“Losing your salvation.”

When the subject of apostasy, of quitting Jesus, comes up, people tend to phrase it thisaway: “So you’re saying you can lose your salvation?”

Well I wouldn’t use the word lose. Because it suggests we can accidentally disconnect from Jesus.

Fr’instance pick any otherwise ordinary day. Let’s say I’m going through the Starbucks drive-thru, picking up another outrageously sugary mixture of coffee, milk, and ice. Let’s say I’m using cash, and the cashier gives me my change, and instead of a dollar bill she unintentionally gives me a hundred-dollar bill. Let’s say, instead of how I’d say, “Whoops, you don’t wanna make that mistake,” I say nothing and pocket the Benjamin and figure Starbucks is a big enough company to take the loss. And as a result of this hypothetical scenario, the Holy Spirit says, “Okay, I’ve had all I can stand of this jerk,” and unseals himself from me—and I haven’t been listening to him anyway, so I never notice his absence. So when a few minutes later I’m distracted by the straw wrapper and T-boned by a Mini Cooper, I die… and find myself burning in torment, and screaming, “Wait! Wait! I gave my life to Jesus 45 years ago! What happened?!

Well, y’know. Straw. Camel’s back. Whoops.

But this scenario is in no way accurate. (Not just because I won’t take advantage of hurried cashiers.) God already forgave all my sins. All my sins. Past, present, future; every single one of them, including the ones I never even noticed I committed. Jesus’s atonement took care of that. We’re good. I could do the most heinous stuff in the future—although I absolutely shouldn’t, ’cause what kind of fruit is that?—but God’s grace covers all. That’s how forgiving and mighty he is.

Unintentionally losing one’s salvation, implies God isn’t the reason I remain saved: I am. Something I do, or don’t do, determines my status in God’s kingdom. Various graceless Christians speculate about all the things which might undermine one’s salvation: Maybe I said the sinner’s prayer but didn’t mean it, or maybe I said it before the age of accountability so it doesn’t count. Maybe I did say it, but refused to be baptized, and unless I follow the whole formula I’m doomed. Maybe I did do all of that, but I stumbled into some heretic church and decided I’m Mormon now, and that somehow undid everything. Or maybe I’ve committed such egregious sins, like murder or molestation or voting for the wrong political party, at some point I have to have broken the camel’s back.

All these explanations come back to the same thing: I did all the right things, so I merited salvation. I earned it by believing good things or doing good works. It’s works righteousness: My good karma destines me for heaven.

…So now I just have to maintain my good karma. Because if I’m not careful, all my sins might outweigh my good deeds in the karmic balance, and if it ever tips in the wrong direction, and I die, I’m doomed. So watch out for that salvation! ’Cause you might lose it.

“Work out your own salvation”?

This, such Christians claim, is what Paul and Timothy meant by

Philippians 2.12-13 KJV
12 Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. 13 For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.

God’s gonna help, and “worketh in you” despite yourself, but you gotta work out your own salvation—with fear and trembling, ’cause you never know when you might lose it.

No of course that’s not what the apostles meant. Τὴν ἑαυτῶν σωτηρίαν κατεργάζεσθε/tin eaftón sotirían katergádzesthe means we’re to do what we do based on the foundation of our own salvation: We’re to act this way because we’re a saved people, ’cause Jesus himself saved us. Pp 2.1-11 Not so we can become a saved people.

Achieving our own salvation—and running the risk of losing that salvation—is a Pelagian idea. It’s the old heresy that humans are basically good, instead of basically selfish. If we’re basically good, all we gotta do is stay good, and God will grant us heaven. So don’t do anything which knocks you out of his consideration!

This is why you see an awful lot of fear and trembling among Pelagians: They’re so worried they might do things which drive God away. They have no confidence in his promise to never leave nor forsake us. He 13.5 (If they’re cessationist, and think God stopped prophecy and all his other real-time communications with us, they already kinda believe he has forsaken us.) Their false idea quickly turns ’em into dark Christians, turn their leaders into manipulators, and turn their churches into cults. They’re not about grace and good news; they’re terrified of hell and sin.

In the scriptures fear and trembling signify respect, not literal terror: Considering how awesome it was for Jesus to forsake his power, come down to our level, teach us about the Father, and save us from sin and death, our lifestyles should respect his massive self-sacrifice, and never lose our sense of gratitude for what he’s done for us. Pelagians take all the gratitude out of it, because it’s no longer about what Jesus did, but what we’re doing. Or not.

Anti-Pelagians… and anti-Arminians.

Grace is a difficult concept for humans to grasp, but we have no trouble understanding karma. As a result there are a lot of Pelagians in Christendom. Because instead of unlearning karma when we become Christian, some of us simply Christianize it… and as a result we tell ourselves and others we gotta earn grace in order to stay in it. Our churches might officially, formally denounce this idea, because of how profoundly destructive it is. Even so, it’s everywhere.

In Evangelical Christianity, Pelagians are the biggest faction. Then there are Calvinists and Arminians. I’ve written about these three groups before. And one of the things Calvinists love to do is claim Arminians are really Pelagian. Really they just assume anyone who’s not Calvinist is Pelagian: They also insist Orthodox churches are Pelagian, Catholic churches are Pelagian, Mormons are Pelagian, Jehovah’s Witnesses are Pelagian, Muslims are Pelagian, and so forth.

To be fair, Pelagians are everywhere, so they’re not wholly wrong. But all these sects and religions do teach grace. (No, really. Sometimes with some pretty big caveats, but they do.)

Arminians like myself do not believe humans are inherently good, and do not believe we’re saved by good works. We’re sinners, and only God can save us. And once God saves us, it’s a done deal: We receive the Holy Spirit; we’re destined for his kingdom; we have his salvation; we can’t lose it.

But most of us Arminians recognize you can forfeit it. The scriptures say so. God gave his creatures free will, and if we wanna reject Jesus and leave him, he will let us go. He doesn’t wanna; he wants to save everyone! But he’s not gonna force people into heaven. If we’re determined to go, off we go.

That’s not losing salvation. It’s not accidental, not unintentional. People who quit Jesus and Christianity, and reject God’s grace, are fully aware of what they’re doing. They accept the consequences. (They may not believe in the consequences, but they’re nonetheless aware that if they’re wrong, there are gonna be consequences, and they’re okay with that. For now; once the consequences are immanent, man are they gonna try to backpedal. Too late though.)

It’s not at all based on Pelagian ideas: We don’t claim it’s because apostasy is the one unforgivable, irredeemable sin, the one which God will never, ever forgive. In the Prodigal Son Story, Lk 15.11-32 you recall the father totally took his wayward son back. Though there are scriptures which suggest once you quit you’re doomed, this story suggests y’might not be. Still, apostasy’s nothing to dabble in. It’s deadly serious business with eternal consequences.

Calvinists do not believe we can forfeit salvation: God’s grace is so mighty, humans can’t resist it; in fact it sorta reprograms us so we never will resist it. If God wants you, he gets you: Once saved, always saved. So when any Christian quits Jesus, they’ll argue these folks were never really Christian to begin with. Because real Christians stay saved, because once saved always saved. That’s their mantra and they’re sticking to it.

When Calvinists dismiss apostasy it as “losing salvation,” they’re describing the way Pelagians understand it. And when they dismiss Arminians by saying, “Y’all believe you can lose your salvation,” of course they’re painting us with the same brush. Because they believe if you’re not Calvinist you gotta be Pelagian.

Now, y’notice how ridiculous the idea of losing one’s salvation becomes, when we properly understand God’s might and grace. The reason Calvinists like to say, “Arminians believe you can lose your salvation” is because they wanna make us look just as ridiculous. It’s a deliberate slam. It makes us sound like strawmen they can easily knock down. It’s false… but they don’t really care about that, because they’re so certain they’re right. And they’re pretty sure the once-saved-always-saved idea is a far better belief, ’cause now they can feel certain they’re saved.

But they really don’t.