Can A Christian Lose Their Salvation? (Molinist Perspective)




A while back, I wrote a blog post titled “Can A Christian Lose Their Salvation” where I presented my view on the subject. I listed some passages that most cite to argue for eternal security and a small sample of the truck load of Bible passages suggesting the opposite. I then presented my best attempt to reconcile the two seemingly contradictory set of passages. I won’t go over those same Bible passages again because if I do, this blog post will be too long and that will naturally discourage many people from reading it. So, if you want to see that list of scriptures, click on this link. I will however, mention some of the passages.


Anyway, the passages seeming to suggest that a believer could forfeit his salvation was so plenteous and the security passages so few, that it seemed best for the security passages to be interpreted in light of the overwhelming number of apostasy passages. Jesus says in John 10:28-29 “I give them eternal life and they shall never perish. No one can pluck them from my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.” This seems to suggest that once you’re given eternal life, that’s it! You’ll never perish! No one can cause you to lose your salvation. Satan, all the demons of Hell, or the flesh or the world, all of them are completely impotent in causing you to become an unsaved, Hell-Bound sinner like you used to be. No one, not Satan, not the world, or the flesh, or any of Hell’s demons can snatch you away from God. Therefore, we don’t have to worry about our adversary, the devil, dragging us to Hell. Jesus said he can’t drag us to Hell. We are in His hand. Satan cannot pluck us from it.

Then there’s that beautiful passage in Romans. Romans 8:38-39 says "For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."

“To Him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy—to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.” – Jude 24-25

My view was that yes, you can lose your salvation but ONLY if you willfully lose it. In other words, you’re not going to wake up one day and go “Oh no! I’ve lost my salvation! I’m not saved anymore!” My view also wasn’t that people lost their salvation every time they sinned (in fact, none of those who believe salvation can be forfeited believe this). Satan, the world, the flesh, and all the demons of Hell are 100% impotent in causing you to lose your salvation as these above passages state. However, I believed that in order for salvation to be lost, you had to willfully, deliberately shun The Holy Spirit from your soul. That’s the only way anyone can lose their salvation. You and only you are in control of whether you’re still on God’s side or not. No other entity in all creation can force you out of His hand (John 10:28-29), you have to leave His hand on purpose.

Here’s an analogy. A person who is murdered by another has “lost his life”. A person who commits suicide “loses his life” as well, but in a different way. The person who was murdered had his life forcefully taken away from him. He had no say in the matter. He died against his will. The person who commits suicide freely chose to kill himself. He and he alone is to blame for his death. No one else. Though certainly other factors influenced his decision to commit suicide, he wasn’t determined to commit suicide. He alone is responsible for his death.

In the same way, my old view was that we can’t have our salvation taken from us by outside forces (“No one can pluck them from my hand”), however we can give up our salvation of our own free will (Deuteronomy 30:15-19, Joshua 24:15). And though Satan and his demons may influence our decision to commit apostasy, ultimately it’s up to us whether or not we go in the direction of that influence. The Holy Spirit will try to get us to choose to stay (Jude 24-25). So, we can’t lose our salvation like a homicide victim “loses” his life, but we can freely give it up. We can only lose it in the same way a suicidal person chooses to end his life. On judgment day, the apostate has no one but himself to blame.

THE PROBLEM

So…what’s wrong with this view? The problem is is that it doesn’t fit well with all of the eternal security passages. This interpretation only reconciles the falling away scriptures with three of the security passages. But there are more than I mentioned in the previous blog post. I didn’t purposefully leave them out, they just hadn’t occurred to me. What are those passages?

Ephesians 1:13 -- "having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise..." The word translated into "sealed" indicates full security. The believer has full security for their inheritance when they receive the Holy Spirit.

“They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.” – 1 John 2:19

1 John 2:19 parallels what many Calvinists (and a few Arminians) say about people who fell away from the faith, they stopped being Christians. They’ll say anyone who turns away from the Christian faith never really turned to it to begin with! They’ll say that those who once believed The Bible but no longer never truly had The Holy Spirit enter them and regenerate them. They were very likely like I was until I was 17. There are nominal Christians out there; people who give intellectual assent to Christian belief but never really did anything about it, never made a dedication to Christ. I speak from experience. I believed in the existence of God and the resurrection of Christ for as long as I can remember. I was raised in the Southern Baptist Church. However, I never had any meaningful relationship with Christ. If I hadn't believed God existed, my life wouldn't have looked hardly any different. My life would have looked identical regardless of whether I intellectually acknowledge the truth of the church creeds or not. God woke me up at age 17 and from that point on my life changed forever.  I've never been the same from that moment on.

So...many of these “Former Christians”, these eternal security believers will say, we exactly like I was until I was 17. They were people who had "Belief That" instead of "Belief In". Even the demons believe that God exists, that Jesus is God, that Jesus rose from the dead (see James 2:19), but they're not saved! Why? Because they haven't dedicated their lives to serving Christ. I’ve always known this was true, and I’ve always known that many former Christians were certainly believers of this nominal kind. However, I found extremely implausible (and still do to a certain extent) that Every. Single. Apostate. Was a nominal Christian; a person who merely intellectually acknowledged the truth of the church creeds but was never born again (John 3:3, 2 Corinthians 5:17). However, 1 John 2:19 seems to be saying just that. It seems to be saying that if you stop being a Christian, if you go out from us; i.e the body of Christ,  you were never of the body of Christ to begin with, because if you were of the body of Christ (the Church), you wouldn’t have left. As implausible as it may seem to my mind that every single person who ever leaves the church never had The Holy Spirit in them, if that’s what the word of God says, that’s the view I’ll have to accept.

My old interpretation of the scriptures could only reconcile the apostasy passages with John 10:28-29, Romans 8:38-39, and Jude 24-25. The interpretation I had didn’t fit well with passages like 1 John 2:9 and Ephesians 1:13.

SO, WHAT NOW?

Given the problems I’ve noted above with my previous interpretation of the apostasy and security passages, what is the view that I really need to accept? Is there any plausible way to reconcile these two different sets of passages that seem to be teaching opposing views? I can’t affirm a contradiction. Contradictions are impossibilities. Either you can lose your salvation or your can’t. You’re either eternally secure or you’re not. I can’t say both. So, what now? What should we do? Should we abandon biblical inerrancy and affirm that The Bible teaches a contradiction?

Well, as some of you know, I’ve become a Molinist recently. One of many reasons I abandoned classical Arminianism for a Molinist view is that it appears to perfectly reconcile these different sets of Bible passages. Arminians seem to emphasize the apostasy passages while Calvinists seem to emphasize the security passages, and both sides seem to either downplay or ignore the good scriptural case the other side presents. The Molinist view, however, seems to grant a happy marriage to both sets of scriptures.

This view says that yes, it is possible to fall away. No, it won't ever happen. There's a difference between apostasy of genuinely saved people being possible, and the actualization of that possibility. It could be the case that apostasy is possible, and because of that, God gives us stern warnings to persevere. The truly saved really care about their salvation and hence, will head the warnings and do what they can to abide in Christ. To stay attached to the vine. Because they do that, their perseverance is brought about. This seems like a pretty valid reconciliation of these seemingly contradictory passages.

As Dr. William Lane Craig said in his Defenders class “These are two very distinct questions that are often conflated by the Calvinist.[3] The first question is a de facto question – is it in fact the case that any elect people will fall from grace and lose salvation? Will that happen? That is a de facto question. The second question is a modal question. That is to say it is about what can or cannot happen. Is it possible for an elect person to fall away? Not that any will, perhaps; maybe no one will. But nevertheless it is possible. Can an elect person lose his salvation?”(Emphasis mine)

You see, The Holy Spirit uses means in salvation. He not only uses means to bring people to salvation, but He also uses means to keep people in a continued salvic state. For example, when my faith was being eaten away by intellectual doubts several years ago, God introduced me to Christian Apologetics and gave me reasons to believe that Christianity was true. God used Christian Apologetics to keep me from sliding into (weak) agnosticism and potentially atheism. Well, in the same way, this view says that the stern and scary warnings in scripture about falling away from the faith are means that God uses in keeping a person saved. A person will read passages like Hebrews 6:4-6 which says “For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame.”and Hebrews 3:12 says, “Take care, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.”, they’ll read passages like these and think “Gosh! This is pretty serious! I’d better guard my soul!”

So on this view God knows that if he were to give these warnings then the elect would heed them and persevere. The elect can fall away but they won’t because God knows that if they were to receive these warnings then they would heed the warnings and so persevere. What the Molinist could say is that God knows what gifts of grace, what warnings, what Scriptural admonitions are necessary in order to ensure the free perseverance of the elect and their ultimate salvation.

Dr Craig went on to say "I would say, therefore, that I think the Scripture teaches that an elect person can fall away. I think that is the import of these warnings. Whether or not you think that any elect person will fall away is probably going to depend not on those warning passages but how you regard the examples in Scripture of people like Judas, or Demas (whom Paul says has left me, he’s in love with the world, and he’s gone back),  or Hymenaeus and Alexander (who has made shipwreck of their faith). There are a number of people who are apparent apostates in the New Testament. Whether or not you think that these people actually are elect people who fell away will determine how you judge issues of that sort. So, in my view, it seems to me that the view that makes the best sense of both of these streams of scriptural teaching is to say that the elect can fall away, they can apostatize and lose their salvation, but that God will do what lies within his power to give them warnings and admonitions and gifts of grace so as to ensure that they will, in fact, persevere to the end and be saved." (emphasis mine yet again)

You may wonder how this differs from the previous view. The previous view (the Arminian one) says not only is apostasy possible, but it has actually occurred in the past and will occur for some individuals in the future. This Molinist interpretation says that while it is a possibility, it's a possibility that will never be actualized. The Arminian view says it can happen, has happened, and will happen. The Molinist view says it can happen, but it hasn't happened, and it won't happen. God has actualized a possible world where none of the truly regenerate turn away.

OBJECTION

When I first read about this view, it was like a light came on in my head. This seems to happily marry all of the apostasy texts, and all of the security texts. However, one objection appeared in my mind. It seems the apostasy texts are used as the means to keep people persevering, but that would only seem to work if one agrees with the Arminian that these texts are teaching that it’s possible to lose/forfeit salvation. But what about people like the Calvinists who downplay, ignore, or reinterpret these passages to match his view that apostasy isn’t even possible? If you think that a verse like Hebrews 6:4-6 isn’t talking about the apostasy of believers, what good is that as a warning? You won’t heed the warning because you don’t think it is a warning. It seems then, that some Christians who dismiss these passages would apostatize at some point.

Well, it seems to me that for these people, God would use other means to keep them in the faith (based on his middle knowledge of what any person would do in a given situation). For example, if a person is drifting towards atheism due to intellectual doubts, God might introduce this person to Christian Apologetics, or He might have actualized a world out of all the possible worlds He could have created, in which all of the Calvinists who dismiss these texts will persevere anyway. God makes sure not to actualize a possible world in which these believers are put in situations where He knew they would (if placed into that situation) turn away from Christ. It could be that the warning passages are a means to bring about perseverance, but it is by no means the only means. 

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