Monday, September 27, 2010

You Can Lose Your Salvation: An Exegesis of Luke 15

I asked my students in a lesson last week, "Can a Christian lose their salvation?" I took a show of hands and about half said 'yes', about a third were unsure and only one or two said 'no'. So we looked a three parables (Luke 15):

The parable of the lost sheep
The parable of the lost coin (drachma)
The parable of the prodigal son

These three parables have one in common: they all concern something that is "lost" and "found again". If something is lost, it once had to be "found" (i.e. in possession).

All three parables end the same way as well:

"Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance." - Luke 15:7

"Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents." - Luke 15:10

"'It was fitting to make merry and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.'" - Luke 15:32

Jesus placed particular emphasis on the need for repentance (to acknowledge wrongdoings and seek forgiveness for reparation), but what these three parables have in common is this: they all involve lost things. If something is "lost", it was before "found" (i.e. in possession). But it's the wording of the final verse in the Parable of the Prodigal Son that's most poignant:

"... for your brother was dead, and is alive..."

Let's do some quick trivia...

1.) The wages of sin is?

Death (Romans 6:23)! Yes, you guessed it.

2.) God is God of the?

Living (Mark 12:27)! Yes, you're on fire!

Now, some logic play...

If we are unrepentant for sin(s), according to Romans 6:23, what's going to happen to us? Yeah, we're dead, that is we will go where there is no life, and if God is God of the living then those who are not in communion with Him (i.e. heavenly) are dead; a death of the soul not in the sense that the soul is "annihilated" like Jehovah's Witnesses believe, but where souls are "eternally lost" (CCC, par. 1034) and where souls are tormented by the eternal loss of God.

So why will there be so much rejoicing in Heaven when a sinner repents (Luke 15:7, 10)? Because it will be to God and the angels of Heaven as if the person was dead and has come back to life. Think of it this way: have you ever been worried sick about someone and been so relieved at hearing of their safety and good health? We are, as scripture tells us, surrounded by a "great cloud of witness" (Hebrews 12:1) and these are - apart from God - the angels and the saints in Heaven who hope and pray for us to share in the glory that we will experience with almighty God.

Why does the father in the parable of the prodigal son say about his son to the other, "your brother was dead"? At the beginning of the parable, the son goes to the father and asks for his share of the inheritance. Now any good lawyer will tell you that an heir will get their inheritance usually after their parent has died. Essentially, the son is telling the father, "You are dead to me; give me what is mine and I'll be on my way". So the son leaves his father and his father's house and goes off and squanders his inheritance; living as if his father was indeed dead and didn't exist (sounds familiar, doesn't it? Atheists, I'm looking at you!). It's not until the son hits rock-bottom he realises how good he had it and that he should try and make good with his father, not knowing if his father will even take him back let alone accept his apology! The father is waiting for him and when he sees his son he welcomes him with an embrace and of course forgives him, much to the discontent of the older brother.

Let's break the parable down:

- the father is God
- the father's house/home is heaven/salvation
- the son could be anyone one of us, but one that has sinned and turned away from God

The son starts out in his father's house - he is already saved - but he turns his back on his father and he makes a conscious decision in doing so. Now an Evangelical Christian might argue that if a person has lost their salvation then they weren't really saved to begin with... poppycock! If you're in the father's house, YOU'RE IN THE FATHER'S HOUSE! Nothing can take you away, but that does not necessarily mean that you can't go on ahead and walk out if you so choose to (yes, it all boils down to choice). If we were "assured" of our salvation, then the father in the parable would have stopped his son from leaving his house even after his son had implied, "You are dead to me" and sinned against him (Luke 15:21). By leaving his father, the son has to make a conscious decision to abandon his father and his house/home, something that would require a monumental amount of pride to accomplish, and by doing so the son as well says, "I don't need you".

Choice can go either of two ways: You choose to either in communion with God, or you choose to abandon Him. In the same way, you can choose to come to God through His son, Jesus Christ, and be saved (John 3:16-17) but if you sin (mortally; 1 John 5:17) you can destroy that communion with God. The son in the parable chose to destroy the communion he had with his father and destroy the relationship. Did this mean his father stopped loving him? No, not at all, and this did not mean that the father did not want his son to be with him in his house. We have to remember that only those who persevere until the end will be saved (Matthew 24:13) and that we cannot love God if we have sinned against Him; the son could not love his father because he was dead to him.

We cannot be united with God unless we freely choose to love him. But we cannot love God if we sin gravely against him, against our neighbor or against ourselves: "He who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him." Our Lord warns us that we shall be separated from him if we fail to meet the serious needs of the poor and the little ones who are his brethren. To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God's merciful love means remaining separated from him for ever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called "hell." - Catechism of the Catholic Church, par. 1033

The son is welcomed back into his father's house only after he has humbled himself and repented for his wrongdoings; his father forgives him and celebrates his return to life (Luke 15:32).

*     *     *     *     *
What have we and what can we learn from Luke 15?

To summarise:

- if something is lost, it had to be found/in possession initially;
- if something is lost, you have to realise it's lost;
- if you are lost, the first most instinctive thing to do is to call out or ask for help;
- there is only life if you are "found";
- it's better to be "found" than "lost";
- being found means being in God's friendship; and
- being lost means being apart from God

Making your way to God through Christ (John 14:6) is one thing, but every Christian must work to keep communion with God. Scripture is very, very clear on this matter:

"'Not every one who says to me, `Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven." - Matthew 7:21 (RSV)

"Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God's kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness; otherwise you too will be cut off." - Romans 11:22 (ibid.)

"Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling;" - Philippians 2:12 (ibid.)

"For if we sin deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful prospect of judgment, and a fury of fire which will consume the adversaries." - Hebrews 10:26-27

Stay close to God; stay close to Christ; stay close to the Church.

"[E]ternal fire was prepared for him who voluntarily departed from God and for all who, without repentance, persevere in apostasy" - St. Justin Martyr (fragment in Irenaeus, Against Heresies 5:26 [A.D. 156]).


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