Yesterday I provided two lists of verses (link opens in new window or tab for reference), both of which could have been considerably lengthened. One set was meant to prove eternal security, that a person once saved is guaranteed an entrance into the eternal kingdom of God. The other set contained warnings to Christians that they need to do something in order to enter the eternal kingdom of God.
How do we reconcile the two?
The first step is to be willing to be honest.
“I know that such and such verse clearly contradicts what I said, but I believe it anyway because I have six verses that support my view.” That is not honesty. That is wishful thinking. That is making Scripture contradict Scripture. It is what I call “verses versus verses.”
Above all, that is making part of the Scripture meaningless.
Do you really want verses that you don’t want to talk about or look at?
So let’s practice on those two lists of verses I gave yesterday.
The Contrary Verse
Let’s start with a passage that causes problems for the eternal security doctrine. We’ll list just one for now, and we’ll go through the verses my Life Group leader supplied and see how we can believe this verse and his at the same time.
Be sure of this, that no immoral or impure or greedy person, that is, an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty arguments, for because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the disobedient. (NAB, revised edition)
Let's begin with Romans 8:38-39, although this one is too easy.
For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor power, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in King Jesus our Lord.
These two passages do not even seem to contradict. Romans 8:38-39 talks about things that can happen to us or that can tempt us or bring us trials. None of those things can separate us from the love of God, as long as we abide in the love of God and don’t become an immoral, impure, or greedy person. Immorality, impurity, and greed may or may not separate us from God’s love, but Ephesians 5:5-6 tells us that they will separate us from the reward of eternal life in God’s kingdom. There is nothing in Romans 8:38-39 that contradicts this.
For by one offering he has perfected forever those who are being sanctified.
Exactly two chapters later, in Hebrews 12:14, we are told that the only way we will see the Lord is if we pursue peace with everyone and holiness. “Holiness” and “sanctification” are sister words in Greek (hagiasmos and hagiazo, respectively). In this case, Hebrews 10:14 is the verb form of holiness, and Hebrews 12:14 has the noun form. Otherwise, they’re the same word.
Jesus has perfected forever those who are being sanctified. These are those who pursue holiness and shall see the Lord. These do not include those who fall into immorality, impurity, and greed. If you live in these sins without repentance, you will not enter Jesus’ kingdom no matter how much you think you believe or how much faith you think you have.
I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of King Jesus. (NABRE)
I’m using the New American Bible Revised Edition when the KJV has stilted wording. You won’t find any differences in meaning between the two. I am also usually replacing the word Christ with King because King gives a better idea what Christ means. Christ is not a name. It is a word that means Israel’s annointed King and Redeemer, the Son of God.
Here we are told that Paul is confident that the one who began a good work in us will complete it. There are two things we have to take into account here.
1. Paul gives a reason for this confidence. He says it is only right he should have that confidence because he has them in his heart, and they have been partners with him in grace.
2. Jesus tells us how this good work is done in us in John 15. We are branches joined to a vine. The life of the vine pours forth into every branch. However, not every branch bears fruit, despite the work of both the vine and the vinedresser. It’s possible for a branch not to bear fruit, in which case it is cut off (Jn. 15:2). It is also possible for a branch to refuse to remain in the vine, in which case it is taken away and burned with fire (Jn. 15:6). In either case, the branch is no longer joined to the vine.
Is this really what Paul is telling the Philippians in that verse? If we read the rest of the letter, we will see that it is. Let’s add a third thought to take into account.
3. Philippians 3:8-15 is a long passage exhorting the Philippians to continue on the path because they have not yet attained to the resurrection. Paul himself had not yet attained, so he presses forward, pushing towards the finish line so that he can lay hold of the reward for which Jesus had laid hold of him.
Clearly Paul wasn’t saying, “This is just going to happen, no matter what you do.” If Paul himself felt he had to press forward and run to grab the prize, we should feel the same way. In fact, he tells us to feel the same way in 3:15.
The power comes from God. Apart from Jesus, we can do nothing (Jn. 15:5). Nonetheless, we must abide in him and press toward the finish line, or we will find that we will not attain, but we will be dragged off as a branch and burned.
I want to point out that to this point, we have done no violence to any of the verses presented on behalf of eternal security. The explanations we have offered are not only reasonable, but in context they are the most likely interpretations of the verses we have looked at. None of our explanations have been far-fetched or fanciful.
We won’t do that with this passage, either.
Those he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of the Son so that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. Moreover, those he predestined, those he also called. And those he called, them he also justified. And those he justified, them he also glorified.
It sounds like he’s describing a process with no exceptions. We can’t always assume that there are no exceptions to blanket statements in Scripture, however. For example, Paul’s “There is none good, no, not one” is a quote from Psalm 14 and Psalm 53. In both those Psalms, which are essentially duplicates of one another, those who are not good are persecuting the righteous, making it clear that he does not mean “every last person” when he says “none is good.”
I think that’s an important principle in Scripture, but I am not going to use it to reconcile Rom. 8:29-30 with Eph. 5:5-6. Instead, I want to focus on the word “foreknowledge.”
There are enough statements in Scripture about predestination—though they are few and far between—that a good student of Scripture must deal with the subject.
Twice predestination is said to be based on foreknowledge. Besides Rom. 8:29, 1 Pet. 1:2 tells us that election is based on foreknowledge. Foreknowledge means to know in advance. God predestines those that he knows something about in advance. We are not told what he knows, but we are told that because of this advance knowledge, he predestines the foreknown to justification and glorification.
I want to take a strong stand against Calvinism in this discussion. God wants everyone to come to repentance. Because of free will, some don’t. I strongly reject the Calvinist notion that some are predestined not to believe. If believing is in God’s control only, then every person on earth would believe and be saved because that is the will of God (1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Pet. 3:9; 1 Jn. 2:2).
So Romans 8:29-30 starts with foreknowledge, not predestination. What did God foreknow? I suggest that God foreknew something that does not contradict all the other things Paul said about entering the kingdom of God. My suggestion would be that he foreknew who would “continue in the faith grounded and settled and not moved away from the hope of the Gospel” (Col. 1:23).
Assuming that’s what he foreknew, we once again have no contradiction between all these verses, and we have still taken every one of the verses we have addressed at face value.
We will do the rest of the eternal security verse list in the next post. Today’s post is plenty long enough. I want to promise you that when we are done, if you are willing to embrace this simple method of honestly interpreting every verse we run across so that they are all true and all understood at face value, that you will find yourself comfortable with every passage the apostles wrote on this subject. As an added bonus, you will find yourself saying the same things that the members of the apostles’ churches said in the earliest days of the church.