Is the Doctrine of "Unconditional Eternal Security" Biblical?
The debate has been waging for centuries between the Calvinists, who believe that you cannot lose your salvation under any circumstances, and the Arminians who believe that under certain extreme conditions, that your salvation can be forfeited.
In order to assure a well rounded view on the issue, we will enlist one minor teacher (Jude) and three of the major teachers of the New Testament: Jesus, Peter and Paul. To simplify we will make a ready reference that will start by listing the teacher by name, followed by what they taught on this subject and a brief commentary on the verses. This is not intended to be an exhaustive work on the topic, but rather a launching pad for further discussion.
Jesus had quite a bit to say about our salvation, since He is the Author and Finisher of our faith. Sometimes He spoke in parables and at other times He spoke very plainly about the issue. Here are a few examples:
Matthew 10:22 (Endure until the end)
Matthew 24:12 & 13 (Endure until the end)
Mark 4:3-20 (Parable of the Sower)
Mark 13:13 (Endure until the end)
John 15:2 & 6 (You must remain in me)
Revelation 2:5 (Remove lampstand)
Revelation 2:10 (Be faithful unto death)
Revelation 3:1-5 (Erase name from the Book of Life)
In each of these scriptures we see Jesus portray our salvation as being conditional. Now keep in mind, we are not talking about the LOVE of God, which is unconditional. For we see in John 3:16 that, "God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish" and in II Peter 3:9 that "He is not wanting anyone to perish". But we also know for a fact that there will be those that perish. It is not God's will that they perish, but never the less it is going to happen to some people. I think we all agree that to receive your salvation, certain conditions must be met, namely, accepting Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. This is probably not even an issue for most of you reading this study. But the question at hand is, can you lose your salvation AFTER you receive it, and I think that Jesus clearly gives us the answer in each of these scriptures.
The parable of the sower shows us a certain group of people that, for various reasons, hear the gospel and accept it as Truth but "fall away" (Mark 4:17 NIV). In this parable Jesus explains to the disciples that the seeds are people that have all heard and received the gospel and sprang to life... but only a portion of them endured to bear fruit.
Some will say that you never base doctrine on a parable, which is true... if you don't have any other scripture on which to base your conclusions. In other words, you never establish your core beliefs on a parable, if that is the only time that that particular belief is espoused. But in this instance, that is not the case. We see Jesus on three other occasions (see list) say that in order to receive eternal life you "Must endure to the end"! He doesn't say that it would be a "good idea" to endure to the end... He says you MUST endure, if you want to receive eternal life.
If this is not enough to prove to you that Jesus taught that your salvation was conditional, that condition being a state of FAITH (Ephesians 2:8&9), we read further in the Book of the Revelation where Jesus makes two very powerful and even threatening statements. In Rev. 2:5, Jesus tell the church at Ephesus that if they don't repent, He will "remove their lampstand", which we know from Rev. 1:20 is the congregation itself! But some will argue that the lampstand is too symbolic. "Maybe it means something else", they assert. But certainly you wouldn't say that about the Lamb's Book of Life, would you? Rev. 3:5 says very plainly that if you "hold fast" and "overcometh" (KJV), then your name will not be blotted out of the Book of Life" So the inverse must be true that if you don't hold fast or overcome, your name will be blotted out.
In John 15:2, Jesus talking about the Father said, "He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he trims clean so that it will be even more fruitful." (NIV)
The point is that the Father wants fruit. But what happens to people who do not remain in Christ, namely the branches that get cut off because they bear no fruit?
Verse 6 gives the answer, "If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned." (NIV)
How much more clear can He be?
Jude is one of the shortest books in the Bible, so short in fact, it doesn't even have chapters. It is only 25 verses long but it's a powerful admonition to the church. The whole premise of the book is a warning against false teachers. But why? Very simply put, false teacher can lead the people astray to the point of losing out with God! Jude says in verse 5 that God destroyed some of His own elect people because of their unbelief. Jude goes on to say in verse 6 that some of God's own angels met the same fate.
But some will say that verse 24 says that God is able to keep you from falling, which is quite true. God gives to every man a measure of faith, but it is up to each individual as to what he will do with the faith that God gives him. As in the parable of the sower, some will let the cares and concerns of this world to come along and choke that faith right out of their life.
Peter doesn't say a whole lot about this issue, but what he does say is very succinct and very powerful. These are the three main verses:
II Peter 1:10 (IF you are diligent you will not fall)
II Peter 2:20-22 (Know Christ then overcome by sin; worse than before)
II Peter 3:17 (Fall from your steadfastness)
Peter give two scenarios in which a person can fall (II Peter 1:10 and 3:17). But neither of these examples can hold a candle to what he says in II Peter 2:20-22. Anyone who seeks to deny Peter's words of warning in this passage is clearly asking for trouble. He doesn't mince any words.
"For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning." (KJV)
READ IT FOR YOURSELF. Take off the blinders and just read it at face value. He very simply and authoritatively states that if a person has "escaped the pollutions of this world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (i.e. a believer), but becomes "entangled in it again... he is worse off than he was before he knew Christ as his Lord and Savior"! Now you can read into this whatever you want, but for the unbiased, the meaning is crystal clear. YOUR SALVATION IS CONDITIONAL! If you were condemned outside of Christ ("before you were saved") how can it get any worse? Because then you were ignorant, now (after you were saved) you know the Truth, but choose to reject it.
The Apostle Paul is by far the most prolific writer of the New Testament, so it is therefore no surprise to find that he addressed this issue quite thoroughly. The following verses are but a sample of many:
Romans 11:20-23 (Branches grafted then broken off)
I Corinthians 10:11 & 12 (Take heed lest you fall)
I Corinthians 15:1-2 (Believed in vain)
Galatians 5:4 (You have fallen from Grace)
Galatians 6:9 (Reap IF not faint)
Colossians 1:23 (IF you continue in the faith)
I Thessalonians 3:8 (IF you stand fast in the Lord)
I Timothy 2:15 (IF they continue in faith)
I Timothy 3:6 & 7 (Recent convert + conceit = condemnation of the Devil)
I Timothy 4:1 (Some will depart from the faith)
Hebrews 3:6 ( IF we hold fast to the end)
Hebrews 3:14 (Partakers of Christ, IF we hold steadfast)
As you can see from these 14 examples, the Apostle Paul did not want anyone left in the dark on this subject. Through these verses Paul hands us a candle, or maybe we should say a flood light, to help us see our way to the TRUTH! Most of the verses are so self-explanatory that it would belabor the point, so we will stick with examining just a few.
Firstly, let us take a brief look at the tiny little word "if." The word "if" is the epitome of conditionality. In every conditional phrase you will find the little two letter word "if." IF you do this, I will do that. IF you work 40 hours per week, you will get a paycheck. IF you speed, you will get a ticket—etc. So we see half of these verses using this conditional word in association with our salvation. "IF we continue in the faith"; "IF we stand fast"; "IF we faint not"... and the list goes on. Colossians 1: 21-23 is a good example.
Paul clearly says, "Although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach--if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard, which was proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, was made a minister."
But even more directly, the Apostle Paul said in Romans 11:20-23 that the Jews were broken off because of a lack of faith and that we as "wild olive trees" had better take heed that we likewise be not "cut off!"
Paul gives another warning to the believers in I Corinthians 10:11 & 12 to "take heed lest you fall" like the Jews that were destroyed for their lack of faith. He also says in I Corinthians 15:2 that if we keep in our rememberence the gospel that Paul preached, then we will be saved... but if we don't, then we will have "believed in vain" because we fell back from the truth of the gospel. He writes to the Galatians in chapter 5, verse 4, that if you seek to be justified by works or deeds then you have fallen from grace. And if we are saved by grace through faith, we cannot take either of those gifts out of the equation: GRACE + FAITH = SALVATION. The Apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the young evangelist Timothy, his son in the faith, and one of his closest friends, in I Timothy 3:6 & 7 that one of the qualifications of the Bishop or Overseer is "that he not be a recent convert, lest he become conceited and fall into the condemnation of the Devil". A convert is a believer, and the Apostle Paul just stated very clearly that a believer can fall into the condemnation of Satan. How could he possible state it any clearer than that? Later he also warns Timothy in chapter 4:1 that some will depart from the faith. You cannot depart from something that you never had.
Now we are not quite sure who wrote the Book of Hebrews, but many scholars believe that it was either the Evangelist Apollos or the Apostle Paul. Whoever the inspired writer was, all we know for sure is that he settled the issue once and for all in Hebrews 6:4-6. He says in no uncertain terms that a believer (one who has become enlightened and partaken of the Holy Spirit) can "fall away"!
The writer also admonishes the believers in chapter 10, verses 38 and 39 that God has no pleasure in those who draw back for if we "shrink back from the faith" (Greek: "hupostole") we will be destroyed (Greek: "apoleia"), but if we continue in the faith we will be saved. But were these people who fell away actually saved? The writer says in verse 29, "How much more severely do you think someone deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace."
It clearly says that they were "sanctified," which means to be set apart for salvation.
Now I realize that if you have been told all your life that unconditional eternal security is taught in the Bible, then these scriptures might come as a bit of a surprise to you. I would simply encourage you to pray for Wisdom and Guidance from the Lord as to how to interpret these verses, and I am sure that the Lord of ALL TRUTH will bring you to an understanding of this dangerous and divisive teaching. For you see, if the Calvinist is right, the Arminian will have lost nothing... but if the Arminian is right, the Calvinist may have caused the loss of many souls!
Our main ministry is to the Mormons. They are accomplished scripture-twisters, but the Calvinists give them a run for their money on the issue of Unconditional Eternal Security. We get e-mails (from Calvinists) everyday accusing us of teaching a works salvation. They say, "You teach salvation by Grace but then say we have to keep ourselves saved by our works." We have never said any such thing. The Holiness movement may teach that, but we do not.
We believe that it is difficult to lose your salvation, but not impossible. It comes down to the issue of faith. If you believe, then you are saved, if you no longer believe, then you are no longer saved.
The Cavinist acts like no one in the history of the world ever truly believed, then lost that belief. That's a classic ostrich approach to the issue. Open your eyes, my friend, people lose faith all the time. Read the parable of The Sower. It's sad, but true. We still try to reach them while the Calvinist tends to turn his back and say, "They were never saved in the first place." Then what do you say to them if they repent?
Remember, it was Jesus, in John 15:6, who said, "If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned." (NIV)
To teach anything other than what the Word CLEARLY teaches is to violate the very standards which you claim to uphold.