1 John 2:19: “never saved to begin with”?

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Once Saved, Always Saved (OSAS), a view I call a grassroots Calvinist movement in the churches, is one that doesn’t believe in the idea that some are selected for Heaven and others for Hell by God from before the foundations of the world, but those in churches who hold to OSAS don’t realize that the view is only valid for the elect, those that God chooses to save; if God chooses to damn a person, in Calvinism, then God denies that person “special grace,” in the words of John Calvin.

Churches today shun the idea that God picks and chooses persons for salvation and abandons others, and many of these same churches that argue OSAS also preach and teach in the gospel that Jesus died for every person in the world and that man has a genuine responsibility to accept or reject the gospel. If man can come to Jesus, as Matthew 11:28-30 and Hebrews 11:6 says, then man can also depart from Christ: Jesus’s words to His disciples in John 6:67 (“Do you also want to go away?”) are not rhetorical in nature. Jesus is asking a sincere question and Peter assumes so, which is why his reply (John 6:68-69) assumes Jesus is asking a serious question: “68 But Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

So today, we’re taking a look at the words of John in 1 John 2, a passage that has been used by OSAS advocates to argue that those who depart from the faith are “never saved to begin with.” Here’s the passage with some context:

18 Little children, it is the last hour; and as you have heard that the Antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come, by which we know that it is the last hour. 19 They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us.

20 But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you know all things. 21 I have not written to you because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and that no lie is of the truth.

22 Who is a liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist who denies the Father and the Son. 23 Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father either; he who acknowledges the Son has the Father also. (1 John 2:18-23)

OSAS advocates focus on “they went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us” (1 John 2:19), but they disregard the context of 1 John 2. There is one word that stands out in this passage: the word “antichrist,” which is repeated three times in the six verses of 1 John 2 above. Why is this word repeated? Because the situation in the church to which John is writing is that antichrists, those who deny Jesus is the Christ, those who deny that Christ has come in the flesh, are those that are opposing sound doctrine. 1 John 4 confirms as much:

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world. (1 John 4:1-3)

Those who are “antichrists” deny that Jesus has been incarnate, in the flesh, and this is problematic because, without the Incarnation, there is no death and resurrection for sins. Without the death and resurrection of Jesus, there is no salvation for anyone:

13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen. 14 And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty. 15 Yes, and we are found false witnesses of God, because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ, whom He did not raise up—if in fact the dead do not rise. 16 For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. 17 And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! 18 Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable. (1 Corinthians 15:13-19)

Therefore, the antichrist doctrine is false and disrupting the church and causing great consternation to the believers to which John writes.

What can we make of the context of 1 John 2:19, then? We can say that the context refers to the antichrist and antichrist doctrine that Jesus had not come in the flesh, that Jesus is not Christ. This doctrine is false, and one cannot be saved unless he or she believes that Jesus is the Christ and that Jesus came in the flesh and died for our sins and rose for our justification. Without Jesus, no man is saved.

Those, then, who departed from the midst were “never of us” not because they were “fake believers,” but because they were never saved at all! Yes, here is a “never saved to begin with” claim that is true, but it doesn’t match the one many hold to.

The antichrists were never saved in the sense that they never affirmed salvation doctrine, not that they were never saved because they didn’t have a true relationship with Jesus Christ or weren’t sincere about their walk with God. One cannot be saved and deny Jesus is the Christ and deny His incarnation. These are non-negotiables in the Christian faith.

We’ve affirmed that 1 John 2:19 and thus, 1 John 2, doesn’t refer to believers who fall away but false teachers who adhere to false doctrine that cannot save, but you may still wonder why it is that the teaching of OSAS in 1 John 2:19 has been so popular and believed by so many for so long. The answer? In a name, John Calvin:

In fine, we are sufficiently taught by experience itself, that calling and faith are of little value without perseverance, which, however, is not the gift of all. But Christ has freed us from anxiety on this head; for the following promises undoubtedly have respect to the future:…Agreeable to this are the words of John, “If they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us,” (1 John 2:19)…hence we infer, that there is no danger of their falling away, since the Son of God, who asks that their piety may prove constant, never meets with a refusal. What then did our Savior intend to teach us by this prayer, but just to confide, that whenever we are his our eternal salvation is secure? (Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Trans. by Henry Beveridge. Signalman Publishing, 2009, Kindle Locations 18084-18106)

Our eternal salvation is secure, as we are kept by the power of God through faith (1 Peter 1:5); and yet, the question is whether or not we are eternally secure. Those who fall away from the faith are not renewed to repentance according to Hebrews 6:4-6, so those who can claim security are those who continue to believe on Jesus:

24 Therefore let that abide in you which you heard from the beginning. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, you also will abide in the Son and in the Father. 25 And this is the promise that He has promised us—eternal life. (1 John 2:24-25)

John’s words to the congregation are to “let that abide in you,” that doctrine that they’d heard and been taught. Abiding in Christ is a hallmark of those who will inherit eternal life in the end (John 15:1-8, 16).

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