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Is Eternal Security Conditional or Unconditional?



Opinion by David Kowalski

[Please note that the opinions expressed in this article are strictly my own, and in no way indicate the views of the Apologetics Index website or any of its other contributors. The website has graciously allowed me to express my view here as a resource for those who wish to look at all sides of this issue.]

Introduction

turning back

Is it Possible to Turn Back?

Perhaps no doctrinal debate has been more “intense” than the debate over whether the believer’s eternal security is conditional (associated mostly with Arminianism) or unconditional (the Calvinist view). In advocating the conditional view that it is possible to fall away, I have no desire to alienate my Calvinist friends whom I love and respect. I know some will differ with my conclusions but I hope we can disagree amicably.

In spite of my advocating conditional security, I believe much of the bottom line for both views is essentially the same, as, through their doctrine of the perseverance of the saints, Calvinists do not believe that those who rebel against God will share eternity with Him regardless of any profession of faith they may have made or Christian activity in which they may have engaged. They believe such people were not truly saved to begin with.

Furthermore, at the risk of sounding absurd and confusing to those unacquainted with Molinism, Molinistic teaching (which I embrace1) technically includes, I believe, both conditional and unconditional security as truth and can see Calvinist belief in the perseverance of the saints and Arminian belief in the possibility of falling away as two sides to one coin.

I am thus conceding that the title of this article which poses the two views of security as diametrically opposed may be looked at as a false disjunction by those who look more deeply into the implications of Molinistic theology. An explanation of Molinism is far beyond the scope of this article, however, and I recommend Willian Lane Craig’s articles for a full treatment of this topic.2

For practical purposes, one must choose between conditional and unconditional security in their presentation to the general public. I believe the plainest way to express what the Bible teaches regarding eternal security is to refer to it as conditional, and I will argue for that position below. In presenting my case for conditional security, I will look at six issues pertaining to security: free will, faith, rebellion, divine promises, divine descriptions, and divine warnings.

Free Will

Determining if mankind has genuine, free will is foundational to the rest of our discussion. Calvinism teaches that total depravity removes our ability to freely will any good thing. This theological system inherited this concept regarding the will from Augustine and Luther. This bondage of the will is so great, taught Augustine and Luther, that man is incapable of any truly good choices. Calvin added that in salvation, the Lord "...destroys our depraved will, and also substitutes a good will from himself."3

robotIn other words, Calvin denied we have a true will of our own even after salvation. Strict, Calvinist dogma goes on to assert that man does not have the ability to freely make any choices, and that God sovereignly controls them all (good and bad) in a deterministic way. Disturbed at the implications of this belief, Arminius declared, "It follows from their doctrine that God is the author of sin”4  This belief, if true, means that man has no real volitional capabilities and is only an automaton controlled by God in a work of fiction we call life.

This extreme teaching cannot be true on two counts. First, God cannot be the author of sin. God is holy (Isa 57:15, Ps 99:9, Hab 1:13, 1 Pet 1:15-16) and James 1:13 tells us He does not tempt anyone to sin, much less cause them to. This teaching cannot be true, secondly, because it denies the scriptural teaching of man as made in God's image which Calvinists themselves profess to believe.  We are told in Genesis 1:26 that God made man in His own image, and even after the fall, Scripture continues to recognize this imago Dei in man.

Most instructive in this regard is James' reaffirmation of the imago Dei in James 3:9:

With it [the tongue] we bless our Lord and Father; and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God.... (all citations of Scripture are from the NASB unless otherwise noted)

Most theologians agree that though the imago Dei has been distorted in man, it has not been utterly destroyed. Certain faculties, such as self-awareness, rationality, and volitional capability remain. In short, man remains man.

God repeatedly appeals to man as man in both Old and New Testaments.  Especially interesting is God's appeal to Judah in Isaiah 1:18-20:

Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord. Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the best from the land; but if you resist and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword. (NIV)

God calls these men and women to reason with Him. The Hebrew word used in this passage for "reason" is yakah, a word which implies a judicial proceeding that calls for some decision to be made after a process of rational thought. What God looks for in these men and women is that they be willing (Heb. abah) -- that they deliberately respond affirmatively to God's call and command. God then warns these Israelites not to resist Him. Apparently, without Calvin to enlighten Him, God did not know His grace was irresistible. God speaks to these people as though they had faculties of the imago Dei remaining as active (not just theoretical) in them – as though they could think and choose for themselves.

Calvinists actually concede this continuation of the imago Dei in man. Calvin himself said "The image of God was not utterly defaced and destroyed in him [man]"5. Calvinist Millard Erickson makes some startling concessions regarding this image of God in man:

The image of God is universal within the human race....The image of God has not been lost as a result of sin or specifically the fall....The image is something man is rather than  something he has or does....The image is the powers of personality which make man, like  God, a being capable of interacting with other persons, of thinking and reflecting, and of  willing freely.6

Erickson's statement, which clearly seems to affirm a continued free will of man, is later modified in his Christian Theology when he claims that man is not able to use this free will in a free manner.7  This is as logical as saying one can go outside, just not in the outdoor sense of outside. In reading the larger context of Calvinist writings, one finds Calvinist scholars frequently imply a free will in fallen man, although they must deny this freedom in the smaller context of their doctrinal distinctives regarding election and eternal security.

With the image of God, distorted though it may be, being retained in man, man has the capability of making choices of his or her own. Man has not been reduced to the status of a puppet or automaton. As we will see, the faith which receives grace involves a free choice by those who believe, and this freedom has important implications with regard to the possibility of falling away.

bucket with water

Faith is the Bucket that Receives Grace

Faith

Faith is the factor that distinguishes saved from unsaved. Without the necessity of faith, grace would be universally applied and all would be saved. Salvation is by grace through faith (Eph 2:8, Ro 3:21-22, Php 3:9).  Although it is God's will that all be saved (1 Tim 2:4), this salvation is conditioned upon faith in the recipient (John 3:36). This faith does not work for or merit the grace of God; faith only receives it.

For this reason, I disagree with those who believe that biblical faith which involves freely choosing is “synergistic” (a cooperative work) and thus a belief in salvation by works. The Bible does teach a free-will aspect to faith while rejecting the notion of salvation by works. Again, our faith choice does not work for or earn salvation; it merely receives it.

This faith is divinely enabled.8  The choice to believe is not an accomplishment. It simply receives the life changing work of God. Still, faith involves a choice made by men and women created in God's image.

There is an indispensable volitional aspect to faith which is clearly seen in the fact that people are commanded to believe (Ac 16:31). Evangelistic preaching in the New Testament is always addressed not to God, but to people, as though there were something in them that had to respond. Additionally, believers can "fall away from the faith:"

But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons. (1 Tim 4:1)

One cannot fall away from something without first having it, just as one cannot leave a place to which they have never been. Only Christians can fall away from faith. This departure from faith (that Hebrews 6 and other passages warn us against) must be man's choice since God has promised not to change His mind. God will never stop believing. Only we can do so.

If faith involves a choice to believingly receive salvation, it follows that one must choose to be kept by faith:

[We] who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1:5)

Human choice is an indispensable element of faith. One must choose to believe and one can choose to depart from the faith. Just as the reception of grace is conditioned upon faith, the perpetuity of our standing in grace is conditioned on our continuing in the faith. If a believer falls away from the faith, he or she will no longer be a recipient of saving grace.

Faith is like a bucket placed under a faucet which freely pours out the living water of grace. The bucket does not conjure up the water; it simply receives. Still, if the bucket departs from its position that benefits from the water’s flow, it will no longer receive. Those who depart from the faith forfeit the salvation that is only received by faith.

Rebellion

Only those of the freely-chosen faith are saved. In 2 timothy 1:5 Paul referred to this saving faith with the qualifying adjective “sincere” (Gk – anupokritou, meaning “un-hypocritical” or “unfeigned” [as it is rendered in the KJV]). An important scriptural distinction between feigned and unfeigned faith is that real faith is seen through its reception of a life changing work of grace that results in a lifestyle of obedient love for God and others. Justification and sanctification are completely separate concepts but are nevertheless inseparable in experience. We are not saved by works but salvation leads to a lifestyle of good works (Ephesians 2:8-10).

Paul often uses the term “the faith” in the same way we use the word “Christianity” (see 1 Corinthians 16:13; 2 Corinthians 13:5; Galatians 6:10; Ephesians 4:13; Philippians 1:25; Colossians 1:23; 1 Timothy 3:9; 1 Timothy 4:1, 4:6,6, 5:8, 6:21; 2 Timothy 1:13, 3:8, 4:7; and Titus 1:13). The faith involves the full package of salvation (including both justification and sanctification). Neither Paul nor any other author of the New Testament knows anything of a Christianity that does not include belief, holiness, and love.

Faith and love are inseparable. The two concepts are linked throughout Paul’s writings:

since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and the love which you have for all the saints; (Colossians 1:4)

But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us good news of your faith and love…” (1 Thessalonians 3:6)

But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. (1 Timothy 1:5)

and the grace of our Lord was more than abundant, with the faith and love which are found in Christ Jesus. (1 Timothy 1:14)

because I hear of your love and of the faith which you have toward the Lord Jesus and toward all the saints; (Philemon 1:5)

Love and faith are so inseparable that though Paul teaches faith receives grace, he speaks of grace being given to those who love:

Peace be to the brethren, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace be with all those who love our Lord Jesus Christ with incorruptible love. (Ephesians 6:23-24)

Real faith is  outwardly expressed and thus evidenced in loving God and others:

For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, butfaith working through love. (Galatians 5:6)

A lifestyle of faith and love is an obedient one. In Romans, Paul uses the terms “faith” and “obedience" in an interchangeable way because true faith leads to obedience.:

First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, because your faith is being proclaimed throughout the whole world. (Romans 1:8)

For the report of your obedience has reached to all (Romans 16:19)

Paul even speaks of the “obedience of faith” (Romans 16:26)

Though Paul preached faith in Christ he described the goal of his preaching as a lifestyle of love for Christ that obeys him in all things. Thus his message was one of a belief that results in obedience:

For I will not presume to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me, resulting in the obedience of the Gentiles… (Romans 16: 18)

James says real faith results in a godly lifestyle:

What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself. But someone may well say, ‘You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.’ (James 2:14-18)

The bottom line is that real faith receives real grace that really changes us into new creatures (2 Corinthians 5:17) who live differently. As the New Testament repeatedly says, those who live disobedient lifestyles are not of the faith:

Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality,  idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21)

“For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.” (Ephesians 5:5)

“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.” (1 Corinthians 6: 9-11)

“But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.” (Revelation 21:8)

“But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler—not even to eat with such a one.” (1 Corinthians 5:11)

The conclusion of this is that if one in good standing rebels, stubbornly persisting in a disobedient lifestyle, they are no longer part of the faith and no longer Christians. They have “fallen away from the faith” (1 Timothy 4:1). They have departed from Christianity. Please note that this involves much more than occasional falling. Falling away is a much more grievous thing than occasional falling. It is a stubborn, hardened, rebellion against God.

Those who believe in conditional security do not check their spiritual pulse every day to see if they are “still saved!” They do not live in constant fear of “losing” salvation. One cannot easily “lose” God’s gift, but they can, through hardened and prolonged rebellion,  forfeit grace by departing from “the faith”  when they leave behind the love and obedience that faith is inseparable from, and by which it works. Those who depart from the faith in this way no longer receive saving grace. They have moved their bucket.

Good works never earned these rebels salvation in the first place but any "so-called" brother that leaves the evidence of salvation behind leaves the salvation it evidences. This is the objective test of a real believer -- he or she is not a rebel against God. Paul gives us the following exhortation in 2 Corinthians 13:5,"Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith."  This was directed to the church at Corinth --  not to those who had never been saved, but to "those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come" (Hebrews 6:4-5) -- in other words, Christians.

Divine Promises

Those who deny our faith choice can change conclude that God’s promises not to change His choice unconditionally guarantee that we will not change ours. They heavily rely on John 10:27-29 in this assertion:

My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they shall never perish; and no one shall snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to Me is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand.

leaving

Are Christians Incapable of Leaving?

This passage first identifies God's sheep as those who know, hear, and follow the shepherd. Jesus assures us that these sheep will never perish from external forces because no outsider can take these sheep out of God's hand. To the Calvinist, this alone ensures the believer's security. Since the believer's will is not really his or her own, he or she cannot and will not change the choice God made for them.  Since God has promised not to change His mind, and since no third party can nullify this salvation, the issue is settled.

Many interpreters such as John Miley who examine this passage respond that "Such is the assurance from the divine side; but it is entirely consistent with a conditioning fidelity on the human side."9 Robert Shank observes that "The promise of Christ to safeguard His followers does not relieve them of the necessity of following Him."10 M.G. Forrester adds, "A person can choose to remove himself from the Good Shepherd's flock, rejecting His care and protection."11

God's promises are a wonderful assurance that He will provide all the grace we need but they are not declarations that He will henceforth make all of our choices for us.

Divine Descriptions

Some interpreters speak as though certain biblical descriptions of or words for Christians picture an unalterable standing and relationship – implying a logical inability for one to fall away. They will, for example, assert that our being born again is an unconditional assurance of our security because one cannot be "unborn," Perhaps they have never heard of "death."

Such people will also say that our having eternal life means it is unconditionally guaranteed to never end.  1 John 5:11-12  tells us, however, that this eternal life is in God's son:

And the testimony is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life.

Only He possesses this life in Himself. We merely share in this life as we continue to abide in Him (Jn 15:5-6).  James 5:19-20 warns believers of the possibility of spiritual death:

My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

James is clearly saying that departure from the truth of the Gospel will lead to the death of one’s soul. Thus, continued, spiritual life is dependent on continued choice in faith. In a similar way, God placed no limit on the life He had given Adam but warned His man that this life was conditional (Genesis 2:17). The life God gives is eternal in nature. Those who depart from that life revert to spiritual death. Those who fall away from the faith commit spiritual suicide.

Those who deny the possibility of  falling away will also declare that the fact we are called sons of God in Scripture unconditionally ensures our salvation since once one is a son, one is always a son. We can never depart from the faith, they say.  We must remember that no natural analogy can be made to exactly equal spiritual truth in every detail.  Thankfully, "once a son, always a son," is not absolute in the spiritual realm since sons of the devil and children of wrath must cease to be so in salvation.

We may also note that sons can be disinherited.  In Deuteronomy 21:18, God commanded the Israelites to stone stubborn and rebellious sons in order to purge evil from their midst. In Romans 8:17, Paul tells us that our inheritance is conditional when he says we are "heirs with Christ if indeed we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him." Properly interpreted, none of these descriptions of the Christian life teach unconditional, eternal security.

Divine Warnings

Hebrews 6:4-6 is probably the most debated passage when discussing the believer's security. In spite of the implications a proper interpretation of the passage may have for our, particular views, we must seek to be true to the text and interpret it properly, without forcing it into the Procrustean bed of our theological system. Hebrews 6:1-4 reads as follows:

For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted of the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God, and put Him to open shame.

It will be useful, first, to defend the translation I have quoted (NASB) since it reads differently in verse six than the KJV and the NIV which both say, "If they shall fall away...."  The NASB says "and then have fallen away...." The NASB is not alone in translating the participle parapesontas this way. Other translations which concur with this rendering include the ASV, NEB, TEV, The Jerusalem Bible, as well as Williams', Weymouth's, Goodspeed's, and Alford's translations. Although the participle parapesontas could be used in a conditional sense, the context of Hebrews 6:4-6 seems to clearly forbid it. Ralph Earle observes the following regarding this context:

In verses 4-6 there are five aorist participles in parallel construction.  The fifth one is parapesontas, 'and have fallen away.' The NASB has the correct translation here: "and then have fallen away.' The 'if' is not justifiable.  The Greek clearly indicates that one may become a partaker of the Holy Spirit (obviously a Christian) and yet fall away and be lost.12

The correct translation of this verse is important because those who advocate unconditional security sometimes point to the "if" in verse six as though it made the entire passage hypothetical yet impossible.  However, as Philip Edgcumbe Hughes points out regarding Hebrews 6:6, "There is as a matter of fact no 'if in the Greek text."13  Having a correct translation of the passage, let us first examine the larger context in which it is found.  In the book of Hebrews, the writer is speaking at length of a danger which faces believers:

For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard lest we drift away  from it (2:1)... how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? (2:3)...but Christ was faithful as a Son over His house whose house we are if we hold fast our confidence and the boast of our hope firm until the end (3:6)....Take care brethren, lest there should be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart in falling away from the living God. But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called "Today," lest any one of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.  For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end (3:12-14)....Therefore let us fear lest, while a promise remains of entering His rest, any one of you should seem to come short of it (4:1)....Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall through following the same example of disobedience (4:11).

warning

Would God Warn us of Something Impossible?

Repeatedly the author makes clear he is warning believers about the danger of falling away, and he exhorts these believers to hold fast to their faith firm until the end.

Having identified the context of the passage, let us examine its contents.  First, there is a description of certain people.  They have been "enlightened" (the writer uses this same word to describe Christians in Heb 10:32), they have "tasted of the heavenly gift" and been made "partakers of the Holy Spirit" (believers are called "partakers" in Heb 3:14).  They have also "tasted of the good word of God and the powers of the age to come" (the writer of Hebrews uses this word, "tasted" to describe Christ' full experience of death in Heb 2:9).  Since the writer speaks of the impossibility of renewing these people again to repentance, it is clear they had at one time repented.

The writer then says these people, who are obviously Christians, have fallen. He goes on to say that he is persuaded of better things for "you" in 6:9, but he does not express the same confidence in the "them" whose apostasy he has just described.   Both the context and the contents show that this passage clearly describes saved individuals who have fallen from grace. This is further reinforced by the warning delivered in Hebrews 10:26-30:

For if we go on sinning after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a  sacrifice for sins, but a certain terrifying expectation of judgment, and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries.  Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses.  How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled underfoot the Son of God and has regarded as unclean the covenant by which he was sanctified and has insulted the Spirit of Grace?  For we know Him who said 'Vengeance is Mine, I will repay.' And again, 'The Lord will judge His people.'

There are many more warning passages addressed to believers such as the one we have examined in Hebrews 6:4-6 (other passages that could be used include Lk 14:34; John 15:1-6; Eph 5:5-6; 1 Co 9:27, 10:12;1 Tim 4:1; Heb 2:1-2, 3:12, 10:26-27;  Jas 5:19-20; 2 Pe 1:10, 2:20-22, 3:17). Careless dismissal of them cannot be justified. Hebrews 6:1-4 is one of many clear passages directed to genuine Christians, warning them of the danger of falling away.

Conclusion

The six points I believe we have established are as follows:

1) God created mankind with free will and in spite of the corruption of mankind in the fall, this ability to choose freely remains.

2) This free will is exercised in the faith choice that passively receives grace. If one changes their faith choice they no longer receive grace.

3) The faith involves justification and sanctification. Faith is evidenced by a godly lifestyle and is inseparable from it as a result of the life changing work that faith receives. Those who rebel against God in a hardened and persistent manner depart from the faith and are no longer Christians.

4) The promises God makes concerning the believer are an assurance that He will not change His saving choice but not a declaration that He will make our faith choice for us in perpetuity.

5) None of the descriptions of believers or their life in Christ speaks of unconditional security.

empty bucket

Move the Bucket; Forfeit the Grace it Receives

6) God says that Christians can fall away and He repeatedly warns us not to do so.

We need not live in dread that one day we will slip and "lose" God's free gift. The New Testament is realistic in observing that we will not achieve sinless perfection until we are glorified with Christ in the next life. This, however, should be of no comfort for those who depart from the faith. Christians are sternly warned not to turn their back on the savior and reject Him through leaving the faith that received Him and His grace to begin with. Only those who continue in the faith continue to receive saving grace.

© Copyright 2013, David Kowalski. All rights reserved. Links to this post are encouraged. Do not repost or republish without permission.

 

Written by David Kowalski

Notes:

  1. http://www.apologeticsindex.org/3018-molinism
  2. http://www.reasonablefaith.org/search/results?q=molinism
  3. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (MacDill, Florida: MacDonald Publishing Company, n.d.),146.
  4. James Arminius, The Writings of James Arminius vol.2 trans. James Nichols and W. R. Bagnall (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1977), 490).
  5. Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 88.
  6. Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1983), 513.
  7. Ibid. 909-912.
  8. see my article at http://www.apologeticsindex.org/2939-the-certainty-of-faith for a discussion of the biblical teaching of this concept.
  9. John Miley, Systematic Theology vol.2  (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 1989) , 269. 
  10. Robert Shank, Life in the Son (Springfield, Missouri: Westcott Publishers, 1960), 59
  11. M. G. Forrester, Once Saved Always Saved if You Don't Fall Away vol.1. (Fallbrook, California: CMB Publishing, 1996), 390.
  12. Ralph Earle, Word Meanings in the New Testament (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 1986), 423.
  13. Philip Edgcumbe Hughes, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1977), 212.

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18 Responses to “Is Eternal Security Conditional or Unconditional?”

  1. The Janitor says:

    The article is poorly reasoned. For now I'll just comment on a few remarks of yours:

    You say, "Calvinism teaches that total depravity removes our ability to freely will any good thing."

    As a sweeping statement of what "Calvinism" teaches, this is false. For instance: Louis Berkhof says, "In a certain sense man has not, and in another sense he has, lost his liberty. There is a certain liberty that is the inalienable possession of a free agent, namely, the liberty to choose as he pleases, in full accord with the prevailing dispositions and tendencies of his soul. Man did not lose any of the constitutional faculties necessary to constitute him a responsible moral agent. He still has reason, conscience, and the freedom of choice. He has ability to acquire knowledge, and to feel and recognize moral distinctions and obligations; and his affections, tendencies, and actions are spontaneous, so that he chooses and refuses as he sees fit. Moreover, he has the ability to appreciate and do many things that are good and amiable, benevolent and just, in the relations he sustains to his fellow-beings. But man did lose his material freedom, that is, the rational power to determine his course in the direction of the highest good, in harmony with the original moral constitution of his nature. Man has by nature an irresistible bias for evil. He is not able to apprehend and love spiritual excellence, to seek and do spiritual things, the things of God that pertain to salvation" (Systematic Theology, p. 248)

    You say: "This theological system inherited this concept regarding the will from Augustine and Luther."

    This can give the impression that Calvinists just have the beliefs about free will that they do because Calvin and Augustine said so. Of course, Calvin provided Scriptural support for his beliefs and so do Calvinists today. If you ask a Calvinist why he holds to his particular view of free will he is very unlikely to quote Calvin. Instead, he'll give a theological explanation grounded in certain Scripture. You may disagree with that, but it's not inherited from Calvin or Augustine--as though they just that Calvin or Augustine said so-and-so.

  2. The Janitor says:

    You say: "The conclusion of this is that if one in good standing rebels, stubbornly persisting in a disobedient lifestyle, they are no longer part of the faith and no longer Christians."

    And this is what it always comes down to. Those who believe in conditional security must at some point fall back on a faith + works soteriology.

    You say: "Good works never earned these rebels salvation in the first place but any "so-called" brother that leaves the evidence of salvation behind leaves the salvation it evidences. This is the objective test of a real believer -- he or she is not a rebel against God."

    And since the conditional security Christian won't say that faith is itself a gift and work of God, faith really means "faithfulness" (i.e., non-rebellion).

    You say non-rebellion is the test of real faith. So faith becomes inseparably joined to good works. And either you have faith + works salvation or else you simply make faith mean "faithfulness" and end up with works, period.

    Faith is never sufficient to save us. We need good works to "stay" (be) saved in the end.

    The only way this system of theology can keep one from falling into despair is by making the goal post fuzzy. When has one failed to do enough good works that they have lost their salvation? We don't know. But we are assured that it's "much more than occasional falling" it's "stubborn, hardened, rebellion against God." And then the conditional security believer consoles themselves with thoughts of "Surely I'm not *that* bad."

    Really? So say you've been a Christian for 30 years. Of those 30 years, how many of them have been spent in a continual state of failure to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind don't count as stubborn, hardened rebellion? I'm guessing the majority of those years if not all of them. That looks like the product of a stubborn, hardened, rebellious heart to me.

    This is where the conditional security believer throws up other safety nets like sins of ignorance or "willing" sins and then assures themselves they haven't don't that. As Owen perceptively remarks, "it is all one upon the matter whether this be done by the choice of the will or by inadvertency, for that inadvertency itself is in a manner chosen. When we are inadvertent and negligent, where we are bound to watchfulness and carefulness, that inadvertency doth not take off from the voluntariness of what we do thereupon; for although men do not choose and resolve to be negligent and inadvertent, yet if they choose the things that will make them so, they choose inadvertency itself as a thing may be chosen in its cause. And let not men think that the evil of their hearts is in any measure extenuated because they seem, for the most part, to be surprised into that consent which they seem to give unto it; for it is negligence of their duty in watching over their hearts that betrays them into that surprisal."

  3. David Kowalski says:

    [In response to The Janitor's first comment] I'm not surprised you think my reasoning is poor. Both sides in a disagreement believe the other's reasoning is weak -- otherwise there would be no differing views! I completely agree with your comments on Calvinism's view of free will, and I acknowledged this as I discussed Millard Erickson's treatment of the point. Calvinists believe in free will, just not libertine, free will that can be freely exercised. In indicating the historical influence of Augustine on the Augistinian monk Luther and the influence of Luther on Calvin, I was merely stating historical fact and meant none on the implications you charge me with. Every theological system that holds a high view of Scripture believes their particular views are the ones that best explain Scripture. Arminians follow a tradition largely handed down by Arminius and Wesley, but they think their view is the one that best expresses Scripture. The same could be said for Molinists. None of the impressions you say I give are things I meant and I frankly do not see them in the text of the article.

  4. David Kowalski says:

    [In response to The Janitor's second comment] Those who believe in conditional security do not believe in a faith plus works soteriology. We are saved by faith alone, but as most Calvinists themselves acknowledge, the faith that saves is not alone. I cannot answer for absolutely all Arminians (especially since I am not one), but you are most mistaken if you think that I (or most Arminians, for that matter) believe that saving faith is not specially gifted. See my article where I strenuously argue for that very point (http://www.apologeticsindex.org/2939-the-certainty-of-faith). I do not believe that faith means faithfulness, but I do think it receives real salvation just as Calvinists do. The Calvinist teaching on the perseverance of the saints maintains that real salvation is by faith alone but is evidenced by works. I agree.

    Faith alone is sufficient to save us. It is passive and monergistic. It is just the bucket. Still, if one departs from the faith they forfeit the grace that only faith receives.

    You bring up the straw man of despair. I have known many people who believe in conditional security and in my 37 years as a Christian, I have never met even one who lived in despair or worried about whether they would "lose" the free gift of salvation. No one lives in a state of sinless perfection, as I said in the article. There are, however, differences in degrees of sin -- see my article at http://www.apologeticsindex.org/3037-is-all-sin-the-same-to-god. There are also differences in frequency of sin. Again, this is consistent with the Calvinist handling of the issue through the teaching of the perseverance of the saints. They say that anyone who persists in prolonged and hardened rebellion against God is not a believer and will not receive salvation in the end. Neither those who teach conditional security nor those who teach unconditional security believe the "goal posts" are fuzzy to God! For anyone to suggest such a thing is to insult Him.

    I certainly do not throw up any kind of distinction between willing and inadvertent sins. Though such a distinction is made in the Mosaic Law for those who may unintentionally violate one of its regulations, the New Testament seems to treat all sin as willful. We do not accidentally sin apart from the Mosaic system. So what you posit in your last paragraph has no part in my belief system or that of any other believer in conditional security that I have known or read. This is another straw man argument that has nothing to do with my article.

    I believe in salvation by faith alone, but like most Christians, I believe salvation is evidenced by belief and repentance. Those who do not evidence belief or repentance are not of the faith. To suggest otherwise is a step down a slippery slope to universalism and this is why Calvinists, Arminians, and Molinists choose not to take that step.

    God bless you, my brother.

  5. David Kowalski says:

    I must note that comments are most welcome and I enjoy hearing them from opposing views when they are politely worded. Still, I do not see the comments section as a forum for debate beyond a couple of posts per individual. Those who wish to express their views more fully can always write articles of their own. This is not a reference to any perceived hostility but simply to propriety.

  6. Jonathan says:

    Hi, David.

    Your initial section on Free Will needs to be expanded to better refute the Reformed perspective on eternal security. There are two Reformed perspectives on the human will that need to be taken into account. 1) The first is that the Bible places all human decisions in the context of God's sovereignty. 2) The second is that the Bible teaches the human will proceeds from a depraved nature.

    You loosely address the first point by identifying a tension between sovereignty and responsibility. While you're right to point out the tension of these ideas, acknowledging it doesn't refute that the Bible explicitly teaches both ideas are true.

    You also don't address the second point at all. You lay heavy emphasis on man being made in God's image. Yet do not then clarify the distinction between God's original design for mankind and the Bible's teaching on the corruption wrought by sin.

    The Reformed perspective on the will isn't that humans don't make choices. Or that rationality doesn't drive human choice. But that the range of choice is limited by one's nature - that nature either being depraved or altered by the indwelling Spirit of God. Apart from an indwelling of the Spirit and a fundamental change in nature, humans will continue to voluntarily rebel against God's authority. Hence their will is not "free" because of sin's prevailing influence.

    The root cause of the disagreement between the Reformed and Arminian perspectives is the doctrine of sin. The Reformed perspective follows the Bible's teaching on sin to its logical conclusion. The Arminian approaches the text with an assumption of human autonomy and attempts to carve room for it in the Bible's teaching. And, by starting with a non-Biblical premise, the Arminian argument predictably reaches a non-Biblical conclusion in which the effects of justification must be sustained by human effort.

    If you want to assert the accuracy of the Arminian perspective on the human will, you need to do so by elaborating more on this core distinction rather than refuting a weak caricature of Reformed thought.

  7. David Kowalski says:

    Jonathan:

    Let me begin my response to your comment by clarifying that I am neither Arminian nor Reformed but a Molinist (a point you seemed to have missed) -- a position I think enables me to believe all of what the Bible says regarding free will and election without having to weakly explain away one side or try to harmonize both at the expense of logic. Thus, I cannot answer for all of your disagreements with Arminianism. I share some of those differences and do not wish to assert the accuracy of the Arminian perspective since I am not Arminian. I highly respect my Arminian and my Reformed brothers and sisters, and consider any differences I have with them to be non-essential.

    When one is limited to the confines of an article, it is difficult to fully address all of the issues involved. Though I spoke of the issue of free will as foundational, I covered the topic only briefly, trusting that the other five topics would sufficiently reinforce what I said on free will. I appreciate your reference to sovereignty and responsibility as a tension and I admire the efforts by some theologians in the Reformed camp to harmonize these concepts in their own way. Still, I find those efforts problematic, as they inevitably refer to the tension as a paradox or antimony (I consider Packer's efforts to distinguish between paradox and antimony to be a good try but still artificial).

    The theologians of tension say we may consider something illogical though it be logical to God. There are difficulties in this view, however. Though no one would deny that God is beyond our comprehension, it is problematic to imagine a different kind of logic in God -- one, for example, in which 2+2 does not equal 4. Logic has traditionally been seen as a reflection of the orderly mind of God, and I agree with this tradition that I believe is compromised in the theology of tension. Arminianism, I believe, compromises the biblical teaching on God's sovereignty. Biblical sovereignty is more than mere prescience. Molinism, however, is able to fully reconcile the two (I have some references to Molinism in the article to enable further research).

    If you will reread the section on free will in the article, you will see that I did address the specifics you seem to think I overlooked. I just stated them in a way that did not sound flattering to Reformed theology. I have read more Reformed theologians on the free will issue than I have Arminian or Molinist theologians. I believe I do understand their view but I do not put the same hermeneutically and logically weak, semantic spin on it that they do -- thus inviting the accusation of "caricature" -- a defense made popular in the theological world by Barth when substantively and insightfully critiqued by Van Til on issues other than the ones in view in these comments (an overly simplistic defense that nevertheless satisfies Barthians). Calvinists simply do end up in a kind of paradox when they assert that man has free will that he cannot use in a libertine (free) way.

    I did address the effects of the fall on the image of God in man but I also addressed the fact that a remnant survives and that this remnant includes free will that can be freely used. This, I think, is shown conclusively in Scripture.

    The article was a synergy of six points which I summarized as follows:

    1) God created mankind with free will and in spite of the corruption of mankind in the fall, this ability to choose freely remains.
    2) This free will is exercised in the faith choice that passively receives grace. If one changes their faith choice they no longer receive grace.
    3) The faith involves justification and sanctification. Faith is evidenced by a godly lifestyle and is inseparable from it as a result of the life changing work that faith receives. Those who rebel against God in a hardened and persistent manner depart from the faith and are no longer Christians.
    4) The promises God makes concerning the believer are an assurance that He will not change His saving choice but not a declaration that He will make our faith choice for us in perpetuity.
    5) None of the descriptions of believers or their life in Christ speaks of unconditional security.
    6) God says that Christians can fall away and He repeatedly warns us not to do so.

    Your response to the entire synergy is to limit yourself to the first point, falsely accusing me of Arminianism, asserting that I did not address issues which I did, and accusing me of caricature for not putting the Calvinist, semantic spin on their view for them. You have nothing to say about the other five points. It seems to me that your comment was written with another author's work in mind because you do not interact with the substance of mine other than to weakly and inaccurately cry "caricature" on one, isolated, point. Perhaps you only skimmed the article. I would encourage your reading it more carefully.

    In fairness to Arminians, I would say you grossly misrepresent their view. Arminians do not believe that salvation is either earned or maintained by works but by faith alone. They do, however, like most Calvinists, believe that though we are saved by faith alone the faith that saves is not alone. From my perspective as a Molinist, I would say that the true Arminian teaching on the need for persevering is only technically different from the Calvinist teaching on the perseverance of the saints, as both views maintain salvation by faith alone that perseveres to the end. Both views put perseverance to the end as a condition of the truly saved. To charge Arminians with the straw man of works theology is a common but shameless, false accusation (as is the frequent, Arminian accusation that Calvinists believe one can live as they please).

    Though, as I said in the article, from a Molinist perspective one could treat Arminian and Calvinist views on conditionality to be be just two sides to one coin, I believe the New Testament authors expressed themselves in terms that are blatantly and consistently conditional for popular consumption. Thus, I believe that the biblical way to speak to the issue is to call our security conditional, though I think you are not so far off from that view than you might suppose if you hold to the traditional, Calvinist teaching of the perseverance of the saints. People who expressed faith and acted Christian are said by Calvinists to have been deceiving themselves if they subsequently deny the faith or fall into hardened and prolonged rebellion. No Calvinist can be absolutely certain they are not deceiving themselves until they have persevered to the end and thus they have no greater assurance than those who teach security as conditional. One might say Arminians and Molinists teach simple conditionalality while Calvinists are only technically conditional, but Calvinists are just as conditional in their own way with respect to security since they assert the professing person has no absolute assurance until the end.

  8. Lori says:

    Thank you for your article. I have been a believer for 37 years and have not delved into the competing views of Calvinists vs.Arminians. I have generally believed in "eternal security" according to how I understood John 10:27-29. I have wondered occasionally about the meaning of some of the scriptures you referenced, but have to admit that you have dissected them quite well for me. I particularly like your analogy of faith as a bucket to receive grace and follow the logic of the possibility that it can be moved by one's free will. I appreciate the comments made by others and by your courteous replies. I'm thankful to be in a family of believers that sharpen one another's iron so effectively!

  9. Piotr Lewandowski says:

    re; eternal security: When Jesus said "It is finished (Tetelestai)"...Tetelestai comes from the verb teleo, which means "to bring to an end, to complete, to accomplish." It is a crucial word because it signifies the the successful end to a particular course of action. But there is more here than the verb itself. Tetelestai is in the perfect tense in Greek. That is significant because the perfect tense adds the idea that "This has happened and it is still in effect today". Another words, we can not loose our salvation.

  10. Piotr Lewandowski says:

    P.S. or another words: once you are born again, you stay born again.

  11. David Kowalski says:

    I agree that we cannot "lose" our salvation because the issue is most certainly settled on God's side. Still, there is a condition to salvation -- faith -- and it is possible to depart or fall away from the faith (1 Timothy 4:1). Saving faith is a gift but all gifts are expressed through human choice. Even regarding the gift of prophecy, Paul taught that the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophet (1 Corinthians 14:32 NASB). God gives grace but it is only received by those of faith (otherwise we resort to universalism). Those who refuse faith never receive grace. Those who depart from the faith forfeit the grace than only faith receives. This is why we are so clearly and repeatedly warned about departing from the faith. I addressed this point repeatedly from various angles and I believe the Bible speaks with utmost clarity to this point. I will quote here just one pertinent piece from the article:

    "They [those who teach unconditional security] will, for example, assert that our being born again is an unconditional assurance of our security because one cannot be "unborn," Perhaps they have never heard of "death."Such people will also say that our having eternal life means it is unconditionally guaranteed to never end. 1 John 5:11-12 tells us, however, that this eternal life is in God's son:

    "And the testimony is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life."

    Only He possesses this life in Himself. We merely share in this life as we continue to abide in Him (Jn 15:5-6). James 5:19-20 warns believers of the possibility of spiritual death:

    "My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins."

    James is clearly saying that departure from the truth of the Gospel will lead to the death of one’s soul. Thus, continued, spiritual life is dependent on continued choice in faith. In a similar way, God placed no limit on the life He had given Adam but warned His man that this life was conditional (Genesis 2:17). The life God gives is eternal in nature. Those who depart from that life revert to spiritual death. Those who fall away from the faith commit spiritual suicide."

    I speak to this point in various other ways and would only suggest here that you reread the article because it answers your point in many places. Yes, the river of grace has been flowing since the cross and it will never stop, but we must keep our passive bucket of faith in place to continue to receive. I do not believe Scripture teaches that this grace is still received if one departs from the faith (which the Bible says is possible). Just as faith is a condition of receiving, continued faith is the means by which we continue to receive (1 Peter 1:5). God's salvation is fully and finally established for those of the faith. Nothing need be added from His side. Still, people must receive this by faith and continue in the faith to receive in perpetuity. Those who move the bucket no longer receive. They forfeit the grace which is perpetually offered when they depart from the faith and they forfeit the life is that is only found in Christ when they depart from Him. Forfeiture of life results in spiritual death.

    Again, I address this much more thoroughly in the article. I would commend you to a more careful reading of it.

  12. Piotr Lewandowski says:

    " They forfeit the grace which is perpetually offered when they depart from the faith and they forfeit the life is that is only found in Christ when they depart from Him. Forfeiture of life results in spiritual death." No argument from me there. The "falling away" is clearly addressed in Scripture. This is where sanctification comes in: a lifelong process to become Christlike (although never becoming like Him, of course). We must be vigilant. 1 Peter 5:8 (ESV): " Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour." Thank you for re; more careful remark. Blessings.

  13. David Kowalski says:

    It is crucial to distinguish between justification (which is monergistic and relates to what we believe and trust in for salvation) and sanctification (which is synergistic and relates to the expression or out-working of the salvation our trusting receives). While is important to separate them in concept this way, they are inseparable in experience. James and 1 John in particular make it clear that the unsanctified person fails to show evidence of a justified status. Most Calvinists agree with this. Their contention is that is impossible to depart from the faith (something I believe I have disproved in the article). Thus, they will simply say that the one who falls into an unsanctified lifestyle was never truly saved and thus was deceiving himself. Within that system, however, there is no way to tell who is deceiving themselves until they have persevered to the end. Thus, the very best a Calvinist can say is, "I fully believe I am saved, though I could be deceiving myself." They never express it that way but that is what it amounts to.

  14. Piotr Lewandowski says:

    "Their contention is that is impossible to depart from the faith (something I believe I have disproved in the article)." And this is why I am not a Calvinist. P.S. kudos to you for a great column and I am looking forward to your e-mails/columns. Blessings

  15. Ethan Grunderon says:

    David,

    You say, "Hebrews 6:4-6 is probably the most debated passage when discussing the believer's security." Yet you do not mention the two main sides of the debate. For me, the translation of verse 6 with or without an "If" is irrelevant. In fact, that "if" rabbit hole is used mostly to hide the real objection to your interpretation.

    The simplest way to make my point here is to paraphrase the verse. The verses are actually making a claim AGAINST conditional salvation!

    The author is saying that Christians cannot fall away because if they COULD, there would be no possible way for them to be redeemed because Jesus died once and cannot be made to pay again!

    Lets look at the verses.
    Hbr 6:4 - For [it is] impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost,
    Hbr 6:5- And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come,
    Hbr 6:6 - If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put [him] to an open shame.

    Now watch this... Follow the train of thought...
    Hbr 6:6 - If they shall fall away.....
    (If WHO shall fall away?)
    Hbr 6:4 - ...those who...were made partakers of the Holy Ghost,...
    (Christians)
    Hbr 6:4 - [it is] impossible...
    (What is impossible?)
    Hbr 6:6 - to renew them...

    The author of Hebrews is saying that there could be no possible re-instatement for a Christan if He were able to lose his salvation. He then goes on to put nails in the coffin of conditional salvation.

    Hbr 6:9 - But, beloved, we are persuaded better things of you,...
    (Better things than what?)
    Hbr 6:9 - AND things that accompany salvation, though we thus speak.
    ("we are persuaded better things... ...that accompany salvation"
    Again, better than what?)
    Hbr 6:10 - For God [is] not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love,...
    Hbr 6:11 - ...every one of you do shew the same diligence...
    (the "SAME DILIGENCE" as God showed in verse 10)
    Hbr 6:11 - ...to the FULL ASSURANCE of hope unto the end:
    Hbr 6:13 - For... ...God... because he could swear by no greater, he sware by himself,
    Hbr 6:16- ...men verily swear by the greater: and an oath for confirmation [is] to them an end of all strife.
    Hbr 6:17 - Wherein God, willing more abundantly to shew unto the heirs of promise the IMMUTABILITY of his counsel, CONFIRMED [it] by an oath:
    (God wanted to show to His heirs the "unchangability" of his salvation, confirmed it by swearing on Himself cause He could swear by no greater.)
    Hbr 6:18 - That by two immutable things,... ...we might have a STRONG CONSOLATION, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the HOPE set before us:
    (We who have become saved might have STRONG CONSOLATION that we can never again be lost.)

    Hbr 6:19 - Which [hope] we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and stedfast,...
    (What is this hope? This anchor, sure and steadfast.)
    Hbr 6:20 - Whither the forerunner is for us entered, [even] JESUS, made an high priest FOR EVER....

    here are the prominent words and phrases used in this passage talking about the possibility of losing ones salvation,

    IMMUTABILITY
    FULL ASSURANCE hope unto the end
    sure and steadfast
    DILIGENCE
    as an ANCHOR of the soul
    CONFIRMED [it] by an OATH
    STRONG CONSOLATION
    better things... ...that accompany salvation
    FOR EVER

    Is this the language of conditional? or Sure and steadfast?

    So I ask you David. If a Christian, according to your interpretation, did lose his salvation, could he ever come back to God or is He lost forever?

    Ethan

  16. David Kowalski says:

    Ethan:

    Your comments call for several clarifications. First, those who believe in conditional security fully believe that God will keep all of His promises related to keeping us and finishing what He began. There are two parties in this relationship, however, and God's promises on the divine side do not negate the need for fidelity on the human side. God will never forsake us but the Bible clearly says it is possible for us to forsake Him. You wish to bypass the "if" clause that so many Calvinist make much over so I will quote from the article as it is stated after that point:

    "In the book of Hebrews, the writer is speaking at length of a danger which faces believers:
    For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard lest we drift away from it (2:1)... how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? (2:3)...but Christ was faithful as a Son over His house whose house we are if we hold fast our confidence and the boast of our hope firm until the end (3:6)....Take care brethren, lest there should be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart in falling away from the living God. But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called "Today," lest any one of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end (3:12-14)....Therefore let us fear lest, while a promise remains of entering His rest, any one of you should seem to come short of it (4:1)....Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall through following the same example of disobedience (4:11).

    Repeatedly the author makes clear he is warning believers about the danger of falling away, and he exhorts these believers to hold fast to their faith firm until the end.
    Having identified the context of the passage, let us examine its contents. First, there is a description of certain people. They have been "enlightened" (the writer uses this same word to describe Christians in Heb 10:32), they have "tasted of the heavenly gift" and been made "partakers of the Holy Spirit" (believers are called "partakers" in Heb 3:14). They have also "tasted of the good word of God and the powers of the age to come" (the writer of Hebrews uses this word, "tasted" to describe Christ' full experience of death in Heb 2:9). Since the writer speaks of the impossibility of renewing these people again to repentance, it is clear they had at one time repented.
    The writer then says these people, who are obviously Christians, have fallen. He goes on to say that he is persuaded of better things for "you" in 6:9, but he does not express the same confidence in the "them" whose apostasy he has just described. Both the context and the contents show that this passage clearly describes saved individuals who have fallen from grace. This is further reinforced by the warning delivered in Hebrews 10:26-30:

    For if we go on sinning after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain terrifying expectation of judgment, and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled underfoot the Son of God and has regarded as unclean the covenant by which he was sanctified and has insulted the Spirit of Grace? For we know Him who said 'Vengeance is Mine, I will repay.' And again, 'The Lord will judge His people.'

    There are many more warning passages addressed to believers such as the one we have examined in Hebrews 6:4-6 (other passages that could be used include Lk 14:34; John 15:1-6; Eph 5:5-6; 1 Co 9:27, 10:12;1 Tim 4:1; Heb 2:1-2, 3:12, 10:26-27; Jas 5:19-20; 2 Pe 1:10, 2:20-22, 3:17). Careless dismissal of them cannot be justified. Hebrews 6:1-4 is one of many clear passages directed to genuine Christians, warning them of the danger of falling away."

    From the above, I think it is indisputable that the author of Hebrews is saying that Christians can fall away and he is warning them against this.

    The point you raise about apostasy displays a Calvinist misunderstanding of the conditional view. The writer speaks thus in 6:6:

    "and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame"

    Some points to reiterate first:

    One can not fall away from somewhere they have never been.

    One cannot be "renewed again" to something they never had.

    The one who cannot be renewed is said to be someone who has deliberately and openly put Christ to shame. This cannot speak of private sin but can only speak of a public act of renouncing Christ. One does not apostatize by stumbling, but by a public act of renouncing Christ. The bible says such people cannot be restored/renewed. If they cannot be restored, what is it they cannot be restored to? Only those who have had something and forfeited it can even possibly speak of restoration so the passage clearly says that a believer can depart from the faith and forfeit grace.

    You add words to the Scripture when you misquote its intent as follows: "The author of Hebrews is saying that there could be no possible re-instatement for a Christan if He were able to lose his salvation." "Could be" and "if he were able to are" are not anywhere in the text but believers in unconditional security brazenly add them in an effort to change the meaning of the text. I would suggest we stick to what Scripture actually says rather than to what one wants it to say in order to fit their theology. We should get our theology from the text rather than rewrite the text to harmonize with our theological system.

    You then follow with the writer of Hebrews expression of confidence regarding the people he writes to. He expresses a confidence for them that he does not for those he clearly described as fallen away in earlier verses. For the Hebrew Christians there is a reiteration of something found throughout Scripture. God will never go back on His faithfulness. Still, in 10:26-30, the writer reminds the Hebrew believers of the point he has so emphatically and repeatedly driven home through the entire epistle -- that they must not fall away:

    "For if we go on sinning after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain terrifying expectation of judgment, and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled underfoot the Son of God and has regarded as unclean the covenant by which he was sanctified and has insulted the Spirit of Grace? For we know Him who said 'Vengeance is Mine, I will repay.' And again, 'The Lord will judge His people."

    Thank God that He will never change His mind or go back on His promise! Still, we cannot ignore the clear teaching that we can fall away from the faith that receives grace, and we should not dismiss His very strong warnings not to do so!

    The kind of apostasy that precludes renewal is not a private sin but a public renunciation of Christ. I would not recommend that anyone publicly renounce Christ.

    Hebrews 6 very clearly teaches conditional security and one must turn it on its head to misunderstand it.

  17. Piotr Lewandowski says:

    Here is another way to look at this: Matthew 7:22-23 "Many will say to Me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?' "And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS." "I never knew you" also means "they never knew Him"

  18. David Kowalski says:

    I am a bit confused by your comment. You say "here is another way to look at this: Matthew 7:22-23..." I used dozens of passages of Scripture, but not that particular one because it does not relate to the issues covered in the article.

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This post was last updated: May. 8, 2013