I don’t believe in “once saved, always saved”; however, yesterday I read an argument for eternal security which supported what I do believe.
This post is not an argument for or against eternal security (at least not primarily). As usual, I’m arguing that we ought to argue for truth, not for what we wish was true. (Note: I think that last “was” is supposed to be “were,” due to being in the subjunctive/conditional mood, but “were” didn’t sound right.)
It’s called honesty, and I think it matters.
(Sorry this post is so long. Most of the sections can be read by themselves if you want to skip around.)
An Apologetics Bible Study Note Provides a Perfect Example
I read the argument in the notes for The Apologetics Study Bible.Â The note was on John 15:6, where Jesus says that if anyone does not remain in him, then he is thrown aside like a branch and withers.
The note said (paraphrased from memory), “John 15 is not referring to true believers falling away. It makes it clear that true believers bear fruit. If a person does not bear fruit, or if he falls away, then he was never a true believer.”
The note then references 1 Jn. 2:19, which is a perfect verse for what they said:
They went out from us, and it is proof they were never of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us.
How do you argue with that? The Scripture says that if a person leaves “us” (clearly, the church), then he was never of us. In other words, he was never a Christian.
Ok, that’s what 1 John 2:19 seems to say. In fact, I can’t think of any other way to interpret it.
So let’s grant that this Bible note has presented an accurate statement from 1 John 2:19 (which I believe is true). I have a different question:
Have they addressed John 15:6? Or have they just thrown us off track and ignored John 15:6?
Jesus said that a branch “in him” that doesn’t bear fruit is to be cut off, discarded like a branch, gathered up, and thrown in the fire. Isn’t that a warning?
Isn’t that warning addressed to Christians, since he is talking about branches that did not “remain” in him? You can’t “remain” in him unless you’re in him, and if you’re in him, then you’re a Christian, right?
So, my question is, how do we apply John 15:6 to Christians? After all, the note is about John 15:6, not 1 John 2:19. I understand how we apply 1 Jn. 2:19 to those who departed. We say, “That departed person was never really one of us, or he wouldn’t have departed.”
But what about John 15:6?
It says that if you are in him, then you had better remain in him, or else you will be cut off, discarded like a branch, gathered up, and thrown in the fire.
1 John 2:19 is true; however, so is John 15:6.
Cherry-picking Our Favorite Verses
I don’t know how many times I’ve seen believers in eternal security do this. We look at a warning verse, and the eternal security person says, “Let’s not look at this warning; let’s look at this other verse on assurance.”
Okay, they don’t say that in words. They say that in actions by ignoring the warning.
On 1 Jn. 2:19, I agree with the eternal security folks. That departed person was never really one of us. When they appear before Christ, he will say, “I never knew you,” not, “I once knew you, but now I don’t.”
However, we’re not talking about those who left the faith, nor 1 John 2:19. We’re talking about John 15:6 and those who are still in Christ.
To those people Jesus, Paul, and the rest of the apostles say, “Don’t be assured. Fear.”
Jesus says to remain and bear fruit, or you’ll be cut off. We just looked at that.
Paul says, “Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he falls” (1 Cor. 10:12) and, “Do not be haughty, but fear; for if God did not spare the natural branches, he may not spare you, either” (Rom. 11:20-21).
Peter says, “Be diligent to make your calling and election sure” (2 Pet. 1:10) and, “If you address as Father the one who impartially judges according to each man’s work, then conduct yourself throughout the time of your sojourning here in fear” (1 Pet. 1:17).
I could go on and on and on. You probably know most of the verses.
To the Point:
Quote all the assurance verses you want. They do not negate the warnings, which we would do well to heed.
If we don’t heed them, we will be one of the people that 1 John 2:19 is talking about. Christians–at least the ones who read the Bible and 1 John 2:19, which is in the Bible–will shake their heads and say, “I guess he was never really a Christian.”
And they’ll be talking about you.
And it will be because you didn’t heed the warnings of Christ and his apostles. Instead, you explained them away.
Actually, you didn’t even explain them away. You simply ignored them and quoted other verses in their place.
Does the Bible Contradict Itself?
When people quote an assurance verse in order to get us not to pay attention to a warning verse, I wonder if they believe the Bible contradicts itself.
I don’t know how many times I’ve heard a Pentecostal and a Baptist argue about eternal security, and it sounds like they both believe the Bible contradicts itself. The Pentecostal will quote a warning verse, and the Baptist will answer by quoting an assurance verse. The Pentecostal will then answer with another warning verse, completely ignoring the Baptist’s assurance verse.
It’s like they both believe the verses contradict, and they’re arguing over which set of verses overide the contradictory set.
All the verses of the Bible are true. 1 John 2:19 is true, and it applies where it says it applies–to those who have departed the church. John 15:6 is true, and it appliesÂ where it says it applies–to those who are in Christ.
Â A Story to Illustrate
Way back in 1987 or 88, shortly after I was married, I sat in a Sunday School class taught by a man I respected.
He was going through Galatians, and he got to chapter six, verse eight. It says that those who sow to the flesh will reap corruption, while those who sow to the Spirit will reap everlasting life.
He read the verses, then he asked, “Does this mean you can lose your salvation?”
There was silence in the class. This was a Southern Baptist church. Eternal security’s important to them.
He smiled and said, “No, it doesn’t.” Then he laughed and said, “Okay, all done with that verse. Let’s go on.”
He was just joking.
Or, he thought he was just joking.
He had the Sunday School class go through a number of assurance verses so that they could see that eternal security is true. Then he moved on to verses 9 and 10.
He didn’t realize it, but he really was done with verse 8. He never went back to it. He really had dismissed it with a flippant comment, and he didn’t even know it.
So I wrote him a note.
My note told him that Galatians 6:8 is a warning verse and that most of his class needed the warning in that verse. Most of his class lived in the flesh almost every day, and he knew it was true. Nonetheless, he missed an opportunity to warn them.
I was gracious. I told him that we could assume eternal security was true. Nonetheless, “reaping corruption” is something bad. Surely he could have at least encouraged his class to live spiritually and avoid whatever “reaping corruption” is.
The Sunday School teacher gave my letter to the pastor, and the pastor called me in to ask what I thought I was doing. I told him, “I was writing a letter to a man I respect. Is there anything in it that isn’t true?”
The pastor changed the subject to some other complaints he had about me. I’m not a very comfortable person to have in a church, so he had several to choose from.
I should say, actually, that I’m not a very comfortable person for a leader who doesn’t care what’s true. There have been three pastors who loved having me in their congregation: one Baptist, one Nazarene, and one Pentecostal.
They cared what was true. Specific denominational doctrines didn’t matter.
The theories and empty doctrines that most denominations fight over are not significant to me. In fact, they’re not significant to most people, as a recent study testifies. It appears that most Christians are more loyal to their toothpaste brand than they are to their denomination.
Practical issues, like the ones in this blog–those are the ones worth arguing over. On judgment day, God’s not going to be impressed by your verses on assurance. On that day, he will judge you according to your works, whether good or bad (2 cor. 5:10), and only those who are worthy will walk with Christ in white.
Or, you can hope that Jesus didn’t really mean that only the worthy will walk with him in white. It’s in his letter to the Church at Sardis in Revelation 3:4.