The following is a discussion between Justin (the Catholic) and Sam (the Protestant) about eternal security. Read my other Socratic dialogues here.
Sam: One thing I find genuinely heartbreaking about Catholics is that you all seem so frightened of Hell. I wish you knew—and I know this sounds patronizing; I don’t mean it to be—that salvation is a free gift of God; that you don’t need to earn it.
Justin: Sam, I appreciate your concern, and I know you’re sincere, but let me assure you, The Church has always understood that salvation is a free gift. To paraphrase St. Paul, “by grace we have been saved through faith; and this isn’t our own doing, it is the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8).
Whatever gave you the idea that Catholics thought otherwise?
Sam: So why are Catholics so afraid of Hell?
Justin: Which Catholics are you referring to? Me?
Sam: Well, I don’t know. I don’t know you that well. I’m thinking of my grandma.
Justin: Your Catholic grandma had an inordinate fear of Hell, therefore all Catholics have an inordinate fear of Hell. You do realize what a hopelessly bad inductive argument that is, right? That would be like me saying, “my friend Bob is a Methodist; my friend Bob is asian; therefore all Methodists are asian.”
Sam: That’s the third time you’ve used the word “inordinate.” Why?
Justin: Oh, I just mean “excessive.”
Sam: I know what you mean, but you’re implying that there is a fear of Hell that isn’t excessive.
Justin: That’s right.
Sam: So you think a Christian can lose his salvation?
Justin: Yes. You don’t?
Sam: No! Look . . . Read here. What does it say here. Verse twenty nine.
Justin: “My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand” (Jn. 10:29).
Sam: The “them” he’s referring to is his sheep. Are you not a part of the flock of Christ, Justin?
Justin: I understand what it refers to, Sam, and I wholeheartedly assent to it! Yes, Amen! No one is able to snatch us from the Father’s hand! As Paul says in Romans . . . Here, I’ll use mine, it has tabs. Easier to find . . . “For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Amen, alleluia! (Rom. 8:31).
Sam: And yet you believe that we can be snatched from the Fathers hand? You believe that we can be separated from God.
Justin: I agree, of course, that nothing can snatch us from the Father’s hand, but let me ask you this, Sam, where does it say that we cannot jump from the Fathers hand?
Sam: Well it doesn’t. It implies it.
Justin: Implies what? That we don’t have the freedom to reject Christ after we’ve accepted him? Do you not think that’s a possibility?
Sam: No, because as St. Paul says—you just quoted it—nothing can separate us from the love of God. The Father will not disown his children.
Justin: Sam, notice what Paul does not say in that verse. He does not say, “neither fornication, nor idolatry, nor adultery will be able to separate us…” Do you think that by committing those sins, it’s possible for a person to separate himself from Christ?
Sam: No. As I said, what perfect Father would disown his own child?
Justin: But in his first letter to the Corinthians, chapter six, he explicitly states that those people who commit these things—fornication, idolatry, and so forth—will not inherit the kingdom of God. Do you think Paul was mistaken? And yes, of course our heavenly Father would not abandon or disown us; that’s not the question. The question is, can we disown the Father, and I think the Bible makes it clear that we can.
Sam: Paul is talking about the unbeliever, not the Christian. And yes, those who have are unbelievers will not, cannot inherit the kingdom of God. But turn with me to first John. Here, John is writing to Christians, he writes: “I write this to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life.” So Justin, do you know that you have eternal life?” (1 Jn 5:13).
Justin: Well that depends on what you mean by “know.” If you mean, “are you morally certain that you have eternal life?” The answer is yes!
Sam: What do you mean, what do I mean by “know”? And what do you mean by “moral certainty?”
Justin: When a person knows something to be true he may be absolutely certain or he might be morally certain. By morally certain I mean I have a high degree of certainty but that certainty is not absolute. There’s a great book you have to get. It’s called Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma by Ludwig Ott. In it he explains that “the impossibility of the certainty of faith, however, by no means excludes a high moral certainty supported by testimony and conscience.” But though I’m morally certain of my salvation, I’m absolutely certain that I, and you, can lose that eternal life. Why? Because of the testimony of Sacred Scripture.
Look, I see that look on your face, but understand that I’m in good company. St. Paul, when considering his own standing with the Lord writes, “I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me” (1 Cor. 4:4). Catholics, like St. Paul (who, of course, was a Catholic also), leave the judging ultimately to God. He is the judge. Not you. Not me. Him.
Sam: Show me one place in the Bible where it says a Christian can lose his salvation.
Justin: I’ll show you a few if you’d like. If I can show you, will you humbly change your mind?
Sam: Yes. It’s truth I’m after, not winning debates for their own sake.
Justin: I’m glad to hear it. Let’s see here. In Romans 11:22, St. Paul, writing to the Christians at Rome, says, “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.”
In 1 Timothy 5:8, St. Paul says that even sins of omission—that is, sins we commit by failing to do something as opposed to sins of commission where we sin by actively doing something—can cut us off from the life of God. He writes, “If any one does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his own family, he has disowned the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” Notice he’s not talking to unbelievers here, he’s talking about people who have faith. If they didn’t, they could not disown it.”
Sam: Perhaps he’s talking about those who subscribe to the faith, the externals if you will, but haven’t been regenerated by the Spirit.
Justin: You’re serious? You think Paul meant “if you fail to do this you’ve disowned the “externalities of religion?” . . . What about in 1 Timothy :19 where…
Sam: You’ve come prepared…
Justin: Hey, I’m debating a Baptist, of course I came prepared. In 1 Timothy 1:18-19 Paul says to Timothy, “wage the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting conscience, certain persons have made shipwreck of their faith.” Do you think he’s referring to externals here to? that people make a shipwreck of their empty acts of piety?
Sam: Okay, I see your point. People can make a “shipwreck” of their faith, I agree. That doesn’t mean true Christians can lose their salvation though.
Justin: Man you’re talented at avoiding the obvious. If it’s truth you seek, abandon the traditions of men, the traditions of your protestantism and accept what the word of God plainly says. St. Paul says that the one who disowns the faith is “worse than a unbeliever” (1 Tim. 5:8). Do you think unbelievers will inherit the kingdom of heaven?
Sam: No, of course not.
Justin: And yet you think that those who are worse than unbelievers can inherit the kingdom of Heaven?
Sam: Perhaps Paul was using hyperbole. He also said in Galatians that he wished that those who were pushing circumcision would mutilate themselves (Gal. 5:12) but I doubt he meant that.
Justin: My head hurts.
Sam: Well this is complicated stuff.
Justin: No, it hurts because for the past five minutes I’ve been beating it against a brick wall.
Sam: . . .
Justin: Forgive me. That wasn’t cool. It just seems to me that your performing meta gymnastics to get around the obvious.
Sam: I’m not sure if you need more or less caffeine.
Justin: Probably more. Sorry.
Sam: I forgive you, brother. Look. I’ll consider the verses you’ve mentioned. My thing is. I don’t know. You’ve raised some good points. Props for being Biblical about it. Look, I gotta get going, any other verses I should reflect upon?
Justin: Um, how about 2 Peter 2:20. St. Peter writes, “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 overpowered, the last state has become worse for them than the first.”
Please don’t tell me Peter isn’t referring to Christians here. Not only is does this verse make that plain, he begins his letter,”to those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours in the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ. (v 1). God’s gift of salvation is free, but we must endure; our Blessed Lord speaks plainly “he who endures to the end will be saved.”
Sam: Okay. Thanks Justin. See you next week?
Justin: Sounds good.
Sam: Let’s continue to pray for each other.