Tom Fuerst ~ The Real Problem with Once Saved, Always Saved

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Today we share the third and final installment of our Seedbed conversation with Alan Hirsch and Sean Gladding. They discuss the formational process of seminary and the challenges of ministry in the 21st century.

I just finished reading the New York Times article about Robert L. Dear, Jr, the shooter in the recent Planned Parenthood attack in Colorado Springs. In the article, Dear is described as a serial philanderer, gambler, an abusive husband/boyfriend, and a Christian.

A Christian?

Well, yes, of course. Why not?

I mean, once saved always saved*, right? That’s what Dear believed, anyway: “He says that as long as he believes he will be saved, he can do whatever he pleases.”

And herein lies my biggest problem with not only Robert Dear, but all persons who espouse some doctrine of unchecked “Once Saved, Always Saved.” How are you going to tell me that a person can claim to be a follower of the crucified messiah, claim to be indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and yet live a life that is in complete and utter contradiction with everything that God stands for?

How can you have, as the article contends, “a man of religious conviction who sinned openly, a man who craved solitude and near-constant female company, a man who successfully wooed women but, some of them say, also abused them. [A man who] frequented marijuana websites, then argued with other posters, often through heated religious screeds” who is also a Christian?

This kind of thing, where a man can live in complete contradiction to the character of the gospel and yet still believe himself to be a Christian, is only possible because of a doctrine that is downright false. There is absolutely no point in all of scripture where mere confession of belief warrants a free ticket to heaven no matter what one does in this life. You can ask Jesus into your heart 8 million times, but if you live the kind of life described above, you need to know that you are not a Christian.

This is what I find so problematic about the doctrine of “Once Saved, Always Saved.” It throws the entire gospel under the bus of the human need for security, however false that security may be. It offer certitude where none should be offered. It allows us to live how we want to live without demanding any conformity to the image of Christ, any growth in holiness, any perseverance.

And if you want me to be more exegetical about it, more biblical in my reference, then let me point out that this article about Robert Dear describes a man who lives entirely contrary to Jesus’ teachings in the Sermon on the Mount. A man who “constantly criticizes everyone around him and is very hard to please” falls outside the bounds of Jesus’ call to “judge not” in Matthew 7. A man who “spends a lot of time planning revenge” hardly seems like the kind of person who could “turn the other cheek” or fulfill Jesus call to “love your enemies” in reflection of God’s love for his enemies in Matthew 6. A man who “erupts into fury in seconds” could hardly claim to follow the Jesus who warns us sternly in Matthew 6 about the relationship between anger and murder. A man who is divorced multiple times (because of his abuse of women) would also stand in violation of Matthew 6’s injunctions against divorce that is driven by a dehumanization of women. A man who cheats on multiple wives, even likely rapes a woman, can hardly be within the bounds of Jesus’ ethic of refusing lust so as to avoid adultery.

And to tie it all together, let me finally say that it was Jesus, himself, who said that there will be many who say to him, “Lord, Lord” and he will say, “Depart from me, I never knew you.” And the difference between those who knew him and those who did not was simply a matter, not of faith or confession or creed, but of fruit and character. Mr. Dear argues in his cannabis forums that, “Every knee shall bow and every tongue will confess that JESUS IS LORD,” but he uses this as a threat to others instead of facing the truth that such texts ought to first highlight the massive plank in his own eye.

Clearly, I have taken an extreme example to point out what I believe to be an extreme problem with a faulty Christian doctrine. “Once Saved Always Saved” is a danger to the Christian faith because it offers all the greatness of the gospel without any of the discipline, sacrifice, holiness, perseverance, or love required of those who claim to be disciples of Jesus. Mr. Dear may be an extreme example, but his arrogant assurance reveals an extreme problem.

This is why I’m Wesleyan (not that we are always consistent in our application of our theology): because Wesleyan theology teaches that the pursuit of holiness is not an add-on to the gospel, but the very gospel, itself. There can be no gospel without holiness. There can be no salvation from sin in the next life without a desire for and a work toward being saved from sin in this life. We are to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, knowing that it is God who works in us to will and to do according to his good pleasure. When we assume we can have salvation without the fear and trembling, without the word, and without obedience to the will of God, we give ourselves false assurance that ultimately leads to our destruction, and, in the case of Robert Dear, the destruction of others around him. Robert Dear is not just a deranged individual (he is certainly that), but his is also the product of a half-gospel that demands no life-change, no genuine repentance, no social holiness, and no personal holiness.

 

*I want to be clear here that while I’m a Wesleyan, my issue here is not with people who believe differently than I do regarding merely whether or not it is possible to be a Christian and walk away from it. Wesleyans and (good) Calvinists disagree on this issue. But I can at least respect that the Calvinist calls for perseverance in holiness for any kind of assurance. They do not believe salvation, once received, can be forfeited like we Wesleyans do, but my point is that my argument in this post is not with those who hold to a position that says “holiness matters,” but with those who have a view of Once Saved Always Saved that says, as Robert Dear does, “I can now do whatever I want because I’m saved.”

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Tom Fuerst is Associate Teaching Pastor and Associate Director of Community Life at Christ United Methodist Church in Memphis, Tennessee. Tom is married to Cassie and they have three children. Tom blogs at http://tom1st.com/

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