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Sunday, 23 March 2014

On Probation - Love or Fear?

In preparation of this blog I have been reading the contribution of other bloggers, both on this site and on other websites, and I always feel down whenever someone writes articles opposing Once Saved Always Saved. Now I don't write my stuff with the aim of converting - that's something only God can do, but with the aim of edification.
Edification - from the Italian word edificio,  a noun meaning a building, of whatever purpose it serves, whether it serves as a residence, office, factory, church, hospital, or any other purpose, it has first to be constructed. It is this construction of the building which the Bible borrows as a term to build up Christian faith. To build is to bring something to existence which wasn't there before, and usually slowly, brick by brick. The construction can take weeks, months or even years. Then the very opposite of to build is to demolish. To demolish is to wipe out of existence a structure that was there before. And usually, to demolish a building takes much quicker than to build, especially at present, when dynamite can bring a building down in a matter of seconds. That is how my joy in the faith can be so quickly demolished when reading articles denying Once Saved Always Saved as unbiblical, even soul-damning heresy.

This teaching that we can lose our salvation if we sin severely or turn from the faith is normally known as Arminianism, after the 16th Century theologian James Arminius, who read the works of a Roman Catholic Jesuit monk, Luis de Molina, accepted them into his own beliefs, and then later embraced by many non-Catholic churches, particularly Methodists. With me, I now prefer to call this teaching Probational Salvation. Don't attempt to Google this term, it was I who coined it up. It was thought up after comparing it with the experience a candidate usually goes through when applying for a career at a particular company. He is given between one to three months of probation. During this period, the potential employer monitors and analyses his performance. If, after this period expires, the employer is satisfied, the candidate gets to keep his job. Otherwise he faces dismissal.

I recall the first three jobs I applied for, two as early as 1967, when I was still at school. The very first one was the morning paper round. After watching classmates earning a considerable amount of pocket money, I thought - why not? So I was given a week's trial. So each day I got up early in the morning, entered the town's newsagent, and started with the "office bit" - assigning each but a different newspaper to every address which the round would cover. Sure enough, complaints from customers receiving the wrong newspaper began to be fed back to the manager. When I returned to the shop at the end of the Friday round, I was paid 14/- (fourteen shillings) - a full week's pay equivalent to today's £0.70 pence - and given my marching orders.

14/- was a fair pay for the mid sixties. With it, to compensate for my disappointment in failing the week's probation, I took a train to Reading for the day. It was only a short run - 11 miles - but for me it was the other side of the world. And it might well have been. This short trip was the first of my travel career which would take me indeed to the other side of the world - in Sydney Australia, with a host of very interesting places in between. Back to my schooldays, my next part-time job, at a town centre supermarket, also ended in failure before the probation was fulfilled. Then in 1968, immediately after leaving school, my first full time job as an apprentice electrician ended just two weeks into a month probation. Then at last, a post at a furniture factory lasted for a full five years, within that time I was transformed into a man and a believer in Jesus Christ.

The Furniture factory where I worked between 1968 and 1973.

So probation is an experience I'm fully acquainted with, allowing me to see a strong similarity between this and Probational Salvation. For example, during those different weeks of probation, did I really love the boss with a desire to serve wholeheartedly - and in the full knowledge that I will be secure in my job, no matter how many times I screw up? Or did I fear dismissal, so ensuring that all my best efforts were there? Were all my efforts to please the result of my employer taking me off the streets and guaranteeing a permanent post with a good income and promotion a little later on? Or were they an attempt to ensure that I stayed off the streets? These two motives behind my efforts reflected how I felt for my employer. One was love, serving with gratitude, the other was out of fear of dismissal, with no income to follow. The one motive was out of love, with the employer's interest at heart. The other from fear, with his own interests at heart.

And that is what I see in the faith of many who don't believe in Eternal Security. There is even a verse quoted:
Work out your salvation with fear and trembling. (Philippians 2:12). This verse was used as the text for the main evening preach at the 1994 Spring Harvest Bible Festival, denouncing Once Saved Always Saved, a sermon which resulted in a near-riot among the audience, and the dismissal of the speaker from the festival. And I read over and over again this verse quoted as proof that one is not eternally secure. Yet in the very next verse, it says:
For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. (v.13)
What good purpose was Paul referring to?
The good purpose was that they shone as bright stars in the unbelieving world, as verses 14-18 so clearly demonstrates. Their working out their salvation (note: not for their salvation) was in fear that the glory of Christ would be of non-effect due to the way they lived. The whole letter is about the glory of the risen Christ, and the only hope for the world was to see this glory in their lives. It had nothing to do with Hellfire! This Hellfire threat was added in much later by the Probationists.

Another set of "proof texts" used by Probationists are found in Revelation chapters 2 and 3. I have seen the glint of satisfaction in the eye of those who thought they had won the argument, and even a hint of a smirk. These two chapters were about the risen Lord addressing seven specific churches located in the Galatian area of western Turkey. However, in the first chapter, John, who wrote the book, had recorded a vision he had of the risen Lord. In it, he was holding a Jewish Menorah with seven lighted candles. John was then told that each of these seven candles was the church he was about to address. The general message was unless each of these churches relied on divine life, the light would eventually be extinguished. This was most likely caused by dwindling membership numbers until the group was no more.

But he also reminded each of the seven churches that he who overcomes - shall be rewarded in one way or another, or shall not be hurt by the second death, nor have his name blotted out from the Book of Life. Here are some verses delivered to all seven churches:

He who overcomes, I will give the right to the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God. Revelation 2:7.
He who overcomes will not be hurt by the second death. 2:11.
He who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna...and a white stone. 2:17
He who overcomes and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations...and also the morning star. 2:26,28.
He who overcomes will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot his name out of the book of life, but will acknowledge his name before the Father and his angels. 3:5
Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. 3:12
To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne. 3:21.

Probationists gleefully uses all these verses as bona-fide proof that the threat of loss of salvation constantly hangs over the believer's head, therefore inducing fear. But take another look at the quoted Scriptures above. Nowhere does it say:
But he who fails to overcome will be dismissed from my presence to suffer a lost eternity in Hellfire.

Yet, to them, they do seem at first to indicate a conditional salvation depending on the believer's faithfulness and his ability to overcome what looks to be a temptation into worldliness. The whole theme runs smoothly until it hits a problem right at the end of the narration, at 3:21 where Jesus said that he too overcame and is now sitting on his Father's throne. Now I wonder, supposing Jesus had failed to overcome? Yes, what would have happened to him then?

We as believers have already become overcomers, not by our own efforts, but entirely by Jesus' efforts. In 1 John 5:4-5, he wrote:
For everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory which has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it who overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.

And this was most likely the same author as the writer of Revelation. And John emphasises that everyone born of God overcomes the world, not just some with a strong willpower. And furthermore, there is even a stronger word than overcome. It is conqueror, to conquer. One who overcomes is one who defeats a problem or adversity in his own life, including his lure into worldliness. But a conqueror takes over an enemy territory and rules over the indigenous population. Yet Paul, in Romans 8:37 wrote that we (as believers) are more than conquerors through him who loved us. In other words, not only are we overcomers, but above conquerors too. Through him who loved us.

With these Scripture verses I get a picture of Jesus laying a path for us to Heaven. But a mountain blocks the way. So what does he do? Climb the mountain? No, it has a sheer cliff all around, making it impossible to climb. So he blasts a tunnel through the mountain. When the tunnel opens out on the other side, all we do is walk through. There is no need for further blasting. The job is already accomplished. So why did the Holy Spirit inspire John to write about overcoming if we as believers are already overcomers, according to his own word?

Could it be that Jesus was addressing each of the seven churches corporately? That is, individual members come and go, as with all churches at present. In a typical church, although the majority of members are true believers, non-believers can find a niche and fit in. History has shown that non-believers could outnumber believers, and that is true particularly within leadership. I read from several sources* that in America, some of the larger Methodist churches acquired liberal leaders, often known as modernists, which enticed the congregation away from the historicity of the Bible - such as denying the truth of the virgin birth, the power of the Atonement, and the physical Resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Bible itself was seen as a book of fables which contained a moral truth, rather than being the inspired Word of God. Darwinian evolution was taught in place of divine Creation, and there was even one case where it was taught in all seriousness, that Jesus was an illegitimate son of a Roman soldier and prostitute Mary. Then, together with the rise of Roman Catholicism in the fourth Century A.D. we wonder why the risen Lord warns each of the seven churches that only those who overcome (true believers) shall receive the benefits of salvation.

Then I try to look at the Probationist's point of view from a psychological angle. One way I did this was to compare my relationship to God to married life. I think it's important to realise that this is not a chicken-or-egg case. The Bible did not use marriage as an analogy between Jesus Christ and his Church as Bride. Rather, in his omniscience, God the Father had already thought about a bride for his Son from eternity past, and in Creation arranged for a man to be married to his wife as a reflection of this. This could be the reason why laws against adultery applies to us humans while nothing of the kind exist in the animal kingdom.

I love my wife dearly, unconditionally. In the past I have wondered what the outcome would have been if she was caught in her unfaithfulness. But I have decided that I will love her just the same. And this ability is not my own, it is from God, who gives me grace and strength every day. But it is, and will always be, extremely unlikely that she would commit such an act. Why? Because of her love, adoration and devotion to me as her husband. Because of her love to me, nothing outside is of any interest to her. I think this was enforced by her illness, her inability to walk. It gave me the opportunity to lavish my affections which sealed our marriage for life.

And this highlights the major problem which occurs in probational salvation. God is seen as a strict, moral perfectionist who is constantly monitoring the believer's performance, and threatening separation and eternity in a fiery furnace if the believer does not measure up. Now try to imagine how a wife would feel if her husband was to act that way. Personally, I can't see the marriage lasting, and it would not be long before the wife is found in the arms of another man, maybe a smooth-talking colleague in the office. I guess I would feel the same where God is concerned. I would not have any love for the tyrant. Fear, yes - even terror. But certainly not love. And my performance would be self-centred rather than in God's interests, mainly as a means to escape Hell. No, I would not want to serve that kind of god (small 'g') and I would not even be sure if I wanted to be in his presence in his kingdom forever.

And so stories abound with apostasy among church members, the rise in atheism, Darwinism as scientific fact, the rise in adultery and the divorce rate, and the reports of domestic violence. Bullying husbands are often perceived as a reflection of a tyrant in the sky who is constantly monitoring their performance. One story I can relate is about an expletive-exploding builder who was a regular visitor to the sauna. Always a life of the party, I felt intimidated in his presence. One day however, when we were alone together, I asked him what he thought of Jesus Christ. Immediately he exploded into anger with his explanation of his Roman Catholic upbringing. I could understand his anger perfectly as a former Catholic myself. I too can recall an extremely maddening situation of one mortal sin committed resulting in a lost eternity in Hell. A fickle God impossible to please. He was the one case of a vast majority who shuns anything spiritual. A fearful perspective of God does not create crowds of true converts.

Once Saved Always Saved means everything to me. It enables me to keeping trust in God during averse situations, and enables me to thank God for his goodness especially when the chips are down. It has been a great morale-booster when facing various challenges life throws at us. Most important, Once Saved Always Saved has been the bedrock of a strong, happy marriage, no matter what Hell tries to throw at us.

Jesus had already blasted a tunnel through the mountain. So there is no need for me to pick at the rock face.


* Dr. John R. Rice; False Doctrines Answered from the Scriptures, Sword of the Lord Publishers.
Tim LaHaye; The Beginning of the End, Tyndale.



  1. The thing that irritates me when it comes to this whole issue is when those who reject OSAS accuse those who believe it of "cheap grace" and when those who believe in OSAS accuse those who reject it as "works salvationists" I have met believers in OSAS who believe in cheap grace (like the drug addict womanizer I met who shrugged his shoulders at Gods judgment because he prayed a prayer at a youth rally 4 years earlier) but such an attitude is not consistent with real OSAS. I have also met Arminians who think salvation is "What Jesus did + What I do", but again, such a philosophy is not consistent with true Arminianism. The best way to come together then is to put aside our labels and respect one anothers faith journey. Thats how I see it anyways :)

  2. Dear Frank,
    I like your term "Probational Salvation," as it reflects the incongruous notion that once we trust Christ and become adopted children of the Father, that our continuing in this privileged position is somehow conditional on our own good behavior (which, of course, didn't get us saved in the first place). Thank God we don't have "Probational Parenting," in which the parents could reject their child if he or she doesn't meet their expectations. (But sadly, tenured "bioethics" professor Singer at my alma mater, Princeton University, advocates exactly that. His position is that parents should be allowed to euthanize their disabled child within the first 2 years of life if caring for that child proves to be too inconvenient). Thank God that He does not reject us every time we are less than perfect (which happens daily due to our sin nature).
    Great post as always. God bless,

  3. Hi Frank,
    I think I have to agree with what Marcos has said. I think it is lovely to interact and share one another,s testimonies. However,each person has a unique experience with God,and it is the Holy Spirit that will guide us into all truth. 'Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come.' John ch. 16 v.13.
    God bless you in your walk with Him.

  4. The only way the debate will end is when Christians are willing to do like the Berean people in Acts 17:11. "These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so." Until people lay aside their preconceived ideas, and let the Holy Spirit direct their understanding of the scripture, they will not change their opinions.