What About Eternal Security?
The following is the e-mail answer to a man who had been engaged in an ongoing debate with his father on the age-old question about “eternal security.”
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Thank you for writing. Greetings to your father! Obviously, the question you raise is one that has long been debated and one I can hardly settle in an email – but I’ll at least share some thoughts, perhaps as a sort of framework, as the Lord enables.
I believe it is very important that we take ALL of the scriptures into account and see what is, indeed, the broad witness of scripture. And it is also critical that we acknowledge our need of the Lord in the understanding of His Word. He is, after all, the Author, and He’s still around to help those who look to Him from the heart!
There are plenty of scriptures that picture a place of security in Christ – John 10:27-29, Eph. 1:13-14, just to mention a couple that pop to mind. However, experience and observation have tended to cloud the issue. We live in a day of great apostasy where multitudes practice a religion that uses Christ’s name but in which He is not involved! Many of these subscribe to a calvinistic tradition, yet their adherents give no evidence of a true work of God’s grace. Their hearts are unchanged; they have become merely religious.
One hallmark of much religion in our day is “easy-believism,” by which I mean that a “belief” in Jesus is taught, yet there is no true conviction of sin, no genuine work of the Holy Spirit. Many of the preachers minister, not by the anointing of God’s Spirit but by tradition and human ability – and some are not even saved. When religion combines “easy-believism” with a belief in “eternal security” the result is a deadly delusion. Only a miracle of God can awaken someone from such a condition.
Another thing that causes people to doubt a belief in the security of the believer is when they observe someone that they have every reason to believe is a true believer, yet who falls away and returns to the world. I can easily see where a thoughtful Christian who has an inward conviction about living for the Lord and who observes these two types of conditions could conclude that it is possible to “have it and lose it.”
Although it is difficult to properly express it in a letter, I strongly believe that there is a place of security for the believer. There is such a thing as being sealed unto the day of redemption. The Book of Hebrews was written to people who had grown up in the Jews’ religion and then become acquainted with the gospel of Jesus Christ. The burden of the writer, expressed over and over, was not that they might get it and lose it, but that they NOT STOP SHORT OF IT. Heb. 4:1 is the clearest expression of this but the truth is throughout the book.
The comparison is made of God’s dealings with the Israelites after He had brought them out of Egypt. I’m sure that there were times when the people gave every appearance of being true believers – yet almost a whole generation perished in the wilderness through an evil heart of unbelief. Only God can see the heart. John addressed the same problem in I John 2:19. No doubt what he said of those who went out was designed to help those who wondered how such a thing could happen. They knew these people! They had sung together, prayed together, etc. But at heart they were unbelievers and it took just the right thing for them to turn and go out. Notice that John DID NOT say that they were of us but stopped being of us! Notice also that Jesus, in Matthew 7:21-23, in speaking of some on the judgment day DID NOT say he had once known them but now didn’t. He said, “I NEVER knew you.” Could He EVER say that of someone who had once been genuinely saved – and then “lost it”?
One reason there has been so much of this over the centuries is that Satan loves to plant false believers among the true to sow confusion. In fact, Jesus said His kingdom would be like that – wheat and tares, not always easy to tell apart, separated at the end (Matt. 13).
One thing I would like to point out from Hebrews is the oft-quoted Heb. 6:4-8. Surely it is obvious that IF one could fall away from genuine salvation – they COULD NOT, in fact, be renewed to repentance! Notice how the writer compares those who fall away to earth that receives rain yet produces thorns and briers. The point made is that many are exposed to a true work of the Spirit of God and have a taste of God’s kingdom, yet in the end it never truly possesses their heart and they are eliminated. This is consistent with his warning throughout the book against “an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God,” “neglecting so great salvation,” and coming “short of it.”
I can’t say I have any blinding revelation on the verse in Rev. 3:5 about being blotted out of the book of life. However, I will say that this needs to be understood in the light of the rest of scripture! For one thing – this verse has to do with “overcoming.” I seem to remember from I John 5:4 that “...whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world....” Once again, I believe we are dealing, not with people getting the genuine article and then “losing it,” but with people MISSING IT for one reason or another.
I believe that one area of confusion has to do with the very nature of salvation. Many appear to think of salvation as a sort of “thing” you either have or don’t – perhaps like a certificate or a ticket to heaven! The way you describe your father’s belief below makes salvation almost sound like “taking on a tenant” – Jesus – later kicking Him out – then inviting him back in, etc., etc. I believe that both of these concepts – and others like them – miss the truth by a wide margin. It is true that genuine salvation involves – sort of! – a “ticket” to heaven, and that Jesus does, by the Spirit, take up residence in the heart of His own. But salvation is much more than that!
First and foremost, salvation is a BIRTH! It is literally being born of God’s Spirit. It is the beginning of a new life, an eternal life. It is just as real as is the physical birth that launches us into this present world. We can no more be born, unborn, reborn, unborn, reborn, etc. spiritually than we can physically! Think about it!
Read what Peter said about this in I Peter 1:23-25. Notice the two kinds of life: corruptible and incorruptible. I would ask you this: Can God die? No! The very essence of His life is immortality. When someone is truly born of that life they partake of that immortality. Read what Paul said about our calling and about the gospel in II Tim. 1:8-10.
One of the things I love most about the gospel is that the FOUNDATION is not me, what I do and how well I do it – but Christ and what He perfectly did on my behalf. That’s the only source of rest I know. I cannot add to nor can I take away from what He did for me. I can’t “mess it up.” It’s enough to do the job. My place is to embrace the hope in Christ from my heart and then rest in Him. Notice that that’s what Hebrews 3 and 4 is about: rest. The gospel is a promise of spiritual rest to those who have “ceased from their own works.” If I am in any measure dependent on my own spiritual efforts then I might as well give up right now! I can never measure up. But! – He measured up perfectly – and His perfect righteousness is placed to the account of all who trust in Him.
Of course, the same grace that brings salvation also teaches us to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts and so forth (Titus 2:11-14). That is what is so often missing in what many people call “grace.” It has become an empty doctrine, a vain tradition. When people are truly sealed unto the day of redemption, God finishes the job He starts. And He saves all kind of people – not just some we might regard as “spiritual.” I’ve met plenty of “spiritual” folks that were totally phony and I’ve met some pretty carnal people who missed out on a lot of blessings yet had real faith in their hearts when it came right down to it. One thing is for sure: the Lord knows them that are his.
There certainly can’t be any true rest if one labors under the idea that they might mess up and “lose it.” On the other hand, believers are definitely exhorted to “depart from iniquity.”
I believe that it is helpful to distinguish between the foundation – the “legal” basis if you will – of salvation, and the practical Christian life between genuine conversion and heaven. The only foundation is Christ, pure and simple. Real salvation involves a divine work in the heart that enables one to surrender, repent, and trust wholly in what Christ did at the cross. When God seals such a one with His Spirit, they are sealed! He then goes to work on them according to His purpose. A genuine believer can experience many things, even miss much that they could have had from the Lord, but real God-given faith does not just “go away.” In fact, real faith is – literally – the faith of the Christ Who comes in to live! Galatians 2:20. It does not originate with us! I’ve seen people truly come “the hard way,” and suffer much, yet in the end, real faith was evident – something they just couldn’t get away from. I’ve seen others, when the trial got hot, rise up in bitterness and run. God has a way of manifesting the true condition of the heart.
But those who are truly in Him are secure: He will never betray their trust though He sorely tries them at times. Phil. 1:6 – “Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.”
I hope both you and your father will just prayerfully consider what I’ve said. We – all or us – have a lot to learn! I’m thankful that the Lord is both a willing and a faithful teacher!
May God richly bless you!