In my post on Time and Eternity in The Promise and The Prize mini-series, I made it clear that there’s reception of the promise in eternity (the prize), but the promise is made in time. What this means is that eternal life is only a prize that can be received in eternity. We experience some of it here, of course. This is what Paul refers to in Hebrews 6 when he mentions those who have “tasted…the powers of the coming age” (Hebrews 6:5). It’s a taste, a small sample of the powers of the age to come, not all the powers of the coming age here on earth.
The same can be said for the sense in which we “have” eternal life here and the sense in which we’ll “have” it in the world to come (see the difference). It isn’t the same because we’re in time, and eternal life can only be lived in its fullness in eternity. Because of Adam’s sin in the beginning, we die a mortal death here. We know we won’t live forever here in our current bodies, but the age to come will give believers eternal life in that our new bodies will have immortality. That’s what we long for, though we don’t have it yet. In the same way, we who have believed in Jesus long for the eternal life He gives, though we won’t see it until our current bodies go back to the dust.
So, with that said, we’ll spend some time here in this post discussing the trouble with eternal security. Launching from our time and eternity discussion last time, we’ll dig right in.
Hope, Faith, and Sight
Faith and sight are opposites. Someone who believes they’ll get their paycheck at the end of the month, for example, doesn’t say that if they’re holding their paycheck. If they have their paycheck and they say, “I hope I get a paycheck,” we’re either going to assume they’re talking about a second paycheck is on the way or that they don’t realize they already have it in their hands.
Faith is “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). This means that it is what one hopes for, that which is “not seen.” One hopes for what is “not seen,” not what is seen. When something becomes real, and it’s in our grasp, we no longer hope for it.
Paul tells us how to distinguish faith and hope from sight:
24 For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance. (Romans 8:24-25, NKJV)
First, “hope that is seen is not hope,” the apostle says. If you hope for something, you’re hoping for something that hasn’t come true yet. You don’t hope for the job promotion or the 2-story home if you already have it. To hope for that which is already true is illogical and merits some weird looks from those around you. It doesn’t make sense to hope for something that’s already happened.
So, when we approach the issue of eternal security, we must understand that we have the promise of eternal life, and the prize of eternal life. The promise is given here. We who have believed on the Lord Jesus Christ have the promise of eternal life. But we don’t have the prize yet. We’re not in eternity, and you can’t have “eternal” security if you aren’t in eternity. Yet, that hasn’t stopped many churches from teaching the Doctrine of Eternal Security. It certainly hasn’t stopped many Calvinists from proclaiming that the saved are eternally secure in the here and now. “Nothing is guaranteed here,” they say, yet they immediately assume that our residence in Heaven is guaranteed here.
We aren’t in eternity yet
It’s a hard fact to accept, I know, but it’s true. As children of God alive on the earth, we aren’t in Heaven yet. Paul understood this, which is why he made a statement that I believe contributes to the discussion:
10 that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, 11 if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.
12 Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. 13 Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, 14 I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
15 Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this mind; and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal even this to you. 16 Nevertheless, to the degree that we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us be of the same mind. (Philippians 3:10-16, NKJV)
Paul says in Philippians 3:11 that he wishes to “attain to the resurrection from the dead.” He hopes for the resurrection. And yet, as a believer, he does not consider himself to have arrived yet. “Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected” in verse 12 is a reminder that believers are not at the resurrection yet. When Paul says “Not that I…am already perfected,” he means that he doesn’t yet have his immortal body, that he doesn’t yet have immortality. He hasn’t reached perfection yet. It’s a future event he hopes for, but hope is one thing and the attainment of that hope is quite another.
Paul says that he forgets those things that are behind and presses forward to those things that are ahead. In other words, he moves beyond his past and reaches for the future with hope and expectation. Christians don’t struggle with hope and expectation, but they struggle with understanding that they don’t have eternal security in the here and now. You can hear more about this in my teaching titled “I’m Not There Yet”.
There’s the “Already/Not Yet” theme creeping up in the discussion. And it should, because it’s true. We’re not in Heaven yet. We’ve not already attained to the resurrection of the dead (eternal life, immortality). Eternal Security essentially says, “I’m already there. I’ve already reached immortality and the resurrection of the dead. I’m already experiencing eternal life. I’m already walking the streets of gold. I’ve already gotten past the pearly gates.” But that isn’t true. We’re not “already there.” And a position (Eternal Security) that tells us we are when reality says otherwise isn’t biblical. God doesn’t want us to live in presumption and presume we have it when we don’t. That only leads to carelessness, recklessness, and “sinning so that grace may abound” (Romans 6:15). I agree with Paul and to that, I say, “God forbid.”