Clarify The Question
Before You Answer
I’ve had many discussions about eternal security and the conversations often migrate to “what-if” questions, the philosophical nuggets that get thrown in after all the verses have been dissected without reaching a resolution.
Eternal Security is, again, the topic here and I mention it because the “what-ifs” unwittingly open the door to some very interesting questions:
Here’s how it works.
A debate is started about Eternal security, which is the teaching that says once a person is saved they can never be lost. Only God’s actions can void it and according to Him, His love is unconditional. It works even when we don’t (Romans 8:38).
And that is where the “what-if” arguments are introduced.
What if a Christian does some horrible, unthinkable, seemingly unpardonable thing, for example, genocide?
Wouldn’t that be enough to cancel out salvation? Some call these offenses mortal sins, meaning the consequences are eternal. They can’t be forgiven and the point of the “what-if” is:
How could God keep a person saved who commits these horrible things!?
And that question is barbed. The person who still insists God would keep such a person saved is painted with the same brush. Guilty! As if they did the same thing.
It makes great emotional sense. The cringe factor chokes out objective reasoning and leaves us stammering.
Some adherents of eternal security, to hold their ground, respond with an idea that is dismissive and really doesn’t answer the question. In fact, it opens the door to an entirely different line of discussion.
No genuinely born again person would commit such horrible sins!
Really? Does anyone really think a Christian would never do an unmentionable?
The above remark is usually spoken with an air of indignation too, as if to say, “How could anyone suggest such a thing?” and it implies that, “Christians are above it all!”
Can We Clarify The Question Please
What they’ve done, however, is unwittingly create a line between sins a saved person could and probably would commit and sins they could never commit.
We now have two categories of sin: “Not so bad” and “You really stepped in it.” One a Christian would do. They other they never would.
The basic question has also been changed.
- The initial question was “Can a saved person ever lose their salvation?”
- The “what-ifs” use an emotional trick to refocus the discussion on sin rather than God, thus changing the question from “Can God keep sinners saved?” to “Does God have the power to keep a particularly horrible sinner saved?”
Note that this is not a question of God’s willingness to keep a person saved. The Bible clearly states that He is not only loving but is the essence of love (1 John 4:8), that His love extends to everyone (John 3:16) and nothing can separate a saved person from that love (Romans 8:38).
What is being questioned is God’s power, His ability to keep one saved. The question puts a limit on God’s power. He is powerful enough to overcome venial sins but mortal sins leave Him helpless.
The “what-ifs” feature the shock factor. The gasp in response to unheard of degradation. They also assume God is as surprised and limited as we are.
But God proves everyday that He doesn’t take things near as personally as we do. He allows the sun to shine and the rain to fall on all sinners equally so why would He use a different rule to preserve saved sinners.
But there’s one more question change to consider.
- The question was finally changed to “What sins prove a person isn’t saved in the first place.”
We’ve ventured way off topic. We’ve changed the discussional landscape entirely.
Is Sin The Primary Difference Between The Saved And The Unsaved?
We started talking about saved people only and now we are focused on both saved and unsaved. If you’re a thinking person, you realize that the difference between the saved and unsaved has now become a question of which sins they will commit.
Not Jesus. Not salvation. Not even faith. But the category of sins they commit.
If they commit only category 1 sins, they are fine. If they venture into category 2, it’s obvious they weren’t saved in the first place.
What happened in the exchange is salvation was made a matter of what we do or don’t do. Faith is still the same, yes, but the object of faith has changed. Instead of faith in Jesus alone it is now faith in Jesus and me.
The first question established a point of discussion – can salvation be lost?
The second question veered the discussion off topic and suggested sin is more powerful than God. Just remember, though, that neither getting nor staying saved has ever been a byproduct of personal power. If God cannot keep you saved then surely you can do no better.
The third made it even worse – creating a list of “would-never-do’s to gauge whether a person is saved or not, a list which, once started, is added to often and is then followed with a comparative list: “would-always-do.”
A Christian would never do these things but will always do these other things.
Where the line is drawn, where the two categories separate, will vary with every religious group and even individual Christians develop a sixth sense about who is or is not really saved based on how their personal perspective.
I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard a professing Christian say they didn’t believe some other professing Christian was saved simply because the other person did or didn’t do some particular thing.
I’ll say more about where the “line” is drawn between those two things just now but first of all:
Can We Be Sure That A Christian Could Not Commit The So Called Unpardonables?
To my knowledge there is nothing in Scripture that supports such an idea. Instead, you find just the opposite.
- Jacob had two wives and two concubines in spite of the fact that God responded so unfavorably when his grandfather, Abraham, took on a second wife.
- Moses anger got the best of him more than once and caused him to miss the promised land.
Another interesting example is King David, who enjoyed as a close a relationship with God as anyone and broke several rules. He committed adultery, even though he had several wives, and followed it with murder. The murder was particularly egregious because:
- The victim was the husband of the woman with whom he committed adultery.
- The victim was a very loyal servant of David.
- The victim was notably honorable. David called him from battle and got him drunk hoping he would sleep with his wife, which David had just impregnated, and the man for honor’s sake refused.
- The woman was the daughter of one of David’s most capable and trusted advisers.
- David ordered the commander of the army to execute a very foolish military action to insure the death of the victim and cover his tracks. It was a malicious strategy but on the surface only seemed unwise.
The story depicts human nature at its worst but David didn’t lose his salvation. He lost credibility, respect and trust but not salvation.
If that isn’t enough for you just read the headlines. Christians are constantly being caught doing the unthinkable.
Aside from these examples, however, and more to the point, accepting the idea that sinfulness invalidates salvation spawns more problems than it solves.
We Cannot Draw A Definite Line Between Acceptable And Horrible Sins?
Here we get into a question of specifics. Exactly which sin or sins will cancel salvation.
If we are going to make a distinction between sins that damn and sins that don’t we need very clear instruction to know the difference. Otherwise we might unwittingly cross the line and then what? Write a new chapter on losing salvation mistakenly and attaching a verse to support it?
If you don’t know where to draw that line, can you ever know for sure you are safe? Since eternal life hangs in the balance it is only reasonable to expect clarity.
The Sin Puzzle Can Be Difficult To Solve
Determining where to draw the line becomes very complicated because there is more than one sin in each category. The discussion becomes even more puzzling when you realize there is more than one grade of sin in each also.
A lie can be harmless or malicious. In Rahab’s case it was righteous.
Killing can be self defense, manslaughter or murder. It can even be the outcome of judicial proceedings, capital punishment.
I’m pretty sure we will have a difficult time locating the exact point at which forgivable ends and unforgivable begins. The really bad sins – serial murder, genocide – are obvious to everyone but can anyone name with certainty the least horrible sin in the unforgivable category?
Or to put it another way, can you tell me exactly how bad I can be before salvation is cancelled?
And do sins accumulate? Am I OK if tell only two lies but damned after the third? Must I keep records secretly to make sure I don’t cross the line?
Am I condemned for entertaining murder or only if I follow through and what about character assassination? Would that qualify also?
Trying to answer these questions can be nightmarish but we can’t ignore them because we need to know at which point we could lose it all. One’s security is at stake.
Can A Vague Or Constantly Changing Argument Be Valid?
Not clearly specifying which sins will cancel salvation is like starting a race without establishing before hand the start line, the finish line and the exact track to run on. Under those circumstances it would be very easy to get off track.
The same is true for Christians. If you don’t where the line is drawn you are very likely to transgress.
Since the idea is so hazy, and it isn’t my argument anyway, I can’t give you an example of an “end-it-all” sin. You will have to use your imagination.
Disclaimer: Some religions have tried listing a few unforgivables but the lists are constantly morphing. It used to be that suicide was unforgivable but now culpability is reduced by things like stress, psychological issues and more.
Interesting! When is suicide not caused by these factors?
It was also once taught that children born to unwed mothers were eternally condemned but, thankfully, a more reasonable grace is employed today.
Can rules be changed like that? Doesn’t that really mean we didn’t know what we were talking about in the first place and still don’t?
If you’re a thinking person, you realize that if you can’t define the idea specifically it isn’t a reliable argument. Christians do commit sins and if there is a cut off point at which salvation is lost, we need to know exactly where that is. Otherwise, why mention it at all?
That brings us to the next consideration.
How Much Does Culture Influence Our Thoughts On Sinfulness?
The fact that the lists of minor and major sins are constantly changing is actually proof that our beliefs are influenced more by trends in cultural thinking than the Bible?
Allowing culture to lead the way sets us up for social/psychological games:
- The comparison game: “I didn’t do what you did so I must be OK.”
- The rule change game: the stick for measuring who is safe and who is not becomes the moral norm for each new generation, which is constantly changing. As statistics change, so changes the measure.
- The manipulation game: “How many times can I commit this one particular sin before salvation is lost?” “How close can I get to the line without damage?”
We need to stop the game approach. Salvation is based on believing in Jesus not adhering to a set of man made rules, no matter how good the rules may feel.
God is willing and able to save you and to keep you saved!
Can God Break A Promise?
Are there consequences for committing sins? Yes, absolutely! Experience alone teaches us that every choice has consequences and you don’t need to be saved or have a knowledge of the Bible to know that. But, not to worry, losing salvation is not a consequence!
God promised, “I will never leave you nor forsake you,” (Hebrews 13:5) and that promise was made without qualification. It wasn’t followed or preceded by conditional “if’s” or “as long as” statements.
If you are saved, your salvation is safe.