The favorite weapon in the Arminian arsenal against Calvinism is the accusation that the perseverance of the saints leads to antinomianism. Their logic, or rather illogic, runs thus: If a man knows that nothing he can possibly do can imperil his salvation, he will live without restraint. Why should a man bother about living a holy life if he can be saved no matter how he lives? This is, of course a libel and a red herring.
Continuing to live in sin once one has died to it is no more logical than to try to live in a house after you’ve sold it. A death row inmate set free, but who refused to leave his cell, would still be legally free even if he didn’t walk in it experientially. His not leaving the cell would not argue against his freedom, but against his understanding of Freedom. This is the situation of one who is saved but continues in sin. His freedom is not lost or retracted, but it might as well have not been granted. This would, in fact, never happen in the real world. Its opposite, however, is the actual state of every unregenerate man. Adam alone would have retained memory of his former state of Original Righteousness; the rest of us have been born in prison. Our natural enmity toward God causes us to deceive ourselves into imagining we are free when, in fact, we are in bondage. It is a billion times easier psychologically to convince yourself that you are free when you are not (sort of a moral “Stockholm Syndrome”), than to convince yourself that you are bound when you are actually free. There is nothing to motivate that delusion.
So to get caught up on the question of whether salvation can be lost or not (although the Reformed side is definitely correct), is to miss the whole point. The hypothetical “Christian” who accepts the Lord as Savior and then proceeds to live a life of sin based on the assurance that once he is saved, he can never sin away his salvation, is no Christian at all. We would deny the very existence of such a person. Scripture categorically denies that those who willfully persist in sin were ever elected in the first place because we are elected through sanctification unto obedience. This is “putting God to the test,” and no Christian would ever do this! What kind of “Christian” makes this hypothetical experiment to see whether or not he really can remove himself from Christ’s hand? The notion is simply asinine. This is like a pardoned death-row inmate trying to see whether he can still get executed!
This false conclusion overlooks the following:
1. A Christian has a renewed nature.
The Christian life itself begins with death to the old life. It is when we are made partakers of the new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). Moreover, the Christian life works from the inside out.
2. Justification is more than mere forgiveness of sins. This is the mistake Whitefield pointed out in Wesley’s theology. Justification is a change of status before God: from “in sin” to “in Christ.” We are translated from the power of darkness to the kingdom of Christ. Hence it is a change wrought in us by God whereby we are changed from in sin to in Him. It may even be considered a change of citizenship (Colossians 1:13).
3. There is a difference between a lapse in Christian character and living in sin.
It would be false to assert that a Christian will never lapse (David, Peter, etc.). However, equating a lapse in Christian character and an ongoing living in sin will always result in an absolute lack of assurance of salvation. We all know people who fear that God will strike them dead with a lightning bolt every time they mess up. I have seen men who have been elders and deacons for decades respond to every altar the pastor gives just in case the previous one didn't take! How can a man be of any service to Christ’s kingdom when he isn’t even sure if he’s in it? It dishonors God when we cower in fear when we sin rather than coming boldly before the throne of grace. Christ commanded us to forgive 70x7 a day! Can we expect less of Him than He commands of us?
4. Justification by nature leads to Sanctification.
The whole point of the New Covenant is to ensure holiness (Jer. 31:31-33). God justifies only those He intends to sanctify (Rom. 8:29, 30). The order is “justified by faith,” not “justified by sanctification.” The latter error gives birth to the objection Paul refutes in this passage! Thomas Manton aptly remarks, “Therefore it is a desperate adventure to try conclusions, to drink rank poison to experiment the goodness of an antidote, or to wound ourselves mortally to try the virtue of a plaster.”
When Wesley flung this accusation of antinomianism at the Calvinists of his day, Augustus Toplady replied:
“Consciousness of guilt, and dread of detection, frequently put bad men upon entering those accusations against their opponents, which, without such a timely precaution, they are justly apprehensive, will be charged upon themselves, like the apostate spirits in Milton, who were turning their own torments into weapons against heaven. Such is the prudent conduct of very many Arminians. Fully aware, that their own lives are none of the best, they affect to cry out against Calvinism, as though she was the very mother and nurse of licentiousness. Were she really so, what myriads would desert the standard of Arminius, and flock to the banner of Calvin! But all those who are capable of discernment, know, that the pretended licentious tendency of Calvinism (so called) is no more than idle flourish and empty declamation. Were the doctrines of grace unfavorable to strict morality, we should quickly see them the reigning system of the age. On the contrary, they are therefore, at present, unfashionable, because they make no allowance for the wickedness of the wicked. It is a fundamental axiom, with us, who abide by the principles of the Reformation, that holiness of heart and life is (not the cause, price, or condition, but which adds infinitely stronger security to the interests of moral virtue) and essential and inseparable part of that very salvation, to which the elect were chosen from everlasting. A Calvinist must consequently, renounce both the letter and the spirit of his own constitutive principles (i.e., he must cease to be a Calvinist), ere he can, consistently, degenerate into a sensualist.”