Okay, this week I am responding to someone who emailed me regarding an article that I published in our diocesan newspaper. I have an “Apologetics 101” column every week in our newspaper, and the particular column that this gentleman responded to was on “absolute assurance” of salvation.
I am going to print the original column I wrote first. Then I am going to print his response, in its entirety, then my response to him. As I allude to in my response, I have divided his email into two parts that will be dealt with separately. That’s just to make things easier to follow and to not get strung out in several different directions all at the same time.
So, even though I am printing his full email, my response will be to just the first half of the email. I will respond to the 2nd half of his email after we have had a chance to thoroughly discuss the first half – assuming he replies to me.
Q: I was asked by a co–worker, who is an Evangelical, if I have “absolute assurance” of my salvation. I said, “No,” but then he started telling me that meant I wasn’t saved and he started quoting Bible verses and saying things about the Catholic Church and it all got me a bit turned around. Did I give him the right answer to his question?
A: You did indeed give him the right answer to his question. That question is based on belief in a doctrine called “once saved, always saved.” Once you are “saved,” – answered an altar call or said a sinner’s prayer and accepted Jesus into your heart as your personal Lord and Savior – then, according to this doctrine, that’s it. That’s all that needs to be done. Your train ticket to Heaven has been punched and there is nothing that can derail that train. Salvation is, in essence, a one–time event that cannot be undone. That’s why believers in this doctrine claim to have “absolute assurance” in their own salvation.
Catholics do not, however, say that they have “a bsolute” assurance of salvation because we do not believe that we have the authority nor the ability to judge ourselves. Paul himself says, in 1 Cor 4:3–5, that he does not judge himself, but it is the Lord who judges him. Paul even says that he is not aware of anything against himself, yet that he is not necessarily acquitted (or saved, in Evangelical terminology). That doesn’t sound like absolute assurance of salvation, does it?
Also, in Phil 3:10–13 and 1 Cor 9:26–27, we don’t see Paul talking in the language of absolute assurance: ”...that, if possible, I may attain the resurrection of the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect; but I press on to make it my own…,” and ”...lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” This is not the language of absolute assurance.
God judges us, we do not judge ourselves. At any moment in our lives, we still have the free will to turn away from God and reject Him. And, if you reject God, are you still saved? Catholics don’t believe so. What we can say is that we have believed in God and have done our best to do His will for our lives (Matthew 7:21, “Not every one who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven,”) and that by His grace and mercy we hope in His salvation.
Man has this incredible capacity to fool himself, but he cannot fool God: “Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the heart,” (Proverbs 21:2). That’s why we say that if we believe and do the Father’s will, then we have the hope in us that God will indeed have mercy upon us and grant us eternal life with Him in Heaven. But, we do not presume to judge when judgment is for God alone.
We also do not say we have absolute assurance of salvation because Catholics, like Paul, believe salvation is a process. We believe, as Jesus says, that in order to follow Him, we must deny ourselves and we must pick up our cross daily (Luke 9:23), not just once in our lives. If we don’t pick up our cross daily, then we are not following Him. And, if we are not following Him, are we still saved? The answer is, no, we are not.
And Paul very clearly believes that salvation is a process, not a one–time event. In several places he states that we have been saved (2 Tim 1:8–9, Rom 8:24, Eph 2:5 and 8, and Titus 3:5); in other places he says that we are being saved (1 Cor 1:18 and 2 Cor 2:15), which in and of itself connotes a process of salvation; and in still other places he says we will be saved (1 Cor 3:15, 1 Cor 5:5, 1 Tim 2:15, Rom 5:9–10, and Rom 10:9 and 13). We were saved, we are being saved, and w e will be saved…if we persevere to the end – that is the scriptural process of salvation.
Finally, for those who believe in absolute assurance, they have a bit of a problem with the whole concept of hope that we find all through the New Testament. Why are these these folks in the Scripture told to have hope rather than to trust in their absolute assurance of salvation? If they have absolute knowledge – absolute assurance – that they are saved, then they have no need for hope. The concept of hope fits perfectly with Catholic belief, but not so much with the belief in once saved always saved and this whole absolute assurance business.
To summarize: We have the assurance, based upon God’s own word, that if we follow His will for our lives, we will be saved. But, we do not have “absolute” assurance that we will be saved because we could, of our own free will, turn away from Christ at any given po int in our lives.
Mr. Weber’s response:
In our Bible study for next week, the leader passed out your article of December 16, 2011 on absolute assurance. In my reading and studying of your article, I find you have overlooked some very important scripture.
First of all, I think you have used the writings of Paul incorrectly. You quoted verses in which he speaks about his development as a Christian. The verses do not refer to salvation. If, as you suggest he was working toward his salvation, you would have to ignore several of his specific verses addressing salvation. He says in Romans 8:1, “There is, therefore, NO CONDEMNATION to them that are in Christ Jesus”. That verse clearly states it is not possible to lose your salvation, because all your sins have been forgiven when you trust Christ as yo ur Saviour. PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE SINS. There are many other places that Paul repeats that, but none more clearly that 2 Cor 5:17, when he says that “If any man be in Christ he is a NEW CREATURE. Old things are passed away – behold all things are become new”
The Apostle Peter verifies the authenticity of Pauls teaching when he put in his book that Paul was correct in his teachings.
The Apostle John clearly states that “These things have I written that you may KNOW that you have eternal life” I John 5:13. If you can lose your salvation, there is no way a person could KNOW he has eternal life. And the Lord himself made it quite clear that a Christian can not lose his salvation. In the book of John, 14:27, Jesus says, “My peace I give unto you, not as the world giveth”
I ask you – can a Christian have peace if he can lose his salvation? The answer is a resounding “NO”
I was teaching the book of Romans in Yalta in the Ukraine and after our class on assurance, a young lady who had only been saved for a short period of time, came to me and said that she was so thankful we had covered that subject, because she had been taught that if she died with unconfessed sin, she would not go to Heaven. The possibility that she could die with unconfessed sin and not go to Heaven had robbed her of her of the peace and the abundant life that Christ promised her. Thankfuly, I was able to show her what the Bible says – not what man thinks.
In the Book of John, 3:15, Jesus tells us that “whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life” Notice, there is not another list of things attached that we have to do to inherit eter nal life. Jesus tells us clearly that it is only the acceptance of the shed blood of Christ that brings salvation – not any works that we might do. The scripture clearly says that “all our works are as filthy rags”
It is my prayer that you will look more closely into what the Bible teaches on this subject and pass that information along to your readers so that they may have the peace that passes all understanding – the knowledge that upon their death, the Christian can know that he will be present with the Lord.
I suggest to you, Mr. Martignoni, that if there is no assurance of salvation, the Christian has not the peace that Christ has promised us.
Dear Mr. Weber,
Below, in italics, is the 1st part of your email. My response will follow:
"In our Bible study for next week, the leader passed out your article of Dece mber 16, 2011 on absolute assurance. In my reading and studying of your article, I find you have overlooked some very important scripture.
First of all, I think you have used the writings of Paul incorrectly. You quoted verses in which he speaks about his development as a Christian. The verses do not refer to salvation. If, as you suggest he was working toward his salvation, you would have to ignore several of his specific verses addressing salvation. He says in Romans 8:1, “There is, therefore, NO CONDEMNATION to them that are in Christ Jesus”. That verse clearly states it is not possible to lose your salvation, because all your sins have been forgiven when you trust Christ as your Saviour. PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE SINS. There are many other places that Paul repeats that, but none more clearly that 2 Co r 5:17, when he says that “If any man be in Christ he is a NEW CREATURE. Old things are passed away – behold all things are become new”
The Apostle Peter verifies the authenticity of Pauls teaching when he put in his book that Paul was correct in his teachings.
Starting with the last line first, I have absolutely no doubt as to the authenticity of Paul’s teachings – so, we can agree on that point.
Regarding the first line, I have not overlooked any Scripture. I am very much aware of every verse you have cited. I simply disagree with your interpretation of those verses. Do you claim to be infallible in your interpretation of Scripture? I ask, because I am wondering if you have some authority by which to declare your interpretation of Scripture to be more valid than mine? If you b elieve you do, please let me know what that authority is.
Now, for the middle portion of what you have written above, my first thought in on your use of the word, “think.” You “think” I have used Paul’s writings incorrectly. You “think” I have, which means you’re not absolutely sure that I have used them incorrectly, right? This is a very important point to me, and one that I think is vital to our discussion, so I do hope you will answer this question directly.
Now, you assert that the verses I quoted about Paul refer to “his development as a Christian,” and not to salvation. I’m sorry, but in reading those verses, I don’t see how you come to any such conclusion. Let’s look at them one at a time:
1 Cor 4:3–5 – “But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. ; I do not even judge myself. I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then every man will receive his commendation from God.”
Okay, please explain to me how a passage that is talking about judgment, and particularly about the judgment of the Lord at the end of time, is somehow not referring to salvation? My whole point in using this verse was to show that anyone who judges themselves as being “saved,” is doing something that even the Apostle Paul didn’t do. Paul leaves his judgment up to the Lord. And even though he doesn’t know anything against himself – even though he is unaware of any sin that could be held against him – he still says that he is not thereby acquitted. He is speaking in terms of salvation here, but he is not speaking in terms of absolute assurance of salvation. Please tell me how this is the language of “development as a Christian”?
Phil 3:10–13 – ”...that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and may share His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, that if possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me His own. Brethren, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead.”
Does this speak to Paul’s “development as a Christian”? Indeed it does. But, in what context? The context of salvation. The context of pressing on f or “the prize” (v. 14). What is the prize? Is it development as a Christian? No. The prize is, “the upward call of God in Christ Jesus,” (v. 14) The prize is attaining the “resurrection from the dead.” This verse shows exactly what the Catholic Church teaches, that salvation is a process. Jesus has made Paul “His own,” yet Paul must still press on for the prize. There is no absolute assurance language here. Paul states that “if possible” he may “attain the resurrection from the dead.” This is not the language of absolute assurance. Do you contend that the “resurrection of the dead” is a phrase which means “development as a Christian”?
1 Cor 9:26–27 – “Well, I do not run aimlessly, I do not box as one beating the air; but I pommel my body and subdue it, lest after preaching to othe rs I myself should be disqualified.”
Do you contend that Paul is speaking of disqualification from “development as a Christian.” That makes absolutely no sense. The only thing that he would be worried about being disqualified from is eternal life. Just as the prize he mentions he is striving for in Phil 3 is eternal life – the resurrection from the dead. Your interpretation of these verses simply is not supported by the passages.
Now, regarding these other verses you say I “have to ignore,” in order to come up with my interpretation. Far from it. Let’s look first at Rom 8:1 – “There is, therefore, no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus.” Amen! I agree. All Catholics agree. However, I do not agree with your fallible interpretation of that verse. You say that verse “clearly states” that it is not possible to lose your salvation. Where does it say that? Yes, there is no condemnation for those that are in Christ Jesus. But, nowhere does this verse state that everyone who is “in Christ Jesus,” will remain in Christ Jesus. Nowhere does this passage state that those who are “in Christ Jesus” cannot, at some point in the future, reject Christ Jesus and fall away from Him. Look at what Paul tells the Galatians who, according to Gal 3:2–3, have received the Spirit. Are they absolutely assured of their salvation since they’ve already received the Spirit? Well, not according to what Paul tells them in chapter 5: “Now I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you…You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace,” (v. 2, 4). You cannot be “severed” from Christ unless you are first joined to Christ. But, according to you, once you’re joined to Christ, you cannot be severed from Him. Who should I believe: you or St. Paul? Also, you cannot fall away from grace, unless you are first in grace – saved. Once saved, always saved? Just doesn’t look like Paul believed in it.
2 Cor 5:17 – “If any man be in Christ he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come.” Again, I say, “Amen!” I agree 100% with that verse of Scripture. However, once again, I must respectfully disagree with your fallible interpretation of that verse. Does that mean one cannot sin? That one cannot turn away from Christ at some point in the future? Absolutely not. If so, then why does Paul tell the Philippians to “work out” their salvation “with fear and trembling,” (Phil 2:12)? Why does Paul tell the Romans who have been grafted into the olive tree (Christ) – signifying that they were “saved” – that they will be cut off from the olive tree just like the unbelieving Jews were, “if” they do not continue in His kindness (Rom 11:17–24)? Why would Paul threaten the Romans with being cut off from the olive tree (Christ), if they can’t be cut off from the olive tree? Was Paul one to make empty threats? No. Under your theological system, this whole passage makes absolutely no sense. Please explain why Paul threatened these “saved” Romans with being cut off from Christ, if it is impossible to be cut off from Christ?
I do not ignore any verse from Scripture. You are the one who has to ignore a lot of verses from Scripture, and twist the meaning of a lot of other verses of Scripture, in order to come up with “absolute assurance” of salvation. If Christians in the Bible had absolute assurance of salvation, then why are they constantly told to “hope”? How does the concept of hope fit in with absolute assurance? If you have absolute assurance, you have no need of hope.
One last question. Are there people who believe they are saved, but they really aren’t? If you believe there are, how do you know you’re not one of them?
Finally, I just want to let you know, and I will repeat this in future responses, that for you to proclaim that one cannot have “peace” without absolute assurance of salvation, is, with all due respect, an incredibly arrogant thing to say. You don’t know me. You don’t know the Catholics I know. I have an incredible amount of peace as a Catholic and as a non–believer in once saved, always saved. Many other people I know, all of whom do not believe in once saved always saved, have a great deal of peace in Christ. Catholics, as I will show you, actually have more peace regarding salvation than you ever can. Because, as I will show you, using your responses to my questions above, it is actually impossible for you to truly have absolute assurance of your salvation.
I hope all of you have a great week. Hopefully I’ll receive a response from Mr. Weber in a few days and will have time to get it into a newsletter next week.
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