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Perseverence and Apostacy


Can Christians lose their salvation? Jesus said no, and that promise is repeated in the New Testament epistles. Yet anecdotes abound of those who have abandoned the faith. Many of us know someone who we believed to be saved, but has gone back to the world. Calvin said “it happens daily.” Is this proof that salvation can be lost? Jay Adams writes:

imgWhen, for instance, preachers from the heretical denomination called the Churches of Christ speak of “the possibility of apostasy,” they mean that those who are truly saved may leave the faith, lose their salvation, and turn against the Lord Jesus Christ. Plainly, the Bible speaks about apostasy, but that is not what it means by the word. A very important verse that makes the truth about apostasy clear is 1 John 2:19: “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.”
   In this verse, John is addressing the fact that certain gnostic teachers who had been in the fold had left and had begun teaching their heresy. Previously, they had seemed to be true Christians, because they gave no outward indication of their heretical belief. But their false views of the nature of Christ solidified and came to the fore, and they found that they could no longer fellowship with genuine Christians. So they apostatized and denied that Christ died for our sins.
   In this verse, two important facts emerge. First, those who apostatized were never true believers. John says that by leaving they made it clear that this was so (“they were not of us”). While they had been a part of the visible church, they had never belonged to the invisible church. Their profession of faith was false. This problem of a false profession of faith in Jesus Christ, which we so often encounter in our churches today, was a problem in apostolic times and in the sixteenth century as well. In fact, Calvin describes it as a “daily” occurrence:
imgYet it daily happens that those who seemed to be Christ’s, fall away from him again, and hasten to destruction. Indeed, in that same passage, where he declares that none of those whom the Father had given to him perished, he nevertheless excepts the son of perdition [John 17:12]. True indeed, but it is also equally plain that such persons never cleaved to Christ with the heartfelt trust in which certainty of election has, I say, been established for us. [Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 3.24.7.]
   Those who teach that believers may apostatize from the church disregard John’s plain explanation of the facts. We must not do so. Instead, we must maintain that those who denounce the faith never had true faith in the first place. They may have been among believers, but they were not of them. Otherwise, as John says, they would not have failed to persevere with them.
   Second, note the corollary: John affirms that “if they had been of us, they would have continued with us.” True believers remain in the faith and in the church. They endure to the end. It is certainly possible for a believer to defect for a time, but, like Peter or John Mark—who both had temporary lapses—in the end they repent and return.

—Jay E. Adams, John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology, ed. Burk Parsons (Reformation Trust, 2008), 184–185.



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Posted  in: Church History · Jay Adams · John Calvin · John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology
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