Are They Really Saved?

How often have you heard, “They were not saved to begin with.” when someone claims to have defected from the Faith? Christians who believe in eternal security or “once saved; always saved” are usually those who would dare to say such a thing. However, this blog has nothing to do with that theology. Rather, I would like to focus on the rationale behind it all. 

Who are we to determine whether or not an unbeliever ever possessed authentic faith in Christ?  Rather, where do we find the audacity to take it upon ourselves to deem someone lost or found—damned or saved? Which verses, in the Bible, do Christians use to justify this mindset? Scripture teaches we are to judge those within the Church, rather than those who are (temporarily) on the outside. We are to judge our family to keep them accountable, not to condemn them. 

When did it become our responsibility to determine who is actually “in”? Granted, we must reinforce sound theology, “destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God” . . . but what does that mean, exactly? What is the knowledge of God? The Bible? Sure. I don’t have a problem with that. I accept that all scripture is given by inspiration of God. It is God-breathed. Scripture contains the knowledge of God. To reject it is to reject his knowledge. 

What does it mean to reject scripture? Christians love to accuse those who are not within their denomination of cherry-picking. “They only believe what they want to believe or are comfortable believing.” Granted, some, perhaps many, may do just that. However, a portion of that many resides in every denomination. On the other hand, some who reject one interpretation of a certain passage, or another, do not do so simply because it fails to tickle their ears. The prevalent stance on theology is not necessarily God-breathed. 

It all comes down to our ability to distinguish primary/essential doctrines from secondary/nonessential ones. Contrary to popular belief, there are not many essential doctrines—in comparison with those that are nonessential. The “plain” teachings of scripture are simple for a reason. They are necessary for true faith in Christ. This is why Jesus welcomes the innocent faith children. Although their faith could be described as blind, in a sense, the blind faith of a child is more reasonable than the blind faith of an adult. There is a difference between a child-like faith and a childish faith. The faith of a child is absolutely blind, in that there are no distorting filters between belief and actuality. There is nothing to ignore or deny when it comes to the faith of a child. They believe the plain truths of God for what they are and are nearly oblivious to that which is more complicated or derived through sound hermeneutic studies. The blind faith of an adult is not as innocent as that of a child; that is, unless their faith resembles a child-like faith in the basic essential truths of the Faith. 

In an attempt to possess the faith of a child, much effort is invested into believing what we are told; even when it pertains to secondary doctrines. Essential doctrines don’t need to be pounded into our heads because they are printed plainly on the pages of scripture. However, as authoritative figures in the Church teach secondary doctrines as though they are essential to saving faith, or close to it, the faith of an adult is deformed into a stupid childish faith, which is unworthy of a child in her innocence. 

It is easy for a child to believe that God exists without her having to be told time and time again. It may become more difficult as we age to maintain that belief because innocence is easily lost in this fallen world. Adam and Eve were created innocent, but as they began to question reality they found it difficult to preserve their original innocence; although they were not yet in a fallen world. Oh, how this difficulty has morphed into an impossibility! Praise be to God that he is in the restoration business! 

It is also easy for a child to believe that Jesus laid down his life for her and rose from the dead. Although this is not naturally understood through general revelation—that is, through nature— God’s attributes are clearly seen in the things that he has made, so that we are without excuse. Yet how can she believe unless she is told? How can she be told unless the Gospel is preached? How can she believe unless someone is sent to preach? She cannot . . . Yet, God cannot justly hold her accountable for that which she has not been told. However, all are accountable because creation screams the name or being of its Maker. What can we make of this? (See Upcoming Blog)

Hell is real, she is told. However, the threatening message of hell will be reserved until she is of proper age. She is not of the age of accountability just yet, now is she? For now, she is spiritually safe and sound. There is no reason to scare her into heaven just yet with threats of eternal harm; no need to describe the unbearable unending torment that is right around the corner if she decides to withhold her love from God. She is innocent. There is no need to taint her purity with a message that is void of hope. God loves her enough to overlook her sinful nature, in her time of ignorance, but this brief window for absolute grace is gradually closing. 

She is not expected to believe anything about hell in her childhood. The prevalent doctrine of postmortem judgement is presented in glimpses here and there, for the time being. Eventually, she will be ready to hear the message of doom and gloom. Hopefully, the foundation will have been laid when that time has come. Once she becomes accountable, the doctrine of Endless Conscious Torment (ECT) will be unveiled and presented as though it is essential to the faith that she has always known. More times than not, this man-made doctrine will damage her faith. It will cause her to doubt the faith of her childhood. She will question God’s love, grace, and mercy. Yet, she is not permitted to question the doctrine. He is just whether we understand it or not. “You are to have faith,” she is told. Oh, but it is so unlike the faith she had known. She had always trusted in God- in who he is. She had always rested in his love, grace, and mercy. She had known his justice. Now, she is told that God is nothing like the God of her childhood. The mask has been lifted. God has become a stranger. She feels like she has been lied to her entire life. Life is not what she “thought” it was. Up to this point, her entire life now seems like it was a dream. She has been shaken out of her slumber right into this God-forsaken nightmare. 

The doctrine of ECT distorts the Good News that Jesus brought for the entire world. It sucks the innocence out of the hearts of adolescents and it apostatizes adults who can’t bear its portrayal of reality. It contorts a childlike faith into a childish one- one that believes because it must rather than because it cannot help but . . . The obvious love, grace, mercy, and justice of God becomes hypocritical and irrational. As long as ECT is prevalent, the church will continue to dwindle down to the few who believe what they are told, rather than what they cannot help but believe about he who surpasses all understanding—not because we can’t make sense of his justice, but because we can’t make sense of his love, grace, and mercy, which is, as George MacDonal once penned, identical with his justice.

Must we blindly trust in the doctrine of ECT? Well, I certainly hope not because I simply cannot.

(Keep an eye out for my upcoming book: Hell in a Nutshell- The Mystery of His Will. Fall 2016)


2 thoughts on “Are They Really Saved?

  1. Hi Charles:
    I feel the weight of the initial concerns you raise in your post. As a pastor, I have a son who is currently professing himself to be an Athiest. It has been the most traumatic experience of our life. Thankfully my son has not pursued after immorality or drugs. Still, to go from a fairly robust profession of faith to its opposite is astonishing to say the least. To observe it right before your eyes challenges one’s assumptions about the question of eternal security.

    Let me make three observations. First, a distinction must be made between “how we know” someone is saved (which I’ll term epistemic assurance) versus “knowing that we know that someone is saved” (which I’ll term metaphysical assurance). We never come to possess 100% certainty of another’s salvation (epistemic assurance). At best can arrive at a probabilistic assurance (i.e “that person is probably, most likely saved”). Such an epistemic assurance is based upon background information such as the behavior or “fruit” of the professing Christian (Matthew 7:12-13); their level of love for other Christians (John 15:15); their love for God and hatred for ungodliness (1 John 5:1-5; 19,20) and love for and commitment to God’s Word (John 14:21-23). Wherever these “background” effects are most present, we can say with reasonable warrant that “so-and-so, given all things equal, is (most-likely) a Christian”.

    With regards to the metaphysical certainty of salvation, such certainty rests on two objective grounds and at least one subjective ground. Jesus’ atoning work is the first objective ground (Ephesians 1:7; 1 John 2:2) and the statements of scripture itself constitutes the second (Romans 10:11-17). The subjective ground of assurance rests in the warrant provided by the witness of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:14-16). When I say “warrant”, I mean the justification one possesses for believing why they believe they’re a Christian. This subjective ground is experienced in the Spirit’s working of regeneration and saving faith, whereupon the sinner receives the objective grounds of Jesus’ atonement and what God’s Word states about their salvation.

    My second observation concerns the right we have to determine whether or not someone is “in” the faith. You’re right that if we are claiming “certainty” of one’s salvation, then of course we have no right to judge. However, I don’t think scripture teaches we have metaphysical certainty, but only epistemic certainty of someone else’s salvation. Hence, when we read for example Jesus’ teaching on church discipline in Matthew 18, clearly a system was set up to aid those struggling in the faith to be held accountable. If a professing Christian fails to turn from their course of refusal of the Gospel, then the church well eventually treat the person as an unbeliever. The New Testament is repleat with scriptures that talk about those who defect from the faith who at one point made strong professions (Matthew 13:1-10 and Hebrews 6:1-9 for example). However, there is always the possibility that such an individual could turn (take the case of the man in 1 Corinthians 5 and 2 Corinthians 2). To not practice church discipline (or what I prefer to call “church restoration”) is to exercise disregard for that persons’ well-being.

    Thirdly, I think the quibble so many people have with the doctrine of Hell and its role in our typical Gospel presentation is more in the realm of our poor, weak, anemic theology. Children especially are treated to a form of “moralism” and then suddenly told that their good works cannot save them. Undoubtedly our theology is errant – no matter how anemic or robust it may be. Church historian Roger Olsen once quipped that at best our theology may be 80% accurate.

    As a final note, when I think of my son, do I believe him to still be saved? Well, his current athiestic stance has persisted for 8 months. I hold to the historic doctrine of the perseverance of the saints, which is to be distinguished from the more modern “eternal security” or “once saved, always saved”. All I know is that on the one hand, God preserves his elect people who have freely believed on Him and continue in such belief till the end (John 10:28-29; Jude 1:24-25). Such preservation (or perseverance) does not preclude “fruit” or evidence of salvation (James 2). That is viewing what I know from scripture and Jesus’ achievement (i.e metaphysical assurance). All I can tell you is that from an epistemic assurance perspective, it may very well be that my son may not be saved. I currently cannot confidently provide him warrant for his salvation if he persists in his atheism. I pray of course for his turn around and I think theologically that is the most consistent position I can cling too at this moment.

    I apologize for the length of my comments. Understand your blogpost has given me the chance to work through not only a difficult theological topic, but one which has become very personal. Blessings!

    Liked by 1 person

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