Eternal Security/Part 4
|By: Dr. John Ankerberg and Dr. John Weldon; ©2001|
|How long is eternity? When will it end? Your answer to those questions will determine your understanding of our security as believers. Drs. Ankerberg and Weldon explain.What makes the issue of eternal security controversial? Can the problems be resolved? In this article Drs. Ankerberg and Weldon comment on the objections and some resolutions based on Scripture.|
Eternal Security—Part 4
What is the meaning of eternal and how does it relate to salvation?
The dictionary defines eternal as “without beginning or end”; “everlasting”; “timeless” and “forever the same; always true or valid; unchangeable: as eternal principles.”
If the purposes of God in salvation have been established from eternity, nothing in time can thwart them because time itself is foreign to eternity. Whatever is established in eternity for eternity is established forever.
Scripture tells us that the believer is, or will be, the possessor of a number of things to which the word “eternal” is added. For example, to list a few Scriptures the believer 1) looks forward to an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison (2 Cor. 4:17); 2) is in the eternal purpose of God (Eph. 3:11); 3) has eternal comfort (2 Thess. 2:16); 4) has eternal redemption (Heb. 9:12) and is called by God to eternal glory (1 Pet. 5:10).
The Scriptures repeatedly employ the term “eternal life” in reference to the believer. But this is much more than having eternal existence. Eternal life refers not only to duration but to the quality of an eternal existence. Consider again the meaning of eternal. Words lose all meaning if eternal does not mean eternal. Why would God have used the term eternal if He meant something that is, quite literally, infinitely less? Eternal nullifies all time, hence, if at any point one can be said to possess eternal life, by definition, it cannot be less than eternal. In other words, it cannot be temporal. Again, time has no meaning compared to eternity. Trillions of computers could multiply trillions of years trillions of times multiplied to the trillion trillionth power a trillion times over and the surface of eternity would not even be slightly scratched. Eternity wouldn’t be affected at all. The one who possesses eternal life, therefore, can never be lost, otherwise he could never have possessed eternal life to begin with. Perhaps the reader can understand the full force of this argument?
If God had intended to convey the idea a believer could never be lost, He could not have spoken in clearer terms than to use the term eternal. If He had intended to convey the idea that a believer could be lost, he should never have spoken of eternal life as a present possession.
Many Christians today seem to feel that when they die, that is the point at which they receive eternal life and that they are eternally secure from that point on. But if their salvation ultimately depended upon them keeping themselves saved here, why should it necessarily be any different in eternity? Again, didn’t even many of the sinless angels fall? Regardless, because Scripture teaches that the believer has eternal life as a present tense possession now—believers can know they do not need to wait to die in order to know they have eternal life. Consider the force and weight of the following Scriptures:
He who believes in the Son has eternal life…. (Jn. 3:36)
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. (Jn. 5:24) Truly, truly I say to you he who believes has eternal life. (Jn. 6:47)
I give eternal life to them and they shall never perish and no one shall snatch them out of my hand. (Jn. 10:28)
And this is eternal life that they may know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou has sent. (Jn. 17:3)
- And yet for this reason I found mercy, in order that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate his perfect patience, as an example for those who would believe in him for eternal life. (1 Tim. 1:16)
- Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called…. (1 Tim. 6:12)
- In the hope of eternal life, which God, who cannot lie, promised long ages ago. (Titus 1:2)
- And this is the promise which He Himself made to us: eternal life. (1 Jn. 2:25)
- And the witness is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life. These thing I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, in order that you may know that you have eternal life. (1 Jn. 5:11-13)
When the Scripture speaks of the believer possessing “life,” it always refers to eternal life. Because eternal life can never coexist with eternal death, once one possesses eternal life, it forever nullifies the possibility of ever possessing eternal death. This is why Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life” (Jn. 5:24).
Again, if God had intended to convey the idea that a believer could be lost, he should never have spoken of eternal life as a present possession. But because we are now possessors of eternal life, Scripture tells us that we are present possessors of the future inheritance that will bring to fruition all that is involved in having eternal life now (Eph. 1:11; Heb. 9:15; 1 Pet. 1:4-5).
If salvation is truly a gift, will God ever take back His gift?
The Scriptures are clear that salvation is a gift. Ephesians 2:8 teaches that salvation “is the gift of God.” In John 10:28 Jesus said, “I give eternal life to them and they shall never perish.” Romans 6:23 teaches that, “The free gift of God is eternal life.” The Scripture also speaks that the grace of God is a gift given the believer. First Corinthians 1:4 refers to “the grace of God which was given you. Ephesians 3:7 speaks of “the gift of God’s grace.” The Bible also says that we have been “justified as a gift” (Rom. 3:24), and therefore, we have “the gift of righteousness” (Rom. 5:17).
So the question arises, Would God ever take back the gifts He has freely given? If salvation is a gift consisting of irreversible actions, can it ever be returned? Romans 11:29 says that, “The gifts and calling of God are irrevocable.” Consider this verse in other translations. Wuest renders it, “For the gifts in grace and the calling of God are with respect to a change of mind irrevocable.” The Living Bible reads, “For God’s gift and His call can never be withdrawn; He will never go back on His promises.” The Amplified Bible teaches, “For God’s gifts and His call are irrevocable—He never withdraws them when once they are given, and He does not change His mind about those to whom He gives His grace or to whom He sends His call.”
But there is an even stronger argument here. The Scripture also teaches that it is actually the believer who is a gift from God the Father to His Son Jesus Christ. Consider the following verses:
- All that the Father gives me will come to me…. (Jn. 6:37)
- For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. (Jn. 17:2)
- I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me…. (Jn. 17:6)
- I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. (Jn. 17:9)
- Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am and to see my glory…. (Jn. 17:24)
In all these verses, and others, Jesus tells us that every true believer in Christ has been a special gift from the Father to Him. Now, let the reader ask some questions. Would Jesus ever refuse a gift from the Father? Is this even conceivable? If Christians could lose their salvation, doesn’t this mean that the Father would have to take back those whom He gave to His Son as a special gift? Would Jesus ever allow a precious gift from the Father to be sent to hell and eternally lost? If so, why would God ever present a man or woman to his own Son as a gift in the first place—when He knew one day that gift would be taken from Him and consigned to eternal judgment? That is an impossibility because God’s purpose, omniscience and character could not allow it. Isn’t this why Jesus said, “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand” (Jn. 10:28)? Or, “All that the Father gives me will come to me and… I shall lose none of all that He has given me…. And I will raise him up at the last day” (Jn. 6:37-40)? And, “I have not lost one of those you gave me” (Jn. 18:9)?
All this is why Lewis Sperry Chafer remarks in his Systematic Theology:
It is reasonable to believe that each individual ever to be saved by the grace of God through the Savior, Jesus Christ, was in the ages past individually presented as a particular love gift from the Father to the Son; that each individual represents a thought that could never be duplicated; and that if one of these jewels should be missing from the whole company, the Lord would be deprived as only infinity could be injured by imperfections.
- Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology (Dallas: Dallas Theological Seminary, 1971), Vol. 3, p. 324.