Once Saved Always Saved?: A Socratic Dialogue

eternal security

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.

8 thoughts on “Once Saved Always Saved?: A Socratic Dialogue

  1. For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins,- Hebrews 10:26

  2. I seriously doubt it’s easy to lose one’s salvation. Once God adopts you into His family, it’s undoubtedly very difficult to be kicked out of it. Wanting out is one thing. Messing up, even repeatedly like a stubborn teenager, probably won’t result in being disowned. God’s a good parent. I had a good talk with Jimmy Akin about this before converting and it seems Catholic theology says pretty much the same thing..

  3. I absolutely love these Socratic dialogues! You have a wonderful, snarky sense of humor. 😛

    Your posts are so amazing. They’re logical and use evidence from the Bible as well as other sources. It’s fantastic.

    Keep it up! 😀

  4. “So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling…” Philippians 2:12

  5. Here is my story: I grew up fundamentalist Baptist. I repented of all my sins and accepted Jesus Christ into my heart to be my Lord and Savior at age nine…and again in my early teens…just to be sure. In my early 20’s my family moved to another state where we attended a non-denominational, evangelical mega-church (which taught Baptist doctrine) for several years. In my mid to late 20’s I stopped going to church because I didn’t “feel” God inside me and he didn’t seem to listen when I prayed.

    I remained unchurched until I was married in my forties. I started attending liberal churches. When we had children, I started looking again at more conservative/fundamentalist churches, something closer to what I had believed as a child and teenager. We joined a conservative, orthodox Lutheran church. I became very involved in the church. I was happy and content in my orthodox Christian belief system. I read the Bible and prayed regularly.
    One day I was surfing the internet and came across an atheist’s website. He was a former fundamentalist Baptist/evangelical pastor! I was shocked! I started to engage him in conversation, and also tried to bring him back to the Faith, to belief in Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior.
    However, this man pointed out to me some very big assumptions in my Christian belief system which I had never thought of, such as:

    1. Just because there is evidence for a Creator does not mean that the Creator is the Christian God, Yahweh.

    2. Our current Bibles contain thousands of scribe alterations, most of them inconsequential, but a couple of them are shocking. Why did God allow scribes copying the original Scriptures to change, delete, add, or alter his inerrant, Holy, Word?

    3. How do we know that the books of the New Testament are the Word of God? Is there a verse that tells us? Did Jesus give us a list? Did Paul?

    4. Do we really have any verifiable eyewitness testimony for the Resurrection or is it all hearsay and legend?

    5. Modern archaeology proves that the Captivity in Egypt, the Exodus, the forty years in the Sinai, the Conquest of Canaan, and the great kingdoms of David and Solomon are only ancient Hebrew fables.

    At first I fought him tooth and nail. I fought him for four months. At the very end I had to admit that there are no verifiable eyewitness accounts of the Resurrection of Jesus in the Bible or anywhere else. All we have are four anonymous first century texts full of discrepancies and contradictions. The only thing I had left to attach my faith to was the testimony of the Apostle Paul: why would a devout Jewish rabbi convert to a religion he so hated unless he really saw a resurrected dead man on the Damascus Road?
    But after studying the five Bible passages that discuss Paul’s conversion, I had to admit that Paul never says he saw a resurrected body. All Paul says is that he saw a light…and that this event occurred in a “heavenly vision”. Visions are not reality…not in the 21st century nor in the 1st.

    And as for the improbability that a Jewish rabbi would convert to a hated religion, there is a Muslim cleric in Israel today who not too many years ago was an ardent Zionist Jewish settler and rabbi, intent on ridding the Muslims from Jewish land.

    Strange conversions occur. They do not prove that the new religion is true and inerrant.

    I was broken-hearted, but I saw my Christian Faith was nothing more than an ancient superstition that had been modified in the first century by Jesus, a good man, but a dead man. There is zero evidence that this first century Jew is alive and the Ruler of the Universe.

    1. Gary, I don’t know if its too late to get you on this, i hope not. I’ve dealt with many of these same things. Get the DVD ‘why believe in Jesus’ by trent horn and the book ‘handbook of catholic apologetics’ by peter kreeft. These will clear up about every question your have. Give it a shot even if all else has failed, and of course Our Lady of Fatima! Good Luck and God Bless

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