A Three Way Debate

eternal_security-2Christianity is a religion that teaches its adherents to love one another. Within the church, I’ve found a roller coaster of love and quarreling, but so did Jesus. I continue to persevere, and sometimes wonder if Jesus’ “love one another” command is an ideal we will never attain.

From the beginning of the church, those who teach the Bible fan the flames of disagreement. Teachers in the early church wrestled with the place of law in a believer’s life. Some of the Jewish Christians demanded Gentiles to obey the Law given to Moses as a condition of salvation. Other Jewish Christians pointed to Israel’s failure to obey the law as proof no one is saved by obeying God’s law. Both sides had convincing arguments. After years of quarreling, Christianity embraced saved by faith.

A point of contention among contemporary Bible teachers is eternal security. Some claim the Christian can never lose his or her salvation. Others disagree. Both sides of this boxing ring have powerful and convincing arguments as well.

Those who embrace eternal security point to God’s nature as a loving father. Regardless of how badly a child behaves, he or she never stops being a son or daughter. The child may need discipline but can never lose his or her place in the family. This argument is very appealing. I cannot fathom kicking one of my sons out of my family. On the other hand, my sons seldom fought with each other and were a joy to raise. Would I have a different attitude if they had been rebellious and disobedient causing great pain to others in the family?

The eternal security adherents claim a person who abandons Christ was never genuinely “saved” in the first place. They point to Paul’s argument in Romans Chapter 8 that no power in heaven or on earth can separate us from the love of God. Jesus claim that no one can snatch us out of his hand appears to seal their position as true. In my experience, I have found it impossible to abandon Christianity, and I have tried to on several occasions. (Matthew 7:21-23; Romans 8:38-39; John 10:28)

Those who claim salvation can be lost also have a convincing argument. They believe eternal security is a dangerous doctrine because it gives people license to sin. They agree that God is a loving father, but add that he is also a God of justice. We cannot sin and keep our salvation, they argue. Without holiness no one will see God. Therefore, we must overcome our sin to be saved.

Conditional security is not as pleasant as eternally secure. My sister accepted Christ and attended church sporadically, but she never overcame her drug addiction and died a tragic death at a young age. I want to believe her efforts to obey God, especially at the end of her life, gained her entrance to heaven. The thought that she is doomed to eternal torment in hell is too terrible for my mind to comprehend.

The conditional salvation adherents also have scriptures. The law God gave to Moses had provision for stoning a son who was a drunkard and glutton. Hebrews Chapter 6 addresses the impossibility of those who fall away finding repentance again. Jesus spoke about weeping and gnashing of teeth when some are cast out of “the kingdom.” If they were never saved, how did they get into the kingdom?  The strongest argument comes from Revelation chapter 3, which promises Jesus will never blot our name out of the book of life if we overcome. The implication is clear. Those who fail to overcome their sin will have their name blotted from the book of life. (Deuteronomy 21:20-21; Hebrews 6:4-6; Luke 13:28; Revelation 3:5)

I believe both sides of the argument are correct when placed in the context of time. God has a way of calling things that are not as though they are. For example, on the last and greatest day of the Feast of Tabernacles, Jesus challenged the thirsty to come to him and drink. The author inserted a note of explanation regarding Jesus’ invitation: “By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive.” Based on the author’s explanation, if anyone came to Jesus immediately after he made that invitation, he or she would have remained thirsty until forty days after Jesus’ resurrection. (Romans 4:17; John 7:37-39)

Our salvation is also something we possess now but receive later. Christians possess the hope of salvation, which is the redemption of our body from death. Paul wrote to the Romans, “For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has?” If I already possessed salvation, I would not die. Yet it is certain that every one of us will die one day. Therefore, to those who say we can lose our salvation, I would say, “We cannot lose what we do not possess. We can lose what we only have a down payment on.” (Romans 8:24-25)

The Holy Spirit, who arrived forty days after Jesus’ resurrection, is the guarantee that God will keep his promise to save us by giving us eternal life. Our Spirits don’t need eternal life because they continue to exist after the body dies. If our name is in the Book of Life, our spirit will return to God. The spirits of disobedient people who never made peace with God will go to a dark place until judgment day.

One day, everyone, those hanging out with God in heaven and those wandering in a dark place, will be resurrected from the dead, another way of saying body and spirit with be reunited. Then everyone will be judged for the things they did while they inhabited a body on the earth. Christians rely on Jesus’ intercession to save us from the second death when we are judged. (Daniel 12:2-3; Revelation 20:4-6, 12-15)

Therefore, I agree with those who say we are eternally secure. After we receive salvation we are eternally saved from death. I also agree with those who say we are not eternally secure. As long as we only hold a down payment on salvation, we are not secure unless we are obeying Jesus command to love one another as he has loved us.

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