Basic Battle Training
Chapter 20: Diversions: Eternal Security
As debates rage in the courts of Christendom the issue of "eternal security" or "once saved, always saved" is often heard. On one side there are those who teach that, once saved, there is no sin or series of sins that can remove you from the Kingdom of God. On the other side, there are those who say that any sin can cost you your salvation. Equally devout men of God stand on both sides of the question.
In this chapter, we would like to examine these two positions and offer our thoughts on a third view, somewhere in between the two. It is our hope here to clarify this doctrine or, at very least, stimulate discussion as to the safest course to follow.
This doctrine, and the many things that accompany it, hold a large and influential position in a believer’s life. It effects how one views God, the Kingdom of God, salvation, works, and ministry. It influences such doctrine as the fear of God and our Judgment. It can easily lend itself to "legalism" and a false picture of ourselves. It further has bearing on such important topics as rewards and even how we view the unbelieving world.
Is Salvation lost at the slightest sin?
First, we would like to lay to rest the notion that every time a believer sins he loses his salvation. There is no verse we know of that teaches such a thing. This known, any Biblical discussion of this subject needs to include three important factors that are clearly taught in Scripture:
- There are degrees of sin
- There are degrees of punishment for certain sins
- There are degrees of reward in Heaven.
Degrees of sin
Not all sin is the same. Some isolate James 2:10-11 to make it teach that, but this subject, as all subjects, need to be taken in context with the whole Word of God.
Jesus said in John 19:11: "He that delivered me unto thee hath the greater sin”
Some sins are indeed, greater than others. This concept is not only Scriptural but also clearly logical. It is amazing how easily some in the body of Christ are duped into believing some of the most mindless nonsense. Some sins are clearly worse than others: nothing could be more obvious.
Degrees of punishment
Throughout the Old Testament, Almighty God gives hundreds of laws and commandments. With these come very prescribed punishments for each crime. Some offenses (murder, adultery, idolatry, etc.) are met with the death penalty, but others are given less punishment. The penalty for stealing an ox is different than the penalty for stealing a sheep (Exodus 22:1). Different punishments clearly indicate that some trespasses are not as serious as others.
Moving to the New Testament, we are taught that there are degrees of punishment in Hell. Jesus told the cities that rejected Him that it would be "more tolerable" in the Day of Judgment for Sodom and Tyre than for them (Matthew 11:20-24). Jesus also said the servant that knew his master’s will and did it not will be beaten with many stripes, but he that did not know his master’s will and did it not will be beaten with few stripes (Luke 12:47-48). God is creative and has His righteous ways beyond black and white to judge mankind
That there are degrees of sin and punishment in no way diminishes the seriousness of sin. Many verses in the Bible admonish us to be holy and even perfect (See: Matthew 5:48; 1 Peter 1:16; 2 Corinthians 7:1; Hebrews 12:14). 1 John 3:9 even says one who is born of God "cannot sin," something neither of the two above camps really believe (?).
"Perfection" as a subject also must be understood by its Biblical definition. King Asa’s heart was "perfect"...but we are told, “ the high places were not taken away" (1 Kings 15:14). Jesus defined perfection as selling all you have, giving the money to the poor, and following Him (Matthew 19:21). By The Lord’s definition, there are few if any who can lay claim to perfection.
Degrees of reward in Heaven
This also is a lost concept that many seem to be unable (or unwilling) to grasp. The Bible clearly teaches that we will not all spend eternity sitting on the same cloud playing the same harp.
Jesus said some would rule over 10 cities, some over five (Matthew 25:14-30; Luke 19:11-27).
Paul taught that the works of the believers will be categorized as "gold, silver, precious stone, wood, hay, stubble," and that the fire will manifest these things, and that some may suffer loss, (1 Cor. 3:8-15).
Paul also said that as there are different glories in the sun, moon, and stars, "so also is the resurrection of the dead" (1 Cor. 15:39-50). Each believer will receive a different degree of glory on judgment day.
So the question is: How could there be different degrees of reward if every sin resulted in a loss of salvation? The fact is that God can punish believers for their sins by loss of reward, varying in degree according to the level of their disobedience. In addition to the loss of reward, God has also included another little mentioned threat …that of “stripes” (Luke 12:47-48). Degrees of reward and righteous judgment are clearly taught in Scripture…loosing ones salvation with every sin is not.
Is Security Eternal?
So, does this mean that it is possible for any believer to lose his salvation? Well, the Scripture is also quite full of stern warnings against those that would “fall away”. Notice a few examples:
Hebrews 6:4-6 "It is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh...."
Hebrews 10:26-29 "For if we sin willfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful looking for of judgment and of fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries. He that despised Moses’ law died without mercy under two or three witnesses: of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?" [This "willful sin" is defined by the context as not just any sin, but total apostasy—"trodden under foot the Son of God"—into idolatry, a capital offense in the Mosaic law]
2 Peter 2:20-22 "For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning. For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they had known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them. But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb, the dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire."
Matthew 24:13 "he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved."
John 15:1-10 "...Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit. ... If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned...."
A light skim of these and other passages reveals very stern warnings. Clearly, those who “fall away” will find no remedy, and will be punished with undiluted justice.
1 John 2:19?
In balance however this Scripture tells us: "they went out from us, but they were not all of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us."
This would indicate that those who deny the faith never truly had it. But even with this verse and explanation, the lions share of passages in the Bible do not teach to rest easy in your eternal security, but of warning to endure until the end.
So whether they had salvation and lost it, or never had it to begin with, those who "fall away" are headed for the hottest places in hell.
Our admonition to new converts therefore should be more like Paul to the Hebrews, who never soothed them with assurances of eternal security, but rather with strong warnings to be steadfast to the end or face devouring fire, this while also telling them: "but, beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation" (Hebrews 6:9).
Paul thought that those to whom he was writing were truly saved, yet he still fills his epistle with the strongest wording in the entire Bible not to fall away! No matter how certain we may think we are of someone’s salvation, we cannot be 100% positive. God knows and can see the heart...it is His job to assure the convert of his status.
A final perspective from David
A final admonition on this subject comes from David in the Psalms:
Sin, sacrifice and right standing with God are identified in the Old Covenant as being accountable to either “ignorant sin” or “presumptuous sin” (Numbers 15: 29-31). Beyond this we find David’s commentary on God’s law found in Psalm 19:7-11.
Here we see the unknown sins (or ignorant sins) and the presumptuous sins cited…along with another one David calls “The Great Transgression”. This sin, seemingly a result of continued presumptuous sin, is not described further…but it sure sounds more like the apostasy described by the verses cited than the Eternal Security believed by many today.
Inconclusive is the only reasoned position one can draw from this ongoing debate. The two extremes of the subject are just too much at odds with each other to form what we see as a working consensus. With this we see our direction as two-fold.
Allow your walk with the Lord to “prove itself”. In 2 Cor. 13:5 we are told to “examine ourselves” to verify we are “in the faith”. Continuance in the trust of ones life to the Master is, and will always be, the only true mark of Christian faith. Certainly there can be no more “security” than a right relationship and walk in Him.
With this said, we think it prudent to err on the side of safety and stay within the faith! Certainly God’s “contract” with us is as secure as anything found in all creation…and doubt of ones standing with Him reflects only a lack of faith (and faithfulness). But, with this said, we also see many references exhorting a strict maintenance of that faith, and again: faithfulness!
As with the Second Coming, is it wise to trust only in the current theology of the Rapture and totally discount the Tribulation?
With the Eternal Security question we find enough Scripture to see, at least, two sides to the doctrine. This known, one’s “eggs” would be wisely placed with the resulting care.
Remember: “take no thought for the morrow, sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof” (Matthew. 6:34)
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