Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Big "IF"

So my wife received an order yesterday of home school materials for next year, which will be her fifth year as a home school mom. The materials included a Bible-centered English curriculum called "Rod and Staff," which is quite popular.

Included with the order were two freebie booklets, each of which are shining examples of Christian doublespeak.

The first is a booklet entitled "Once Saved Always Saved If…"

Within the first two paragraphs, the author reveals his abject confusion:

"Christians can go to two extremes. One extreme is to say, 'Once saved, I'm always saved, no matter what I do.' The other is to say, 'Nobody can claim the assurance of salvation.' The truth lies between these extremes."

Now, let's boil this down… If I were to say "Once saved, I'm always saved… unless I commit a particular sin," then can I really say "Once saved, always saved?" Does that phrase actually mean anything at all? And if failing in a particular way can cancel or cause me to lose my salvation, then doesn't that lead inexorably to the conclusion that "nobody can claim the assurance of salvation?"

Do I know all the ways in which I will fail in the future? If I don't, then how do I know that I won't fail in a way that would cause me to lose my salvation, if such a thing were possible?

If we are to arrive at a coherent answer to this question, we find that the principles of logic tend to "snap" us from one side to the other. In logic, this is referred to as "the Law of the Excluded Middle." What we have here is a very simple question for which there are only two answers possible:

"Is it possible for a Christian to lose their salvation, or is it IMPOSSIBLE for a Christian to lose their salvation?"

Now, either it is possible, or it's not possible. There are no other options, there is no in-between. If it's not possible for a person to lose their salvation, then it's appropriate to say "no matter what I do." And if it is possible for a person to lose their salvation, then it's appropriate to say "nobody can claim the assurance of salvation."

The author goes on to write:

"'Once saved, always saved' is a good slogan, provided you put an if on the end."

This is startling, and it brings to mind conversations I've had with Jehovah's Witnesses on my doorstep. When they visit, I often ask them a simple question:

Is it possible for you to know, right now, whether you will be resurrected to live forever on Earth with Jesus?

I have asked this question a number of times, and I always get an answer that starts out with "Yes, if…" and the 'ifs' are things like "if I keep God's commandments," "if I endure to the end," "if I'm obedient to God's law," etc. All of which reduces to:

"Yes… if I behave myself."

But then I ask what should be an obvious question: "Do you know that you are going to behave yourself?" And they say "Uh, no." And then I say "Alright, so then I guess the answer to my question is really "No," isn't that right? And they answer "I guess so."

Well, the author's line of thought here is heading in exactly the same direction. "Once saved, always saved if I behave myself." We have exactly the same problem… we can't know whether we're going to behave ourselves. And because of this, assurance of salvation is impossible. The author wants to be seen as having affirmed eternal security, but by adding the "if," his statement amounts to a denial of eternal security. This is utter confusion.

The booklet goes on from there, wandering from one misapplied prooftext to another, and culminates with this:

"Blessed assurance! Once saved, there is no good reason why we cannot be always saved. Our salvation is conditional, but we can claim it with complete confidence. Let us serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling."

What "blessed assurance" is there when there is an "if" in the equation? If by "our salvation is conditional," the author means that our salvation is conditioned upon our performance, and we know that it's possible that we'll perform poorly, then how can we claim it with complete confidence? We can't, can we?

The only way we can claim assurance with "complete confidence" is if we know that we will remain saved no matter how we might fail. If our future failures can cancel our salvation, and we lack foreknowledge of those failures, then assurance is impossible.

Unfortunately, the message in this booklet is incoherent at best, and downright deceptive at worst. This is the kind of doublespeak we are accustomed to hearing from politicians. Do we need to hear it from fellow Christians as well?

There are answers to questions like this, and they are coherent, logically consistent answers that you can take to the bank. Paul warns against being "ashamed of the gospel," and that means not shrinking from the unavoidable logical conclusions of God's grace. The notion that future failures--however grevious--cannot cancel salvation is the only view that's consistent with a by-grace salvation. When we make our salvation contingent upon our own performance, we destroy any possibility of assurance and are now relying on ourselves and not on Christ.

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