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.”
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.
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.
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
Revelation 3:11 ESV
James 1:12 ESV
James 5:19-20 ESV
2 Peter 2:20-22 ESV
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.