Salvation of the Soul: Is it Conditionally Secure or Eternally Secure?

Conditional Security or Eternal Security?
By Justin Steckbauer, Liberty University
Salvation is God’s way of making us real people.” – Augustine

The exegesis of scripture surrounding salvation is perhaps the most important to understand.  Christology is just as vital.  It’s important we understand the complexities of what salvation is, how we can have it, and how we can keep it.  The highest authority must be the scriptures.  The entirety of scripture.  Not only select scriptures from select books of the Bible.  We must understand theology in the light of every book in the Bible.  

To this end, one must ask: Once we are saved in Christ Jesus, reborn and made new in his love.. is there a possibility of losing that relationship, or is that connection unbreakable?  

There are two primary views.  Most Calvinists would probably say that salvation is eternally secure.  There is no way of losing that connection.  Most Arminians would tell you that salvation is conditionally secure on faith.  So who is correct?

The eternal security view has some scriptures to back it up, but not near as many as conditional security.  Eternal security relies on isolating a few key verses while ignoring a great many others.  But in my studies I’ve found that the eternal security seems to be the prominent view in the evangelical circles where I walk.  Being a champion of the underdog over my life, I felt pulled to write something regarding the theology of conditional security.  
 
There is a treasure trove of scripture to back up the idea of conditional security.  Again and again in scripture we see phrases like “departing from the faith”, “falling away”, and “being lead astray.”

1 Timothy 1:4 (ESV) says “Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons.”  One can only depart from a faith they already have.  There is absolutely no possibility here of “well that person was never truly saved.”  It would be a speculative stretch to assume that, at best, if not a clear distortion of scripture.
Hebrews 6:4-6 (ESV) says “For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.”  How could anyone assume that this person was “close, but not quite a Christian?”  The scenario being described is one who has fallen away, after being a Christian.  One cannot share in the Holy Spirit unless they are a saved Christian, who has then fallen away and effectively lost their salvation.  There is no reason to think that this would refer to “fellowship with God only” and not to the soul itself.  There is no scripture to back up an idea like that.
Consider Revelation 2:4-5 (ESV) which states “But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.”  Is this yet another case of a person, a church who were not really truly Christians?  Of course not.  This is an example of Christians who did very well in serving Christ at first, but slowly moved in the wrong direction.  Jesus warns them; do what you did at first or I will remove your lamp stand from it’s place.  That would be an example of lost salvation.
In John 15:1-15 Jesus Christ describes Christians as branches, who are connected to the vine (Jesus) who are being pruned by the gardener (the Father).  In this parable Jesus says that those branches who bear fruit will be pruned by the Father so they bear more fruit.  He also says that those who do not bear fruit will shrivel up and be tossed into the fire.

Erwin Lutzer in his book “Doctrines that Divide” (1998) tries to point out two defenses against this verse; that those people were never truly saved, or that the fire only represents the fire at the judgement seat of Christ, and does not affect salvation.  Both of those defenses are clear stretches of scripture, and seem dishonest and manipulative toward the plain and simple scripture in John 15.  Lutzer writes that it’s presumptuous to decide the case of eternal or conditional security on a metaphor (Lutzer, 1998, p. 230). Once again we see Lutzer dishonestly attempting to justify a way out of the clear words of Jesus, metaphor or no metaphor, the meaning is clear.  Erwin Lutzer does an impressive job of trying to defend his clearly Calvinist views on election and security, while simultaneously trying to appear neutral, but fails (Lutzer, 1998, p. 233).  In addition, Lutzer himself points to a book by Robert Shank called Life in the Son that points out scripture after scripture indicating how salvation is conditional on perseverance (Lutzer, 1998, p. 230).

Another example setting aside John 15 would be the parable of the sower in Matthew 13. In addition, the view of eternal security is unable to survive the parables of Jesus including: the parable of the faithful servant, the parable of the two debtors, the parable of the unforgiving servant, and the parable of the talents.

Since scripture clearly shows that salvation is conditional on the actions of the faithful, what are the possible ways of losing salvation? From scripture we can see that Christians who fail to bear fruit for God will be lost (John 15:1-15). Salvation can be lost through being unforgiving of your neighbor (Matthew 18:21-35). Salvation can also be lost through committing the unforgivable sin (Mark 3:28-30). Salvation can also be lost by denying Christ (2 Timothy 2:12). Though there are some clear ways to lose salvation, sinning, or willful sinning are not included on the list. All believers sin. Though multiplied sinning can lead to habitual sinning, which can then give birth to disillusionment, and more sin, leading to death (James 1:15, Psalm 7:14).

One could say that sin is the road that leads to lost salvation. At the same time, God promises to protect believers and help them persevere to the very end (John 10:27-29, John 6:37, Romans 8:38-39).

Philippians 1:6 (ESV) says “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”  By divorcing Philippians 1:6 from the context of a letter to believers in Philippi one could assume this scripture is pointing toward eternal security, however when carefully exegesis is done, one sees that Philippians 1:6 is bound to it’s historical audience and when passing over the bridge to modern times, it is a message of encouragement to perseverance, not eternal security.

Colossians 1:23 (ESV) says “if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.”  One must look outside the Bible to find the doctrine of eternal security, making it a false doctrine, unsupported by scripture.  There are key verses that can be used to defend eternal security, assuming one isolates those verses from their contexts and ignores the full revelation of scripture.

Again and again, we see conditional clauses in scripture “if indeed you continue” or “take care brothers lest you fall away” (Hebrews 3:12-14).  The Bible speaks of believers who fall from grace (Galatians 5:4). God gives instructions in his word, to those who have free will choices to make, which must include the possibility of falling away.

Does this mean that the believer is taking credit for his own salvation? Of course not. As Boyd (2009) says it in his book Across the Spectrum “Salvation is a gracious gift by God, but a gift is not less of a gift because it is accepted.” Faith is not a work, but a gift that is freely received (Boyd, 2009, p. 159). One final scripture points it out elegantly and simply, Hebrews 3:14 (ESV) which states: “For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.” Italics added for emphasis. Additional scriptures that should be inspected are:

Matthew 24:10-13 ESV

And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.

Revelation 3:11 ESV

I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown.

James 1:12 ESV

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.

1 Corinthians 9:27 ESV

But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.

James 5:19-20 ESV

My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

2 Peter 2:20-22 ESV

For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them. What the true proverb says has happened to them: “The dog returns to its own vomit, and the sow, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire.”
Philippians 2:12-14 ESV
12  Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13  for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

Now many would say that it doesn’t really matter.  As long as we both love Jesus, that’s what matters.  I agree that as long as we both love Jesus, we’re on the same team.  Calvinists and Arminians are family.  So what we’re discussing here is a family dispute.  But I would be bold enough to say that it does matter.  I’ve seen ministries like Liberty University, CARM Apologetics, Answers in Genesis, and Got Questions? all supporting an eternal security view of scripture.  So I thought I would chime in with a view that seems much more grounded in the fullness of scripture.  If you’d like to view articles on the eternal security view, click the two links above which will take you to articles by CARM and Got Questions? defending eternal security.

A new believer may say one prayer, and assume they are saved, but later fall away, thinking all the while that their salvation is eternally secure and there is nothing they can do, no matter how much they sin, to lose it.  Conditional security leads to holiness.  Conditional security leads to good works.  Consider in your mind for a moment, which church, of all the churches on the planet Earth most looks like followers of Jesus Christ.  One organization immediately comes to mind: The Salvation Army.  Churches can talk all they want about holiness and following Jesus Christ, but who is living it?  Who is out there on the front lines, living it?  The church serving communities quietly across the entire planet, the Salvation Army, armed with Wesleyan holiness theology.  They are living it.  Some are writing books and having conferences upon conferences, building bigger buildings, shaking hands in fancy suits, appearing on television… but who is really following Jesus Christ, in the trenches, meeting needs and preaching the gospel?  The Salvation Army.  I don’t want a bogus Christianity.  I refuse it!  I want a real Christianity, that really practices what it preaches.  So let’s do that, together.  Amen.

I’m not interested in traditional divides between Calvinists and Arminians.  I’m not interested in unwaveringly defending the views of others.  I’m interested in what the Bible really, actually teaches.  That is the foundation.  We must always approach our questions and theology from that vantage.  I’m not on anyone’s team aside from team Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior.  Amen.

Bibliography
Boyd, Gregory A., and Paul R. Eddy. Across the Spectrum: Understanding Issues in Evangelical Theology. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2002.
ESV: Study Bible : English Standard Version. ESV Text ed. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Bibles, 2007.
Lutzer, Erwin W. The Doctrines That Divide: A Fresh Look at the Historic Doctrines That Separate Christians. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1998.
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