Can You Lose Your Salvation? A Molinist’s Perspective

by Max Andrews

FOCUS:  Can a born-again believer lose his or her salvation while simultaneously affirming God’s sovereignty and human free will while being consistent with Scripture?[1]

An Examination of the Perseverance of the Saints Doctrine

Apostolic warnings against apostasy pose a difficulty for the classic doctrine of perseverance of the saints because either the warnings seem superfluous or else it seems possible for the believer to fall away after all.  The attempt to construe the warnings as the means by which God effects perseverance fails to distinguish the classical doctrine from a Molinist doctrine, according to which believers can fall away but in fact will not due to God’s extrinsically efficacious grace.  A Molinist perspective is coherent and, unlike the classical doctrine does not render superfluous the apostolic admonitions.[2]

The traditional doctrine of perseverance states that not only will the saints maintain grace and salvation, but literally cannot fall from grace.  (It is very important to approach these and understand these texts in light of appropriate exegesis.) However, this seems to ignore numerous Scriptures, which warn the danger of apostasy of those who deliberately fall from grace:

Rom. 11:17-24; I Cor. 9:27; Gal. 5:4; Col. 1:23; I Thess. 3:5; I Tim. 1:19-20; II Tim. 2:17-18; Jas. 5:19-20; II Pet. 2:20-22; I Jn. 5:16

Perhaps the most prominent:

Therefore leaving the elementary teachings about the Christ, let us press on the maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, 2of instruction about washings and laying on of hands, and the resurrection of the death and eternal judgment.  3And this we will do, if God permits.  4For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, 5and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame.  7For ground that drinks the rain which often falls on it and brings for the vegetation useful to those for whose sake it is also tilled, receives a blessing from God; 8but if it yields thorns and thistles, it is worthless and close to being cursed and it ends up being burned.  Heb. 6.1-8 (NASB)

1) By warning believers against apostasy, God ensures that they do not commit apostasy.

  1. If the believer’s will is so overwhelmed by God’s grace that he is actually incapable of apostatizing, then why give such warnings at all?
    1. This seems to render Scripture superfluous.  On the other hand, if it is the warnings that bring about perseverance, then is it not true that the believer is capable of falling away, even though, because of the warnings he will not.
    2. Warnings do not seem to act as efficient causes upon the will, forcing one to act in a certain way; they can be disobeyed.
    3. By being warned, we should not want to say that freedom has thereby been removed.  This conflicts with sanctification, though while a believer sins, his will would be impressed upon leading to God as an active willpower in the believer.

2) Whatever is foreknown by God must occur, which advocates of perseverance may entail as a denial of human freedom (which would premise (1)).  So, necessarily, a believer, who has been warned by God, will not fall away.

  1. Via God’s middle knowledge, the foreknowledge of God is contingent upon any counterfactual or possibility that any free agent may choose.  The foreknowledge of God entails knowing any and all possibilities given the participation of any free agent.  If what is foreknown by God must occur, then human freedom is denied and fatalism is adopted.
  2. If God’s intrinsic grace causes the believer to persevere, then it is not really perseverance but preservation.  Here, God preserves the believer in the state of grace by causally acting upon him, and, therefore, it is causally impossible for him to fall away, and so he perseveres. But, if his falling away is causally impossible, then no warnings are necessary and the admonitions of Scripture lose all seriousness.[3]

3) If the warnings had not been given, then God would have provided some other means of guaranteeing that the believer would persevere.[4]

  1. Logically prior to God’s decree of creation, God freely chose certain individuals with beatitude as the elect.  Via God’s middle knowledge, God knew which gifts of grace would be efficacious in eliciting the free, affirmative response of these creaturely wills.  Therefore, He decreed to create a world containing these individuals and to accord them those gifts of grace to which He knew they would freely respond.  These gifts are extrinsically, not intrinsically, efficacious in that the creaturely will is free to reject such grace, but since such gifts are selected according to God’s middle knowledge, they are congruent to each created will and therefore infallibly are met with an affirmative response. [5]
  2. God knows via His middle knowledge that even though the individual could reject His particular gifts of grace, in fact he would not.
  3. In any logically possible world in which an elect individual exists, God bestows, based on His middle knowledge, congruent grace on that person which ensures his free response.
  4. Congruism could maintain that God via His middle knowledge knows just what gifts of grace to accord in any possible world to each believer’s will so as to elicit a continuing response of faith from that person.
  5. This appears very paradoxical because even though the believer freely perseveres and is able to reject God’s grace, nevertheless there are no logically possible worlds in which he apostatizes.  God in His essential goodness always acts so as to win the free, affirmative response of the believers to His grace.  God is too good to fail to provide additional gifts of grace.
  6. Congruent grace does not mean grace, which cannot be rejected by the created will, but grace, which is so suited to the created will that were it to be offered, it would not be rejected.  Hence, possible worlds exist in which grace which would in fact be congruent and efficacious, were it offered, is rejected and, hence, inefficacious.[6]
  7. The integrity of God’s goodness and faithfulness to the believer is retained in such worlds, (F), because He offers the believer the greatest gracious help that He can, but the apostatizing believer rejects every gift of grace he is offered.  *This does not compromise the doctrine of perseverance, since the Congruist will maintain that such worlds are not feasible for God because the believer would in fact respond to such gracious helps were they actually offered.  In every feasible world, His various graces are congruent and efficacious; therefore, there is no feasible world in which believers fall away and are lost.
  8. It is clear that while all truly regenerate believers will persevere to the end, nevertheless they are free to fall away.  In the world God actualized, believers always freely persevere in the faith (II Jn. 9).

Conclusion

Perhaps the warnings in Scripture are the means by which God weakly actualizes perseverance.  That is to say, in the moment logically prior to creation, God via His middle knowledge knew who would freely receive Christ as Savior and what sorts of warnings against apostasy would be extrinsically efficacious in keeping them from falling away.  Therefore, He decreed to create only those persons to be saved who He knew would freely respond to His warnings and thus persevere, and He simultaneously decreed to provide such warnings.  On this account the believer will certainly persevere and yet he does so freely, taking seriously the warnings God has given him.[7]


[1] The question is not whether God’s love can be separated from a believer by any work or action on behalf of the believer; we know that to be false (John 6:37-40, 10:27-30; Rom. 8:1, 38-39; 1 Cor. 1:4-8; 1 Pet. 1:4-5).  The real question is whether or not the believer can reject God’s grace after salvation and will not to be saved.

[2] William Lane Craig, “’Lest Anyone Should Fall’:  A Middle Knowledge Perspective on Perseverance and Apostolic Warnings.”  International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 29 (1991):  65-74.

[3] The denial of (1) does not solve the dilemma either, for it still renders warnings superfluous.

[4] This exists in a Molinist school of thought called Congruism (for congruent grace).

[5] The crucial point is that God’s grace is extrinsically efficacious, and therefore the believer’s freedom is not causally constrained by God’s action.

[6] There is a possible world in which every grace offered by God is rejected by the created will.

[7] Ibid.  Molinism does not imply the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints.  The defender of middle knowledge could hold that logically prior to creation God knew that there were no worlds feasible for Him in whom all believers persevere, or, if there were, there would be overriding deficiencies in other respects.  Therefore, the warnings of Scripture do not guarantee the perseverance of believers, for believers can and do ignore them.  To do so is to adopt in stead a middle knowledge perspective on perseverance.  However, this does render superfluous warnings of Scripture where it is indeed not essential that God reveal it.


5 Responses to “Can You Lose Your Salvation? A Molinist’s Perspective”

  1. Reblogged this on Juan The Baptist and commented:
    This is a great thought progression from Max over at Sentenias. I’m not sure that I buy this completely, but is a great explanation of perserverance of the saints from a Molinist viewpoint.

  2. Why get tied-up in the obviously unbiblical doctrine of ‘perseverance’ (e.g., the many warnings in the NT for believers to persevere, not to lose faith; examples of believers who didn’t persevere, etc.)? … ‘Eternal security’ is the real concern, is it not? And that is the simple promise of the Gospel (the Gospel of John being THE book for a non-believer to understand the Gospel, Jn 20:31… and ‘eternal life’ being by definition that the believer “will never die,” 11:26. …My security isn’t based on my performance or perseverance, but solely on Christ’s trustworthiness of His promise). Have you ever peroused a most excellent website and organization, faithalone.org of the Grace Evangelical Society? –Most of them, like myself, are Molinists (and they have tremendous scholarship in the Scriptures). I recommend it highly.

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