|THE PREDESTINATION DEBATE|
Thank you. Tonight I have been asked to debate the proposition,
To debate this, we must first understand what it means, and to that end I would like to briefly mention its three key terms.
The first term is "true Christians." It is easy enough to say who these are. A "true Christian" is a person who has been justified, born again, and entered a state of salvation.
Notice that the term has an opposite: "false Christians." A false Christian is a person who, though he has apparently come to Christ and made a profession of faith in him, in reality he was never justified, never born again, and he never entered a state of salvation.
False Christians are mentioned in the Scriptures, and Catholics do not dispute their existence. This is a fact which I fear I may have to remind my opponent of during our debate tonight, as he is likely to bring forward passages discussing false Christians in an attempt to prove his thesis. Be warned ahead of time that he is likely to do this.
The second term is "to persevere." This is also easy to explain. To persevere to the end is to remain in a state of God's grace—to remain in a state of salvation—until the end of life. If someone does this then it automatically and infallibly happens that without delay they are purified of any remaining sin and ushered into the glories of heaven.
The third and final term to be defined is the term "predestined." A principal point of dispute among Christians is often the basis of predestination, whether it is based on God's foreknowledge of our natural merits (a position which the Catholic Church has repeatedly and infallibly condemned, by the way), or based on his foreknowledge of what we will do, or based on his foreknowledge of what we would do in certain circumstances, or based unconditionally on nothing more than God's sovereign choice of who will be saved.
To keep us from being distracted by the issue of the basis of predestination—which is not the subject of our debate tonight—I will be assuming the position of Augustine and Aquinas, namely that predestination is based unconditionally on God's sovereign choice alone. Since this is also my opponent's position, this should serve to keep us from being drawn off course into side discussions.
Although Christians often debate the basis of predestination, all groups of Christians do have some version of the doctrine. They have to, because the term appears in four passages of Scripture: Acts 4:28, Romans 8:29-30, 1 Corinthians 2:7, and Ephesians 1:3-12.
The Greek term for predestination is prooridzo. As Kittle's Theological Dictionary of the New Testament puts it, it "is a rare and late word," which means that its meaning is difficult to establish be existing usage. However, its etymology or word-parts suggest that it simply means to define, determine, or declare something before hand.
In one sense, everything that happens is according to God's predestination. This is the sense in which it occurs in Acts 4:28. It can also refer to the Christian message or "hidden wisdom" that God preordained before the world to be used in our salvation. This is the sense it has in 1 Corinthians 2:7.
It is also used in redemptive contexts. Here there have historically been two usages. On the one hand, one can be can be predestined to come to God and become a true Christian. On the other hand, a true Christian can be predestined to stay with God and persevere to the end of life. These two uses have historically been known as predestination to grace and predestination to glory. One is predestined to grace if one is predestined to enter the graces of the Christian life, and one is predestined to glory if one is predestined to enter the glory of heaven.
There is an unmistakable reference to predestination to grace in Ephesians 1:3-12. There Paul specifies in verse 5 that God "predestined us in love to be his sons." Since we were predestined to become God's sons, and since the time we became God's sons was when we became Christians and entered the graces of the Christian life, this is an unmistakable reference to predestination to grace.
This leaves us with only one passage in which the term predestination is used: Romans 8:28-30. There Paul states that we were "predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son." Now when will that happen? When will we be conformed to the image of the Son? Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 15:49, in his great discussion of the resurrection at the Second Coming, saying: "Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven." In the same way, 1 John 3:2 says: "[I]t does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is."
Now the time of our resurrection and the time when Jesus appears is the time when we will enter the glories of heaven. Thus in Romans 8:28-30 we have a reference to predestination to glory.
Thus in Ephesians 1:3-12 we have a reference to predestination to grace and in Romans 8:28-30 we have a reference to predestination to glory. So my opponent's claim that there is no exegetical distinction between being predestined to grace and predestined to glory goes up in smoke. It is just linguistically false. The word "predestined" is used in Scripture for both the entrance into the Christian life and entrance into heaven.
We can find the same usages in places where the term "predestination" does not appear but where synonyms, such as "choosing" and "election," are used.
For example, in 1 Peter 1:1-2, Peter writes to God's elect who he says "have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood." The time we began to be obedient to Jesus and were sprinkled by his blood was when we first became Christians, so here we have a reference to choosing or election to grace.
Similarly, in Matthew 22:14, we have Jesus himself telling of the man who got into God's eschatological banquet without a wedding garment and how he was rejected from God's eschatological banquet on the grounds that "many are called, but few are chosen." But since this points to God's eschatological banquet at the end of time—to the final glories—we know this is a reference to choosing and election to glory.
So again we see that my opponent's assertion that there is not difference between predestination to grace and to glory is simply exegetical foolishness. It is linguistic nonsense, because in the language of the Greek New Testament the verbs for predestined and elected are sometimes applied to the graces of the Christian life and sometimes to the glories of heaven.
Our Question Tonight
The real question—and the question we have been called here to debate tonight—is whether one form of predestination entails the other: Are all who are predestined or chosen to grace also predestined or chosen to glory. Are all those who have been predestined to come to God also predestined to stay with God and persevere to the end of life.
The Bible clearly and unambiguously teaches that there are some who are chosen to come to God and become true Christians who are not chosen to stay with God and persevere to the end. Some true Christians fall away and will finally be lost.
A Historic Doctrine
Some Christians, who live their lives in insulated Dallas Theological Seminary circles or insulated Westminster Confession of Faith circles, may find this an unusual and novel teaching, but it is in fact the historic teaching of Christian orthodoxy as well as the teaching of the vast majority of Christians today, held by Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Anglicans, Methodists, Pentecostals, Church of Christ members, Lutherans, and a host of others. The only people who dispute it are Presbyterians and most Baptists, and those who have been influenced by Presbyterians and Baptists, such as the many so-called non-denominational churches which are composed of "anonymous Baptists" or "Baptists without the name."
Not only is this the position of the vast majority of Christians, both in Church history and today, but it is also the position of all of the so-called "Calvinistic" theologians before Calvin. Calvinists such as my opponent continually appeal in support of their position to such historic thinkers as Augustine, Aquinas, and Luther, who all held a high view, unconditional view of predestination, and who in no way could be called Pelagians, Semi-Pelagians, or Arminians. But when they appeal to Augustine, Aquinas, and Luther, Calvinists such as my opponent either ignore or are ignorant of the fact that all of these figures held precisely the position I am defending tonight—that just because one is predestined to grace does not mean one is predestined to glory.
So when my opponent argues against the historic Christian teaching that a true believer can fall away, he is not just arguing against me, but against men even he acknowledges to be giants of the faith and giants of Christian teaching—Augustine, Aquinas, and Luther.
For example, in chapter 21 of his book, the Gift of Perseverance, St. Augustine wrote:
[O]f two pious men, why to the one should be given perseverance unto the end, and to the other it should not be given, God's judgments are even more unsearchable. . . . had not both been called and followed him that called them? And had not both become, from wicked men, justified men and both been renewed by the laver of regeneration? . . . In respect of all these things, they were of us. Nevertheless, in respect of a certain other distinction, they were not of us, for if they had been of us, they certainly would have continued with us. What then is this distinction? God's books lie open, let us not turn away our view. The divine Scripture cries aloud, let us give it a hearing. They were not of them because they had not been 'called according to the purpose.' They had not been chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world; they had not gained a lot in him. They had not been predestined according to his purpose who works all things.
Bear in mind that this was the old Augustine, not the young Augustine. He wrote this in 428, just two years before he died.
Similarly, St. Thomas Aquinas, the next so-called Calvinistic thinker before Calvin, taught the same thing. In his Summa Theologiae, he wrote:
[P]erseverance is called he abiding in good to the end of life. And in order to have this perseverance man . . . needs the divine assistance guiding him and guarding him against the attacks of the passions . . . And hence after anyone has been justified by grace, he still needs to beseech God for the aforesaid gift of perseverance, that he may be kept from evil till the end of his life. For to many grace is given to whom perseverance in grace is not given. (ST IIa:109:10)
This same teaching was infallibly taught by the Council of Trent after the Protestant Reformation.
The very first Protestant of them all, Martin Luther, who was also the last so-called Calvinistic thinker before Calvin, also taught this doctrine. As theologian John Jefferson Davis pointed out in his article on the history of the doctrine of perseverance, Luther said that:
"Many of us fall away from Christ and become false Christians." In his commentary on 2 Peter 2:22, he [Luther] writes as follows on apostates in the Church: "Through baptism these people threw out unbelief, had their unclean way of life washed away, and entered into a pure life of faith and love. Now they fall away into unbelief and . . . soil themselves again in filth." One who has experienced the justifying grace of God through faith can lose that justification through unbelief . . . [according to Luther]. "Indeed, even the righteous mean," writers Luther in his comments on Gal 5:4, " . . . loses the righteousness he has and falls from the grace by which he had been justified, since he has been removed from a good land to one that is barren."
These examples give one a sense of how foreign to Christian history the hypothesis that predestination to grace automatically entails predestination to glory is. Calvin was the first to come up with the hypothesis.
No one before him said this. You can check that out for yourself. I did. I searched multiple books and called half a dozen "Calvinist" seminaries, talking to their systematic theology and church history professors, and no one could name a person before Calvin who taught this thesis. They all said Calvin was the first. I even called John Jefferson Davis, a who published an article in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society on the history of this doctrine, a man who is himself a Calvinist, but who has researched the history of this doctrine thoroughly, and he said Calvin was the first to teach it.
This poses a problem even for those who claim that they take their teachings exclusively from Scripture, namely, "How could a doctrine this important—if true—remain completely undiscovered for the first 1500 years of Church history and, if Jesus comes back any time soon, for three quarters of all of Church history?"
Other important doctrines have been known all through Christian history. Christians always knew, even when heretics denied it, what Jesus Christ was God. Christians always knew, even when heretics denied it, that Jesus Christ is fully man as well as fully God. And Christians always knew, even when heretics denied it, that they were saved purely by God's grace.
So when it turns out that Christians "never" knew that true Christians can never fall away, and then suddenly 1500 years later someone starts claiming it, one has to ask who is conveying the true teaching of the apostles and who is teaching the heresy.
To put it bluntly: How on earth could God in heaven "fail" to let the true Christians of three-quarters of Church history, for all those centuries, being born and living and raising their children in the way of Christ and finally dying, and "not" know that they could never fall away? How could he deny them that peace? This is unambiguously a black mark—a "big" black mark—against the hypothesis.
The Bible on Falling-Away
And matters are no better when we turn to Scripture, for when we examining the Bible we find that the hypothesis that no true Christian can ever fall away is totally and unambiguously crushed by the weight of biblical evidence.
I will bring out more of this embarrassing wealth of evidence later in our discussion today, but in the remainder of my opening remarks I would like to look at just a few of the passages showing the possibility of a true Christian falling away.
Angels, Adam, Eve, and Infants
Let us begin by looking at three instances of individuals actually falling from grace, actually falling out of union with God.
The first is found in the Bible's teachings on the fall of angels. At one time all of the angels were in a state of grace, of righteous union with God, but then many of them fell out of that state, leaving only what Paul refers to in 1 Tim. 5:21 as "the elect angels." So individuals can fall out of a state of God's righteous grace.
But someone will say, "Those were angels and not human beings." Very well, consider Adam and Eve. Before they fell, they were in a stage of grace, the righteous union which only God can give. But Paul tells us in Romans 5:12 that "sin came into the world through one man and death through sin." So here we have human beings falling from a state of God's grace. There is a mortal sin for you!
In fact, Paul warns modern Christians that they can fall in just the same way Eve did, telling them in 2 Corinthians 11:2-3:
2 I feel a divine jealousy for you, for I betrothed you to Christ to present you as a pure bride to her one husband.
3 But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ.
So, like Eve, you as modern Christians, can be a pure bride of Christ and yet be deceived by the serpent and fall from grace.
Finally, consider the example of infants. Many Evangelicals, and even many Calvinists teach that any infant who dies is given an automatic assurance of heaven. Such children would then be in a state of grace. But when they grow and reach the age of accountability, they must fall from this grace, if they any of them are to be lost when they die as adults.
I do not know, but my opponent may be one of those Calvinists who claim that only elect infants are saved to heaven—without having to make a profession of faith in Jesus Christ and thus "without" faith alone—and that the unelect infants go into the fires of hell. If so then he also has a problem. What happens to elect infants when they reach the age of accountability? Do they fall from a state of grace? Do they retain their forgiveness even without having accepted Christ and the "faith alone" requirement that is demanded of those over the age of accountability?
In Luke 8:13, Jesus tells us that there are some who receive the word with joy but, because they have no root, they believe for a little while and in time of temptation fall away. They did believe—Jesus says so—but then they fell away.
In Luke 12:42-46, Jesus tells us that you can start out as a faithful and wise steward of his, then begin to mistreat your fellow Christians and eat and drink and get drunk, and then when Jesus returns be punished and assigned a place with the unfaithful. So even though you started out faithful and wise—you end up with damned with the unfaithful.
In Luke 15:11-32, Jesus tells the parable of the prodigal son, in which one of the sons of the Father leaves home, is twice described by his father as being "dead" and then returns home and is spoken of by the Father as being "alive again." So you can be a genuine son of the Father, then leave and become dead, and then return and become alive again.
In John 6:66-71, Jesus says that he chose or elected the twelve, yet one of them—Judas—was a devil, proving that not all choosing or election is a choosing or election to perseverance.
In John 15:1-10, Jesus says that he is the vine and we are the branches and that if we do not bear fruit we will be cut out of him, wither up, and finally be burned in the fire. So you can be in Jesus and yet be cut out of Jesus and thrown into the fire.
In John 17:12, Jesus says that he had lost none of those the Father had given to him except for Judas. So of those the Father gave him, Jesus lost Judas. You can be given by the Father to Jesus "at one time" and yet not be given to stay with Jesus.
In Romans 11:20-33, Paul says that Jews were broken off of the tree of God's grace because of unbelief, and that we retain our place in it only be believing, so we should be afraid because God will not spare us if we disbelieve anymore than he spared the natural branches. So you can be in the tree of God's grace by faith in the Messiah, then quit believing, be cut out, are return to believing and be grafted in.
In 1 Cor. 9:23-27, Paul tells us that not every runner who runs in the race will receive a prize and that he pommels his body to subdue it, lest after preaching salvation to others he himself would be disqualified. So Paul did not even consider his own salvation certain, but recognized that he too could fall away if he did not discipline himself in holiness.
In 1 Cor. 15:1-2, Paul tells us that we will be saved by the gospel if we hold it fast, unless we believe in vain. So Paul indicates that we "can" believe in vain.
In Gal. 5:1-4, Paul says that anyone who is circumcised becomes severed from Christ and has fallen from grace. He means exactly what he says: You can be in Christ, then be severed from him and fall from grace. Paul says so!
In Col. 1:21-23, Paul tells us that we were once hostile to God but have now been reconciled and will be presented holy and blameless provided we continue in our faith and not shifting from the hope of the gospel. So you can already be reconciled, yet "not" be presented holy and blameless on the last day if you do not continue in your faith and shift from your hope in the gospel.
In Heb. 3:12, the divinely inspired author tells us, "Take care, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God." So you "can" fall away from the living God.
In Heb. 6:4-6, the author tells us that "those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit" can fall away and thus, "they crucify the Son of God on their own account and hold him up to contempt" by going back to Judaism and saying Jesus was a false Messiah who deserved to be crucified. Yet at one time they were enlightened with Jesus' message and had become partakers of Jesus' Holy Spirit—the sure sign of a true Christian.
In Heb. 10:23-29, the author tells us, "Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering", "For if we [go on sinning] deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful prospect of judgment, and a fury of fire which will consume the adversaries. How much worse punishment do you think will be deserved by the man who has spurned the Son of God, and profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and outraged the Spirit of grace?"
But my opponent claims that if you were sanctified by Christ's blood at all then it is impossible for you to not fold fast to your confession, and impossible for you to go one sinning willfully, and impossible for you to enter the fury of fire which will consume Christ's adversaries.
In 2 Pet. 2:20-22, Peter tells us: "if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overpowered, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them. It has happened to them according to the true proverb, The dog turns back to his own vomit, and the sow is washed only to wallow in the mire."
So you can escape the defilements of the world through Jesus Christ, yet return to them and become entangled. You can be washed from your sins and yet return to wallowing in the mire, proving you were not one of the elect, not one of those predestined to glory. Peter says this actually happened to people in his day, declaring that "It has happened to them according to the true proverb . . . the sow is washed only to wallow in the mire."
Finally, in Rev. 22:19, John discusses the scroll of the book of Revelation and says, "if any one takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy"—and the Greek word for "book" here is the word for "scroll"—"if anyone takes away from the words of the scroll of this prophecy"—the scroll of Revelation—"God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this scroll." So you can have a share in the tree of life in God's holy city and yet have that share taken away from you. This is the note the Bible ends on, and it is the note we must end on, too.
My opponent has taken an enormous amount of his case on John 6 and 10. In the seven minutes I have to respond, I wish to look primarily at these passages, because they are clearly the two most important ones that he can even plausibly use. Responses to other passages he quoted will probably have to wait to later.
John 6:37 (Not cast out)
First, in John 6:37, Jesus does say: "All that the Father gives me will come to me; and him who comes to me I will not cast out."
True. I don't doubt that for a moment. If you come to Jesus, he won't cast you out. But that doesn't mean you can't leave. In fact, you can. In order to understand this, we need to know a little bit about the Greek of this passage. I recently found a good summary of the translation issue. It said:
"Throughout this passage an important truth is presented that again might be missed by many English translations. When Jesus describes the one who comes to him and who believes in him [3:16, 5:24, 6:35, 37, 40, 47, etc.], he uses the present tense to describe this coming, believing, or, in other passages, hearing or seeing. The present tense refers to a continuous, on-going action. The Greek contrasts this kind of action against the aorist tense, which is a point action, a single action in time that is not on-going. . . . The wonderful promises that are provided by Christ are not for those who do not truly and continuously believe. The faith that saves is a living faith, a faith that always looks to Christ as Lord and Savior." (White, 10-11).
That summary was offered by my opponent tonight, Mr. James White, in his little book, Drawn By the Father: A Summary of John 3:35-45.
So by my opponent's own admission, "The wonderful promises that are provided by Christ are not for those who do not . . . continuously believe." What this text says is that anyone who continuously comes to Jesus will not be cast out by Jesus. That's absolutely true. What my opponent needs is a passage which says that anyone who is ever a true Christian will always come to Jesus and never stop coming. But this passage doesn't say anything like that.
John 6:38-39 (Father's will)
Next, Jesus says, "For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me; and this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up at the last day."
True. It is the Father's will that he lose none of those given to him. It is also the Fathers will that nobody commit murder and adultery, but that doesn't mean that people don't commit murder and adultery. They do. You have to distinguish between which divine will you are talking about, the will by which he desires what will happen and the will by which he decrees what will happen. In this passage, Jesus is talking about the former, and we know that because some who have been given to him are lost. In John 17:9-12, Jesus says: "I am praying for . . . for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. While I was with them . . . I have guarded them, and none of them is lost but the son of perdition, that the scripture might be fulfilled."
So of those the Father gave to Jesus, Jesus lost Judas in order that the Scripture might be fulfilled. In one sense God wants all who are given to Jesus to persevere, but in another sense God allows some of them, like Judas, to not persevere.
John 6:40 (Raise up)
Next Jesus says: "For this is the will of my Father, that every one who sees the Son and believes in him should have eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day."
True. But the key verbs in this verse are present tense, so what it actually says is: "For this continues to be the will of my Father—that everyone who continues to see the Son and who continues to believe in him should continue to have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day." My opponent gets no support here.
John 6:44 (Draws him)
Finally Jesus says: "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day."
Again, absolutely true. But again the Greek word for "can" is present tense and the Greek word for "come" is inceptive second aorist, meaning to begin to continually come. And the Greek for "draw" is inceptive first aorist, indicating the Father beginning and continuing to draw him.
So what the passage says is: "No one can come and keep coming to me unless the Father who sent me draws and keeps drawing him, and I will raise him up at the last day."
That is absolutely true. If the Father keeps drawing you, you will keep coming. But it doesn't say anything about the Father not drawing some people only for a time.
John 10:14 with Matt 7:23 (Never knew you)
In John 10:14, Jesus said: "I am the good shepherd; I know my own and my own know me," which is absolutely true.
But my opponent fused this passage with Matthew 7:23, where Jesus said: "I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers." This is again true, but it refers to a different group of people, as indicated by the two passages. The Matthew passage speaks of false Christians—people Jesus never knew. The Catholic Church teaches that there "are" false Christians, and if Jesus is speaking of them the second passage, so what? "They" were never Jesus' sheep, but that doesn't tell us anything about those who "are" Jesus' sheep.
John 10:27-28 (Snatch them out)
Finally, in John 10:27-28, Jesus did say: "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me; and I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand."
I would like to quote the great Baptist theologian Dale Moody on this verse. In his systematic theology, The Word of Truth, he states:
"John 10:28 is frequently used as a security blanket by those who ignore many of the New Testament warnings about going back or falling away, but a literal translation of John 10:27-28 . . . hardly needs explanation . . . 'My sheep keep on hearing my voice, and I keep on knowing them, and they keep on following me: and I "keep on giving" them eternal life, and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand.' Some read the passage as if it says: 'My sheep "heard" my voice, and I "knew" them, and they "followed" me, and I "gave" to them eternal life.' [But] The verbs are present linear, indicating continuous action by the sheep and by the Shepherd, not the punctiliar fallacy of the past tense." (Moody, 357)
In the final analysis, all John 6 says is that if you keep coming to Jesus, he won't turn you away. But that doesn't mean you can't leave. And all John 10 says is that if you keep coming to Jesus, no one will snatch you away from him. But again that doesn't mean you can't leave.
The other day I was talking to a Baptist pastor I know who is becoming a Catholic and he pointed out a parallel illustration. He said that if he told his congregation, "Whoever keeps coming to my office for counseling, I will certainly not turn away." And if he told his congregation, "Whenever you come to my office for counseling, I will not let anyone come and drag you out of my office," no one would "possibly" think that he was telling them that if you ever "step" into his office you will be committed to an "irrevocable" program of counseling and that you will never be allowed to step outside of his office again as long as you live.
Yet that is what my opponent would have us make out of these passages.
Vine & Branches
Finally, all of my opponent's remarks about John 6 and 10 take them out of the context of John 15, where Jesus unambiguously says that every branch of his who does not bear fruit will be cut out by the Father, will wither, and will be thrown into the fire. You can be a true Christian in Jesus, yet be cut out of Jesus by the Father, wither, and be thrown into the fire.
1 John 2:19
My opponent also quoted 1 John 2:19, where John said: "They went out from us, but they did not belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us."
There are at least five reasons why this passage won't work:
First, maybe the people under discussion "were" false Christians who had never been justified. So what? False Christians will leave. That doesn't prove all who leave are false Christians.
Second, this is referring to antichrists—people who deny the incarnation of Jesus—it does not teach us any law about people who "do" believe in the incarnation.
Third, my opponent is assuming that the "us" in the passage refers to true Christians, but that is false. As Augustine indicated, the "us" in the passage is the elect—the group of true Christians who "are" predestined to persevere, not the group which is "not" predestined to persevere.
Fourth, sure they are not of us when they went out from us. But that doesn't mean they were "never" of us. As the great Baptist theologian Dale Moody points out, this verse "is often read as if it says the antichrists 'went out from us' because 'they "never" were of us,' but the Greek would also allow for the interpretation and translation that they 'went out from us because they were "no longer" of us.' In fact, that is the interpretation A. T. Robertson [the Baptist Greek scholar and author of the famous, multi-volume Word Pictures in the New Testament] gives to the passage."
Fifth, if you read the whole discussion of the antichrists in 1 John 2:18-29, it is very clear Christians "can" fall away, for John says: "Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you will abide in the Son and in the Father. And this is what he has promised us, eternal life. I write this to you about those who would deceive you; And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming." (1 Jn 2:24-26, 28) So you can fail to abide in Jesus, and my opponent is simply taking this verse out of context.
Finally, my opponent quoted Romans 8:29-30, where Paul said: "[T]hose whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son . . . And those he predestined he also called; and those he called he also justified; and those he justified he also glorified."
There are a bunch of reasons why his interpretation of this passage won't work, but the key one is that, as I pointed out in my opening remarks, the kind of predestination being referred to in this passage is predestination to glory. Thus it is absolutely true that all those who are predestined to glory end up being called, justified, and glorified.
But that doesn't mean "all" who are called and justified are chosen for glory, for "Many are called, but few are chosen."
Predestination to glory is indicated in this passage.
1) He says we are predestined to be conformed to the image of the Son, and while this is in one sense a process, it reaches its final and definitive fulfillment when we see Jesus, either at death or at the Second Coming, as 1 Corinthians 15:49 and 1 John 3:2 indicate.
2) I'm sure my opponent would not say that these people were only predestined to "begin" to be conformed to the image of the Son and not predestined to "finish" being conformed to the image of the Son.
3) The reference to glorification most probably indicates eschatological glorification, but in this passage, glorification, justification, and calling are outworkings of the predestination, which is itself an outworking of the foreknowing or, more accurately, "fore-loving" of God.
Thus the kind of predestination spoken of here includes calling, justification, and glorification, as I'm sure my opponent would agree.
One tragedy of having this little time is the inability to share with you the dozens of verses in the New Testament which teach the real possibility of falling away. In our next hour, I will have time to respond further to some of the things my opponent has claimed, but for now I want to give you just an overview, just a taste of some of the innumerable New Testament verses dealing with this subject and how my opponent has to deny the plain meaning of what they say.
For example, in Matt. 6:12-15, Jesus tells us to continue to pray that we will be forgiven and warns us that if we do not forgive we will not be forgiven.
But my opponent claims that we not need to pray to be forgiven and that we do not need to forgive to be forgiven.
In Matt. 18:21-35, Jesus tells us that that if we do not forgive others God will do to each one of us what happened to the unmerciful servant, namely, that after initially being forgiven we will be unforgiven and delivered over to the jailers until we can pay all of our infinite debt.
But my opponent claims that if we end unforgiven then we must never have been forgiven in the first place.
In Luke 8:13, Jesus tells us that there are some who receive the word with joy but, because they have no root, they believe for a while and in time of temptation fall away.
But my opponent claims that they never believed in the first place and that it is impossible for anyone who believed to fall away in time of temptation.
In Luke 12:42-46, Jesus tells us that you can start out as a faithful and wise steward of his, then begin to mistreat your fellow Christians and eat and drink and get drunk, and then when Jesus returns be punished and assigned a place with the unfaithful.
But my opponent claims that anyone who will be assigned a place with the unfaithful must have been unfaithful from the beginning, meaning that he was never a "faithful" and wise steward to begin with, as Jesus said he was.
In Luke 15:11-32, Jesus tells the parable of the prodigal son, in which one of the sons of the Father leaves home, is twice described by his father as being "dead" and then returns home and is spoken of by the Father as being "alive again."
But my opponent claims that it is impossible for one of the sons of the Father to be "alive again" because no son of the Father can ever leave home and become "dead."
In John 6:66-71, Jesus says that he chose or elected the twelve, yet one of them—Judas—was a devil, proving that not all choosing or election is a choosing or election to perseverance.
Yet my opponent denies this and claims that all election is election to perseverance.
In John 15:1-10, Jesus says that he is the vine and we are the branches and that if we do not bear fruit we will be cut out of him, wither up, and finally be burned in the fire.
But my opponent claims that it is impossible for any branch to be cut out of Jesus and thrown into the fire, and that every branch in Jesus automatically bears fruit.
In John 17:12, Jesus says that he had lost none of those the Father had given to him except for Judas.
But my opponent claims that that nobody who the Father has given to Jesus can ever be lost.
In Romans 8:13, Paul warns his audience of Christians that if they live according to the flesh they will die.
But my opponent claims that it is impossible for Christians to live according to the flesh.
In Romans 11:20-33, Paul says that Jews were broken off of the tree of God's spiritual Israel because of unbelief, and that we retain our place in it only be believing, so we should be afraid because God will not spare us if we disbelieve anymore than he spared the natural branches.
But my opponent claims that no one can ever be cut out of God's spiritual Israel and that it is impossible for us to disbelieve.
In Romans 14:15-23, Paul tells us that we must not, by what we eat, ruin others for whom Christ died.
But my opponent claims that those for whom Christ died can never be ruined no matter what we do.
In the same passage, Paul tells us that we must not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God by making our brother Christian fall.
But my opponent claims that it is impossible to destroy the work of God under any circumstances and that no brother Christian can ever fall.
In 1 Cor. 9:23-27, Paul tells us that not every runner who runs in the race will receive a prize and that he pommels his body to subdue it, lest after preaching salvation to others he himself would be disqualified.
But my opponent claims that you can't even join the race of salvation unless you're going to win a prize, and that if Paul was ever a true athlete in this race it would be impossible for him to be disqualified.
In 1 Cor. 10:12, Paul says, "Therefore let any one who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall."
But my opponent claims it is impossible for anyone to fall. It would be impossible for true Christians to fall because they will all persevere, and it would be impossible for false Christians to fall because they were never standing in the first place. Furthermore, false Christians should be encouraged to fall from their false Christianity so they can embrace true Christianity!
In 1 Cor. 15:1-2, Paul tells us that we will be saved by the gospel if we hold it fast, unless we believe in vain.
But my opponent claims that if we believed at all we cannot help but holding fast to the gospel and that it is impossible for anyone to believe in vain because saving faith is never in vain and non-saving faith is not true belief in the first place and never would have helped us.
In 2 Cor. 11:2-4, Paul says that he betrothed his audience to Christ like a pure bride, but that they were in danger of being seduced by the serpent, just like Eve, and that they had submitted readily to a different Christ and a different gospel.
But my opponent claims that it is impossible for anyone today to do what Eve did and fall from a state of grace, and having once accepted the true Christ and the true gospel turn aside to a false Christ and a false gospel.
In 2 Cor. 12:5, Paul says that you must examine yourself to see if we are holding "to "your" faith."
But my opponent claims that if you are not holding to your faith, you never had faith to begin with.
In Gal. 5:1-4, Paul says that anyone who is circumcised becomes severed from Christ and has fallen from grace.
But my opponent claims that it is impossible to be severed from Christ and impossible to fall from grace.
In Gal. 6:7-9, Paul tells us that we will reap a harvest of eternal life if we do not lose heart and grow weary in working good.
But my opponent claims that anyone who does lose heart and grow weary in working good was never going to reap a harvest of eternal life in the first place.
In Phil 3:12, Paul says that he has not yet obtained the resurrection from the dead but that he presses on to make it his own because Christ has made him his own.
But my opponent claims that anyone who Christ has made his own already has the resurrection from the dead and if you are trying to press on to make the resurrection yours then you do not belong to Christ.
In Col. 1:21-23, Paul tells us that we were once hostile to God but have not been reconciled and will be presented holy and blameless provided we continue in our faith and not shifting from the hope of the gospel.
But my opponent claims anyone who does not continue in his faith always was hostile and never was reconciled. He also says it is impossible to shift from the hope of the gospel and that anyone who appears to shift never had the hope of the gospel in the first place.
In Col. 2:18-19, Paul says that a man puffed by without reason by his sensuous mind has lost connection with the head of the Body, Jesus Christ, from which the whole body grows.
But my opponent claims that it is impossible to lose connection with the head of the Body and that if you do not now have connection with the head, you never did.
In 1 Tim. 1:5-6, Paul says that some people have wandered away from a sincere faith, a pure heart, and a good conscience.
But my opponent claims that it is impossible for anyone to wander away from a good conscience, a pure heart, and especially a sincere faith.
In 1 Tim. 1:19-20, Paul tells Timothy he must hold fast his faith not make a shipwreck of his faith like Hymenaeus and Alexander.
But my opponent would say Hymenaeus and Alexander never had faith to shipwreck, and that if Timothy ever did have faith, he could not shipwreck it.
In 1 Tim. 4:1, Paul tells us that the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith.
But my opponent claims that the Spirit will never let anyone depart from the faith.
In 1 Tim. 5:8, Paul says that if any one does not provide for his relatives, he has disowned the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.
But my opponent claims it is impossible to disown the faith and be worse than an unbeliever.
In 1 Tim. 6:10, Paul says that for the love of riches some have wandered from the faith.
But my opponent claims it is impossible to wander away from the faith, for if you aren't in the faith now, you never had it.
In 1 Tim. 6:18-19, Paul says we "are to work good, to be rich in good works, liberal and generous, thus laying up for themselves a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life which is life indeed."
But my opponent claims anyone who has believe has already laid hold of that life and that if we try to lay hold of it by working good and being rich in good works that we have embraced a false gospel and never had the true faith.
In Heb. 2:1 the divinely inspired author tells us "Therefore we must pay the closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it."
But my opponent claims it is impossible to drift away, because if we accepted what we heard we cannot drift away and if we didn't accept what we heard then we again can't drift away because we never had it.
In Heb. 3:12, the divinely inspired author tells us, "Take care, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God."
But my opponent claims it is impossible to fall away from the living God.
In Heb. 6:4-6, the divinely inspired author tells us that "those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit" can fall away.
But my opponent claims that no one who has been enlightened and become a partaker of the Holy Spirit can ever fall away.
In Heb. 10:23-29, the divinely inspired author tells us, "Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering", "For if we [go on sinning] deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful prospect of judgment, and a fury of fire which will consume the adversaries. How much worse punishment do you think will be deserved by the man who has spurned the Son of God, and profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and outraged the Spirit of grace?"
But my opponent claims that if you were sanctified by Christ's blood at all then it is impossible for you to not fold fast to your confession, and impossible for you to go on sinning willfully, and impossible for you to enter the fury of fire which will consume Christ's adversaries.
In Heb. 10:35, the divinely inspired author tells us "Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward."
But my opponent claims it is impossible for us to throw away our confidence.
In Jas. 5:19-20, James tells us that "if any one among you wanders from the truth and some one brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death."
But my opponent claims that it is impossible for anyone to wander from the truth.
In 2 Pet. 1:5-11, Peter tells us to "make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge . . . for if you do this you will never fall; so there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ."
But my opponent claims that if we make an effort to do anything at all, we have embraced a false gospel and will be denied an entrance into the eternal kingdom of Christ.
In 2 Pet. 2:1, Peter tells us that "there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction."
But my opponent claims that it is impossible for anyone Jesus bought to ever deny him and bring upon themselves swift destruction.
In 2 Pet. 2:20-22, Peter tells us that the false teachers promise freedom, "if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overpowered, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them. It has happened to them according to the true proverb, The dog turns back to his own vomit, and the sow is washed only to wallow in the mire."
But my opponent claims it is impossible to escape the defilements of the world through a knowledge of Jesus Christ and then turn back. He says it is impossible to know the way of righteousness and then turn back. He says it is impossible to be washed from your sins and yet return to wallowing in the mire. Yet Peter says "It has happened to them according to the true proverb."
In 2 Pet. 3:16-17, Peter says that "the ignorant and unstable twist [the Scriptures] to their own destruction . . . You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, beware lest you be carried away with the error of lawless men and lose your own stability."
But my opponent claims that it is impossible to lose your stability and be carried away to destruction.
In 1 John 1:7, John says that if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.
But my opponent claims that if we walk in the light we have already been cleansed from all sin and do not need to be continually cleansed.
In 1 John 1:9, John says that If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
But my opponent claims that we have already been forgiven our sins and do not need to be continually cleansed from all unrighteousness.
In 1 John 2:28, John tells us, "And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming."
But my opponent claims that it is impossible for us "not" to abide in him, making John's command meaningless. It can't be a warning to false Christians because it would tell false Christians to remain in the illusion that they are in Christ.
In Rev. 3:4, Jesus says that in Sardis there were a few people who have not soiled their garments; and they shall walk with him in white, for they are worthy.
Yet my opponent claims that it if you ever receive a white garment it is impossible to ever soil it.
In Rev. 3:5, Jesus says that He who conquers shall be clad thus in white garments, and I will not blot his name out of the book of life. And in Exodus 32:33, God said he would blot out of his book whoever sinned.
But my opponent claims it is impossible to be blotted out of the book if you were ever in it.
In Rev. 3:11, Jesus tells his readers, "I am coming soon; hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown."
But my opponent claims that we can never lose what we have and that no one can ever steal our crown.
In Rev. 22:19, John discusses the scroll of the book of Revelation and says, "if any one takes away from the words of the scroll of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this scroll."
But my opponent claims it is impossible to have your share of the tree of life taken away and your share in the holy city taken away.
Besides these verses which I have quickly surveyed, there are dozens of others which teach the same truth, all of which my opponent has to deny and find some way to squirm his way out of.
I'm just telling you what Scripture says. You don't have to be an Einstein to see that this is the plain teaching of Scripture.
But the writers of the New Testament knew that some would come who would try to deny exactly this teaching. That is why they continually uttered the warning, "Do not be deceived."
Even though Paul tells his audience that they have been washed and sanctified and justified, he still finds it necessary to warn them, in 1 Cor. 6:9-10, saying, "Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor sexual perverts, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God."
Why would he warn them about this if they were in not in danger of, as Peter said actually happened, returning to wallowing in the mire after having been washed? Why would he warn them not to be deceived if there were not certain individuals who would come to them and try to deceive them by telling them the lie, the lie O so pleasing to our itching ears in these latter days, that we can never lose our salvation?
I'm telling you what Paul is telling you: Do not be deceived. Do not embrace that lie that has sent so many millions of souls straight to hell by telling them they can never fall, that same doctrine which my opponent is trying to force upon you even tonight.
I'm telling you: You had better get in a Church that will be honest with you about the reality of mortal sin. And you had better get in a Church that will tell you how to discern which sins are mortal and which are not. And most especially, you had better get in a Church that will tell you what to do once you have fallen and committed a mortal sin. The safety of your soul requires it. Thank you.
Copyright (c) 1995 by James Akin. All Rights Reserved
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