Yesterday we looked at four verses used to teach eternal security. We compared them with Ephesians 5:5-6, which says …
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)
Obviously the above passage (and the two sister passages in 1 Cor. 6:9-11 and Gal. 5:19-21) does not jive very well with eternal security, nor even with the idea that we enter the kingdom of heaven apart from works.
So we began going through the list of verses I got in support of eternal security from a local teacher. The goal is to develop a doctrine that allows us to understand verses like the ones above at face value, which simply means that we believe what it most apparently says. We also want to be able to believe the verses that supposedly teach eternal security at face value, for what they most apparently say.
That wasn’t too hard yesterday. Let’s see how we do on the other verses.
2 Corinthians 5:17
If anyone is in the King, he is a new creation. Old things have passed away. Behold, all things have become new.
Under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t bother addressing this verse. It says nothing at all concerning eternal security. It only expresses how thorough the new birth is.
However, it was explained to me that the reason this applies to eternal security is because if we are new creatures, how could that end? How could becoming a new creation be undone?
That argument still seems irrelevant. Paul wrote to the Corinthians and told them that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God. He expressed surprise that anyone might not be aware of that (1 Cor. 6:9-11). To the very same people, he wrote, “If anyone is in the King, he is a new creation. Old things have passed away. Behold, all things have become new.”
To those same people, he wrote, “Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12). Read the verses leading up to 1 Corinthians 10:12. You will find that those twelve verses are like a sermon against eternal security.
So however being a new creature could be undone, it can be undone. I think the apostolic word for this is death or corruption. If you do not sow to the Spirit, but instead live according to the flesh, you will reap corruption (Gal. 6:7-9). If you do not put your mortal body to death by the power of the Spirit, you will die (Rom. 8:12-13).
Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life. (NASB)
Now here is a verse that really seems to teach eternal security.
First let me tell you why I’m going to dig a little deeper into this verse:
If Jesus is really saying that once we believe we can never, ever come into condemnation, then why did Paul issue the warnings we mentioned above? Even more so, why did Jesus say just four verses later that he would some day call everyone out of their graves and give a resurrection of life to those who did good and a resurrection of condemnation to those who did evil?
The digging deeper involves addressing the Greek words in this passage. I need to get you on my side in this, so …
1 John 3:9 says that a person born of God does not sin and cannot sin.
Wow! Is that true?
Not in English. It’s only true in Greek.
In Greek, both “does” and the second “sin” are in the present tense. Present tense in Greek is not the same as the present tense in English. Greek has two present tenses, one called, aptly enough, “present” tense, and the other called “aorist.” Present tense is continual; aorist is “punctiliar.”
To make that simpler, he aorist tense is a very general tense saying that something happened. It may have been once or it may have been many times, but it happened. The present tense, however, was only used when a Greek wanted to emphasize that an action was ongoing or continual. Thus, 1 John 3:9 is telling us that a person born of God does not and cannot habitually sin.
No one has a problem with that, right? We all agree with that, and we even like it. If this isn’t true, then none of us are born of God because every one of us sins (1 Jn. 1:8) and stumbles (Jam. 3:2).
John 5:24 is no different. The verbs are in the present tense. It is the one hearing and believing on an ongoing basis who has eternal life and will not come into condemnation.
We will not try to explain John 5:24 away. Colossians 1:22-23 says almost exactly the same thing: if we continue in the faith, rooted and grounded in it, then we will be presented holy, blameless, and unable to be reproved at the judgment. In other words, if we continue in faith, we will not come into condemnation.
None of this contradicts Eph. 5:5-6. Instead it adds to it. We are warned by Paul, and we should be warned by each other, not to partake in the deeds of the sons of disobedience. If we do, we will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Instead, we will perish with the disobedient. However, if we will continue hearing and believing, grounded and rooted in the faith, we can count on God to bring us to the judgment in a blameless, holy state.
That promise, perhaps expressed more fully in Colossians 1:22 than it is in John 5:24, is the real promise of God that we can rejoice in. We have not bought fire insurance so that the kingdom is guaranteed to us. We have been translated into the kingdom of his beloved Son, and as long as we continue to walk in the ways of that kingdom, we will continue to experience continual cleansing. We will be the ones “to whom the Lord does not impute sin” (Col. 1:13; 1 Jn. 1:7; Rom. 4:3-8).
I’m not even going to quote these verses. These just say that Jesus prayed for his disciples in the first century and for those who would believe into the future. They don’t say what he was praying for, but the rest of the chapter does. He was praying for us to receive the truth, which is his word, and to be in unity.
The whole chapter is awesome and extremely important, especially today, because of its emphasis on unity. However, it is irrelevant to an eternal security discussion.
1 Peter 1:3-5
Apparently, I listed this wrong two days ago. I wrote 1 Peter 3:5. I’ll go correct that when I’m done with this.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus the King, who, according to his abundant mercy, has birthed us again to a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus the King from the dead. [He has birthed us] to an inheritance incorruptible, undefiled, and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith to a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
This is another great eternal security verse. This sounds so sure that it’s odd that in the same chapter Peter would write:
If you address as Father the one who impartially judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourself throughout the time of your sojourning here in fear. (v. 17)
Wow, what a dilemma!
Okay, let’s look at who has been promised this incorruptible, undefiled, unfading inheritance in heaven. It is those who are kept by the power of God through faith, right?
Those are just the people we are describing. Those are the people who continue in the faith, grounded and settled, and are presented before God holy and blameless. This is a great assurance verse, but it is not meant to assure those who wander from the path. It is meant to assure those who live by faith in the Son of God that the power of God is sufficient to bring them to their goal.
Why Is This Important?
Okay, we’ve addressed all eight verses. Why? What have we accomplished?
The biggest problem with eternal security is that it is spoken to the wrong people. In Jesus’ day everyone knew that to have faith in a person meant that you did everything that person said. Anyone who continues in that kind of faith does have eternal security. 1 Peter 1:3-5 is just one of several passages that offers assurance to the obedient faithful.
Today, even in English, having faith in a person means, in any normal conversation, that you are going to obey, or at least make every effort to obey, everything he teaches. If you say you believe in Denise Austin, then any English speaker would expect you to have her DVD’s in your house, be working out every day or almost every day, and to be fit. We don’t need a special definition of faith. We all already know that faith in a person means obedience to that person’s teachings.
Modern Christians, however, have a clever trick to avoid that perfectly normal definition of belief. We teach that the object of saving faith is the atonement rather than Jesus.
You see, if all we have to do is believe in the atonement, then there is nothing to obey. The atonement is an event, not a person. It does not issue commands. Jesus, however, is not just a person, but God’s anointed King, proven to be the Son of God by the resurrection from the dead. He has issued lots of commands, and he told us through John that if we don’t obey them, we don’t know God (1 Jn. 2:3-4).
Do you still believe in Jesus?
If we are supposed to believe in him, then there is a lot to obey.
Is there any place where Jesus or the apostles told us that to be saved we must believe in the atonement? I think you will always find that salvation is tied to belief in Jesus, not an event. No matter how important that event was, King Jesus is more important.
If you continue in that faith—that faith which is a bowed knee acknowledging yourself as subject to the rule and judgment of God’s anointed King—then you can be secure.
There are direct statements to that effect.
My little children, let’s not love in word, nor in tongue, but in action and in truth. That is the way we know we are of the truth, and we shall assure our hearts before him. (1 Jn. 3:18-19).
Do you want assurance? Love your neighbor as yourself—which is the King’s second greatest commandment and the only proof you have that you love God (1 Jn. 4:20)—and you will assure your heart before God.
Thanks for enduring such a long post. I am confident that we are going to be able to make this subject clear so that each one of us can read the Scripture without any difficult verses. In the next couple posts, I will show you other eternal security verses, and we’ll see that they, too, complement the warning verses of Scripture.