A few years back I had breakfast with a leading Calvinist pastor and seminary professor. I asked him, “Is it true according to Reformed theology that all elect persons persevere in faith and good works until death?”
He responded, “Yes.”
I continued, “And is it true that no one can be sure that he will persevere in faith and good works until he has actually died?”
He responded, “Well, if the Apostle Paul himself was unsure he would persevere as he says in 1 Cor 9:27, then none of us can be sure we will persevere.”
My final question was this: “Doesn’t that mean that it is impossible for anyone to be sure where he is going when he dies until he actually dies and arrives there?”
“Well,” he said, “I see in my life what I think are the works of the Spirit. I admit, however, that is possible I might fall away and not persevere. If that happened, then I prove I was never really born again in the first place and I would go to hell.”
I appreciated his candor. That is the position of not only consistent Calvinists, but consistent Arminians as well. Both admit that failure is possible for professing believers. Both are convinced that certainty of one’s eternal destiny is not possible prior to death.
Recent Calvinists like Shreiner [sic], Caneday and Piper suggest that one is justified by faith might fail to persevere and hence would fail to achieve final justification by works. Such Calvinists are quite close to saying that these individuals lost everlasting life.
Many examples can be cited in Scripture of believers who at the time of death were not persevering in faith and good works. See, for example, Acts 5:1-11 (Ananias and Saphira) 1 Cor 11:30 (believers in Corinth who died for abusing the Lord’s Supper); Jas 5:15 (death-bed healings of believers sick due to sin), 19-20 (straying believers who die); 1 John 5:20 (the sin unto death).
If eternal security is true, and it is (cf. John 3:16; 4:10-14; 5:24; 6:35, 37, 39; 11:26; Eph 2:8-9; 1 Thess 5:10), then there is also no double jeopardy in justification. Once a person is justified by faith, he remains justified forever.
 Of course, Calvinists, unlike Arminians, say that a true believer cannot fall away. Hence for the Calvinist everyone, including pastors and theologians, are merely professing believers until the final judgment. At that time they will learn if their works are truly those that come from God. Calvinists do speak of believers who end up being condemned. But they clarify that these were never true believers. According to Reformed thought one can only know if he is a true believer by having his works examined at the final judgment.
I just discovered that Bob Wilkin posted his material on Facebook.com also. There, his comments prompted responses. You may find the following exchange rather astonishing.
One individual named Jim McNeely inquired:
I'm curious, and here is a question. Do we consider that these guys, who nullify grace and make the blood of Christ insufficient for justification in the end, really have a saving faith? I can just say, I would rather not be preaching the things they are saying to so many others and then stand before the throne of justice. I like John Piper, but WOW this is so off!
November 25, 2010 at 12:16pmBob Wilkin responded,
Jim, the answer as to whether such people are born again is different than whether they have saving faith now. They certainly do not believe the message of life now. But if they did in the past, then they remain born again. Thus it is a bit... misleading to say that they do or do not have saving faith. If they once believed, then they retain the status of a believer even if they stop believing. It is hard to know what percentage of these Evangelical leaders who teach final justification by works actually are born again, since that would require studying their earlier writings, and even that might not tell us what they believed before they entered into theological education. The good news is that once a person is born again, he remains born again no matter what, including departure from justification by faith alone.
November 29, 2010 at 9:46amIt is heartening to read a friend's comment amid the numerous others.
Larry Lucas wrote,
I went to seminary with Tom Schreiner and was on faculty at Northwestern with Ardel for a time. I agree with the concerns expressed for Free Grace, but the analysis here over-reaches to a degree. Their "now-not yet" premise is not a new dev...elopment on the doctrine of justification by faith, but is a new narrative on the Reformed perspective of irresistable sanctification. As J.I. Packer once said in a doctoral seminar at Dallas Seminary, "One does not need a howitzer to bring down a balloon when a well-placed small caliber round will do." The over-reaching develops a tone within this blog that "feels" like an attempt to belittle two good brothers rather than an attempt to deal with their ideas. There is a lot to commend in the debating style of Alister McGrath who positively and repeatedly affirms his opponents while keenly dissecting their ideas in an impersonal manner. For what it is worth.
December 23, 2010Bob Wilkin responded,
Larry, I appreciate your comments. My desire was not to belittle Ardel. I doubt you've yet read his article, for he is anything but irenic toward Zane Hodges, Robert Gromacki, Dr. Ryrie, me, and others. I specifically tried not to match his... tone, which at times struck me as vitriolic. I tried to be irenic. As for the already not yet suggestion, I believe it was misguided as applied originally in eschatology and it is now misguided in its new application to soteriology. In terms of soteriology, most of the "not yet" is guaranteed to every believer, whether he perseveres or not. The only conditional elements are rewards such as ruling with Christ, treasure, hidden manna, right to the tree of life, etc. But Ardel is not talking about any of that. Indeed, he belittles the loss of rewards view in his article. If I have been bombastic toward Ardel, I am truly sorry. My aim was to discuss what I consider to be a life and death matter in an irenic manner, yet without compromising the truth.
December 23, 2010
Last evening I also discovered that Bob Wilkin has added two more entries on his blog that concern my affirmations, twisted, mangled, and distorted through his theological lens. See here and here. These correspond to his blog entries. I have not yet decided, but I may provide one final cautionary admonition, not to respond to the substance of his twisted claims but to admonish my readers not to be taken in by falsehoods stated against me. I will not get embroiled or entangled in an endless quarrel with anyone, especially with anyone who so badly mangles and distorts my beliefs and my theological statements beyond my own recognition.