Saturday, May 9, 2009

Can vs. Do True Believers Apostatize

The questions “can salvation be lost?” and “is salvation ever lost?” seem about the same, but one is about the possibility, the other is about the actual occurrence of apostasy. Arminius noted the distinction:

a distinction ought to be made between power and action. For it is one thing to declare, that "it is possible for the faithful to fall away from faith and salvation," and it is another to say, that "they do actually fall away." This distinction is of such extensive observance, that even antiquity itself was not afraid of affirming, concerning the elect and those who were to be saved, "that it was possible for them not to be saved;" and that "the mutability by which it was possible for them not to be willing to obey God, was not taken away from them," although it was the opinion of the ancients, "that such persons never would in reality be damned." (The Apology or Defense of James Arminius – Articles 1 &2)


At first glance, the distinction seems simple enough. The statement “I can pick up this pen” is about my ability, the statement “I will pick it up” is about the future. Still, when it comes to the questions can vs. do true believers apostatize, it seems hard to believe the answer to one could be yes, and the other no. If we can, but no one ever will, does that impinge on the idea of ‘possibility’? Not really, if you hold to the foreknowledge of God (Matthew 26:53, Acts 27:24,31). That goes for all views of foreknowldge: Calvinists, Molinists and Simple Foreknowledge. But Molinists and Calvinists are in a possition to explain how this works; even though they have different ideas of possible. For example, here's what Francis Turretin (who was a Calvinists and a determinism and a compatibilist) had to say:


“The question does not concern the possibility of failing on man’s part and in a divided sense. For no one denies that believers considered in themselves as to the mutability and weakness of their nature, not only can fail, but could not help failing if left to themselves (especially on the approach of the temptations of Satan and of the world). But the question concerns the possibility of failing on God’s part, as to his purpose in the compound sense and with regard to the event itself. In this sense, we say that defection is impossible, not absolutely and simply, but hypothetically and relatively.” (Francis Turretin. Institutes of Elenctic Theology V2 p594)


Here’s Turretin's concept in action, used to explain scripture:

“The passage…(Ezk 18:24) does not favor the apostasy of saints. 1. It is hypothetical, not absolute; (bhshvbh tsdyq) “when the righteous turneth away” (i.e. “if he turneth away”). However, it is known that a condition puts nothing into being, but denotes only a necessary connection of the antecedent with the consequent. If some possibility of defection be denoted on the part of man (when viewed in a divided sense), it cannot at once be inferred that there is a possibility in the compound sense on the part of the grace of God and as to the event. For what is possible with regard to the nearest and known cause is impossible with regard to the remote and hidden (which is in the decree of God). Here then, where God prescribes to man his duty and acts as law giver, he does not disclose the event of the things decreed by him. “ (Francis Turretin. Institutes of Elenctic TheologyV2 p 612)


Here’s another statement about David, that takes it even a step further.

“It is one thing for a believer sinning grievously to be damnable by his own merit (if regarded as to himself in a divided sense); another, if considered in the compound sense and as to God’s decree. In the former sense, it is true that he is exposed to death and if he continues in that state, will certainly be condemned. But in the latter sense, it is rightly said that thy will be absolved and saved (God so arranging the matter by his immense love and wisdom that he may not die in that state, but may be restored and return to the way by a renewed act of faith and repentance before he reaches the goal). Hence according to a double relation, these two propositions (although seemingly contrary) can be true at the same time. It is impossible that David (elected and man after God’s own heart) can perish. It is impossible that David, an adulterer and murderer (if death should talk him away in his impenitence) can be saved. The former by reason of God’s decree; the latter by reason of the heinousness and demerit of his sin. But this difficulty divine providence and grace solves,taking care that David (or any of the elect) should not die in that state in which on account of impenitence he would be excluded from salvation.” (Francis Turretin. Institutes of Elenctic Theology V2 p614)

So for Turretin, looking narrowly at just man's weakness, apostasy is possible, but looking more broadly at man's weakness in light of God's protection, apostasy is possible.

On the other hand, here's how Molinists William Lane Craig explains it:


Congruism could maintain that God via His middle knowledge knows just what gifts of grace to accord in any possible world to each believer's will so as to elicit a continuing response of faith from that person. Hence, every believer will persevere to the end in whatever world he exists even though he is free and it lies within his power to reject any particular gifts of God's grace.
Such a Congruist doctrine of perseverance appears very paradoxical because even though the believer freely perseveres and is able to reject God's grace, nevertheless there are no logically possible worlds in which he apostasizes. Is such a doctrine coherent?

It does seem coherent, I think, for the Congruist to maintain that the believer freely perseveres even if he is not free to apostasize. That the believer freely perseveres is evident from the fact that for any particular congruent grace accorded him, there are worlds in which the believer rejects that grace. But via His middle knowledge, God in each of those worlds offers the believer some other gift of grace to which God knows the believer will freely respond. So even though there are no possible worlds in which a believer falls away, nonetheless believers persevere freely. The crucial point, once again, is that God's grace is only extrinsically efficacious, and therefore the believer's freedom is not causally constrained by God's action....


To maintain that the warnings of Scripture are the means by which God guarantees the perseverance of the elect is in fact to adopt a Molinist perspective. That perspective need not be so radical as Congruism. The Molinist who holds to the perseverance of the saints may regard (4) and (4') as false because, in counterdistinction to the Congruist, he holds that there are realizable worlds in which believers do reject God's grace and apostasize. That is to say, such worlds are not merely logically possible, but are feasible for God. But the Molinist who holds to perseverance will simply add that God would not decree to actualize any of these worlds, or even more modestly, that God did not in fact decree to actualize such a world. In the world He chose to actualize, believers always persevere in the faith. Perhaps the warnings in Scripture are the means by which God weakly actualizes their perseverance. That is to say, in the moment logically prior to creation, God via His middle knowledge knew who would freely receive Christ as Savior and what sorts of warnings against apostasy would be extrinsically efficacious in keeping them from falling away. Therefore, He decreed to create only those persons to be saved who He knew would freely respond to His warnings and thus persevere, and He simultaneously decreed to provide such warnings. On this account the believer will certainly persevere and yet he does so freely, taking seriously the warnings God has given him. (A Middle Knowledge Perspective on Perseverance and Apostolic Warnings)


So for the Molinist, God chooses a world in which He knew we can, but would not fall away.

So 'possibility', understood either the robust libertarian sense, or the minimal determinist sense, is quite consistent with the thing never actually happening. Thus both Calvinists and Molinists may, in their own ways, affirm that true believers can, but will not fall away. In fact, anyone who believes God uses His foreknowledge providentially could uphold this difference. For example, Charles Finney (who was neither a Molinist or Arminian) said:



Everything revealed in the Bible concerning the perseverance and final salvation of the saints, and everything that is true, and that God knows of the free actions and destinies of the saints, may be of this class. These events are nevertheless certain, and are known to God as certainties. Not one of them will, in fact, turn out differently from what he foresees that they will; and yet by natural possibility, they might every one of them turn out differently; and there may, in the only sense in which danger is predicable of anything, be the utmost danger that some or all of them will turn out differently from what they in fact will…..

2. It is not intended that saints, or the truly regenerate, cannot fall from grace, and be finally lost, by natural possibility. It must be naturally possible for all moral agents to sin at any time. Saints on earth and in heaven can by natural possibility apostatize and fall, and be lost. Were not this naturally possible, there would be no virtue in perseverance.
3. It is not intended, that the true saints are in no danger of apostasy and ultimate damnation. For, humanly speaking, there may be, and doubtless is, the greatest danger in respect to many, if not of all of them, in the only sense in which danger is predicable of any event whatever, that they will apostatize, and be ultimately lost.
4. It is not intended, that there may not be, humanly speaking, myriads of chances to one, that some, or that many of them will fall and be lost. This may be, as we say, highly probable; that is, it may be probable in the only sense in which it is probable, that any event whatever may be different from what it will turn out to be….

It is intended, that all who are at any time true saints of God, are preserved by his grace and Spirit through faith, in the sense that subsequently to regeneration, obedience is their rule, and disobedience only the exception; and that being thus kept, they will certainly be saved with an everlasting salvation. (Charles Finney’s Systematic Theology. Lecture XLVII - Perseverance of Saints)




The distinction between "cannot apostatize" and "will not apostatize" really helps make sense of passages that speak of salvation as conditional on perseverance (i.e. Matthew 24:13; Colossians 1:23; Hebrews 3:14; Revelation 3:5) and also warning passages like Ezekiel 18:24, Hebrews 6:4-6 & 10:26-29. Perhaps they are truly saying we can loose our salvation, but other passages teach that we never will. Of course, just because we can hold this view (i.e. there's no logical contradictions) doesn't mean we should (i.e. it's taught in the bible). So, God willing, we need to look at biblical passages about the future of believers. Since examples go beyond warnings, we also need to look at the alleged "examples of apostasy", such as David, Judas, the Israelites who rejected Christ, Hymenaeus and Alexander, and false prophets of 2 Peter 2 and Jude. This topic also naturally brings up questions about assurance of salvation and antinomianism which should be discussed.

8 comments:

Jeff Carter said...

Can we answer this question by examing the nature of salvation itself? Is it not a re-birth, a resurrection of what was once dead, that is, the spirit of man which communes with God?

If it is a birth of sorts, then how is it lost? Once I am born of by mother and father, can I ever cease to be their son?

Robert said...

Jeff wrote:

“Can we answer this question by examing the nature of salvation itself? Is it not a re-birth, a resurrection of what was once dead, that is, the spirit of man which communes with God?”

Are you claiming that the **human spirit** is **dead** before a person is saved. So this human spirit is dead before we become believers and then is literally resurrected when we are saved?

What bible verses SAY THAT????

This also poses further problems. With the nonbeliever their body is obviously not dead as they function in the world. But if their spirit is literally dead as you suggest, then how are they thinking, deciding, choosing, sinning in the world? What part of them accounts for these intentional actions?

Bob Dylan who is great with words and metaphors, did a song called “Saved” which begins with:

“I was blinded by the devil,
Born already ruined,
Stone-cold dead
As I stepped out of the womb.
By His grace I have been touched,
By His word I have been healed,
By His hand I've been delivered,
By His spirit I've been sealed.”

What do you think he meant by “I was stone-cold dead as I stepped out of the womb”???

How can a **baby** be DEAD as it comes out of the womb? (Assuming of course that it is a live and healthy birth). Aren’t Dylan’s words a great metaphor for the fact that all human persons born into this world (with the exception of Jesus during his incarnation) are born **spiritually dead** though their bodies and spirits seem to be fully functioning??

“If it is a birth of sorts, then how is it lost? Once I am born of by mother and father, can I ever cease to be their son?”

When the bible speaks of the “new birth” it is speaking metaphorically. The analogy that Jesus was making in John 3 when speaking with Nicodemus, was that just as we were born once physically in order to enter life on earth, we need to be born again, or born from above, or born spiritually in order to enter the Kingdom of God. But it is metaphorical language intended to convey spiritual truth. That is why Nicodemus did not get it at first as he took it literally and spoke about us needing a second physical birth by going back to our Mother’s womb.
Just as Nicodemus literalized Jesus’ language about being born from above/again, I believe you are literalizing the apostle Paul’s language in Ephesians 2 where he speaks of us being spiritually “dead” and then being spiritually mad alive/ resurrected by the Lord.

Robert

Godismyjudge said...

Hi Jeff,

Personnally, I like the analogy. I think it helps explain the doctrine of ES.

God be with you,
Dan

Jeff Carter said...

What bible verses SAY THAT????Before I answer, tell me why you are placing the importance on what the Bible says. Shouldn't you be asking, What does the Spirit say about it?

What do you think he meant by “I was stone-cold dead as I stepped out of the womb”???He means the same thing I do, that we are dead to God, we have no fellowship, communion, or conversation with God; he means the part of us that can commune with God - our spirit - is dead.

Do not confuse spirit and soul. Our souls are alive and function in this world. Our spirits are dead and must be born again.

When the bible speaks of the “new birth” it is speaking metaphorically. There is surely something as a spirit that all men possess. The spirit is no metaphor. But to say that it is dead means that it does not function. Its function is to commune with God and if that's not happening, it's dead. The communion with God is what died at the Fall.

Jeff Carter said...

Dan,
I think it helps explain the doctrine of ES.Yes, that's my point.

Robert said...

Jeff wrote:

“What bible verses SAY THAT???? Before I answer, tell me why you are placing the importance on what the Bible says.”

Well don’t you believe that Christians ought to establish their doctrinal beliefs based upon what the bible properly interpreted presents????

“Shouldn't you be asking, What does the Spirit say about it?”

This is a false dichotomy, it is not the bible says one thing and the Spirit says another. It is the Spirit who inspired and effected the bible. So WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS **IS** WHAT THE SPIRIT SAYS (and vice versa).

I said that because the bible **never** says our human spirit is ever dead. You have to read this into scripture, you cannot get this through careful exegesis of scripture. You ask: what does the Spirit say about it? Implying this ought to be the more important question. But this is a false dichotomy as the Spirit speaks through the Word. And the Spirit speaking through the Word **never** says our human spirit ever dies. And if another Spirit reveals something contrary to what the Bible says, that is not the Holy Spirit.

“What do you think he meant by “I was stone-cold dead as I stepped out of the womb”??? He means the same thing I do, that we are dead to God, we have no fellowship, communion, or conversation with God; he means the part of us that can commune with God - our spirit - is dead.”

I would agree with everything that you say here up until you say: "he means the part of us that can commune with God – our spirit – is dead.” The bible teaches that because of sin we are separated from God, “that we are dead to God, we have no fellowship, communion, or conversation with God” as nonbelievers. This separation from God due to sin is what the bible refers to as spiritual death. But it goes beyond the scripture to suggest that spiritual death means our spirit is dead as nonbelievers. That notion that our spirit is dead, if false and cannot be shown or supported biblically.

“Do not confuse spirit and soul. Our souls are alive and function in this world. Our spirits are dead and must be born again.”

This is mere assumption and assertion based on your own assumptions. You assume a tripartite view, which I do not, and do not accept. Based on your assumed tripartite view, you then assume the soul and spirit are separate and that the soul functions and the spirit is dead in the case of the nonbeliever. No scripture says this, it is just your assumptions and then you asserting your assumptions to be true.

“When the bible speaks of the “new birth” it is speaking metaphorically. There is surely something as a spirit that all men possess. The spirit is no metaphor.”

I didn’t say the **Spirit** is a metaphor, the bible presents that God is a Spirit and that human persons have spirits. I spoke about Jesus speaking about being born again as being a metaphor referring to the new birth. And in this same bible passage the Holy Spirit’s work is metaphorically described as being like the wind.

“But to say that it is dead means that it does not function. Its function is to commune with God and if that's not happening, it's dead. The communion with God is what died at the Fall.”

I disagree, it is not that our spirit is dead and ceases to function; this cannot be shown or established from scripture. “Dead” in scripture usually refers to **separation** (cf. at death the spirit and body are separated, the “second death” referred to in the book of Revelation refers to eternal separation from God, “spiritual death” refers to separation from God due to sin). When Adam sinned in the Garden, he “died” spiritually meaning not that his spirit ceased to function but that his sin now separated him from God. “Spiritual death” refers to separation from God due to sin. All human persons (with the exception of Jesus) when born into this world are born “spiritually dead”/separated from God due to sin/what Dylan the master at metaphor aptly referred to as:“I was stone-cold dead as I stepped out of the womb.”

Robert

Jeff Carter said...

Well don’t you believe that Christians ought to establish their doctrinal beliefs based upon what the bible properly interpreted presents????No, a Christian is accountable for what the Holy Spirit tells him to do. What did Christians do before the N.T. was written?

WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS **IS** WHAT THE SPIRIT SAYS (and vice versa).Agreed, but the Spirit says more than the Bible can ever say. Even the Bible confirms this. John 21:25

And the Spirit speaking through the Word **never** says our human spirit ever dies. In the first place, can you show me where the Bible refers to itself as the Word?

In the second place, where does the Bible say the spirit of man never dies?

In the third place, you yourself confirm that man's spirit dies. What is the spiritual death? Rev. 20:6


This separation from God due to sin is what the bible refers to as spiritual death. But it goes beyond the scripture to suggest that spiritual death means our spirit is dead as nonbelievers. That notion that our spirit is dead, if false and cannot be shown or supported biblically.Yes, separation from God due to sin is spiritual death, I agree. If our spiritual ear is deaf, it is essentially dead to sound. When we are saved - the root is healing, like eye salve (salvation) - Jesus makes us whole, we are healed, our spiritual ear is healed, it is made alive again. "For this people's heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed."

This is mere assumption and assertion based on your own assumptions. You assume a tripartite view, which I do not, and do not accept. Whew. Would it make you feel any better if I gave you a Bible verse? "Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit, soul and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ." 1 Thess. 5:23

God is a trinity and man is made in the image of God; so man must be a trinity. Man is the temple of God and the earthly temple was tripartite - the outer court, the holy place and the holy of holies. Read my post "Man as Trinity - Body, Soul, Spirit: The Mythology of the Hebrew Temple" on my website.

I'm glad you like Dylan. I like him too. You'll see I've reviewed his Christian albums on my site.

Robert said...

Hello Jeff,

“No, a Christian is accountable for what the Holy Spirit tells him to do. What did Christians do before the N.T. was written?”

But we are no longer in an era where the bible is not available to us. To whom much is given much is required. With the availability of the bible and also bible study tools and on-line resources we are without excuse when it come to claiming the bible is not available to us.

“WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS **IS** WHAT THE SPIRIT SAYS (and vice versa).Agreed, but the Spirit says more than the Bible can ever say. Even the Bible confirms this. John 21:25”

If you agree on this would you further agree that we ought to keep our theological conclusions in line with what the bible that we now have does in fact present?

“In the first place, can you show me where the Bible refers to itself as the Word?”

Not sure what your point here is, do you believe the scriptures, what Christians commonly call “the Word” or “the Word of God” is God’s revelation to us?

“In the second place, where does the Bible say the spirit of man never dies?”

It is an inference that the spirit does not die because the bible gives instances where a person’s spirit is functioning and if it is functioning then it is not “dead”. Also, the proper meaning of “spiritual death” refers to the separation caused by sin, it is going **beyond** the text to suggest that this means the spirit of men is dead and non-functioning.

“In the third place, you yourself confirm that man's spirit dies. What is the spiritual death? Rev. 20:6”


The “second death” referred to here refers to eternal separation from God. The first death is when the body and spirit separate. I have said repeatedly that “spiritual death” refers to us being separated from God due to our sin. We are born in this condition and only when we are saved, are we reconciled to God and thus made spiritually alive.


“Yes, separation from God due to sin is spiritual death, I agree.”

Good to see we agree on this important point.

“If our spiritual ear is deaf, it is essentially dead to sound. When we are saved - the root is healing, like eye salve (salvation) - Jesus makes us whole, we are healed, our spiritual ear is healed, it is made alive again. "For this people's heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed."”

We don’t have a “spiritual ear” that is metaphorical language, we do however, have a spirit, that is not metaphorical language.

“Whew. Would it make you feel any better if I gave you a Bible verse? "Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit, soul and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ." 1 Thess. 5:23”

I am familiar with the verses used in support of the tripartite view (you mention one of them here). And let’s assume that you are correct that we have soul, spirit and body. Again, there is no biblical evidence that our spirit is not functioning when we are nonbelievers though our soul and body are functioning. The bible never makes those assertions.

“God is a trinity and man is made in the image of God; so man must be a trinity. Man is the temple of God and the earthly temple was tripartite - the outer court, the holy place and the holy of holies. Read my post "Man as Trinity - Body, Soul, Spirit: The Mythology of the Hebrew Temple" on my website.”

These are assertions based upon your tripartite view. I will need to look at your post to see your view (haven’t done that yet).


“I'm glad you like Dylan. I like him too. You'll see I've reviewed his Christian albums on my site.”

Dylan is one of my favorites, he is absolutely fantastic with words. I have all of his albums including the newest one. Have you got a hold of it and listened to it yet? My favorites on it are :“If you ever go to Houston” and “It’s all Good”.

Robert