Friday, 3 April 2009

Santification and Apostasy

A typical shot fired at Calvinists by Arminians relates to how the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints provides any motivation for holiness. If a saint is guaranteed heaven, they ask, then what is the point in struggling against the world, the flesh and the devil in pursuing a life of holiness? Isn't it rather more conducive to holiness to warn a saint that he or she must continue in a life of godliness or they will forfeit their salvation and suffer eternal destruction? Surely it's much better to state that we won't be eternally secure until we're secure in eternity? Charles Wesley thought this way. He wrote a hymn, formerly listed in the Methodist hymn book under 'For Believers Watching', which contains the following:

Lord with trembling I confess,
A gracious soul can fall from grace;
The salt can lose its seasoning power,
And never, never find it more.

Lest that my fearful case should be,
Each moment knit my soul to thee;
And lead me to the mount above,
Through the low vale of humble love.

What a rotten hymn. I'm glad the Methodists had the sense to ditch it. Wesley's words betray a piety motivated by craven fear and works/righteousness. It's this craven fear piety that many Arminians believe is essential to sanctification.

One of the classic Arminian errors is pointing to the warning passages in Hebrews as examples of true believers committing apostasy. My contention is that although the biblical writers do indeed wax darkly lyrical about the terrible fate of those who fall away, they always return to the fact that those to whom they write have been saved by grace and will persevere to the end.

I'll give a couple of examples from Hebrews. Chapter 6 is to the Arminian what Romans 9 is to the Calvinist. It's the typical Arminian proof-text:

It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance. To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace. Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God. But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned. (6:4-8 TNIV)

"There you are" yells the Arminian, desperately trying to control his excited bladder, "True believers can fall away." I'm sorry, well maybe I'm not sorry, but this passage teaches nothing of the sort. Read on to the next verse and we find the author stating:

Even though we speak like this, dear friends, we are convinced of better things in your case—the things that have to do with salvation. (TNIV)

The spiritual experiences of verses 4-8 did not have anything to do with salvation. It's possible to experience genuine spiritual power and not know Christ. Look at Saul, Balaam and Caiaphas prophesying for instance. So the author is saying something like "There are some who taste the goodness of the Spirit when they hear the word preached and take the sacraments, but they're not saved because they don't continue to believe; you on the other hand have persevered in faith."

Furthermore in chapter 10 verse 37, 38 we read:

"In just a little while, he who is coming will come and will not delay." And, "But my righteous one will live by faith. And I take no pleasure in the one who shrinks back." (TNIV)

Yet before you excitedly spoil another undergarment, Mr Arminius, read verse 39.

But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved. (TNIV)

In other words, God is unhappy at the one who doesn't persevere in FAITH. "Yet Hebrews, you still believe because you are saved" encourages the writer. The author to the Hebrews is beginning to sound like Calvin. Especially when he says:

We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold firmly till the end our original conviction. (3:14 TNIV)

I'm claiming Hebrews dude for our team. He can have a cool beer over at the White Horse Inn while the Arminians spend time examining their souls reading William Law.

What's my point in citing these verses and being quite mean to Arminians in the process? The point is that when the Biblical writers encourage the saints to persevere in holiness they are first and foremost encouraging Christians to continue in FAITH. They're not saying first and foremost to continue in quiet times or sexual purity or whatever. As good as these things are they should not be the focus of our piety. The author to the Hebrews is banging on about persevering in faith. Continue feeding on Christ he says. Don't neglect meeting together as some are in the habit of doing, because by doing so, they miss out on their faith meal of word and sacrament.

Only by holding to faith in Christ does holiness flourish. Indeed, without faith, it is impossible to please the Lord. You can pray, meditate and witness with an evil heart of unbelief. You can do it all to establish a righteousness outside of Christ. Don't let go of the gospel, only false converts do that.

The Perseverence of the Saints was never meant to mean the "Preservation of the unrepentant". Those who asked Jesus into thier hearts, walked an isle, signed a card, yet still believe that wilful sin is acceptable are not saved. You however...

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