In his writings in Sacred Scripture, St. Paul affirms many of the things we’ve already seen regarding our salvation –faithfulness to Christ is not optional, we must remain in him, and we must persevere to the end.
In 1 Corinthians 15:1-2, St. Paul writes “Now I would remind you, brethren, in what terms I preached to you the gospel, which you received, in which you stand, by which you are saved, if you hold it fast—unless you believed in vain.” In his study bible John MacArthur’s response to this passage is that Paul is calling attention that some may have a shallow, non-saving faith and that “true” believers will hold firmly to the Gospel. But would these be “brethren” of St. Paul’s? And doesn’t he indicate that they do indeed believe when he professes it’s possible to have come to believe in vain?
In Galatians 5:2-4 he writes, ”Now I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who receives circumcision that he is bound to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.” In context St. Paul is speaking of the false teaching circulating that Gentile converts to Christianity must first become Jewish and keep the Jewish law. He views an acceptance of this false teaching as abandoning their union with Christ. John MacArthur’s view of this passage is that once again, these are people whose faith was never genuine since they deserted Christ and the Gospel. But “severed from Christ” is an analogy that aligns with the understanding that Christ is the vine, and we are the branches, and the Father will remove any branches that do not bear fruit (John 15:1-6). How can someone who was never a “true” believer become severed from Christ? Or fall from grace? If they had never genuinely believed in Christ, grace would not have been theirs to lose, nor would they have been joined to Christ at all.
St. Paul writes to the Colossians “And you, who once were estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him, provided that you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel which you heard, which has been preached to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.” (Colossians 1:21-23). Perhaps there is no clearer passage than this one. By referring to people who were “once estranged” and who Christ “has now reconciled” – can these be other than true believers? Yet MacArthur still professes that “true” believers will remain solid rather than defect from the Gospel. St. Paul has a different approach – he identifies them as true believers by his words, and then places upon them the condition for salvation – provided they continue in the faith, without shifting from the hope. Someone who is never a true believer could not “continue” in the faith because they never would have had it, which makes MacArthur’s stance perplexing to me.
And in Romans 11:22 St. Paul writes ”Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness toward you, provided you continue in his kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off.” Another clear cut reference to the necessity to continue in the faith lest we become a branch that will be “cut off.” And John MacArthur again professes that a genuine, saving faith will always persevere. Which again leads to this question — how did someone who did not have a genuine, saving faith ever became a vine on the branch in the first place?
The words of Christ. The words of St. Luke in the book of Acts. The words of the apostles St. Peter, St. Paul and St. John. All stressing that the promises obtained by our faith are conditional in that in order to receive our reward, we must persevere, choose to remain in Christ, and endure to the end. As Catholics, we would again profess this is something we can never do alone, but only with divine assistance. The grace we receive from God when we are attached to the vine confirms for us that indeed, “ I can do all things in him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)