The “loss” of salvation and the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit

keptDr. Sam Storms has written a new book called “Kept for Jesus: What the New Testament Really Teaches about Assurance of Salvation and Eternal Security” (Crossway, 2015), where he looks at every passage in the New Testament that addresses assurance, security, and perseverance. I highly recommend it. He has also written a bonus chapter, available as a pdf here, where he answers a number of questions including these two:

1) “My son just turned thirty and told us today that he no longer believes in Jesus. He says he’s an atheist. What happened to him? Has he lost his salvation?”

We’ll call this young man Charley. Perhaps Charlene would be a more suitable name in your case. In any case, his (her?) life presents us with a painful and difficult dilemma.

Charley was born into a Christian family. His parents were devout followers of Jesus, and both of his siblings, an older brother and a younger sister, came to faith in Christ and have remained vibrant and deeply committed to him.

Charley was raised in the church and was usually present whenever the doors were open, whether at a Sunday service, a youth meeting, special events throughout the week, or a summer retreat. When he turned twelve, he professed faith in Jesus, largely through the influence of his parents and older brother. He was baptized soon thereafter and was discipled by his youth pastor over the course of the next few years. Charley’s faith appeared to be quite vibrant and joyful. He endured the same trials and temptations as do virtually all teenaged boys, but he never wandered far or failed to repent when he sinned. He prayed every day and read his Bible and was growing in his understanding of God.

Following graduation from high school, he went to college and fell in with a different group of friends. They challenged his faith and insisted that he was being naïve to believe in Jesus. It wasn’t long before Charley stopped attending church and eventually declared himself to be an atheist. He grew increasingly angry at the institutional church and nurtured a deep resentment toward those who had influenced him while he was growing up, having become convinced that they had hidden the truth from him and only wanted to control his life.

Charley is now thirty, twice divorced, an alcoholic, and painfully bitter and unpleasant to be around. He wants nothing ever again to do with Christianity.

So what’s up with Charley? What happened?

Some believe Charley was truly saved as a young boy but subsequently apostatized and in doing so lost or forfeited his salvation. Others also believe Charley was genuinely saved and always will be, but they believe that his reckless and unrepentant lifestyle will result in the loss of rewards in the age to come.

In ‘Kept for Jesus’ I argue for what is known as the Reformed or Calvinistic view. Those who embrace this perspective interpret Charley’s experience in one of two ways.

Some Reformed believers would argue that if Charley was truly saved at the age of twelve, he is still saved at the age of thirty and will, by God’s grace and the convicting work of the Holy Spirit, eventually come to his spiritual senses and return to the Lord. This may happen only after Charley endures severe discipline from his heavenly Father, but eventually God will bring him back. In some cases, people like Charley are disciplined straightway into heaven; that is to say, the discipline of the Lord results in their physical death. They die prematurely, under the discipline of God, but they are saved eternally.

Others who hold the Reformed view contend that the likely explanation for Charley’s departure from his professed faith in Christ is that he was never genuinely born again in the first place. His so-called faith was spurious. His life of apparent obedience was prompted by factors other than a genuine love for Jesus. He was self-deluded and deceived everyone who knew him. If he had been truly born again, he would have persevered in his faith.

2) “Is it possible that Charley was really born again and that he has blasphemed the Holy Spirit? Can a Christian commit blasphemy of the Spirit?”

This question is provoked by a well-known passage in Matthew’s Gospel in which Jesus responds to the religious leaders who had accused him of drawing on the power of Satan to heal a young boy. Jesus says:

Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. (Matt. 12:31–32)

For Jesus to declare that whoever blasphemes the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven, neither now nor in the age to come, comes as a jolt. This ominous declaration doesn’t occur in a vacuum. Something happened to provoke it. So let’s look at the context. Continue reading