iDoubt Week 2: What is Salvation and Can you lose it?

idoubt-photo Today we tackle our second question in our series iDoubt: Questions about Faith. As I mentioned last week, this series came from 7 questions that people here at Veritas submitted. Also as I mentioned last week there will be times during this series in which we might disagree during our time of exploration and discussion. We might come at the question from different places and end up in different places, and I believe that is okay. Let’s agree today that in the midst of disagreement that we’ll stay in the tension, stay in the relationships, and agree to disagree. Too often in the church when we disagree with each other, there goes the relationship. So let’s buck that trend, and actually stay in relationship, even if you disagree with someone.

Today our second question also ties into our discussion from last week. Last week the question was “What does it mean to be a disciple.” We talked about the fact that a disciple is one who apprentices themselves to Jesus. We stand at his shoulder watching and learning from him, and then seeking to live his life in and through ours. He calls us to be disciples by taking up our cross, denying ourselves and following him. Not an easy thing to do.

Today the question is “What is salvation and can you lose it.” Many of us in our lives have probably experienced a time when someone we had spent time with, maybe discipled, been in youth group or church with, decided to walk away from Jesus. And we are left with questions like, “Were they really Christians to begin with?” “Are they still saved because they made a profession of faith at some point in their life.” “have they lost their salvation?” And so we thought we’d explore this question because, I believed, we probably have all been there and have known people who used to follow Jesus.

But actually when this question was submitted it just referred to losing your salvation. But salvation is one of those words in which we think we know what it means but a lot of time we don’t really. So I thought I would explore what salvation is, and then we can go from there to answer the question about whether you can lose it or not. Because I believe how you define salvation will lead to seeing whether or not you could lose your salvation. And as we’ll see in a bit, I truly believe our discussion about discipleship ties neatly into how we view salvation and our question that we’ll explore today.

I believe that if you mention the word salvation to any western Christian and you’ll probably hear the answer that it means going to heaven when you die. But is that what salvation truly is biblically speaking? I think if we believe salvation is a one time contractual agreement that we enter with God. (ie…when I say yes to making Jesus my Savior- not necessarily my Lord- then he is obligated to let me into heaven when I die. But I don’t necessarily have to be a disciple and actually follow him) than we think of salvation in terms of an end destination. And when we think in those terms, then questions like can I lose my salvation take on a bigger role in our life. But if salvation is something other than just about going to heaven when we die, we can see the question about losing salvation as actually less important than before. (Not that it isn’t important). We start to see how salvation and being a disciple are wrapped up together. It is like two parts of the same coin. Jesus rescues us from sin, death, evil and hell and also rescues us for life and life to the fullest (John 10:10) (that’s his part) and then our response needs to be to accept his rescue, but then live it out on a daily basis (and that is our part). Taking up our cross and following him. NT Wright says this about salvation, “the work of salvation, in it’s fullest sense, is 1. about whole human beings, not merely souls. 2. about the present, not simply the future and 3. about what God does through us, not merely what God does in and for us.” We need to realize this idea that we have been saved, we are being saved, and we will be saved. That we have been saved 2,000 years ago when Jesus died on the cross to set the world right (including our relationship with God, others, and the world) as well as when we said yes to following him. That we are being saved each day as we take up our cross, follow him and live a life of a disciple of Jesus Christ. And that one day if we continue walking in him, that we’ll be rescued fully, but not just ourselves but the entire cosmos will be saved and put right, the way that it has always meant to be.

Looking at salvation then as connected to discipleship, we begin to realize the importance of the everyday decision of taking up your cross, as some translations say, daily. You see, most anabaptist never thought of salvation in terms of a transactional guarantee of passage to heaven, but more concerned with the following of Jesus. The discipleship that he calls us to. Salvation then is something we attain by remaining on a path of obedience to Christ. Not that we can save ourselves, only God does that. But, it is like the Scripture that says, “work out your salvation with fear and trembling”, Jesus calls us to work it out.

Now you probably know by my discussion of salvation how I answer the question about whether we can lose our salvation. But let’s know look at a Scripture and see how it might help us unpack this question even further. Hebrews 6:4-6 says this, “It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit,  who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance. To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.”

The first thing we need to know about this passage is related to it’s wider context within the book of Hebrews. One of the reasons for writing the book of Hebrews was a call for the church to be faithful and to persevere till the end. You see the book of Hebrews was primarily written to Jewish Christians who were familiar with the Old Testament and were being tempted to revert back to Judaism or at the very least Judaize the gospel (add Jewish rules and regulations to the practice of the gospel). And so we see this call for the church to persevere to the end throughout the entire book.

Another thing we need to be aware of in the book of Hebrews is that it is filled with what is called warning passages. There are 5 warnings passages, of which the text that we read is part of 1. The 5 warning passages are 2:1-4, 3:4-4:13, 5:11-6:12, 10:19-39, and 12:1-29. Each warning passage follows the same pattern. First the subjects or audience are in danger of committing a sin. Secondly, the sin that leads to. Third, there is a exhortation to not fall into sin, which then if not followed, leads to 4. consequences of that sin.

There are 4 views of this particular warning passage. Or put another way there are 4 views of who the intended audience is for the warning. The four views are the hypothetical view, the false believer view, the true believer view, and the covenant community view. The first view is that this warning is real but the sin (the falling away) has neither been committed nor can be committed since, according to this view, true believers can’t fall away. It is a way to jar people back into perseverance. The false believer view is that the audience of these warnings are not true believers and that those who could commit that sin couldn’t be true believers. The covenant community view is that individual Christians aren’t in mind of the author, that the warnings are directed to Christian communities, and they are being warned about the rejection of God as a community. The last view, which I personally hold to is the true believer view. This view is that the audience of the warning passages are true believers in every observable sense, can commit the sin of following away, and can lose their salvation. Hence the call and warning to persevere to the end in their faith.

Now with that background in mind we can see that this warning follows the same pattern. The subjects in Hebrews 6:4-6 appear to be believers. We read verse 4-5 which lays out the case that the people the author is talking about were believers. Verses 4-5 read, “it is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit,  who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age” We see that these individuals, I believe, had experienced the grace of God. They received the Holy Spirit (how can you share something you don’t have?) And they had been enlightened. I truly believe they were saved. Even the author of the Hebrews, I believe, treats these people as true believers. Obviously, only God truly knows this but by every observable method, these people were Christians.

Secondly the sin in this warning passage is the sin of apostasy, which is the abandonment or renunciation of following Jesus. This is understood, in this passage and other places, as the deliberate and public refusal to submit to God and his will for people in Jesus Christ. We read this in verse 6 in relation to falling away and being brought back. We also have to see that this falling away is in relation to rejecting Jesus. As long as people are in the act of rejecting Jesus they can not feasibly turn back to him. That is why at the beginning of this text, the author uses the word impossible. Not that it is impossible for someone who was walking away to return to faith. But that according to Scot McKnight, “The contention that “impossible to repent” means only an inability to return to a former state of intimate fellowship with God is rendered at most unlikely by our synthetic approach.  If one examines the list above, especially the threatening dangers found at 10:26-31, one is pressed to agree what the author is not dealing here with the impossibility of reclaiming a recalcitrant sinner (who will nevertheless be saved in the end) but with eternal damnation because that person has apostasized from a former commitment to God’s salvation in Christ.”

When we break it all down, this text is honestly not really about losing your salvation or even the question can one lose their salvation. What this text is really calling each of us to is to continued maturity in our discipleship. To not get comfortable with where we are and get stagnant. But to continue moving forward and growing deeper in our journey with Jesus. The author of this book puts it this way, “Therefore let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity.” What we see also before the text that we looked at is the author’s call for the church to move beyond the milk and grow deeper in Jesus. In Hebrews 5:11-14 we read, “We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand.  In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness.  But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.”

My prayer in relation to this question of whether you can lose your salvation is that we would see salvation as being connected to Jesus in discipleship and that discipleship is an everyday, day in and day out, get out of bed, and make a decision to follow Jesus. Salvation isn’t just a one time decision. It is an every day decision to follow Jesus. And that when we encounter someone who once walked with Jesus, we will continue to walk with them, loving them, serving them, and praying that they would return and begin to walk with Jesus again. We wouldn’t either say, “Well they were saved before and you can’t lose it so they are good.” or “You can lose your salvation and they have lost it for good.” The good news in the second situation is that the journey is not done and there is time to help disciple people back into the Kingdom.

How is this passage speaking to you? How do you read it? How have you encountered this question before and how have you handled it with others who have “walked away”? How are you growing in your faith each and every day? What spiritual disciplines are helping you work out your salvation with fear and trembling? And how are you discipling people who seem to be going away from Jesus? Those are some of the questions we’ll unpack together.

1. What thoughts, comments, insights, questions, etc.. do you have about the question, the Scripture and/or the message? How do you read this text?

2. Have you experienced this question in a personal way? Share a story that connects to the question? How have you or how are you continuing to disciple this person?

3. How are you growing in your faith each and every day? How are you working out your salvation with fear and trembling?

4. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what should we do about it?