Unconditional Eternal Security
By J. E. Gray
Each week millions of people file into thousands of churches across America and around the world, where they hear sermons telling them that it is impossible to live above sin. Although their pastors may encourage them to strive towards living a good life, they are reminded to not be overly concerned if they fail periodically. After all, a Christian is still human, and God expects him to sin a little each day. With regularity the words come ringing from the pulpit, assuring them that salvation is in no way dependent on a life free from sin, but on a one-time acknowledgement of Jesus Christ as their personal Savior.
Yes, the doctrine of Unconditional Eternal Security has persuaded millions that it is impossible to lose their salvation once they have “made a decision for Christ.” Proponents of this theory point out that since man is saved by “Grace” and not “Works,” he is not required to maintain a relationship with God or make any attempt to conform to His requirements as a prerequisite to salvation. Teachers of this doctrine go on to say that the very fact that man is saved by grace precludes even the most remote possibility of ever falling from a saved state.For, they reason, if man were required to make any effort towards a continuing condition of salvation, he would be gaining it through works and not by grace.
The Bible does not teach the doctrine of Unconditional Eternal Security! Admittedly, one can take a few isolated scriptures and construct a doctrine that seems to imply such a condition. However, it is possible to formulate a multitude of inaccurate and totally absurd theories by using isolated scriptures or taking scriptures out of context.
We find in II Timothy 2:15, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” When God’s Word is carefully read, correctly interpreted, and properly applied, it is easy to see that it strongly teaches that salvation is a day-to-day relationship with God; one in which a man can fall and return to an unsaved state. The Bible is replete with examples of men who had once walked with God, but allowed sin to enter in, and lost their salvation.
Hebrews 12:14 tells us that without holiness (an absence of sin) it is impossible to be saved. But at the same time we are told in II Peter 3:9 that the Lord is, “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” With these two thoughts in mind, we must conclude that it is indeed possible for man to live above sin, but if a man has sin in his life he cannot expect to enter heaven.
The Apostle Paul, writing in II Timothy 1:12, said, “For I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.”
When Jesus Christ lived on earth, He was tempted in every way that you and I are tempted. Yet, He remained free from sin (Hebrews 4:15). The reason for the spotless life of Jesus was twofold:
1. To provide a blemish-free sacrifice for the sins of the world.
2. To set an example for us, showing us that man can live above sin. If the Holy Spirit is the motivating force in our lives, then we are ruled by the same Spirit that dwelled in the body of Jesus. Having the same Spirit will cause our actions to resemble those of Jesus.
Being a Christian in no way isolates a man from the temptations of the devil. In fact, the normal course is for the attacks of Satan to intensify once a man starts serving God. With the Holy Spirit in our lives, however, we have someone to fight the battle for us. We are told in 1 Corinthians 10:13:
There hath no temptation taken you but such is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way of escape, that ye may be able to bear it.
But what if you should happen to sin after you have started your walk with God! Are you hopelessly doomed, with no chance of salvation! No, if you approach God with a truly repentant heart, He will forgive you. True repentance, however, does not find a man living a life that is one mad circle of sin. . . repent. . .sin. The man who continually falls victim to temptation does not have the Spirit of Christ in him. For, the Holy Spirit enables a man to face the very same temptations Jesus faced, and to emerge victorious just as Jesus did.
John, in his first epistle, wrote, “My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1). In the fourth verse of the same chapter we find, “He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” From our discussion so far, three things are quite evident:
1. God desires that all men be saved.
2. It is possible to live above sin.
3. The man that meets God with sin in his life will not receive eternal life.
As mentioned previously, the Word of God contains numerous references to the possibility of “backsliding.” Not only do the writers of the New Testament warn us about the possibilities and dangers of losing our salvation, but there are many examples of men that did exactly that: Paul, writing in I Corinthians 10:12, said, “Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.” What could possibly be more plain than this!
In the preceding verses of this chapter, Paul had gone into depth describing the Children of Israel who were delivered from the bondage of Egypt (symbolic of a life of sin), and were led to the Promised Land (symbolic of heaven) by way of the Wilderness (symbolic of the Christian’s walk here on earth):
All our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; And did all eat the same spiritual meat; And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ. But with many of them God was not well pleased: for they were overthrown in the wilderness (I Corinthians 10:1-5). In other words, the entire nation of Israel was delivered from slavery in Egypt. Everyone enjoyed the protection and blessings of God. They were all bound for the Promised Land. Some, however, began to complain and murmur when the first trial came along, and God did not allow them to enter Canaan.
The next verse of that chapter tells us that God allowed these things to befall the disobedient Israelites as an example to us; warning us that if we follow their example, we will not be allowed to enter our Promised Land (heaven). For this reason, Paul admonishes us: “Let him that thinks he stands, be careful lest he falls.”
Even Paul, the epitome of Christianity and Christian service, recognized the very real possibility of his losing out with God. He realized that despite the fact he was a God-appointed apostle, had given his all to fulfill his calling to the Gentile nations, and had suffered extreme and frequent persecution for the cause of Christ, he could still lose out with God and fail to make heaven. We find his admonition in I Corinthians 9:27:
But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway (reject).
The Apostle Peter referred to the condition if men who had once been delivered by the power of Jesus Christ, but had allowed sin to enter in and once again reign:
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. For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them. But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire (II Peter 2:20-22). Surely we cannot read a message of Unconditional Eternal Security into a passage such as this.
The words of Jesus in the Gospel of Luke echo the message that man can indeed fall from grace, and that when he does fall, he most assuredly descends into a state far worse than that from which he was originally delivered. Reading from Luke 11:23-26, we find:
He that is not with me is against me: and he thatgathereth not with me scattereth. When the unclean
spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest; and finding none, he saith, I will return unto my house whence I came out. And when he cometh, he findeth it swept and garnished. Then goeth he, and taketh to him seven other spirits more wicked than himself; and they enter in, and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first.
Peter, in his second epistle, gave instructions for remaining in a saved condition:
Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. And beside this, giving all
diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity. For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins. Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall (Ii Peter 1:4-10).
If by acquiring these spiritual characteristics one can keep from falling, it seems reasonable to assume that Peter is warning that the man who fails to reach this state will fall.
In Matthew 25 Jesus compares the Kingdom of Heaven to a wedding feast in which ten virgins were invited. The virgin, as used in this scripture setting, is symbolic of a born-again Christian. In the parable, five of the virgins were wise, while five were foolish. All ten were virgins, but only five were prepared for the coming of the bridegroom (second coming of the Lord). Suddenly, the cry came forth, “Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him.”
The story goes on to describe a scene in which all ten virgins arose and trimmed their lamps. The five foolish, however, discovered their lamps were out of oil (symbolic of a backslidden condition), While the foolish and unprepared virgins were out frantically searching for oil, the bridegroom came and left. Upon their return, the foolish virgins did their best to gain entrance, but the Lord of the feast would not open the door. Yes, a Christian can lose out with God and fail to make heaven if he does not keep his lamp (soul) filled with oil (the Holy Spirit).
Luke 17:32 is one of the shortest, yet most potent verses in the Bible: “Remember Lot’s wife.” In the insertion of this phrase, Luke was not interested in our remembering Lot’s wife for the sake of preserving Old Testament history, but he was concerned with our remembering what Lot’s wife did, and what the consequences were. Why! Because we can be guilty of the same transgression, and suffer the same dread
Lot, his wife, and their two daughters had been delivered from the twin cities of Sodom and Gomorrah (a type of sin), and God had instructed them to not look back as they left..no matter what. Lot’s wife disobeyed, however, and as a result was instantly turned into a pillar of salt. For the past four thousand years that pillar has been a monument to failure. Although history does not record anyone else being changed into a pillar of salt, there are countless examples of men who were delivered from a life of sin, but later turned their back on God, as they cast a desiring glance over their shoulder towards the life of sin from which they had been delivered. The result has always been the disastrous same. . . they have died spiritually.
Jesus said in Luke 9:62, “No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” In light of scripture such as this, does it seem doctrinally sound to proclaim the teaching of Unconditional Eternal Security! Yet, millions are placing the future of their soul into the hands of this doctrine.
A classic example of Christians who once walked with God, but fell from grace, is seen in the account of Ananias and Sapphira, as found in Acts 5. The Church at Jerusalem had decided to sell all private possessions and place the receipts into the common treasury. No ultimatum was given. The action was Purely voluntary. Ananias and his wife Sapphira, wishing to put on a good front, sold their property, but secretly kept back a part for themselves. As the money was handed to the church leaders, the Holy Spirit revealed to the Apostle Peter the hypocrisy of Ananias and Sapphira. As a result of this sin, Ananias and Sapphira were instantly slain by the Holy Spirit.
To insist, as some do, that Ananias and Sapphira died in a saved condition is preposterous. The Scripture goes on to say that because of this act of hypocrisy and the punishment that resulted, “great fear” came upon the church. If the punishment of Ananias and Sapphira were nothing more than a quick trip to heaven, there would have been no cause for even mild fear. The early Christians were living in constant
expectation and anticipation of the second coming of the Lord. How could the ultimate Christian reward cause great fear to come upon the Church! The answer is simple…it couldn’t. No, Ananias and Sapphira did not die in a saved condition.
The teaching of Unconditional Eternal Security is not new. It’s far older than any of the religious denominations that presently regard it as cardinal doctrine. In reading the Book of Jude, which was written approximately A.D. 66, or 37 years after the establishment of the Church on the Day of Pentecost, we find that Jude was alarmed by this false teaching that was creeping into the churches. We find him giving this warning:
Dearly loved friends, I had been planning to write to you some thoughts about the salvation God has given us, but now I find I must write of something else instead, urging you to stoutly defend the truth which God gave, once for all, to is people to keep without change through the years. I say this because some godless teachers have wormed their way in among you, saying that after we become Christians we can do just as we like without fear of God’s punishment. The fate of such people was written long ago, for they have turned against our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ (Jude 3,4 The Living Bible).
In his closing remarks, Jude says, “Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling. . . .” It’s quite evident that if the Lord can keep us from falling, then there is a danger of falling.
The Old Testament Prophet Ezekiel wrote concerning the man who returns to a life of sin after having made a start for God:
When a righteous man doth turn from his righteousness,
and commit iniquity, and I lay a stumbling block before him,
he shall die: because thou hast not given him
warning, he shall die in his sin, and his righteousness
which he hath done shall not be remembered; but his
blood will I require at thine hand (Ezekial 3:20).
There are several things worthy of note in this passage:
1. A righteous man can return to a life of sin.
2. God will completely forget the fact that he ever lived above sin. . .that he was once in a saved condition.
3. He shall die in his sin.
4. The blood of the backslidden Christian will be required of the preacher who failed to tell him that a man cannot continue to sin and remain saved.
We are fond of using the term “saved” when making reference to someone who is serving God. The truth of the matter, however, is that no one is truly saved until he hears those Pearly Gates click behind his heels. Although we may be in a saved condition at any particular point in our lives, we have not yet attained eternal salvation. We merely have a promise of receiving eternal salvation if we continue to live above sin by serving God according to His commandments.
In John 3:16, we are told: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” John is speaking here of the ultimate future, and not the immediate present. John was not saying that if upon first being introduced to the Gospel, a man rejects it, he will be immediately slain. The perishing he was referring to was the eternal damnation of a man’s soul that will be his reward upon physical death. The same is true for the eternal life that was promised. . .it is future.
This teaching is supported by the words of Jesus in Mark 10:30. In verse 28, Peter, the spokesman for the group of disciples, reminded the Lord that they had forsaken all to follow Him. Jesus, in assuring them that they would not go unrewarded, said:
But he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time,
houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and
children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the
world to come eternal life.
Jesus, speaking in Matthew 24:13, said, “But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.” From these words, we can easily infer that the man who doesn’t endure (falls from grace) shall not be saved. John, in his admonishment to the Ephesian Church, said:
Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because
thou hast left thy first love. Remember therefore
from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the
first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly,
and will remove thy candlestick out of this place,
except thou repent (Revelation 2:4,5).
Yes, man can, has, is, and will fall from the grace of God. Paul, in writing to Timothy, spoke on the subject of backsliding:
Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter
times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed
to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; Speak-
ing lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared
with a hot iron (I Timothy 4:1,2).
How can a man depart from a faith in which he never lived! How can a man lose the salvation he never possessed! Yes, it is possible for a man to lose out with God after having served Him.
Man was not created as a robot, but as a free moral agent, one with a self-will and the freedom of choice. Man has been given the power of deciding for himself whether or not he wants to follow the plan of salvation as outlined in the second chapter of Acts. Once he has made the decision to repent, be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, and allow the Holy Spirit to enter his soul, he alone decides whether or not he will continue to serve God. Eternity is based upon a man’s condition and relationship with God at the time of Jesus’ return.
If a man should see death before the coming of the Lord, then his spiritual condition at the time of death will be the determining factor at the judgment. Man’s eternity is not based on a one-time decision to “accept Jesus Christ as your personal Savior.”
In discussing the dangerous doctrine of Unconditional Eternal Security, I cannot help but recall the disastrous maiden voyage of the Titanic. This great super-vessel was designed and reported to be the ship of all ships. . .one that was impossible to sink. The builders of the Titanic had constructed her with sixteen watertight compartments. Any two of these compartments could be ruptured without the ship sinking.
With great fanfare, and with a sense of complete security the 2,000 plus passengers boarded for the inaugural voyage. Seemingly without a care in the world, they indulged in the many pleasures offered by the bars, dance floors, restaurants, theaters, recreational rooms, and shops. So sure were the owners and crew of the Titanic, that they didn’t bother to take enough life rafts and preservers aboard.
Several reasons have been offered as the cause of this historic tragedy. This ship was guaranteed to stay afloat even with two compartments completely flooded. No one had envisioned the 300 foot gash that the iceberg would make, leaving five compartments full of water. Also, even with the months of intricate planning that had gone into the design of the Titanic, no one had seen the need of placing tops on the “supposedly impregnable” walls that divided the compartments. And, so self-assured was the crew, that it completely ignored the repeated warnings of dangerous icebergs in the area. The ship was reported to have been traveling in excess of 20 knots when it struck the mountain of ice.
Of the more than 2,000 passengers who boarded the ship, truly believing they were in absolutely no danger, approximately 1,500 perished in the icy waters of the North Atlantic on that fateful night of April 11, 1912.
Right this very minute millions of humanity are taking just such a ride. They have been assured by the crew that all precautions have been taken, and that nothing is going to interrupt the voyage. One day soon, however, their ship is going to hit an iceberg, and without warning it will be eternally too late.
Yes, man can fall from grace. But at the same time, it is possible for him to live above sin. The Bible tells us that while it is impossible for a man to enter heaven with sin in his life, God desires that all men be saved. Thus, He has made a provision whereby we may live above sin-the Holy Spirit.