some of them in my previous article entitled "Can You Lose Your Salvation?"
I don't feel the writer was writing some sort of "Crypto-Greek" when he addressed the Hebrews concerning this issue. We must remember that this was first a letter to a particular people from a familiar teacher dealing with real difficulties with which that specific church or group of churches was struggling. Because of the personal nature of address, the modern reader, being a third party, cannot know all the details, inferences, or common knowledge and experiences shared by the writer and his intended audience. Also, there may have been some previous history of teaching between the two that we are unaware of. So the phrasing of Hebrews six may seem straightforward enough, but given its stance and some of the wording, many commentators feel it addresses issues that are slightly different than eternal security.
As to some of the other passages you cite, we can briefly examine them also. Gal. 5:1-5 is discussing believers who are trying to please God by adding the Law to their salvation. But we know that this approach is doomed to failure. In Paul's mind there are two opposing categories of approaching God - Law being one and Grace the other (and the higher or better of the two). The key to these verses is found in Chapter four where Paul writes,
"Now I say, as long as a heir is a child, he does not differ at all from a slave, although he is owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by the father. So also we, while we were children, were held in bondage under the elemental things of the world. But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, in order that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive adoption as sons."
Paul demonstrates here that he is talking about the way we relate to God. He does not mean we will fall from salvation, but from a way of relating to God by grace (i.e. there's nothing I can do to make up for my sins) to that of the Law or works (i.e. I must keep some rules in order to still be considered for heaven.) When he says that a believer has "fallen from grace" (vs 4), he is saying that the believer has fallen from the more perfect way of seeking God's will in his life to the more base (and unreachable) way. It does not mean someone had salvation and now lost it. So this passage addresses the believers' walk more than their eternal security.
Romans 11 speaks of Israel was a branch that was "cut-off" because of unbelief (vs. 20). Paul then admonishes the Gentiles to "stand by your faith." Paul is speaking to the church at Rome who felt that Gentiles were somehow better than Jews because God had chosen them for salvation. This was a bigoted position, and Paul is trying to correct their error. He says that if the Gentiles as a whole were to become an unbelieving people, then God would just as readily cut them off from the promises of salvation. This position was to be understood as a cultural comparison, not on an individual basis (verse 13 says, "But I am speaking to you who are Gentiles.") In fact, later in the chapter Paul argues for the security of the believer in God's calling. "For the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable." (vs.29) In Galatians 3, Paul then states that neither Jews nor Greeks have any advantage once they are in Christ.
Next, we'll look at Revelation 22:19, where we read, "And if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book." This statement was not addressed to Christians only, but to "everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book." (vs. 18) This passage, therefore, doesn't apply to Christians only.
There are those who would argue that God taking away someone's part from the Tree of Life means that they had a claim to it previously and now lost it. This is not necessarily so, as God is "not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance." (2 Peter 3:9) The tree of Life can be thought of as big enough to allow every human a part, but only those who are saved will have their part allotted to them. Also, to "take away" for the book would mean to ignore or dismiss the descriptions as being true. Skeptics would be found in this category. So we can safely dismiss this verse as not focusing on losing one's salvation at all.
The passage you cite in Matthew, ("If you do not forgive men, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions." Mt 6:15) as well as several others you mention (Rev. 3:5, 1 Cor 15:2, Col. 1:23, Heb. 3:5, etc) all make a statement such as "if you hold fast until the end." These passages just beg the question, though. If you cannot lose your salvation, you will hold fast until the end. Holding fast, then, becomes an identifier or distinguishing trait of those that are truly saved. We have good reason to believe this interpretation in these verses because of 1 John 1:19. There the apostle writes, "They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us."
In contrast, the passages in Ephesians 5, 1 Corinthians 6, Galatians 5 and Revelation 21 are distinguishing traits of those who are not saved. Theses lists aren't even confined to those who claim to be Christians, but also include all pagans and idolaters. Galatians 5:21 is particularly clear in this when Paul writes "those who practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God." To practice in this instance means a habitual, unrepentant lifestyle; not to fall into a specific sin, even several times. Again, we turn to the apostle John where 1 John 3:9-10 states, "Whosoever is born of God does not commit sin; for his seed remains in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother."
The other Matthew passage, "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." (Mt 19:24) demonstrates that riches become a hindrance to seeking salvation at all, not losing salvation.
Revelation 2:5 speaks of Christ removing the lampstand from Ephesus. In order to be consistent with Matthew 5:15-16, we must understand the lampstand to be the witness of the Ephesian church, not their salvation. Indeed, the Ephesian church did not continue as a body, and its members were dispersed, although I don't believe this means they were no longer Christians.
Lastly, Revelation 3:5 is an argument against fact. It says that if you are a Christian, you are guaranteed that your name will not be erased from the Book if Life. Every passage dealing with unbelievers states that their names were not found in the Book of Life. It does not say that their names are blotted out from the Book.
Now, to be fair, this verse is hotly debated by various scholars as to whether it implies that a name can be blotted out. This, however, is not necessarily an argument for losing salvation. Some commentators believe that the Book of Life may contain every name of every person who ever lived, using passages like 2 Peter 3:9 ("The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.") and John 3:16 as support (i.e. "for God so loved the world" ). Their reasoning is that the Book of Life shows how salvation is available to all, but those who do not choose to follow Christ are then blotted out.
Before we finish, I do want to issue a clarification and a word of caution. Because I believe that one cannot lose his salvation does not mean I think we should approach our Christian walk cavalierly. Jesus taught us in John 14: 15 "If you love me, keep my commandments." Paul also illustrates this clearly in 1 Corinthians 3 as he talks of how our actions as Christians will be judged. He sums it up in verse 15, stating "If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire." Then, when we read his admonition to run with endurance and to finish well, we can better understand that he is encouraging us toward a strong Christian lifestyle because it is 1) pleasing to God; and 2) a more effective way to reach others for Christ. It is our "reasonable service."(Rom. 12:1)
I hope that you will again look at these issues. I think that if you purchased a carpet with a lifetime warranty and it wore out in one year, you would rightly complain that the carpet company violated its word. You would say that the carpet is defective and it needs to be replaced with one that will never wear out. Our salvation has a promise of eternal life. I cannot reconcile the word eternal with the idea of being revoked at some future occurrence. I would be interested in arguments showing how everlasting life doesn't last! Thank you again for taking the time for this discussion and I appreciate your comments.