Question: You say that "faith is not a 'one-time' proposition" but in Acts 16:31 it says "believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved." Something interesting is that the word "believe" is an AORIST tense which would mean "believe at a point in time." The moment you believe you are saved eternally, because God takes that faith at that moment and perpetuates it into eternity. When you are saved, you are baptized in the Spirit, and that places us in union with Christ eternally, that is why it says "nothing shall separate us from the love of God which is IN CHRIST JESUS." You say "The problem with this extreme view (in addition to the fact that it ignores dozens of very clear scriptures as we shall soon see) is that it fails to take into account God's character and God's justice." Have you ever heard of grace? That is GOD DOING THE WORK, not man. If you honestly believe YOU have to do something in order to keep yourself saved you are on a works system of salvation, and it is not grace at all! It is either grace or it is not grace, make up your mind.
I am not wanting to argue, but I am sure you have heard of R.B. Thieme, what do you think about his view on reversionism? You ought to check it out if you haven't looked at it....
Written in Christian love,
P.S. I really do enjoy your outlines and series on the Satanic Rebellion and Angelic Conflict.
Response: Thanks for your question. I am gratified to hear that you are enjoying the Satanic Rebellion Series.
On the issue of "eternal security", I realize that this is a thorny issue for many solidly grounded, biblical Christians - it was for me as well. Ultimately, I had to choose between what the Bible was actually saying and what was being taught as part of a theological system. I hope you appreciate the difference. It is true that God has organized things in a most awesome way, and that extrapolation is necessary in theology, especially when it comes to areas and issues about which the Bible has nothing (or little) to say directly. That is not the case where "ES" is concerned. In one the quotes you give (from Peter's Epistles #21), I say "it ignores dozens of very clear scriptures as we shall soon see". I do hope you will have a look at these - not from an adversarial point of view, but as someone honestly and genuinely trying to discover God's truth. I can tell you that they trouble any and all of the "ES" persuasion who look at them objectively (they did me and my fellows at seminary). Ideally, one goes from what the scriptures clearly say to a systematic teaching (theology). Realistically, unless what we start with is perfect in the first place, there is an on-going process for those involved in "primary research" (i.e., Bible teachers and theologians) whereby the deeper into the Bible we get and the more we understand about it and the more passages which are resolved for us etc., etc. - well, all this contributes to a refinement of what we believe, so that every day what we believe becomes more and more consonant and consistent with what God has actually said in His Word. The dilemma you pose to me in your e-mail (grace, and Acts 16:31 being the two inconsistencies you present) is the old question of what to do when principles and scriptures collide (as they often seem to do – in reality, any inconsistency lies entirely in our own misinterpretation). I have learned through experience to trust God and to know that eventually everything is consistent and agrees perfectly (when we understand it correctly). I can easily reconcile grace with the principle of spiritual safety through following Christ faithfully (because we love God does not mean we should not fear Him, and because He is gracious to us does not mean our behavior has no consequences), but I also know (through the experience of having tried to do so) that "ES" can't be reconciled with what the Bible actually says flat out in many places (the details are in Peter's Epistles #27):
- general passages contrary to ES: Matt.13:5-6, 20-21; Mk.4:5-6, 16-17; Lk.8:6, 13; Rom.11:22-23.
- passages explaining that salvation is conditional upon maintenance of faith: 1Cor.15:2; Col.1:21-23; 2Tim.2:11-13; Heb.3:6; 3:14.
- passages warning us to maintain our faith to be saved: Jn.15:5-6; 1Cor.10:6-12; 2Cor.13:5; 2Jn.8-9.
- passages teaching that unrestrained sinful behavior is antithetical to faith and can lead to loss of salvation: 1Cor.6:9-11; Gal.5:19-21; Eph.5:3-7; 1Tim.6:9.
As to my understanding of grace versus works, I think you have misunderstood. I don't teach that we are saved by works, but that we are saved by grace. Between the R.C. teaching of works = salvation on the one hand, and the extreme of salvation no matter on the other, lies the real truth: if a person persists in sin and rebellion toward God, it blunts, denigrates and eventually kills faith. And when faith dies, that person is no longer a believer - by definition. Search and see, it is "believers" who are saved, not those whose once believed but fell by side of the road and now no longer believe (cf. the parable of the sower - covered in the Peter' Epistles series beginning with #12). No amount of good works will save the unbeliever. Nor will a prior faith that has now died save a person who now no longer believes. Acts 16:31 does say "believe" (aorist: pisteuson). It is in the imperative mood = a command. Outside of the indicative, tense-stem in Greek is a question of what is called in grammar "aspect", not one of time, so that the aorist indicates the totality of becoming a believer (while the present would focus on the process). Neither the present nor the aorist will bear the weight of the "ES" argument either way.
Now you seem to be a dedicated Christian. For you (and I hope for me) and for all those who will in any case follow Christ to the end, the argument has often been made that it doesn't make that much difference whether there is or is not "ES". I have found that not to be the case, however. I have found that all truth, accepted and believed, brings one closer to the goal. And, conversely, that all error, especially dearly held, is a stumbling block against getting closer to God. Furthermore, we are on the threshold of very difficult times, when a great falling away from the faith is prophesied. As someone who takes it as a solemn obligation to give "the whole counsel of God" I can think of no greater disservice than to tell people who turn away from Christ that they will be OK. There is nothing worse than a false sense of security, especially when the time is coming when temporal security will be threatened by the mere fact of being a believer. Surely you feel a tad uncomfortable with the notion (as I have heard from many "ES" advocates - though not from you) that "it doesn't matter what you do, how many or how horrible the sins you commit, even to the point of denying Christ, once saved, always saved". The fact is that faith is a responsibility. It has to be carefully protected, carefully nourished day by day. It DOES matter for us to follow Jesus, to strive to be pleasing to Him in all that we do. This attitude of humility and determination is one that Paul had, that Peter had, that Moses had, that David had, that all the great believers of the Bible had. It is one that we are meant to have as well, and it is one that is very difficult to achieve if we are all too comfortably resting on a false, potentially destructive principle - one that emboldens us to turn away by our deeds from the One we say we love.
Please see the following for much more on this topic:
Apostasy and the Sin unto Death" in Bible Basics 3B: Hamartiology
The False Doctrine of Absolute Eternal Security
The False Doctrine of Absolute Eternal Security II
We have never met, probably never will. I can certainly understand if this discussion doesn't convince you. It sounds to me like you are already determined to be a good soldier of Christ Jesus, and, if so, things will then take care of themselves. I don't receive compensation for this ministry and get no pleasure out of "tallying up" the number of people who may have changed a view here or there. My whole purpose is to contribute to Christian spiritual growth, and the only way I know to do this is to teach the truth of the Bible as I believe it to be.
I appreciate the spirit of your e-mail, and hope you will receive this one in the same spirit of genuine Christian care and concern. You are and will always be welcome at ICHTHYS, no matter what your beliefs.
Yours in Jesus Christ,