How secure is our place in eternity? That’s the question this week. In the multifaceted debate between the Calvinist and Arminian perspectives, this issue is a big one, not because of the grave differences between then, but rather because very often both sides tend to agree. That’s not to say however that there isn’t a rather subtle difference that needs to be addressed; a difference that supersedes both sides in the conflict, and that may ultimately prove impactful for all believers…
I’m speaking of course about the perseverance of the saints here, and the so-called concept of “once saved, always saved.” From the Calvinist perspective, the perseverance of the saints is a no brainer. As they see it, God has selected His elect, died for His elect, revealed Himself only to His elect, and extended His grace only to His elect, thus it makes sense that – as God has done all the work toward His desired end – His chosen few could in no way endanger their salvation. They have been picked and sealed for an eternity they cannot resist, and that’s final.
Truthfully, many good Arminians side with the Calvinist perspective here. They may disagree on the various petal of TULIP up to this point (Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, & Irresistible Grace) but here they find enough Scriptural evidence to cling to an enduring salvation. Even so, there are some who subscribe to the notion of “yieldable justification,” whereby we do indeed have an assurance of salvation under God’s grace, but that salvation can be undone through a willful rejection of God.
Salvation is a free gift, yes, but can that free gift be given back? That is the burning question today.
To their merit, those (from both sides) who accept the idea of eternal salvation find support for it in a number of passages across the breadth of Scripture. For instance:
John 5:24 – “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.”
John 6:37-40 – “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out. For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me. And this is the Father’s will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day. And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day.”
John 10:27-29 – “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand.”
Romans 8:1 – “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.”
Ephesians 1:12-14 – “That we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ. In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory.
Hebrews 7:25 – “Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.”
1 Peter 1:3-5 – “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”
1 John 5:13 – “These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.”
Now, it goes without saying that these passages – among numerous others – frequently employ words and phrases like “everlasting life,” “eternal life,” “shall never perish,” “save them to the uttermost,” and “an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away.” All of that seems, very plainly, to assure us who believe of an eternal and irrevocable salvation.
Even so, there are some passages in Scripture that seem to present some trouble for this view. Consider for a moment the grave sin of blasphemy and what the Word has to say of it:
Matthew 12:30-32 – “He that is not with me is against me; and he that gathereth not with me scattereth abroad. Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men. And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come.”
The whole thing, when we really think about it, begs the question: when is blasphemy an issue? Is it an unforgivable sin which we are in jeopardy of prior to receiving salvation, and through which some – who not having the enabling grace of God – have barred themselves from salvation prior even to their knowledge of such a thing? Or could it be that blasphemy stands as an unpardonable sin after our salvation, a grievous thing which – upon our utterance – may tear us bodily from our promised hope? How are we to take this, and further, what does it mean in terms of our eternal life?
Another thing to consider in that regard is willful sin. Now, by willful sin I mean to speak of one who – claiming to be saved – persists in their sin with the full knowledge that such a thing is in fact a sin and despised by God. All sorts of lifestyle choices, for instance, would fit this category adequately. What does the Scripture say of such things? Simply enough, let’s consider Hebrews 10:26-31:
“For if we sin wilfully 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 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? For we know him that hath said, Vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense, saith the Lord. And again, The Lord shall judge his people. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”
It says that, if willful sinning continues for those who know better, there is no salvation for them, and just as the Jews received condemnation under the Law in times past, now believers will receive a greater condemnation under the judgement of our God. As if that wasn’t a frightening enough thing to consider, the passage ends with the subtle yet terrifying phrase, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” The implications boggle the mind!
Turning to another passage for consideration, we need to be aware of the fact that our names are recorded in a book, as the Bible puts it: the Book of Life. This Book of life, according to a majority of scholars, records the names of all those who are saved. We most certainly want our names to have been recorded there, right? In any case, I want to point you to the words of Moses, in Exodus 32:31-33, where something interesting is revealed:
“And Moses returned unto the Lord, and said, Oh, this people have sinned a great sin, and have made them gods of gold. Yet now, if thou wilt forgive their sin–; and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book which thou hast written. And the Lord said unto Moses, Whosoever hath sinned against me, him will I blot out of my book.”
Notice here, Moses pleads for the people in spite of their sin, even offering his own salvation in place of theirs. What does God say in response? “Whosoever hath sinned against me, him will I blot out of my book.” Doesn’t this seem clearly to imply that the names of those who were saved can – in this case having utterly rejected God in favor of their own idols¹ – be blotted out? Is there some subtlety that I’m missing, or does the text speak clearly enough for itself? In another passage (Psalm 69:26-28), we find David himself calling for just such a thing, the removal of sinner’s names from the book of Life:
“For they persecute him whom thou hast smitten; and they talk to the grief of those whom thou hast wounded. Add iniquity unto their iniquity: and let them not come into thy righteousness. Let them be blotted out of the book of the living, and not be written with the righteous.”
What’s the truth of the matter? Can we lose our salvation unwittingly? I don’t think so. Can we reject it by rejecting God, our Father? I think so, yes. While the notion of an everlasting and irrevocable salvation is great, comforting in spite of our many flaws, Scripturally I’m not sure it’s accurate. Furthermore, there are a few other points to consider in regard to it. If free will is a valid aspect of our existence (which I believe is a truth we have examined thoroughly in past weeks) then to what extent do we get to exercise that free will in regard to eternal security? If we can accept salvation by choice, can we also reject it by our own free will? How far does our choice extend in this regard? Since Jesus frequently utilized parables in His teachings, let’s look at one that I believe give us some perspective on the issue, and perhaps also some hope.
Luke 15:11- 24
“And he said, A certain man had two sons: And the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his living. And not many days after the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living. And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want. And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him. And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants. And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him. And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son. But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry: For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry.”
This is the parable of the Prodigal Son. Without beating the issue to death, what I want to point out to you is this:
- Notice the relationship of the Father and the Son. We have a heavenly father, and we as believers are – through Christ – now Sons of God
- The son chose to disregard this relationship, seeking his own way, and the Father let him go
The perspective that is laid out seems to suggest that we too can – by merit of free will – choose to go our own way, forfeiting our position as a son of the Father. The matter continues on though, for the son ultimately realizes the seriousness of his disastrous choice and ultimately returns to the Father, not as his son, but as a servant. The Father will have none of that talk though, and welcomes back his lost son with open arms in a beautiful and emotional moment! And what does the Father then say? “For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.” He says here that, by merit of his choice, the son was dead! He revoked his “life,” it seems, and it makes me wonder – through the mist of this parable – if we all don’t share the same potential for choice as the prodigal son: a choice to revoke our own eternal life. As silly as such a choice would be, it apparently seems to be a possibility.
Ultimately though, the best part of that whole passage comes back to the words of the Father:
“For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.”
Even if we are lost from our choices, dead spiritually because of our willfulness, we can yet be found, and we can yet live if we but turn away from that life amongst the pigs and filth, and go back humbly to the open arms of our love Father who yet waits for our return. Friend, are you in His embrace today, or do you need to head back home? The choice is yours…
- Anything – ANYTHING – we put before God can be an idol to us; this includes sports, hobbies, entertainment, even our loved-ones… Be honest with yourself and ask if you have in idols in your own life…