What is the Church’s position on falling from grace? Some say that backsliders were never saved in the first place.
The Church of God (Seventh Day) does not promote the doctrine of eternal security. This teaching affirms that those who enjoy true forgiveness of sins and the promise of eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ can never lose this favored status before God.
In its classical form, this doctrine equates with the last of the five points of Calvinism, a system emphasizing God’s choice (before the world began) of certain persons to be saved through Christ (see p. 7 of the May-June BA). For Calvinists, the divine selection is confirmed by Christ’s limited atonement on the cross, by the Spirit’s irresistible call to the elect, and finally, by the perseverance of those elect saints in their faith to the end.
Perseverance in faith and holiness (i.e., eternal security) is the logical conclusion to Calvinism’s first four points. It supports the second sentence of our question above: Those who abandon faith merely show that their profession was always counterfeit, that they were never among the truly elect. If God predestined them to eternal salvation at the start and His grace toward them is ultimately irresistible, how could they ever finally lose it?
CoG7, however, has never embraced the model of predestination attributed to John Calvin. Rather than atonement being limited to the elect, we understand that Christ died for every man (1 Tim. 2:6; Heb. 2:9b; 1 John 2:2), that salvation is had by anyone who trusts Him and follows on via repentance to obedience. All gospel hearers are free to choose their response, as the “whosoever” verses of the New Testament suggest (Luke 12:8; John 4:14; Acts 10:43; 1 John 5:1; Rev. 22:17). We also understand that those who once freely chose Christ remain free to choose whether they will, or will not, continue to trust and obey Him, and that God honors their choice.
Our answer thus far has been mostly related to the theoretical issues of Calvinistic thought and human freedom. Now we turn to a more directly biblical answer. The most compelling arguments against the doctrine of eternal security are the several scripture texts that warn against the loss of right standing with God.
Each of the following texts states or strongly implies the possibility of persons dropping out somewhere along the way from initial saving faith to final redemption:
- Matthew 24:13; Luke 9:62: Final salvation involves endurance unto the end.
- John 15:2, 6: Some who are “in the Vine” will be removed, burned.
- 1 Corinthians 9:27: Even Paul might have become a castaway.
- 2 Corinthians 6:1: God’s grace may be received in vain.
- Galatians 5:1-4: Entanglement with legalism (the attempt to become or remain justified by the law) separates from Christ and grace.
- Colossians 1:22, 23: Final salvation comes to those who keep the faith by not being moved away from the gospel.
- James 5:19, 20; 1 John 5:16: Even a brother can wander from truth and sin unto death.
- 2 Peter 2:20-22; 3:17: Knowing Christ, then returning to the world, is worse than never knowing Him at all.
These warnings are unnecessary and would be misleading if a fall from grace were impossible.
The strongest New Testament alarms against departure from the faith are in the epistle to the Hebrews. That writer’s main purpose is to plead with Jewish Christians not to turn back from following the Savior in whom they had come to trust — even Jesus. Note the ways that the writer urgently expresses this caution so these Christians might avoid the disaster of unbelief:
- Give . . . earnest heed . . . lest we drift away (2:1-3).
- Beware . . . an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God (3:7-19).
- Be diligent . . . lest anyone fall according to the same example of disobedience (4:11).
- Falling away and willful sin mean no sin sacrifice remains (6:4-6; 10:26).
- Don’t cast away your confidence or draw back to perdition (10:35-39).
- Look carefully . . . lest anyone fall short of the grace of God (12:15-17).
These warnings are addressed to those whose walk with the Lord Jesus has been deep enough to arouse bitter opposition from their foes (10:32, 34; 12:1-13). The writer of Hebrews assumes that His readers are genuine believers, that they are in danger of retreating from their faith in Christ and from the eternal salvation that such faith affirms. If the readers were not true believers or if there was no bona fide possibility of their departure from Christian faith, then the message of Hebrews makes little sense.
The possibility of once having, then losing, the forgiveness and eternal life promised to those who trust God’s grace through Jesus Christ, is authentic. The Scriptures report persons whose faith once flowered, then faded and fell. Kings Saul and Solomon are prime ancient examples, though we are not told either’s eternal fate. In the New Testament, Hymenaeus and Alexander both suffered the shipwreck of their faith
(1 Tim. 1:19, 20), and Demas also was a dropout (2 Tim. 4:10). The case of Judas Iscariot is also relevant.
Still, the loss of salvation is probably not as common as many think. Those who are “in Christ” by faith do have considerable security there. What they have in Him — forgiveness of sins, the gift of the Spirit, the promise of eternal life — is not easily lost, certainly not as easily as a wicked thought or even a long struggle with besetting sin.
How may it be lost? If salvation is gained only by personal faith in the Word of His grace, then it is lost only by reversing that freely chosen personal faith — that is, by willful disbelief in the Word that offers salvation through Christ alone (Heb 3:6—4:11).
Saying it another way, salvation is maintained in the same manner it was first received: by continued, trustful leaning on Jesus, not by the merit of our obedience or good works.
If it were true that salvation is lost by a failure in good works or by falling short of perfect obedience (i.e. by personal sins), then we would need to admit that salvation is not by grace alone, through faith in Christ alone. It would be necessary to add “human achievement” to the list of salvation credits, alongside what God has done for us.
If salvation can be gained only by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, then it can be lost only by a denial of what we once believed: God’s grace in Christ. The true test of being God’s elect is not a one-time profession of faith but perseverance and patient continuance in that faith.
— Elder Calvin Burrell