Today I’m remembering the day when my Sunday School worldview began to get rocked.
I had recently returned to the Lord after a number of years living in willful sin and avoiding God. My return to the Father included beginning to attend a rural Free Will Baptist Church near my new residence.
God had been truly dealing with my heart for a few months and I was beginning to whole- heartedly return to Him. And He was meeting me. Even though I had met the Lord one night at a revival service when I was eight, I had never really learned how to walk with Him. But now as an adult that was changing. I was beginning to really know the Lord. I was experiencing His presence and having the privilege of hearing His voice as I read and meditated upon His word.
One of the first Sundays in the Free Will Baptist church we were studying through the book of Hebrews in adult Sunday school. This particular day the denominational curriculum was focusing on “the sin of falling away.” The theological term used was “apostasy”. According to the FWB belief, someone who is truly a Christian can fall away from Christ and in the end not be saved.
Not only had I never heard of the term “apostasy”, I had been taught since early childhood that it was impossible for a born again Christian to ever lose their salvation. In my Southern Baptist heritage, I was taught, “once saved, always saved.” I must have heard that phrase a thousand times growing up! It went like this:
“If you’ve prayed the prayer to receive Jesus, you can never ever lose your salvation. It doesn’t matter what you do after that. You can never lose your salvation.”
That was the way I was taught. And I was of course very happy to embrace that teaching during my many years of living in willful sin! It does give a person a sense of assurance and peace when their conscience is condemning them. But there is such a thing as false assurance too!
Anyway, when the teacher began talking about how it is possible for a real Christian to turn away from Christ and end up lost, it was such an alien concept to me. And everybody in the class seemed to agree with the guy – or at least have no problem with it. But I was offended! It actually made me angry. I felt it rise up within me. But because I was a newbie at that church and more importantly because I had no ready scriptural basis for refuting the doctrine, I simply remained quiet. But I went home and actually opened my Bible and began to seriously consider the issue.
Just now there are at least two groups of people reading this article. And each of you are wondering if I ended up getting it right or if I’m still wrong. The problem is that many of you are on opposing sides of the issue! Remember, there’s a ditch on both sides of the road.
What I found and learned as I began to study the Bible honestly and openly was not exactly what I had been taught growing up.
And it was not exactly what I was being taught by the FWB Sunday school teacher either. The Bible actually taught a bit of both! At least an honest student of the Bible will have to admit this. And this is not to say that the Bible is murky or inconsistent. It means that these are immense issues and much bigger and more difficult than our sectarian systematic theologies like to admit.
As I studied dozens of Bible texts relating to assurance of salvation and conditions for salvation, one particular verse really impacted me. These are the words of Jesus, the very last words written in the Bible:
I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book; And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city… (Rev 22:18-19, emph mine)
It was hard for me to get around the very clear and literal meaning of this warning. Why would Jesus say that someone’s part in the book of life can be taken away…if it is impossible for someone’s name to be removed from the Book of Life? I had to at least admit that it is possible for someone whose name is currently in the book to end up NOT in the book.
It is not my point in this article to fully clarify where I now stand on the issue of eternal security. And yes I do have strong convictions. What I am saying is that there are at least two ditches that people can find themselves in on this issue.
One proof that you are in a doctrinal ditch is that you are not willing to admit that there are some “problem” Scripture texts that do not easily conform to your dogmatics! This alone should cause you to be a bit more generous with those in the other ditch!
I’ll touch on some other examples next time.