The Calvinist/Baptist position
The Calvinist position is that the saints will necessarily persevere, so that falling away is impossible in the NT. The Holy Spirit will so powerfully transform the Christian’s heart that he’ll ultimately choose to live as a Christian should and so be saved in the end.
There are certainly subsets among the Calvinists who teach that a Christian will continue to be saved regardless of his sinfulness and commitment, but most Calvinists argue that Christians will never so sin as to deserve to fall away.
Most Baptists are not Calvinists, and yet most Baptists teach perseverance of the saints (POTS). That’s because the Baptists branched off the Puritans, who were indeed Calvinists. During the late 19th Century, it seems that many Baptists gave up most of the elements of Calvinism, but they retained POTS.
This is said to present a security and confidence — a feeling that I am saved and cannot fall away. Of course, my Calvinist and Baptist friends all know people who said the Sinner’s Prayer, were baptized, felt this sense of security — and then apostatized (fell away). Their conclusion is that such persons were never truly saved — which, if true, means that the feeling of security isn’t all that sure.
The traditional Church of Christ position
Of course, the Churches of Christ take the Arminian position that we can fall away even if really and truly saved. And I have to say that I think the Arminian view seems better supported by the scriptures. But the Churches of Christ tend to err in the opposite direction — thinking that any sin or doctrinal error can damn until repented of — destroying any sense of security at all. In fact, under traditional Church of Christ teaching, the best you can hope for is to be occasionally saved or periodically saved.
The traditional Church of Christ teaching — the one that prevailed in the late 20th Century — is that any unforgiven sin damns. Therefore, when we sin, we are damned until we confess that sin, repent of that sin, and pray for forgiveness. Of course, this teaching has led to a lot of praying for forgiveness.
This teaching is actually not biblical but taken from the Catholic Council of Trent. The only difference from Catholic teaching is that we in the Churches of Christ don’t need to confess to a priest. Confessing to God is enough.
The standard has gotten harder over the years. It came to be taught that a “public” sin has to be publicly confessed — by “going forward” and confessing to the entire congregation — making this that much closer to the Catholic teaching.
In addition, when divorce and remarriage is taught, it’s also required that you make restitution — that you undo your sin as well as possible — as a condition of forgiveness. Hence, you must remarry the spouse you divorced or who divorced you. And if that’s not possible, you must do the next best thing, remain single. And if you’ve remarried, then you have to divorce your new spouse to be forgiven of the sin of divorce. Really.
Well, this is not only very legalistic, it’s entirely unworkable. I mean, if your record must be 100% clean to be saved, then you must have confessed, repented of, and made restitution for every single sin you’ve ever committed. And this is impossible. In fact, if you’ve repented of every sin, then you’ve stopped sinning entirely. You’d be Jesus reborn!
Recognizing the unbearable burden of this doctrine, sometime in the 1960s (best I can recall), we added this gracious exception. If you’re “walking in the light,” then the blood of Jesus continuously cleanses you. Which is a true, powerful, and important teaching based on —
(1Jo 1:7 ESV) But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.
It is correctly noted that “cleanses” is in the present, indicative tense in Greek, implying ongoing, continuous cleansing.
But, the preachers emphasize, this requires you to be “walking in the light.” And those who worship with an instrument or otherwise violate Church of Christ doctrinal boundaries violate this standard. In fact, any doctrinal error damns, because of —
(2Jo 1:9 ESV) Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son.
Which, of course, is precisely contradictory. Both readings of the scriptures cannot be true.
So how do we decide? Well, it’s really this simple:
(Joh 3:18 ESV) 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.
(1Jo 5:13 ESV) I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.
As we’ve already covered, all with faith in/faithfulness to/trust in Jesus will be saved. Period. But, of course, faithfulness requires a penitent, obedient heart — someone who intends to obey and follow Jesus. Not perfectly. Not with perfect doctrine. But with a heart turned toward Jesus.
It’s just that simple. I’ll cover some key passages in detail. But we make the simple complicated in order to damn people who disagree with us about instrumental music or whatever. But any teaching that takes us away from —
(Joh 5:24 ESV) 24 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.
(Joh 20:30-31 ESV) Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
— is error.