Hip and Thigh: Smiting Theological Philistines with a Great Slaughter. Judges 15:8

Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Assurance of Eternal Security (pt. 1)

As bit of an introduction...

Back around the middle of November I received an email from a guy named Joshua Thibodaux who called me out to take his (cue announcer with booming, echoing voice):


Joshua, or "J.C." as he calls himself on his website, had taken great umbrage to my comments in one of my posted articles defending Calvinism. I wrote in my article on the perseverance of the saints, or what would be otherwise called eternal security; as well as said in my devotional message on the same subject, that anyone who adamantly denies the doctrine of eternal security is in danger of blasphemy, because it denies the power of God and says our Lord is a liar as to His clear promises to save those for whom He died certainly and absolutely.

I will commend J.C. for being faithful to his chosen convictions. He is a tried and true Arminian, defending his synergistic presuppositions with the kind of dogged devotion found among the many hard-core King James Onlyists I have run into. I must confess I appreciate the consistency as well as the purity of J.C.'s thought. Most non-Calvinists I have found are a muddled bunch who don't know what convictions they wish to defend regarding God's role in man's salvation. They just know they don't like Calvinism. J.C. isn't like this.

I had a few email exchanges with him, but honestly, real life and other interests took precedence over haggling with an internet gadfly who would never be satisfied with any of my responses. J.C. seems to pride himself as being a great Arminian apologist/debater, even keeping a running tally on his website of all his "encounters" with any Calvinistic oriented blog commenter who has the tenacious willingness to work through all his banal rhetoric and sophomoric argumentation.

Probably one of the better smack downs J.C. had, along with some of his buddies, which took place right around the same time he was emailing me, was with the Triablogue guys. If you have a rainy afternoon and want to do some worthwhile, entertaining reading exposing the folly of J.C.s "theology" as the main subject, these posts and comments will provide hours of stimulation: see here, here, here, here, and here.

At any rate,

My purpose with these articles I plan to write is not meant to address J.C. specifically. I don't wish to get into a flaming blog battle that is merely centered around personalities. Of course I say that now only at great risk of having the combox deluged with his supporters, but it is a risk I will have to take. None the less, my interaction with his argumentation did stir my thinking regarding what I believe to be significant question concerning our understanding of the nature of salvation. It is a question that has great bearing upon the Christian's spiritual psychology as to how he or she views God's grace and the hope of salvation in general. The question being,

When a sinner is saved is his hope of eternal life secure and most certain, or must he fret over the possibility of forfeiting his salvation with the committal of some unknown sin which will cause him to forsake his relationship with the Lord and thus bring him to being disowned by God and ultimate eternal damnation? In other words, is a Christian's salvation eternally secure, or is it conditioned upon his ability and willingness to maintain it with his good works of obedience? Simply put,

Can a Christian lose his salvation?

Now some who read this may ask why it matters. Historically, however, this is one of the key defining distinctions between classic Roman Catholicism and the Reformed, Protestant faith which reclaimed the Christian faith in the 1500s.

Roman Catholicism taught, and still teaches, that Christ's death merely makes a sinner saveable. Christ's atonement on the cross did not specifically secure anyone's salvation, but only opened up the opportunity for all men to be justified by their own merit as they cooperate with the Holy Spirit.

Thus, a person's justification is not grounded upon the finished work of Christ alone, but is dependent upon the person's devotion to Catholic sacramentalism and it has to be a faithful devotion unless the person forfeits his or her hope of salvation by committing any sorts of sin. In order to accomplish his faithful devotion, the person is first to be baptized, where at which point the Holy Spirit is infused in him so he now has the opportunity to be a faithful follower of Christ. His "faithfulness" is then defined by keeping the mass, going to confession, praying the rosary, paying alms, going on pilgrimages. At the end of his life, the faithful Catholic will be given last rites before death, where after death he enters purgatory to spend time burning off any remaining sins that will still stain him and then it is only after his release from purgatory that the person can be even certain of final salvation as he is ushered into the presence of the blessed Virgin Mother and her dear Son.

The Reformers on the other hand correctly taught that a sinner's salvation is not at all grounded in any human efforts he or she brings to the salvific table as it were. Instead, salvation as outlined in the whole of scripture is based upon God's gracious determination to save a people unto Himself. That determination was established in eternity past and is made complete in the Cross work of Jesus Christ. Christ's death and Resurrection both turns away God's just wrath against those sinners and in turn most certainly secures the sinner's salvation. On account of Christ, the sinner is now justified in a divine legal transaction in which Christ's perfect righteousness clothes him, thus reconciling him to God in a permanent relationship.

There was nothing a sinner could do to earn God's saving favor while he was in a state of rebellion against God and there is nothing the sinner can do after he is made right with God to maintain a standard of holiness to keep divine favor as he now lives unto God. His salvation was graciously imparted to him by Christ's justifying work and his righteousness is also maintained by God's empowering grace working in his life. Hence, a sinner is saved by grace, kept by grace, and can be confident of eternal life because of that grace.

Now, in all fairness, I wish to make it clear I do not believe J.C. and his pals are Roman Catholic. Never would I argue that they are. However, their view of salvation is similar to Rome's along two important lines: 1) Christ's death did not secure the salvation of any one person particularly, but only made all men saveable, and 2) eternal life is conditioned upon the synergistic effort of a person exercising good works in cooperation with God's Spirit in order to maintain proper obedience so as not to forfeit salvation.

These two points are essential in understanding why certain believers insist that a Christian can loose his salvation. For if Christ's death did not secure any one person's salvation, but merely made all people saveable, and that saveability is dependent upon the person first believing with faith and then continuing in cooperation with God's Spirit as he accomplishes good works as outlined in the Bible, then any departure from the stated objectives for maintaining his salvation can very possibly place that salvation in peril with the risk of loosing it forever. God has clearly upheld His end of the salvation plan by making a way for men to be saved, so if the sinner does forfeit his eternal life by engaging in some form of disobedience, then God cannot be blamed for cutting him off. He had done what was needed to be done in order for a sinner to be saved and it was the sinner's fault for not maintaining the necessary steps to be pleasing to the Lord.

With this little bit of background, I hope the reader can now understand why I say such a view of salvation is blasphemous. It not only makes God into an impotent deity with no power to actually save anyone, at least without the cooperation of the sinful person, but it still remains a works oriented faith that really doesn't distinguish the uniqueness of what Christianity is as the only true way to heaven from all the other false religions. On top of this, I believe it makes God into being a liar as to His promise to give eternal life to those who believe in faith. John states that the purpose of God sending His son into the world was to give eternal life to those who will believe in Him. Is that a legitimate promise or not? And if it is a legitimate promise, then why can't I be assured that God will come through with His promise in spite of my faults? I could not trust the word of God if I could loose my salvation with some spiritual mis-step.

The doctrine of eternal security doesn't hang alone. Eternal life with God is the consummation of all the doctrines of salvation. The whole purpose of God decreeing His plan of salvation, electing a people to be called by His name, sending His Son to redeem those people, and then sending forth His Holy Spirit to empower those people to live righteously, is to securely bring those people into eternal life. To suggest a Christian can lose his salvation undoes the divine work leading up to eternal life.

I believe the doctrine of conditional security is a false one, and the idea of losing one's salvation runs counter to at least seven important doctrines pertaining to God's salvation of men. Over the course of a few posts I will outline those doctrines. Let me begin with the first:

I. Conditional Security is Contrary to the Doctrine of the New Birth

I don't believe I need to track down all the references concerning the sinfulness of men as revealed in scripture. The Bible tells us men are more than just ignorant, passive sinners in need of a savior. They are active spiritual rebels, acting in treason against their creator. Not only are they unable to do anything pleasing to their God, they are utterly unwilling. Sinful men knowingly suppress the truth of God they have in their hearts by inventing fanciful philosophies and religions to excuse away any obligation they have to submit themselves to their creator. They hate God and wish to have nothing to do with Him.

Additionally, man is placed under a divine, judicial judgment being separated from any true, intimate fellowship with God. That separation manifests itself as lacking spiritual understanding to God and His ways. Sinners are described in Ephesians 4:17ff. as having darkened minds, living in ignorance, having blind hearts and rather than living in obedience to God's laws they give themselves over to lewdness and uncleanness. This condition within sinners is expressed in ethical inconsistencies, foolish and rash decision making, the pursuit of personal folly, and life choices that often lead to the person's ultimate ruin and in some cases death.

If the sinner, then, is going to believe in faith, trust Christ, and turn from his treasonous ways, a divine work must take place in the heart of the sinner to re-orient him toward, and re-unite him with, his creator. That is the work of the new birth. We also know it as regeneration.

The new birth is primarily the Apostle John's terminology as he was quoting Jesus. The main passage describing the new birth is found in John's Gospel when he recounts Nicodemus's interview with Jesus in 3:1-15. The main word is gennao and in its various grammatical forms it can be translated as begotton by God, born-again, as it is in John 3, or born from above. John also uses this terminology in his epistles, particularly his first epistle in 1 John 2:29, 3:9, 4:7, 5:1, 5:4, and 5:18.

Paul also speaks to the spiritual work of regeneration in the lives of sinners, though he uses specific imagery to describe God's work. He equates regeneration or being born-again with a spiritual resurrection in Ephesians 2:5 and Colossians 2:13 when he describes the work as being made alive. He also speaks of regeneration as spiritual circumcision in Romans 2:29 and again in Colossians 2:11-13. James uses the expression brought us forth to describe the new birth in James 1:18, and Peter uses the expression born-again or begetting anew in his first epistle (1 Peter 1:23).

When taken together in their contexts, these passages tell us the work of regeneration re-creates the sinner to newness of life. The re-creation he experiences is a divine work coming directly from God alone. In other words, God is the direct agent facilitating this work. Nothing within the sinner can effect this change. Moreover the regeneration is permanent and cannot be undone by the believer as the Arminian presupposes. Regeneration removes the defilement of the sinner's heart having it cleansed and washed away. As a result a new principle of righteousness exists in his heart. His thoughts are re-oriented toward God. He understands spiritual things and no long lives in a cloud of spiritual darkness. Rather, the sinner who is forgiven of his sins and is identified with Christ, now lives unto the Lord, no longer in spiritual rebellion, but has a heart willingly submitted to God and pursues righteousness while shunning the life of sin.

There are at least three thoughts in response to the conditional security position, and in light of the biblical data concerning the new birth, why their position is in error:

1) I believe it is clear the Bible reveals that the new birth is alone the work of God. The sinner, in his sinful state, has no interest nor desire to come to God. Left to his sinfulness, he will only weary himself to resist God. How then can the sinner reject a work that is not his to begin with? It doesn't originate with him, nor does he even wish to pursue it. Unless there is a over-riding presupposition of total libertarian free-will that permits the newly regenerated Christian to return to a life of sin, but such a concept of the will is foreign to the Bible's description of man.

2) According to the biblical data, regeneration is the transforming of a sinner into a new person. A radical heart change takes place at the hands of God. The person is spiritually resurrected. The divine work is so thoroughly whole and complete with its effects upon a sinner that once born again the sinner will not walk away. Ephesians 2:10 tells us we are God's workmanship created unto good works and Colossians 1:13 says God's regenerating work transfers us from the kingdom of the devil and places us into the kingdom of Christ.

To suggest we can lose our salvation means we have it in our power to take out the heart of flesh that was given to us by God and replace it with the heart of stone God initially took out of us (Ezekiel 36:26). It means we have it in our power to renounce our citizenship in Christ's kingdom and transfer back to the kingdom of the devil. It would be like Lazarus committing suicide a couple of months after being raised from the dead by Jesus (John 11).

3) All the biblical data tells us that God's promise of the lasting effects of regeneration are sure. The person's desires will always be to pursue righteousness. Persisting in sin grieves him and though he may stumble in sin, his longings will be to overcome it. Why would God go to the great lengths of sacrifice to redeem a people called by His name, promise them eternal life, give His Only Begotten Son to secure the salvation of these people, initiate spiritual birth in their hearts, when such a great and awesome work has no lasting value and can potentially be undone? What would be the purpose? Just so we can say God wants men to enjoy his "freewill?" Such a theology devalues the power of God to save.

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Blogger Steve Lamm said...


I was raised Catholic until I was redeemed at age 20. I am familiar with Catholic doctrine. Your description of the Catholic view of justification as being synergistic and progressive is accurate.

As you point out, Arminianism also teaches that:

"1) Christ's death did not secure the salvation of any one person particularly, but only made all men saveable, and 2) eternal life is conditioned upon the synergistic effort of a person exercising good works in cooperation with God's Spirit in order to maintain proper obedience so as not to forfeit salvation."

That being the case, would you agree that Arminians are promoting a form of faith/works justification, which then nullifies justification by grace through faith as Paul describes it in Romans?

This I think gives me pause when I dialogue with a person who holds classic Arminian views. Seems to me they are trusting in their own works and therefore, like many Catholics are relying on their good works to untlimately save them, in spite of their claims to the contrary.

What's your take on this?


9:46 AM, January 31, 2008  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

Hey Steve,

You wrote,

That being the case, would you agree that Arminians are promoting a form of faith/works justification, which then nullifies justification by grace through faith as Paul describes it in Romans?

From my perspective, I believe they do or come dangerously close to suggesting this idea of salvation. I realize Arminians will argue otherwise, and they manage to squeeze around those difficulties by redefining terminology, say for example regeneration being defined along the lines of prevenient grace. Reading JC's website, he very much promotes a synergistic view of salvation and even says so in his articles. I find that utterly problematic.

I have only had a handful of conversations with real, full on Classic Arminians, including a few email exchanges with Robert Picirilli, the NT professor at The Freewill Baptist College in Nashville. Though they deny any works based justification, like you point out, if their ultimate hope for eternal security is them making a conscious effort daily to cooperate in obedience with the Holy Spirit in case a falling away may happen, I don't see how you can call such a theology anything but works based.


11:01 AM, January 31, 2008  
Blogger GraceHead said...

thought you might like this confirmation of eternal security

2:22 PM, February 05, 2008  
Blogger GraceHead said...

oops sorry, here is the link

2:23 PM, February 05, 2008  
Blogger The Seeking Disciple said...

Fred, while being an Arminian I don't fully agree with either your understanding of Arminianism from the works of reformed Arminian writers such as Picirilli or even the works of Arminius himself, I do think you handled this post with grace. Sadly too often I have been e-mailed by Calvinist who first of all don't consider me a brother in Christ and then secondly, they sure don't act very godly if they are the saved one and I am lost. Thanks for your graciousness.

2:18 PM, February 07, 2008  
Blogger J.C. Thibodaux said...

Hey Fred, Here's a response to your post.

5:33 AM, February 08, 2008  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

Hey there Seeker boy,

I knew you poked around my site now and again, so I when I started posting my articles, I was thinking about you and was curious if you would chime in with a comment.

My heart is sincerely warmed with your comment that I was gracious. J.C. doesn't seem to think so if you read his so-called response to me.

At any rate, I wanted to strive for that. I know I have been ugly to detractors in the past which has more to do with immaturity than anything else.

You wrote:
I don't fully agree with either your understanding of Arminianism from the works of reformed Arminian writers such as Picirilli or even the works of Arminius himself

I would be interested in some examples. J.C. doesn't provide any serious ones, in my opinion, plus I would respect your input over his.

In defense of what I wrote, my main focus was how J.C. articulates his Arminianism. Do you think he does a good job or no?

Also, my main two theological points are synergism and conditional security. Do you not believe in a cooperative view of salvation? Classic Arminianism has always maintained that men have to engage the rules for salvation, if we can call it that, in order for it to be effective. Moreover, am I really misrepresenting conditional security as Arminianism teaches? The Free-will Baptist confession of faith makes a point to clearly state that a Christian must guard and maintain a life of holiness or he will be endangering his salvation even to the point of forfeiting it. How exactly is that not classic Arminianism?

What would be sort of fun is if you write some counter articles to mine on your blog explaining my errors, or disagreements. I would welcome it, because I expect you would employ a bit more gravitas to the discussion than what J.C. has.


7:17 AM, February 08, 2008  
Blogger J.C. Thibodaux said...

I expect you would employ a bit more gravitas to the discussion than what J.C. has.

Lol. So Fred, is it safe to assume that you define 'gravitas' as 'condemning detractors as blasphemers'? Because I certainly didn't go that far.

9:26 AM, February 08, 2008  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

*snort* I never condemned you as a blasphemer. I stated that those who deny eternal security are in danger of blasphemy and then I outlined two reasons why I say that. However, at the rate you are going with your rhetoric, you are coming also close to wearing that label.

Now just be patient. I will put a little post on the main page here shortly highlighting your article and linking everyone to it so "ALL" without exception can jump over to it and give it a look.


9:34 AM, February 08, 2008  

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