A Part of Eternal Security vs. Conditional Perseverance

by Ray Moore and Mike Stine

We find that in these issues it is perhaps easiest and best to agree to disagree.  This is not an issue that affects our salvation; we are both going to heaven and have full assurance in that.

It would appear then that the issue is did these people truly repent and receive salvation.  Or did they come to the knowledge of God and Christ but never made Christ Lord over their life.  

For years we have watched people claim that they receive Christ as their savior and even get baptized.  After a couple of months, maybe even years, however, many all but disappear only to be found worse spiritually than they were before they became saved.  This is not salvation.

We find that whether there is a loss of salvation or that these people were never truly saved, they are in trouble.  Either way, whatever one believes on the issue of eternity security, these people face eternal damnation if they do not repent of their sins, just as an unbeliever needs to repent.

We have found some questions that have not been fully answered and perhaps cannot be fully explained within our finite minds.  We have asked numerous people as well as researched the answer ourselves and cannot find an explanation.  It is Revelation 22:19, “And if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the book of life, from the Holy City and from the things that are written in the book.” (NKJV) [NIV and NASB says tree of life, not book, but this still references to eternity and a loss of eternity with God.]

While we do not believe that this is an unforgivable sin, mentioned right at the end of the Bible, we also do not believe that God is making an idle threat, proving himself to be a liar.  A good explanation for this passage we have not found.

We have found our views possibly best summarized by Erwin Lutzer in The Doctrines that Divides.  In it he says, “Arminianism is the name most often associated with the belief that a saved person can eventually be lost.  Yet Arminius himself did not teach this doctrine explicitly.  He simply said that it was an open question.  He thought that Calvinists who believed that all saints would persevere had no right to be so certain.”  This statement is probably the most intelligent either of us has heard on the issue and it is what we would like to close with.


A Part of Eternal Security vs. Conditional Perseverance

by Ray Moore and Mike Stine

View on Perseverance Arminianism- Believers may turn from grace and lose their salvation. Calvinism- Believers will persevere in the faith.  Believers are secure in their salvation, no one will be lost.

Discussing perseverance of saints requires looking at scholarly works and being able to critique their statements and discern the truthfulness in them.  This is where our main our main emphasis lies, but the prior sections were necessary to give a background for these arguments.

Michael Horton, in his book Putting Amazing Back into Grace, deals with the topic of perseverance in the introduction.   Threats of loss of salvation were used as a form of discipline by a teacher in his Christian school.  One day while reading Romans he came across this passage, “But to the one who does not work, but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness apart from works. ‘Blessed are those whose lawless deeds have been forgiven and whose sins have been covered.  Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not take into account.’ (taken originally from Psalm 132:1-2)”  The Romans and Psalms passages are active and are not based on future work of man.  The word blessed is definitive and sins that have been covered are hid behind Christ’s blood.  We are not credited to righteousness by anything we say or do, it is by our faith in Christ alone.

An also well known passage within the Bible contains the very same active language.  It is the verse practically everyone in America has heard; John 3:16.  For God so loved the world that he gave his only son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  Not only is there an active voice within this passage, but we see that the tense changes.  Verbs referenced to God are in the past, his job is done.  Believes however is an active verb, referenced to the believer (or non-believer) implying that it is something that must be ongoing.

John is the apostle of love but the emphasis in John’s writing is not on love, it is on belief.  This word occurs about 100 times in his works, more than any other word.  In the same passage as above, verses 15 and 18 places the emphasis on believed, not love.  

While verse 18 does definitely include the word believed, it also includes the active tense, “believes”, earlier in the verse.  This I must admit is confusing.

While reading DJ Kennedy’s book Solving Bible Mysteries the lordship/salvation controversy came up.  Kennedy tells the story of a man who had passed away.  He had lived a very sinful life but the mother tells Kennedy that she knew her son was in heaven.  This was because the man had “accepted Christ” when twelve years old, never returning to church afterwards.  While Kennedy did not wish to upset the mother, he mentions in his book that he wouldn’t want to be chained to this lady’s son for eternity.  There is more to accepting Christ than just saying I believe in him and want him in my life.  One has to give their self over to Lord and start being transformed.  Various scripture passages tell us that we are to allow our lives to be transformed.  This is an active thing that we are to do to the point of our death. 

Kennedy’s book ,on page 5, states, “We see that genuine Christians may temporarily and partially fall away but they will inevitably come back.  The great example of this is Peter.”  Kennedy translates I John 3:9 as, “Whosoever is born of God does not continue in the practice of sin for his seed is born is still in him and he cannot continue in the habit of sin because he is born of God.”  When we begin to allow our lives to be transformed, we cannot continue to keep committing the same sin over and over again.  To do so shows that we have no desire to give up that sin.

Christ is in the business of not just saving lives, but transforming lives.  If he abides in us, then our fruit should show evidence of him at work within us.

I fully agree that our lives should be fruitful.  We’re obviously commanded to live fruitful lives.  I strongly agree with Kennedy that a profession at the age of twelve and never returning to church does not save anyone.  Where I must disagree is really at the core of this issue anyway.  I believe that we can as Christians, bear fruit in our lives, and for some reason, choose to give God’s gift of salvation back.  

I have a dear friend that I grew up with in church.  She had a tremendous zeal for God as we grew up together and she had, what I personally believe, a genuine heart for the lost.  As a teenager she took the initiative to contact one of our missionaries in China and arranged to spend a month there as a short term missionary.  Unfortunately a few years after that point, she wouldn’t be recognizable as a Christian.  She led a promiscuous life for a couple of years and has been into other things that are harmful to the body.  She told me that didn’t believe God existed anymore.  Fortunately she has hit rock bottom and has returned to church.  She now believes God exists, but I see no fruit in her life.  I don’t see the difference that Christ makes in her life except for the fact that she has two less hours on Sunday to do things.  Maybe she’ll come back to the Lord, because maybe she never gave up her salvation; crossed over that line in the sand God has drawn somewhere.  Or maybe she will stay as she is, a Sunday morning Christian that has no zeal for God and shows no evidence of His existence in her life.  But it was there at one time.  I fully believe that, whatever someone wants to tell me.

No one can snatch our salvation from us.  We have full assurance of that from John 10:28.  Even in the Arminian doctrine it quotes this verse.  We can also have assurance of our salvation from our fruits.  A bad tree cannot bear good fruit and a good tree cannot bear bad fruit.  Whatever is not of God is of Satan.  The nation of Israel is often represented as a fig tree in the Bible.  Christ cursed a fig tree because it did not bear fruit and it died.  Israel was God’s chosen nation, but he announced that it too, if it didn’t produce fruit, would be cursed (and die).

This young lady is still alive.  The metaphor of pruning a tree to make it bear fruit is a common theme in the Bible.  When a tree is pruned it is cut back to an extreme state.  To the casual observer, it even appears dead and the cut limbs are burned.  If God has to, he will prune us back the same way.  This young lady may never serve the Lord again in verbal testimony but if her life is transformed, slowly people will start seeing the change and eventually say, “This is not the sinner we once knew.”  Bearing fruit does not make us all evangelists.  Some people work like Martha in the kitchen while others go out and spread the word like the disciples. 

I certainly hope that this is true, for the sake of my friend.  Truthfully we will never know for sure on this side of eternity.  I can certainly not be the judge of whether she crossed over some undefined line regarding the loss of her salvation.  Nor can I be certain whether she truly was saved to begin with if the beliefs of some are true.  And for those who believe that you can lose your salvation and be saved once again I’m not capable to judge whether she came back over that undefined line.  So I can only hope that she is being pruned and that the “carnal” side of her is being cut off.

Kennedy on page 16 states, “It is one thing to have occasional sin in your life.  It is another thing for sin to have dominion over you.  Sin does not rule over the life of a genuine Christian.”  In our fallen state it is almost impossible not to get through the day without committing sin.  But as we mature in regards to salvation the recurrence of sin should dwindle with time until we reach a point of maturity (when Christ calls us home).

In a TV broadcast by Kennedy 10/29/00 8:00 AM this statement was made: “Christ paid the penalty for sins eternally when we put our faith in him.”  John 6:37-40 “All the father gives to me will come to me…All that he has given to me I lose nothing but raise it up on the last day.

I would obviously be a fool to deny the fact that we sin everyday in our lives.  The fact that Paul calls himself the worst of sinners makes this evident and no one doubts Paul’s salvation.  It is not an issue of our struggle with the world, the flesh, and the devil, but really a lack thereof.  When we stop wrestling with these issues is when alarms need to be raised; a searing of the conscience is what I’m alluding to.  For my point, many men that I’ve talked to struggle in the area of lust.  This is a problem that I don’t believe anyone can fully master and they will always be prone to fall to.  What I am saying is that we obviously will have sin in our lives and we will struggle with it.  (This is why we are called to perseverance numerous places in the Bible after all.)  While I don’t know what the line is, when we sear our conscience and begin to blatantly disobey God’s commands, I know that we run into trouble.  For this reason I suggest that we can lose our salvation, in accordance to the warnings God gives us in scripture as well as the numerous calls to persevere.

Next Section – Conclusions

Arminianism vs. Calvinism

Arminianism was started by Jacobus Arminius (1560-1609). He was born slightly before John Calvin died and was actually taught by Calvin’s son-in-law. He was a Calvinist until one day when forced to defend his beliefs and found that his opponent could more ably defend his views against Calvinism. This caused Arminius to reject his Calvinistic background and “sought to modify Calvinism so that ‘God might not be considered the author of sin, nor man an automation in the hands of God.’”

There has been a great amount of interest in the basics of Arminianism and Calvinism and I’ve finally decided it was time to compare and contrast both views and try to give some biblical support for each view.  This has been a debate for four centuries and I can in no way be considered the authority on the subject, so I will limit my discussion of what the Bible references mean and instead will simply say what arguments are used for each point.

I personally do not hold to either view and would not consider myself to be of either camp.  However, I will offer as a disclaimer that I do lean more to the Arminian side.  I believe that I can fairly offer arguments for both camps but my own personal biases may be displayed in some cases.

The clash between these two views comes down to a matter of free will and whether we have any at all as compared to what God wills.  Some will say that God will override human will in all cases if God wills something different.  Others say that God gave humans free will and because he created humans with free will, he will not override.  Finally, there are some who do not believe humans have free will and that the sovereignty of God causes everything to happen.

I will examine the five points of Calvinism and contrast them with Arminianism.  To save my fingers from typing the words a hundred times, I’ll use (C) for Calvinism and (A) for Arminianism from now on.

(C) Total Depravity vs. (A) Natural Ability

Total depravity is best explained by quoting Romans in saying, “no one seeks God, no not one.”  Because of an inherent sinful nature, man does not search for God and will not ever.  Natural ability is not the idea that man can save himself but rather once prodded by the Holy Spirit a person may choose Christ.  Man, while flawed, is not so bad that he will never look to God on his own.  (This, in my own thoughts is contra the above scripture from Romans)

(C) Unconditional Election vs. (A) Election based on (fore)knowledge

In Unconditional Election, God hand selects who is going to be saved.  No matter what a person may have to say about it, God is going to save them despite themselves.  Good examples of this are Nebuchadnezzar, king of the Babylonians and the Apostle Paul.  Both were in the business of persecuting the people of God.  Nebuchadnezzar spent seven years as a madman before turning to the Lord while Paul was blinded on the road to Damascus .
Election based on (fore)knowledge acknowledges that the Bible speaks of people being elect.  The argument is made that God knew how a person would react to the gospel before it was ever presented to them.  It is not a matter of God forcing His will on anyone, but rather God knew they would become saved and God chose them because of that.  Despite Paul’s free will seeming to be violated, it could be argued that God knew Paul would become a Christian and thus elected him and never forced anything upon him.

(C) Limited Atonement vs. (A) Unlimited Atonement

This argument is a bit difficult to explain, but I’ll try my best.  In limited atonement, Christ died only for the elect.  If he died for those who were not elect, his blood was either wasted or it would have overridden the will of the non elect and they too would have been saved.  This is the point which some Calvinists stumble.  Some willingly accept the other four points of Calvinism but believe in unlimited atonement.  They are dubbed by some as “four point Calvinists.”
Unlimited atonement is much easier to explain and to believe for most.  Christ died for the world.  “For God so loved the world…”  To not believe in unlimited atonement means that inclusive words such as “world” or “all” only refer to all the elect.  While this has been argued, it seems a stretch under the original meaning of such texts.

(C) Irresistible Grace vs. (A) Prevenient Grace

Irresistible grace is the notion that when God extends grace to a person, they have no chance, opportunity, or will to reject it.  Just as in the case of unconditional election, the person has no choice over the matter.  Prevenient grace is grace that is extended to a believer before salvation.  It is a matter of God opening the doors to heaven and a person choosing for themselves to walk through.  If God does not open the door, the person cannot get in, but just because the door is open does not mean the person will walk through it.  The person still has free will, this grace allows the person to choose God that would otherwise be unable to do so.

(C) Perseverance of the Saints vs. (A) Conditional Perseverance

Perseverance of the Saints is the idea that once a person is saved, they are always saved.  Because God has elected them and they had no choice in the matter, no one has any choice in the matter of becoming “unsaved.”  Proponents cite that we are sealed with the Holy Spirit upon salvation and that nothing can separate us from the love of God.  Conditional Perseverance believes that salvation is dependent upon faith.  If a person stops believing in Jesus to take away their sins, they are no longer saved.  Those who believe in once saved always saved will say that a person would not stop believing in Jesus once they are saved and the situation is merely hypothetical.  Believers in conditional perseverance cite that ongoing belief is required in the Bible.  Even John 3:16 says “anyone who believes” not believed at one time, but is in the act of believing.  Numerous epistles in the New Testament also exhort people to overcome and promise eternal life to those who do so.  If overcoming was guaranteed upon salvation, the exhortation would be foolish.  There’s a lot more to be said on this matter as it is an entire different debate.  You can read more here.

Both sides have some questions that need to be answered as far as I’m concerned.  Of course there have been answers offered, but I have yet to find answers that suit me on a few of them.

(A) How can man come to God unless God opens the door?  If God doesn’t open the door to everyone, then he must still “elect” those he opens the door for.

(A) How do you get around the sealing of the Holy Spirit upon salvation?

(C) The Bible says that God desires all to be saved.  If God is the only instrument necessary in salvation and man has nothing to do with it, why doesn’t God save everyone?

(C) What is the point of evangelism if people are elect – they are going to be saved no matter what anyone does?  (Aside from the fact that the Bible tells us to do it… The question is more what is the point of evangelism.)

For both- How does praying effect salvation?  Does praying change God’s mind and cause him to save someone?  Would God answering our prayers override someone else’s free will?

I don’t believe that either side has all of the answers which is why I don’t claim to be part of either side.  A compromise would be appropriate but honestly it is quite unrealistic as the sides have been split for over four hundred years.  The important thing to remember is that both believe that salvation comes through faith in Jesus Christ and him alone.

I do not wish to downplay the issue but as long as both sides agree on this, everything else – even what actually happens in the process of it all – is pretty trivial.