Verses Versus Verses: Eternal Security

We’ve been talking about eternal security the last two weeks in our “Life Group.” They have been very gracious with my dissent, and my dissent has not been very strong because this group does not deny the necessity for works to enter the kingdom of heaven. They just don’t believe we’re allowed to say that.

The Life Group leader, whom I would call a friend, gave 8 reasons that he believes in eternal security.

  1. Romans 8:38-39 says nothing that is created can separate us from the love of God.
  2. Hebrews 10:14 says he has perfected us forever.
  3. Philippians 1:6 says the one who began a good work in us will complete it.
  4. Romans 8:28-30 says that those whom he foreknew are predestined, and the predestined are justified and glorified, all of them.
  5. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says we are new creatures. How could that be undone?
  6. John 5:24 says that we have eternal life now and that we will never come into condemnation.
  7. John 17:9,20 say that Jesus is praying for us, and his prayers are always answered. (These two verses say nothing about what he’s praying for, however.)
  8. 1 Peter 3:5 says our inheritance is imperishable, undefiled, unfading, and kept in heaven for those who are safeguarded by God through faith.

Convincing verses, for sure! I cannot deny that.

But if I were to accept his interpretation of these verses, a person like me would rapidly run into problems. I keep track of the verses I can’t explain when I hold to a particular doctrine. If I were to adopt eternal security, then here’s how the difficult verse list would accumulate. (Actually, did accumulate.)

  1. Romans 2:6-8 says we’ll all be judged by our works. Those who patiently continue to do good will be repaid eternal life, and those who selfishly disobey the truth and obey wickedness will be repaid wrath and fury.
  2. 2 Peter 2:20-21 says that those who escape the corruptions of this world by knowing Jesus, and then are entangled in them again and overcome, they’ll be worse off than if they had never heard the Gospel.
  3. Revelation 3:4-5 says that in the church of Sardis only those who do not defile their garments will walk with Jesus in white. Those who do not overcome will have their name blotted out of the Book of life.

I assure you it would be very easy to keep going until my verses outnumber his 8 verses.

That is not my way. The Bible does not contradict itself, at least not on these kind of matters. It is an accurate guide for our faith and practice because it contains the heart of apostolic teaching.

There is a teaching to be learned from these verses that does not leave us choosing from one list or another. We just need to find it.

Hope in the Apostles’ Churches

There are two sentences in ancient Christian literature that really encouraged me to believe there is a better answer on this subject..

Polycarp was the bishop of Smyrna for some 50 years. Tradition holds that he knew the apostles, though it seems unlikely he could have known any but the long-lived John. Polycarp would have been born no earlier than AD 70.

Nonetheless, he was among the most respected, if not the most respected, bishop of the first half of the second century. If anyone breathed the apostolic faith and could be expected to understand and be devoted to it, it was Polycarp.

In the one letter we have preserved from him, to the church at Phillipi, he wrote two seemingly contradictory but illuminating statements:

Into this joy many long to enter, knowing that by grace you are saved, not of works, but by the will of God through Jesus Christ. (ch. 1)

But the One who raised Christ from the dead will raise us also, if we do his will, walk in his commandments, love what he loved, and keep ourselves from all unrighteousness, greed, love of money, evil speaking, and lies. (ch. 2)

These two sentences are separated by less than 100 words in the letter.

How could one man write such obviously contradictory statements so close together?

The same way the two lists above seem to contradict. Either we are not properly interpreting chapter 1 of Polycarp’s letter, or we are not properly interpreting chapter 2. Or perhaps we are misinterpreting both.

Those of you who have read my blogs or web pages surely have an idea what I would do with the verses above and with the two sentences from Polycarp.

Those of you who don’t have an idea, or who have to choose one list of verses above while rejecting the other, need to begin admitting you don’t know the apostles’ teaching about salvation, faith, works, and entering the kingdom of heaven.

Stick around over the next few days, and we’ll read these verses, listen to what they say, and learn from ALL of them.

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25 Responses to Verses Versus Verses: Eternal Security

  1. Evan says:

    Hello seeker. To start off, I think that one thing we can both agree upon is to allow the scriptures to interpret themselves taking the whole of Scripture into account. The basis for your view is that our salvation is a past tense event based upon our justification. If all the scriptures consistently described salvation in that manner then I would agree with you. However, that is not the case as salvation is depicted in Scripture as having not only past aspects but present and future aspects as well. For example, we know that we have been saved by grace through faith [past tense] (Eph 2:8). We also acknowledge that we are being saved [present tense] (1 Cor 1:18). The future aspect of our salvation is referenced in verses such as Rom 5:9: “Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. This verse is particularly interesting because we were justified [past tense] yet it still references salvation as a yet to be secured event in the future – “we shall be saved from the wrath of God.”
    Thus the salvific process contains elements of our justification [past], sanctification [present] and glorification [future]. One cannot ignore the whole of Scripture and just choose to focus on the past aspect of salvation to the exclusion of its present and future tenses. That is why we are instructed in Phil 2:12 to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” It would be nonsensical of Paul to have written such a warning if our salvation is already and only a done deal as you propose. The warning passages in Scripture exist for a reason and are not to be ignored.

    • evan are you saying we can become “un-crucified” in Christ and unjustified.. through dissobedience? the sin nature and sin guilt prevent men from entering kingdom. these have both been dealt with by blood and cross. christ died and i did with him –

      • Evan says:

        I have addressed your argument based on your past tense view of salvation using scriptures that demonstrate present and future aspects of the salvific process. You have not offered any counterargument of your own but you remain you focused on the past aspect only. Of course that is your prerogative but I don’t think it helps to advance your view. I believe that salvation is a process that begins with justification, continues with sanctification and ultimately ends with our glorification based on the scriptures I have proffered. You would have to otherwise show me why that is not the case.

      • paulfpavao says:

        Hmm. I don’t find the idea of becoming uncrucified difficult. Jesus was uncrucified as soon as he rose from the dead, maybe as soon as he was pulled off the cross. It’s not good to take an illustration and carry it so far that you disagree with direct Scriptures, such as 2 Pet. 2:20-21, as you pointed out.

        Crucifixion, spiritually, leads to death of self. We don’t want our self resurrected, so we walk as those “crucified with Christ.” We are told to “reckon” or to “consider” this to be true in Rom. 6:11. We have entered into a new life, but how dare we say that we can never die from this new life, when the Scriptures warn us repeatedly. You mentioned Romans 8:12-13, but there is also Gal. 6:7-9.

        Just as clear is Romans 6:16, clearly addressed to Christians, who are the only ones with the power to obey this command:

        “Don’t you know that your are the servants of whomever you obey, whether of sin to death, or of obedience to righteousness (or justification, exact same Greek word)?”

        If sin is brought to completion in you, it leads to death. You may have been crucified and risen in Jesus, but sin can cause you to die again, not to become “uncrucified.” Crucifixion is a past event, but it doesn’t promise you the kingdom of God unless you continue in it.

        How can this be denied, since Colossians 1:22-23 says it straight out? We must “continue in the faith, grounded and settled therein.”

        It is not normal for a Christian to be entangled in the corruption of the world AND again overcome. Real Christians may become entangled, but it is very abnormal for them to be overcome. But if they are, it would have been better for them never to have heard of the Gospel than to turn from the holy commandment given to them.

        Unfortunately because we deceive Christians into believing it is not possible to be overcome by the world to their own death, or to yield themselves to sin which leads to death, or to sow to the flesh until corruption is reaped rather than eternal life, we take away one tool, fear, and we rip a huge chink in our spiritual armor. There are many other tools: love, faith, peace, righteousness, etc. Some need compassion, but Scripture says to discern, because some need to be saved with fear, pulling them out of the fire (end of Jude).

  2. So Paul, do you have any answers to 2peter.2:20, Rev.3:5 , Rom.8:!3 and polycarp letter – from eternal security point of view ?

    I too am a seeker. The gospel of free grace and eternal security based on the finished work, and our regeneration is very convincing to me. But as I said I’m not yet satisfied with explanations given from that camp re: certain what i call “warning scriptures”…

  3. paulfpavao says:

    Thanks Evan. I have already responded to other comments of yours, but I apparently missed this one for a week and a half.

  4. Evan says:

    If I may respond to Brian as he brings up pertinent questions. He asks if there is something outside of his control that may cause him to lose his salvation. John 10:28-29 answers that question in the negative: “And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone 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 My Father’s hand.” By this we know that nothing or no one can remove us from our secure relationship with God. However it does not mean that we cannot remove ourselves through our own disobedience for the verse that precedes these two verses states: “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me” (v.27). Assurance of eternal life is not offered to those who do not hear and follow.
    The parable of the prodigal son most often focuses on the father’s mercy and willingness to forgive his son. This is certainly true as the prodigal repented of his ways and returned to his father’s household. However I don’t think that this aspect of the parable was Jesus’ main teaching point as Jesus repeats only one phrase in this whole story and we know that when Jesus repeats something to his listeners, he is putting emphasis on something so we’d better take heed. In verses 24 & 32 the father describes his son as being dead but alive AGAIN; was lost but is found. How can someone be made alive again? We are born again once when we first believe but how is the son made alive a second time? Note that the father described his son as being dead – not physically dead but spiritually dead. The son was spiritually alive when he abided in his father’s house but when he separated himself to pursue a lifestyle of sin. he became spiritually dead. When he repented and returned to his father seeking forgiveness he was made alive AGAIN. Thus I think Jesus’ point is that a believer/child of God can forfeit their salvation/inheritance when they no longer abide and sever themselves from the vine through habitual disobedience. If one repents, God forgives but if one remains in an unrepentant condition one remains spiritually dead.
    Having said this, it is crucial to distinguish between occasional sin which is forgivable (1 Jn 1:7-9) and the practice of sin or habitual sin which disqualifies one from receiving eternal life.
    “Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God” (1 Jn 3:4-9) ESV

    • paulfpavao says:

      I wish I had written this. Very well said. I especially liked the prodigal son illustration. That helped me.

      • Evan says:

        I recently discovered your blog Paul and find it interesting because you are not averse to digging for the truth and sometimes thinking out of the main stream evangelical box. I often find myself on the outside and feel like I’m wandering in the desert and it gets lonely so it’s good to read from a fellow sojourner. Keep on writing!

  5. Evan says:

    A big problem with the eternal security doctrine is that it is based on a synecdoche which presumes that belief is the only condition necessary for salvation. If that were the only requirement mentioned in Scripture, then it would be correct however the Bible includes other requirements such as repentance and obedience which are the outward manifestations of saving faith. While John 3:16 references the need to believe, the Greek word for believe is a present tense verb and should be translated as “believing.” Thus one needs to go on believing for eternal life – not just a one-time moment of belief made in the past. Acts 26:20 describes the gospel message that Paul preached – repentance evidenced by deeds – not the kind of message that is promulgated today which is largely based on cognitive assent. In addition, verses like Heb 5:9 specify obedience as a requirement for eternal life: “And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who OBEY him…” No obedience = No salvation. The apostle Paul echoes the same dire warning to the brethren (not the unsaved) living in Rome when he wrote in Rom 8:12-13: “Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For IF you live according to the flesh, YOU WILL DIE; but IF by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, YOU WILL LIVE.” Eternal life is conditional; not unconditional.

    • Evan have you noticed that Romans 5:9 is past tense? “Justified” past tense , and then they “shall be” Saved from wrath. Romans 5:9 is the clincher! 🙂

      Although I do struggle with rom.8:13 2Peter2:20 and Rev.3:5 after hearing many unconvincing ‘grace’ interpretations.

      As far as Heb.5:9 “obedience” there is obedience to “the faith” .. ie. believing in Jesus to be justified and not the Law. Ie. believe the gospel of faith righteousness.

      • Evan, sorry just to add something – the whole “keep believing” argument doesn’t really hold up for me, because.. answer this: when were you crucified with Christ? Paul speaks of it as a past tense occurence Rom.6:1. Or are you saying you have to keep believing to stay crucified..? No, scripture does not support that view. Paul says “reckon” your co-death with Christ as already done.

        • paulfpavao says:

          SilentSeekey, I misread your first comment. I am so used to pointing out Romans 5:9-10 to people that I figured you were concluding what I conclude. Read through Paul’s letters, and you will find that his use of the past tense and future tense is exactly like his use in Romans 5:9-10. We *were* saved by grace through faith, apart from works. Over and over, without exception, Paul always says this in the past tense. But for the future, to be saved from wrath? Then his discussion is different. We will be judged by our works. If we walk in the Spirit we will reap eternal life. If we walk in the flesh we will die/reap corruption. The unrighteous shall not inheret the kingdom of God. Those who do works of the flesh shall not inherit the kingdom of God. (Gal. 6:8-9; 2 Cor. 5:10; Rom. 8:12; Gal. 6:7; 1 Cor. 6:9; Gal. 5:19-21/Eph. 5:5)

          So, two answers to give you.

          1. The distinction between past and future in Paul’s writings is very important. The past is works free because as slaves of sin we cannot produce good works. By faith we receive grace which empowers us for good works (Rom. 6:16) and teaches us to do them (Tit. 2:11-12; Eph. 2:10). At that point we can produce good works, and they are required of us. This is so consistent and stated in such unbending terms in Paul’s writings, I’m pretty shocked no one sees it.

          2. If you’re having problems with Evan’s exposition of the perfect tense in Greek, which is taught in 1st year Greek, then you can try just reading Col. 1:22-23 which describes what we will inherit IF we continue in the faith, rooted and settled in it.

      • Evan says:

        Sorry I missed your reply. My response to you regarding Heb 5:9 is that the Greek word used for obey in this verse is “hupakouousin.” It is a present tense verb – therefore the verse properly reads “to all who are OBEYING him.” Therefore one must continue to obey and as such it does not refer to a one-time past moment of “obedience to the faith” in reference to our having been justified.

    • paulfpavao says:

      Evan, I don’t know if you’ll see this. If you don’t, I will try again the next time you comment on my blog. Can you send me an email at paul@christian-history.org? I would love to keep in touch with you. Maybe we can keep each other encouraged.

  6. Jody says:

    As I was reading through this a couple of thoughts came to mind, ‘if one thinks something sin then it is sin’, lack of faith/trust/belief in God gets us into trouble (to say the least). Could it be that the ‘once saved always saved,’ ‘eternal security’ is akin to the same principle. We know that grace or salvation comes free but the rest is (hard) work on our part as we try to walk with what we are learning of our Lord and our God, with ‘fear and trembling’ yet because of love we have fear as in having awe of God but not being afraid of being destroyed. I’m not a scholar or scholar-theologian, just a theologian (student, a poor talmidim) who is pushing forward to obtain wisdom in understanding my Lord and my God. He promises to give/answer to those who ask, to enable those to find what is being sought and to open for those knocking.

    • paulfpavao says:

      I don’t think I am fully understanding what you are saying. Here’s a couple thoughts along those lines.

      John says that perfect love casts out fear. Obviously, a person walking in perfect love need not fear judgment, though I don’t think we’re supposed to judge ourselves as having perfect love. John also says that if we love in deed and truth, that will also assure our hearts before him.

      On the other hand, Peter commands us to live our life here in fear because we will be judged by our works (1 Pet. 1:17).

      I would resolve John and Peter’s statements by saying that if we refuse to love, we ought to be afraid. If someone knocks on our door, and we say we won’t help, we need to be afraid because we have not loved in deed and truth. Honestly, I wish I was a wonderful person who cared so much for the imprisoned and sick that I go out of my way to visit them because of the love that is in me. It’s not really true. I know that Jesus considers it “loving in deed” to visit the sick and imprisoned, so I do it out of love for Jesus. My body and my own selfish will don’t move me to want to visit the sick. I have to be moved by my spirit and by obedience to Jesus, knowing that this is what he wants of my life, so you will occasionally find me in hospitals (at much larger risk to myself than most people face) because my experience provides me with a lot to give to the very sick.

      I guess I’m rambling. Let me sum up in one sentence. We can assure our hearts before him if we love in deed and truth, not just in word; that’s a good kind of fear.

      • Brian Dimmitt says:

        There is perhaps many ways we, as puny humans, can look at this. The question that is burning in me is can I loose my salvation without my own direct action? Is there something, someone, some being that can remove my salvation, once given to me by God, over whom I have no control? It has been my (limited) interpretation that, if I am truly saved, then I will always seek His face in all I do, and when I fall, I will look to him for strength, as mine will always fall short. Have I seen others who, for one reason or another, have fallen away? Sadly, yes. But there is always one image that keeps me hopeful, even for those who have been lost: The Prodigal Son, Luke 15:11-32. He is always faithful. He doesn’t break his word. We break our word to him on an almost daily basis. So once saved, always saved? It is only by His Grace that I am even breathing. I have seen how ugly death, real separation, from Him can be, and this is what pushes me to look for him everywhere, and in all things. Can we loose our salvation, once given? Or, more accurately, can we throw it away?

    • paulfpavao says:

      Thank you, Evan.

  7. Duane Sheets says:

    Christians are secure. Very secure. Just not eternally secure.

  8. Jon says:

    Should be interesting, though I’ve never really ‘bought’ the doctrine of eternal security as it has all kinds of scriptural (and experiential) problems (whether you subscribe to the ‘Perseverance of the Saints’ side of the doctrine or the more ‘OSAS’ side of it).

    That said, I am interested in how we avoid eternal INsecurity. I believe that a doctrine of salvation that provides little or no room for assurance is far more than simply uncomfortable – It affects the very way one views God, causes one to doubt his goodness, and stifles genuine wholehearted love (the sort every radical christian is always banging on about) for Him.

    [Note: I now have about three half-finished replies to three different posts of yours over the few weeks, as I am very bad at finishing things that I start. At some point I’ll probably splice them together and send you them]

    • paulfpavao says:

      Ah. Your question is the question I’ve been working on. I’m not working on the answer to the question. Internally, it seems obvious to me. I’m working on wording the answer, and on knowing when it’s important to fit it in with other things I write.

      The issue with insecurity is internal to the believer. The Life Group I mentioned in the post has 7 or 8 guys in it, all of whom would feel every bit as secure with God if they did not believe in eternal security. They already know they have to fight the devil. They would be horrified with themselves if they left the King for a life of indolence. In their own experience with Jesus, every one of them would be comfortable and confident the Holy Spirit can carry them from here to judgment day in the peace and presence of God, growing in Jesus all the way.

      They would already know that they need a kick in the butt every now and then. They are thankful when they are urged to prayer, or when they see a fault pointed out in their lives. They know the disciplines, the attitude, and the grace that will keep them on the path. They are delighted in their fellowship with Jesus, and they don’t have evil consciences that make them want to quit every time they make a mistake or do something wrong.

      Dealing with insecurity involves becoming like those men.

      And yes, I know the next question. How do we become like those men? The only answer I can give is that discipleship, which is really better caught than taught, needs to be personal, not by lessons over the internet or in a book. Find a man like that and find out how to be like him.

  9. look forward to it.

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