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11 October 2019

What if you were never saved to begin with?

If you believe Christians can never quit Jesus—that it’s impossible to reject God’s salvation, probably ’cause you believe God’s grace is irresistible or something—how do you explain the existence of ex-Christians?

Because plenty of people identify themselves as former Christians. Grew up in church, said the sinner’s prayer, signed off on everything in their church’s faith statement, got baptized, got born again. Believed in Jesus with all their heart, same as you or I or any true Christian does. Even had God-experiences, saw miracles, did miracles. But now they’re no longer Christian. They left.

So how do those who believe once saved always saved, reconcile their belief with people who say they were once saved and now aren’t saved? One of two ways:

  • Those people only think they used to be Christian. But they never truly were.
  • Those people only think they quit Jesus. In reality they’re still his; he’s still gonna save them. They’re just going through a period of rebellion. Give ’em time. They’ll snap out of it eventually. He who began a good work in them will be faithful to complete it. Pp 1.6

So, y’know, denial.

I once attended the funeral of my roommate’s ex-girlfriend. She grew up Christian, but abandoned Jesus in college. I had recently helped lead him back to Jesus, and in his new-believer zeal he naturally wanted to lead her back to Jesus. But she was uninterested and dismissive. A few months later she died. We attended her funeral. It was awful. Friends and family, one after another, got up to eulogize her, to talk about what a good Christian she was, and how she’s certainly with Jesus… yet both her ex and I had personally heard her say she quit Jesus. We hoped to goodness she had a last-second change of heart. (Hey, you never know!) But… well, you can see why Christians far prefer denial. I get it. Believing otherwise sucks.

But when you believe ex-Christians were never truly Christian to begin with, this belief leads us to a really heinous logical conclusion. One which actually plagues many Christians. It’s simply this: How do you know you’re truly Christian?

10 October 2019

Once saved, always saved?

Let’s start by getting this first idea straight: God saves us, by his grace. It’s entirely his work, done by his power; we don’t save ourselves; we can’t possibly. No number of good deeds, no amount of good karma, not even memorizing all the right doctrines, is gonna do it. We gotta entirely entrust our salvation to God. Period. Full stop.

Since we can’t and don’t save ourselves, various Christians figure an attached idea—and they insist it’s a necessary attached idea—follows: We can’t and don’t un-save ourselves. If God saves us, the only way we can get unsaved is if God does it—and he’s not gonna. He’s chosen us, he’s elected us, for salvation. And it’s permanent. It’s a done deal. Nothing in our universe can separate ’em from God’s love. Ro 8.39

Not even if they themselves later choose to quit Jesus. (So how do they explain ex-Christians? “Oh, they were never really Christian.” Which opens up a whole different can of worms… which I’ll get to tomorrow.)

Sometimes Christians call this idea perseverance of the saints, or “perseverance” for short. Sometimes eternal security or absolute security. Sometimes assurance, though other Christians (like myself) mean something very different by this term. More recently some Christians have adopted the term free grace. All these terms mean “once saved, always saved”—OSAS for short, but since I really don’t like acronyms I’m going with “always saved.”

And loads of Christians have adopted the “always saved” view. It tends to get associated with Calvinists, but they’re far from the only Christians who believe it. Legalists don’t, ’cause they love being able to threaten people with hell; Pelagians don’t, ’cause they think God saves them based on karma, and bad karma earns you hell. But the rest of Christendom tends to think, “Well yeah, we don’t save ourselves… so it stands to reason we can’t unsave ourselves, so I guess it is a done deal.” The only reason they’d consider an alternative view, is if they know any ex-Christians and can’t rationalize ’em away as “weren’t real Christians before they quit.” Or, of course, if they grew up among legalists and Pelagians.

I grew up among both, but that’s actually not why I reject the always-saved view. Because I used to have the always-saved view. I totally get its appeal: It’s the security. It’s awesome that we can never just lose our salvation—that if we have one bad day, or commit a particularly heinous sin, God’s not gonna say, “That’s it! I’m done with you” and now we’re damned; our sins have driven God away. God loves us far too much to give up on us entirely. It’s a wonderful idea.

But “always saved” takes this idea to an extreme that can’t be supported by the scriptures. Because, as I say in all these articles on apostasy, the bible’s authors warn us to not reject God and his salvation; and it makes no sense that these passages would be in there if it’s impossible to unsave ourselves. Only God can save us, true. But we can still totally reject his salvation.

09 October 2019

“They were never saved to begin with.”

Sometimes people who believe they’re Christian aren’t really.

Sometimes people whom we believe are Christian aren’t really: They’re faking it for any number of reasons. Or they’re Christianists; they’re big fans of popular Christian culture, but have no relationship with Christ Jesus himself. Somehow we missed the fact they bore no fruit of the Spirit… or, more likely, we didn’t care they were fruitless. We were much too happy to consider them one of our own; we never bothered to ask real, penetrating questions for fear we wouldn’t like the answers. We get that way about celebrities, wealthy people, politicians, or on-the-fence friends and family members; we’ll take what we can get.

So when these not-actually-Christian folks have a faith crisis, or God otherwise doesn’t come through for them in the way they expect or demand… they leave. Or when the only reason they pretend to be Christian is to make people happy, and they grow tired of making those people happy… they leave. Heck, even actual Christians will quit church and quit Jesus himself under these circumstances; we should hardly be surprised when pseudo-Christians do.

Thing is, when real Christians leave church or Jesus for much the same reasons, many a Christian will figure it’s for the very same reason the not-really-Christians did: They, too, were never really Christian to begin with. They were faking it. Pretending. Going though all the motions but never had the Holy Spirit.

I mean… that has to be the case, right? Because once saved, always saved. Right?

Well I wish that were so, but the scriptures indicate it’s not.

Hebrews 6.4-6 KWL
4 Can’t be done: Those who were once given light,
tasted the heavenly gift, became partners with the Holy Spirit,
5 tasted the goodness of God’s word, and the age to come’s powers 6 —and fall away.
To restore them to repentance again, crucifying and humiliating the Son of God for them:
Can’t be done.

Sometimes people do have living, saving relationships with God. Are born again. Are filled with the Holy Spirit; even experienced his baptism. Do have real live God-experiences same as the prophets and apostles in the bible; even heard God speak to them, and let him perform miracles through them. They were fully authentic Christians.

But they quit Jesus.

08 October 2019

Quitting Jesus.

APOSTASY ə'pɑs.tə.si noun. When one leaves a religion.
[Apostate ə'pɑ.steɪt adjective.]

About half the pagans I meet say they used to be Christian. They grew up Christian, or at least grew up in church. Some of ’em even think they’re still Christian—though their nonchristian beliefs indicate they’re obviously pagan. Whatever their churches taught, they no longer follow. They left that behind. They went apostate.

I know; a lot of folks think “apostate” is a bad word. It’s really not. It comes from the Greek ἀφίστημι/afístimi, “step away.” Lots of us step away from things. I used to ride a bicycle everywhere; I’ve since discovered I prefer walking, and gave away my bicycle. So I’m an apostate cyclist. (Nothing against cyclists though. Whatever works for you.)

In the case of apostate Christians, they left Christianity. In my experience most of ’em no longer consider themselves Christian, nor consider Christianity to be valid. A minority quit God and went nontheist. Or joined another religion, like Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, or Wicca. But most are simply pagan: They believe in God, but reject “organized religion,” by which they mean church… and everything the church teaches, like who Jesus is, and who Jesus says God is.

Why’d they leave? The usual reasons.

  • They had the crisis of faith. But nobody guided them through it, or their so-called guidance consisted of “Quit doubting and just believe really hard.” Well, they couldn’t, didn’t, and left.
  • When they had the crisis of faith, Christians didn’t step up… but nontheist friends, or friends of other religions, did. So they believed those guys, and left.
  • They never did believe. They grew up Christian, but went through the motions of Christianity because their parents, leaders, or peers pressured ’em to. Once they got away from those people, they got away from Christianity, and stayed gone.
  • Cheap grace: They believe God’ll let ’em into heaven no matter what they believe. So it doesn’t matter if they believe nothing. Or aren’t religious at all.
  • They expected or demanded God to come through for them in a certain way. He didn’t. So they’re pissed at him, and aren’t coming back to him.
  • They’d like to be Christian. But all the Christians they know are a--holes, and they simply can’t affiliate with such awful, immoral people. Anything’s gotta be better. So they try to follow God in their own way. (Which isn’t easy without a support system.)

And a number of ’em insist they have their own ideas about what should constitute Christianity—which of course don’t mesh with orthodoxy. But technically such people aren’t apostate, ’cause they didn’t leave Christianity; they’re what we call heretic. Whole different category.

07 October 2019

Are we free—or the devil’s children?

John 8.30-47.

Those who haven’t read the gospels, but only know of Jesus by reputation, often wonder why on earth anyone’d want to kill him… because Jesus is so nice. He only said nice things. He loved kids. He was so friendly to sinners. Why would anyone wanna kill such a nice guy?

And they’re partly right. Jesus is kind. He has the traits of the Spirit’s fruit, and kindness and niceness overlap greatly: He’s gonna be nice more often than not. But even so, kindness and niceness aren’t the same thing. Sometimes when we tell the truth, we’re gonna say things people can’t handle. As kind as we might be, as tactfully and constructively as we might put things, they’re not gonna see them that way: They’ll read their own bad attitudes into it, and interpret us as cold or cruel.

So in Jesus’s following discourse, that’s how many people have chosen to interpret him. They don’t look at him as accurately diagnosing the real problem with people who won’t listen to him, and warning us of it. They look at him as calling people names. They read their own hostility into Jesus—probably same as Jesus’s audience at the time. They desperately didn’t want him to expose their hypocrisy, and figured he only did it to be cruel. And that’s why they wanted him dead.

And the discussion started so nicely…

John 8.30-32 KWL
30 As Jesus was saying these things, many believed in him,
31 so Jesus told those Judeans who’d believed him,
“When you remain in my word, you’re truly my students.
32 And you’ll know the truth, and the truth will free you.”

We Christians still quote this passage. It’s a reminder that truth’s a good, liberating thing. Truth will set you free. Sometimes we aren’t particular about which truth, and figure any truth will set us free. Well, truth is always better than error and lies. But in context Jesus was talking about τῷ λόγῳ τῷ ἐμῷ/to lógho to emó, “my word,” the stuff he taught us about the Father. That stuff really sets us free. Other truths, less so.

Thing is, the way the ancient Judeans taught was Socratic style, which meant as soon as you made a statement like this, your pupils responded by taking your words apart to see whether your statements could stand up to intense scrutiny. It’s a good method, but in the hands of nitpickers who don’t care to learn and only wanna cut you down, it can quickly disintegrate into harsh words and hurt feelings. John 8 is a really good example of this.

John 8.33-38 KWL
33 The Judeans answered Jesus, “We’re Abraham’s seed. We’ve never been enslaved, ever.
How can you say ‘You’ll become freemen’?”
34 Jesus answered them, “Amen amen! I promise you everyone who commits sin is sin’s slave,
35 and a slave doesn’t remain in the house in this age.
In this age, the son remains, 36 so when the son frees you, you will truly be free.
37 I know you’re ‘Abraham’s seed’—but you seek to kill me, because my word doesn’t take hold of you.
38 What I see with my Father, I speak, so you’ll hear what’s from the Father and do it.”

The discussion goes downhill from there, but I’ll get to that.