|By: Dr. John Ankerberg and Dr. John Weldon; ©2001|
|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 Two
Another reason for the controversy over the matter of eternal security is because some people approach Scripture from certain assumptions relating to human experience or human reason. For example, an individual with a poor self-image who has feelings of unworthiness may simply conclude: “I am too unworthy to be the recipient of a guaranteed salvation.” Another person can look around him and see that as human beings we may abandon our friends, our family and our children; we may go back on our promises, we may cease to love someone, we may change our mind about important issues, etc. Then they reason that God is probably like this as well. But nothing could be further from the truth. Sinful human behavior and experience say nothing about the infinite perfections of divine character and behavior (Num. 23:19; Isa. 55:8-9; Mal. 3:6). When God promises something, He keeps His promises. And He never abandons His children or changes His mind concerning the objects of His love.
Others think that the doctrine of security is “unreasonable.” But why is it unreasonable? One would think just the opposite. It is perfectly reasonable that God should secure the eternal salvation of those He truly loves. If Christ Himself died for us when we were yet His enemies, and went through the unspeakable torments of the cross to save those He loved, it is far more logical to think He would be all the more certain to secure their salvation. This is the argument of Scripture itself (Rom. 5:1-10).
Others say that this issue is too divisive, or because it has never been resolved in the past, it is better left undiscussed. In other words, don’t stir up problems that have no solution and only cause division in the body of Christ.
But since when has God’s Word not stirred up controversy? And which of the doctrines of Scripture are not potentially divisive? Isn’t even the Gospel message itself offensive (1 Cor. 1:23)? The doctrines of the Trinity, eternal judgment, divine election, divine creation, Christ as the only way of salvation, etc.—are not such doctrines offensive or embarrassing even to some Christians? We shouldn’t ask whether or not a doctrine will cause division, but whether or not it is scriptural. If it is scriptural, then it must be presented as the truth.
Further, who says the doctrine has never been resolved? If it is biblical, it was resolved the very moment the canon of Scripture was complete. Only if Scripture is truly unclear on a subject is it legitimate to say that an issue is unresolvable in this life. This may indeed be true for some aspects of eschatology and a few other doctrines. But if the Scriptures clearly teach the doctrine of security, then the only reason it is divisive and controversial is because people either don’t know the Scriptures or won’t believe them.
The last reason this doctrine is controversial is because of legitimate concerns or particular misunderstandings people have. If we understand what the doctrine of security does and does not teach, the chance of rejecting the doctrine from misinformation is reduced. One of these concerns is that eternal security may be taught to merely professing Christians rather than true Christians. Obviously, the doctrine of security must be taught only to genuine children of God lest those who wrongly think they are Christians become deceived as to their true status before God.
Another misunderstanding is that it denies the balance between human will and free‑dom. If our salvation is absolutely certain, does not this nullify human responsibility? And is it not logical that if my belief resulted in salvation that my unbelief or loss of faith must result in my loss of salvation—lest my own freedom and responsibility be denied?
But the doctrine of security does not deny our human will or freedom. First of all, human freedom, while real, is by definition also subject to God’s sovereignty. This argument ignores the purposes of God to save His own children. Second, belief alone did not result in anyone’s salvation, God’s purposes did (Acts 13:48). Our faith resulted from God’s purposes in salvation. This is why Scripture says we are saved by grace—God’s unmerited favor—but that salvation is through faith. Faith is the instrument of salvation, while God is the cause of salvation. If God is the cause, then salvation ultimately rests in His purposes, not our faith. While no one can possibly be saved apart from faith, and without faith it is impossible to please God, faith is never the procuring cause of salvation.
Others argue that this doctrine is a license to sin—if a person knows they are eternally secure they will go out and sin all the more because nothing can ever cause them to lose their salvation. Horrors! Nothing could be further from the truth. In truth, this doctrine will make a person love and obey God more because of what it teaches. In the end, those who believe this doctrine will actually be less likely to commit sin. Why? Because it can only increase their love for God—and the essence of loving God is obedience to Him as the Apostle John repeatedly points out in his first epistle (e.g., 1 Jn. 2:3-6; 5:3). If we understand how much God loves us, then we will love God all the more (Lk. 7:36-47) and we will not want to sin against Him. Ethical misuse of the teaching of security would easily indicate the absence of salvation.
Thus, properly understood, this doctrine cannot be used to teach a lax attitude toward Christian living (see Rom. 6:1-2). Nor does it deny our responsibility to accept the Gospel and live consistently with its precepts. Any doctrine can be abused, however abuse of a doctrine is no reason to reject it. It is all the more reason to make certain that it is taught properly. Essentially, the doctrine of eternal security is no more a license to sin than the doctrine of God’s omniscience is a license not to pray or the doctrine of God’s sovereignty in salvation is a license not to witness to non-Christians.
In the end, if a doctrine causes us to love God more, then by definition it will decrease our sin. But on the other hand, if we fear God in an unhealthy or unscriptural manner because we fear we may lose our salvation, this may discourage us and prevent us from loving God and actually tend to increase our sin.
In conclusion, the doctrine of eternal security is controversial, but this does not mean it is irresolvable, untrue or unimportant. Controversial issues are usually more emotive and require more time and patience to sort out. Contemporary examples also illustrate this: abortion, homosexuality and evolution.
Whether abortion and homosexuality are morally right or wrong, and whether creation is true are controversial issues to be sure. Able proponents exist on all sides who can martial social, scientific and/or philosophical arguments. But the real issue is how valid the arguments are. Arguments may seem persuasive, but that does not make them valid, especially if the one arguing has wrong assumptions, false information or personal biases? Nor can anyone deny the emotional content to these issues. Nevertheless, when they are examined biblically, there is only one answer to them. Homosexuality and abortion are wrong, and evolution is false.
It is the same with eternal security. The issue is controversial and emotional, but there is a clear biblical answer, and later in this series we will show you why. Eternal security is one of those outstanding glories of the Christian gospel. No one should miss it.
How can we know this controversial issue can be resolved?
As we have seen, the mere fact of controversy does not demand that an issue be unresolvable. Only one situation can exist that would cause this issue to be unresolvable, lack of clarity on the subject. Since both positions of security and loss of salvation cannot simultaneously be true, clarity on one position by definition disproves the other. Theologian Robert Glenn Gromacki is correct when he writes, “I recognize that God is one and that His revelation is harmonious with His character. It is absolutely impossible to find within the Bible fifty passages that teach eternal security and fifty others that deny it. The Bible teaches one doctrine, not two contradictory positions. Only one can be correct.”
Again, this means that once this doctrine is established to be true, no other Scripture can possibly contradict it.
Consider the following Scriptures as to whether or not they clearly teach the doctrine of eternal security.
- I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned;… (Jn. 5:24)
- I tell you the truth, he who believes has everlasting life. (Jn. 6:47)
- And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. (Jn. 6:39)
- I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. (Jn. 10:28)
- …and all who were appointed for eternal life believed. (Acts 13:48)
- Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! (Rom. 5:10)
- For those God foreknew, he also predestined to become conformed to the likeness of his Son,… And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified…. If God is for us, who can be against us?… For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom. 8:29-31, 38-39)
- In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you…. (1 Pet. 1:4)
- I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. (1 Jn. 5:13)
These are only some of the scriptures that clearly teach the eternal security of the believer. If eternal life is the present possession of the believer from the moment of salvation, it has to be eternal. If salvation could be lost at any point, we could not simultaneously possess eternal life. If Jesus promised us that we will never perish, what could be clearer?
Few subjects are so rewarding as the study of the character and attributes of God. Although all God’s attributes support the security of the believer in some way, if we examine just three, we can see that the nature of God and the security of salvation are inseparable. The Bible teaches that God is truth (Jn. 14:6), that He never changes in His essential nature (Mal. 3:6; 1 Sam. 15:29) and that He is all powerful (Job 42:2; Jer. 32:27; Gen. 17:1).
If it can be established that God says the believer is eternally secure and that it is God’s purpose to save the believer, then 1) because God is truth the fact of our security must be true; 2) because God is unchanging, He will never go back on His word and 3) because God is all powerful, He has the ability to keep us saved.
In light of this, consider the following Scriptures. First, God is a God of truth: The veracity of God promises us that He “cannot lie” (Titus 1:2) while His immutability asserts that this will always be true. Second, God does not go back on His word: “God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should repent; has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?” (Num. 23:19-20). Third, God is all powerful: “No purpose of thine can be thwarted” (Job 42:2); “Is anything too difficult for thee?” (Jer. 32:27).
A study of God’s attributes in conjunction with the doctrine of salvation carries the strongest possible implications for the security of the believer. If God promised us eternal life, then He cannot lie. But did God specifically promise us eternal life? Yes. Our spiritual rebirth at the point of faith is termed “regeneration,” by theologians. It involves the imparting of eternal life. God did indeed promise us this: “This is the promise which He Himself made to us—eternal life” (1 Jn. 2:25). If God made a promise, can He fail to bring it to pass?
Consider a related line of argument. Is not the security of salvation directly related to God’s purpose and power? The doctrine of election teaches us it is God’s purpose to save us (2 Tim. 1:9). God’s omnipotence declares He has the power to save us and to secure our salvation against any conceivable foe (Job 42:2; Rom. 8:28-38). The doctrine of justification tells us that God has declared us righteous.
If God’s own righteousness, truth and immutability mean anything, how can this situation of the believer’s security ever be reversed? Under what human conditions might this happen? The God who cannot lie and never changes is the same God who purposed to save us, declared us righteous, promised us eternal life, and promised to keep us secure. Is there room for failure? Are the promises of God relative to salvation dependent upon the faith, failures or fallible actions of men? Not according to 2 Timothy 2:13 and Romans 3:3- 4: “If we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot deny Himself” and “What if some did not have faith? Will their lack of faith nullify God’s faithfulness? Not at all! Let God be true, and every man a liar. As it is written: ‘So that you may be proved right when you speak and prevail when you judge.’” Has God made a judgment as to the eternal condition of the believer? Unmistakably, yes. God has judged the believer eternally righteous, a possessor of eternal life and much more.
In conclusion, to examine the Scriptures which teach the security of the believer in light of the promises and attributes of God is to convince oneself of the truth of this doctrine.
- See our “The Facts On” booklets on homosexuality, abortion and evolution (Harvest House).
- Robert Glenn Gromacki, Salvation is Forever (Chicago: Moody, 1973), p. 10.