Eternal Security: NOSAS Versus OSAS (Part 3)
In reference to John 10:27-28 Louis writes:
LOUIS: This passage teaches conditional security. It says nothing about those who were once believers (repented and had faith in Christ), but who later draw back (fall away) in unbelief and willful sin to perdition. Those who use this passage to teach unconditional security are forcing it to say what it does not say, in order to support their position. Notice further explicit truth on conditional security below.
TOM: When we look at the verse in the way you do, it teaches conditional security – i.e. conditioned on continually “hearing” and “following” Jesus Christ. But, when we look at it from a heavenly perspective where Jesus Christ is seated on high at the right hand of his Father to intercede for us and to accomplish our salvation to the uttermost, it teaches unconditional security. Which is it? Jesus does not say “if my sheep hear my voice . . . . and follow me.” He made an emphatic, unconditional and categorical statement: “My sheep hear my voice . . . and they follow me.” Why is He so confident that they hear his voice and follow Him and will continue to obey and follow Him? The answer is simple: because He who is seated at the right hand of God, knows his sheep. One can almost hear Satan hissing and whispering in Jesus’ ear and accusing the brethren: “You call those culprits your sheep whom you claim listen to and obey your voice. They are a disloyal bunch of sinners who will eventually abandon you.” And then Jesus answering him in his authoritative voice: “No they wont, I KNOW them and I KNOW they won’t.”
“For if we sin wilfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there is no longer remains a sacrifices for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and a fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries . . .The just shall live by faith; but if anyone draws back, My soul has no pleasure in him . . . but we are not of those who draw back to perdition, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul.”
Notice that the Hebrew writer includes himself among the “we” (verse 26), who were confronted with the temptation to willful sinning, falling away (“draw back”), ending in perdition. The same group had been sanctified through the blood of the covenant. Certainly, such a group of people, who included the writer of the epistle, who had an experimental and personal knowledge of the truth, and who had been sanctified through the blood of Christ, were truly God’s children. If the “we” passages of warning are followed through the epistle, the conclusion is that children of God are written to.
Backsliding is an intentional falling away or withdrawal, a defection. We are not teaching sinless perfection but there is a distinction, consistent with the Bible, between a single act of sin (a sin of surprise) in contrast to an on-going course of conscious wilful sinning and eventual apostasy. The word epignosis (knowledge), used in verse 26, indicates full knowledge, understanding, and discernment. Here is a believer who falls away. He gives up, loses interest, and goes his own way. The process of falling away may be gradual, but at some point a conscious decision is made to leave the way of God, the Bible, prayer, perseverance and the grace of the Lord Jesus.
“Willfully” (hekousios) carries the idea of deliberate intention that is habitual. It is not to sins of ignorance or weakness, but to those that are planned out, determined, done with forethought. The causes of falling away (drawing back) are: persecution, false teaching, temptation, loving the world, neglect of God’s grace, forsaking prayer, the Bible, church attendance, etc.
Verse 6. If they shall fall away. Literally, “and having fallen away.” “There is no if in the Greek in this place-‘having fallen away.'” Dr. J. P. Wilson. It is not an affirmation that any had actually fallen away, or that, in fact, they would do it; but the statement is, that on the supposition that they had fallen away, it would be impossible to renew them again. It is the same as supposing a case which, in fact, might never occur:-as if we should say, “had a man fallen down a precipice, it would be impossible to save him;” or, “had the child fallen into the stream, he would certainly have been drowned.” But though this literally means “having fallen away,” yet the sense, in the connexion in which it stands, is not improperly expressed by our common translation. The Syriac has given a version Which is remarkable, not as a correct translation, but as showing what was the prevailing belief in the time in which it was made, (probably the first or second century,) in regard to the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. “For it is impossible that they who have been baptized, and who have tasted the gift which is from heaven, and have received the spirit of holiness, and have tasted the good word of God, and the power of the coming age, should again sin, so that they should be renewed again to repentance, and again crucify the Son of God, and put him to ignominy.” The word rendered “fall away” means, properly, “to fall nearby any one;” “to fall in with, or meet;” and thus to fall aside from, to swerve or deviate from; and here means undoubtedly to apostatize from, and implies an entire renunciation of Christianity, or a going back to a state of Judaism, heathenism, or sin. The Greek word occurs nowhere else in the New Testament. It is material to remark here that the apostle does not say that any true Christian ever had fallen away. He makes a statement of what would occur on the supposition that such a thing should happen -but a statement may be made of what would occur on the supposition that a certain thing should take place, and yet it be morally certain that the event never would happen. It would be easy to suppose what would happen if the ocean should overflow a continent, or if the sun should cease to rise, and still there be entire certainty that such an event never would occur.
To renew them again. Implying that they had been before renewed, or had been true Christians. The word again – “palin” – supposes this; and this passage, therefore, confirms the considerations suggested above, showing that they were true Christians who were referred to. They had once repented, but it would be impossible to bring them to this state again. The declaration, of course, is to be read in connexion with the first clause of Hebrews 6:4, “It is impossible to renew again to repentance those who once were true Christians, should they fall away.” I know of no declaration more unambiguous than this. It is a positive declaration. It is not that it would be very difficult to do it; or that it would be impossible for man to do it, though it might be done by God; it is an unequivocal and absolute declaration that it would be utterly impracticable that it should be done by any one, or by any means; and this, I have no doubt, is the meaning of the apostle. Should a Christian fall from grace, he must perish. HE NEVER COULD BE SAVED [again]. The reason of this the apostle immediately, adds.
Seeing. This word is not in the Greek, though the sense is expressed. The Greek literally is, “having again crucified to themselves the Son of God.” The reason here given is, that the crime would be so great, and they would so effectually exclude themselves from the only plan of salvation, that they could not be saved. There is but one way of salvation. Having tried that, and then renounced it, how could they then be saved? The case is like that of a drowning man. If there was but one plank by which he could be saved, and he should get on that, and then push it away and plunge into the deep, he must die. Or if there was but one rope by which the shore could be reached from a wreck, and he should cut that and cast it off, he must die. Or if a man were sick, and there was but one kind of medicine that could possibly restore him, and he should deliberately dash that away, he must die. So in religion. There is but one way of salvation. If a man deliberately rejects that, he must perish.
They crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh. Our translators have rendered this as if the Greek were – “anastaurountav palin” – crucify again, and so it is rendered by Chrysostom, by Tindal, Coverdale, Beza, Luther, and others. But this is not properly the meaning of the Greek. The word “anastaurow” is an intensive word, and is employed instead of the usual word “to crucify,” only to denote emphasis. It means that such an act of apostasy would be equivalent to crucifying him in an aggravated manner. Of course this is to be taken figuratively. It could not be literally true that they would thus crucify the Redeemer. The meaning is, that their conduct would be as if they had crucified him; it would bear a strong resemblance to the act by which the Lord Jesus was publicly rejected and condemned to die. The act of crucifying the Son of God was the great crime which out peers any other deed of human guilt. Yet the apostle says, that should they who had been true Christians fall away, and reject him, they would be guilty of a similar crime. It would be a public and solemn act of rejecting him. It would show that if they had been there they would have joined in the cry, “Crucify him, crucify him!” The intensity and aggravation of such a crime perhaps the apostle meant to indicate by the intensive or emphatic “ana” in the “anastaurountav.” Such an act would render their salvation impossible, because:-
- the crime would be aggravated beyond that of those who rejected him and put him to death-for they knew not what they did; and
- because it would be a rejection of the only possible plan of salvation, after they had had experience of its power and known its efficacy. The phrase “to themselves,” Tindal renders, “as concerning themselves.” Others, “as far as in them lies,” or as far as they have ability to do. Others, “to their own heart.” Probably Grotius has suggested the true sense. “They do it for themselves. They make the act their own. It is as if they did it themselves; and they are to be regarded as having done the deed.” So we make the act of another our own when we authorize it beforehand, or approve of it after it is done.
And put him to an open shame. Make him a public example; or hold him up as worthy of death on the cross. See the same word explained in See Barnes “Mt 1:19”, in the phrase, “make her a public example.” The word occurs nowhere else in the New Testament. Their apostasy and rejection of the Saviour would be like holding him up publicly as deserving the infamy and ignominy of the cross. A great part of the crime attending the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus, consisted in exhibiting him to the passing multitude as deserving the death of a malefactor. Of that sin they would partake who should reject him, for they would thus show that they regarded his religion as an imposture, and would, in a public manner, hold him up as worthy only of rejection and contempt. Such, it seems to me, is the fair meaning of this much-disputed passage – a passage which would never have given so much perplexity if it had not been supposed that the obvious interpretation would interfere with some prevalent articles of theology. The passage proves that if true Christians should apostatize, it would be impossible to renew and save them. If then it should be asked whether I believe that any true Christian ever did, or ever will fall from grace, and wholly lose his religion, I would answer unhesitatingly, No. Comp. See Barnes “John 10:27,28 Ro 8:38,39 Galatians 5:4. If then it be asked what was the use of a warning like this, I answer,
- It would show the great sin of apostasy from God if it were to occur. It is proper to state the greatness of an act of sin, though it might never occur, in order to show how it would be regarded by God.
- Such a statement might be one of the most effectual means of preserving from apostasy. To state that a fall from a precipice would cause certain death, would be one of the most certain means of preserving one from falling; to affirm that arsenic would be certainly fatal, is one of the most effectual means of preventing its being taken; to know that fire certainly destroys, is one of the most sure checks from the danger. Thousands have been preserved from going over the Falls of Niagara by knowing that there would be no possibility of escape; and so effectual has been this knowledge, that it has preserved all from such a catastrophe, except the very few who have gone over by accident. So in religion. The knowledge that apostasy would be fatal, and there could be no hope of being saved should it once occur, would be a more effectual preventive of the danger than all the other means that could be used. If a man believed that it would be an easy matter to be restored again, should he apostatize, he would feel little solicitude in regard to it; and it has occurred, in fact, that they who suppose that this may occur, have manifested little of the care to walk in the paths of strict religion, which should have been evinced.
- It may be added, that the means used by God to preserve his people from apostasy have been entirely effectual. There is no evidence that one has ever fallen away who was a true Christian, Comp. John 10:27,28, and John 2:19; and to the end of the world it will be true, that the means which he uses to keep his people from apostasy will not in a single instance fail.
Hebrews 3: 6
This section does not teach that a saint can lose his/her salvation but the loss of ministration privileges as a priest each and every saint is given at his/her new-birth. Christ, in contrast to Moses who was merely a ministering servant in God’s house (a witness in the Tabernacle to the things pertaining to Christ – His death and resurrection, ascension and High priestly office in heaven at the right hand of God), is now faithful over His Father’s house in heaven as a Son and Master of it all. The holy of holies in the Tabernacle was merely a shadow (a miniature representation of everything in the greater heavenly House) over which His Son now presides as the eternally faithful High Priest. As such we have an immensely great and important ministry to perform as priests (1 Peter 2: 9; Hebrews 4: 6; Revelation 1: 6) in the presence of our High Priest (Hebrews 10: 19). Exodus and Leviticus (often called the Hebrews of the Old Testament) teaches that God brought His people out in order to bring them in – to free them from the yoke of bondage and slavery in Egypt and to lead them into a life of exultant joy in the presence of God in their own Promised Land. But first they had to prepare a dwelling place for Him according to the exact pattern of the holy of holies in heaven so that he could live amongst them as their God as well as to demonstrate to them the only way to spiritual redemption. Despite their much privileged position of constantly being in the presence of God through the ministry of Moses, Aaron and the Levites, the Israelites murmured throughout their sojourn in the wilderness failing to believe that God was able to bring them into their Promised Land. The author of Hebrews (whom I believe to be Paul) referred to their classic failure at Kadesh Barnea which led to their 40-year sojourn in the wilderness to drive home his call to fidelity and to warn of the consequences of unbelieving infidelity. What were the consequences? It is clear that the author was thinking in terms of priestly duties and the function of the priests in the heavenly sphere to show that as long as saints hold firmly to their commitment, they would function properly within the priestly arrangement. If not, they would lead a life of tragic loss and defeat in a spiritually barren wilderness much the same as the Israelites suffered during their 40 years sojourn in the wilderness. Just as one who was a true Levite by birth could withdraw from participation in the tabernacle of Moses’ day, so too one who is truly a Christian by the new birth may withdraw from his priestly role within the functioning household of God.
- Hebrews 3 and 4 do not teach that a saint can lose his/her salvation.
- Israel failed to enter God’s rest because of their clamorous murmuring and disobedience. The fact that they murmured so much proved that they did not trust Him to take them through into His rest.
- Similarly God has promised a rest for His saints of today, i.e. peace and tranquillity in the midst of trials and victory in the face of impossible odds. This “life of rest” in our spiritual Canaan is called “going on unto perfection” (maturity) in Hebrews 6: 1; “the full assurance of hope” in Hebrews 6: 11 and “inheriting the promises” in Hebrews 6: 12. We must bear in mind that the Hebrew Christians were experiencing persecution and a time of testing (10: 32-39; 12: 3-14; 13: 13) and were temped like Israel who hankered to return to Egypt, to return to their old life and ways of religion.
- The rest of our spiritual Canaan is a “Sabbath of the soul.” This is the “rest of faith” that Jesus promises in Matt. 11:28-30. The “rest” of Matt. 11:28 is salvation, and it is a gift that we receive by faith. The rest of 11:30 is what we find day by day as we take up His yoke and surrender. “Let us therefore fear” (v. 1) is God’s warning, for many of His children
- who have failed to enter into this life of rest and victory. What are the consequences for the saints who do not enter into His rest? Loss of salvation? No! Loss of reward? Yes! “If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.” (1 Corinthians 3: 15)
- To rest means to abandon your own efforts in trying to endure to the end; to cease from turning the eyes inward to self as though it may assist you in reaching your ultimate destination in heaven. Paul learned this secret when he cried out in anguish, “I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh” . . . O unhappy and pitiable and wretched man that I am! Who will release and deliver me from [the shackles of] this body of death?” . . . and then the cry of exultant victory over self and everything that self presents as a means of achievement . . .”O thank God – He will!” (not I or anything else I may deem helpful in reaching the goal) . . . . and how does He do it? Not through or by anything I may offer Him in the line of endurance, perseverance, etc. . . . through Jesus Christ, the Anointed One, our Lord (through the One Who has been anointed for the specific task of saving the lost and to continue to keep them saved to the uttermost).
Premature death was often the means God used to judge and punish His children. Peter said, “For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God?” (1 Peter 4:15). It is evident that Peter made a distinction between the judgment that must begin at the household of God and the unbelievers. Consider for instance 1 Corinthians 11:30 where Paul says that many of the brethren were weak and sick and some have fallen into the sleep of death because of their inappropriate participation in holy communion. Notice the expression “the sleep of death” which is only used of believers who have died. These passages do not describe the loss of salvation but premature loss of life and consequently a loss of reward which the prematurely deceased saint could have gained had he/she not been judged in this way and lived much longer.
Similarly James 5:19 and 20 does not describe the loss and then the salvaging of one’s salvation. It simply describes a saint who has wandered off or strayed onto a road of error. The word “convert” (“epistrepho”) means to turn a saint who has strayed around or to help him to return to his original position and not to convert him from a position of being lost to a position of being saved again. Had that been the case James 5: 19, 20 would have been completely at odds with Hebrews 6: 6 which says that it is impossible to bring those who have turned from their allegiance back to repentance (conversion). We find a similar situation in the Old Testament when Abraham journeyed to Egypt during a great famine and nearly jeopardized God’s plan of salvation had He not intervened and saved Sarah’s honour. In verses 3 and 4 of Genesis chapter 13 we learn that Abraham returned to Bethel and the place where his tent had been at the beginning between Bethel and Ai, where he had built an altar at first. There is not a single saint who can boast that he has never lost his way and gone astray at some stage of his spiritual life. Those who think that they stand are usually the one’s who easily fall into error (1 Corinthians 10:12). Like Abraham, the saint who wanders off into his own Egypt (spiritual error and sin) should always return to the altar that was built for him on Golgotha where he can be restored to his original position with God.
If falling into apostasy spells Ichabod and no return for the one who has fallen away, King Solomon must be in hell. If ever there was a man who tasted all the benefits of God’s grace, in particular wisdom and the fear of the Lord which is the beginning of wisdom, it was King Solomon. Although he did not fall into a full blown apostasy he did sin “Willfully” (hekousios) [that] carries the idea of deliberate intention that is habitual.” In 1 Kings 11 we learn that “Solomon did evil in the sight of the LORD, and went not fully after the LORD, as did David his father.” (1 Kings 11:6) which means that he did not renounce God in public and turn his back on Him. However, he did sin wilfully. We learn from the same chapter that God warned him twice about his wilful sin but he refused to listen. Did Solomon repent of his evil ways and seek forgiveness? I believe that the whole of Ecclesiastes is his confession. Years later the prophet Jeremiah wrote:
“Did not Solomon king of Israel sin by these things? yet among many nations was there no king like him, who was beloved of his God, and God made him king over all Israel: nevertheless even him did outlandish women cause to sin. (Nehemiah 13:26)
LOUIS: John 15:3, 6
“If a man abides not in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and men gather them and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.” Jesus was talking to His followers when He said: “You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you” (verse 3). This applied to none but children of God. The unfruitful branches are to be taken away and the same branches are cast forth and burned. They are no longer joined to Christ, and can no more share His life (1John 5:11-12). See “Some clichÃ©s of the security doctrine.” Once again, there is an evident condition to continuous security and that is continued abiding in Christ. These verses teach one’s dependence on Christ, communion with Him, and obedience to Him for fruit bearing and sharing His life.
“For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than in the beginning. For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them. But is has happened to them according to the true proverb: A dog returns to his own vomit, and a sow, having washed, to her wallowing in the mud.”
It is important to know that “knowledge” (epignosis) and “known” (epiginosko) refers not to casual knowledge, but it is “more intense because it expresses a more thorough participation in the acquiring of knowledge on the part of the learner, it refers to knowledge which very powerfully influences the form of spiritual life, a knowledge laying claim to personal involvement, determines the manifestations of the spiritual life and become fully acquainted with” (Zodhiates, Spiros: Complete Word Study Dictionary NT, p.624).
Calvinists say the dog is still a dog and the sow is still a sow, and God never calls His people either dogs or sows. A rule of interpretation (hermeneutics) is that parables and similar figures cannot be made to apply at every point. We must discover the lesson which the figure is trying to teach and not press it beyond that.
In the figure of the sow, there is a physical washing, in the analogy, there is a spiritual washing, referred to in the words “they have escaped the pollutions of the world…” Now when a sinner is washed from spiritual pollutions, he is in that washing made a new creature in Christ (1Corinthians 6:9-11 and Titus 3:5). The washing and the regeneration (beginning of new life) are united together. It is therefore irrelevant to say that the pig did not become a sheep when it was washed. Pigs never become sheep through washing, but sinners do become saints by the washing of regeneration. Parables and proverbs use familiar, earthly examples and stories to illustrate spiritual truth.
The fact is that a sinner once washed from pollution may return to it and the pig still has a pig’s nature – an inclination toward the unclean, even after it is washed. Likewise, a new regenerated person still has an inherited sinfulness of nature. It is this very fact which makes the warnings against falling away (backsliding) so serious.
TOM: A key passage in Scripture for eternal security is 2 Peter 2:9
The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the Day of Judgment to be punished: (2 Peter 2:9).
If the Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations and does indeed deliver them (for He cannot lie), 2 Peter 2:20-22 cannot have any bearing on believers. If it had been a reference to true believers God could have been charged with doing a bad job in delivering believers from temptations (the pollutions of the world). It must therefore refer to unbelievers who profess to having been delivered from the pollutions of the world. To escape the pollutions of the world does not necessarily mean that they had been saved (delivered) from the world’s pollutions (spiritually washed from spiritual pollutions). Anyone can escape the pollutions of the world by his/her own efforts. I personally have heard people say that they have stopped smoking, drinking or even fornicating through some kind of wakeup call they had through an accident or something dreadful that happened to them, and yet they hadn’t truly been saved.
You may argue that those who escape the pollutions of the world have done so through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Neither does this prove that they were true Christians, or that they had ever had any saving knowledge of the Redeemer. There is a knowledge of the doctrines and duties of religion which may lead sinners to abandon their outward vices, which has no connection with saving grace. They may profess religion, and may know enough of religion to understand that it requires them to abandon their vicious habits, and still never be true Christians.
If we take into account that Peter speaks of false prophets who also came in among the people (verse 1), it is plain why he could say “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.’ (2 Peter 2:20). Apostasy can only take place when the apostate knows the truth. No one can apostatize from the truth unless they know what the truth is from which they have apostasized. Therefore, their apostasy is a calculated, wilful and deliberate rebellion against God. “Whosoever transgresseth (go conrary to), and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son.” (2 John 1:9). It clearly says that those who apostatise do not have God. It does not say that they had Him and then lost Him. They never had Him. They were never saved.
The word “deliver” (rhuomai) in verse 9 means to rescue out of for the sake of the Deliverer Himself. “Deliver us from evil” in the Lord’s Prayer – i.e. “Deliver me to Yourself and for Yourself.” That is, “Lord deliver me out of my (personal) pains and bring me to You and for You.” (For your Name’s sake). A good example of the meaning of this kind of deliverance is in Exodus 32 where God wanted to wipe out the entire nation of Israel and make Moses a great nation and Moses prayed as follows:
And Moses besought the LORD his God, and said, LORD, why doth thy wrath wax hot against thy people, which thou hast brought forth out of the land of Egypt with great power, and with a mighty hand? Wherefore should the Egyptians speak, and say, For mischief did he bring them out, to slay them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth? Turn from thy fierce wrath, and repent of this evil against thy people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, thy servants, to whom thou swarest by thine own self, and saidst unto them, I will multiply your seed as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have spoken of will I give unto your seed, and they shall inherit it for ever. (Exodus 32:11-13).
Eternal Security for God’s own Name Sake
OK, you may argue that God did not deliver Israel from temptation and allowed them to fall deeply into sin. Be that as it may, the point I’m trying to make is that God preserved Israel for his own Name’s sake. Had He destroyed them the heathen nations could have mocked Him and said: “He delivered them from Egypt but was unable to bring them to their Promised Land? He brought them out (saved) them but could not bring them in (save them to the uttermost).”
So, the fact that God delivers his saints (genuine believers) from temptation for the sake of his Name, his honour, his glory and his reputation, proves that He would never allow them to fall into apostasy. If it were possible his nature and character would have been grossly maligned and denigrated. That is precisely why Hebrew 6 says that if it were possible for a saint to lose his salvation it would mean that Jesus would have to be crucified again and put to open shame in the face of his enemies again.
(1)Though a Presbyterian, Barnes argued that man possesses freewill; he urged his auditors exercise their power of choice, and to respond to God’s offer of salvation. These views brought him into serious conflict with strict Calvinists. After the publication of his commentary on Romans, Barnes was charged with doctrinal heresy, and put on trial (1835) by his presbytery. Ultimately, the church’s general assembly acquitted him, though with some censure. His teaching on “unlimited atonement” (contra Calvin) helped generate a split in the Presbyterian Church in 1837. (
- Eternal Security: NOSAS Versus OSAS (Part 1)
- Eternal Security: NOSAS Versus OSAS (Part 2)
- Eternal Security: NOSAS Versus OSAS (Part 4)
- Eternal Security: NOSAS Versus OSAS (Part 5)