(The impetus of this blog entry was a request for doctrinal clarification posed by a friend whose Sunday School class is studying the topic of backsliding. No interest in finger pointing or falsifying of positions underlie the post. Dissenting comments are welcomed as long as they remain respectful, Bible based and charitable)
The debate over the nature of salvation is a long standing one which will not be resolved here. However in an effort to help clarify the conservative Arminian position, I offer the following thoughts for the reader’s consideration.
What examples of spiritual attrition can be identified in Scripture?
Illustrations from Scripture.
1. Adam and Eve Fell Genesis 3:1-20. What were the results of their fall? Forfeited privileges of the Garden, Lost Spiritual life. Acquired shame. Inherited death.
2. Saul fell 1 Samuel 10:9 vs. 1 Samuel 18:12. What were the results if his fall? Withdrawal of God’s presence and peace. Eventual Forfeiture of the kingdom.
3. Israel fell as a nation and lost their inheritance Hosea 9:3. What were the results of their fall? Bondage in a foreign land. Loss of inheritance. Loss of testimony.
4. Ephesian church was warned to repent and do first works again or have candlestick removed . Revelation 2:5.
What are some passages relative to the doctrine of Spiritual attrition?
1. Ezekiel 3:20. See also chapters 18 and 33. If the righteous sin their righteousness will not be remembered but they will die in thier sin.
2. Galatians 2:18. If I rebuild the things I destroy I make myself a transgressor. This contradicts the theory of forgiveness of future sins.
3. Galatians 5:4 Anyone who claims salvation apart from faith has fallen from grace.
4. Galatians 6:1 If a brother be overtaken in a fault restore him.
5. Hebrews 4:1-11 Unbelief will cause us to fail to achieve the salvation promised and we will Fall just like Israel.
6. Hebrews 10:26. Willful sin after receiving the truth negates the sacrifice of Christ and we are in jeopardy of judgment.
7. Hebrews 10:39. We are not those who draw back to perdition (judgment)
8. 2 Peter 2:18-22. There is a real danger of being allured from the truth, entangled by sin AFTER we come to know Jesus.
9. Jude 24. God is able to keep us from falling into apostasy. The context refers to more than minor failures but moral and spiritual death.
What are some of the reasons from theology and logic concerning spiritual attrition?
The faith argument.
1. Salvation is always by faith.
2. Faith is always either living or dying.
3. In dying there comes a moment of death.
4. Once the faith dies eternal life dies.
5. To say that we are saved by faith but kept by election is unBiblical.
The freedom argument.
1. God’s nature is love.
2. He created us to love Him.
3. Coerced love is not genuine love.
4. Therefore he gave man freedom to choose.
5. Salvation is a love relationship and as such cannot be coerced.
6. We remain free even after salvation.
Often Calvinists and Arminians disagree over semantics such as the definition of sin. When we dialogue we discover our similarities.
1. At the core of the debate is the nature of salvation. Is eternal life completley God’s Sovereign work? If yes, then whatever God does is utterly perfect and eternal. It cannot be destroyed or thwarted by man’s sin. If man has any responsibility or participation in salvation, then salvation is fluid to the degree we participate in God’s eternal life.
2. One significant point of disagreement is over the nature of faith. Is faith a work or a quality? Arminians would say it’s not a work since faith and works are juxtaposed by Paul but synthesized by James. If faith is a work, then salvation must be by works, for we are saved BY FAITH. But Scripture teaches both salvation apart from works and salvation by faith.
3. Another critical question is “What did Jesus provide when He died on the cross?” Did He pay the debt in its entirety or did He only provide the payment for sin? This may sound like splitting hairs but humor me and keep reading. If we choose the former all sin (past, present and future) has been forgiven already. If we choose the latter then it falls upon us to draw from his atonement for our sins. Failure to do so results in unresolved sin which will bring judgment. How we interpret the cross will determine how we interpret the nature of salvation.
4. Of course Calvinists believe that the Arminian doctrine of backsliding compromises the power of God and the permanence of salvation. And of course Arminians do not teach that God loses the backslider but that the backslider forfeits his own relationship by committing spiritual suicide.
5. When does spiritual attrition result in loss of eternal life? Only God can determine that line. Happily the Holy Spirit does not evacuate the believer at the first sign of failure. But if ignored, it seems apparent that He can be pushed out of our lives by negligence and willful transgressions, resulting in the return of darkeness, bondage, and ultimately, death
6. In the long run it is easier for me to concede that a backslidden Christian never was a true believer than to believe that Christians can persist in known sin. However I believe there are ample Scriptural, theological and logical reasons to hold to the fluidity of eternal life and the possibility of spiritual attrition.