Eternal Security/Part 10
|By: Dr. John Ankerberg and Dr. John Weldon; ©2001|
|There are some Scriptures which appear to teach the loss of salvation. How do we reconcile those with Scriptures that clearly state salvation cannot be lost?|
Eternal Security, Objections—Part 3
How do we deal with specific Scriptures that appear to teach the loss of salvation?
Space has not permitted us to discuss all those passages in Scripture which are commonly appealed to by those who believe a Christian can be eternally lost. But let us state that we have carefully examined these Scriptures, and we are convinced that none of them, properly interpreted, teaches that true Christians can lose their salvation. We strongly encourage every reader to examine these Scriptures in a variety of conservative commentaries. What he/she will discover is that what upon first reading seems to teach loss of salvation, further study dispels. We agree with theologians like Lewis Sperry Chafer, who, after examining all the so-called problem passages, conclude “that there is no Scripture, when rightly divided and related to the whole testimony of God, that teaches that a Christian may be lost. Nor is there any such example in the Bible. Of all the incidents and parables, none can be made to teach the loss of salvation. Moreover, if it were possible to lose it, there is no promise, or hint, in the Bible that it could be regained. The Bible reveals nothing concerning repetition of regeneration.”
The great Calvinist Arthur Pink also has some good words of advice when he reminds us:
First it must be laid down as a broad principle that God’s word cannot contradict itself…. Since then the Scriptures are Divinely inspired they cannot teach in one place it is impossible that the child of God should be eternally lost, and in another place that he may be, and in yet another that some have been so…. It is a basic principle of exegesis that no plain passage of the Word is to be neutralized by one whose meaning appears to be doubtful or ambiguous, that no explicit promise is to be set aside by a parable the significance of which is not readily determined, that no doctrinal declaration is to be nullified by the arbitrary interpretation of a figure or type. That which is uncertain must yield to that which is simple and obvious, that which is open to argument must be subordinated to that which is beyond any debate.
Further, we must remember that the Scripture speaks to a variety of Christian and spiritual conditions. Christians may be, e.g.,
- Mature and carnal—a committed Christian who falls into sin temporarily;
- Immature but spiritual—a Christian yielded to God but sinning because of immaturity;
- Mature and spiritual—a Christian who has developed from spiritual infancy to adulthood, is yielded to the Holy Spirit, and lives a life of holiness;
- Backslidden—a condition of spiritual rebellion where often a believer cannot outwardly be distinguished from an unbeliever;
- Weaker brethren—the Christian who is overly sensitive in certain areas that other Christians feel freedom in.
Because the Scriptures must speak to a wide variety of life conditions, it is hardly surprising to find conditional clauses (“if you continue…”) or warning passages. Consider 1 Corinthians 15:1-2—“Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preach to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preach to you, unless you believed in vain.” Does the “if” suggest a believer can lose their salvation? Not at all.
The mere expression of uncertainty hardly demands the conclusion that genuine salvation can be lost (Rom. 5:15). But the very facts of life in most Christian communities virtually demanded a certain level of uncertainty be expressed. Paul did not know the hearts and minds of every believer in Corinth, but he wanted to be certain that they knew. In any church, the range of Christian realities extends from the mature to the immature, from the spiritual to the carnal, as well as the existence of unbelievers. In writing to the churches, the Scriptures must express conditional sentiments because God wants to mature the immature, to encourage the weak and strong alike to endure, to warn the carnal and to make certain any unbelievers or self-deceived professors understand that perseverance in the Christian faith is the only outward visible sign of regeneration. Unbelievers must be warned: “If we deny Him, He also will deny us” (2 Tim. 2:12). (Like the originating passage in Mt. 10:32-33, this section of Scripture is spoken to both believers and unbelievers.)
God wants his children to be certain that they are saved, but what other means can he appeal to other than outward evidence? True faith produces fruit. God can hardly say “Your salvation is secure; don’t worry about sanctification” or “Jesus went to the cross for you, but good deeds don’t matter” or “It is really not important to endure” or “Don’t worry if you lose your faith; you will go to heaven anyway.” More than anyone else, God knows the reality of regeneration to change life and His own power to maintain that change, and He expects such in His true children. So much is at stake that God cannot compromise with the believer’s endurance—for His glory rests in the balance. Warnings are necessary to believers because believers can fall into sin and because God is concerned with how His children live their lives. Believers do need exhortation (Gal. 3:4; 2 Cor. 6:1).
In essence, one does not endure in order to be saved; one endures because one is saved by the power of God. This reality is in harmony with the conditional passages. Such warnings are also necessary because there are so many mere professors in the church who would be even more easily deceived without them. Thus, professors are encouraged to make certain that they are saved and believers are encouraged to persevere—and both produce the glory of God. In essence, such Scriptures encourage believers to act consistently with their faith while they warn mere professors that they are not really saved because they do not live the life of a true believer.
What about those who are “shut out” by Jesus? First, it is a rule of interpreting the Bible that no doctrine is to be established on a parable nor is any parable to interpret a clearly established doctrine. Nevertheless, the three passages commonly cited to teach loss of salvation (Mt. 7:22- 23; 25:11-12; Lk. 13:25-27) all clearly refer to unbelievers. How do we know this? Because in each case Jesus says clearly that He never knew them—that is the common characteristic of the people he discusses in these parables. By contrast, Jesus knows His own and has known them forever. Therefore, He could not possibly tell them, as He does these people, “I never knew you” (See Jn. 10:14; 2 Tim. 2:19; Gal. 4:9; 1 Cor. 8:3).
What about the case of Judas who was with Jesus for three years? Anyone who examines what the Scriptures teach about Judas can conclude only one thing: Judas was never a believer to begin with. Judas was a disciple, but never a true believer. He was a thief and hypocrite (Jn. 12:6); he was a devil (Jn. 6:70; 13:2); he was never born again or made clean (Jn. 17:12; 13:10-11); hence, we are told that he never truly believed (Jn. 6:64). Judas is an example of false profession (Mt. 7:21-23) and false repentance (Mt. 27:3-5). Thus, he went “to his own place” (Acts 1:25), and it would have been better for him had he never been born (Mt. 26:24).
What about the Book of Life? In Psalm 9:5, 69:28, Deuteronomy 29:20 and Exodus 32:33, 35, the Lord says that He will blot out certain individuals from the Book of Life. The Book of Life spoken in these verses refers to physical existence on earth. To be blotted out of this book is to die physically.
The Book of Life in Philippians 4:3, Revelation 20:15 and elsewhere represents spiritual eternal life which was granted the believer before the world began. Thus, context must determine which “book” is meant. In Revelation 3:5, Jesus Himself assures every Christian, i.e., every “overcomer” (please see 1 Jn. 5:4-5) with the promise that “I will not erase his name from the book of life.”
- Pink, Eternal Security, pp. 105-06.
- Chafer, Systematic Theology, Vol. 3.