Here’s what I mean.
Our Baptist friends have a teaching called Once Saved, Always Saved. Our Reformed & Presbyterian friends believe the same thing and call it Eternal Security.
(If the fact that Baptists call it Once Saved, Always Saved and Presbyterians call it Eternal Security doesn’t tell you everything you need to know about the difference in style between Baptists and Presbyterians, nothing will.)
So what is this one doctrine with two names? The teaching that once a person accepts salvation by grace through faith in Christ, he or she cannot lose it. That person is always saved, continually protected by God’s sovereign grace, and eternally secure.
A person can neither lose nor deny what was given by grace.
If a person who gives verbal testimony of salvation at some point later rescinds that same testimony (denies the faith), our Baptist and Reformed friends generally offer one of two explanations: 1) the original conversion & confession was not genuine; or 2) the person will be ultimately be “saved” and go to heaven after death, all based on that one time (much earlier) confession of faith.
A number of Scriptures support Once Saved, Always Saved, including Romans 8:38-39, John 10:28-29, and I Corinthians 3:10-15.
Finally, proponents of this view use the analogy of childbirth & family: once a child is born into a family, they cannot be unborn out of it. In the same way, the thinking goes, once a person is born again into the family of God, they cannot be unborn out of it.
So Eternal Security has an impressive list of adherents, a cross-section of Scriptures to buttress it, and a powerful analogy most of us can relate to.
But then . . . the book of Hebrews steps in.
Time after time after time, it seems, the book challenges the thinking behind eternal security — that a genuinely saved person can never fall out of that saving relationship.
First, there’s Hebrews 2:1: We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. A warning against drifting away.
Then Hebrews 3:12: See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. A stronger warning aginst turning away.
Next, Hebrews 6:4-8: 4 It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5 who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, 6 if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because[a] to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace. Everything in vv. 4-5 — enlightened, tasting the heavenly gift, sharing in the Holy Spriti, tasted the goodness of the word & the powers of the coming age — cries out, “Christian!” So why would the Christian of vv. 4-5 receive such a stern warning against “falling away” in v. 6 if it were not possible for them to do so? Now: the rest of v. 6 brings about a slew of interpretive issues . . . but that’s another blog for another time.
Finally, Hebrews 10:26-27, the place I stepped yesterday in my sermon: If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, 27 but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. The “we” of verse 26 is the key . . . it is a sermon to insiders, a message of warning to believers, and it is consistent with Hebrews’ dire admonitions against falling away.
And how does this drifting away, turning away, falling away happen, according to Hebrews? Does it come with a single moment of denying faith in Christ — what most people refer to as apostasy? Or does it come as a result of gradual yet escalating sinful rebellion against the God who saved your soul?
On that question — perhaps the question in this dilemma — Hebrews offers baffling silence. Could the answer be “yes” to both?
So if I as a preacher cannot hold at the same time a belief in Eternal Security and a trust in the authority of the book of Hebrews, what am I to do?
Thank God for Methodism.
One of the signature teachings of historic Methodism is the doctrine of assurance. I call it the first cousin of Eternal Security.
Assurance teaches that you can know for sure that you are saved. That through a combination of objective evidence — public confession of Christ — and subjective experience — the loving touch of the Holy Spirit — a believer can know for sure that he or she is a child of God.
Does that mean it is impossible for that same person at some point to deny the faith? No. The same free will we had before conversion remains with us afterwards.
But, as Maxie Dunnam says, the question is not whether we can or can’t deny the faith, the question is whether we will or won’t.
By God’s grace, we won’t.
I claim and live I John 5:13 as testimony to the assurance of salvation: I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know you have eternal life. “Know” is the critical word there — not “hope” or “wish” or “believe.” Know with certainty.
Since that’s the gift that’s offered, that’s the gift I’ll take.