Eternal Security - Some of those 'but what about...' passages!

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Eternal Security - Part 2

Some of those 'but what about...' passages! 

by I Gordon

The following are questions concerning passages that some like to use to support the view that a true born again can fall away and lose their salvation. Nearly all of these questions have been taken from emails sent in to the 'Jesus Plus Nothing' website. There is no doubt that there are passages in the Bible which are difficult to understand. Quite a few of the questions mentioned below, deal with passages that have been debated for centuries. They are debated because they are difficult! In the end however, there is no middle ground that can be taken as to whether a true born-again believer can lose their salvation. It is either 'yes' or it is 'no'. Jesus is either able to keep us secure, or He isn't. I have put these questions and answers together to form this study because I am sure that others have had these, or similar questions, in their mind. For those that are interested, I would also like to recommend two books by William MacDonald that have been very useful to me - Firstly his commentary on the entire Bible, the 'Believers Bible Commentary'. And secondly a book on eternal security that he wrote called 'Once in Christ, In Christ Forever'. Both of these books are very useful resources and they cover a much wider range of questions than could be expressed in this study.

Question 1: What does 'falling away' or 'turning away' mean to a saved person? 

In looking up these verses again, I found it interesting that the term 'fall away' was used by the Lord Jesus of His 11 disciples at the time of His arrest. The disciples deserted Jesus as was predicted and Peter obviously denied Jesus three times. This was said to be a 'falling away' (see Matt 26:31-35) Obviously, this is not a loss of salvation. For the true believer it may involve a temporary period of backsliding or time of being out of fellowship with God. It is times when for one reason or another, the believer is having difficulty in his Christian walk. The believer would not however deny what they believe in their heart, even though their walk would not match what they believe. But note that even though Jesus said they would 'fall away', in the very same context, he also said to Peter that he had prayed that his faith would not fail and when he returned, to strengthen his brethren. (Luke 22:32) In other words, true believers may fall at times but their faith does not fail because Jesus intercedes for them. Concerning this intercession we are told 'hence, also, He is able to save forever those who draw near to God through Him (true salvation), since He always lives to make intercession for them.' And when do true believers need Jesus' intercession more but when they are struggling? See also John 17:6-12 concerning this intercession by Jesus for His believers. In this 'High Priestly' prayer, Jesus makes it clear that the ones that God has given Him he keeps safe! See also Rom 8:32-34 where Jesus' intercession is used as one of the points to show that we cannot be separated from the love of Christ.

In contrast to this are several other passages which speak of apostasy. The first falling away is temporary and is in regard to their walk. For a true believer however, they will never deny their faith in the Lord Jesus. And, like the true prodigal son, they will return. Apostasy however, as mentioned in Heb 6:6 and 1 Tim 4:1 amongst other verses, speaks of a falling away from the faith - an abandonment of the faith and truth of the gospel. This is prophesied to increase greatly in the end times. As Heb 6:4-7 states this is done by those who very much look like they are genuine saved believers. They have known everything that is needed to be saved; they have felt the conviction and drawing of the Holy Spirit, maybe even seen other signs that enable them to make a genuine decision. They may even go along with Christian teaching for a while... but they become apostates... prodigal pigs who turn away from it all, deny the truth and go back to the mud.

Concerning apostasy (deliberately falling away and turning from the truth of the faith) William MacDonald writes in the Believers Bible Commentary -  'Apostasy is a sin which is only committed by unbelievers, not by those who are deceived, but by those who knowingly, and wilfully and maliciously turn from the truth... Apostasy should not be confused with backsliding. A true believer may wander very far from Christ. Through sin his fellowship with God is shattered. But he can be restored to full fellowship as he confesses and forsakes his sin.' 

Titus 1:10-16 also talks of those that 'turn from the truth' calling them 'empty talkers and deceivers'... those who are 'defiled and unbelieving' and it says that they profess to know God but by their deeds they deny Him.' This is no sheep of God we are talking about here. More like a wolf!

Question 2: Are the people spoken of in 2 Peter 2, who had knowledge of Jesus and then left, true believers who have now lost their salvation? 

J. Vernon McGee, a well loved Bible teacher, wrote about this passage, saying that that there are prodigal sons (Luke 15) and there are prodigal pigs! (2 Pet ) The prodigal son gave up that which his father had for him and wasted it all through sinful living. But because he was a true son, he turned, repented and came back to his father. A prodigal pig on the other hand, is one who comes into church for a season, tries to tidy himself up, yet not being truly saved and still having the nature of a pig, his desire is to return to the mud from which he came and that is exactly what he does! A prodigal son may stupidly go into the world for a season, but in his heart he will never find rest and will long for, and return, home. Where as a prodigal pig may wash all the mud off, come into church, but in his heart he won't find rest either, for the nature of a pig just loves mud and given time will return.

The people mentioned in 2 Peter 2:22 are prodigal pigs who do not have a true saving faith. We should also see the context that this whole passage is talking about. The whole chapter is concerning false teachers and false prophets. They 'forsake the right way and go astray', 'reveling in their deceptions.' Doesn't sound like sheep to me!

Question 3: ...I read the passage Hebrew 6:4-6. This has put a great fear in my heart for fear I will not be able to fully return and receive the Spirit in my life. Can you shed some light on this passage for me? 

There are only three ways you can take a passage such as this.

  1. It speaks of true Christians who fall away and lose their salvation. If that is true, then also notice that it is impossible for them to come back. (vs 6) You wrote in your question that this passage put 'great fear in your heart that you would not be able to fully return and receive the Spirit in your life.' Well, this passage goes further than that and says those who have fallen away, whoever they are, CANNOT come back.
  2. It speaks of professing believers who are in fact, prodigal pigs. They are apostates. Those that have heard, seen, and tasted all that they need to be truly saved, but haven't become born again Christians and still having the nature of a pig within them, wilfully turn their backs on it all and return to wallow in the mud!
  3. It is a hypothetical argument that because it is impossible to fall away, the exhortation is given to urge the Christians on to more growth and sin. My bible gives the following comparison for this type of view. It is similar to saying to a class of students 'It is impossible for a student, once enrolled in this course, to turn the clock back (which cannot be done), to start the course over. Therefore let all students go on towards deeper knowledge.

To say that it is true Christians who have lost their salvation (as no 1 does) doesn't line up with the promises in the rest of God's word for God's true sheep that salvation is secure (such as John 6:37-40, John 10:26-30, and Rom 8:33-39 especially in light of Rom 11:29 plus heaps of others). Nor does the fact that these people can't repent (if they were true Christians) line up with other scriptures such as the prodigal son, 1 John 1:9 and the overall teaching of the New Testament. So I don't believe point 1.

Point 3 doesn't really make sense to me (it being a hypothetical argument) as the whole passage seems to be giving a clear warning to someone! Its just who is the warning for?

Point 2 is what I believe, and here is why.

  1. (vs 1-3) Firstly, at the start of the chapter, it talks about going on to maturity. Then in verse 3 it says, 'and this we will do if God permits.' So straight away it is showing the possibility that there may be some that God does not permit to go on. Whoever they are... The next verse speaks about those who God does not permit to go on because it starts with ' for in the case of those who once have been...' Now God will permit anyone to go on who desires to, but these people don't desire to, but have rejected it all! And having hardened their heart and become proud they now openly reject Christ. In other words - apostates! God opposes them because in their pride they wilfully oppose Him. But don't ever think that there are some who truly desire to come close to God whom he won't allow.

  2. (vs 4-8) Now you probably think that they must have been true Christians for it says they were enlightened, tasted the word of God, and had partook of the Holy Spirit. But all these words can still be true the unsaved individual who has come to a knowledge of the truth, seen the power of the Holy Spirit, and felt the convicting and drawing of the Holy Spirit in their life. Judas was an extreme example of this. He knew all there was to know having followed Jesus for three years. He had experienced the Holy Spirit's power having been among the twelve sent out, two by two, to cast out demons and heal the sick. Yet he was never truly saved! Jesus own testimony about him confirms that he was not a true sheep that would be kept safe to the end. (John 17:11-12, John 13:18) None of the key words for truly saved individuals such as 'saving faith', 'eternal life', 'born again', 'redeemed by his blood', 'saved', 'salvation' are used in this passage. In 'Hebrews verse by verse', William Newell quotes R.A Torrey on this passage saying 'there is a quickening short of regeneration'. In other words, this passage speaks of the work of the Holy Spirit within the lives of these people that occurs before and leading up to salvation. But these people do not receive salvation, and openly rejecting it, they go back to the mud even if for a while they looked like the real thing!

  3. (vs 9-10) Greater evidence of the fact that these people were not saved is given in verse 9. Things change in this verse, for now He is speaking to those truly saved (calls them BELOVED). He says that even though he speaks like this concerning THOSE types of people, He is convinced of better things concerning YOU. Things that accompany SALVATION. In other words, the people he was talking about in verses 4-8 didn't have salvation (and their open rejection testifies to this as well). But he has confidence in the beloved because they are saved! And this will show in their life through their perseverance.

In the Believers Bible Commentary, William MacDonald writes

'Some earnest Christians are troubled when they read Hebrews 6 and similar passages. Satan uses these verses especially to unsettle believers who are having physical, mental, or emotional difficulties.  They fear that they have fallen away from Christ and that there is no hope of restoration. They worry that they have drifted beyond redemption's point. The fact that they are concerned about it is conclusive evidence that they are not apostates! An apostate would never have any such fears; he would brazenly repudiate Christ  . If this sin of apostasy does not apply to believers, to whom then does it apply? It applies, for instance, to a young man who makes a profession of faith in Christ, but then something happens in his life. Perhaps he falls into gross immorality. Or perhaps he goes off to college and is shaken by the anti-Christian arguments of atheistic teachers. With full knowledge of the truth, he deliberately turns away from it, completely renouncing Christ, and viciously tramples on every sacred fundamental doctrine of the Christian faith. The Bible says it is impossible to restore such a one to repentance.'

Question 4: What about Hebrews 10:25-30? What is the 'willful sin' mentioned and is this a loss of salvation? 

Heb 10:25-30 is basically a parallel passage to the Heb 6 passage previously mentioned. We should always remember that Hebrews was written to Hebrews - that is, Jewish believers in the first century. That doesn't make it irrelevant for us, but we should at least read it in its first century context. For a Jew to become a Christian in the first century (and now!) basically meant the death sentence as far as their relationship with their family was concerned. They lost any right to an inheritance and came under extreme pressure (including physical persecution) to leave Christ and go back to Judaism. And that is what many did, even though for a while they looked like true believers. Read Heb 10:25-30 with this in mind. The willful sin mentioned in verse 26 is linked to the verse before it because it starts with ' for if..'. The verse before it is speaking of leaving the assembly of believers. The willful sin that this passage talks about is leaving Christ and going back to Judaism, which was happening. Under Judaism, and what they were going back to, there no longer remained a sacrifice for sin (vs 26) (because God didn't accept animal sacrifices anymore after Jesus had died for all sin, for all time.) But only judgement could be expected (vs 27 - it is also interesting that Hebrews was written only a couple of years before the destruction of Jerusalem, the temple, and the whole Jewish sacrificial system in 70AD by the Romans. Some believe the judgements warned about in the book of Hebrews were speaking of this event.) They had trampled the Son of God underfoot because they had said that His death wasn't enough or didn't mean anything and they would carry on with their Jewish sacrifices. This also is how you insult the Spirit of grace. You don't insult the Spirit of grace by seeing your great need of grace. But you do insult the Spirit of grace when you willfully turn your back on that grace and go ahead with your own laws and works as an effort to have your own righteousness and means of salvation under the old Jewish laws and sacrificial system.

Like I said at the start, this passage is a parallel passage to Hebrews 6, speaking of the apostasy of those who give up their profession of faith in Christ. The warning is given of what will happen to those that do this. But like the passage in chapter 6, the writer of Hebrews doesn't leave true believers with this thought of judgement. In chapter 6, at the end of the warning he wrote: '  But, beloved, we are convinced of better things concerning you (the true believers), things that accompany salvation, though we are speaking in this way. '  After the warning in chapter 10, the writer gives the same encouragement to true believers when he writes: '  But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction (the professing believers who became apostate), but of those who have faith (true believers) to the preserving of the soul.'

J, Vernon McGee writes on Heb 10:26:

"The warning is to the Hebrew believers because many of them were continuing to go to the temple and some were actually offering sacrifices there. They were keeping up a front, pretending that they were still under the Mosaic Law. In so doing they also were making it clear that the sacrifice of Christ was meaningless to them. Since the animal sacrifices prefigured Christ's sacrifice, now that Christ had died on the Cross, all of that was fulfilled. Therefore, what before had been done in obedience to God's command, now has become willful sin. To continue to offer blood sacrifices which had been fulfilled by Christ was a frightful, terrible thing. They were acting as if the temple sacrifices were going on forever. The writer to the Hebrews is telling them that they cannot look to the temple any more, because there is no longer a sacrifice for sin. If a person rejects the truth of Christ's death for sin, there is no other sacrifice for sin available, and there is no other way to come to God. They are to look to Christ now rather than to the temple. If they refuse to do this, there is nothing left for them but judgment. The Word of God is very expressive in this connection.

"If we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth." This means to go on sinning willfully by offering the sacrifices. It is an attitude toward the Word of God which God calls willful rebellion. There is no more sacrifice in the Old Testament or the New Testament for presumptuous sins."


Question 5: What does this mean, "Who ever has will be given more and who has not what little he has will be taken away?" 

Jesus used this phrase a few times and its meaning should be read in keeping with its context. For instance, in Matt 13:11-12 it is saying that to those who have faith in Jesus (like the disciples He was talking to at the time), more light (in this case the knowledge of the parables) will be given. Where as those who don't believe (like the religious leaders He had previously been speaking to) not only will they not get anymore light, but what they have will be taken away. Hence Jesus spoke in parables so that only His true disciples would understand.

It is also used in Matt 25:29. All of Matt 25 is speaking of the judgement that will occur when Jesus returns to set up His kingdom at the end of the tribulation. All of these illustrations (the virgins, the talents, sheep and goats) are used to express what Jesus had mentioned earlier in his parables. ie that the wheat and the tares will grow together right up until the time of the harvest (the end of the age). The wheat has been planted by the Lord. The tares have been planted by Satan in the same field. There is no real separation of them until the end. So in many cases there are the false and the true within the same field. They may even look similar. See Matt 13:37-43. There will be a separation of the true and the false at the return of Jesus for His bride, and also when He returns to earth to set up His Kingdom. Matt 25, in all its different forms, shows the separation of the true believers from the false, with the false thrown into Hell. In the parable of the talents, there is a false servant. He calls Jesus 'a hard man'. He had been given abilities but had chosen not to use them. The abilities he had, and the freedom to exercise his will, would now be taken from him. He would be thrown into hell and in doing so 'the little that he had (the opportunity to believe and bear fruit in accordance with that salvation) would be taken away'. The true servants however showed the reality of their living faith in using their abilities wisely and were rewarded by entrance into the Kingdom. Whoever has (true faith) will be given more (entrance into the kingdom!)

Question 6: What does it mean that a branch that doesn't bare fruit will be cast into the fire? Does that refer to a saved person that does nothing for Christ like witnessing or being active in serving Christ? 

Joh 15:6 If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.

There are at least three common, yet different interpretations that are given of this difficult verse.

1. It speaks of a saved person who has lost their salvation and is thrown into Hell.

2. It speaks of a professing Christian who, while they look like they have saving faith, prove by their life that this is not the case, and are thrown into Hell.

3. It speaks of the works of unfruitful true believers whose works are burned at the judgement seat of Christ. They themselves are saved 'but as by fire'.

My own personal view would be the second point. I don't believe the first point as 1 Cor clearly states that for a true believer, even if their work is burned up (ie no fruit) they are still saved, but as one who just escapes through the fire. They are in Heaven, but they have no rewards. And one scripture never contradicts another and the book of John has many scriptures that point specifically to eternal security of a true believer (John 3:16, John 3:36; John 5:24; John 10:28-29). For me, the language of the verse makes it hard to believe point 3, that it is just speaking of a believers works being burned up. The language of the verse, speaking of being 'thrown away', 'thrown in the fire and burned' points to the judgement of those never truly saved I believe (Mat 3:10-12; Mat 5:22; Mat 13:40-42, Mat 13:50; Mat 25:41; Mar 9:43-49; Luk 3:17; 2Th 1:7-9; Rev 20:10-15). 

The fact is, as I have mentioned above, there are many 'prodigal pigs' in the church. They look, for a season, like a saved believer. But they haven't been born again and given time return to the mud that they enjoy the most. Like the parable of the wheat and the chaff, they often grow up together but time differentiates them. I believe that Judas is given to us as an example of those who look very much like they are true followers of Christ, and in the vine, but they show by not abiding in Jesus that that is not the case. Jesus made it clear that Judas was not one of the ones whom He had kept safe and guarded (John , ) and he wasn't a true believer. He had different motives (as a lot of 'converts' do today) in following Jesus. Even the timing of when Jesus said these words is significant because it came shortly after Judas had just left to go and betray Jesus. 

The Annotated Bible Commentary (A.C Gaebelein) states of this passage (and verse John 15:2):

"He told His disciples, “now ye are clean (literally: purged) through the word that I have spoken unto you.” In Chapter 13 He said, “ye are clean, but not all.” Judas was then present, but he had gone out to betray Him. But what does it mean: “Every branch in me that beareth not fruit He taketh away,” and again, “if a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them and cast them into the fire, and they are burned”? These words are often taken to teach that a believer’s salvation and safety depends upon his fruit-bearing and his faithfulness. These two statements have been much perverted and misapplied as if they taught that a true branch in the vine, one who is really in Christ, may be cut off and be cast away to perish forever. If this were the meaning of these words our Lord would contradict His previous teachings. The branch in the vine which beareth not fruit is not a true believer at all, but one who by profession claims to be a branch in the vine. Note in Joh 15:6 the change from “ye” to “a man.” If our Lord had said “if ye abide not in me, ye shall be cast forth as a branch, etc.,” it would mean a true believer. But the change makes it clear that no true disciple is meant, but one who makes a profession without being born again. These are awful words. They seem, however, to apply specially to backsliders and apostates, like Judas Iscariot. There must be about a man some appearance of professed faith in Christ, before he can come to the state described here."

Question 7: In the parable of the sower the last seed that is thrown on good soil, is that the only group that is saved? 

I don't believe the primary purpose of the parable was to give a definition of who is saved. It was intended to show what leads to fruitfulness. Having said that, we can speculate of course and scripture certainly gives us clues. The first group, who had the word snatched away are said to have not come to salvation at all. (Luke 8:12) Of the second group, who 'believe' for a while, wouldn't be saved. They probably responded out of the wrong motives and when hardship comes they are out of there! I'll say more on this in the 'Hells best kept secret' question. The third group is where it gets trickier. In real life you can't just fit everyone into a nice little box. For instance, this third group believed and started to grow. The thorns, which are the worries of this life, and other worldly things, slowly grew up and choked the fruitfulness of this plant. This is a slow process of choking. Would I say this group was saved? Yes and no. In real life this group would contain real believers I believe. All of us are in a battle to not allow the things of this world to choke our fruitfulness for God. I can definitely say that I battle with this all the time. Sometimes it has very little hold on me, and at others I find myself caring about the worries and pleasures of this world. That is why I said that the purpose of this parable is not really about who is and who isn't saved. It's about what leads to fruitfulness for God's kingdom.

Question 8: What if a person continues to fail the test we are given? 

Not quite sure which test you are talking about. Jesus spoke of knowing the wolves in sheep's clothing by their fruit. Other passages, such as some of Paul's letters tell us to discern the true from the false by what a person teaches. 1 John also gives a test of genuine believers (because there were many apostates around at that stage as well!) Obviously there should be outward signs of the new creation which true believers are in Christ. 1 John speaks of love and righteousness as signs of true faith. He also shows that deserting the faith (completely) is a sign that they were never of the faith to begin with!

1 John 'They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.'

If a 'believer' continued to fail these tests I would agree with John that they hadn't been saved to begin with. But we should be careful not to shoot our own wounded!

Question 9: "Faith with out works is dead..." What is dead faith to someone who is saved? 

By its very definition, someone who is saved cannot have 'dead faith'! If their faith has saved them then it is alive! James is speaking about mere belief (as indicated in verse ), not a true saving faith. Someone may have a belief, or head knowledge that certain facts are true without giving themselves over to that belief. I may believe that a branch would hold me, but faith is walking out on the branch. In an extreme example, even Satanists may believe that Jesus is God, but they don't have any intention of submitting themselves to Him! A true faith submits itself to that belief and this will result in action down the track as James says. Abraham is the example of this used by both Paul and James. God spoke to Abraham and said that He would make Abraham's descendants like the stars. From a natural point of view this was impossible as Sarah was well past the point of being able to bear a child. But Abraham place his faith in what God had said and this was accredited to him as righteousness. This is the part Paul emphasises the most. Salvation by grace, through faith and definitely not by works! James emphasises the second part of it in that Abraham, some time later, proved the validity of his faith by his willingness to offer his son Isaac up as a sacrifice. Works are the result of a genuine salvation, not the means of obtaining it.

Question 10: In "Hell's Best Kept Secret" by Ray Comfort he gives an illustration of a man on an airplane. The first man is told that if he puts on the parachute his ride would be better. After a while, when others are laughing and he realizes it doesn't make it better at all, he takes it off. Does this mean someone can get saved then decide they don't want to be saved? 

Nope. I have enjoyed Ray Comforts books and I know that this is not what he is saying. He used this illustration to show the stupidity of our evangelistic methods. He is saying that we invite people to come to Jesus because it will make your life easy and so they do! Then when they find that it isn't easy they give up their belief! But what did they give up? Not a true faith but a 'belief' in a stupid gospel invitation that makes Jesus not to be Lord or Saviour but some kind of Father Christmas! They have placed their 'faith' in a much distorted truth that doesn't prove true. These 'converts' are the shallow soil converts spoken of in the parable of the sower. They are shallow because they have no conviction of sin, and no real awareness of their need of a saviour. They just 'try' Jesus just as easy as they would 'try' something else. When difficulty comes the shallowness of their root gives them away because they are not seen anymore. The focus of Ray Comforts books is to use the law in evangelism to convict the sinner of their sin. Once they see their sin, is doesn't take long for them to look for a saviour and true faith results! Even in 'Hells Best kept Secret', in a chapter called 'Who are the backsliders?', Ray Comfort writes

'A genuine conversion will stand no matter how great the adversity. "Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down" Psalm 37:24'

And to that quote I would add the rest of that verse, as it tells us why the true believer is never utterly cast down - 'Because the Lord is the one who holds his hand.'