A few months ago, I wrote to a Mr. Fred Butler (an employee of John MacArthur’s ministry, Grace to You) about an article he had written on his personal website which equated belief in conditional security with blasphemy. Until the Lord returns, I think that there will always be disagreement among Christian theologians, and on issues such as this both sides should treat each other with grace and charity. Fred’s words unfortunately go quite beyond mere disagreement. Whatever calling another Christian’s doctrine ‘blasphemous’ on dubious grounds is showing to a brother or sister, I can guarantee it isn’t grace. Sadly, Mr. Butler’s attitude represents that of far too many Calvinists that Ben and I have come into contact with, who in lieu of presenting a scriptural case for their beliefs prefer to throw out untenable accusations, rejecting the cords of love in favor of applying their point to their brothers’ skulls with a sledgehammer (or mace). I challenged him to back his accusations, to which he responded here. Below is the body of my first response to Mr. Butler.
I wrote in my article on the perseverance of the saints, or what would be otherwise called eternal security; as well as said in my devotional message on the same subject, that anyone who adamantly denies the doctrine of eternal security is in danger of blasphemy, because it denies the power of God and says our Lord is a liar as to His clear promises to save those for whom He died certainly and absolutely.
Fred’s premise from the very start is mistaken, conditional security says nothing of the sovereignty of God, as it does not imply powerlessness, but merely how God chooses to operate; nor does it say anything against His promises, for God is under no obligation to give the benefits of His covenant promises to those who do not remain in covenant with Him. Pretty basic stuff, but we’ll touch on it below anyway. Fred poses a few questions,
When a sinner is saved is his hope of eternal life secure and most certain, or must he fret over the possibility of forfeiting his salvation with the committal of some unknown sin which will cause him to forsake his relationship with the Lord and thus bring him to being disowned by God and ultimate eternal damnation? In other words, is a Christian’s salvation eternally secure, or is it conditioned upon his ability and willingness to maintain it with his good works of obedience? Simply put,
Can a Christian lose his salvation?
Here Fred presents a false dichotomy, presenting Calvinism in the best light he can and comparing it to a version of conditional security where one can fall by “some unknown sin.” Sin proceeds from the heart (Matthew 15:19), and just as good works are the outworking of faith, so sin is the result of a heart turning away from God. One doesn’t just slip and fall into apostasy by some unknown sin as described in Fred’s caricature. He continues with it though,
Now, in all fairness, I wish to make it clear I do not believe J.C. and his pals are Roman Catholic. Never would I argue that they are. However, their view of salvation is similar to Rome’s along two important lines: 1) Christ’s death did not secure the salvation of any one person particularly, but only made all men saveable, and 2) eternal life is conditioned upon the synergistic effort of a person exercising good works in cooperation with God’s Spirit in order to maintain proper obedience so as not to forfeit salvation.
Ah yes, the old ‘you’re siding with the Catholics’ schtick. Also note that he equates perseverance with ‘exercising good works.’ If he’s going to stick with the remaining in Christ being equated with a work of the law canard, then his attacks are going to be exceptionally easy to outmaneuver. Fred then explains his (mis) understanding of Synergism,
These two points are essential in understanding why certain believers insist that a Christian can loose his salvation. For if Christ’s death did not secure any one person’s salvation, but merely made all people saveable, and that saveability is dependent upon the person first believing with faith and then continuing in cooperation with God’s Spirit as he accomplishes good works as outlined in the Bible, then any departure from the stated objectives for maintaining his salvation can very possibly place that salvation in peril with the risk of loosing it forever. God has clearly upheld His end of the salvation plan by making a way for men to be saved, so if the sinner does forfeit his eternal life by engaging in some form of disobedience, then God cannot be blamed for cutting him off. He had done what was needed to be done in order for a sinner to be saved and it was the sinner’s fault for not maintaining the necessary steps to be pleasing to the Lord.
his conclusion we’ll answer line by line,
With this little bit of background, I hope the reader can now understand why I say such a view of salvation is blasphemous.
This should be good.
It not only makes God into an impotent deity with no power to actually save anyone, at least without the cooperation of the sinful person,
Ah ah ah, no one said God couldn’t save anyone without their cooperation, simply that scripture indicates that He requires it. Macrocosm of difference.
but it still remains a works oriented faith that really doesn’t distinguish the uniqueness of what Christianity is as the only true way to heaven from all the other false religions.
“Works oriented?” Sorry, faith in Christ is not a ‘work,’ and remaining in the faith of Christ is not a ‘work.’ If that’s the crux of his argument for condemning conditional security as blasphemy, he lost before he started.
On top of this, I believe it makes God into being a liar as to His promise to give eternal life to those who believe in faith. John states that the purpose of God sending His son into the world was to give eternal life to those who will believe in Him. Is that a legitimate promise or not? And if it is a legitimate promise, then why can’t I be assured that God will come through with His promise in spite of my faults?
Oh wow, somebody please clue this guy in on God’s covenant promises. I guess by Fred’s logic, God telling the Israelites that He would not fail or forsake them (Deuteronomy 31:6) was somehow not a valid promise since He said that He would forsake them when they turned to other gods (31:17). All of God’s promises are valid, but many of them carry stipulations of remaining in covenant with Him if one is to inherit them.
I could not trust the word of God if I could loose my salvation with some spiritual mis-step.
I wouldn’t think one could fall from grace with a mis-step, but I do believe you could forfeit it if you willfully depart from Him.
The doctrine of eternal security doesn’t hang alone. Eternal life with God is the consummation of all the doctrines of salvation. The whole purpose of God decreeing His plan of salvation, electing a people to be called by His name, sending His Son to redeem those people, and then sending forth His Holy Spirit to empower those people to live righteously, is to securely bring those people into eternal life.
Here Fred employs another logical fallacy in stating that God’s purpose is to “securely bring those people into eternal life.” While God does give us security so that no one can snatch us away from Him (John 10:29), to assume that He therefore makes it impossible to fall (as Fred is indicating) is a sorely begged question. Let’s see if such lofty claims as eternal security being the ‘consummation of all the doctrines of salvation’ has any real backing.
To suggest a Christian can lose his salvation undoes the divine work leading up to eternal life.
Which I believe is God’s prerogative. He had no trouble tearing down the generation of Israel whom He had brought out of Egypt, and we are likewise warned,
Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come. (1 Corinthians 10:11)
Fred then gets to his main thrust,
I believe the doctrine of conditional security is a false one, and the idea of losing one’s salvation runs counter to at least seven important doctrines pertaining to God’s salvation of men. Over the course of a few posts I will outline those doctrines. Let me begin with the first:
Let’s see exactly why CS runs contrary to them, shall we?
I. Conditional Security is Contrary to the Doctrine of the New Birth
If the sinner, then, is going to believe in faith, trust Christ, and turn from his treasonous ways, a divine work must take place in the heart of the sinner to re-orient him toward, and re-unite him with, his creator. That is the work of the new birth. We also know it as regeneration.
[spiel about what regeneration is]
When taken together in their contexts, these passages tell us the work of regeneration re-creates the sinner to newness of life. The re-creation he experiences is a divine work coming directly from God alone. In other words, God is the direct agent facilitating this work. Nothing within the sinner can effect this change.
For those unfamiliar with Calvinist theology, he is referring to regeneration prior to faith, not regeneration through faith and obedience to the gospel as scripture teaches.
Buried with Him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with Him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised Him from the dead. (Colossians 2:12)
This refers to the resurrection that we who believe have already experienced, which is through faith in Christ.
Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live. (John 5:25)
Note that hearing Christ precedes regeneration. It is not merely hearing the gospel message (for many who hear that reject it and do not live), but heeding it (Ben goes into much greater detail on the subject in his posts on regeneration).
Moreover the regeneration is permanent and cannot be undone by the believer as the Arminian presupposes.
Funny that he should talk about me ‘presupposing’ so much when he doesn’t present any actual evidence to back this claims, this one being no exception.
Regeneration removes the defilement of the sinner’s heart having it cleansed and washed away. As a result a new principle of righteousness exists in his heart. His thoughts are re-oriented toward God. He understands spiritual things and no long lives in a cloud of spiritual darkness. Rather, the sinner who is forgiven of his sins and is identified with Christ, now lives unto the Lord, no longer in spiritual rebellion, but has a heart willingly submitted to God and pursues righteousness while shunning the life of sin.
But it is not a ‘forced willingness,’ since God warns us time and again against departing from Him. The new birth is indeed what spurs us to live for Christ, but to assume that it does so irresistibly is erroneous.
There are at least three thoughts in response to the conditional security position, and in light of the biblical data concerning the new birth, why their position is in error:
1) I believe it is clear the Bible reveals that the new birth is alone the work of God. The sinner, in his sinful state, has no interest nor desire to come to God. Left to his sinfulness, he will only weary himself to resist God. How then can the sinner reject a work that is not his to begin with?
Fred’s logic is only partially correct, as he is not factoring in prevenient grace. If receiving the grace of God (and therefore receiving faith in Christ which is the condition God requires before He regenerates us) is synergistic, then it isn’t a huge leap of logic to reason that standing in that grace is as well. Fred therefore hasn’t shown any logical reason why men couldn’t reject an offer for God to perform a miraculous work for them.
It doesn’t originate with him, nor does he even wish to pursue it. Unless there is a over-riding presupposition of total libertarian free-will that permits the newly regenerated Christian to return to a life of sin, but such a concept of the will is foreign to the Bible’s description of man.
I guess he’s never looked very closely at Psalm 81,
I am the LORD thy God, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt: open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it. But My people would not hearken to My voice; and Israel would none of Me. So I gave them up unto their own hearts’ lust: and they walked in their own counsels. Oh that My people had hearkened unto Me, and Israel had walked in My ways! (Psalm 81:10-13)
or perhaps Christ’s lament over Jerusalem,
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee; how often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings, and ye would not! (Luke 13:34)
The concept of libertarian free will fits the biblical record quite well, I address the issue further in the post Prevenient Grace and Libertarian Free Will.
2) According to the biblical data, regeneration is the transforming of a sinner into a new person. A radical heart change takes place at the hands of God. The person is spiritually resurrected. The divine work is so thoroughly whole and complete with its effects upon a sinner that once born again the sinner will not walk away.
Once again, no supporting scriptural evidence is provided for the last sentence, and I think I know why….
Ephesians 2:10 tells us we are God’s workmanship created unto good works and Colossians 1:13 says God’s regenerating work transfers us from the kingdom of the devil and places us into the kingdom of Christ.
Yes, which in no way contradicts conditional security.
To suggest we can lose our salvation means we have it in our power to take out the heart of flesh that was given to us by God and replace it with the heart of stone God initially took out of us (Ezekiel 36:26).
Or just harden it through the deceitfulness of sin (Hebrews 3:13).
It means we have it in our power to renounce our citizenship in Christ’s kingdom and transfer back to the kingdom of the devil.
That’s exactly what the last passage I presented in the challenge (Revelation 22:19) implies.
It would be like Lazarus committing suicide a couple of months after being raised from the dead by Jesus (John 11).
Why this would have been such an impossibility he never states.
3) All the biblical data tells us that God’s promise of the lasting effects of regeneration are sure. The person’s desires will always be to pursue righteousness. Persisting in sin grieves him and though he may stumble in sin, his longings will be to overcome it.
And STILL no supporting data or address of the biblical evidence I’ve presented, in spite of this he still claims that “all the biblical data” supports his position. There’s a pattern developing here.
Why would God go to the great lengths of sacrifice to redeem a people called by His name, promise them eternal life, give His Only Begotten Son to secure the salvation of these people, initiate spiritual birth in their hearts, when such a great and awesome work has no lasting value and can potentially be undone? What would be the purpose?
First off, Fred’s drawing up another false dichotomy with the words, “has no lasting value and can potentially be undone.” It DOES have lasting value, provided one remain in Him. He then asks, “What would be the purpose?” Why would He tell the Israelites of all the good He was going to do for them if He knew they were going to reject it and receive none of it (see Jeremiah 42:9-12), why would He lead the children of Israel out of Egypt, yet scatter their bodies in the wilderness in His wrath (Hebrews 3:17)? So then why wouldn’t He redeem someone who received Christ, but cut him off if he departed? Or better yet, why would He give warnings against falling away if the belief that it’s possible to fall away constitutes blasphemy?
Just so we can say God wants men to enjoy his “freewill?” Such a theology devalues the power of God to save.
Not really, unless we wish to argue that God is so sovereign that He can’t choose to let anyone have a choice in the matter. Bottom line, scripture does clearly speak of a new birth, but there’s not really any aspect of it spoken of in scripture that contradicts conditional security.
I might also add that if the ‘consummation’ of all your doctrines of salvation is directly contradicted in scripture, then either one or more of your doctrines, else the logic employed to derive said consummation is fatally flawed. Doctrine unchecked by and incongruent with scripture is simply man-made doctrine. Fred tried to counter with another post, but came up even more dreadfully short and inaccurate than the first time. I’ll outline my second response to Mr. Butler below. He writes:
I will say there are at least three foundational problems with his overall polemic against mine:
1) He doesn’t believe regeneration does anything specific to change a sinner’s heart.
“Sin proceeds from the heart (Matthew 15:19), and just as good works are the outworking of faith, so sin is the result of a heart turning away from God”
However, the biblical evidence, as I noted, tells how a sinner’s heart is so entirely changed that his desires are now only to please the Lord (see my article).
Here Fred resorts to simply trying to put words into my mouth to create a straw man to burn. I never said that regeneration doesn’t change one’s heart (it does), I simply stated that the change wasn’t irresistible. We still have a sinful nature that wars against our spirit, we are not changed so that we can no longer fall to temptation, and will not be so perfected until we are with Christ. Fred goes on,
He will never turn away from God, because his heart has been created anew. Just as we didn’t have the desire to come to God without the divine work of the new birth, after the new birth, we don’t have the desire to turn from Him. J.C. doesn’t interact with any of the information I presented. He just waves his hand and pronounces me an idiot of sorts.
Again, Fred’s ‘information’ is quite lacking in the scriptural specifics department. Scripture makes it clear that even those who have escaped the world’s corruption can still fall back into slavery to sin, which I’ll touch on further below. Fred continues to pound his chest by calling my view of prevenient grace ‘pagan,’ he then asserts,
His view teaches works salvation. In spite of J.C.’s scornful protests to the contrary, his view of salvation is most certainly works oriented. He writes,
“Ah ah ah, no one said God couldn’t save anyone without their cooperation, simply that scripture indicates that He requires it.”
What? If God requires that we cooperate with His plan of salvation as J.C. so adamantly claims the Bible teaches, then how is this NOT works?
He really isn’t getting it. The Calvinist tendency to associate anything that people do with ‘works’ is one of the great errors in the case for Calvinism. As J.P. Holding put it,
And a point I have yet to see explained as well is how making a decision qualifies as a “work.” The Jews were forbidden to work on the Sabbath; did this prohibit them from thinking or making a decision? Is there any evidence that the Greek word behind “works” (ergon) ever refers to a thought or a decision? It is my earnest wish that an enterprising Calvinist will step to the plate and answer this question, for it seems to me that this is a flawed premise upon which the Calvinistic case rests. (Un Conditioning, J.P. Holding at Tektonics.org)
That pretty much spells it out. The answer is simple: Cooperation with grace is not a work.
The sinner has to do something in order to cooperate, correct? Believe the gospel with his faith, be obedient, produce good works, keep pursuing God or risk having sin so over take his heart he forfeits salvation, etc. What is the difference between J.C.’s view of salvation and say, the Muslim’s? Or maybe the Mormon’s? Or even the Roman Catholic’s schtick? How exactly am I mis-understanding, mis-representing?
Mormon? I for one do not believe that “keeping the commandments of God will cleanse away the stain of sin” (Journal of Discourses 2:4). If we chose say Sunni Islam, its hard determinism would be much more in line with Calvinism than Synergism. I simply believe that one must receive the grace of God (and thereby the gift of faith) to be saved, and remain in the faith of Christ (i.e. persevere) which produces good works as a result to obtain the resurrection of the just. Once again Fred passes sweeping judgments of ‘paganism’ based entirely on his misconceptions.
[I wrote] “Works oriented?” Sorry, faith in Christ is not a ‘work,’ and remaining in the faith of Christ is not a ‘work.’ If that’s the crux of his argument for condemning conditional security as blasphemy, he lost before he started.
But J.C., don’t you have to exercise faith in order to cooperate with God as the Bible requires? You just wrote that a person did. Don’t you have to remain in the faith of Christ by producing good fruit and guarding your heart from being over taken by sin in order to prevent forfeiting salvation? How exactly is this NOT works? Either J.C. is severely muddled, or he is re-defining words to fit his conclusions, Or both.
Or Fred completely missed the fact that I said, Sin proceeds from the heart (Matthew 15:19), and just as good works are the outworking of faith, so sin is the result of a heart turning away from God. in the last response to him. To assert that ‘producing good fruit’ or avoiding sin are the means to remain in the faith is completely backwards. Fred manufactures a bit more evidence against me in stating,
J.C. equates the terms and stipulations of the Mosaic covenant with the New Covenant.
This is probably the most blunderous aspect to J.C.’s entire worldview. He thinks the promises and curses that governed the nation of Israel when the occupied the land are as equally applied to Christians.
No, I don’t. I do believe that the covenants share the aspect of conditionality, this does not make them the same.
Thus, just as God stated He would bring cursings upon Israel if they refused to heed the covenant He made with them at Sinai, like giving them over to foreign enemies to punish them if the people worshiped false gods, or even completely cutting them off; so too a Christian is under the same curse of being cut off and experiencing eternal damnation if he doesn’t fulfill his requirements of partaking in the covenant.
Yes, a Christian will be cut off for not fulfilling the requirements of the covenant. The big difference is that the new covenant is based upon faith in Christ, which if one rejects, he will receive the worst of punishmemt.
Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace? (Hebrews 10:29)
The Mosaic covenant that governed Israel as a people was certainly conditional. That is because it was meant to function as a temporary covenant governing a temporary theocratic nation. The Mosaic covenant was meant to be replaced by fulfillment with the New Covenant. The New Covenant expanded beyond the borders of the land of Israel to encompass the entire world. Where as the New Covenant is described as being eternal, the Mosaic wasn’t.
Yes, the New Covenant is eternal, whereas national Israel completely broke and severed the Old Covenant, the Covenant of Christ will never cease to be with God’s people as a whole (or with Israel, for His gifts and calling are in that sense irrevocable – Romans 11:29). This doesn’t entail the idea that no one in covenant with God can fall out of covenant with Him, which I address at the conclusion.
Fred finishes painting his distorted picture of Synergist doctrine, displaying either his inability or simply his unwillingness to understand what he is arguing against,
It never was meant to be. Thus, for J.C. to apply the same stipulations of blessing and cursings that governed the Mosaic covenant to the New Covenant is an embarrassing error.
Once again he misrepresents his opposition. I stated nothing about the stipulations of the Old Covenant applying to the new. The Old Covenant was based on works of the law, the new on faith in Christ apart from the works of the law (Romans 3:27).
J.C. mocks that I don’t provide any examples of how the new birth, or regeneration, is permanent in the believer so that its affects can never be undone. Note the key phrases in Jeremiah’s prophecy of the New Covenant that is also cited in Hebrews,
I will put My law in their minds…
I will write it on their hearts…
I will be their God…
They shall be my people…
I never argued that it wasn’t permanent. It IS permanent if one remains in Christ. If one does not remain, then yes, such blessings can be revoked, a concept that carries no conflict with anything he cites above.
There is a divine work that takes place in this covenant that will change the participants. In this case, a divine heart change that will make them godly. Obedience is now a result of an internal motivation created by God. Ezekiel also uses similar language in his description of the New Covenant when he writes in 36:26, 27,
26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them.
Which I agree with.
How can this be any clearer? God says He will cause them to walk and they will in return keep His judgments and do them. They won’t fall away into sin because there remains no longer a heart desirous of sin. The principle of sin that enslaved us has been made inoperative as Paul describes in Romans 6:6, because the heart of stone is replaced with a heart of flesh that has God’s laws written on them.
And here is where Fred’s case breaks down entirely. While God does regenerate us and put a new heart and spirit within us, the sinful nature still remains until we go to be with the Lord. If it were inoperative and incapable of overcoming us, then we could not be sincerely warned,
But exhort one another daily, while it is called To day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. (Hebrews 3:13)
nor could it be possible for those who had escaped the corruption of the flesh to be overcome by it, but scripture states,
For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning. (2 Peter 2:20)
Fred tries for one last shot,
That is the promise of the New Covenant, and its promises of bringing its participants to eternal life is so certain that the sun and moon will cease functioning as God has ordained them before that promise is broken (Jeremiah 31:35, 36).
But completely misses the context,
And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know Me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.
Thus saith the LORD, which giveth the sun for a light by day, and the ordinances of the moon and of the stars for a light by night, which divideth the sea when the waves thereof roar; The LORD of hosts is His name:
If those ordinances depart from before Me, saith the LORD, then the seed of Israel also shall cease from being a nation before me for ever.
Thus saith the LORD; If heaven above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth searched out beneath, I will also cast off all the seed of Israel for all that they have done, saith the LORD.
As I’ve already cited from Romans 11:29, God’s covenant with His people as a whole will never depart, nor will a remnant that is His cease to be. This states nothing against the fact that individual members who do not abide in the covenant can be cut off. Just as God showed His great mercy continuously towards Israel (Ezra 3:11), this was no bar to individual members being cut off; likewise those that have been grafted in under the New Covenant are warned,
Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in His goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off. (Romans 11:22)
To sum it up, there is no scriptural or logical reason to equate receiving the grace of God with a work of the law, clearly making grace-based Synergism incompatible with ‘works-oriented’ soteriology. The old and new covenants both have stipulations: one is based on works, the other on faith in Christ. While God does continue to preserve the redeemed as a people, this does not mean that some individuals cannot be cut off. The new birth gives us the desire to follow God, but as the various warnings against falling away in scripture testify to, the danger of falling into faithlessness still remains. It’s not a wise method of biblical interpretation to discount the warnings God gives based on how we would like to interpret His promises, as the assurance of His faithfulness does not eliminate the stipulations He has sovereignly established. I’ll add that Fred’s usage of the terms ‘blasphemous’ and ‘pagan’ to describe Arminian and Synergist doctrines displays both a critical misunderstanding of the beliefs he attacks as well as very unchristian behavior towards his brethren. Perhaps it’s time to hang up the mace.