Robert A. J. Gagnon, “Salvation Is Not Unconditional”

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It is a great misunderstanding of many believers that salvation in Christ is “unconditional.” This misunderstanding has become a virtual mantra in evangelicalism, a litmus test for orthodoxy. But orthodoxy can only be defined by the parameters of Scripture. As it is, according to the NT writers and Jesus, salvation in Christ is not “unconditional.” It is unmerited, undeserved. Big difference.

One has to believe the gospel, which is more than intellectual assent to the truth. It is a holistic life reorientation that inevitably leads to Christ’s Spirit being the controlling influence in our lives (see Gal 2:19-20). That’s the view of Jesus, Paul, John, Matthew, Mark, Luke, the writer of Hebrews, the writer of Revelation, 1-2 Peter, and James. In short, the entire NT. To argue otherwise is a false gospel.

Indeed, Paul makes clear that “you are in the process of being saved” by believing the gospel only “if (Gk. ei) you are holding firmly (to it), unless you believed in vain” (1 Cor 15:2). The “if” clause is an unambiguous condition. Unconditional salvation? Certainly not. Moreover, this is not a backwater text: It is arguably part of the premier go-to passage for defining the meaning and significance of the gospel in the New Testament.

Similarly, Paul states in Galatians: “Let us not be bad in doing what is good for in due time we will reap (a harvest of eternal life, see prior verse), if we do not slack off” (6:9). To be sure, the final clause is governed by an adverbial participle. Yet the conditional use is beyond doubt, which is why every major English committee translation and commentator understands it so. Unconditional salvation? Obviously not. Those who “slack off” (relax their efforts, give up, grow weary of doing what is right) do not reap a harvest of eternal life.

In Romans 11:20-22, Paul, continuing his “Gentile grafting” metaphor, states clearly to the Gentile believers in Rome: “Don’t be high-minded (about being incorporated into the Israel tree from which ‘some’ Israel branches were broken off), but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. See then the kindness and severity of God: on the one hand, toward those who fell, severity; on the other hand, toward you the kindness of God, if (Gk. ean) you continue in the kindness, since (otherwise) you too will be cut off.” Again, the “if” clause is a clear condition. Unconditional salvation? Not at all. Believers must “continue” (remain on) in God’s kindness and not fall into unbelief (with implications for a transformed life).

If you can’t make your case for an “unconditional” salvation from Paul, the apostle of grace, the biblical writer to whom the Reformation owes its greatest debt, you can’t make it from anywhere in the NT.

Let us stress over and over again that salvation by grace is completely undeserved, unmerited. But let us not adopt the infantile mindset that salvation in Christ is completely unconditional. It isn’t. No NT writer thought that it was.

[This post was taken untitled from Robert A. J. Gagnon’s Facebook page. The title has been added by SEA. The original post and comments may be found here.]