They Went Out From Us
“They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us” (1 John 2:19a).- 1 John 2:18–19
Within the Protestant tradition, there have been two major concepts of soteriology (the doctrine of salvation): the Reformed view and the Arminian view. The doctrine of salvation taught by each system contains many points, of which we do not have the space to consider today. We will, however, discuss the security of the believer’s salvation, since today’s passage offers insight into this subject.
When we speak of the security of salvation we are trying to answer the question: “will the one with faith in Christ maintain this faith, or, is it possible for someone with faith to abandon Christ and lose his salvation?” Generally speaking, Arminian theology teaches it is possible to be converted genuinely and then later fall away from faith permanently. Reformed theology, on the other hand, teaches that all those with saving faith will persevere and never lose their salvation. Believers might waver in their profession, but over the course of their lives they will persist in the good works that evidence justification and finally be glorified.
Some profess Christ and later fall away, persuading many of the Arminian view. Verse 19 of today’s passage, however, tells us that when someone falls away, he never possessed saving faith. As we observed in 1 John 2:12–14, it was John’s audience that had true faith. It was this audience that believed in the incarnation, personal holiness, and love for other Christians. Had those who left the community truly been a part of it, they would have remained in this orthodox confession. They had but a transitory faith and did not hold to their confession. Thus their membership and conversion were false. All of those who abandon Christianity never knew Jesus in the first place. John Calvin comments on these verses that “they who fall away had never been thoroughly imbued with the knowledge of Christ, but had only a light and a transient taste of it.”
Some who call Jesus “Lord” are not true believers (Matt. 7:21). Faith-professers (the visible church) are not necessarily faith-possessers (the invisible church). Those who fall away finally never really knew Jesus in the first place.
Though verse 19 refers to the false teachers who left John’s audience, all those who permanently abandon the biblical Christ exhibit solidarity with false teaching and thus display that they also never had true faith. True believers will not fall away, but this does not mean that we are impervious to complacency (see 1 John 2:24). Being in the light means that we walk in the light (1 John 1:6–7), and so we must do good works of faith lest we be revealed as lacking it.
Passages for Further Study