“Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one converts him; let him know, that he which converted the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins.”
These verses discuss prayer for the brother who “err” (wanders) from the truth and falls back into sin; we must pray for our brethren who wanders from the truth because there is a very serious reason for that which has eternal consequences. The verb “err” means wander, go astray; and suggest a gradual moving away from the will of God. The word “error” (verse 20) is conduct meaning perverseness, wickedness, sin. The Old Testament term for this is backsliding and the New Testament term is “fall away” (Hebrews 6:4-6). Usually the sin is the result of slow, gradual spiritual decline, with a wilful decision in the recent past.
Such a falling away from the truth is, of course, very dangerous. It is dangerous to the backslider because he may be disciplined by the Lord. He also faces the danger of committing “sin unto death” (1John 5:16-17). In the Scripture “death” (thanatos) implies three aspects: firstly, physical death (Acts 5:1-11; 1Corinthians 11:30) when one dies and the soul separates from the body (Ecclesiastes 12:7; 2 Corinthians 5:1-8; Revelation 6:9-11); secondly, spiritual death as in John 5:24; 1John 3:14; spiritual life consists in daily communication with God who is life, so spiritual death is the separation from His blessed life and influence, thirdly, to eternal death (Romans 6:16-21, 23; James 5:20; 1John 5:16-17; Revelation 2:11; 20:6, 14) which, in respect to the natural and temporal, is called the second death and implies eternal punishment (Revelation 21:8).
The origin of this serious problem is found in the statement “err (wander) from the truth” (verse 19). The “truth” means, of course, the Word of God. “Thy Word is the truth” (John 17:17). In the New Testament especially, divine truth or the faith and practice of the true gospel is called “truth” either as being true in itself and derived from the true God, or as declaring the existence and will of the one true God, in opposition to the worship of false idols. Hence, divine truth, gospel truth, as opposed to heathen heresies and fables. It stands in opposition to unrighteousness, wrong (Zodhaites, Spiros, Complete Word Study Dictionary NT, p.102-103).
The end result, unless he repents of “the error of his way,” is eternal death, the second death in eternal punishment. Again, it is this very fact which makes the warnings against falling away (backsliding) so serious. The Bible teaches us not to be inconsistent when we declare that sinners are free to repent and exercise faith in Christ (through the aid of the Spirit), but once having been saved, they are no longer free to reject Him (through resisting the Spirit).
TOM: I have always maintained that when we do not understand some of the more difficult passages in Scripture we should ask ourselves whether our interpretation of them fit in and harmonize with the character of God. For example, is there any possibility that God could be a liar? If there was the slightest possibility that God could lie, we would never have had a Saviour and every single one of us would have been cast into hell. A lying Saviour is no Saviour at all. We would have been hopelessly lost, let alone saved and then lost.
Was Jesus lying about eternal security when He said?
But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep, as I said unto you. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand. I and my Father are one. (John 10:26-30).
The general counter argument is that the apostatizing sinner himself wrenches God the Father’s and Christ’s hands open, turns his back on them and walks away never to return again. If that were possible it would mean that the apostatizing sinner is greater than God the Father. So then, we must decide who we want to believe – God, the apostatizing sinner or our own insights – because if we believed that Jesus lied when He said “they shall never perish” and that his Father is greater than all, we ourselves would be guilty of apostatizing from the truth (if indeed Jesus’ words are the truth) and consequently again made fit for eternal destruction in hell when we lose our salvation.
How then should we interpret James 5:19-20 in the light of what I said above? Firstly, we must look at the main topic James discusses. Prayer and in particular the fervent prayer of a saint is his main topic. Now, if we take into account that in the Hebrew tradition it was customary to paint the worst scenario possible to emphasize the theme or topic being discussed, it becomes so much easier to understand what the writer really wanted to convey to his readers. Needless to say, hypotheses play an important role in these extremely worst scenarios. It is interesting to note that these hypotheses are introduced by the word “if.” We find the very same thing in Hebrews 6 verses 4 – 6 “For it is impossible . . . IF (NOT WHEN) they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.” (Hebrews 6:4-6). As we’ve already seen earlier, it conveys the notion that if it were true that a saint could lose his/her salvation it would mean that Jesus would have to be crucified all over again to save them again, which is eternally impossible. He was crucified once for all and never again (Hebrews 10:10).
Is there any “if” hypothesis in James 5? Voilà!
Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him; Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins. (Jas 5:19-20).
The author does not say that some have already gone astray (lost their salvation) and that the other saints should pray for their re-redemption. If that was the case it would flagrantly contradict Hebrews 6:4-6 which says that it is impossible to renew apostate or grossly sinning saints again unto repentance. To say the least it would be senseless to ask saints to pray for something which is impossible to accomplish. It reminds me of our Calvinist friends who say that we should also preach the Gospel to the reprobate even though they don’t have a snowballs hope in hell of ever being saved. By the by, is anything impossible with the Lord? (Matthew 19:26).
James is saying: “The fervent prayer of a saint (like that of Elias who was but a man like you and I) is so powerful with God that it can even resuscitate (bring back to life from death) those who have fallen from grace through their own apostasy, IF it were possible for them to fall into apostasy and lose their salvation.” James could not have expressed the power of prayer in a more powerful way than this and that is precisely why he used such a powerful hypothesis or postulate such as this. It cannot possibly have any other meaning because if it had it would contradict Jesus’ words in John 10:26-30, forcing us to make a decision whether either Jesus or his apostles were liars. Both cannot be wrong on conditional security.
LOUIS: 4.4 Conditions of eternal security
The Bible teaches the truth of eternal security so long as we qualify it as conditional rather than unconditional. What are those conditions? First is…
All evangelicals recognize that faith is necessary for the beginning of salvation, in the new birth. The Bible affirms that faith must continue as a condition of security and must be continuously maintained. One verse of the “once saved, always saved” teaching is John 5:24: “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes Him that sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.” The verbs “hears” and “believe” are both in the Greek in the present tense – continues and repeated action; indicating an ongoing condition of hearing and believing. This verse says nothing whatever about those who cease hearing and believing, and it is an unwarranted interpretation to make it apply to them.
Another passage which reveals the faith condition is 1Peter 1:3-5: “Blessed be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy has given us the new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fades not away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”
The Bible says that we are not kept by self-effort, but by the power of God. Yet this passage clearly teaches that the keeping power operates “through faith.” It has a condition which the kept ones must meet if they are to be kept. It is readily acknowledge that a sinner must believe in Christ to be saved. Why should it be considered strange that a saved person must continue to believe in order to maintain the new relationship with God? Read also John 5:24; 6:40, 47; 7:38; 8:31; 11:25; 12:36, 46; 14:1, 10, 11; Acts 8:37; 24:14; Romans 4:5, 24; 6:8; 1Peter 1:5, 8 which teaches that faith must continue as a condition of security and must be continuously maintained. The verbs in the Greek are in the present tense – continuous and repeated action; indicating an ongoing condition of having faith unto the end.
TOM: If faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross is the only prerequisite for salvation then faith in his on-going work as High Priest and Advocate at the right hand of God is the only prerequisite for the maintenance of a saint’s salvation. Faith, therefore, is necessary in both cases for “without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6).
The danger, nonetheless, is that when your own faith becomes the vehicle or means for the preservation or maintenance of your salvation, it tends to undermine your High Priest’s and your Advocate’s superlatively magnanimous work in heaven, and you resort to having faith in your faith instead of in Jesus Christ. “And Jesus answering saith unto them, Have faith in God.” (Mark 11:22). If it was necessary for Jesus to be highly exalted, and to be given a name which is above every name (Philippians 2:9), then surely nothing extra is needed to preserve the saint until that day. It is not our own exercise of faith that preserves us but the Person in whom we trust who sees us through to glory. Yes, it is true that the just shall live by faith but it is a faith that lives continually because the One in whom we put our faith lives forever.
The million dollar question again is not “Can a saved saint renounce his faith and abandon God;” it should be, “will a saved saint renounce his faith in Christ and abandon him?” The answer is simple: “For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death”. (2 Corinthians 7:10)
LOUIS: Continuing obedience
Faith has obedience as an essential element. If there is deliberate ongoing disobedience to the will of God, saving faith is impossible. Numerous scriptures emphasize the necessity of obedience.
“We know that we have come to know Him if we obey his commands. Whoever says, I know him, but does not do what He commands, is a liar and the truth is not in him” (1 John 2:3-4). What a strong statement we have here! Those who say they know Him (perhaps because they once repented and placed their trust in Him for salvation), and yet are not now keeping His commands and not doing His will, are liars, and the truth in not in them!
What is the will of God? Look up these verses to make sure that you have faith and obedience: (1) It is the will of God for us to share the Biblical Gospel with the lost (Mark 16:15; Luke 14:21; Acts 17:17). (2) It is the will of God that we may prove what His perfect will for us is (Romans 12:2; 1 John 2:15-17). (3) It is the will of God that we live in holiness (1 Thessalonians 4:3-8; Hebrews 12:14-15; Ephesians 4:17–5:17). (4) It is the will of God for us to be thankful in everything (1 Thessalonians 5:18). (5) It is the will of God that we should be submissive in what is right (1 Peter 2:13-15). (6) It is the will of God for us to suffer for doing good instead of doing evil (1 Peter 3:17; 3:19). (7) It is the will of God to live according to His will rather than the ungodly lusts of the flesh (1 Peter 4:2). (8) It is the will of God for us to persevere in the faith and not turn back to sinful living (Hebrews 10:35-36).
The Bible consistently relates faith and obedience. Romans 1:5 and 16:26 speak of the obedience of faith. They are so closely related that “disobedient” and “unbelieving” are from the same Greek root word in the New Testament.
TOM: Your statement “If there is deliberate on-going disobedience to the will of God, saving faith is impossible” is a rather unfortunate one. If that were true, no one could ever be saved. It suggests that a lost sinner must first become obedient and continue to obey Christ in all things before he/she can be saved. The only obedience (work) a lost sinner needs to have in order to be saved is to trust Jesus Christ for his/her salvation. “Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for him hath God the Father sealed. Then said they unto him, What shall we do, that we might work the works of God? Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.” (John 6:27-29).
Obedience to all those things you mentioned are things that follow the saint’s salvation. In Romans 1:5 and 16:26 Paul explains to his audiences what the design, purpose, intention of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is – and that is to have faith and to live in obedience to Him and his commandments. He does not say that those who already believe and obey Jesus Christ can lose their salvation.
The level/degree of obedience among Christians vary. Some are more obedient than others. Take for example Jesus’ command “Take heed that no man deceive you.” (Matthew 24: 4). You know as well as I that many Christians are being led astray by false apostles. Are they obeying Jesus Christ? You yourself said: “While it is possible for people to reach heaven while holding some errors in doctrine, we ought, nevertheless, to avoid those doctrinal errors that are hazardous to spiritual welfare and destiny.” True, they cannot lose their salvation but they can lose their reward/s.
Do not forsake the doctrine of eternal security
LOUIS: Not to forsake the doctrine of Christ
The “doctrine of Christ” means His divine-human personality as the Son of God incarnate. “Watch out that we do not lose what we have worked for, but that we receive a full reward. Anyone who transgresses and does not continue to abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who continues to abide in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son” (2John 8-9). The believers in the early church were under strong influence from the false teaching of the Gnostic heretics to fall away from the doctrine of Christ. If they transgress and forsake the doctrine, they no longer have God; they have gone over to the position of the Antichrist. These verses is clear on the possibility that believers may go astray and lose their salvation – and we note that this warning is addressed to people described as “elect” (verse 1).
This includes continuing in various graces of the Christian life: John 8:31; John 15:9-10; Acts 14:21-22; Romans 11:22; Colossians 1:23; Revelation 22:14-15. God never makes this choice for any person. He presents the alternatives, but we are creatures of choice. We must make the right choice and maintain it. There are people who made the right choice at first and later reversed it.
Demas was one of them. He suffered with the apostle Paul in the proclamation of the Gospel and was an approved worker. That is a strong indication that he was a true believer. Yet he returned to Thessalonica, “having loved this present world” (2Timothy 4:10). Now “if any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1John 2:15). Demas departed from the faith and loved this present world. He could not continue in the love of God. He reckoned that worldly pleasure was more to be desired than following Jesus.
TOM: Is John here speaking of true Christians or people who profess to be Christians? Verse 7 tells us that he was speaking mainly of false apostles and teachers who denied that Jesus had come in the flesh. “For many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist.” (2 John 1:7). To deny that Jesus Christ had come in the flesh, is to deny that He had come to pay the penalty for all of mankind’s sins on a cross. It is this doctrine in particular, the doctrine of Christ’s incarnation that the apostle John is referring to.
To understand more precisely what he means by “and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ,” (verse 9 of Second John) we need to turn to 1 John 2: 27: “These things have I written unto you concerning them that seduce you. But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him.” (1 John 2:26-27). The latter statement “ye shall abide in him” is a definite and irreversible statement of fact that God’s children shall never apostatize from the truth despite the efforts of false apostles to seduce them. Why? Because the truth they hold to is not a mere head knowledge. It is profoundly more than that. It is an anointing they received through the indwelling Holy Spirit who leads and guides them into the whole truth (John 16:13). It is this unction spoken of in verse 20 which gives the author the assurance without any fear or uneasiness that the true saints of God would never fall into apostasy and bring dishonour on the Name of their Lord. He was confident that they would never abandon the doctrine of Christ’s incarnation, death, burial and resurrection to follow the lies of antichrist. They had been so anointed by the Holy Spirit that they understood the true nature of the Christian religion, and it might be confidently expected that they would persevere.
It follows that those who do not have the anointing of the Holy Spirit dwelling in them (unsaved) cannot abide in Christ and his doctrine simply because they do not have the Father nor the Son. 2 John verse 9 does not teach that a saint can lose his/her salvation. 1 John 2: 26 and especially the last part of verse 27 says so very distinctly.
The Bible does not teach that Demas departed from the faith. It simply says that he had forsaken Paul (2 Timothy 4:10). Demas was not an avaricious man who left the faith to live for the dainties and pleasures of the world. Once again we must look at the context. It was not only Demas who had departed/forsaken him. In fact, Paul dedicated this chapter to all the persons who had abandoned him on his missionary journeys to return to their own hometown – Demas to Thessalonica; Crescens to Galatia, and Titus unto Dalmatia; Alexander the Coppersmith did him much harm. He says that he had been forsaken by everyone at one of his initial trials, possibly before the Roman Emperor. So the context here is persecution, hardship and the likes. His request in verse 13 for Mark to bring his cloak to be used for protection against rain and cold weather, suggests that he suffered a lot because of severe weather (2 Corinthians 11:27). Demas in particular was not prepared to suffer these hardships with Paul and sought the comfort of his own home. He was reluctant to stay with Paul and was fearful of the possibility of being martyred. It does not mean that he began to love the riches, dainties, pleasures and other pleasurable things the world offers. He decided that he did not want to depart from this world through possible martyrdom and death but rather to remain in the world by choosing to depart to a place of safety and security. In this way he loved the world more than being with Jesus Christ. Paul had the very opposite sentiment: “Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” (2 Corinthians 5:8).
Verse 8 does not speak of a loss of salvation but loss of reward: “Look to yourselves, that we lose not those things which we have wrought, but that we receive a full reward.” (2 John 1:8). It ties in with 1 Corinthians 3:13-15 “Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.”
- Eternal Security: NOSAS Versus OSAS (Part 1)
- Eternal Security: NOSAS Versus OSAS (Part 2)
- Eternal Security: NOSAS Versus OSAS (Part 3)
- Eternal Security: NOSAS Versus OSAS (Part 5)