I am beginning a new series today wrestling with, from the Scriptures, this issue of God’s preserving of Christians in faith. It’s a hot topic and an often debated issue, but much of that debate is, I believe, a result of a proper starting place. So in this introduction to the subject I set out the groundwork that must be done as we prepare to discuss hot topics in Christian theology.
Discussions about how to understand major doctrinal issues from the pages of Scripture all begin in the same place: proof texts. That is to say persons on each side of a debate, like the one I am considering here, have their set of texts from Scripture that support their position. So when discussing “the perseverance of the saints” those who believe you can lose your salvation have a collection of verses that they turn to disprove their opponents. Likewise those who affirm that a true convert can never lose their salvation have a slew of verses that say as much. In a discussion each side throws out its verses like magic darts that they are convinced disprove the other person’s position. The problem is that we have no guidelines for how to understand these set of verses which seem, on the surface, to contradict one another. How can we know the answer to this important question? Some contend that we simply can’t and so the answer is to chalk it up to mystery and move on. The problem with this solution is two-fold: (1) It seems a cop-out. There are many things which are indeed mysteries in Scripture, but there is still some level of understanding that we are able to glean from the Scriptures. We understand that the Trinity is a mystery, yet there is a level of comprehension at which we can talk about that subject. So we must be willing to do the hard work of investigating the Scriptures to understand as best we can, and not simply bail out because on the surface the question seems difficult. Peter said that many things in the writings of Paul are hard to understand and that we should ask for the Holy Spirit to aid us in understanding, suggesting, then, that we can understand some (many?) hard things in Scripture. (2) The second problem with the mystery argument is that despite contending the answer can’t be known everyone operates in one or the other camp. If you say it is a mystery you will most likely still operate as though it is proven true that a man can lose his salvation (in fact you would be silly not to if you thought it was uncertain). So despite your contention that the answer can’t be known you are still operating as thought it in fact is known. The better alternative, I believe, then is to do the study and be able to give a full picture of the work of God in both salvation and sanctification.
To get to the heart of the answer the proper starting place in this discussion is crucial, and so it is my conviction that we begin not with proof texts but with an understanding of the larger picture of scripture as it relates to this discussion. We will begin then with a biblical theological look at God’s interaction with men and try and understand the context and big picture for this whole concept of salvation.