University professor, theologian and Bishop, Dr. Clifton Clarke spoke with Beliefnet on the controversial Christian topic of “once saved, always saved.” The main question faced in this theological debate is “Can a Christian lose their salvation?” Dr. Clarke says the answer is “Yes.” While it’s an extremely difficult path to take, it is indeed possible.
Q: What are the main issues surrounding this subject? How did we even start talking about this?
A: The doctrine of “Once Saved, Always Saved” doesn’t come from a sinister place as most people think, but a place of theological struggle. Beginning with St. Augustine who dealt with the depravity of mankind. From this he concluded that we can do nothing to save ourselves, we are completely deprived and can’t even respond to God initially. Therefore God has to be the One who initiates relationship and reacts to us, causing us to be saved.
So then the next question becomes if God causes us to be saved, then why isn’t everyone saved? Does God choose? Then comes John Calvin’s perspective on the issue looking at both ‘eternal security’ and ‘predestination.’ The premise behind the ideas of both Augustine and Calvin's doctrinal struggle is this:
If God has chosen you to be saved who can be strong enough to break what God has already initiated? If God has responded to you to grant you salvation who can turn that around?
Where both doctrine’s miss the point is that Jesus Christ became a man because of this struggle. Jesus was God’s initiative. Humankind can now, through Christ, reach up to God because of what ‘their Big Brother’ has done. He chose as a man, utilizing human free-will, to obey God. Becoming the first-fruit of the second Adam which no longer is depraved. The new nature is no longer bound up, but through Jesus we now have the option of righteousness and get to exercise our will to do right.
Q: Critics of the "Once Saved, Always Saved" doctrine see it as detrimental because it gives people a license to continue in sin. Do you agree?
A:The argument didn’t come about initially with this idea in mind, it was the result initially of a theological struggle amidst understanding the true atonement of Christ. But now in the new movement of Christianity it has become a license to live loosely, with no accountability….a life God never intended. Presbyterians and those who firmly believe in the ‘eternal security’ doctrine would argue that when you have God’s seed working in you, you wouldn’t want to live sinfully. But the reality is there is a struggle and a striving that comes with this new life in Christ. The Apostle Paul admonishes us to, “work out our salvation with fear and trembling.” Christians can fall victim to living casual, luke-warm lives if they ignore this fact.
Q: The passage in Scripture where Jesus says, “Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; Depart from me, you who practice lawlessness.” How could this happen to those who profess to be Christians?
A: Everyone is serious, but not everyone has the right motives. Someone can be in error and lose their way but if you look at the heart behind the words in that passage it reveals something. The very question that they’re asking excludes them from salvation, because there is no way you can stand before God and talk about what you’ve done. The people Jesus described were living by their works, not relationship. Not realizing, the very spirit they used to cast out demons and to prophesy was His…not theirs. When you stand before God and you’re born again, you will only talk about Christ and what He has done on the cross. The very fact that these people are bragging before God and making their case about how they deserve it, shows you that these are ones who are locked in works and that the true grace of God has not touched their soul.
Q: So since we’re under grace and not the law, we can’t lose our salvation?
A: No, you can lose your salvation. Now don’t get me wrong, God does not give us up easily. One would have to kick, scream and fight their way out. The strength of God’s love is so powerful, you would have to commit your life to rejecting Him. I’m not talking about a backslidden state either, I’m describing apostasy where your soul knows it has no relationship with Christ. This person has given themselves over to sin…they don’t struggle anymore. There is no remorse, nor a heart of repentance and the person has willfully chosen to be in rebellion against God. The Apostle Paul talks about ‘buffeting the body’ and ‘wrestling in the spirit’….becoming a Christian is a constant overcoming of our flesh to become who we already are in Christ in the spirit.
A Christian can be saved and receive the unmerited favor of God, it’s available to everyone, and yet choose to give themselves over to sin and lasciviousness. It’s more than just acts of sin, one would have to surrender their entire life and will to it. That person is no longer in the faith and needs to come back home to God. If we share a Gospel that tells people that they can live any way they wish and that no matter what, God’s love is going to cover their sin, we only open the gate wide for hell.
Although we live in the time of Grace, it’s not to be taken lightly. We must never forget, in order for us to have it Jesus had to die brutally on the cross. We entered the Kingdom of God without merit, but we have to stay in. You were able to enter the marriage feast without works, you entered because of what someone else did, but if you care little about the sacrifice of Christ you could very well find yourself outside again.
Q: What role do we play in actively contending for our faith?
A: We have to read the Word, be in relationship with Christ, be in regular prayer and fellowship with the saints. We are the Kingdom of God and as His children it changes how we behave. Through these practices the culture of Heaven literally infuses with our everyday lives. We enjoy the foreshadowing of Heaven now here on earth when we are born again and walk in the Spirit. It’s a realm, it’s a kingdom and a spiritual sphere that we belong to. Christians have to be surrendered to Christ and choose Him daily. Your relationship with Christ is the only thing we can take with us beyond the grave. Nothing else. Not works. Not things. Not titles. The only thing that can take you to the other side is depending on Christ for eternal life. That is the key that opens the door of Heaven.
And if you don’t have that, you cannot get in. Simple.