Normally I don’t like to be confrontational, judgmental, or self-righteous, but last night in my ladies Bible study group I encountered a situation that I was praying wouldn’t present itself. I knew that if it did I wouldn’t be able to maintain silence. Oh, I tried…at first I refused to comment, then I started biting my tongue, and finally I just couldn’t hold it in any longer.
This is an issue I’ve been struggling with for the past few months since moving to Georgia, and in my New Testament reading I don’t find any scriptures that approve this teaching, therefore I believe that it is a false doctrine, and one that has given a false sense of security to believers. It’s the teaching of eternal security.
As this is a tricky topic, and one that’s quite sensitive, I will try to be as brief, succinct, and objective as I know how to be. But please bear with me, and remember this is my blog and you’re therefore going to be hearing my opinion on the matter. I won’t be offended if you chose to navigate away from this page at this point, but I will be offended if you read the rest of this post and then flame me over it! Keeping all that in mind….here we go….
I will freely admit that I have not been to every church that believes in the teaching of eternal security; my experience has mostly been with the Baptist church in Georgia and in Maine. But both churches use Romans 8:38 as the cornerstone for this doctrine:
“And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from his love. Death can’t, and life can’t. The angels can’t and the demons can’t. Our fears for today, our worries about tomorrow, and even the powers of hell can’t keep God’s love away.” Romans 8:38 NLT
For me, I believe this verse is used out of context. As I read Romans chapter 8 in its entirety, I see that Paul is talking about external factors that we encounter in our spiritual walk. He is talking about our sinful nature, trials, testing and tribulation, and persecution and suffering at the hands of the authorities and religious leaders. He is encouraging the first century church to remain faithful to their original teachings, even if it means suffering unto death at the hands of others.
Now I will admit, that I take comfort in this verse because it means that no external person, authority, or factor can take me away from God’s love (not his salvation). That my relationship with him and my salvation through Jesus is secure as long as I’m doing what I need to remain in a right relationship with Him. Authorities can take away our freedom, they can mangle our bodies, they can even addle our minds, but they can not pluck our salvation away from us. But by the same token, they also can not force us to accept salvation (or any other belief for that matter). Accepting Jesus as our personal Lord and Savior, repentance of sin, baptism, all of it is a personal choice between me and God, and you and God. It isn’t something that is based on external factors. So we are secure in that sense, however security in his love is not the same as security in our salvation.
Now I feel this is where things get a little tricky, and that is when I’m addressing the issue of security in our salvation. Let me tell you, the more I read and study the Bible, the more I pray and fellowship with the Lord, the more convicted I am, and the more aware I become of my sins, flaws, faults and failures. I am so much a sinner, that I can totally relate to Peter when he tells Jesus to leave him alone, that he is too much of a sinner to even be in the Lord’s presence (Luke 5:8). In relation to salvation, this is where we have to rely on grace.
One of the amazing blessings in Jesus’ sacrifice for us is that he was fully man and fully God. Being fully God, Jesus also knew that despite his amazing message, and sacrifice, some will choose to reject Him and the message of salvation. However, in being fully man, he understands how difficult it is to be trapped in our own skin. As a man, he was tempted in all of the same ways we are today and he understands human nature as well as anyone else. His sacrifice on the cross not only takes away our sins, but it bestows upon us His grace, which acts as an umbrella for our human nature sins. Let me try to clarify that thought a little better….
Grace, by definition is: mercy, clemency, divine love and protection bestowed freely upon people, the state of being protected or sanctified by the favor of God, an excellence or power granted by God, a temporary immunity or exemption, a reprieve.
All those definitions sound to me like an “umbrella” or a temporary covering from our sins. Because I don’t magically become perfect once I come to Christ, I am still going to be tempted and drawn by my sinful human nature. My mind will wonder places it shouldn’t, my eyes and ears will be bombarded with unsolicited messages of lust, greed, sexual immorality, anger, hate, etc.; and my body will crave the pleasures of this world. Every day we must face our human nature, and every day we will fail in some or many ways to master it. Every day I need to be mindful (not obsessed and dwelling) of my sins, and I need to make a conscious effort to repent of them, asking God to help me to master my desire to sin.
I know this is a tricky road here – I’m not saying we need to be afraid of our sins and live in constant fear of death and hell, forever repenting at each step we make, however we need to remember that we are sinful by nature and that God is holy by nature – that’s oil and water. Grace covers our human nature sins, but it doesn’t cover our intentional sins – when we know God’s word tells us not to do something and we do it anyway because we want to satisfy our own sinful cravings. When we’ve intentionally gone out of our way to sin (lying, deceit, lust, anger, greed, revenge, selfishness, etc.) we need to immediately (or as soon as we’re convicted of it by the Holy Spirit) repent of our sins and ask for God’s forgiveness. If we continue to ignore the Holy Spirit’s urgings we begin living for the world again and are in danger of blasphemy.
As a believer, I am told in the Bible to imitate Christ (2 Cor. 2:15), which means that once I become a Christian I am to change my worldly ways into Christ-like ways. I am to change my old sinful habits into Christ-like habits, I am to stop living for self and start loving others as Christ did. I am to become a new creation in Christ, a picture of his love on Earth (Col. 2:11-13, Eph. 2:6, Rom. 6:3-5, Col. 3:1, 1 Pet. 1:2-4, Rom. 7:3-5, Rom. 8:11).
To me, becoming a new creation in Christ, means that I have to make some changes in my life. That means action! I have to adopt new habits, sometimes I have to weed out old friends who are a worldly influence on my life, I have to make a conscious effort to serve Christ and choose his will for my life over my own desires. Now I’m not trying to say that in this action, I can “work my way into heaven.” Because the Bible is very clear that it is through faith that we are saved, however, faith without action is dead (Rom. 9, Jam. 2:14-26). We have to change our lifestyle in order to follow the scripture in becoming like Christ. Because as we are, we are flawed, sinful and self-centered. We look only to the tangible. We search for things of this earth to fulfill our desires and quench the thirst within us. Now the Bible doesn’t say we have to change before we come to Christ, but we must change after we’ve come to him – and He will help us with it, as our desires for worldly pleasures will change.
The common teaching of eternal security doesn’t encourage people to change their lifestyle. It teaches that once we become Christians, if we’re truly repentant, we will be saved no matter what we choose to do afterward. That once you’ve given your heart to Jesus, you can never turn your back on him, that He won’t allow that, which sounds like a “catch 22” to me, and completely negates free will. If that’s the case, then it means that we have free will up to the point in which we accept Christ as our Savior, and after that, no matter what we do, no matter how we live, no matter what choices we make, no matter how hard we try to turn our backs on God and live our own lives (free of the Holy Spirit’s conviction), we can’t. It teaches that we are saved by the words alone. And I just don’t believe that.
Romans 8:38 says, “And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from his love. Death can’t, and life can’t. The angels can’t and the demons can’t. Our fears for today, our worries about tomorrow, and even the powers of hell can’t keep God’s love away.” This verse says nothing about US. It only talks about externals. If I can’t choose to accept or reject God at any time, then Christ’s ministry and death on the cross was futile, the flood was futile, Abraham being willing to sacrifice Issac was just an exercise in futility; everything about Christianity would be a sham because it means that we don’t have a choice. But it’s not!
God created us with free will – that means we have the power to choose to accept or reject Christ at any time. Hebrews 6:4-6 tells us that some will turn away from salvation once they’ve been saved. “For it is impossible to bring back to repentance those who were once enlightened – those who have experienced the good things of heaven and shared in the Holy Spirit, <!–who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the power of the age to come—and who then turn away from God. It is impossible to bring such people back to repentance; by rejecting the Son of God, they themselves are nailing him to the cross once again and holding him up to public shame.” (NLT)
Point in fact – salvation is a gift – a free gift. Now I don’t know about you, but when I give someone a free gift they have three options. They can 1.) accept it and keep it forever, they can 2.) reject it on the spot, or 3.) accept it now and choose to give it away, exchange it for something else, or throw it away at a later date. A gift is a gift – no strings attached. Sure, my feelings are hurt when they reject it, or choose option 3, but once I’ve offered it, it’s their choice.
Such is the nature of salvation – no one can take it from us, but we can choose to give it back, throw it away, or exchange it for another belief if we want to. Does it break God’s heart when we do that, sure it does. However, he knew what free will was all about when he created us with it. He knows that not everyone is going to make it to heaven if we choose not to be there. It is sad, but he is a holy God and he won’t force us to do something we don’t want to.
As a Christian, if we believe in the “once saved always saved” doctrine and still choose to live our lives for the world, then we make a mockery of the gospel message and all who’ve died because they would not renounce Christ’s power and salvation, or worship false gods and idols, or would not conform to the ways of this world. We can be eternally secure in our salvation, but we can not say the words (or any prayer of forgiveness) and expect them to be fire insurance so we can go about our merry ways, living for ourselves (Luke 13:22-27). To be truly secure, we must turn from our old ways and live in and for His ways. The road is difficult, the gate is narrow, but we must trudge it if we want to reap the reward of heaven.