Drawing on the Biblical phrase of a “shipwrecked faith” (1 Timothy 1:19), here is an analogy illustrating several views of the issue of whether people who are truly saved can fail to reach heaven. Sailors are given a free ship and told it will take them to an island paradise. They are promised to reach their destination, but if they do so with the ship intact, they will be paid as well. But along the way they encounter a great storm and the ship is wrecked.
Now here are the major views on salvation as illustrated by the analogy. Keep in mind that this is a case of “shipwrecked faith”:
Calvinism: The shipbuilder was playing a cruel hoax on the sailors because he knew the ship was not seaworthy and would never make it. They were only deluded into thinking they were going somewhere, when in fact they were doomed from the start and would never reach their destination. No one but the shipbuilder knew this until the ship wrecked. The “promise” was a lie.
Free Grace: The ship was seaworthy and the promise true, but the sailors weren’t the best and couldn’t keep it from wrecking. The sailors, who swear never again to sail on another boat and wish they had never wanted to go to the island, will nevertheless be forcefully dragged to their destination by virtue of having accepted the Promise. They will reach their destination whether they still want to go there or not.
NOSAS: The ship was seaworthy and the promise true, but the sailors must repair it to reach their destination. The Promise had “fine print” saying it could be nullified if the ship didn’t get to the island intact.
OSAS: The ship was seaworthy and the promise true, but the sailors are stranded. But they are guaranteed to be rescued because of the Promise, and they do want to reach it, but they will not receive any pay.
Calvinism teaches that if a person renounces the faith, they were never saved (regenerated) in the first place. So they were tricked into thinking they were saved. Not even those whose “ship is still sailing” can be sure they were given a legitimate Promise until and unless they reach Paradise.
Free Grace teaches that one who renounces faith had real salvation/regeneration, but their faith became completely ruined. They are saved whether they are believers anymore or not. These will go to heaven even though they now claim to hate God, reject Jesus, etc. So they are dragged kicking and screaming into heaven.
(Note: this situation of the hypothetical “born-again unbeliever” is true of both those views, for Calvinism teaches regeneration before faith.)
NOSAS teaches that a person who loses faith loses the eternal life that depended upon it. They see no evidence of promised eternal faith, hence no security (believing one is guaranteed to reach heaven, although they believe we have eternal life once we get there). One NOSAS argument against guaranteed salvation is shown here (Source):
God has put His “stamp of approval” (seal) on us as His children by giving us His Spirit (Rom. 8:9; 1 Cor. 3:16). If we demonstrate that we are His by producing the fruit of the Spirit, then this seal shows that we are owned by Him and are under His protection and authority. We may fail to do that, “break the seal” and be lost. Even in the context of Ephesians 4:30-32 when Paul says we are sealed unto the day of redemption, he warns us not to grieve the Holy Spirit, and to be kind and forgiving.
Some problems with that statement:
- Which is it that shows we are owned by him, the Spirit or our works?
- If we are under his protection, how can we be lost? We don’t need “protection” from ourselves!
- Who but God can break the Seal of God? It’s one thing for God to break his own seal but quite another for someone else to break it. God never would throw us away and break that seal (John 6:37), and no one else, even ourselves, can break it.
- Eph. 4:30-32 actually refutes their argument, because (a) “sealed for the day of redemption” means until the rest of the payment comes due, and (b) only those who have received the Spirt can grieve him. We are to be holy BECAUSE we are sealed, not to remain sealed.
OSAS says that the person who truly believes the gospel is indwelt by the Holy Spirit and will be protected by Him so that this faith is never lost. Everything else can be lacking (spiritual growth, good deeds), but the person himself will be saved, albeit with no rewards. Now let’s see if this view holds up under contextual scrutiny.
Starting with the above-referenced 1 Timothy verse, the context clearly indicates people whose faith really existed but was rendered useless and unproductive. In other words, I reject the idea that this faith was either non-existent originally or that it died completely.
Now on to Hebrews 6:4-6, whose immediate context really begins with 5:11 and continues through 6:12. The analogy is of babies who aren’t growing. The babies were born and are alive, but they are not exhibiting increasing maturity and are stuck in infancy. They are in danger of losing their rewards, the promises of their inheritance, because to neglect the one who saved them is to again subject him to the public shame of the cross. There are much “better things relating to salvation” (vs. 9) than just getting in heaven’s door!
Another view of this passage is that the writer of Hebrews is making a point with a hypothetical situation: you can’t lose your salvation, because if that were possible, you could never get it back again; your doom would be sealed. So stop worrying about things that can’t happen and get on with spiritual growth.
We can combine this thought with Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. In 1 Cor. chapter 3, we see in verses 5-16 that believers will have their spiritual growth (deeds) judged, and the analogy is of having a building set on fire to determine the quality of materials used to build it. The person himself will be saved, “but only as through fire” if his building is completely burned up (had no works, was a spiritual infant). But others, who through good deeds constructed their building with quality materials, will be given great reward. A burned-down building doesn’t mean it never existed, and neither does it mean the person who built it had decided he didn’t want to go to heaven after all. He wanted in, but got no rewards.
Note: this is NOT some kind of “Protestant purgatory” where faithless believers (a classic oxymoron) allegedly go for the duration of the Millennium to suffer for their lack of faith. If you’re in heaven, you’re there for only one reason: you trusted Jesus to take away all your sins. There are no sins Jesus didn’t pay for, and you were completely justified when you put your trust in him alone. What is being “burned up” are works, not souls! That is what hell is, not heaven. We can lose our rewards but not our souls.
This is reinforced by Paul in Romans 4:5. Notice that this person is still trusting God “who justifies the wicked” and it is this faith, however unproductive, that is “credited as righteousness”.
So the big question is, does God keep us from losing all faith? Along with all the above, we have the promise of the protection of the Holy Spirit (2 Timothy 1:12-14, Philippians 1:6), and we are no longer our own (1 Cor. 6:20). Combined with all those things that happen at the moment of salvation as I’ve listed in earlier posts, it should give us great assurance of our eternal security here and now.