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Eternal Security and Perseverance

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Question:   Mr. Luginbill, The following is your conclusion on eternal security: "...Therefore we do indeed have a secure hold upon our eternal status as believers in Christ, but only as long as we continue to persevere as genuine believers in Jesus Christ." If we have eternal security only if "..we continue to persevere as genuine believers in Jesus Christ.", how do you explain the case of king Saul ? He was a believer who did not persevere to the end and yet he went to Sheol / Paradise. He committed suicide and he is now in Heaven. Salvation, regardless of dispensation, is dependant upon God's grace. If we did nothing to merit salvation, how could we lose it ? If we believe in Jesus Christ we have eternal life (John 3:16). If we can lose it through lack of perseverence (our own efforts), it was never eternal.

Response: Thanks for your e-mail. You seem from your writing to be a genuine follower of Jesus Christ, and I hope that you can allow, as I can, that two such individuals can sometimes come to different conclusions about what the Bible teaches.

First I should say that the subject of ES and the mechanics of losing salvation is addressed in greatest depth of detail in Peter's Epistles #27.   Peter's Epistles #21 (from which you quote) is merely an introduction to the issue.

Let me reply with a few comments here, however, as it seems from what you say in your letter that you misunderstand what I am teaching in two very important respects (both of which are implied in your remarks):

1) I do not equate "being a believer" with "sinless perfection". We all sin (as Solomon observed: 1Ki.8:46) and anyone who says otherwise makes God out to be a liar (1Jn.1.10). So this is not an either/or proposition. Those who teach that true Christians have completely overcome sin are not basing their dictums on the scripture (let alone the common experience of mankind). On the other hand, those who teach that "it doesn't make any difference to your eternal status whether or not you sin, no matter to what degree" are also not paying attention to what the Bible has to say. Sin is disobedience to God, and repeated, unrepentant, self-willed disobedience to God hardens the heart and rots the faith. "Sin's pay is death" (Rom.6:23) means that if we whole-heartedly enlist in service of sin (instead of, as Paul advises us, in the service of the Lord: Rom.6:13), we are going to reap the consequences. Those consequences include God's discipline to be sure (Heb.12:4-13). They also include the very real danger that if we don't respond to warnings and start to ignore God altogether, sooner or later the seed we have sown will come to fruition in death (Jas.1:14) - the death of our faith, and therefore of our hope:

For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard lest we drift away from it. For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense, how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?
Hebrews 2:1-3a NASB

The passage above is written to believers. On its face, it is talking about more than just discipline in time.

2) "Backsliding" is not an absolute condition, but a progressive one which, if left unchecked, not only erodes faith, but eventually eliminates it altogether. If we fail to persevere, fail to grow in Christ and in the Word, very often the alternative will be turning away from God altogether, being believers "only for a time" (Matt.13:21). The faith plant that "grows up quickly" is real faith, but it is choked off for lack of the moisture of the Word. The categories in the parable of the sower are generalities. Certainly, I believe that you are correct that there are many believers who, like Saul, are fortunate enough to pass from this life before their apostasy is complete, and it is definitely by the over-ruling grace of God that Saul will be in eternity with us. But he is hardly an example which we should emulate. Instead, we should look to faithful, persevering believers like Paul (originally Saul) who, despite the fact that they are walking in a way worthy of emulation are yet very humble about declaring safe arrival before the fact (Phil.3:11-14). To give but one example in a thousand, what does Paul mean when he says that evil-doers "shall not inherit the kingdom of heaven" (1Cor.6:10; Gal.5:21)? These and similar verses are written to believers with the express contextual purpose of dissuading them from lives of dissolution and encouraging them instead to follow Christ in a proper way. If these passages are meant to carry no weight (because "once saved, always saved") then why bother to say such things in the first place? The truth is that turning away from Jesus to follow one's own agenda is very dangerous, and one cannot count on being destroyed by God before one destroys one's faith (1Jn.5:16-17). Some do perish who were once brothers (1Cor.5:5; 1Tim:1:19; 1Jn.5:16).

I also started out with an "eternal security" perspective, and the Bible changed my position. There isn't anything in scripture which can even remotely be construed to teach ES, but there are many passages (more than the handful cited here) which are designed to inject a healthy fear in the believer of turning his back on God and pursuing his flesh instead. I believe many adopted ES to counter 1) ridiculous "sinless perfectionism", and 2) Roman Catholicism (which was using sin and its dispensation by the "Church" as a means of control).

It may be difficult to accept on the one hand the true security of our salvation, and, on the other, the reality of looming destruction if we embrace apostasy instead of Jesus Christ, but that is the true case. We believers have one foot in this world, and one in eternity, and which one we put our weight on makes all the difference. Rather than take comfort in Saul (we might just repeat his experience), better to follow the example of Paul, and lean hard towards our Lord and Savior. If we have a prudent and proper fear of God, we truly have nothing to fear. But if we lose that fear and respect, we can run the risk - through mighty pursuit of the service of sin - of losing our faith in His Son as well.

Please see the following for much more on this topic: 

The False Doctrine of Absolute Eternal Security.

The False Doctrine of Absolute Eternal Security II

Apostasy and the Sin unto Death in Bible Basics 3B: Hamartiology"

Yours in the love of Jesus Christ,

Bob Luginbill

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