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The Can/Won’t Model Of Eternal Security: Part 1 — The Case For Apostasy

Can a Christian lose their salvation? This is a question that I did not know how to answer for many, many years. I would listen to Arminians argue back and forth, using scripture passages supporting their own view. I thought both sides made really compelling cases for their positions, so I was in a state of agnosticism about it for a long time. On the one hand, The Bible seemed to be filled up to the brim with passages warning believers not to fall away, but on the other hand, there were many passages that seemed to say that if a person became a truly born again Christian, they would persevere in their faith to the very end, they would never fall away.

After years of wracking my brain over this issue, I think I have come to a satisfying conclusion. The true believer can fall away, but he won’t ever fall away. The true believe has the ability to spurn The Holy Spirit, reject Christ, and go back to living a sinful lifestyle, but he won’t ever choose to act on this ability. He can lose his salvation, but he won’t. I call this “The Can/Won’t Model Of Eternal Security”. I also have referred to it as “The Keathley/Craig Model Of Eternal Security” since this view didn’t originate with me, I learned about it from the writings of Kenneth Keathley and William Lane Craig.

The Can/Won’t Model Relies on 3 Things in order to be tenable:

1: The Bible must teach that apostasy of true believers is possible.
2: The Bible must teach that true believers will never fall away.
3: One must adopt a Molinist view of divine providence and free will. This is because God’s middle knowledge plays a role in how He keeps believers from falling away.

This blog post is the first part in a series in which I’ll be making the case for The Can/Won’t Model Of Eternal Security.

In Part 1, I’ll be making a case for the possibility of apostasy.
In Part 2, I’ll make the case for “Once Saved, Always Saved”
In Part 3, I’ll explain how I can hold the conclusions of parts 1 and 2 without affirming a contradiction. I’ll also address various objections detractors have brought up to this model.

So let’s move on to Part 1 of this series. Does The Bible teach that Christians have the ability to fall away? I think it does.

The Warning Passages Found In Colossians

“Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.” – Colossians 1:21-23

In this passage in Colossians, Paul mentions that his recipients were once alienated from God and were enemies because of the evil things they were doing, but then they got saved. Now, Paul says, they are holy in God’s sight and have had their record cleansed of all the sins they committed. They are free from any accusation of sin that could be lodged against them. But then Paul adds a disclaimer “If you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel.” This is a conditional statement, an if-then statement. Paul says that they have been cleansed by Christ’s blood and are now without blemish, but only if they continue to remain faithful to Christ, only if they don’t apostatize. Anyone who receives Christ is cleansed from their sins, but if they later reject Christ, any future sins they commit will be held against them. If salvation loss was impossible in a modal sense, this conditional statement is unintelligible. Why would Paul say “If you continue in your faith” if continuing in their faith was the only thing they could do. This conditional statement implies that the Colossian Christians had the potential to not continue in their faith.

In the next chapter of Paul’s epistle to the Colossians, he writes “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.” – Colossians 2:6-8

Once again, if it is impossible for a person to give up their salvation, why does Paul feel the need to tell us to continue living our lives in Christ, rooted and built up in Him? Why does Paul warn us to not allow anyone to take us captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy if a person really can’t fall away from Christ? It’s implied from the context that the “hollow and deceptive philosophy” isn’t simply accepting minor doctrinal errors, but accepting heresies, such as Atheism, Modalism, Arianism, Nestorianism, etc. Things that fall outside of orthodoxy and cancel the salvation of those who believe them.

The Warning Passages Found In Hebrews 

The Book of Hebrews probably has more warnings against apostasy than any other book of The Bible.

Hebrews 2:1-3a says “Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?” 

Hebrews 3:12-14 says “See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end.” 

Why would the author of Hebrews warn his audience not to have “a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God” if it was impossible for them to have one? And why does he say “if” indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the end? This seems to imply that there’s a possibility that we won’t hold our conviction firmly to the end.

“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.” – Hebrews 4:14

Hebrews 6:4-6 says “It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance. To their loss, they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.”

This passage is the most explicit of all Bible passages that true believers can lose their salvation. It seems pretty clear cut. So, how is it that people can still deny that apostasy is possible? Those who advocate OSAS (Once Saved, Always Saved) try to get around this passage by arguing that it isn’t talking about the falling away of true believers. Rather, it’s talking about the falling away of Nominal Christians a.k.a false converts. I don’t find their exegesis very convincing. There are several key points of this passage that makes me think this passage is talking about genuinely saved, born again Christians. For one, there’s the fact that the writer says that once they fall away, it is “impossible… to bring them back to repentance”. If these people “weren’t truly saved, to begin with”, then it makes so sense to say that they can be “brought back to repentance”. If they weren’t truly saved, then they never really repented in the first place! How can they be “renewed” or “brought back” if they never truly repented in the first place? It makes no sense to talk about a second repentance unless there was a first repentance!

Moreover, it says that these people “have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in The Holy Spirit” How can a nominal Christian or a false convert be the type of person being described here? Are false converts spiritually enlightened? Have false converts tasted the heavenly gift? If Hebrews 6 is talking about false converts, then why does it say that they’ve “shared in The Holy Spirit?” A person who (1) has been enlightened spiritually, (2) has tasted the heavenly gift, and (3) shared in The Holy Spirit, sounds like a genuinely born again believer to me! That does not at all sound like the description of a nominal Christian!

Now let’s look at Hebrews 10:26-31:

“For if we sin deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth [I think he is talking about the sin of apostasy, of rejecting Christ], there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful prospect of judgment, and a fury of fire which will consume the adversaries. A man who has violated the law of Moses dies without mercy at the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment do you think will be deserved by the man who has spurned the Son of God, and profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and outraged the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”

The dude described in this Bible verse is a person who rejects Christ and thereby dishonors His holy blood, the same blood by which he was sanctified. This is a person who was sanctified by Jesus’ blood and the text says that by spurning him, by profaning his blood, he has “outraged the Spirit of grace” Remember back in Hebrews 6 that this is a person who partook of God’s Spirit. Now, by turning away from Jesus, he has caused The Holy Spirit to become outraged. This might be one reason why so many Christians think that the unforgivable sin (the blasphemy of The Holy Spirit) is apostasy. It could be that the sin of outraging The Holy Spirit mentioned in Hebrews 10 and the blasphemy of The Holy Spirit mentioned in Matthew 12 are the same sin. The sin is spurning The Holy Spirit. And it would make sense that this sin is unforgivable since you have to come to Christ and remain in Christ in order for your sins to be forgiven.

You outrage The Holy Spirit by casting Christ out of your life. The author of Hebrews says there is no more sacrifice for a person who has done that. He’s lost. There is no hope now for him. That would make sense of why blasphemy against the Holy Spirit would be unpardonable – because there remains no more sacrifice for such a sin.

Finally, we have Hebrew 12:25 which says “See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven.” 

There are other verses in the book of Hebrews that warn or imply that the apostasy of true believers is possible, but for the sake of making this blog post too lengthy, I have chosen to omit them.

The Warning Passages Found In Galatians and Ephesians

In Galatians 5:1-4, Paul is very obvious in his message to genuine Christ followers (i.e the ones the Galatians letter is written to) that are able to turn away God’s faith and grace and therefore end up not benefitting from Christ Jesus (i.e not being saved). Let’s take a look at that passage, shall we?
“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.” – Galatians 5:1-4.
There is no reason for Paul, in verse 1, to exhort the Galatian Christians not to submit again to a yoke of slavery if they didn’t have the capacity to do that. Nor could any sense be made of the verse that came after verse one where Paul warns the Galatians that accepting circumcision would cause Christ to not be of any advantage to them, and by that he means that they would not have salvation. Astonishingly, verse 4 of Galatians 5 seems to state that some of the Galatian Christians have already been severed from Christ, but I don’t think that’s what Paul is saying. Paul here is merely warning against Apostasy. He’s making and if/then statement. Paul’s argument, I believe is “If you accept circumcision, then you are severed from Christ.”. If you are pursuing righteousness by trying to keep the Mosaic law, then you have fallen from grace.
Still, although 5:4 may not actually be saying the Galatians have, in reality, fallen away from grace, It would still be hard to justify the Calvinist’s version of eternal security in light of this passage. If it were impossible for the Galatian Christians to lose their salvation by turning from Christ and pursuing righteousness by works of the Mosaic Law, then why would Paul warn them not to do that? If they were not capable of forfeiting their salvation in this way, then such a warning would be superfluous!
In Galatians 5:19-21a, Paul gives a list of the works of the flesh. After doing so, he warns the Galatians once again: “I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Gal 5:21b). And then yet again: “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:7-9). The Apostle Paul gave a warning similar to this in his letter to the Ephesian Church. In Paul’s letter to the Ephesian church, he wrote “For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not become partners with them.” (Ephesians 5:5-7).
Take notice of the final two places that there is a warning to not be deceived about this matter. It’s almost as if Paul was already countering the doctrine that truly born again Christians don’t have the capacity to forfeit their salvation and to live a life of deliberate immorality and still be saved. The fact that the Apostle Paul warns his readers not to fall into them implies that they are able to fall into them and experience the negative consequences as a result. 
The Warning Of Romans 11
Romans 11:17-32 says “But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, a wild olive shoot, were grafted in their place to share the richness of the olive tree, do not boast over the branches. If you do boast, remember it is not you that support the root, but the root that supports you. You will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast only through faith. So do not become proud, but stand in awe. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness; otherwise you too will be cut off. And even the others, if they do not persist in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. For if you have been cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these natural branches be grafted back into their own olive tree.
Lest you be wise in your own conceits, I want you to understand this mystery, brethren: a hardening has come upon part of Israel, until the full number of the Gentiles come in, and so all Israel will be saved; as it is written,
‘The Deliverer will come from Zion,
he will banish ungodliness from Jacob”;
“and this will be my covenant with them
when I take away their sins.”
As regards the gospel they are enemies of God, for your sake; but as regards election they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. For the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable. Just as you were once disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience, so they have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may receive mercy. For God has consigned all men to disobedience, that he may have mercy upon all.”
Let’s read the commentary on this passage given by the Christian Philosopher and Theologian, Dr. William Lane Craig: “What Paul seems to be saying here……., is that this corporate tree (this tree representing God’s elect church) is composed both of Jews and Gentiles. The Jews have in many cases been broken off – the branches were dead. Why? Because of their unbelief. Because of their unbelief these branches were stripped away and in their place believing Gentiles have been grafted into the olive tree to share its blessings. But he says that is no reason to be proud you Gentile believers because if you do not continue in faith then you too will be broken off just like those natural branches that were unbelieving were broken off. He says there is still hope that these natural branches might be grafted back in again. Indeed he thinks that in the future all of Israel will be saved. After the full number of Gentiles come in then Israel will turn back to Christ again and so be saved. So you see here a combination of a kind of corporate election and security that a person has insofar as he remains grafted into Christ. But if through unbelief one falls away then one will be broken off and have no security.” (Q)
Other Warning Passages 
“For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them. What the true proverb says has happened to them: The dog returns to its own vomit, and the sow, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire.” – 2 Peter 2:20-22
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch of mine that bears no fruit, he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. You are already made clean by the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If a man does not abide in me, he is cast forth as a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire and burned.” – John 15:1-6
These warning passages make no sense unless true apostasy is possible. If it is not possible to turn away from God after receiving Him, then what is the point of all these numerous passages warning us about it? It must be possible or else The Holy Spirit would not inspire His writers to put these warnings in there. It would be like me warning you not to go into my closet because a giant flesh eating mantis is in there that will devour you if you let him out. Such a thing does not exist, is not in my closet, and is therefore impossible. Therefore, my warning to you about it is completely useless. Unless there really was a giant man-eating mantis in my closet would my warning to you not to open the door make any sense.
So, it is possible for a Christian to forfeit their salvation. But, while it is possible for a Christian to forfeit their salvation, will this possibility ever be actualized? I would say no on the basis of several biblical passages. It is these passages that we will look at in the next part of this series.
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