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.
- Romans 8:38-39 says nothing that is created can separate us from the love of God.
- Hebrews 10:14 says he has perfected us forever.
- Philippians 1:6 says the one who began a good work in us will complete it.
- Romans 8:28-30 says that those whom he foreknew are predestined, and the predestined are justified and glorified, all of them.
- 2 Corinthians 5:17 says we are new creatures. How could that be undone?
- John 5:24 says that we have eternal life now and that we will never come into condemnation.
- 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.)
- 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.)
- 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 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.
- 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.