Eternal Security Debate
Do the Gospels Teach that Salvation Can Be Lost?
Negative Rebuttal Essay
by Vocab (Link)
In his opener, Nick lists a great number of proof texts (21!), gave his brief interpretation (often without an adequate justification), and then quickly moved on to his next proof text. It is difficult to properly exegete 21 different passages of Scripture in so short a space. It's unfortunate he took this sort of ‘shotgun approach’ because it often results in superficial readings and is not friendly towards in-depth exegesis. There are a couple general things to note about his list:
Many of them are parables or metaphors. Many are not dealing primarily with issues of salvation and yet Nick reads them that way. Many of the texts are dealing with other matters – they are not primarily 'salvation' texts in that their main subject is something different. Nick's misapplication of Matthew 5:13 is no exception to this flaw. The text is dealing with the collective mission of believers in the world - not with individual salvation. That question isn't even on the floor, so to speak. Just read through Matthew 5:10-14 and ask yourself, 'what is Jesus communicating here: the mission of his followers in a hateful world or some aspect about an individual's salvation?' The answer is without a doubt the former. Even if we were to read this in a way similar to Nick, I'm not sure it would work because the salt is still salt!
Many of his interpretations assume Roman Catholic dogma. Nick uses Matthew 26:33 and says that, “Denying Christ is a cardinal sin, and surely indicates loss of Peter’s salvation.” Note the assumptions: a ‘cardinal’ sin results in loss of salvation. We must ask: where did ‘cardinal sin’ come from in regards to this passage? Isn’t Nick supposed to be proving that salvation can be lost – not already assuming that certain sins result in losing salvation? Nick assumes what he is trying to prove in almost every one of the verses he listed as opposed to deriving his point from the text. Instead, he co-opts the text in an effort to ‘help’ the text help him prove his points. This is called eisegesis – reading in what is not there.
The use of the present tense does not prove his case. If a person thinks that John using the present tense is proof that one can lose their salvation, then I would want to ask them was there any other way for John to describe an ongoing relationship with the God of Israel? Think about it: if one cannot completely lose the relationship with the Lord, then it is always present! Even more than that, as one reads John’s gospel, they will soon realize that whenever John speaks of the false faith of counterfeit believers, he employs the aorist tense. A few examples are John 2:23 and John 8:30. This is a subtle way John differentiates between ‘wheat’ and ‘tares’, a la Matthew 13:30.
While we’re in Matthew and before we look at a few of Nick’s points, I think it is wise to keep in mind Matthew 7:21–23: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ This will help us keep this debate in perspective; here we have folks who by every external measure look truly saved and yet they were false prophets, wolves in sheep’s clothing. This should humble us, both in our own complacency and our appearance-based judgments. Of course, the most profound statement comes at the end: “I never knew you.” The word here for never is oudepote and per Louw-Nida’s Lexicon (UBS, 1996) refers to “an indefinite negated point of time—‘never, not ever, at no time.’” The entry also points out its use in three other places in the NT (He 9:17; 2 Tm 3:7; Jn 7:46). If you peep out those other verses, you’ll quickly get an idea of the “never at any time” vibe of the word.
When we compare this to Jesus statement in John 10:14 that "I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me," we can see this means Jesus is saying he never knew these folks – they did not fall away, for he did not know them at one time and then their sin became so foul that he had to let them go. No, they never had a relationship with the Lord and instead were workers of iniquity. This truth must factor in all discussions of the eternal security question.
Nick employs yet another non-salvific text - Matthew 10:28 - in his presentation. Interestingly enough, right after this verse we have powerful affirmations of God’s providential control in regards to the smallest of events, as in the death of the sparrow (Mt 10:29); even the number of our hairs is under his governance (Mt 10:30). These verses also direct us towards the protecting love of God; sovereignty and God’s protecting love are the very foundation of the security of the believer!
In regards to Matthew 5:12-15, Nick says that “if the believer won’t forgive others, God won’t forgive them.” The best way I have seen this summed up is like this: “Unforgiving means unforgiven.” This means that if a person is unforgiving then they themselves have not known forgiveness. I would also like Nick to tell us if he thinks he himself has perfectly forgiven all those in his life who have harmed him. Is it even possible for him to remember this accurately? Yes, we should be forgiving if we have been forgiven but we are kidding ourselves if we think we can forgive others in a way that meets God’s standard.
Out of all Nick’s comments, I found the one on John 13:8 to be the strangest: “Jesus put Peter's salvation on the line, indicating that salvation can be lost…”. Where does Jesus put Peter’s salvation on the line? According to Nick, when he tells Peter he must wash his feet! Unless I misunderstand, what Nick is saying is if Peter had not let Jesus wash his feet in the upper room, then Peter would have lost his salvation. Peter was objecting to his Master’s humble service because he failed to see the deeper meaning of Jesus’ actions but are we to think that this would have endangered his soul? Dr. Ed Blum has paraphrased the object lesson this way: “Unless I wash your sins away by My atoning death (Rev 1:5) you have no real relationship to Me” (1 Jn 1:7).” (Bible Knowledge Commentary, 1983). Jesus isn’t “indicating that salvation can be lost” but rather what the nature of salvation looks like in the first place.
What of John 15:1-10? Is Jesus painting a picture of believers who have lost their salvation and are now to be cast into hell? It seems that the one who “does not abide in me” (Jn 15:6) is an unbeliever, equivalent to the one who “does not bear fruit” (Jn 15:2).
In John 15:11, Jesus tells his disciples the point of this discourse: “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” Would it make sense for Jesus to say, “Listen up guys; I want you to know that if you don’t bear fruit you’re going to lose your salvation and go to hell – cheer up! Guess what else? I’m going to be betrayed and crucified – now I’m only telling you this so you’ll be happy!” No.
I hesitate to quote James White because of Nick’s history =) with him but his comments are nonetheless helpful:
“The branches that are pruned by the Father are those that abide in Christ. Again, this is not an action that comes from the branch but from the vine. That is, those branches that have a vital union with the vine are the ones that bear fruit. The fruitfulness of the branch is a function of the vine, not of the branch itself!” (From “The Believer's Security”)
In another article on this same passage, Dr. White wrote,
“The branch’s ability to do what it is designed to do (bear fruit) is completely and totally contingent upon another, that being the vine. The life-giving sap flows from the vine to the branch, resulting in the creation of fruit. In the same way, the believer who bears fruit never does so on “his own,” but only as grace flows from Christ into his or her life.” (From “John 15, the Vine and the Branches”)
Nick’s Opener and John’s Gospel
At the end of Nick’s opener, he claims that when Jesus says “no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand” (Jn 10:29) that this is “in the sense of external forces” such as Satan. However, the text does not single out Satan (or anyone else); no one is a universal negative - it negates every one. Why is Nick inserting the foreign idea of “external forces” into the text? When it says “no one is able;” this speaks of inability, meaning not even one single person has the ability to snatch them away. Nick really needs to deal with this instead of just telling us what he thinks it’s supposed to mean - especially when he gave us no solid basis for his explanation.
Much to my chagrin, Nick *does* argue Judas was truly saved and then lost. Isn’t it obvious, though, that when Jesus says he chose Judas in John 6:70, he means “selected to be one of the Twelve”? We see this played out in John 13:18: “I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But the Scripture will be fulfilled, ‘He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.’” Here Jesus explicitly places Judas outside the number of the elect. As Calvin pointed out, “Should any one confound the term election in the two passages, he will miserably entangle himself; whereas if he distinguish between them, nothing can be plainer (Institutes III, xxiv, 9).”
Eternal Life: Now or Later?
Anticipating the use of John 6:40 and John 10:28, Nick said that ‘eternal life’ in John has to do with “being in a current relationship with the Trinity.” It is unclear to me why Nick thinks Protestants define ‘eternal life’ as “legally worthy of entering Heaven” but on the face of it, isn’t it clear that eternal life means at least “life everlasting” or “life that never ends”? It is true there is a qualitative element in the phrase and this does have to do with knowing the Triune God but there is also – almost obviously – a quantitative element as well (Jn 8:51, Jn 11:26). Moreover, in John 10:28 the present tense is used, indicating they have already entered into eternal life – it is a current possession.
As the late Donald Guthrie explained, in John 5:24 “Eternal life is here defined as a transfer from death to life” (The New Bible Commentary, 1994). Nick tells us that “John is never saying ‘believe and eternally saved’” but compare that to John 3:36: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” Even more grand is the promise that the wrath of God no longer remains on those who believe in the Son! It seems Nick would have us believe differently - that it can indeed remain.
The interesting thing about Nick’s claim that eternal life in John merely means one is “in a current relationship with the Trinity” is directly contradicted by John 14:16: “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever.” This verse is Triune through and through: the Son asks the Father who sends the Holy Spirit - who remains with the believer forever. Further evidence to the permanency of the relationship is that the same word (aiōn) often translated ‘eternal’ is translated ‘forever’ here. This is why it is wrong to believe in lifelong insecurity and right for Christians to speak of eternal security.
Andreas Kostenberger, in his wonderful Father, Son and Spirit: The Trinity and John’s Gospel (Apollos, 2008) helps us see that “this is the great blessing that Jesus the anointed Son of God brings – a share in his filial relationship with the Father by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (p 146-7).” In essence, this means that just as the Father would never kick the Holy Spirit out of the Trinity (God forbid!), now the Father will not kick any true Christian out of the family! As foreign as that may sound to certain ears, think of it this way; “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (Jn 1:12). We have been made sons! We have been adopted by a Father who chose us and does not ‘un-adopt’ those whom he has made sons.