Can a true disciple of Christ later commit apostasy? Will those who commit apostasy perish? Can someone who was at one time placed in Christ be removed? How one answers these questions depends on how they view eternal security (outline of views).
While most proponents of Arminianism hold to a view that a true believer can commit apostasy and thus forfeit salvation, the Arminian camp allows proponents to hold different views on eternal security. Despite holding these different views, it must be understood, Classical Arminianism does affirm that a true believer will possess enduring faith. There is no such thing, Ashby will write, in his essay in “Four Views on Eternal Security”, as a “saved unbeliever”.
Based on early writings, Classical Arminians held that one of two things must be true:
- It is not possible for a true believer to apostate and thus they cannot forfeit salvation.
- It is possible for a true believer to apostate and thus forfeit salvation.
The implication of the first is that any person that has professed faith and later apostates would not be considered as having ever truly been saved (view #2).
Arminus, in defending his actual views from what some of his detractors were saying about him, wrote about the necessity of enduring faith to receive the benefits of salvation (link):
I subjoin, that there is a vast difference between the enunciation of these two sentences. (1.) “It is possible for believers to decline from the FAITH ;” and (2.) “It is possible for believers to decline from SALVATION.” For the latter, when rigidly and accurately examined, can scarcely be admitted; it being impossible for believers, as long as they remain believers, to decline from salvation. Because, were this possible, that power of God would be conquered which he has determined to employ in saving believers.
On the other hand, if believers fall away from the faith and become unbelievers, it is impossible for them to do otherwise than decline from salvation, that is, provided they still continue unbelievers. … This being granted [ie that one can apostate], the other can be necessarily inferred, “therefore they also actually decline from salvation.” (emphasis added)
The Remonstrance, written in 1610, outlines five key objections to the Reformed view. These objections were examined and rejected by the Synod of Dort (1618-19). Without affirming whether a believer could forfeit salvation, Article 5 of the Remonstrance states the need for enduring faith (link):
That those who are incorporated into Christ by a true faith, and have thereby become partakers of his life-giving Spirit, have thereby full power to strive against Satan, sin, the world, and their own flesh, and to win the victory; it being well understood that it is ever through the assisting grace of the Holy Ghost; and that Jesus Christ assists them through his Spirit in all temptations, extends to them his hand, and if only they are ready for the conflict, and desire his help, and are not inactive, keeps them from falling, so that they, by no craft or power of Satan, can be misled nor plucked out of Christ’s hands, according to the Word of Christ, John 10:28: “Neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.” (emphasis added)
This article affirms that those who hold to a true faith are assisted by Christ insuring that they have enduring faith and do not fall. However, the possibility of a believer resisting the grace that enables perseverance is left open.
But whether they are capable, through negligence, of forsaking again the first beginnings of their life in Christ (Heb 3:6, 14; 2 Pet 1:10; Jude 3; 1 Tim 1:19; Heb 11:13), of again returning to this present evil world, of turning away from the holy doctrine which was delivered to them, of losing a good conscience, of becoming void of grace, that must be more particularly determined out of the Holy Scripture, before we ourselves can teach it with full persuasion of our minds.
John Wesley firmly held that “a saint may fall away”. Whether one agrees with Wesley’s conclusions on eternal security, we should draw our assurance in the same place that he does. In his treatise Serious Thoughts on the Perseverance of the Saints (pdf), he wrote that his assurance (ie comfort) was based not on whether he could or could not fall away but rather on an enduring faith.
My comfort stands not on any opinion, either that a believer can or cannot fall away, not on the remembrance of anything wrought in me yesterday; but on what is today; on my present knowledge of God in Christ, reconciling me to himself; on my now beholding the light of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ; walking in the light as he is in the light, and having fellowship with the Father and with the Son. My comfort is, that through grace I now believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and that his Spirit doth bear witness with my spirit that I am a child of God. I take comfort in this and this only, that I see Jesus at the right hand of God; that I personally for myself, and not for another, have an hope full of immortality; that I feel the love of God shed abroad in my heart, being crucified to the world, and the world crucified to me. (emphasis added)
For Wesley, the focus on eternal security based on a past decision was misplaced. Rather than look backwards, people should ask: what do I believe right now.
As we wrestle with various passages in the Scriptures I also draw comfort and am confident in this. All believers, as long as they remain believers, are eternally secure in the promises of God. God has promised to grant eternal life to all who believe and hold fast that belief to the end. All who leave this world in unbelief, regardless of what they may have professed in the past, will perish.