Perseverance or Apostasy: Calvinist & Arminian Perspectives

In today’s post we want to discuss the last main point of theological contention between Arminians and Calvinists. We and to wrestle with the question, “can individuals who come to faith in Christ later lose their salvation by persisting in sin.” Before jumping into how the views differ, I would like to point out that in practice the two views are virtually the same. For both the classical Arminian and the Calvinist if a person lives in habitual, willful sin against God, they will not be raised to eternal life on the last day. Both theological camps believe that repentance and holy living is an essential part of the Christian life. Both believe that “without holiness no man will see the Lord.”

The Arminian View

So where do they differ? Classical Arminians believe that it is possible for someone who becomes a child of God through true saving faith in Christ to ultimately be rejected by God and sent to hell due to deliberate and habitual sin. Arminians would disagree what kind of sin one must commit and for how long they must continue in it before God blots the individual’s name out of the book of life and hands him over to a reprobate mind, but they agree that at some point it will happen.

The classical Arminian also believes that once a person so apostatizes (turns away from Christ) God will then leave him in the grip of his sin. God will never again draw the individual back to Christ, but that person will die apart from Christ and be lost forever. This is the classical Arminian view. This differs from some other modern views that are held by people who consider themselves Arminian, but for now we will focus on the classical view, and briefly address the other views at the end of this post.

The Calvinist View

Calvinists on the other hand believe that once God draws someone to faith in Christ, God will then successfully guard him and keep him in the Faith until the individual is raised up to eternal life on the Last Day. As mentioned above, this does not mean that the person can live in perpetual rebellion to God and still go to heaven, but it means that God will train His adopted child in holiness and ensure that he perseveres until the end so that he might be eternally saved. On the other hand, this does not mean that it is impossible for a child of God to backslide into rebellion, but it does mean that even if he does turn back to sin for a season God will discipline him in such a way that the individual will not remain long in that rebellious condition. The child of God will ultimately be renewed in repentance and consecration to Christ, and therefore not be lost eternally.

Calvinist Objections to the Classical Arminian View

As with every point of contention in this debate, the Calvinist primarily objects to the Arminian position because he believes it is not taught in Scripture. And the Arminian objects to the Calvinist view for precisely the same reason. Beyond that, the Calvinist has two primary theological objections to the classical Arminian view. He believes that the view which teaches that a true born-again Christian can ultimately end up in hell implies that God is either unfaithful to His children or unable to keep them. It portrays God either as a negligent or an incompetent Father.

He reasons that if the blood of Christ has justified someone from the guilt of their sin, and the Spirit of adoption has been poured out on them, it is unimaginable that God would then eternally punish them for their sin and disown them as His child. The Calvinist argues that God will be faithful to discipline His child but will never turn them away into outer darkness to suffer under His wrath forever. Neither can he imagine that God would be unable to discipline and influence His child effectively. If, as Scripture teaches, an elder in the Church is expected to rule his household well by raising respectful and obedient children, the Calvinist concludes God is infinitely more able to do so. The Calvinist believes that God is both faithful to, and capable of, turning the heart of His child back to Him. And he believes that the Arminian perspective calls this into doubt.

Classical Arminian Objections to the Calvinist View

The classical Arminian primarily objects to the Calvinist view because it seemingly makes a farce out of all the passages of the New Testament that solemnly warn believers not to fall away from the Faith. He believes that such a view makes striving for holiness unnecessary. After all, he reasons, if God will certainly keep one saved until the end, why all the effort to turn from sin, be faithful to godly fellowship, meditate daily on Scripture and pray fervently to be delivered out of temptation. If God is going to keep us saved, why should we make such an effort to do so. And the fundamental reason behind this objection is the Arminian fear that such a teaching, if followed to its logical conclusion (as he sees it), will lead many believers to become lax in their pursuit of holiness, and therefore ultimately fall into sin and be lost forever. So, for the Arminian, the Calvinist position is a seriously dangerous position to hold and to teach.

Modern Arminian Views

As I mentioned above there are other views on this topic that are held by modern Arminians. In fact, the classical Arminian view would be in the minority. So here I will briefly outline the two other popular views and point out why the Calvinist objects to them. I will also describe why the proponents of these modern Arminian views object to the Calvinist position.

The Holiness View

The first view I will call the “holiness view.” Those that hold this position agree with the classical Arminian and the Calvinist that without holiness no man will see the Lord. They teach that if a person who has been born again turns back to sin, they have forfeited their salvation. If they die in their sinful condition, they will go to hell. This is similar to the classical Arminian view but differs on this point; the holiness view teaches that if the person repents of his rebellion after losing his salvation, he can once again be brought back into salvation. According to this view the person can be saved, and lost, many times throughout his life. He can get saved and then lose his salvation by falling into willful, habitual sin. And then through repentance he can once again be brought back to a state of grace. This process in and out of salvation can apparently happen again and again in one’s lifetime.

The Calvinist believes this view completely obscures the biblical doctrine of regeneration (i.e. being born again). For the Calvinist (and the classical Arminian) to be born again is a miraculous work of God by which a new creature is created. God takes out the old heart of stone and gives the new creature a heart of flesh that delights in obedience to Christ. Before regeneration the person is dead in sin and a child of God’s wrath. But after being born again the person becomes a lover of God and God adopts him as His own child. But this view belittles that work of transformation by saying it can happen, and then unhappen, over and over again. The Calvinist (and the classical Arminian) objects that this teaching makes a obscures the core doctrine of the Evangelical Faith.

Those that hold to the holiness view believe that the Calvinist view undermines the biblical call for living a holy life. If they understand that Calvinism affirms that without holiness no man will see the Lord, they usually have the same objection that the classical Arminian has against it, namely that it takes away the motivation for effort in holiness. But the more common objection rises out of a misconception of the Calvinist position. They believe that Calvinism is synonymous with the next position we will consider which holds that once someone is saved, they will certainly go to heaven even if they live in open rebellion to God. Because of this misconception, those that hold to the holiness view often object to Calvinism because they imagine that it denies the need for a holy life.

The Once Saved, Always Saved View

This next view is very common in our day, I will refer to it as the “once saved, always saved view.” As alluded to in the previous paragraph, proponents of this view believe that once a person has been born again, they will never be lost, even if they never bear any fruit of a renewed heart. Such people believe that if one simply prays and sincerely invites Jesus into their heart, they are saved and can never go to hell. Though they might urge people to live holy, they do not require it as a fruit of salvation.

The Calvinist objects to this by calling it completely unchristian. To the Calvinist, and all true evangelicals, it is a denial of the doctrine of regeneration (i.e. being born again). To the Calvinist this is a false gospel. It has been known by various names; the ancients called it “antinomianism,” in the 20th century it was known as “easy believism,” and more recently it has been termed, “hyper-grace,” but whatever name it goes by, it is not the Evangelical Faith.

This unchristian position rejects the Calvinist view for the same reason it objects to the holiness view and the classical Arminian view, namely because it claims that requiring holiness is synonymous to teaching salvation by works. therefore, it rejects all those that teach the fruit of holiness in the true believer’s life as heretical and unchristian.

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2 thoughts on “Perseverance or Apostasy: Calvinist & Arminian Perspectives”

  1. Chris, you have outlined the key points of these issues clearly. I would like to side with John Calvin at this point. A true Christian will/can not lose his salvation. My reason is simply this: My salvation comes from / depends on the LORD, if he has begun a good work, he shall surely completE it, he is faithful and powerful, he can not fail。

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