Fred Zaspel, from Books-at-a-Glance, Interviews Sam Storms regarding his book, Kept for Jesus
I was recently interviewed by Fred Zaspel who oversees the excellent website, www.booksataglance.com. The focus of our conversation was my new book, Kept for Jesus. I hope you enjoy this and that you visit the website. It’s an excellent resource. Continue reading . . .
I was recently interviewed by Fred Zaspel who oversees the excellent website, www.booksataglance.com. The focus of our conversation was my new book, Kept for Jesus. I hope you enjoy this and that you visit the website. It’s an excellent resource.
If you are a Christian today, will you still be a Christian tomorrow? Is it possible that you may not be a Christian tomorrow? Put another way, if you are in Christ today, is there any way to be sure that you will still be in Christ tomorrow … and forever?
This is a very serious question – one of the most serious we can consider – and it is a question that Christians, in fact, do consider often. And discuss. And even debate. Usually the question arises in our own hearts when we have sinned. “Can I be a Christian if I have done this? Have I perhaps sinned away my share of grace?”
This is most certainly not one of those questions reserved for ivory tower scholars. Christians everywhere mull over this. Indeed, many worry over it.
In his Kept for Jesus: What the New Testament Really Teaches about Assurance of Salvation and Eternal Security Sam Storms is the latest to address the topic. All the most important New Testament passages are examined carefully, and if you are acquainted with Sam’s writing at all you will not be surprised to hear that this book also is marked by theological and exegetical rigor and pastoral sensitivity. It is a new and important resource on the question, and we were happy to see the book released, and today he talks to us about his topic.
Books At a Glance (Fred Zaspel):
First, describe for us the three viewpoints you treat in the book – the Arminian, the Antinomian, and the Calvinist.
I should say up front that not everyone will appreciate these labels. As you know, some folk don’t like any labels at all. They believe them to be unduly divisive. I appreciate that, but I think it still helps to differentiate the many views on this topic.
“Arminians” typically believe that a genuinely born-again, justified-by-faith-believer in Jesus can wander so far from the truth that they ultimately apostatize, which is to say, they repudiate Jesus either by their sinful behavior or their theological deviation from the truth of the gospel. The result is that they forfeit their salvation and are once again lost. Some Arminians don’t like to say a Christian can “lose” his/her salvation. They prefer to say they “forfeit” their salvation because it is by reason of their own choices that they effectively walk away from Christ, and Christ lets them go. Of course, there are some Arminians, what we know to be 1-point Calvinists, who affirm the perseverance of the saints but deny the other 4 features of TULIP. My former mentor, S. Lewis Johnson, referred to them as “Whiskey Calvinists” because they only take a fifth!
The label “Antinomian” is likely to be vigorously rejected by those to whom I apply the term. It simply means someone who is “against law.” In this case, it refers to those who believe a genuinely born-again, justified-by-faith-believer in Jesus can never lose or forfeit their salvation, but they can by their disobedience forfeit the eternal rewards in the future kingdom that they otherwise might have obtained had they walked the way of holiness. In other words, they argue that a person is saved by belief in the saving work of Christ but need not be sanctified. They “should” be sanctified. They “ought” to submit to the Lordship of Christ, but they may not. They are still saved. All the texts that refer to the disobedient being excluded from the kingdom of God or not receiving their inheritance or failing to “see” God are simply ways of describing the loss of blessings in the coming age, not the loss of salvation.
The “Calvinist,” whether 4 point or 5 point, believes that once a person is genuinely born again and justified by faith he/she will persevere in faith until the end. They cannot lose their salvation, not because they cannot sin, and often sin grievously (what we might call “backsliding”), but because God is committed to preserving and protecting and upholding them in the faith that saves. If someone who professes faith in Christ fails to persevere, or at least gives the outward and verbal appearance of having abandoned their commitment to Christ, it may well be that they were never saved in the first place, having been self-deluded. If, however, they were truly born of the Spirit, they will eventually come under divine discipline and be restored to repentance and experiential fellowship with Christ. But in the case of all the elect, God will guard their hearts through faith (1 Peter 1.5). He will bring to completion the work of salvation that he first inaugurated in their hearts (Phil. 1.6).
Books At a Glance:
I thought it was helpful, in your book, when you as a committed Calvinist expressed and clarified points of both agreement and disagreement with both the Arminian and the Antinomian. Could you explain this for us briefly?
Yes. The Arminian argues that a person who does not persevere in holiness of life will not enter the kingdom of God. I agree, but for different reasons. The Arminian believes this person was truly saved but later forfeited or forsook their status as a child of God. I believe that such an individual was never truly born of God in the first place. Where we agree is that we would never give assurance of salvation to someone who professes Christ but lives in continual sin, unrepentant and defiant. When the author of Hebrews says that we are to “pursue that holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (12:14), both the Arminian and Calvinist agree. Such a person will not enter the eternal kingdom of God. The Arminian says such a person once had it (salvation) but subsequently lost it. The Calvinist says such a person never had it at all (the failure to pursue holiness being the evidence of a false and spurious “faith”).
But I also agree with the Antinomian against the Arminian in that we both affirm that once a person is genuinely saved and justified by faith, he/she will remain such and is assured of eternal life. The Antinomian insists that if such a person genuinely believed in Christ for salvation he/she will enter the eternal kingdom of God even if their life never undergoes substantial transformation and even though they may never display the fruit of the Spirit. With the Arminian I would refuse to give any assurance to such an individual. But against the Arminian I do believe with the Antinomian that “once [truly, genuinely] saved, always saved.”
Books At a Glance:
What then is a good way to state the biblical doctrine of eternal security that both expresses the doctrine and helps to avoid potential misunderstandings?
The elect of God are secure in their relationship with him from the moment of regeneration to the experience of final glorification because God, for Christ’s sake, sustains and preserves them in saving faith. They may wander for a season, but the Spirit will bring them home. They may backslide for a season, but the Spirit will bring conviction, discipline, and eventual repentance. So I would actually prefer to say I believe in the perseverance of the saints because I believe in their preservation by the Savior.
Books At a Glance:
Explain what you mean by “fickle faith.” And how does this help us in handling this larger question of eternal security?
Earlier in this interview I put the word faith in quotation marks to indicate that not all “faith” is “saving faith.” We see this especially in John’s gospel where people who are described as having “believed” in Jesus were yet children of the devil, and even attempted to have Jesus killed (and eventually succeeded). We see this in both John 2 and John 8. The parable of the soils also indicates that people who hear the gospel can respond with euphoric excitement and fascination with what Jesus might have done but later abandon that initial “profession” when tribulation and hardship set in. The point simply is that not all who “say” they have faith are the recipients of that gift of saving faith by which we are justified.
People typically respond by asking, “OK, then, how do we know who is and who is not genuinely saved?” The author of Hebrews answers that directly when he says, “For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end” (3:14). Perseverance is the proof of regeneration.
Books At a Glance:
How does assurance differ from presumption? And how can we discern whether our own “assurance” is in fact presumption?
I’m sure there are a lot of people who have the “subjective” feeling that they are in good standing with God. They experience some sort of emotional exhilaration related to the gospel and assume that anyone who felt as they did or wept as they did or walked an aisle as they did is, for that reason, accepted by Christ. But the only way to know with certainty that one has trusted in the objective finality and sufficiency of the work of Christ on the cross for sinners is whether or not they persevere in the pursuit of “that holiness without which no one shall see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14).
The reason we are secure is because of the objective work of Christ. We aren’t secure because we feel we are or because we believe we are or because someone told us we are. We are secure because of God’s commitment never to separate us from his love (Rom. 8) that was displayed in the work of Christ for us at Calvary. And the assurance that we have truly believed in that work of the cross is the progressive transformation of our lives in ever-increasing conformity to the image of Christ and ever-intensified love for him and delight in him.
Books At a Glance:
What does genuine, saving faith look like? We want to derive our assurance from Christ and his word, not our own faith, of course. But even so, there are ways to examine the genuineness of our faith, right?
Yes, we must examine ourselves. Of course, we do not want to be guilty of excessive introspection. It’s one thing to take the spiritual temperature of our souls and to ask whether or not we are experiencing the fruit of the Spirit’s work in our lives; it is another thing altogether to become so obsessively fixated on what we are doing and feeling that we lose sight of the objective accomplishment of Christ in dying for sinners as the ground for our salvation and acceptance with God.
Books At a Glance:
Okay, Susan Christian is convinced of the doctrine of eternal security. Her problem is not there. Her problem is whether or not she herself is truly in Christ. She has doubts because of her past and even because of on-going sins. How can she cultivate an increasing sense of genuine, well-grounded assurance? Can you give us some suggestions?
The first thing I would say to her is, “Susan, the really, really good news is that you care enough about your relationship with Christ that you actually are struggling with doubt! If you were still living in those sins, my question for you is this: Do you know them to be sins? Do you acknowledge that they are an offense against your heavenly Father? Do you grieve that you have rebelled against him in these ways? Are you repentant? Are you taking steps to turn from such sins? Are you broken-hearted over your failures?” If the answer to such questions is No, then I would be reluctant to comfort you by saying, “Ah, don’t worry, Susan, you are still God’s child. After all, once saved, always saved!” No, I would call you to look to the cross of Christ and ask yourself, “What does this mean to me? What is the death of Jesus in relation to my sin? Do I trust him and what he accomplished for sinners, alone? Do I find in my heart a deep yearning to live in obedience to him?”
I often tell people who struggle with sin in their lives, “Thank God that you struggle! The presence of a fight in your soul is likely the evidence of the Spirit waging war against the flesh. If you didn’t struggle, if you didn’t fight, I’d be concerned for your eternal welfare. Dead people don’t fight!”
Books At a Glance:
Finally, tell us why you chose the title, Kept for Jesus.
I chose it for two reasons. First, it’s biblical. In Jude 1 we read this description of God’s elect: “To those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ.” Second, I chose it because it focuses attention on the ultimate reason why anyone who trusts Christ is secure in their salvation: God keeps them in and for his Son!