2 Peter #9 2 Peter 2:19-22 (MSG) Can a person once saved fall from grace?
2 Peter #9 2 Peter 2:19-22 (MSG) Can a person once saved fall from grace?
Peter continues his blistering condemnation of the false teachers. In the process, he answers a question that has been disputed since the teachings of John Calvin took root in the traditions of the Church. Can a person once saved fall from grace?
2 Peter 2:19-22 (MSG)
They promise these newcomers freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption, for if they're addicted to corruption—and they are—they're enslaved.
20 If they've escaped from the slum of sin by experiencing our Master and Savior, Jesus Christ, and then slid back into that same old life again, they're worse than if they had never left. 21 Better not to have started out on the straight road to God than to start out and then turn back, repudiating the experience and the holy command. 22 They prove the point of the proverbs, "A dog goes back to its own vomit," and, "A scrubbed-up pig heads for the mud."
Those who got swept away by the idea that it doesn’t matter how you live, that you are free from any restraints, preach freedom. You can do what you want and you are still in God’s good graces. But Peter writes that they are prisoners of their own corruption. They are caught in their own webs of deceit even as they entice others to follow their lead. They have become slaves to immorality.
People will say that they are free to do what they want but are blind to what they have enslaved themselves to. We create habits, attachments, and addictions to certain behaviors, and those behaviors can take control of our lives. The workaholic, the person who spends hours on video games, and some folks who get trapped in hoarding are all examples. Can you turn your cell phone off? There are folks living for social media validation. People can become enslaved to their own beliefs, shame, guilt, inferiority, and negative thinking. The false teachers are addicted to doing what they want when they want regardless of the consequences while preaching there are no spiritual consequences for their actions. They are interested in enriching themselves by manipulating others. They know what God requires when it comes to living an exemplary life that Peter wrote of in his first letter, but they believe they know better. They think they are free but are being mastered by their pleasures and pursuits.
Previously established is that those who went astray exercised faith in Christ. They acknowledged their need for a savior, they believed Jesus was that savior, they made a commitment to be Jesus' disciple, and they asked God to accept their faith. They came forward at the preacher’s invitation, they made it to an altar, they prayed the sinner’s prayer and they were welcomed into the Church family. They became active in the life of the church and respected. But they eventually come up missing.
John Calvin taught that once a person made this kind of decision they were saved and nothing could change that. If they fell away from the faith, it meant that they were not sincere in their request, they were never real believers. Calvin based his understanding on the supreme sovereignty of God. For Calvin humanity is totally depraved, there is nothing that a person can do to save themselves. God chooses who will be saved and who to be damned. Therefore there is an unconditional election; salvation is given according to God’s good pleasure. Jesus dies only for the elect, so the atonement is limited to the ones God chose before the foundations of the world. God’s grace is irresistible, so an individual doesn’t have a choice to believe or disbelieve, God’s saving grace is bestowed and cannot be revoked. If God has chosen you, and Jesus died for you, and grace is bestowed upon you then you are saved, God has set you aside, preserved you for all eternity; hence the phrase “Once Saved Always Saved.”
Yet Peter tells us something different. These false teachers were Christians. Verse 20 states that they had escaped the corruption of the world through faith in Jesus. But then they slide back into the old lifestyle of an ego-directed life. This is where the term backsliding comes from. A Christian can backslide, the question is can they backslide so far that they fall from grace. Peter writes “They're worse than if they had never left. Verse 21 “Better not to have started out on the straight road to God than to start out and then turn back, repudiating the experience and the holy command.”
Now Calvin is an incredible individual. It would be theologically irresponsible to call him a false teacher. He did not teach that once you got saved that what you do doesn’t matter, far from it. He was trying to make sense of His concept of God’s sovereignty and why people who professed to be Christians could turn their back on their faith. His conclusion was that they must not ever have been Christ's followers, to begin with.
Of course, there is an opposing opinion, one heralded by John Wesley. [Wesley picked up where James Arminius a contemporary of Calvin left off] Wesley of course acknowledged the sovereignty of God but he also balanced his thought with human free will. So Wesley taught that yes indeed, no one could save themselves, God’s intervention was required. But from there he takes a different direction. Whereas Calvin taught that there was no human condition to be met because God chose who would be saved and who would not, Wesley taught that you had to choose to be chosen, your salvation was conditioned on your volitional acceptance of God's invitation (Revelations 22:17). The atonement was for every person, God’s forgiveness is extended to all humanity (John 3:16). We will read in chapter 3 of 2 Peter that it is God’s will that everyone enters into a right relationship with Him but since not everyone has responded to God’s invitation his invitation to be saved, his grace must be resistible. What a person freely chooses to enter into they can choose to exit, so Wesley taught that a person could backslide so far that they chose to reject God altogether.
Wesley described how a person backslides in his sermon “The Great Privilege of Those That Are Born of God.”
“You can observe the undeniable progress from grace toward sin. Step by step, sin develops in the following way: (1) The divine seed of loving, conquering faith remains in the one that is born of God. ‘He protects himself,’ and by the grace of God, ‘he cannot sin.’ (2) A temptation arises; it does not matter whether it is from the world, the flesh, or the devil. (3) The Spirit of God gives warning that sin is near, and he bids us more strongly to stay wake and pray. (4) The temptation causes us somewhat to heed the temptation, and it begins to grow pleasurable to us. (5) The Holy Spirit is grieved because our faith has weakened and our love for God is growing cold. (6) The Holy Spirit reproves us more sharply, say. ‘This is the way; walk in it’ (Isaiah 30:21). (7) We turn away from the disturbing voice of God and listen to the pleasing voice of the tempter. (8) Evil desire begins in the soul and spreads until faith and love disappear. Because the power of the Lord has departed from us, we are then capable of committing outward sin.” (Kinghorn, Kenneth Cain. John Wesley on Christian Beliefs, Abingdon Press, Nashville, 2002. pp. 320-321)
Outward sin is what we have identified as willful sin. We know God’s will, we know God’s way, but we reject it. Now, if this behavior persists, if one doesn’t repent and turn back to the way of obedience, they continue to slide back into depravity.
When the power of the Lord departs the slide picks up speed. A person can backslide so far that they openly reject the faith that brought them to God in Christ. That’s the key to understanding how a believer can fall from grace. They choose to reject the faith. It took a willful decision to enter the faith, it takes a willful decision to leave the faith.
Peter goes on to say that those who reject the faith
22 They prove the point of the proverbs, "A dog goes back to its own vomit," and, "A scrubbed-up pig heads for the mud."
The dog and vomit illustration is particularly disgusting. Proverbs 26:11 (NIV):
As a dog returns to its vomit, so a fool repeats his folly. “What satisfaction can a dog find in vomit, if before that he could not even digest that food when it was fresh?” (Powers, Daniel G. 1&2 Peter Jude. Beacon Hill Press, Kansas City, Mo, 2010. p. 222). Stuck in sin and death, freed from sin and death, return to sin and death. Peter tells us that this is madness. They were cleansed and made pure and now they have returned to filth and corruption.
Hebrews 6:6-8 (MSG)
Once people have seen the light, gotten a taste of heaven, and been part of the work of the Holy Spirit, once they’ve personally experienced the sheer goodness of God’s Word and the powers breaking in on us—if then they turn their backs on it, washing their hands of the whole thing, well, they can’t start over as if nothing happened. That’s impossible. Why, they’ve re-crucified Jesus! They’ve repudiated him in public! Parched ground that soaks up the rain and then produces an abundance of carrots and corn for its gardener gets God’s “Well done!” But if it produces weeds and thistles, it’s more likely to get cussed out. Fields like that are burned, not harvested.
Don’t imagine that one willful sin disqualifies you from the race. A willful sin that goes unconfessed and not repented of leads to more willful sins, which lead you further and further from the path of truth. One must persist in rebellion. Peter indicates that this is exactly what happened with these false teachers, they left the true faith and wandered into error. It is not easy to fall from grace, it takes determination. God is a jealous God and he doesn’t let go easily. So much depends upon what we do, by our actions we either affirm our faith in God or we deny it.
The last 12 verses have been clearly very uncivil. They were fighting words. Not the best choice for discussing theological or doctrinal ideas. Hopefully, if you get into a discussion you will rely on the Holy Spirit to assist you in being respectful and congenial as well as strong. There’s not a lot of love in what Peter wrote. Peter must have seen these false teachers as a deadly threat to the Church, especially the new believers. Today our culture is trending towards if we say something is wrong, something is immoral, then we’re the bad person. Even if you tell the truth in love, with love, you can be canceled. In a culture where everything goes, to say something should be stopped makes you intolerant, bigoted, and just plain evil. A dangerous trend that if it persists is going to lead to incredible persecution. Remember that it is our job to bless (1 Peter 3:8-12).
Peter has hammered home to us that belief and behavior are connected. What we really believe is demonstrated by the things that we do. Jesus nailed it when we taught that you would know the tree by its fruit (Luke 6:43-45). Every decision you make is a reflection of what you believe. The Apostle James told us that even the demons believe (James 2:19). “Salvation is not only dependent upon a profession of faith but also must be lived out in righteous and virtuous behavior” (Powers p. 223). Belief is to be accompanied by action that testifies to your belief.
Let’s answer our question. Can a Christian fall from Grace? Can the once saved become unsaved? The case has been made for an affirmative answer. A person choosing to accept God's gracious invitation to righteousness can reject it also.
Of the many things we could walk away with from this teaching one of the most important are these words of wisdom: Avoid temptation and stay as far away as you can from any form of immorality. Allow Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and Experience under the tutelage of the Holy Spirit to guide you in all that you do.