Am I Saved? How Can I Be Sure?
We’ve just finished our sermon series on the Doctrines of Grace. Although I purposely only used the word once in the series (best as I recall), this was, of course, a study of Calvinism and why we, at Crosstown, hold to these doctrines unashamedly. Calvinism is just a nickname for these distinctive doctrines; whether a person is comfortable with the nickname or not is unimportant. But our beliefs about these doctrines are not unimportant since they deal with the central issues involved in our understanding of Christian salvation.
So as controversial as this subject can be, we cannot ignore it. This is true also for those of us who hold strong convictions on the matter. There are more depths for us to explore here than we can possibly know. The doctrine of salvation is second only to the doctrine of God (in my estimation) in importance as well as in complexity and mystery.
One good way to continue studying this subject is to consider the arguments of those with whom we disagree. For this series, I read two books in particular: For Calvinism, by Michael Horton, and Against Calvinism, by Roger Olson. Both books offer the reader much to be considered. Perhaps the most surprising discovery for me was how much the fifth point in the doctrines of grace, the perseverance of the saints, persuasively demonstrates the truthfulness of all the doctrines.
The Arminian View
Roger Olson says that this is perhaps the least controversial aspect of Calvinism since many non-Calvinists readily accept it (p. 52). He even points to texts like Romans 8:35-39 which, along with other texts like John 10:28, seem to argue conclusively that those who have been given eternal life can in no way forfeit it. The official Arminian perspective is ambivalent on the issue, since both Jacob Arminius and the Articles of Remonstrance (1610) could not come to a decisive conclusion on this doctrine. Of course, the Arminian-Wesleyan tradition outright rejects it and, as I will argue below, they simply must if they want to argue against the other doctrines of grace.
The Reformed View
The doctrines of grace adamantly teach that those whom God has elected to salvation will not fail to come to faith and will be preserved in their faith to the very end of their lives. Can salvation be lost? Only if we view salvation as the decision that a person makes; for some who once claim to have trusted in Christ end up rejecting their Christian faith altogether, never to return. But since the reformed see salvation as the unilateral act of God to rescue his chosen ones from eternal damnation, those who are truly saved cannot forfeit their salvation but are guarded by God’s power so as not to ultimately fall away from faith in Christ.
Once Saved, Always Saved
To help us see the debate on this doctrine more clearly, I refer to the position that Michael Horton classifies as “inconsistent synergism” (p. 122). It is a belief about perseverance that often appears to agree with the Calvinistic perspective. Many who reject Calvinism believe in what they would call the “eternal security of the believer,” sometimes reiterated by the affirmation “once saved, always saved.” But this belief can only be held if you believe (like an Arminian) that a person’s free-will decision to accept Christ or not is what differentiates between the saved and the unsaved. But then you have to go on to hold the strange belief that, having the free will to accept Christ or not, the Christian afterward loses that free will and can never lose his salvation.
The problem with this view is apparent enough to both the Arminian as well as the Calvinist and makes the dividing line quite clear. Many, of course, hold to the Wesleyan view that a person can indeed fall from grace and forfeit his salvation. But I don’t see how anyone can sincerely believe in the perseverance of the saints and yet deny any of the other doctrines of grace. As Roger Olson admits, this doctrine follows logically from the rest of them (p. 53).
At the end of his book, Olson discusses the assertion that Arminian theology undermines assurance of salvation because it makes salvation dependent on a person’s decision. The best he can do in response is argue that it is actually Calvinism that undermines assurance because of its belief in God’s unconditional election of some to eternal life (p. 191). But for the Calvinist, assurance is to be found by trusting in the unchangeable, unfailing act of God who saves sinners whereas the Arminian’s quest for assurance is to be found in the confidence that one will never be persuaded to stop trusting in Christ.
So we can seek assurance in God or we can seek it in what we (currently) believe about God. The ground is not level here. What we believe about eternal security seems to me to force our hand on the other doctrines of grace.