Is Justin Bieber “saved?” The tricky thing about a troubling doctrine.

“I thank Jesus at the awards I’m never going to Hell. Call me Zach Morris I’m saving you by the bell.” –Justin Bieber

As an evangelical and especially as a Calvinist, I thought my Biblical interpretations showed God’s grace in the greatest light. I was a believer, a Christian, and nothing I ever did could steal me from Jesus’ sovereign grip. When I was trying to understand Catholicism I said to one pastor, “You know, the Catholic view of salvation—not being assured of heaven—it’s just not as good!”

However, I also saw the confusion that “getting saved” was causing. Many people I know had been “saved” more than once. How? You probably know the answer. A child comes down for an altar call at Vacation Bible School, prays the Sinner’s Prayer, and later gets baptized. However, later in middle school she attends a retreat, sees how she’s grown in the Lord, and say, “You know, I didn’t really know what I was doing in middle school.” So she gets “saved” again. Then in college she develops a new passion for God, look at past experiences, and repeats the process. This is not uncommon. Popular evangelical pastor J.D. Greear humorously describes his experience of getting baptized four times in this clip.  Kayne West raps, “I done dirt and went to church to get my hands scrubbed. Swear I’ve been baptized at least 3 or 4 times.” How many times until the Spirit catches?

What sounds like a wonderful celebration of God’s grace—He’s saved me!—turns into confusion. (see current debate in SBC with David Platt). “Am I saved? I still struggle with sin a lot, my life isn’t totally transformed. Maybe if I just study Romans 8 and listen to Matt Chandler enough I will be convinced of my salvation. But maybe I’m not saved… ” It also causes confusion regarding the plethora of verses concerning persevering to the end. (I memorized the entire book of 1 John and came away more confused than when I began).

The Catholic view makes more sense Biblically, historically (try finding anything remotely similar to the evangelical view of “saved” in the creeds), and experientially.

So is Justin Bieber saved? Assuming the evangelical definition of the word, which I reject, the answer is no. Neither am I. And neither are you. God’s grace is still magnificent, salvation is only possibly through Christ on the cross, and by God’s grace alone we are saved, being saved, and if we persevere in His grace, will be saved.

(Photo Source) 


15 thoughts on “Is Justin Bieber “saved?” The tricky thing about a troubling doctrine.

  1. The issue gets very sticky — and the confusion is understandable — when you consider that Catholics and Protestants have different understandings of the words “justification” and “sanctification.” For evangelicals, one is “justified” only once, by faith alone — and that makes you righteous before God; covers all the sins you’ve ever committed or ever will commit. And you’re right, some people pray that prayer more than once (I must have gone down to the altar a couple of dozen times, no exaggeration) — which doesn’t make much sense, if you have any sense of Protestant doctrine (I didn’t and my church didn’t). There’s an oft-repeated, possibly apocryphal quote from Luther among Catholics about a “white sheet” or a “cloak” being thrown over our putrid, rotting mass of sin and covering it so God doesn’t see it. I’ve asked some Luther scholars about it and they couldn’t point me to it, and extensive googling has not turned it up.

    But that’s not the end of the story. “Sanctification” is something different. Sanctification is the process by which we actually become righteous. And I’m not quite sure what evangelicals teach about that. Arminians, I know, teach that it’s by doing good works, by cooperating with grace — which sounds suspiciously like what the Catholic Church teaches. What do Calvinists say? I’m really not sure. I should study that.

    Catholics, on the other hand, consider justification and sanctification part of the same process. We are justified and sanctified simultaneously as we take part in the Sacraments and live the life of God’s grace. We don’t tend to make much of a distinction between those words — but I personally think the distinction is still useful, even if they happen at the same time. We are made just, made righteous before God, by Baptism and Reconciliation; we are made holy (sanctus) by all of the Sacraments, and by participating in good works (done only by the grace of God, I find myself having to add ever time I say “good works”).

  2. Interesting post and reply. I can’t help but point out though that the confusion caused by pop understanding and communication of the gospel by evangelicals (who are all about making it simple – and thus over-simplify) doesn’t, in itself, invalidate the larger theological tradition it is associated with (aka Lutheran/Reformed understanding of conversion). BTW – there IS a biblical doctrine of conversion. Whether evangelicals understand and communicate it biblically (“Are you saved?”) at the popular level is another question. I think the Reformed churches do much better. They don’t ask, “Are you saved?”. They ask, “What is your hope of salvation?” As for me, my hope is in Christ alone, and I have confidence that He is willing and able to save me from the wrath I deserve on “that day.” So my conversion is in the past and present, but my salvation is future-oriented.

    Maybe we should ask, “Will you be saved?”

    Finally, the two metaphors I meditate on frequently in relation to all this are the yoke (Matthew 11:29ff) and the cross (Matthew 16:24ff). There is a cost and a reward for following Jesus.

    • Hi Lon,

      It sounds like we’re in agreement for the most part. One thing I’ve noticed in writing this blog is how difficult it is to critique Protestantism. Because there is so much diversity, someone can always say, “that’s not the right understanding of the Protestant doctrine.” You’re right, the Reformed tradition is different. One blog that really addresses a lot of the Reformed concerns better than I could is

      Catholics certainly believe in the biblical doctrine of conversion, and my hope future hope is in Christ too! I think the areas of disagreement (though not in Arminian circles) is if a person can reject Christ even after conversion, and, of course, what role the Church plays in all of that.

      Thanks for the comment!

  3. This issue of “eternal security” I think was the first Evangelical doctrine to crumble before my eyes as I studied the Scriptures, long before I began taking serious the idea of rigorously examining my beliefs as a Southern Baptist against Church history. I began noticing how, when eternal security clashed with Bible verses, the verses were twisted to fit our theology, rather than molding our theology to the Scriptures. And I was bothered at how eternal security proponents relied so heavily on human reasoning while those who taught against eternal security had a much easier time making their case strictly from verses out of the Bible. Ironically, I find the Catholic doctrines on these matters much more comforting, while holding me accountable not to sin, lest I lose Christ altogether. Confusion abounded in my heart and mind for a long time over whether or not I was “saved”, especially after the Holy Spirit would convict me after I would commit deliberate grave sins. When I at first vigorously defended eternal security, by the time I discovered from the Church Fathers that this doctrine is wrong, I eagerly gave it up due to the horrible confusion that resulted from my trying to practice this doctrine in spite of my weak faith and doubts. In denying eternal security and upholding the truth, Catholic doctrine is both harder on sin and more merciful to the sinner than Evangelical doctrine.

      • Good question. . . As I understand it, conversion is a continual process in the Catholic Church. The sacrament of baptism and confirmation have begun that process and we continue it through our whole life. In Protestantism the one-time experience is more emphasized. Here’s the definition from the catechism:

        CONVERSION: A radical reorientation of the whole life away from sin and evil, and toward God. This change of heart or conversion is a central element of Christ’s preaching, of the Church’s ministry of evangelization, and of the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation (1427, 1431, 1423; cf. 821).

    • It’s interesting to hear these perspectives, e.g. it’s interesting to hear labels associated with one another that I have not heard associated before. For example, I’ve never heard of “eternal security” being labeled an “evangelical” doctrine before. I usually associate it with Southern Baptists (though, that may be unfair). My understanding is that staunch Arminians, which I think make up the bulk of Evangelical Christian America, are fiercely anti-eternal security. And Reformed Protestants consider “eternal security” an unbiblical twist of the Bible’s teaching on assurance.

      Sometimes I think we are better off describing what we are “for” and providing evidence from Scripture, since describing what doctrine/group/label we are “against” can get a little muddy.

      • Well it certainly does show the diversity! John Piper/Mark Driscoll/Matt Chandler/Albert Mohler/Francis Chan were the megachurch crew I was following. They’re all reformed in soteriology and believe in eternal security. I would be shocked if Rick Warren didn’t believe in eternal security. What’s interesting is that, in my experience, even Baptists who are Arminian still profess eternal security. You choose to be in, but once you’re in you can’t get out!

      • I wonder if you could get Piper to respond here about whether he believes in “eternal security.” I’ll bet he’d deny or seriously qualify that statement. The only version of eternal security I’ve heard is decidedly NOT the reformed doctrine of how Christ preserves His people. And while I could say, “Yeah, I believe the ‘P’ of TULIP,” I do not believe the eternal security I’ve heard taught down here in the south. Then again, I may have heard it from its worst proponents.

        And yes, I’ve always thought it was weird how some Southern Baptists can vigorously defend both eternal security and Arminianism. Can you say, oxymoron?

      • This is really interesting! I always thought the P meant eternal security, but then again I was getting confused in seminary the more I read the Puritans!

        Here’s a Driscoll clip affirming eternal security

        Here’s a Piper quote. This is what I’ve always heard. It’s not so much that once you pray a sinner’s prayer you’re in (the worst of eternal security) but when you’ve been truly “regenerated” then you will remain. If you don’t remain, then you never were regenerated.

        “On the basis of this text I said last week that this book teaches eternal security. That is, it teaches that if you have truly become a partaker of Christ, you will always be one. He will work in you to preserve your faith and hope. Another way to say it is that if you are a child of God, you cannot cease to be a child of God. But we all know that there are many people who make a start in the Christian life and then fall away and forsake the Lord. That kind of person is very much on this writer’s mind. He knows that happens and he deals with it in this text and how to keep it from happening. But when it happens, his explanation is not that the person really was a partaker of Christ, but that he never had become a true partaker of Christ. If we hold fast to our assurance, we have become a partaker of Christ; if we do not, then we have not become a partaker of Christ.”

      • Hello again – quick reply about “ES”. This string just goes to show that labels don’t mean the same thing to everyone. The only way I’ve ever heard “ES” discussed was with the catch phrase “Once saved, always saved.” I’ve actually heard people in the south (yes, Baptists) say that once you walk the aisle/prayer the “sinner’s prayer” you’re in, you’re always in, and it doesn’t matter whether you’re living for Jesus or not.

        I’m pretty sure Piper doesn’t believe that, nor do any Reformed people I know, nor do I. I actually remember a Piper sermon from nearly 20 years ago, wherein he taught (correctly in my view) that assurance is grounded in two things:

        1. PRIMARILY Christ’s finished work on the cross.
        2. SECONDARILY the current fruit of our relationship/obedience to Christ.

        And I would add that never should assurance be on the ground of a past experience: that I prayed a prayer, or walked an aisle, or received baptism, or was christened, or took communion, or had a vision, etc.

        So, discarding the label which we’ve proved means different things to different people, let me quickly say that the Bible has a teaching on assurance. The intent of its teaching is to strengthen our confidence and hope in Christ our Savior; not to embolden us to presume to be saved (and thus live a life of license).

        Assurance is about His ability and willingness to save us, not our status as “saved”.

        These verses come to mind:

        “For I am persuaded [that is “assured”], that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 8:38-39

        “For I know whom I have believed. And I am persuaded [“assured”] that He is able to keep that which I’ve committed to Him against that day.” – 2 Timothy 1:2

        Again, I’ve written too much. Thanks for the interactions.

      • Hi Lon,

        Yep you’re right. Now we’re on the same page. When you take your definition of assurance, which I believe to be Protestant view that makes the most sense, it really shows how similar it is to the Catholic view of salvation. I’m well aware of the differences, particularly with regards to the sacraments and definition of justification, but they don’t end up as far apart as most would expect. Both affirm salvation by grace alone, both affirm the centrality of Christ.

        Here’s a post from my original site I’m planning to repost here soon that addresses that issue.
        Thanks Lon!

      • Lon, thank you for correcting my overly broad use of terminology. I think you’re correct in that Arminianism does influence much evangelical theology to varying degrees. My background in Southern Baptist, which I typically include under the term “evangelical”, along with Methodists, Presbyterians, Weslyans, etc., but I guess could also include Pentecostals, fundamentalists, etc. Maybe I’m mistaken in my labeling. In my experience, being mostly familiar with the Baptists, I have the impression that the vast majority of those who identify themselves as “evangelical” do hold to the doctrine of eternal security, which is derived from Calvin’s perseverance of the saints doctrine, but a little more watered down. I used to listen to a lot of John MacArthur and Mark Driscoll, and know that they (especially MacArthur) put much more emphasis on personal holiness and how true Christians will persevere in a life of ongoing and ever-increasing holiness, while Baptists and other evangelicals who teach eternal security tend to focus more on the security supposedly afforded by this doctrine, and of the forgiving nature of God to His struggling children. Even most who hold this “softer” view, though, I think also tend to hold to Calvin’s teachings that true Christians will never completely fall away, but with less emphasis on the strict requirements of a righteously lived life. As for myself, I moved away from the Baptist position strictly because of issues of how I didn’t think my Baptist theology and this idea of eternal security of perseverance of the saints squared with the Scriptures, and after studying some church history, I migrated over into the Lutheran camp, and now, after more reading of church history and their doctrine, I’m making my way to the Catholic Church. I hope this helps clarify my position! Thanks for the input.

  4. Hello! Just found your blog today and have enjoyed reading your posts. This one made me chuckle a bit… I grew up as a non-denominational Protestant and I most definitely would wonder at times if I was really “saved”. When that happened I’d pray the sinner’s prayer again just to be on the safe side, even though I felt ridiculous! I’m starting RCIA this fall (two weeks!) and a couple of months ago when thinking about this topic I realized that I probably felt that way for a reason… I just wouldn’t understand it until now. I really do think God’s been slowly but surely leading me to the Catholic Church and I couldn’t be more happy about it 🙂 Looking forward to reading more of your posts!

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