Eternal security? or Can you lose your salvation? Part 2
In Part 1 I looked at some of the more-quoted passages often used to demonstrate the eternal security of the believer. Other passages also include Philippians 1:6 and Hebrews 13:5. However, while even more passages may be added in support of eternal security, the general premise as stated above is still relevant: that ultimately God will not remove you from that salvation, nor can anyone or anything else, for that matter. And, if God is the only will concerned here, then that’s the end of the story – once saved, always saved! However, the question was raised as to whether or not the believer could still exercise freedom of will, not only to accept salvation, but to reject it as well, even after accepting it.
In this Part 2 I will look at the passages that are used to demonstrate that a person may lose his salvation; passages that may be used to show that eternal security is not a doctrinal truth.
1/. Hebrews 6:4-6 – 4 For [it is] impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, 5 And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, 6 If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put [him] to an open shame.
Of course, the immediate context of this passage really commences at Hebrews 5:11 and ends at Hebrews 6:9. The Writer (of Hebrews) tells them (Vs 5:11) that they are dull of hearing (that is, they lack understanding). “Of whom we have many things to say, and hard to be uttered, seeing ye are dull of hearing.” He says (Vs 5:12) that by now they should have had enough understanding to be teachers, yet they continue to have to be taught the first principles (concerning what God says). In Vs 5:12-14 The Writer tells them that they are still as new-born babies drinking milk when they should by now be mature enough to get their spiritual teeth stuck into some solid meat of the Word. The context strongly suggests that the Hebrew recipients of this epistle were born again Christians, yet many remained spiritual babies in Christ, backsliding and returning over and over again. They just weren’t getting anywhere spiritually. They weren’t growing spiritually.
This sets the scene for Ch.6 where The Writer then urges his readers to move on from this new-born stage, to go on toward perfection. He makes it clear that the solution to their seemingly constant backsliding into the world lies in growing as Christians, maturing toward full-age (Vs 5:14). He also makes it clear that this can only happen if God should permit them to mature in their faith (Vs 6:3). He then spells out (in Vs 6:4-6) what will happen if God should not permit them to go on from here. “For it is impossible for those who (a) were once enlightened, and (b) have tasted of the heavenly gift, and (c) were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and (d) have tasted the good word of God, and (e) (have tasted) the powers of the world to come, and then falling away, to renew them again unto repentance” Note that “if” in Vs 6:6 is not in the original language. The Greek word is kai which generally translates as “and”. In Hebrews Ch.6, the only occurrence of “if” in the original Greek is in Vs 6:3 (“if God permit”).
Those who believe in eternal security have a number of possible explanations for this passage:-
(a) These people are not born-again Christians, but merely adherents. They can’t lose their salvation because they were never saved in the first place. The problem with this view is that the actions of these people [see (a) to (e) in above paragraph on Vs 6:4-5] are most likely to be associated with born-again Christians, not just unsaved adherents. For example, “have tasted” (Vs 6:4 & 5) doesn’t mean just a little nibble, but actually means a lot more. It is the same word used in Hebrews 2:9 where Jesus “should taste death for every man.” Dying on the cross isn’t just a little nibble but a much more complete tasting!
In order to demonstrate that you can’t lose your salvation, they would have to demonstrate that these people are not likely to be born-again Christians. In fact, these people do seem far more likely to be born-again Christians than unsaved adherents!
(b) These people are born-again Christians, but the situation is hypothetical, and doesn’t represent the reality. Again, there’s a problem with this, in fact, two major problems. (1) Hypothetical situations are based upon real-life circumstances. For example, medical students are given hypothetical problems to solve before they are set loose on real people-problems (for very good reasons). and therefore (2) Hypothetical doesn’t deny reality!
(c) These are born-again Christians, to whom the warning of loss of salvation is given, but no-one actually falls away. Proponents of this belief point to The Writer saying that he is “persuaded better things of you” (Vs 6:9). The problem, though, is clear: why give a warning against something that will never happen? And to be persuaded of better things in this case is most likely to be a form of encouragement to the Hebrews to do the right thing. Even if not one Hebrew to whom The Writer wrote ever fell away, it still cannot prove that it cannot happen. Also, note that The Writer says in Vs 6:3 that they can only go on if God should permit. That is, he appears to consider it possible that some may not be permitted.
(d) These people are born-again Christians, but they are falling away from repentance, not their salvation. Now this is ridiculous, considering that repentance is the process toward the end goal of salvation. (See 2 Corinthians 7:10) They cannot really be separated.
The wording and context of this passage does support these people being born-again Christians, especially if a consequence of falling away is to crucify afresh the Son of God and put Him to open shame (Vs 6:6). Vs 6:7 then appears to discuss the consequence of obedience (which is blessing), while the consequence of disobedience in is to be rejected and cursed (Vs 6:8). (The actual Greek word used for “rejected” is adokimos which is generally translated “reprobate” or to be rejected by God as unfit for use, disqualified for running the race.)
Therefore, this passage at the very least supports the belief that Christians could, under certain circumstances, lose their salvation; however, if it can be lost, it can only happen once! This passage does appear to strongly support the belief that one can have the free will to choose to lose one’s salvation. But not all is as straight forward as that, for in this passage The Writer has also proposed what appears to be a course of action designed to prevent such a falling away – more on this in Part 3 of this series.
2/. Hebrews 10:26-29 – 26 For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, 27 But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries. 28 He that despised Moses’ law died without mercy under two or three witnesses: 29 Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?
A straight-forward interpretation here would make Vs 10:26 the equivalent of Hebrews 6:6. Sinning wilfully would seem consistent with falling away, and no more sacrifice for sins would be consistent with crucifying to themselves the Son of God afresh (Hebrews 6:6). And, consistent with my considerations of the freedom of will of the Christian to reject his salvation in Part 1 of this series, Vs 10:26 above does also emphasise wilful sinning (as opposed to sinning through ignorance). Wilful sinning indicates a strong desire to sin in opposition to the commandments of God. It has to mean a decision of the will to disobey God, not just once, but in an ongoing sense. Such people probably enjoy disobeying God. Therefore, this is probably not something your average genuine born-again Christian is likely to do.
Some will teach that the receiving of the knowledge of the truth is merely head-knowledge; that these people are not actually genuinely saved at any time. (The same argument is used for 2 Peter 2:21: that those who “turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them” were never Christians in the first place.) This interpretation requires that lost sinners really have only one definite chance to be saved, after which they will not be given a second chance to hear and respond to the gospel. MacArthur says of Hebrews 10:26 that the person described here is an “unbeliever who’s an apostate” and that “If you walk away from that, that’s the end. It’s impossible to be renewed unto repentance.” (from Apostasy: The Negative Response to the New Covenant, Part 1) But God is indeed patient with mankind, not willing that any should perish (2 Peter 3:9). Why would God then give only one serious chance at salvation? That is, one strike and you’re out! On the other hand, there are many Christians who refused the gospel many times before being saved.
Vs 10:29 also clearly teaches that if a person who has been sanctified by the blood of the covenant and then despises that same blood as unholy (koinos = common; unclean according to Levitical law; defiled), is worthy of serious punishment. Some people, in an effort to support the eternal security of the believer, claim that it was not the person who was sanctified by the blood of the covenant, but Jesus who was thus sanctified. [MacArthur teaches this in (Apostasy: The Negative Response to the New Covenant, Part 2).] This is not an acceptable interpretation at all. If the blood of the covenant sanctified Jesus, that has to assume that He was not sanctified at some stage, and there was never a point in time when Jesus was ever unsanctified!
The people in this passage are clearly born-again Christians, sanctified by the blood of the covenant (of the Cross of Jesus). The teaching is clear: If genuine Christians sin wilfully, there is a penalty “of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries.” (Hebrews 10:27) If the first (and only) perfect sacrifice of Christ were insufficient to redeem them the first time once for all time, then there could be no second better sacrifice to permit a person to be born again a second time. If the perfect sacrifice were insufficient, then there can be no more option for an even better that perfect sacrifice! These people, after being washed in the blood of the Lamb, have then turned against that same blood, declaring it unclean and defiled.
This passage does teach that a Christian who sins wilfully against God, trodden underfoot the Son of God, and declared the blood of the covenant to be dirty, will be rejected from his salvation without a second chance to come back. But, would a Christian commit such sin? This will be looked at in detail in Part 3 of this series.
3/. 2 Peter 2:18-22 – 18 For when they speak great swelling [words] of vanity, they allure through the lusts of the flesh, [through much] wantonness, those that were clean escaped from them who live in error. 19 While they promise them liberty, they themselves are the servants of corruption: for of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage. 20 For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning. 21 For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known [it], to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them. 22 But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog [is] turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire.
In fact, you need to read the whole of 2 Peter 2 to get the correct context to this passage. Vs 2:18 is talking about the false teachers of Vs 2:1. These false teachers sound like great speakers but their words are swollen with vanity (devoid of truth; swollen with emptiness). They allure (entice) through the lusts of the flesh those who had clean (truly) escaped from those who lived in error in the world. That is, these false teachers are trying to entice people back into the world from which they had escaped. The false teachers promise freedom, yet they themselves are still in bondage to the corruption of the world.
Then in Vs 2:20 we read of those who had escaped from those in error, those who have also escaped (through the knowledge of Jesus Christ as Saviour) the pollutions of the world. That is, these clearly appear to be Christians. But, after these false teachers have enticed them with their great swelling words of vanity, those who had escaped such worldly pollutions are now again entangled with (involved with) that same world from which they had previously escaped. It would have been better for those who were enticed back into the world to have never known the way of righteousness in the first place (Vs 2:21).
The usual explanation from those who believe in eternal security is that these are not Christians but merely adherents who have a good, even deep knowledge of the way of righteousness. This is the same argument as used concerning the knowledge of the truth as in Hebrews 10:26. But, it does appear much more straight-forward to accept these who turn away from the way of righteous as Christians who reject their salvation (see following paragraph). Otherwise I have to accept that a rejection of a full presentation of the gospel will be worse than never hearing the gospel, for this has to assume that you really only get one definite chance to be saved. On the other hand, Biblical teaching has to assume that God gives many people many opportunities to be saved before some of them are actually saved!
In Vs 2:20 we read of “the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ“. That term “knowledge” is epignosis which describes the fullest form of knowledge. It is used of the Christian’s (a) “knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord” (2 Peter 1:2); (b) “knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue” (2 Peter 1:3); and (c) “knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:8). The verb form, epiginosko, is translated “known” twice in 2 Peter 2:21. Because Peter has written this letter to Christians (“to them that have obtained like precious faith with us through the righteousness of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ” – 2 Peter 1:1), then “the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 2:21) must define these as genuine Christians.
There are more passages that are regularly used to demonstrate that you can lose your salvation, but the passages I’ve covered here do seem to be the major ones used. So far it might seem like I’m trying to shoot down the once-saved-always-saved argument, by saying that (a) the free will of the Christian could be a factor, and (b) these passages do appear to promise Christians that if they fall away, there’s no second chance, and (c) that it might have been better to not be saved in the first place, rather than be saved and then lose it again. However, this issue is not as clear as all that, with one, perhaps two, of the passages in this post appearing to also demonstrate some support for the eternal security of the believer.
I’ll deal with my conclusions in the next post, Eternal security? or Can you lose your salvation? Part 3.
Go back here to Eternal security? or Can you lose your salvation? Part 1