The exegesis of Scripture surrounding salvation is perhaps the most important to understand. Christology is just as vital. It's important we understand the complexities of what salvation is, how we can have it, and how we can keep it. The highest authority must be the Scriptures. This means the entirety of Scripture. Not only select Scriptures from select books of the Bible. We must understand theology in the light of every book in the Bible, as a full, cohesive theology.
To this end, one must ask: Once we are saved in Christ Jesus, reborn and made new in his love, is there a possibility of losing that relationship, or is that connection unbreakable?
There are two primary views: The eternal security view is the idea that God will force a person to remain saved throughout their lives, no matter what they do.
The second view is that relationship found in Christ Jesus must be engaged in, and lived out; in other words, the believer must remain or "abide" in the relationship with Jesus Christ.
Today we'll be looking at both views, and Scriptures that are levied to defend each position.
First, eternal security. The important scriptures levied in favor of eternal security include: Jude 24, John 10:28-29, Ephesians 4:30, and Romans 8:38-39.
The most important is probably Romans 8:38-39 which states: "For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord."
Those are in fact important and valid Scriptures that point to a vital aspect of our relationship with Jesus Christ: There is an active agent on the other end of that relationship guiding us, upholding us and renewing us in His power.
Though eternal security is a reasonable theological position with decent supporting evidence, I'd like to make the case today that "conditional security" holds more scriptural evidence.
What's most important is the truth about Scripture, that's something we can all agree on. What matters most is what is actually true, not our entrenched positions.
I would contend that there is a treasure trove of Scripture to back up the idea of conditional security. Again and again in scripture we see phrases like "departing from the faith", "falling away", and "being lead astray."
1 Timothy 1:4 (ESV) says "Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons." One can only depart from a faith they already have.
Hebrews 6:4-6 (ESV) says "For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the Word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt."
The scenario being described in Hebrews 6 is of one who has fallen away, after being a Christian. One cannot share in the Holy Spirit unless they are a saved Christian, who has then fallen away and effectively moved away from their salvation.
Consider Revelation 2:4-5 (ESV) which states "But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent."
This is an example of Christians who did very well in serving Christ at first, but slowly moved in the wrong direction. Jesus warns them; do what you did at first or I will remove your lamp stand from it's place. That would be an example of believers who fell away from salvation.
In John 15:1-15 Jesus Christ describes Christians as branches, who are connected to the vine (Jesus) who are being pruned by the gardener (the Father). In this parable Jesus says that those branches who bear fruit will be pruned by the Father so they bear more fruit. He also says that those who do not bear fruit will shrivel up, and be tossed into the fire. Once we again we see a situation where the relationship between God and man is neglected, and eventually abandoned. Jesus did not lose that person, that person left Jesus willingly.
Erwin Lutzer in his book Doctrines that Divide (1998) attempts to point out two defenses against this verse; that those people were never truly saved, or that the fire only represents the fire at the judgement seat of Christ, and does not affect salvation. Both of those defenses are in my view, stretches of scripture and seem to neglect a plain straight forward reading of John 15.
Lutzer writes that it's presumptuous to decide the case of eternal or conditional security on a metaphor (Lutzer, 1998, p. 230). Warren Wiersbe also commented on this Scripture that it's not wise to make theology from parables. I would contend that parables are exactly what theology is made from. Jesus used parables to describe spiritual truths, so we could understand them in applicable ways. To Lutzer I would say, the scriptures are full of metaphors, including this one, which holds a clear application regarding our salvation. One which we must not neglect.
Erwin Lutzer does an impressive job of trying to defend his views on election and security, I won't fault him in that (Lutzer, 1998, p. 233). But I would point to the fact that Lutzer himself suggests a book by Robert Shank called Life in the Son that lists scripture after scripture indicating how salvation is conditional on perseverance (Lutzer, 1998, p. 230). Perhaps Lutzer was conflicted on his interpretation, though there is nothing wrong with that. The Scriptures ought to bring about such rigorous thought and consideration.
Another example setting aside John 15 would be the parable of the sower in Matthew 13. Specifically we read of the sower's seed landing on ground which represents a believer who receives the word and embraces it thoroughly, but thorns grow up and choke out the word. Once again, we see that salvation is neglected due to the desires of the world.
In my view eternal security is unable to survive the parables of Jesus including: the parable of the faithful servant, the parable of the two debtors, the parable of the unforgiving servant and the parable of the talents.
Since scripture shows that salvation is conditional on the actions of the faithful, what are the possible ways of losing salvation? From Scripture we can see that Christians who fail to bear fruit for God will be lost (John 15:1-15). Salvation can be lost through being unforgiving of your neighbor (Matthew 18:21-35). Salvation can also be lost through committing the unforgivable sin, which is of course to reject the deity of Christ (Mark 3:28-30). Salvation can also be lost by denying Christ (2 Timothy 2:12). Though there are some clear ways to lose salvation, sinning, or willful sinning are not included on the list. All believers sin. Though multiplied sinning can lead to habitual sinning, which can then give birth to disillusionment, and more sin, leading to death (James 1:15, Psalm 7:14).
One could say that sin is the road that leads to lost salvation. At the same time, God promises to protect believers and help them persevere to the very end (John 10:27-29, John 6:37, Romans 8:38-39).
Philippians 1:6 (ESV) says "And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ."
By divorcing Philippians 1:6 from the context of a letter to believers in Philippi one could assume this Scripture is pointing toward eternal security, however when carefully exegesis is done, one sees that Philippians 1:6 is bound to it's historical audience and when passing over the bridge to modern times, it is a message of encouragement to perseverance, not eternal security.
Colossians 1:23 (ESV) says "If indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister."
Paul uses a conditional clause "if." And he exhorts the church in Colossae to not shift from the hope of the gospel. If Paul must exhort us to continue in the faith, then this is a certainly an important and applicable teaching for today. It seems to me to be dangerous to neglect this consistent teaching of scripture exhorting believers to continue in the faith.
Again and again, we see conditional clauses in scripture "if indeed you continue" or "take care brothers lest you fall away" (Hebrews 3:12-14). The Bible speaks of believers who fall from grace (Galatians 5:4). God gives instructions in His word, to those who have free will choices to make, which must include the possibility of falling away.
Does this mean that the believer is taking credit for his own salvation? The answer to that question I believe is no. As Boyd (2009) says in his book Across the Spectrum "Salvation is a gracious gift by God, but a gift is not less of a gift because it is accepted." Calvinists might suggest that Arminian believers are turning faith into a work. Faith is not a work, but a gift that is freely received (Boyd, 2009, p. 159).
One final Scripture points it out elegantly and simply, Hebrews 3:14 (ESV) which states: "For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end."
We've come to share in Christ, only if we hold our original confidence firm to the end. We are exhorted by the writer of Hebrews to remain in Christ, to abide in Him, and to stay firm in our faith. This is a central aspect of the salvation message, we must not neglect it.
But what about the key Scriptures levied from the eternal security view?
Jude 24 says, "To Him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before His glorious presence without fault and with great joy."
This is near the conclusion of Jude, the doxology, which indicates a perseverance of relationship. Jesus is able to keep the believer steadfast along the journey of life. Jesus both keeps us along the way, and presents us spotless before the Father. This Scripture is simply indicating as stated earlier that Christ is at the other end of the relationship helping the believer to remain steadfast. This doxology is of course an encouragement to the church, not a statement regarding eternal security.
What about John 10:28-29b? It states: " I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand."
Christ gives the believer eternal life, and promises that no one, no demon, no enemy of God can force the believer from the Father's hand. But we can always turn away and walk away from the Father, and reject Christ as Savior, by neglecting that vital relationship. So the believer cannot be snatched by evil or an enemy, but the believer can choose to set aside such a great salvation. And what hope is there for them then?
Ephesians 4:30 instructs believers not to grieve the Holy Spirit of God, which it says has sealed the believer for the day of redemption. And it is suggested that if the believer is sealed, how can he be unsealed? Well, why would Paul be writing to tell us not to grieve the Holy Spirit if it can't be done? Can one who is sealed be unsealed? Isn't it stated in Revelation that if one changes the words of Revelation that this person's name will be "blotted out" of the book of life? Yes indeed, Revelation 3:5 indicates a chilling possibility of having ones name blotted out, which when coupled with Revelation 22:19, indicating that if one takes away anything from the book, they will be removed from access to the tree of life, is a compelling case to say that one can certainly be removed from access according to the will of God.
Romans 8 is once again encouraging believers to know that Satan, demons or enemies can't just swoop in and remove a believer from Christ. Christ upholds the relationship and guides us along the way, upholding us, reproving us, correcting us and developing our vital relationship with Jesus. We respond, and interact with Jesus along the way, and nothing can swipe us from His hand. But we may shipwreck our faith through constant sin, departing from faith community or various other ways to leave aside our trust in Christ.
I would contend that the key Scriptures for the eternal security view are dealt with in a fair manner, while many Scriptures remain which point to a conditional relationship, a relationship that we participate in, a gift that we receive, but must continue in and a faith that we must practice, not to be saved, but because we've already been saved entirely and completely by Jesus Christ. We simply continue to engage in that reality until our final day, just as we are taught to do in Scripture (Matthew 24:13, Galatians 6:9, Hebrews 3:14, Colossians 1:23).
Now many would say that it doesn't really matter. As long as we both love Jesus, that's what matters. I agree that as long as we both love Jesus, we're on the same team. Calvinists and Arminians are family. So what we're discussing here is a family dispute.
But I would be bold enough to say that it does matter. I've seen ministries like Liberty University, CARM Apologetics, Answers in Genesis and Got Questions? all supporting an eternal security view of Scripture. So I thought I would chime in with a view that seems much more grounded in the fullness of scripture. If you'd like to view articles on the eternal security view, click the two links above which will take you to articles by CARM and Got Questions? defending eternal security.
Many of the reformed preachers that have deeply influenced my ministry are also supporters of eternal security; including James MacDonald, John Piper, Mark Driscoll and many others. Of course many others hold Arminian/Molinist views on salvation, like Ravi Zacharias, Norm Geisler, William Lane Craig and A.W. Tozer.
A new believer may say one prayer, and assume they are saved, but later fall away, thinking all the while that their salvation is eternally secure and there is nothing they can do, no matter how much they sin, to lose it. Conditional security leads to an understanding that we must continue in the faith, continuing to pursue and engage in our living relationship with Jesus Christ. Conditional security leads to good works.
Churches can talk all they want about holiness and following Jesus Christ, but who is living it? Who is out there on the front lines, living it? I don't want a bogus Christianity. I refuse it! I want a real Christianity, that really practices what it preaches. So let's do that, together.
I'm not interested in traditional divides between Calvinists and Arminians. I'm not interested in unwaveringly defending the views of others. I'm interested in what the Bible really, actually teaches. That is the foundation. We must always approach our questions and theology from that vantage. I'm not on anyone's team aside from team Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior. Amen.
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