Eternal Security. It’s a term that nearly all Christians are familiar with, whether they’ve ever stepped foot in a seminary or not. And most of us believe that we know what it means. We’re also convinced that we believe in it as much as we believe in baptism or the Lord’s Supper, or the Second Coming of Christ.
But do we know what it is? And do we know if it’s biblical or not? We can’t know how to define the term unless we have something to compare it to. Many Christians have been taught to believe that, outside of eternal security, there is no other form of security. That is, if you’re not eternally secure, they say, you’re not secure at all!
But is this true? That’s what this post will cover: the nature of eternal security as opposed to another form of security, and whether or not eternal security or the alternative form of security are biblical.
So with that said, it’s time to get into it.
What is Eternal Security?
What is Eternal Security? The term refers to believers being in Christ. It basically says that once a person is “in Christ,” a biblical phrase Paul uses in Ephesians that means “saved,” he or she cannot leave Christ. A person who is saved cannot fall away from Christ, nor can Christ withdraw Himself from the believer. The person is “once saved, always saved” (OSAS), a statement with which you may also be familiar. For those who want to see Pastor D.M.’s work on the subject, check out her book “Short-Sighted Faith: Once Saved, Always Saved (OSAS) and the Doctrine of Perseverance” at Amazon.com.
The reason why a believer, once in Christ, cannot fall away from Christ or find himself or herself outside of salvation has to do with Christ: it is Christ, in this view, that keeps the believer in Him. Christ draws believers to Himself, and they cannot leave Him nor do they want to. Of course, this last statement implies that, if you want to leave Christ, then you “were never saved to begin with,” advocates state.
There are passages that advocates of Eternal Security use to bolster their view, such as Jesus’ words in John’s Gospel, where Jesus says that “And I give to them [My sheep] eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand” (John 10:28, NKJV). Notice that Jesus says they shall “never perish” and that no one can “snatch them out of My hand.” Well, of course no one can snatch believers out of God’s hand! They are believers. They believe in Him, and their salvation is conditioned upon faith in Christ, not upon anyone else. If your faith is required to be saved, then someone else’s actions can’t remove you or place you in Christ; only your faith response can.
As for the sheep who “never perish,” it’s true; they cannot perish because, as Jesus says earlier on in the passage, the sheep “hear My voice,” and “they follow Me.” They are hearing Jesus and following Him. Anyone who follows Jesus and hears and obeys His voice will do what He tells them to do. And in so doing, they cannot be lost. So, with Jesus’ promise of believers never perishing, we see that His promise is not unconditional and without responsibility on the part of believers. Jesus gives eternal life, true, but believers are also doing things worthy of eternal life: hearing and obeying Jesus and following Him in their lifestyle and deeds. Jesus says that if any man would come after him, the person wanting to follow Him must “deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me.” Eternal life doesn’t come without sacrifice, not only from Jesus but also from us. We can’t be disciples, yet fail to do the things our Master, Jesus, does.
So eternal security, as seen by its advocates, is unconditional: that is, Jesus does it all (He preserves us, they say) and we believers do nothing. But based on John 10:28 above, that makes no sense whatsoever. Jesus gives conditions for eternal life, one of which is faith (John 3:16). If eternal life were truly unconditional, anyone, even unbelievers, even Judas, would be saved. And Judas wasn’t saved, neither will unbelievers be if they persist in unbelief until the end of their lives.
What is Conditional Security?
What is conditional security? It is the counterpart view to eternal security. Whereas Eternal Security says that believers cannot be removed from eternal life and salvation, Conditional Security asserts that, contrary to Eternal Security, believers can be removed from salvation and fall away from eternal life. The “conditional” word used in Conditional Security says that security in Christ is “conditional” upon the faith response of the believer.
Now, some will seek to make the faith response of the believer a matter of good works by which those who hold this view (Arminians) think they can be saved. Keep in mind though, that good works and faith are two different things. While Jesus mandates that we all believe and have faith, faith being “the work of God” that Jesus says we all should do (John 6:28-29), we cannot do good works to merit our salvation. But faith is not meritorious because faith involves trusting Jesus, the One who merited our salvation.
Faith is the divine preservation
Faith is the divine preservation the Lord has given believers. As Peter says in 1 Peter 1:5, believers are “kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed.” This statement shows us that final salvation (that is, eternal life) is “ready to be revealed” but hasn’t been fully unveiled yet. In other words, we don’t have all of eternal life in the here and now. And then, we are “kept by the power of God through faith.” Faith is the power of God that preserves believers. Faith, then, is a divine grace from the Lord. Faith is the keeping power God has given the believer to sustain him or her through all their trials and tribulations.
So if faith is a divine preservation, then that means God is the one that sustains us, right? That means that we don’t have to do anything, right, because God sustains us? Actually, that’s not correct. Faith is the divine preservation power God gives believers, but believers themselves are required to hold onto their faith and even build upon it. This is why Peter tells believers to “add to your faith virtue…knowledge…self-control…perseverance…godliness…brotherly kindness…and…love” (2 Peter 1:5-7). Peter then goes on to say, “For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:8). Believers can either not bear fruit at all (remain barren) or bring little fruit to maturity (unfruitful) based on whether they build upon their faith. And the barren ground that receives the rain but doesn’t yield a crop is cursed in the end (Hebrews 6:4-8).
Jesus says this about believers when He calls them “branches,” with He being the Vine and God the Father being the farmer or husbandman. “Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away” (John 15:2). Every branch in Jesus, every believer, that doesn’t bear fruit “He takes away.” Do you see that phrase? Those three words (“He takes away”) reveal that God removes such branches from the Vine, that is, union with Him. This is what some refer to as divine severance. What is the end of these branches that have been removed from union with Jesus, the Vine? they are “cast out as a branch, and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned” (John 15:6). In other words, these former believers are now unbelievers. As such, they are tossed in the lake of fire and brimstone where all unbelievers go, and they suffer eternal torment. In the end, these believers were able to become unbelievers because they refused to bear fruit for Christ. They failed in their responsibility and, as such, forfeit God’s promise of eternal life in their own lives. Apostasy, or falling away (Hebrews 6:6), can happen.
So Conditional Security says that our salvation not only depends on the grace of God who gives us faith as preservation, but also the responsibility of the believer to hold onto that preservation and build upon his or her faith. In other words, Conditional Security espouses the idea that man is to work together with God. God is not doing everything for man while he does nothing. Man is not sitting back relaxing in the shade of a palm tree, lying in a hammock, while he hears the ukeleles playing and women bring him lemonades. He’s to take responsibility of his role in his salvation and make his calling and election sure, as Peter says in 2 Peter 1:10.
How conditional security works
Some advocates of Eternal Security don’t like the idea of conditional security (believing the believer’s responsibility in salvation mandates a “works salvation”). In their disgust with the view, they often ask the question, “how does conditional security work?”
Well, Dr. Matthew Pinson has written an excellent response on this in his edited book called Classical Arminianism: A Theology of Salvation, but I’ll give a response here. Conditional Security works similar to how the security of everyday life works. You know every morning when you leave your house that you could get in a car accident on the way to work. The chance or possibility of a car accident is real. And yet, you still have the assurance that you will get to work without getting in an accident. No driver on the road says, “I’m eternally immune from car accidents.” You know that traffic conditions can prove dangerous and that driver recklessness can lead to accidents, yet and still, that real danger doesn’t unnerve you from the assurance that you’ll likely get to work without trouble. You have the assurance of getting to work as you should, balanced alongside the real danger of a possible car accident. And you don’t undermine the assurance for the risk, or the risk for the assurance. You hold a view that balances both assurance and risk.
Arminians believe this is how one should hold the assurance of salvation and the risk of apostasy or falling away: in tandem. That is, we have a strong assurance of faith that we will persist in salvation until the end and receive eternal life. And yet, this real assurance doesn’t eliminate the real possibility or risk that we can also fall away from salvation, apostatize, deny the faith and become an unbeliever, and forfeit eternal life. Though we are believers today, we must be careful so that we do not fall away from faith and receive Hell as our reward instead of Heaven. And we can truly fall away if we do not check sin in our lives.
Conditional Security is a view that accepts God’s role as the giver of divine preservation, as the One who keeps us, yet it acknowledges the responsibility of the believer to keep watch over his or her own faith and to be ready for the return of the Bridegroom Himself. God and man worked together in the Garden of Eden; God and man worked together when Jesus came and gathered His twelve disciples (with 60 others who assisted). God and man are working together in salvation, as Paul says (2 Corinthians 6:1). In the same way, God and man are at work when it comes to the assurance of faith and the risk of falling away.
When one examines what Conditional Security is and how it operates, it doesn’t look so heretical, does it? Eternal Security seems to be more deserving of the label.