Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Making Sure

People who don’t think a genuine believer in Jesus Christ belongs irrevocably to him use a variety of verses to support their claim that it is possible to be saved and then lose your salvation.

This isn’t a verse I’m used to seeing used that way:

“Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.”

The usual suspects are full of catchy expressions like “eternal sin”, “sin that leads to death” or even “impossible to restore them again to repentance”. Separate such phrases from their contexts and it is possible to become quite confused and concerned about the permanence of salvation.

Making Certain We Do Not Fall Away

For instance, De Maria is convinced that maintaining a state of salvation depends on doing certain things. Fail to do them and you “fall away”. He’s using a section of Peter’s second letter to try to prove his case:
Aren’t those who are called and elected assured of salvation?

Apparently not. Otherwise, why would St. Peter recommend all these things which the elect must do in order to make certain that they do not fall away.

But I thought all you needed to be saved was faith alone?

Again, that is not what St. Peter is saying. He says that one must add to faith all manner of good works.”

Ineffective and Unfruitful

This is not the sort of argument usually made from 2 Peter 1. Peter is encouraging believers to supplement their faith with a variety of Christ-like qualities that will enable them to be more effective in living out the faith they have: virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection and love. He then adds:
“If these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
So his subject is not “saved vs. lost” or “darkness vs. light”, it’s “fruitful vs. unfruitful” or “effective vs. ineffective”. Salvation is not at issue here; it’s Christian testimony Peter is thinking about.

Confirm What to Whom?

Further, something is not quite right about having to confirm a calling with the One who called you. Paul declares, “the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable”. Who needs to “confirm” something that by its very nature cannot be revoked?

Likewise, “election” is a concept that in its nature requires nothing from the elect. While I may disagree with Calvinists about what election means and how it works, we both acknowledge election is all on God’s end and has has no basis at all in human effort:
“Though they [Jacob and Esau] were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad — in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls …”
It seems the question De Maria fails entirely to ask is “Confirm your calling and election to whom?” The nature of both calling and election rules God out.

The Evidences of Faith

In fact, the debates I have encountered online about these verses hinge on whether making every effort to supplement our faith with various qualities (and presumably the actions that demonstrate them) serves to confirm our calling and election to ourselves or to others.

I think both are probably true. John, speaking about the final quality on Peter’s list, says:
We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers.”
The fact that I fail, for instance, to share my worldly goods with my fellow believers does not, in and of itself, prove that I am not a Christian. But the absence of confirming evidence will surely make others wonder about the reality of my faith, and it may well cause me to feel much less confident about my relationship with the Lord than I would otherwise be.

Fall From What?

There’s another assumption De Maria makes in his reading of this verse, and that’s that “you will never fall” means “fall away” or “fall from grace”.

Again, the question needs to be asked, “Fall in what sense?” or “Fall from what?”

I like William MacDonald’s answer:
“It is not a question of falling into eternal perdition; the work of Christ delivers us from that. Rather, it refers to falling into sin, disgrace, or disuse. If we fail to progress in divine things, we are in danger of wrecking our lives. But if we walk in the Spirit, we will be spared from being disqualified for His service. God guards the Christian who moves forward for Him. The peril lies in spiritual idleness and blindness.”
Well put, and, I think, quite accurate.

You Will Never Stumble

The word πταίσητέ here has the sense of “trip” or “stumble”. In Romans, Paul tells us that the nation of Israel has “stumbled” but declares that “God has not rejected his people” and that their “full inclusion” and “acceptance” is imminent. James tells us “we all stumble [πταίει] in many ways”. Both writers are talking about sins, but not sins that impact either calling or election.

This is the sense in which Peter uses the word, not to describe a fatal fall from salvation but a serious, life-damaging mistake, from which Christians who avidly pursue the development of the character qualities Peter lists will be preserved.

Those of us who have made such mistakes know whereof he speaks, but we also know that making every effort to supplement our faith with the qualities he speaks of will keep us from repeating our errors.

In Short

2 Peter 1:10 does not support either a works-based or even a faith-plus-works-based view of salvation. Still less does it suggest that it is possible to have saving faith and later lose it.

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