Eternal Security: Can a Christian Fall Away?

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.  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 applies  where it says it applies–to those who are in Christ.

 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.

What’s Important

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.

Your choice.

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8 Responses to Eternal Security: Can a Christian Fall Away?

  1. Kay says:

    the problem is we’re seeing the prophesy of 2 timothy 4 come to pass with this eternal security gospel “3For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; 4And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.” they say they need security. they need to feel good in standing. the thing is the Lord already tells us how we can ‘feel good’ and secure in standing with GOD and Himself, secure in our salvation

    look at john 15:10-11:
    10If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love. 11These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.”- there you have it. your joy is full in knowing you are walking with Jesus, constantly abiding in His love. i need not even quote the long list of scriptures that conclude those that love Him will obey Him, follow Him, not just provide their lip service. He doesnt want only lip service. lip service alone is unacceptable “faith without works is dead”

    also, lets look at 2 peter 1:10-11
    “10Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall: 11For so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.”- there you have it again. you must read the passages before this to understand what it is you must DO. your assurance, your confidence in your salvation and good standing with GOD, your entrance into the kingdom doesnt come from cherry picking and creating some made up gospel of eternal security. doesnt just come from keeping the faith but also remaining faithful which causes you to grow in spirit and keeps you on the right path that you should not fall.

    this is where your confidence in salvation comes from. those who are walking with Jesus can be confident in their salvation. those who truly love and trust Him will step away from the gate and venture down the path picking up those crosses daily and following His lead, walking in the light

    many are called but few are chosen. many will come and try to enter and will not be able to. why? b/c everybody wants a Savior but not everybody wants a Lord

  2. David Buzulak says:

    Shammah,

    I just found this on the 'net. I forgot I wrote this and posted it here.

    Thanx for letting me rant.

    Can you overcome grace by your sin?? That's the question. Did Lot?

    Hebrews 12: 8 states "bastards". That word gets right to the point doesnt' it?

    What right do you have to change it? I'm not infuriated it just shows that when something offends you-change the text; omit the verse; Greek it or whatever else you all come up with. You're supposed to let the verse or word change you. Repentance??

    Thanks again,
    Dave

    • shammahbn says:

      To be honest, no, I don't think that word gets right to the point. For a lot of people today, it's just a meaningless cuss word, and "illegitimate children" is clearer.

  3. Has anyone read the book of 1 Corinthians? I mean c’mon guys if your gonna convince me that I could lose my salvation you would least have to put the hammer to 1 Corinthians. Convince me I shouldn’t read it because it pertains to people in… East Peoria…not a good book because it’s …bad…or something like that.

    WHY did Paul write the letter to the Corinthians? (I used to have fun with Charismaniacs and ask them the model church in the bible. And normally they would pick the Corinthian church!) Paul wrote to the Corinthians because of gross immorality. Check it out:

    1 Corinthians 5:1 It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father’s wife.

    Needless to say that the members of the Corinthian church were a mess. BUT, did he call them unsaved? Did he show them the must be born again, again? Did Paul say, “you lost it!”

    Nope, not at all.

    Paul called them carnal (4 times) verses 1, 3, 4:

    1 Corinthians 3:1 And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ.

    Check out that last phrase: “even unto babes in Christ.”

    He said about the Corinthians:

    sanctified (1:2; 6:11), ye are washed, justified (6:11), coming behind in no gift (1:7), grace and peace unto you (1:3), always thank God on your behalf (1:4), enriched by him (1:5), the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you (1:6), shall also confirm you unto the end (1:8), that you may be blameless (1:8)

    brethren (1:10, 11, 26; 2:1; 3:1; 4:6; 6:5, 6:8; 7:24, 7:29; 8:12; 9:5; 10:1; 11:2, 11:33; 12:1; 14:6…)

    beloved sons (4:14)

    … [editor note: a number of Scriptures taken out to shorten post]

    Sounds like they are saved to me.

    He also said this:

    1 Corinthians 3:3 For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?

    Again, notice what he didn’t say. He didn’t say: “you lost it”.

    But, you say, what about:

    1 Corinthians 5:5 To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.

    Doesn’t this mean you MAY be saved???

    Yes, that is what it says (notice it doesn’t say “maybe”), but what does it mean? The word “may” has several meanings …

    [ed. note: took out long description from Webster’s dictionary]

    Thou mayest be no longer steward. Luke 16.

    Also, let’s not turn the bible on it’s head and prove to the contrary. Since God doesn’t lie, and He doesn’t contradict himself, please do not turn this verse into a lie. God plainly states that once a person believes unto salvation he is eternally secure.

    Let’s take the case of Lot. Did he sin? Wasn’t it wicked sin? Lot offered his daughters to the Sodomites to do with what they wanted. But God considered Lot and his family saved-they were called righteous. God calls Lot “righteous, just, and godly” in 2 Peter. Why? Just to prove to you that you can’t sin your salvation away. You can’t outsin the grace that keeps you saved-Romans 5. That is why Lot is mentioned in 2 Peter the way he is. That is why NO, I repeat NOT ONE conditional preacher will answer my questions regarding Lot. It kills their pet doctrine. If a bible verse contradicts your doctrinal teaching-get rid of your doctrine.

    Brother Cloud notes:

    “Discipline rightly administered by a New Testament church is accompanied by God’s power (1Co 5:4; Mt 18:17-19). Those under church discipline are given over to Satan’s power to bring them to their senses and restore them to Christ and the church. Note that discipline does not affect salvation. To be put out of the church is not to be put out of Christ. The discipline will confirm salvation. If the one being disciplined is saved, he will respond and prove his salvation (Heb 6:9,11; 10:38-39). To say, on the other hand, that church discipline produces salvation or perfects salvation, is strictly contrary to hundreds of plain Scriptures (Tit 3:5-8).”

    Also note:

    Hebrews 12:8 But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye illegitimate, and not sons.

    Sooo…if there was ever one that seemed to have “lost it”, wouldn’t Lot be the perfect case? Absolutely. The Corinthians would be another case to prove that you could lose your salvation. But as we see God calls them sanctified and so on.

    Jeremiah 23:29 Is not my word like as a fire? saith the LORD; and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces?

    • Shammah says:

      To all: I took out a number of paragraphs to make David’s comment shorter. It’s still too long, and by comment standards, some of the arguments are redundant. I don’t get a lot of pages long comments, though, so I approved this comment as edited.

      To David: I thought I’d let you say your piece. I’m not going to respond, as I feel your arguments are satisfactorily answered in my recent blog posts.

      Oh, and I also changed the KJV word to “illegitimate” in Heb. 12:8. Hopefully, that’s not going to infuriate you, but I don’t really want the old word on my web site for web site reasons.

      Oh, and by “recent” I mean the posts of April and May 2010. I’m just realizing this comment is on a very old blog post.

  4. Shammah says:

    Steve,

    Well, thanks for wading through that post of mine.

    The place I look for agreement is that those who practice the works of the flesh aren’t Christians (1 Jn. 2:3-4; 3:9) and won’t go to heaven (1 Cor. 6:9-11; Gal. 5:19-21; Eph. 5:5).

    The problem I have with eternal security is not so much the idea itself as it is the belief that one can continue in sin with the conviction that it’s all forgiven because of belief in Jesus. If Jesus isn’t changing your life noticeably, then something is wrong with your belief in Jesus. You have the wrong faith or the wrong Jesus, one or the other.

    As far as my theology on salvation, works, and the judgment, I believe it’s both Scriptural and historical. I believe it answers a lot of questions that people struggle with.

    If that theology is going to divide me from those who are laying down their lives for Christ, then I never want to mention that theology again. I can leave it to God to preserve his doctrines.

    If that theology divides me from those who want to live for themselves while claiming to believe, then that’s great. I want to expose them as false Christians, so that the true ones are left alone with each other in the incredible power that comes from the fellowship of disciples.

    It takes great effort to be a real Christian. Paul described it as “striving by the inworking of God” to present every man perfect in Christ (near the end of Col. 1). We need each other’s help.

  5. Rev. Steve D. Scott says:

    Thanks for your insights. I am commited to the inerrancy of Scripture. While I see the Scriptures to be overwhelmingly pointing to eternal security, I agree with your sentiments that all Scriptures are true and need to be considered. I liked you reminder that Christ’s warning passages are especially helpful to people who aren’t willing to walk in step with the Spirit. In my journey with God, I thank Him that He wants me to be motivated by His love and no longer by fear as is embraced by Arminianism and Lordship Salvation. Certainly our Heavenly Father should be feared for His ability to spank His children. But Jn 15 isn’t necessarily saying the believer ends up in hell. In that case what had he crossed over from ten chapters earlier? The promise of 5:24 has merit. We must assure ourselves through abiding and growing that God is active in our lives, and we must make our election sure to those around us by the obvious additions to our faith, but warning passages only heighten my conviction that God wants us to know for ourselves only that His promises to the faithful do not fail. I’d bore you with my understandings of the meaning of “if”, and the difference between “partaking and possessing” but you might choke on my dispensational perspective. Instead, I’ll give you respect and credit as a person with an open mind and a love for God’s word. When can a person ever know that God is going to keep his promise and grant salvation in response to sincere faith? I’d like to move on to spiritual maturity in full assurance that my relationship w/ God is secure (even as I regularly restore and strengthen my fellowship with Him). After all, I have the Son therefore I have life. What other reason was there that John wrote these things for us except that we may know that we have eternal life?
    Blessings,
    Pastor Steve

  6. Java says:

    Shammah,

    Good post. Thank you. I would love to hear/read more from you on the “practical issues…worth arguing over” and the way believers can do so within an assembly that seeks to grow together in love and reach a common mind about things. I guess this deals with the topic you started somtime last month on unity.

    I appreciate your emphasis on the importance of not using certain pet verses to explain away other verses without, as my friend would say, really doing your homework in an effort to see what all of scripture truly says on a topic, or on related topics. My own efforts have led me to feel that this approach is both more liberating and more humbling. I have less to protect–not a theological system, a modern denominational statement of faith or confession, or whatever. I am free to go where revelation takes me–not that this is easy by any stretch of the imagination, nor that I am always successful in being completely honest with myself in the process. But I am aware that I do’t have to protect the teaching about baptism for the remission of sins from the teaching about salvation by grace through faith and that not of ourselves, for example–an easy and maybe predictable illustration from someone who comes out of the restoration movement:-).

    Anyway, God bless you, and thanks for the post.
    java

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