Apologetics for the Masses - Issue #106

Bible Christian Society

General Comments

Okay, just so you know, this newsletter is not one of the chapters of my book. So no need to send in spelling and grammar corrections and Scripture verses and what not. I will make it very clear which issues of this newsletter will be part of the book and which will not be part of the book. And I probably will not start on the book until after the holidays.


I received some responses regarding my answer to the question – “If you died tonight do you have absolute assurance that you would go to Heaven?” – that I discussed in the last newsletter. So, I will address a couple of those in this newsletter.

First, there is a response from “Moondweller” to one specific portion of the newsletter – a portion that refers to John 15:1-6. I’ll print what I wrote, then the “objection” to what I wrote, and then my response to the objection.

Second, there is a point-by-point response from Cary. I’ll print the paragraphs of Issue #105, his objection to each one, and then my reply to his objections.


From Issue #105:

"I believe I was saved by God’s grace alone, but that now that I am saved, in order to run the race to the end, I need to cooperate with God’s grace in my life and produce good fruit, or I will be like the branches of the vine in John 15:1-6 that get cut off from the vine, thrown into the fire, and burned."

Objection from Moondweller (And I will not make any cracks about Moondweller’s nom de guerre):

"Then you were never saved "by grace through faith." Your faith is in yourself. That’s not salvation faith. Do you believe you will remain a branch of the vine if you do not produce good fruit.  Jn. 15:1-6 is about bearing fruit, not salvation. One is not saved by bearing fruit, but the saved bear fruit by abiding in Christ, the Vine (a walk of dependence on Him). The truly "saved, by grace, through faith", don’t merely "abide," they’re "created in Christ Jesus for good works," not by good works."

My Response to Moondweller:

To say that John 15:1-6 is not about salvation is a fairly ridiculous statement to make.  Let’s look at this passage for a moment.  Jesus is the vine.  The vine has branches.  The branches are Christians.   If you are joined to Christ, you are a Christian.  In other words, the branches are those that have been saved through faith in Christ.  So, these branches represent "saved" Christians. 

Now, Jesus says that the branches must abide in Him in order to bear fruit.  Absolutely.  We can do nothing apart from Christ.  But, He also says that "every branch of Mine" that does not bear fruit, will be taken away.  And what happens to these branches of His that do not bear fruit when they are taken away from Him – when they are separated from the vine?  They are cast forth, they wither, they are thrown into the fire, and they are burned.   

With all due respect to Moondweller, but I don’t think being taken away from Christ…being separated from Christ…being cut off from the vine…then withering, and then being thrown into the fire to be burned, is a good thing.  And who is it that is thrown into the fire to be burned?  Does John say it was only those that were never branches of the vine?  No.  Does it say that it was only those that thought they were branches of the vine but they really weren’t?  No.  John records Jesus as saying "every branch of Mine" – Jesus is talking about the branches that are connected to Him.  The branches of the vine that is Jesus Christ.  Christians, in other words. 

If a Christian, who has been saved, by the grace of God, through faith, does not produce fruit, by the grace of God, then Scripture records that he will be "taken away" - cut off from the vine; and that he will wither – die spiritually; and be cast into the fire to be burned – end up in Hell. 

To say that this passage is not about salvation is patently absurd.  What does it mean to "wither" in this context, if not die spiritually?  What else does it mean to be cast into the fire and burned in this context, if not spending eternity in Hell?  What are the branches of the vine in this context, if not saved Christians?  

Are the branches non-Christians?  If so, how so?  Are non-Christians branches of the vine which is Christ?  Absolutely not!  Does getting cut off from the vine for not bearing fruit mean that these people really weren’t saved in the first place?  If so, how so?  If they weren’t really saved in the first place, then how did they get to be branches of the vine?  Does being cut off from the vine – being cut off from Jesus Christ – somehow mean that you are still saved, even though you’ve been separated from Christ?  If so, how so?  Does withering somehow not refer to spiritual death?  If so, how so?  Does being thrown into the fire and burned actually mean one is saved instead of damned?  If so, how so?

Moondweller is right that one is not saved by bearing fruit, but that is not the argument here.  One cannot bear fruit unless one is already saved.  The argument here, however, is can one lose one’s salvation if he doesn’t bear fruit?  It is very obvious, from this passage as well as many others, that one does not automatically bear fruit even though they have been saved.  And, if they do not bear fruit, they will lose their salvation.  Again, bearing fruit does not save us, but not bearing fruit can lead to our damnation.  Because to whom much has been given, much is expected.  And if we do not live up to the expectations…well, as Paul says in 1st Corinthians 10, "Let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed, lest he fall." 

And, one final observation about this passage: in the first six verses of John 15, Jesus uses the word "abide" five times.  We have to "abide" in Christ in order to be saved.  If we do not abide in Christ, we will not be saved.  To abide denotes a process, not a one-time event.  Salvation is a process, not a one-time event.  And how does it say we "abide" in Christ…by making a one-time profession of faith?  No.  Verse 10: "If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love."  Salvation by faith "alone"?  I don’t think so.  Once saved, always saved?  I don’t think so.


From Newsletter #105:

Well, we’re good up until Question #4. The first thing I do whenever someone asks me this question is to immediately ask them: "Where is that question in the Bible?" Where does Jesus, or Paul, or Peter, or James, or anyone else ask someone, "If you died tonight do you know for sure that you would go to Heaven?" Ask them to give you book, chapter, and verse. They can’t do it, because that question is not in the Bible. In other words, these "Bible–only" Christians have made up some sort of salvation test that is nowhere found in the Bible…it is a man–made invention.

Objection from Cary:

Does John count? 1 John 5:11-15: "And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. 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. And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him." So, who are the "you who believe?" Is he writing to saints already in heaven?

My Response:

As a Catholic, how do I respond to 1 John 5:11-15?  Amen!  I believe!   However, I do not necessarily believe in the interpretation of the once saved, always saved crowd that the word "know" means "absolute assurance."  I know that I have eternal life as long as I abide in Christ and bear fruit and do the will of the Father.  I know that.  But, if I were to die tonight do I have absolute assurance that I would go to Heaven?  I would have to say, along with Paul, "I do not judge myself.  I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted.  It is the Lord who judges me."  There is no contradiction between Paul and John, unless one misinterprets one or the other – as Cary is doing. 

So, there is nothing in 1 John 5, or anywhere else in the Bible, that causes a Catholic any problems on this particular issue – or any other issue for that matter.  So, we see that Cary did not give me book, chapter, and verse regarding where in the Bible I could find that question.  In fact, he basically admits that that question is nowhere to be found in the Bible.

And, am I insulting my readers/listeners?  Or are my readers/listeners who have been asked that non-scriptural question about "If you died tonight…" the ones being insulted by the likes of Cary who are taught to judge the state of a Catholic’s soul by their answer to that question?  Besides, I, as a Catholic, am constantly being asked to "prove" Catholic teaching by giving an exact quote from the Bible – "Where does the word ‘Pope’ appear in the Bible?"  "Where do the words ‘Immaculate Conception’ appear in the Bible?"  "Where does the Bible say anything about praying to Mary?"  So, why can’t I legitimately ask, "Where is that question in the Bible?"  Obviously, what is good for the goose, is not good for the gander.

From Issue #105:

Now, of course they’ll come up with some sort of reply to your question, and then get back to asking you to answer their question. So, when asked if you "know" that you would go to Heaven should you "die tonight," go ahead and answer the question like this: "I do not judge myself. I am not aware of anything against myself, but that does not mean I am acquitted. It is the Lord Who judges me."

Now, if they try and point out that the Bible says that we can "know" – which they interpret to mean "have absolute assurance" – that we are saved and heading to Heaven and, therefore, any one who is "really" a Christian would have absolute assurance of their salvation, then simply repeat, "I do not judge myself. I am not aware of anything against myself, but that does not mean I am acquitted. It is the Lord Who judges me." If they then imply, or come right out and say, that your response is faulty, or somehow wrong, or that your response indicates that you are not saved – which they will eventually do – then simply point out that your response is almost an exact quote from Paul – 1 Cor 4:3–4. Tell them you are simply answering their non–scriptural question with a quote from Scripture itself. And, if they take that to somehow mean that you are not saved, then they are directly insinuating that Paul himself must not have been saved…because those are Paul’s words!

Objection from Cary:

Are Paul and John contradicting each other? BTW, it is a red-herring to say that the normative Protestant teaching on "perseverance of the saints" is "absolute assurance." As with all aspects of sanctification, there are times of doubt and times of great confidence, but one can be sure that if they trust Jesus alone for forgiveness of sins, that "he who has begun a good work in you will be faithful to complete it." Who is that, Paul? Who began the good work? Who will complete it?

My Response:

First of all, in my experience, there is no such thing as a "normative Protestant teaching."  I have yet to find a Protestant doctrine on which all Protestants can say, "Yep, that’s correct Protestant teaching."   Secondly, I have said absolutely nothing about "normative Protestant teaching." 

What Cary says next I find very interesting:  "As with all aspects of sanctification, there are times of doubt and times of great confidence."  So, if I asked a normative Protestant the question, "If you died tonight do you have absolute assurance of your salvation," during one of his "times of doubt," and he said, "No, I don’t have absolute assurance – I’m in one of my times of doubt," could I then conclude he wasn’t saved?  I mean, if a Catholic ever – ever – answers that question with anything less than a, "Yes, I have absolute assurance of my salvation," then they are judged as not saved.  Never are they judged as being saved, but in a "time of doubt."  The hypocrisy is absolutely amazing! 

And yes, Cary, we, as Catholics, trust Jesus alone for the forgiveness of our sins, and that He will complete the good work He has started in us.  Jesus started it.  Jesus will complete it.  IF, we abide in Him and produce good fruit, as it clearly states in John 15. 

From Issue #105:

Or, another option would be to simply say, "Let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed, lest he fall." Again, this is a direct quote from Paul (1 Cor 10:12), that will throw your questioner for a loop.

Objection from Cary:

In context, this is talking about warning the Christian to be careful in the face of temptation, and to trust God to help resist the temptation and to provide a way of escape. This passage is actually speaking the security of the believer that he can resist temptation by God-given means. But, trusting oneself in the face of temptation could lead to a fall. I do not see where this fall is such that one would be kicked out of the kingdom of God, though. Can you show me how you make that conclusion by using that verse?

My Response:

I don’t know how you can read this passage and still ask me that question?!  The context is indeed about resisting temptation and not falling into evil, but the context is also about what happens if you do fall into evil (verses 1-5).  The "fathers" were all under the cloud (the glory cloud of God), they had been saved from slavery, they were partaking of the Rock which was Christ.  "Nevertheless," God was not pleased with most of them and they were overthrown (verse 5) – they did not enter the Promised Land.  Verse 6: "These things are warnings for us."  In other words, what happened to the "fathers" – who had been saved from slavery (sin), who had been led out of Egypt by God, who had partaken of Christ – could happen to "us" – the Christians Paul is talking to.  We have to be on our guard lest we, too, fail to make it to the Promised Land.  "Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall."  Fall into the same things the "fathers" had fallen into – which caused them to lose their salvation…to be overthrown!  Hello!?  Earth to Moondweller.  Oh, wait…that was the other guy.

From Issue #105:

Now, if you want to get all the way through the test, rather than engaging in battle at Question #4, you could simply answer #4 with something like this: "I am not the judge of such things, God is." Which is basically what Paul is saying, but since it’s not a direct quote from Scripture they may not recognize that you have responded with a solid scriptural principle – God is our judge, we are not.

So, let’s say you answer #4 with, "I am not my own judge, God is," and they then interpret that as the poor little Catholic taking the bait and they move in to spring the trap with question #5, "What is it that separates us from God?" And you, quite rightly, answer with, "Sin." They then think they’ve sealed the deal with Question #6, "Which sin of ours doesn’t Christ fully atone for?"

What do you do? How do you respond?

What I would say in response to the question: "Which sin of ours doesn’t Christ fully atone for," is this: "The unrepented one." Now, Christ did indeed atone for all of our sins, repented and unrepented; however, the atonement is not applied to the unrepented sins. So turn around and ask your questioner this: "Does Christ forgive YOUR unrepented sins?" Now this could present quite a problem to your questioner, because this person, based on the fact that they asked you this series of questions, undoubtedly believes not only in salvation by faith alone, but also in the dogma of once saved, always saved. In other words, they believe that once they’ve accepted Jesus, they are going to Heaven no matter what they do after that.

Objection from Cary:

What is the Scriptural basis for an atonement for repented sins only? 

My Response:

I believe I stated quite clearly that Jesus atoned for all of our sins – repented and unrepented.  All men have been redeemed – whether they are saved or unsaved.  All men’s sins have been paid for; however, not all of men’s sins have been forgiven.  It is very clear, from Scripture – all the verses on the need for repentance and the verse I mention below (1 John 1:9) – that if you do not repent of your sins, then your sins are not forgiven.  So, while Christ did indeed atone for all sin – He paid the price for all sin - that atonement is not applied to the unrepented sins.  The price of a man’s sins has been paid, if only the man asks for forgiveness. 

From Issue #105:

So, because they believe in once saved, always saved, they have to believe that Christ forgives their sins whether they repent of them or not. Yet, if they answer your question with a, "Yes," Christ does indeed forgive their unrepented sins, they are flying in the face of Scripture: 1 John 1:9, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness." "If," we confess our sins. If we repent. If we don’t, we are not forgiven. If we are not forgiven, we are not saved. This can also be very clearly seen in Jesus’ words to the seven churches in Rev 2 and 3.

Objection from Cary:

This is clearly the distinction between the solas, is it not? Protestants disagree with the RCC position of justification, hence the Protestant Reformation and the difference toward one’s justification based on faith alone in Christ alone, rather than "ifs and buts" of man doing this that and the other to justify himself.

My Response:

The "distinction between the solas"?  Huh?  Have you figured out yet that he isn’t going to answer the question?  Cary, does Christ forgive your unrepented sins?  Yes or no?  If, "yes," then where can I find that in the Bible?  If, "no," then how can you believe in once saved, always saved?  After all, a saved Christian could have unrepented sin, couldn’t he?  And, if he has unrepented sin, and Christ does not forgive unrepented sin, then he cannot be saved if he hasn’t been forgiven, right?

From Issue #105:

But, if they answer in accord with Scripture and say, "No," Christ does not forgive their unrepented sins, then how can they believe in once saved, always saved? Because once they’re saved, they could always commit a sin for which they do not repent. God does not force us to repent. Repentance is not automatic, even for a Christian. And, if they have a sin for which they h aven’t repented, which means it hasn’t been forgiven, which means they have lost their salvation since, as they pointed out earlier, sin separates us from Christ…then how can once saved always saved be true?

Objection from Cary:

Can you show me in the Bible where it says that someone with unrepented sin is not justified?

My Response:

You have got to be kidding me, right?  What did John the Baptist preach?  REPENT!  (Matt 3:2)  What did Jesus preach?  REPENT! (Matt 4:17)  Why did Jesus say that it will be more tolerable for the inhabitants of Sodom on the Day of Judgment than it will be for the inhabitants of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum?  Because even though they had seen Jesus’ might works they did not REPENT!  (Matt 11:20-24)  What did the twelve preach?  REPENT!  (Mark 6:12)  Does Jesus not say that "unless you REPENT" you will perish?  (Luke 13:1-5)  When does Jesus say one must forgive his brother? "If" he REPENTS and asks for forgiveness.  (Luke 17:3-4)  What does Acts 2:38 say we need to do as a prerequisite for receiving the Holy Spirit and for the forgiveness of our sins?  REPENT!  What does Acts 3:19-20 say is necessary for your sins to be "blotted out"?  REPENT!  In Acts 17:30 it says that God commands all men everywhere to REPENT!  "For godly grief produces a REPENTANCE that leads to salvation…" (2 Cor 7:10).  Repentance leads to salvation. 

On and on I could go.  The forgiveness of sin is irrevocably linked to repentance.  And if one’s sins are not forgiven, then one is not justified! 

Please show me in Scripture where it says the unrepentant sinner is forgiven?  Where does it say the unrepentant sinner is justified in the Word of God?  Do you believe you can have justification without the forgiveness of sin?  Perhaps you will claim once repented always repented?  Is that it?  You are once saved, always saved, because you are once repented always repented?  Is that normative Protestant teaching?

From Issue #105:

Now, as in any of these situations, they will undoubtedly have a response…words will come out of their mouths. But, I can guarantee you that it is not a response that will make much scriptural sense. So, no matter what they say in response to your question, examine it very carefully because it will not be consistent either with Scripture, or with one of their earlier statements. There will be a disconnect…an inconsistency…in what they say, guaranteed. You just have to pay attention and just keep coming back to your question until they have given you a logically and scripturally–consistent answer.

Objection from Cary:

I will be awaiting the same from you, John. But, the last few responses I have made to your newsletter have gone unanswered, so I will not hold my breath.

My Response:

I have a lot of folks like you wanting me to respond to everything they write to me in response to my newsletters.  Sorry, don’t have the time nor the inclination to do so.  My main focus is on teaching Catholics, not on jousting with those who have a superficial understanding of what the Catholic Faith teaches, yet have no interest in taking the time to find out what we actually believe and why we believe it. 

From Issue #105:

And, if they ever get to #7, tell them that you agree with that statement 100%. As a Catholic, we believe that we must trust in Christ and in Him alone for our salvation. We believe that His death on the cross paid the full price for our sins that we may know that we have eternal life. However, you don’t necessarily agree with their interpretation of the verses from Scripture that they are alluding to. Again, they interpret the word "know" as meaning "absolute assurance," which, in fact, it does not necessarily mean, and they wring a "once saved, always saved" dogma out of the Scriptures that they are twisting in order to try and pull you out of the Church. Yet, the dogma of once saved, always saved, flies directly in the face of Scripture.

Objection from Cary:

I am not sure who "they" are, but I am pretty confident that your caricature of "once saved, always saved" is not consistent with the Reformers’ notion of "perseverance of the saints." In fact, I think it is a very large assumption on your part that the only aspect of the issue of assurance is either "once saved/always saved," whatever that means, and "one can never have absolute assurance," which seems to be your position. "Absolute assurance," as I have already pointed out, is a strawman argument that it is not clear that the Presbyterians ascribe to that as a part of a defintion of assurance or not. You are assuming this, but have not presented evidence other than "I think they mean this." 

My Response:

"They," are the people asking Catholics this ridiculous question.  I should think that would be obvious to the careful reader.  Regarding the "Reformers’ notion of ‘perseverance of the saints,’" I am not concerned in the least about that as far as this discussion goes.  I am presenting to you the notions of once saved, always saved, and "absolute assurance," as I have found them to be believed and argued by any number of Protestants that I have come across.  If these Protestants’ beliefs are not consistent with the "Reformers’ notion of ‘perseverance of the saints,’" then your argument is with them, not with me.  I am merely responding to the arguments I have been presented with.  I cannot be blamed if a Protestant does not conform to your notion of "normative Protestant teaching." 

From Issue #105:

You can conclude by telling your questioner that you believe you were saved by God’s grace alone, but that now that you are saved, in order to run the race to the end, you need to cooperate with God’s grace in your life and produce good fruit, or you will be like the branches of the vine in John 15:1–6 that get cut off from the vine, thrown into the fire, and burned. And ask them if they believe they will remain a branch of the vine if they do not produce good fruit. See what they say…

Objection from Cary:

"So then, my brethren, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who is at work in you both to will and to work for His good pleasure. (Phil. 2:12-13)(emphasis mine)

My Response:

Amen!  But, how does that answer the question?  Will you remain a branch of the vine if you do not produce good fruit?  Yes or no?  It is indeed God who is at work in us to produce the fruit, we cannot do it on our own.  But John 15 very clearly states that it is the branch which does or does not produce the fruit.  In other words, the branch can only produce good fruit because of what it receives from the vine, but it is very clear that the branch plays a part in this life or death drama.  The vine is the same regardless.  The difference between the branches that abide in the vine and the branches that are removed from the vine is in what the branches do or don’t do with what they receive from the vine.   Salvation by faith alone?  Don’t think so.  Once saved, always saved?  Don’t think so. We must indeed "work out" our salvation in fear and trembling.  Absolute assurance?  Don’t think so. 

I would love to see Cary’s verse-by-verse interpretation of John 15:1-10.  Who are the branches?  Why do some of the branches get "taken away" from the vine?  What does it mean to "wither"?  What does it mean to be thrown into the fire and burned?  Why does Jesus say "if" we abide in Him?  How do we abide in Him? 

In Conclusion

You will notice that neither of these two folks had any direct commentary on the verses I use to answer the question, “If you die tonight do you have absolute assurance that you would go to Heaven.” I respond to that question with a direct quote from Paul (1 Cor 4:3-4) about how it is not up to me to judge myself, but up to God to do so. If Paul doesn’t judge himself as being justified, then how can we judge ourselves as being justified and having absolute assurance of Heaven? In other words, folks, by responding with Paul’s words to their question, you will indeed throw your questioners for a loop.

Also, I just want to reiterate how powerful a passage John 15:1-6 is when confronted with the notion of once saved, always saved. I’ve printed responses to that passage in this newsletter before, and they were always pitiful. Two more pitiful responses here. Do not be thrown by the mere fact that someone has a response. Examine the response. Compare it to what is actually said in John 15. I guarantee you their response will not make any scriptural sense.

Don’t be intimidated just because someone has a comeback to you. Stick with your initial response and examine the verses with them very carefully to show them that what they are saying is not in accord with what the Bible is saying. I guarantee it won’t be.

How to be added to, or removed from, the list

If this newsletter was forwarded to you by a friend, and you would like to be added to our distribution list, all you have to do is go to www.biblechristiansociety.com and click on the “Newsletter” page to sign up. It will take you about 10 seconds.


Apologetics for the Masses