I recently read an article by Mr. John MacArthur about salvation (“The Vine and the Branches”)at the request of a friend. I’ve read several Christians’ explanations of salvation (Catholics as well as non-Catholics) that quote the Scriptures and conclude the opposite of MacArthur. A big question that comes to my mind is, “who is right and how do we know?” But before we get to that question, let’s explore Mr. MacArthur’s view. His article should be easy enough to find by the title I provided. He preaches a doctrine of “once saved always saved” and his article is primarily in regards to John 15:1-8.
Among a couple good points he makes, I think there are places where he makes assumptions that aren’t supported by Scripture and he makes a couple contradictions. I like what he says about Christians being pruned to bear more fruit, and the fact that it can be a painful process, yet worthwhile. But, I don’t see how he concludes that fruitless branches were never “truly attached” branches. How can a branch be a branch if it’s not truly attached in the first place? MacArthur’s reasoning is not convincing for me.
For example, he suggests that branches on Christ the Vine might not really be Christians. But if a person is not truly a Christian, how can that person be attached to the Vine which is Christ? Scripture says they are “cut off”. You can’t be cut off from something that you weren’t “truly” attached to, can you? It makes no sense.
He says “the fruitless branches represent Judas and all those who never were true disciples”. But Scripture doesn’t make any claim that they were never “true disciples”. There is no indication in Scripture that Judas wasn’t a “true disciple” of Christ prior to the betrayal. We only know that he betrayed Christ. But don’t we ALL betray Christ when we choose to sin? Or is sinning something we can do as Christians? In other words, does Scripture ANYWHERE say it’s okay to sin, or that in sinning we retain our life with Christ?
MacArthur also says that once we are forgiven by God, we are clean and do not need “the bathing of forgiveness again”. Where is that in the Bible? If we don’t need that forgiveness again, then why does Paul rebuke Christian believers in every one of his Epistles about sin and the need to avoid it? If they are “once saved always saved”, then why all the preaching about avoiding sin?
Why does James tell us to confess our sins to each other and that the prayers of the presbyters forgives sin in James 5:13-16? If we don’t need that forgiveness after being initially forgiven, then didn’t the Holy Spirit inspire James to make a moot point and a false teaching? Where in Scripture does it say “…once a person is forgiven by God…he does not need…forgiveness again”?
Scripture DOES tell us that one of Christ’s children cannot be snatched out of His Hand. But it NEVER says that we can’t CHOOSE to walk from His Hand by our own choice to sin. There is nothing in Scripture that says we can’t throw away God’s Gift of salvation. And in fact, we are warned not to take it for granted, lest we fall away. Read Hb 6:4-6. Paul writes of “partakers of the Holy Spirit” who have tasted of God’s Power, only to “have fallen away”. He doesn’t make any indication here that they weren’t “true” believers, rather they were believers who “tasted the heavenly gift” [they were saved] and now are not saved. Paul shows us again in Galatians 5:4 that in seeking to be justified by the law, the Christians he is writing to can be “severed from Christ” and those Galatians have “fallen from grace”. These were Christians who received the Word and the Spirit (Gal 3:1; 4:4-9)) and were “running well the race” (Gal 5:7) and THEN were tempted away from truth and toward going back to circumcision. They were Christians on the Vine of Christ, and then “severed” themselves from the Vine that they were truly attached to. MacArthur’s explanation contradicts Paul’s message here, so who is right?
MacArthur contradicts himself by using Is 5:1-7 to explain the branches, and then expects us to accept his understanding of Scripture as the “true” one. Israel is described as being God’s chosen vineyard that bore worthless fruit. But nowhere does that passage say that these Israelites were not his true branches, as MacArthur alludes to. Rather, it says they were THE branches. Paul even calls them the “natural branches” (Rom 11:21). And what happened? They were “cut off” because they, as THE true/natural branches did not bear fruit, and so God grafted us in (Rom 11:20-23). MacArthur says that they were cut off because of their unbelief. But he’s drawing an incomplete conclusion here. The Israelites were initially allowed to be consumed, why? Is 5:1-7 tells us because they bore bad fruit. Their fruit was “worthless”. They subsequently did not believe, as Paul points out in Rom 11:20. But what ELSE does Paul say here that MacArthur conveniently forgets to mention? “19 You will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” 20 That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast only through faith. So do not become proud, but stand in awe. 21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. 22 Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness; otherwise you too will be cut off. 23 And even the others, if they do not persist in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again.” (Rom 11:19-23)
What did Scripture say there? Once we are grafted in, can we never be cut off? Does verse 22 say we can never be cut off, or that we CAN be cut off unless we DO something? And what about the ones that had been cut off, which were initially attached? Does it say they were never “truly” attached, or that they had been “cut off” AND can be RE-attached…grafted in AGAIN (v.23)? Rom 11:19-23 makes no sense with a “once saved always saved” belief.
MacArthur says that those who do not abide in Christ “were never saved”. Where does Scripture say that?
MacArthur says that all Christians bear some fruit, but that some may have bad fruit. So, every Christian bears fruit, whether good or bad. So, what happens to Christians who bear bad fruit? Are they saved for their bad fruit? (Chapter and verse?) What examples do we have from the Scriptures about bearers of bad fruit (Is 5:1-7; Mt 7:16-27)?
MacArthur says that we can be a branch without abiding in the true Vine, citing Rom 9:6 that “not all are Israel who descend from Israel”. I believe he’s making a false correlation here. Paul is talking about those who are saved. Not all who are from Israel are saved because they reject Christ. It never suggests they were not part of a true Vine, rather Paul tells us plainly they were “the natural branches” and now have been “cut off”. MacArthur’s view is contradicting Paul’s Holy Spirit-inspired writings here. So who is right?
There are over 40 instances* in Scripture where Paul talks of the “hope” of salvation, and NOT any “certainty”. (Cff. Rom 5:2,5, 8:24, 10:1; Gal 5:5; Eph 1:18, 4:4; Col 1:5, 23, 27; 1Thess 1:3, 2:19, 5:8; 2Thess 2:16; 1Tim 1:1, 4:10, etc...ad nauseum.) In fact, even Paul says he buffets himself for fear of being “disqualified” (1 Cor 9:27), which makes no sense in a “once saved always saved” belief, unless you want to believe that Paul was never a “true disciple”. Was Paul a “true disciple of Christ”? Did Paul EVER mention being ASSURED of his salvation?
Nowhere does Scripture tell us that salvation is a one-time step of asking the Lord into our hearts and making a one-time profession of faith in Him. Scripture tells us that salvation is a process. The Christian can rightly say, “I have been saved (Rom 8:24; Eph 2:5,8; 2Tim 1:9; Tit 3:5), I am being saved (Phil 2:12; 1Pet1:9) and I will be saved IF I endure to the end (Mt 7:21; Mt 10:22; Mt 19:16-17; Mt 24:13; 1Cor 9:27; 1Cor 10:11-12, etc…).
Ultimately, I think it boils down to authority. MacArthur wants us to accept his interpretation/understanding of Scripture, even though Scripture does not actually say what he tries to make it say, and he has to ignore and contradict several verses in Scripture to conclude “once saved always saved”. So the real question might be, by what authority does MacArthur (or anyone else) presume to be able to interpret and teach the Scriptures that I (or anyone else) don’t also have? Does Scripture give us any clues on whom to turn to when there are disagreements? Is there a “pillar and bulwark of Truth” (1Tim 3:15) that we can turn to when there are disagreements on matters of doctrine, and who is it, and where do you find them?
*For more Scriptural references on salvation, visit the Scripture Catholic website HERE :