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