Once A Son Always A Son?

It is a popular teaching today that once someone becomes a child of God through faith in Jesus Christ, he or she will never cease to be God’s child regardless of behavior and continuance in saving faith.

In order to express this teaching, it is reasoned from human experience to that which is spiritual and a strong distinction is made between “fellowship” and “relationship”.  It is said that a believer can harm and even sever one’s fellowship with God while somehow maintaining a saving relationship.  The only way to express this concept is through human analogy.

Neil T. Anderson gives us the basis of this argumentation in Stomping Out the Darkness, co-authored by Dave Park.  Under the heading: There’s A Difference Between Relationship and Fellowship, Anderson writes…

Doesn’t our sin block God’s acceptance of us?  No, as the following story illustrates.  When I (Neil) was born physically I had a father.  His name was Marvin Anderson.  As his son, I not only have Marvin Anderson’s last name, but I have Marvin Anderson’s blood flowing through my veins.  Marvin Anderson and Neil Anderson are blood- related.  Is there anything that I could possibly do which would change my blood relationship with my father?  What if I ran away from home and changed my name?  What if he kicked me out of the house?  What if he disowned me?  Would I still be his son?  Of course!  We’re related by blood and nothing can change that…In the spiritual realm, when I was born again I became a member of God’s family…As a son of God, is there anything I can do which will change my relationship with him?  No!  I’m related to God by spiritual birth and nothing can change that blood relationship (pp 55, 56- emphasis his).

Anderson, like so many others, gives very little scriptural support for his contention that once we become a child of God, we inevitably remain one forever.  He later quotes a portion of Jn. 10:27, 28 and cites Rom. 8:35, but does not consider them in their proper context and ignores many other related Scriptures, as will soon be demonstrated.  Anderson relies primarily on a “story” to make his case and try to demonstrate that sin and apostasy can only affect our fellowship with God, but never our relationship.

Let us consider some of his statements from this portion of his book, “I’m related to God by spiritual birth and nothing can change that blood relationship (emphasis mine).”  Please notice that Anderson first calls our relationship spiritual, but then in the same sentence calls it a blood relationship.  Since a blood relationship is physical, it can never be spiritual.  Consider the following Scriptures:  “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God- children born not of natural descent (literally: “of bloods”)…but born of God”(Jn. 1:12, 13- emphasis mine).  “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.  Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit” (Jn. 3:5, 6- emphasis mine).  It is clear from these two scriptures that the new birth is entirely spiritual and has no physical element to it.  To say that we enter into an unbreakable blood relationship with God is to contradict the testimony of his word.

To make matters worse, once we are “born again” (Jn. 3:3), we become a part of God’s family through “adoption” (Rom. 8:23-25) and cannot properly be compared to natural born children with a “blood relationship”.  Even Israel, whom Paul called the “natural branches” (Rom. 11:21), are children only through “adoption” (Rom. 9:3, 4).

To compare our relationship with God to our blood relationship with our natural parents is to draw an analogy that Scripture does not support and flatly contradicts.  Paul warned against such dangerous reasoning, “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world, rather than on Christ” (Col. 2:8- emphasis mine).

What of Anderson’s contention that we can in no way jeopardize our relationship with our heavenly Father, but only our fellowship?  Anderson responds categorically with a “No!” saying nothing can change that “blood relationship” (which we have shown to be an unscriptural concept), and that continued sinning, or even walking away, cannot jeopardize our relationship with God.  Again, Scripture is not on his side.

Therefore brothers, we have an obligation– but it is not to the sinful nature to walk according to it.  For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. Rom. 8:12-14 (emphasis mine)

There are several important truths to be gleaned from this passage of Scripture.  First, we see that “those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.”  Second, those that are called “sons of God” are those that live by the Spirit by putting “to death the misdeeds of the body.”  Third, if we continue to “live according to the sinful nature” we will die spiritually.  What if we experience the new birth and later fall back into a lifestyle controlled by the sinful nature?  We would cease to be “sons of God”, because only those led by God’s Spirit are his children, and those led by God’s Spirit are those who “put to death the misdeeds of the body” and no longer “live according to the sinful nature.”  Fourth, Paul tells us that we are obligated to live by God’s Spirit.  For those who want to be God’s children, such a Spirit led life is not optional- “we have an obligation”.

Anderson wants us to believe otherwise.  He writes,

Our freedom in Christ is one of the most precious gifts we have received from God.  You no longer have to walk according to the flesh as you did before you received Christ.  You are not even forced to walk according to the Spirit.  You can choose to walk according to the Sprit or to walk according to the flesh (pg. 89- emphasis mine).

Notice how Anderson says we can be a child of God and still walk according to the flesh, while Paul says we are not free to walk according to the flesh but obligated to walk according to the Spirit!  The consequence of walking according to the flesh is spiritual death according to Paul, but only a shaky fellowship according to Anderson.  Paul gave a similar teaching in Gal. 6:7, 8,

Do not be deceived:  God cannot be mocked.  A man reaps what he sows.  The one who sows to please the sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.

To claim that we can sow “to please the sinful nature” and still reap eternal life, is to mock God’s word.  Only those that sow “to please the Spirit” will reap eternal life and avoid spiritual “destruction”.  It is impossible for a child of God to return to a lifestyle controlled by sin, and still remain a child of God (Rom. 8:9-14).  A child of God is recognized by his or her behavior,

Little children, make sure no one deceives you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous; the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning…This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother (1 Jn. 3:7, 8, 10 emphasis mine).

According to these Scriptures, and numerous others, there is far more than our “fellowship” at stake.  Our saving relationship with Jesus Christ (the only source of eternal life- 1 Jn. 1:2; 5:11; Jn. 1:4; 5:26; 6:35; 11:25; 14:6; Heb. 5:9; Col. 3:4) is at stake when we walk away from God, or live a life that is not in accord with his life giving Spirit.  We are in danger of “grieving” (Eph. 4:30), and finally “insulting” the Spirit that seals us (which constitutes apostasy- Heb. 10:26-31), for God’s Spirit belongs only to those that continue to obey him (Acts 5:32; Jn. 14:15-17).  If we cease to have God’s Spirit, we no longer belong to Christ (Rom. 8:9).

We are truly children of God the moment we believe, but there is an aspect of our adoption that we have not yet attained (Phil. 3:10-14; Rom. 8:23-25).  Only those that “overcome” will inherit God’s kingdom, be called God’s “son”, and escape eternal punishment (Rev. 2:11; 21:7, 8). We have not yet arrived, and we face the real danger of apostasy if we take sin lightly or falsely believe that we can live according to the sinful nature and remain God’s children.  Paul says we are free, but only from sin (and the requirements of the ceremonial law), and to be free from sin is to be a slave to righteousness (Rom. 6:15-18).  There is no middle ground.

The fatal flaw in Anderson’s thinking is that of comparing the natural to the spiritual.  Our spiritual birth and adoption is contingent on us remaining in the new relationship that the new birth creates.  While one may be disowned in the natural and still remain a biological child, we cannot remain God’s child if he disowns us, for there is no biological relationship that ties us together (Matt. 10:32, 33).

The Scriptures know no such distinction between relationship and fellowship.  To have fellowship with God is to be cleansed by Christ’s blood (1 Jn. 1:7).  The security described in Jn. 10:27-29 is contingent on our listening and following Jesus (vs. 27).  Anyone who would cease to follow Jesus, by allowing the sinful nature to again take control of his or her life, can no longer be secure in Christ’s arms.  The Lord will protect the true believer from outside forces, but we can still walk away of our own free will.  The same is true of Rom. 8:35-39.  This promise is only for those that “love [God]” (vs. 28) and are considered his “sheep” who endure persecution for Christ’s sake (vs. 36).

Again, the true believer is protected from outside forces, but is responsible to “remain” in Christ’s love (Jn. 15:9; Jude 21).  We can still walk away of our own will, or fall away through sin or persecution (Matt. 10:22, 28, 32-33; Luke 8:13).  We are safe and belong to God only as long as we choose to remain in him, and unless we remain, we can no longer belong to God’s family (Jn. 15:5, 6; 1 Jn. 2:24, 25; 2 Jn. 9; Rom. 11:17-22; Col. 1:21-23).  Even Anderson cannot remain consistent with his unbiblical relationship and fellowship dichotomy.  He later writes, “If you hold onto a secret, lustful thought or proud attitude without hurting anyone else, you need only confess it to God.  The only relationship affected is the one between you and Him (page 92-emphasis mine).”

 Anderson is also inconsistent in regards to which sins were forgiven at the point of conversion.  He writes, “When you step off the path of the Spirit, confess your sin to God and anyone you may have offended, receive forgiveness and return to walking the right path (pp. 91, 92- emphasis added).”  Here Anderson gives us good counsel.  When we sin we are to confess our sin to receive forgiveness and cleansing from God (1 Jn. 1:8, 9).  Jesus admonished us that asking forgiveness for our sins should be a part of our daily prayer life (Matt. 6:9-13).  He also told us that we would not receive forgiveness if we harbor un-forgiveness in our hearts towards others (Matt. 6:14, 15; Mark 11:25).  He even went so far as to say that our entire debt of sin would be charged back against us if we refused to forgive our fellow man (Matt. 18:21-35).

If it is true that we need to continually come to God for cleansing and forgiveness when we sin, then it must also be true that only our “past sins” were forgiven at the point of conversion (2 Pet. 1:9).  Any sins committed after conversion must be confessed in order to receive forgiveness (which is part of our walk of faith- Jn. 1:7-9).  Anderson seems to understand this, but later writes, “He has cancelled the debt of your sins past, present, and future (pg. 107- emphasis mine).”  If God has already forgiven my future sins then the previous Scriptures are senseless.  Why would Jesus and John tell us to ask forgiveness for sins that are already forgiven before we even commit them? 

When Anderson contradicts the clear teaching of Scripture, and even his own writing, he proves that he is in error.  This is especially disturbing considering his book is written to youth and promises to give them the tools they need to overcome sin and bondage in their lives.  When we teach that nothing we can possibly do will affect our relationship with God, that we are free as Christians to live according to the flesh (if we so desire), and that our future sins are forgiven before we even commit them, we are giving license to new Christians to return to a lifestyle that will lead to spiritual death and destruction (Rom. 8:9, 12-14; Gal. 6:7, 8; 1 Cor. 6:9-10; Gal. 5:19-21; 2 Pet. 2:18-22; Rev. 21:7-8).  We are also giving a much distorted view of Scripture regarding our place in God’s family.

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19 Responses

  1. Whose spiritual children were believers before being adopted into the family of God? If John 8:44 is any indicator then the answer would be the devil’s. So I wonder if Anderson believe that that relationship can be broken?

  2. There is far too much of this going around. I know the bible teaches that there will be false teachers, and that they will dress up like angels of light, but I am thankful for men who will stand up for the truth and will not allow compromise.

    Anyone who teaches that we can sin so that grace may abound, is twisting a key tenant of scripture – and they do so to their own destruction. (2nd Peter 3:16)

    As the next verse says, “Ye therefore, beloved, seeing ye know these things before, beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own stedfastness.”

  3. Ben,

    I don’t know.

    Is this teaching a “hyper” Calvin, once saved always saved doctrinal position posited by Neil Anderson?

    Based on some verses I am inclined to exercise my Godly authority towards believers who refuse to repent when I see them, a brother or sister, unrepentant. Maybe Neil hasn’t fully developed the context for that extreme position?

    What is this authority? It is “spiritual” in nature or essence.

    First, Jesus develops an idea of abiding, a “spiritual” union with the Trinity when He says this does He not?:::>

    Joh 14:23 Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.

    The writer of the book of Hebrews exhorts the mature Christian to see to it that no one fails to obtain the Grace of God:

    Heb 12:15 See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled;
    Heb 12:16 that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal.

    With this union with Christ in God in mind I quote 1 Cor. 5 and an unusual judgment exercised by Paul exercising the same spiritual authority I am inclined to exercise myself as I said:

    1Co 5:3 For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing.
    1Co 5:4 When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus,
    1Co 5:5 you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.

    Here we see these Christians in spiritual unity and under God sanctioned “spiritual authority”. They are in one union with Christ and Our Heavenly Father seeing the “day of the Lord” refers to Our Heavenly Father’s authority.

    Paul is somewhere on the planet but obviously not present there physically at Corinth. His “spirit” is there present and so is his spiritual authority which he has said clearly he has “announced” his judgment on the man in question already.

    Paul says to the Church in Corinth to “gather” together, his spirit being present in the gathering and with Christ’s Spirit and Power also present, turn this one over to Satan so that he can destroy his flesh so that his “spirit” might be saved!

    Let me ask you, what is destroyed and what is saved and more important to that, why?

    Why not just turn this “believer” over to Satan for a full destruction?

    Let me quote Job 18 to express a more severe judgment one undergoes:

    Job 18:14 He is torn from the tent in which he trusted and is brought to the king of terrors.
    Job 18:15 In his tent dwells that which is none of his; sulfur is scattered over his habitation.
    Job 18:16 His roots dry up beneath, and his branches wither above.
    Job 18:17 His memory perishes from the earth, and he has no name in the street.
    Job 18:18 He is thrust from light into darkness, and driven out of the world.

    Paul opens up a most happier sort of “fellowship” with God and True believers, does he not when we read this here?

    Col 2:1 For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face,
    Col 2:2 that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ,
    Col 2:3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
    Col 2:4 I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments.
    Col 2:5 For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the firmness of your faith in Christ.

    What I believe is we should take the time to “rightly divide” the Word so that what we convey is Truly correct so there is no doubt as to the judgment the Believer undergoes when unwilling to repent.

    Is that maybe what is being said by Neil Anderson?

    Having asked that I want to ask you to explain the meaning of this verse. Of course you will have to read the verses before it well up into Chapter 5 to gain the full meaning of what is being taught:

    Heb 6:3 And this we will do if God permits.

  4. Thanks Ben for this post. I haven’t read the work and have no intention of doing so.

    Time and time again, Calvinists attempt to deliniate (in this case relationship and fellowship) so that it will fit their paradigm. When “called” on an error, they simply reply, “You didn’t understand,” etc.

    Again, thanks for the work.

  5. Nick,

    I actually wrote this in 2005 (long before I had a blog)and just posted it today. I edited it slightly before posting as my views have changed some over the years. I had actually concluded the original essay with a comment about us being children of the devil prior to conversion just as you mentioned. For some reason I decided to edit it out but maybe I should have left it in there. It is a good point.

    We could also add the fact that Luke calls Adam “the son of God” (Luke 3:38). That doesn’t bode well for the “once a son always a son” approach either. Would Anderson suggest that Adam’s relationship with God was not severed but only his fellowship? That would cause us to have to re-evaluate the implications of the fall I suppose 🙂

    God Bless,
    Ben

  6. Steven,

    It seems strange to me that the author of a book called “Stomping Out The Darkness” would suggest that we can stomp out the darkness while willingly living in it. Or perhaps he was just suggesting that only some Christians stomp out the darkness while others continue to live in it. After all we are free to do either according to him.

    God Bless,
    Ben

  7. Michael,

    Thankfully, most Calvinists do not hold to the form of “once saved always saved” that Neil advocates, though I still contend that their position, though less extreme, is theologically problematic.

    God Bless,
    Ben

  8. Ben,

    “Thankfully, most Calvinists do not hold to the form of “once saved always saved” that Neil advocates, though I still contend that their position, though less extreme, is theologically problematic.”

    Are you sure about that?

    My experience has been with those who claim “once saved always saved.” Would you consider those Hyper-Calvinists?

    Based upon my study of Calvinism, TULIP – and especially perseverance of the saints, is extremely important for them. One of their objections to one falling away is that person was never saved to begin with (regenerate). Of course, every part of the acronymn (including P) is based on the previous. That’s what makes Calvinism a systematic theology rather than Biblical theology.

    – Please tell me where I’m wrong.

  9. The idea that one can be right with God without continuing in faith is just plain antinomianism.

  10. Mike,

    The difference is that most Calvinists hold to the idea of perseverance that you described in your last paragragh,

    “One of their objections to one falling away is that person was never saved to begin with (regenerate).”

    They would not say that once someone puts faith in Christ they can live any kind of wicked life they want, abandon the faith altogether, and still remain saved. They would say that such a person was never saved in the first place.

    Neil Anderson differs in that he seems to believe that even if one returned to a life characterized by sin and rebellion, even to the point of abandoning the faith, that person would still be saved and make it to heaven even if he or she died in that state.

    I give a more detailed explanation of the different understandings of perseverance here.

    Most Calvinists would hold to the second definition while others (who may call themselves modified Calvinists), like Neil Anderson, would hold to the third definition.

    God Bless,
    Ben

  11. Thanks Ben. I’ve read your viewpoints of perseverance and realize we’re on the same page.

    Blessings,
    Mike

  12. Ben,

    well then, what about the issues I raised?

    The one has his “flesh” attacked because of Biblical authorized authority from the Lord Jesus per what He claimed and I concur, as the Apostle Paul does too, i.e. his disciplinary action prescribed at 1 Cor. 5.

    As should be noted, we read the guy did repent, cf. 2 Cor. 2.

    Here is Jesus’ justification of that “Biblical authorized authority” I reference above:

    Joh 17:1 When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you,
    Joh 17:2 since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.

    The other simply will be destroyed as is described of such a one at Job 18.

    I am asking for your Arminian response to this sort of soul found described in Scripture there at Job 18 and of course the explanation of the weeds and wheat parable at Matthew 13? What conclusions do you make of these sorts of souls? How do they exist in God’s Sovereignly controlled world?

    I see your point and defense of the doctrinal position of Faith as Harmensen. That is not what is in question by me.

    I have my difficulties with Arminianism as I do with Calvinism as I hope my response makes clear?

    As Mike, I too went and read the three perspectives on perserverance. Interest perspectives is my comment on them after reading them.

  13. The Lord will protect the true believer from outside forces, but we can still walk away of our own free will.

    Exactly. That is why the phrase “lose one’s faith” is unfortunate—really it is walk away from faith; and that is hard to do given God’s work in our lives.

    To be fair on the Calvinists, many ascribe to Lordship salvation which seems closer to the truth and rejects a carnal life being compatible with salvation.

  14. I find his distinction distinction between blood relationship and fellowship rather telling. Salvation is all about that fellowship, because all humans have a “blood” relationship to God: we are made in His image.

    The book of Genesis is structured by way of a geneology, starting with God and ending with Joseph. Well, maybe Ephraim. In either case, the point of Genesis 1 is that we are made in the image of God. This is the blood relationship that Anderson is saying all believers have, but really all humans have it.

    The thing is that that blood relationship has nothing to do with salvation because WE ARE OUT OF FELLOWSHIP! It is the fellowship that is important. We no longer commune with God, and we have been disowned. But then, through the atoning power of Christ, we are adopted by God, and made true children of God. I think he has truly missed something huge here.

  15. jc_freak,

    I wonder if it is proper to say that because we are made in God’s image we have a “blood relationship.” Since God is Spirit I don’t think that being made in God’s image has specific reference to physical realities (though we can express the spiritual through the physical just as God expresses Himself through Christ). The point is that since the fall we have been severed from saving relationship with God and so it is not proper to speak of us as His natural children and draw the parallels that Dave does. I think your last paragraph makes this point very well.

    God Bless,
    Ben

  16. I was more thinking that if we accepted that his distinctions between “relationship” and “fellowship” were worthy distinctions, that that would be the better sense of them. Still, in the long run, it is only an analogy, and we theologians often take too much stock in them anyway.

  17. Reblogged this on Simon Desjardins Blog.

  18. Thank you for this, Ben. The only thing I’d disagree with is your statement that “once we are ‘born again’ (Jn. 3:3), we become a part of God’s family through ‘adoption’ (Rom. 8:23-25)….” First, the adoption that Paul speaks of should not be thought of in terms of our own cultural experience, but his. In the first century Roman empire adoption as a son was something that formally took place when the “son” was fully mature and ready to assume the familial authority of his father. The adopted son might be a natural born son or not. Secondly, the spiritual adoption that Paul speaks of in Romans 8:23-25 is clearly a yet future event for which we are waiting and which Paul describes as “the redemption of our bodies” — apparently an allusion to the resurrection of the saints. Overall, though, you’ve done a very fine job here. Thanks again!

  19. fcjudd,

    I actually wrote this article before I had a blog. It is from around 2006 I would guess. I would change a few things since then, some things to make it stronger and some things that I would word differently now, though the argument itself would remain essentially the same.

    I did, however, make the point that there is a future aspect to Rom. 8,

    We are truly children of God the moment we believe, but there is an aspect of our adoption that we have not yet attained (Phil. 3:10-14; Rom. 8:23-25)

    And of course, adoption is something that is a present reality as well (Gal. 3:26-4:7).

    I might re-work it sometime if I can find the time.

    Thanks for the feedback.

    God Bless,
    Ben

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