I was browsing through some letters that I had written over the years and came accross one that I had forgotten about. About five years ago I engaged in a short exchange with a local Church of Christ preacher concerning the eternal security of the believer. We sent a couple of letters to each other. I believe he moved out of the area. I do not recall receiving a response to this letter. Becuase there is nothing of a personal nature in the correspondence I thought I would post it hear as an open letter. If you choose to read you will of course miss out on the opportunity of reading the letter to which I was responding. Nevertheless I think you will be able to discern some of the arguments that he raised and more importantly for my purposes it provides an opportunity to present my view of the eternal security of the believer in the light of several passages that he brings to the table. The letter follows:
Let me begin by thanking you for responding to my brief correspondence. I had almost forgotten that I had written. When I received your letter the holidays were upon us so I determined to wait till the first of the year so I could give your correspondence the attention it deserved. I do appreciate the time you spent in composing the letter. I am sure it will come as no surprise to you that there are aspects of your letter with which I do not agree and other aspects that leave me with more questions.
We would disagree over the interpretation of certain passages that you cited. My position as well as that of most Baptists that I know, is not properly understood. I realize there is a good chance we will never agree on the issues that have been raised but I am thankful for the opportunity to be engaged in the defense of the truth. I am also thankful that we live in a country where we can disagree on issues of religion with neither of us having the power to coerce the other into accepting things that are against our consciences.
I must say that your letter captured my attention in the third paragraph when you sounded much like a Baptist. I was surprised to hear you provide such a ringing endorsement for the eternal security of the believer. But, by the fifth paragraph I realized that you were not endorsing what I believe to be the Biblical doctrine of the eternal security of the believer. You espouse a conditional eternal security. I have been trying to understand how something that is conditional can be eternal or secure? Conditional means subject to or dependent upon a condition. To be secure means to be free from danger, free from risk or loss. Eternal means to have infinite duration. Because of the qualification you place on eternal security there can be no absolute certainty until we pass from this life. For we cannot know for sure if we will continue to live faithfully for Christ. If our security is based on our behavior then there is always an element of insecurity not knowing what will befall us tomorrow. Because our security is based upon behavior, as you explain it, then it cannot be eternal until we have entered the eternal realm, because we could be guilty of any number of things that could cause us to lose it. If it can be lost then it cannot be secure and it is not necessarily eternal. Conditional eternal security is a religious oxymoron.
If a believer stops believing was he ever really a believer? The verse you cite in Hebrews 3:12 is simply one of several places in the New Testament where those who profess belief in Christ are encouraged to examine themselves whether they be in the faith. 2 Corinthians 13:5 - Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates? Verse 14 of Hebrews 3 makes this clear when it is written, For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast unto the end. It is the height of self-deception for one to believe he is saved and not be holding his confidence steadfast unto the end. Holding the confidence steadfast is not done to secure salvation but because of salvation. Holding the confidence steadfast unto the end does not merit salvation but it provides evidence of salvation.
You cite John 5:29, those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, . . . and those that have done evil to the resurrection of damnation. The question that must be asked here is why did these people do good? In order to be saved or because they were saved? You would apparently contend for the former while I would opt for the latter. Their goodness did not secure their salvation it provided evidence of their salvation. In order for goodness to secure salvation one must live without sin! There is no one that is capable of accomplishing this.
You cite Romans 8:1. The evidence of one being in Christ is that they walk after the Spirit and not after the flesh. They do not walk after the Spirit in order that they might be in Christ. Walking in the Spirit and not after the flesh is the result of salvation not the cause of it. Having said that would you contend that believers never do anything after the flesh and always walk after the spirit? I can only speak for myself but I know that I do not walk after the Spirit like I want to and I too often walk after the flesh. The believer in Christ Jesus is not delivered from the presence of sin but the power of sin. Salvation creates an intense spiritual warfare in the heart of the one who has trusted Christ. They still have the old nature but have been made partakers of the divine nature. In Galatians 6:16 we are instructed to, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. Your presentation of Romans 8:1 would seem to render useless the instruction of Galatians 6:16. Does the believer walk in the Spirit? Yes he does. Does he struggle to do so? Yes he does. Is he always successful? No he is not. Paul identifies the intensity of the struggle in a passage I am certain you are familiar with, Romans 7:18-25,
For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin. The desire was there because he had been made a partaker of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4) but he was still contending with the desires of the flesh. He even admits that he did not always do what he should and at times did what he should not do. But as you mentioned in your letter we do agree that the Apostle was saved. Saved men struggle with the flesh and at times do not walk after the Spirit but in fact quench the Spirit (1 Thess. 5:19) and grieve the Spirit (Ephesians 4:30). Does this place them in violation of the principle that we find in Romans 8:1?
I call Romans 6 the Believer's Emancipation Proclamation. The chapter instructs us concerning our new relationship to sin (vs. 1-12) and proceeds to give very practical application as to how best to benefit from our new relationship (vs. 13-23). The premise of the whole chapter is that even as believers we still have to deal with the flesh. I feel that I do not thoroughly understand your position on this point.
You mention the passage in 1 Corinthians 9 where Paul expresses the concern, lest by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway. You brought to my attention Paul's striving for an "incorruptible crown" and proceed to draw the conclusion that, "his concern in this passage was disciplining himself so that he would not be disqualified from salvation." Upon what basis do you determine that he is speaking of salvation? The context simply does not allow it. There is nothing in the chapter nine, eight, or ten which would justify such an interpretation. The immediate context is in relationship to Christian service. The first part of the chapter Paul defends the principle that those who preach the gospel should live of the gospel (vs. 1-14). In verses 15-18 he speaks of his service in preaching the gospel. In verses 19-23 he speaks of his ministry to others and the lengths to which he went to reach them with the gospel. The conclusion of the chapter must be understood in light of the things that immediately precede it. It is a difficult jump for me to believe he has been dealing with service in the first 23 verses and then without warning switches to salvation in the last four verses. Paul says in verse 26, I therefore so run, . . . For what was he running? What had he been dealing with? Christian service. You contend that the imperishable crown is a reference to salvation. What is the basis for doing so?
You cite John 15:3-6. Here again, I believe the context dictates the meaning. Is he talking about salvation? You apparently believe that he is but what is the basis for believing so? The passage is clearly dealing with fruitfulness. He is instructing his disciples in the principles of fruitfulness. You focus on the verse how they are gathered and thrown into the fire. But you miss an important element. They are still branches. Here again the principle is the same as with Paul in 1 Corinthians 9. The context is plainly set forth and it is the issue of fruitfulness and not their salvation.
You cite John 10:27-29. You state that when the Lord says, "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. And I give unto them eternal life, and they shall never perish." That he is setting the condition for the enjoyment of eternal security. I would contend that he is establishing the evidence of those who belong to him. " . . .. they follow me." This is not a condition but an evidence of those who have been saved. But again I must ask do you believe that a person must follow in absolute obedience without any failure. You seem to be implying that but unwilling to come out and say it. I desire clarification. We do agree that the passage is dealing with the security of the believer.
You state, "I am in whole-hearted agreement with the fact that no one can overpower Jesus or God." Then at the beginning of the next paragraph you write, "However, a believer, of his own accord, can leave the eternal security of Jesus' hand." This appears to be a contradiction. You clearly are not in whole-hearted agreement with the first premise. I am in whole-hearted agreement with it and I am in disagreement with your latter statement.
You reference James 1:14,15. You indicate that when a person is drawn away of his own lust and enticed and the result is sin that he dies spiritually. Are you never drawn away of your own lusts? Are you never enticed? Do you never sin? Do you die spiritually every time? I am not seeking to be facetious but I genuinely do not understand the premise you are seeking to set forth. It seems that you are saying that when a believer sins he dies spiritually? This would seem to be a most untenable position. It could be that I have misunderstood your position. Does the believer take himself out of the hand of the Father and Christ every time he sins? If so, I fail to see anything secure much less eternal in such an arrangement.
You write, "Apparently you believe that when a person is saved, their salvation is eternally secure, but you do not believe that the same individual can turn around and live however they want and still be saved." Actually the afore mentioned statement is both true and false. Let me explain. I do believe a person that is saved can live however they want to and still be saved. But let me hasten to add when a person is saved they will want to live differently. 2 Cor. 5:17 declares, Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new." Can a person be truly saved and become a partaker of the divine nature and not be changed in his behavior? That does not mean that I believe Christians are perfect. It does not mean that I believe that Christians never have attitudes that are not Christ-like. It does not mean that I believe that Christians never engage in behavior that is not Christ-like. What about the man of 1 Corinthians 5 that was having a relationship with his father's wife? Paul instructed the church at Corinth to put him out of the church but his salvation was never in question. In fact in verse 5 Paul wrote, To deliver such an one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus." If believers cannot be guilty of some fairly serious offences why does Paul write in verse 11, But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one not not to eat. It would seem that embracing your view of things would not be sufficient motivation to live righteously. Any time I wanted to go have a fling, I could and then I would just get saved again. Would it not be that simple?
Your attempt to force me into a corner when you write, "Either a saved person cannot be lost, regardless of how they spend the rest of their time on earth, or they can be lost because they live how they want, not how God wants. You must accept one or the other." The truth is I need not accept one or the other. There is another alternative for which you have not allowed. They never were converted. I have seen people a plenty that after having made a profession of faith in Christ and progressing well for some time go back into the world. My conclusion about those folks is that they were probably never saved to begin with. If a person can go back to the world and live comfortably engaged in vice and sin then why should we think they were ever saved? They didn't lose anything. They never had it. The parable of the sower sets forth this reality in striking terms. The seed that was sown by the wayside is people that hear the gospel but the wicked one comes and snatches the seed away. Both the seed that was sown on stony ground and among thorns represents those that received the word but did not endure. They initially looked like they were saved but they were not. They had the appearance of conversion but not the reality. It was only the seed that was sown on good ground that brought forth fruit. It is to be noted that they brought forth different amounts of fruit as well. Not all Christians have the same success walking in the Spirit. Not because they cannot but because they will not. None of us have the success that we could.
You asked, "if one who has been saved can never be lost, then all God needed to put in the Bible was the fundamental principles of salvation . . .. However there is more in the Bible than that. Why?" The answer is quite simple. The Christian life is not a natural tendency of fallen man. Being saved is one thing, becoming Christ-like is another thing all together. The Apostle Paul understood this when he wrote in Galatians 4:19 My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you. Paul said that he was travailing in birth again. He had done so once in order to bring them to faith in Christ. He was doing so again in order to have Christ formed in them. There is so much in the Bible because there is much encouragement and instruction that is needed in order to achieve Christ likeness.
You attempt to answer my final question, "What sin must one commit to lose their salvation?" I still do not understand. You raise the passage 1 John 1:5-2:6. The last part of chapter one is a fellowship passage. It says nothing about salvation. My understanding of salvation is that it is the commencement of a relationship with God through which we have fellowship with God. John told Nicodemus, "Ye must be born again." Salvation is a birth, a new birth. Birth establishes a relationship. According to your understanding one could be unbirthed, and could need to be born again on several occasions. Our fellowship with God is determined by walking in the light as he is in the light. If we choose to walk in darkness then we cannot have fellowship with the Father. In salvation the relationship is the great invariable. It stays the same. It is not dependent upon my behavior. The fellowship is the great variable. It does not stay the same but fluctuates just like in any relationship. The fellowship is directly dependent upon my behavior. I have six children. They were born to my wife and me. They will always be my children nothing can ever change that. They are mine by birth. My two sons will always be my sons. My four daughters will always be my daughters. There have been times when my children have disobeyed and the fellowship with their father has been hindered. Because the fellowship was hindered did not mean that they ceased to be my son or daughter. It seems you would have me believe that because fellowship is broken that the relationship is likewise terminated.
1 John 2:3 states, Now by this we know that we know Him, If we keep His commandments. If we keep his commandments what does this verse say is accomplished? It is in obeying God that I KNOW I know him. It seems therefore that I could know him and have doubts because my life was not matching my profession. Keeping his commandments does not secure salvation it provides the evidence of salvation.
I do not see how any of this answers my question about what sin one must commit to lose their salvation. From what you wrote at the end of page 5 I am left to conclude that you believe a person can lose their salvation by stealing a "dollar or a donut." So does any act of theft preclude us from keeping our salvation? If I rob a man of his reputation by spreading rumors about him do I lose my salvation? If I cheat on my taxes do I lose my salvation? It seems you are saying that proud boasting, being disobedient to parents, and lying causes us to lose our salvation? Does one act of disobedience toward a parent cause a child to lose their salvation? What if they simply harbor an attitude of rebellion but do not act upon it? I must admit that if you believe you can lose your salvation then it would seem to be only consistent to believe that any single act of sin would separate "us from God and consequently, from our chances at salvation." Are you willing to say that any sin no matter how insignificant in the eyes of man will cause a believer to lose their salvation? I am really interested in the answer to this question. If so, then every time you sin you must be saved again, and according to your formula for salvation be baptized again. It seems this is what you are saying but I want to be sure and not formulate your positions for you. You do write, " . . .. sin, regardless of which one, makes us worthy of death and will cause us to be lost." This seems to imply that the individual once saved cannot sin afterwards or he will be lost again and in need of salvation including baptism.
In conclusion let me say that our disagreement is really about the atoning work of Christ on the cross. I believe that Christ did everything that was necessary to reconcile the sinner to God. I believe that the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ is alone sufficient for the sinners reconciliation. You do not believe this. By your own testimony it is dependent upon faith in Christ, repenting of sins, being baptized (which is an altogether different, albeit related issue) and then living righteously. If I do not live righteously then the sacrifice of Christ, according to you view, will not be sufficient to secure eternal salvation on the behalf of sinners. According to your perspective it is the gospel plus human effort. I trust you will not deny this because your letter is replete with instances of what a man must do in order to secure his salvation. It ultimately comes down to the place that if I do not live right I can have no hope of salvation, thus I, in some degree provide salvation for myself. The Scripture simply does not agree with such a premise.
Ephesians 2:8,9 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. I am sure that I need not explain to you the nature of a gift. If I must do anything in order to acquire the desired object it ceases to be a gift. The Bible says it is not of works you say it is of works. The Bible says it is by grace you say it is by human effort and merit.
Romans 11:6 And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work. Once works and human effort enters the picture it ceases to be of grace. Grace and works are two principles that cannot tolerate mixture.
Jesus said on the cross, "It is finished." You seem to indicate that it is not finished but must be completed by the good works of man.
Isaiah 53:11 – He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: . . . The Bible says that God saw the travail, the sacrifice of his son and was satisfied. You indicated that He is not satisfied but that our good behavior has to be added to His substitutionary death.
1 Peter 3:18 For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: The Bible says that Christ brings us to God. You say that Christ plus our obedience brings us to God.
Romans 3:19-31 Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus. Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law. Is he the God of the Jews only? is he not also of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also: Seeing it is one God, which shall justify the circumcision by faith, and uncircumcision through faith. Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law.
The law was given to convict not to save. Justification is not brought about through the law. There is the opportunity to have the righteousness of God without the law. The law and the prophets witnessed this opportunity. There is a righteousness of God that is available by the faith of Jesus Christ. This righteousness is offered to all but it is only upon those that believe. We have all sinned, we have all come short. We are justified freely by his grace. This opportunity is because of the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, not good works. Our good works would never be sufficient to redeem us. God has set forth Christ to appease his own wrath through faith in his blood. Two times it says that it is a matter of declaring his righteousness. Not self-righteousness. Not his righteousness plus our righteousness, but his righteousness. We are justified by believing in Jesus. Where is boasting then. It is excluded. Under what formula? Is it excluded by a system of works? No it can only be excluded by a system characterized by grace. The conclusion is that we are justified without the works of the law. Do we get to live how we want to since Christ work on the cross was sufficient to provide eternal salvation for the sinner? No! Those who come to know the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior and trust him and him alone are so radically changed in the heart and soul that they establish the law.
I am resting secure in the finished work of Christ. I have no confidence in the flesh. I know that I am nothing but a vile worm and in a practical sense farther away from God than what I can ever understand. The fallen nature rages within me and I am desperate to be released from the presence of sin. "O, wretched man that I am who shall deliver me from the body of this death." What joy springs from my heart to know that in spite of my failures, shortcomings, sins, transgressions, I can have complete confidence that God sees me robed in the righteousness of Christ and that he paid my sin debt in full. There was nothing left for me to do but look and live.
Mr. Stevens, I do so appreciate your responding to my letter and would be interested in a further explanation of the areas where I may be unclear as to your positions. I have attempted to present my position in a concise and yet sufficient manner. I readily admit the attempt has been feeble at best. I trust the Lord will give you understanding of my perspective and that you might find it to be a blessing.