Eternal Security: Conditional or Unconditional?


Dr. Alger Fitch wrote a book, The Brighter Tulip, which deals with the truth, untruth, and half-truth of Calvinism. He points out that the 5 pillars of Calvinism can be summed up in the acrostic: tulip:

Total depravity of man

Unconditional election of God

Limited atonement of Christ

Irresistible grace of deity

Perseverance of the saints.

Alger correctly points out that these 5 foundations rest on a misunderstanding of a truth. Calvin held strongly to the sovereignty of God. We'd all agree with that; but we do not believe that the sovereignty of God is threatened or diminished by the free-will and responsibility of man. The sovereignty of God actually planned, desired and created the free-will and responsibility of man.

Alger, not to mention the Bible, has another tulip to present. It is a brighter tulip. Let's see the brighter tulip:

Not total depravity but tremendous value: Calvin would say that man is so totally depraved that apart from the action of God upon his heart he cannot respond in faith. Without doubting that the totality of mankind has sinned and that the totality of mankind is depraved, the Bible shows another viewpoint. The Biblical perspective is that the totality of mankind is loved by God, and the totality of mankind can be saved. To quote: "'yes' the totality of men are sinners. 'Yes,' the totality of men lack the ability to rescue themselves. But, 'no,' humans are not so totally depraved they cannot say 'yes' to Jesus' gracious offer." In evidence of that, the Bible calls us to reason and to choose on the basis of truth presented; Isaiah 1:18 "come now, let us reason together," says the Lord. "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool." Deuteronomy 30:19 "this day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live ..." Romans 10:17 "consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ." "Adam and eve listened to Satan, believed what he said, acted on it, and fell. You and I can listen rather to our Lord, believe his offer, act on it and be saved." Ability to respond does not limit God's sovereignty!

Not unconditional election but unfathomable love: Calvin would teach that apart from any human involvement God chose, and sealed, who would be redeemed and damned. He said, "Everything depends on the mere will of God; if some are damned and others saved it is because God created some for death and others for life ... whom God passes by He reprobates, and from no other cause than His determination to exclude them from the inheritance." Alger makes the Biblical point that the "elect" or "chosen" are the "whosoever wills" while the non-elect are the "whosoever-won'ts!" "God predestined the plan --- not the man; the type or class of those He would forgive --- not the particular persons who would enter the plan." Allowing man the free will to choose does not dethrone the sovereign God.

Not limited atonement but limitless opportunity: the Calvinistic position is "Christ died exclusively for the elect, and purchased redemption for them alone; in other words, Christ made atonement only for the elect, and that in no sense did He die for the rest of the race." Alger debunks that, Biblically! Calvin believed that God "desired 'all' to be saved in the limited sense of 'all' whom He has elected." Alger heralds the Biblical view: Revelation 22:17 "The Spirit and the bride say, "Come!" and let him who hears say, "Come!" whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life." The ambiguous "whoever" makes plain that we are all included! Full atonement is not a threat to God's full sovereignty!

Not irresistible grace but irrefutable goodness: Calvin seemed to think that God was a mafiosi, making an offer we can't refuse. To quote: "Let me explain that by free will it is not suggested that man unaided could save himself. What is affirmed is that Christ alone saves. Yet, He can be received by men for they have sufficient will to accept what God provides." Consider prayer for the lost. "If a Mr A has been predestined by God's will for heaven and a Mrs B has been, before birth, chosen for hell; of what use are our prayers for them? According to the doctrine under consideration, Mrs B cannot accept Christ's gospel and Mr A cannot forever refuse to accept it." and I go on: when free will, in the sense of being capable to say yes or no to Christ's offered salvation, is denied, certain conclusions are unavoidable: personal guilt is a delusion. Individual responsibility is a superstition. How can God give in the sacred scriptures so many positive and negative commands, if the hearers are not able to act?" "God has covenanted to save any who are willing . . . on God's part there is no irresistible grace, but there is irrefutable goodness." God given freedom to resist grace does not dethrone his sovereignty!

Not perseverance of the saints but promises to saints: the doctrine poses in several costumes: "Once in grace, always in grace." But Paul warns against falling from grace. "Once a child, always a child" which ignores that the prodigal was lost. "Once a sheep, always a sheep" but the sheep outside the fold was lost. "Once in eternal life, always in eternal life" but Alger points out that we must not make a future promise a present possession. There are those who believe that when a person becomes a Christian, and is truly converted, and possesses eternal life, that life can never be forfeit. Is that true? I don't think so. They ask, "Well, if you have eternal life, how can you lose it? If you can, how can it be eternal life?"

Robert Shank, a Baptist preacher, wrote in "Life In The Son" saying,

Such a question proceeds from a fundamental misapprehension. It rests upon the erroneous assumption that, at conversion, God somehow implants a bit of eternal life within the soul of the individual in such a way that it becomes his inalienable personal possession ipso facto. Certainly eternal life is eternal. But the Bible declares that eternal life - the very life of God Himself - can only be shared with men. It cannot be possessed by men apart from a living union with Christ, in and through whom that life is available to men. (P.52).

There can be no question whether eternal life will endure. It cannot cease. But the point of many solemn warnings in the New Testament is that our privilege of participating in that eternal life is directly dependent on our continuing to abide in Him whom, alone, that life is available to men. If we fail to abide in Him, the eternal life continues; but our participation in that life ceases. We share that life only as we continue to abide in Him "who is our life." (P. 54).

"Once in the book, always in the book." But the Bible speaks of having names blotted out. "Once in Christ, always in Christ" but Jesus talks about real branches being severed. "Once saved, always saved" but over and over the Bible proclaims we are saved if we remain faithful. The promise is that "to Him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before His glorious presence without fault and with great joy" Jude 24. He is able to preserve us if we remain faithful. Jesus said, "Remain in Me and I will remain in you." "I, as a Christian, am secure, as long as I am a Christian." Capacity to cast off salvation does not destroy God's sovereignty! "If you enter and abide in Him, you will be saved externally, internally, and eternally."

But what about 1 John 2:19? "They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, in order that it might be shown that they all are not of us."

"Surely this indicates that those who leave were false believers to begin with, doesn't it?" Again, Shank speaks cogently:

Their profession of faith may have been false from the beginning; or, they may have been actual apostates who abandoned faith and withdrew from Christ. Either circumstance could be true. John asserts only that, at the time they withdrew from the spiritual fellowship of true believers, "they were not of us;" otherwise they would have continued in fellowship with the faithful. (P. 361).

If we deny Unconditional Eternal Security, that leads to several questions:

  1. Is salvation conditional; that is, are there any "if's" about it?
    1. If not is free-will eliminated once saved? Can we not choose?
    2. If there are passages with the conditional "if" attached, salvation is conditional:
      1. John 15:1-10
      2. Romans 11:17-22
      3. 1 Corinthians 15:1-2
      4. Colossians 1:21-23
    3. If the "if" doesn't mean "conditional upon," then what does it mean?
  2. Can the Christian cast off faith and quit believing?
    1. If so then:
      1. Either salvation is forfeit since faith is one of the two essential bases for salvation or
      2. We must conclude that one is saved without faith
        1. Romans 10:9-10
        2. Ephesians 2:8-9
        3. Hebrews 11:6
        4. Revelation 21:8
      3. Passages indicating the possibility of casting off faith:
        1. Hebrews 3:12-19
        2. Hebrews 10:35-39
        3. 2 Timothy 2:12-13
    2. If it is possible to cast off faith, then we are not believers, if we are not believers, then we are not saved!
  3. Can a Christian be cut off from Christ?
    1. Galatians 5:4  indicates that one can be.
    2. Being united to Christ is certainly essential to salvation.
    3. You cannot be severed from that to which you were never connected.
    4. If one can be severed from Christ
      1. Either they are still saved without Him or
      2. They cease to be saved.
  4. Can a Christian fall from grace?
    1. Grace is the other element in salvation
      1. Not an inward work of some sort
      2. God's unmerited favor
    2. Scriptures showing that one can fall:
      1. Galatians 5:4
      2. 2 Peter 2:20-22
      3. Hebrews 6:4-10
    3. If one can fall from grace:
      1. Either they are still saved without grace or
      2. They are lost having fallen from grace.
  5. Can a Christian experience new life and then turn from God?
    1. Hebrews 6:4-10 indicate that they can.
    2. Some might argue, "But they only 'tasted' they didn't really experience life.  They just came close to it."
    3. But Hebrews 2:9 show that Jesus "tasted" death -- die He die, or just come close to it?
    4. If one can fall away, or turn from God, then
      1. Either they are still saved without God or
      2. They are not saved any longer.
  6. Does sin bring death to Christians as it does to non-Christians?
    1. To say not, means that all sins, past, present and future are already forgiven and no need of confession.
    2. That sin does bring death:
      1. Romans 8:12-13
      2. 1 Timothy 5:5-6
      3. James 1:12-16
      4. James 5:19-20
      5. Hebrews 4:14-16
      6. 2 Peter 1:3-11
      7. If death is not condemnation, what is it?

There are two extremes to avoid at all costs: The first is to believe that we can never, under any circumstances forfeit salvation. That leads to all sorts of immorality and laxness in Christian living. The second is to imagine that we forfeit salvation every time we sin. That leads to all sorts of fear and angst.

The truth is, when we sin (and we do) God immediately seeks to restore us. The Holy Spirit convicts us of sin. God may send a Christian brother to admonish us. Consequences of our sin may cause us to repent. There are many ways in which God says, "Turn again and be forgiven." We then have a choice: to heed or to rebel. To heed is to repent and find forgiveness. To rebel is to go on wilfully sinning and rejecting Christ as Lord - and forfeiting salvation.

"Dear friends, if we deliberately continue sinning after we have received a full knowledge of the truth, there is no other sacrifice that will cover these sins. There will be nothing to look forward to but the terrible expectation of God's judgment and the raging fire that will consume his enemies. Anyone who refused to obey the law of Moses was put to death without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. Think how much more terrible the punishment will be for those who have trampled on the Son of God and have treated the blood of the covenant as if it were common and unholy. Such people have insulted and enraged the Holy Spirit who brings God's mercy to his people." Hebrews 10:26-29 (NLT).

That is said, not to cause us to doubt our salvation, but to ensure it! Remain faithful. Abide in Jesus. And then, and only then, are you eternally secure.