Another Facebook question.
A friend made a bunch of good comments on a thread responding to an especially ill-informed set of arguments on the subject of “eternal security” as taught by many we grew up among. He then pointed out that I might find this discussion “of interest.” It’s a difficult topic, because it poses as “either-or” many questions that properly have “both or neither” answers.
Anyway, here’s a scrubbed-up version of the original post:
If you think a Christian can lose their salvation, do you think Jesus lied here?
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.
And He lied and failed to do God’s will here?
All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.
So there are some serious theological issues here that must be addressed.
My friend’s replies were very helpful, though I have a couple critical notes. Since he asked, though, I took a stab at clearing up some of the “serious theological issues” raised in the original post.
You’re right that I find this “of interest”! I don’t often find myself interacting with such brutally underdeveloped soteriology, anymore.
(re your comments, Gary, I think you’re resting too heavily on “separate communities” readings of the Gospels, and as far as I can tell in half a generation nobody’s going to remember them. But you say a lot of good and true things in those comments, things friends should heed! Discourse analysis is definitely what’s missing in this kind of reading.)
OK, for starters, how can anyone read John 6 this badly? I mean, the original poster seems to have parachuted in from Mars, grabbed a few phrases, and mistaken them for a doctrine.
We have to do better than this. Here, read the whole thing (John 6).
…and be sure that, while you’re being woodenly literal, you don’t miss the most emphatically repeated thing in this discourse.
Done with that? All right. So, Jesus will not “cast out” or “lose one” of “all whom the Father has given,” and these are those who “come to me.” The number of those that Jesus is talking about who “the Father has given” and who “come to me” are the same; the number Jesus will “cast out” or “lose” from that group is zero.
No problem. Now, how does that tell me about whether I am securely “saved,” hope to be saved, have no hope of being saved, etc.? Oh. It doesn’t.
See, how would I know whether I am part of “all whom the Father has given” unless I “come”? And if I “come” and Jesus says, “abide in me,” and I decide I’d rather go betray him for 30 pieces of silver, then would I not be seized on by perfectly sensible doubt about whether I had “come” in the way that made me *really sure* I was one “whom the Father has given”? And if I deny Jesus three times, would I not also be seized with that sort of doubt? What then will Jesus say to me?
Our original post predicts that Jesus won’t say anything, that He will just wait for me to figure out that “Oh, wait, I ‘went forward at the invitation’ or ‘prayed’ or ‘had a final experience’ or ‘was converted’ that one time, and so now I should simply dismiss my doubts. Betraying or denying Jesus, or whatever else I did, can’t possibly signify that I am separated from God. I should just get on with life.”
Now, surely any Christian will want me to turn back to Christ, not simply assure myself that I’m fine, no matter what I’ve done.
Oh, that’s also what Jesus says. It’s what the prophets said, and the apostles. It’s what the Church has always said, too.
“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren.”
And he said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.”
He said, “I tell you, Peter, the cock will not crow this day, until you three times deny that you know me.”
So what do we actually see, here?
Jesus is the living bread. He is the nourishment and salvation the Jewish people had awaited, and their “good and great” were missing that fact. They were murmuring against him and looking for reasons to attack him. He addresses their lack of faith, pointing out that if they really believed what the Father had taught them–Moses and the prophets–they would also believe him. Jesus is the lodestone, the shibboleth, the rock of stumbling, the stone of offense: if they believe the Father and belong to Him, they are going to receive the Promise from Jesus; if they claim the heritage of the Promise but reject Jesus, they prove by doing so that they did not believe the Father or belong to Him. Before the end of Jesus’ work–for those Palestinian Jews Jesus addressed in the First Advent, but also for all humans by the Eschaton–all those who actually believe in God, whatever their starting position, will believe in Jesus; those who do not believe in Jesus are ipso facto no followers of God, no children of the Father of Light. There is only one God, and one Mediator between God and man….
And that’s the proper reading of this passage. Those who do, in fact, come to Jesus are never lost or abandoned, no matter what it looks like for a time. And those who do not, in fact, come to Jesus were not true children of the Father, no matter what it looks like for a time.
The end is all.
But this analysis alone gives me NO WAY TO KNOW whether I am one or the other. It gives me an opening to despair, one way, or to antinomianism, the other, if I mistake my certainty for salvation; but it does not let me classify myself.
Or does it? Because there is that whole “I am the living bread,” and there is that whole “come to me” thing. And that is the thing that is repeated throughout every division of Biblical revelation: Come to me. Abide in me. Dwell in me, and I in you. Return to me. On and on and on the chorus goes. God chooses to be with us, and calls us to be with Him.
So we have a long tradition in the Church of actually believing that. How do you assure yourself that you belong in Christ? Come to Jesus when you sin, confess, and return to Jesus in communion. You have come to Jesus in baptism, and He has sent His Spirit to live in you; now return to Him every time you wander away, and return continually to Him as you walk with Him, and at whatever moment you look up–from the prodigal to the Emmaus road to Peter leaping in the water to embrace the Resurrected Christ he had so flagrantly denied not long before–wherever you are, “come to me.”
And He will not cast you out.
And He will give you rest.