Here is a heavy theological dilemma that I cannot get off my mind and I will express it in this hypothetical, but highly possible and maybe even (hopefully not) common scenario. I believe that this is particularly a major dilemma among evangelical Baptists. However, if you are not a Baptist, this post is still for you:
There is an individual (Josh) who makes a profession of faith in Jesus Christ when he is, let’s say, 16. He is baptized, begins to attend church, reads his Bible, joins a small group, and is even very active in his youth group. He goes on a couple of mission trips and serves weekly at his church’s food drive. This young man even leads others to faith in Jesus Christ. This trend of faithful Christian living continues until he is 28 years old. On his 28th birthday, his father and his mother, with whom he is very close, die in a tragic car accident. They suffered tremendously in the accident and the truck which hit them was being driven by a drunk driver. Obviously this greatly devastates the young man. He tries to process everything that has happened and he just cannot seem to understand how a God so good could allow something so horrific to happen. He reaches out for biblical counseling, but that didn’t seem to help as the counselor spent more time focusing on the man’s psyche rather than focusing on his relationship with God and the Scriptures.
Nevertheless, as time passes the man now in his thirties has slowly but surely started falling away from the faith. He has abandoned his Bible study, stopped attending church, and his extracurricular activities have gone from mission trips and charity to gambling and night clubs. He begins to find some satisfaction in his sin and now after 10 years since the accident, the man now 38 considers himself to be an agnostic. He has refuted the faith he once embraced and has cursed the name of Jesus wanting no part of him. Openly and boldly he makes these claims just as openly and boldly he did his profession of faith in Christ. The man lives to be 88 years old and dies alone in his bed. He died the way he lived the latter part of his life: in full denial of God and Jesus Christ. Not only did he always claim there was no God, but he also claimed that he didn’t want him even if he did exist. The man dies in heated rebellion against the holy and just God of the universe.
Now, here is the issue and question I have. Was Josh a true believer? Was his initial profession of faith genuine? Was he of the elect? Did he receive saving grace? Did he truly have faith in Jesus Christ? Does he stand redeemed in heaven or does he stand justly punished and condemned in hell?
The way we answer and understand these questions reflects and can determine our understanding of the God of the Bible and the nature of salvation, in particular election. There are two possibilities. 1.) Josh was a true believer when he made his profession of faith or 2.) Josh was not a true believer and his profession of faith was false. If possibility #1 is correct then we must assert that God had truly saved Josh and then he lost his salvation by not remaining faithful to God. Either God failed to keep him in the faith or Josh failed to remain in the faith. The disturbing thought behind this is that Josh is now in hell although he had genuinely received saving grace from God. If possibility #2 is correct then we must assert that although Josh claimed to be a believer and even externally behaved like one, he had not truly received God’s saving grace as he had not truly submitted to Christ by trusting him for salvation. Although he claimed to “have it,” he didn’t have anything.
Now, how does this reflect one’s understanding of election? In the context in which I find myself, most would assert that possibility #1 is a stretch and that possibility #2 is more than likely the case. Possibility #2 and its necessary assertion come from an understanding of God preserving his saints (eternal security). The work which God has begun in his people, he will bring to completion at the day of Christ (Phil. 1:6). Since salvation belongs to the Lord (Jonah 2:9), God is the one who preserves to the end and that is a good thing since only those who endure to the end will be saved (Matt. 10:13; 24:13; Mk. 13:13). These same people who hold to this understanding of eternal security, however, also hold to a conditional understanding of election. I believe this presents a logical and biblical problem. If I have a conditional understanding of election, and that my free will enacted by prevenient grace allows me to freely choose Christ, then how can my free will be thwarted once I come to Christ? Have I all of a sudden lost some of my freedom to choose since coming to Christ? If I can freely come Christ, then I must be able to freely leave him. The illogical assertion would then be that everyone is free to choose Christ, but no one is free to “unchoose” Christ, if you will. This simply does not make sense, since our true freedom is found in Christ (Gal. 5:1)! So, if our understanding of election is conditional, meaning that God chooses those to eternal life based on his foreknowledge of their free choice to place their faith in him (enacted by prevenient grace), then our understanding of this scenario with Josh must result in us falling under possibility #1 with Josh losing his salvation by his free will.
I am afraid Scripture simply doesn’t warrant this. When viewing apostasy, I feel that unconditional election is the only proper premise to explaining biblically what happens in an apostate. I am in somewhat of a deep study of this very issue as I am writing a research paper for a class. Whatever my outcomes of this study, I pray that I avoid the horrid notion that there are those in hell who have received God’s saving grace. This type of saving grace doesn’t appear to be much worth trusting.
My view of apostasy and my interpretation of the above mentioned scenario are as follows:
“They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.” – 1 John 2:19
Amen! If you claim to have abandoned Christ, then you never truly knew Christ. Placing the enduring, persevering, and (negatively) abandonment in your own power and will places the coming to Christ determinately in your power and will. God may have given you (and everyone else in line with the view of conditional election) prevenient grace, but the decision to place faith in Christ is now in your hands and therefore you now have the ultimate, determining factor as to whether you will initially receive saving grace. If you choose wisely, then you must continue to choose wisely all of your life. This idea of election and really the whole of the Christian life does not sit well with me and I do not believe it fits well with Scripture. I do not believe the Bible teaches that God gives a saving grace that can be received and then thwarted and rejected. The deafening ring of saved people in hell drives me crazy! This is one reason why I sit very comfortably under the understanding and premise of unconditional election as I wade through a scenario like the one I have outlined above.
Unconditional election is a much better option and interpretation particularly when discussing a situation like Josh’s. The simple fact of the matter is this: Josh is dead in his sins and until God wakes his dead heart and opens his blind spiritual eyes, he will not have the ability to truly put his faith in Christ (regeneration). Josh can do all of the external Christian things he wants to, but until he is risen, he will remain dead in his sin. The sad truth of the matter which leads most away from this understanding of election is that Josh obviously wasn’t chosen by God from before the foundation of the world unto eternal life. If he had been a chosen and beloved saint, then Josh would not have fallen away permanently from the faith, for God would not have allowed it (Phil. 1:6). If we are so quick to affirm that God upholds our faith and thus will not allow us to finally fall from him, then why is it like pulling teeth to assert, biblically mind you, that God is also the one who began the work in his elect from before the world was formed. His foreknowledge of us eventually leads to an indestructible chain of predestining, calling, justifying, and glorifying his elect. While it is horrid to think of Josh being in hell, it provides great assurance that it was not in his lack of ability to remain in the faith and hang on to his saving grace, but rather his status was not as a son of the Most High. Here I kneel in humble submission to the Word and sovereign wisdom of God as I say with Paul to those who object:
“You will say to me then, ‘Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?’ But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, declaring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?” – Romans 9:19-24 (emphasis added)
This sobering passage reminds me that when I begin to question God, I need to remember my status as clay and as “what is molded” and distinguish myself from the good Potter and Molder. Under his sovereign wisdom there are those “prepared for glory” and those whom he passes over. In the above scenario, Josh was passed over, getting exactly what he deserved. If you are a true believer and this upsets you and you begin to complain, I need you to see how ironic and ungrateful you are being; for you have been given far better than you deserve. May this thought lead you to prayer and praise of the King who redeemed you and the King who will keep you.
I do not have an issue with the perfectly holy God and creator of the universe choosing in his infinite wisdom those sinners whom he would save. In the words of Bruce Demarest, “God gives no one less than they deserve, but he gives to some much more than they deserve.” I could not agree more and there is nothing unjust or unloving about this, particularly when considering it is God who defines what justice and love are. It is just grace. Salvation is all grace. Not prevenient grace. Saving grace. Saving, effectual grace. Under an Arminian understanding of salvation and under the belief of conditional election and the possibility of loss of salvation I cannot stand. I cannot see it biblically and therefore I must step out from under this teaching. The dilemma of Josh being in hell after he had received saving grace from God is the biggest reason why I am a Calvinist. The doctrines of grace are so sweet and so glorifying to God as he is the Justifier and Redeemer. From beginning to end, God indeed saves us, so no man can boast. Salvation is of the LORD!
Trust Christ. Put your faith in Him! When you do, you can be certain that He will never, ever let you go. You are forever His for He has chosen you, bought you, and justified you. He will, without fail, glorify you!
“All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” – John 6:37
“And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” – Romans 8:30
By His Grace — For His Glory — For our Joy