AN INEVITABLE ELECTION?
Copyright © 2011 Trumpet Ministries, Inc. All rights reserved.
Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.
There are verses in the Bible that seem to say that once we accept Christ, we can never be lost. There are other verses in the same Bible that seem to say we can start off with Christ, and then fall away to destruction. To choose one and ignore the other leads to deception and possibly to severe punishment.
For God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable. (Romans 11:29)
If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning. (II Peter 2:20)
There are verses in the Bible that seem to say that once we accept Christ, we can never be lost. There are other verses in the same Bible that seem to say we can start off with Christ, and then fall away to destruction. It is not uncommon for Christian people to select verses of which they approve and ignore verses of which they do not approve. Truth is not to be pursued in this manner.
Those who adhere to the first position, that once we accept Christ we can never be lost, would insist that II Peter 2:20 is referring to people who never had been truly saved. But this verse is speaking of those who had escaped the corruption of the world “by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” So how can we say they never had been saved in the first place?
Since it is obvious the Bible supports both points of view, that God’s callings are irrevocable, and it is possible to escape the corruption of the world and then be entangled in it and overcome, one can wonder at the current opposition to the thought that individuals can start off as believers and then be “worse off at the end than they were in the beginning.”
What is the basis for this fierce resistance to the Scripture? Is it because of humanistic influence, the concept that nothing bad can happen to us good people? Is it to provide assurance to the fearful, a kind of “I’m okay and you’re okay”? Does it spring from Satan who is hoping to escape punishment, and who thus advances the idea that God is too good or too loving to punish anyone for eternity? “You shall not surely die”? There is a lot of this sort of thought going around today, with the unscriptural concept of “unconditional love.” It is true that God will accept the repentant sinner unconditionally. But it is not at all true that God continues to love and bless us when we disobey Him. The entire Bible rejects this modern view of God.
Is it because of the realization of the ultimate sovereignty of God, that when God calls someone, He does not do so because of any good on the individual’s part? Using the concept of God’s sovereignty in the plan of salvation as an axiom, one can deduce that redemption operates independently of our behavior. “The believer is on his way to Heaven, and no sinful behavior on his part can keep him out of Paradise.” Tremendous mischief proceeds from this theory! An unsaved psychologist being aware of this reasoning would predict accurately that when the believer is tempted severely, he will fall. And no desire to “please Jesus” will withstand the fiery passions that demons can apply to the human personality if deep in the believer’s mind is the assurance that whatever he or she does, Paradise is assured.
The Christian people in America are not noted for their moral behavior, in many instances. I believe part of this immorality is due to the strong flavor of inevitable election (“eternal security”) in Christian teaching, preaching, and literature.
Is it because we feel we must sin? There has been much teaching to the effect that everyone must sin while in the world, that no one is perfect.
Is it because we want to continue sinning and not be penalized for it?
There is an abundance of passages that proclaim, or appear to proclaim, an inevitable election.
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — Not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8,9)
Who has saved us and called us to a holy life — not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, (II Timothy 1:9)
That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day. (II Timothy 1:12)
There are the often repeated sayings that “God is married to the backslider,” and that “once having been born we cannot be unborn.”
“Return, faithless people,” declares the LORD, “for I am your husband. I will choose you — one from a town and two from a clan — and bring you to Zion.” (Jeremiah 3:14)
For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. (I Peter 1:23)
Then there is an abundance of passages that warn Christians if they disobey the laws of the Kingdom of God, they will face frightful punishment, endangering their very salvation.
The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; Idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions And envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21)
He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. (John 15:2)
I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds. (Revelation 2:23)
I don’t know about you, but it seems to me that the case for conditional salvation is as strong as unconditional salvation. Yet, in our day, scholars have endeavored to explain away all the passages that suggest our salvation is conditional.
When we have an apparent conflict in the Bible, we cannot just discard those passages that seem to oppose our beliefs and embrace our favorite promises. We must seek God until we understand the overarching truth, the Divine truth of which the two sides of the controversy are supporting pillars providing the necessary balance and symmetry.
Before we proceed further, let us establish the ground rules for our discussion of inevitable election. The writer’s belief is that every word of the approved Hebrew and Greek texts is inspired by the Spirit of God. There is none that is suspect or to be ignored. We cannot emphasize some passages and ignore others without being guilty of a private interpretation of the Scriptures. When we do this, we are denying the fact that the writers of the Bible were inspired by the Lord, and we are thinking they were expressing their own opinions, speaking according to their own wills.
If we all are in agreement that the words of the Bible are fully inspired, then we can see the need for fully accepting both sides of the conditional-unconditional controversy. It is apparent therefore that Divine truth rises above this controversy with an explanation that completely satisfies all passages of the Scriptures.
There is no doubt in my mind that God is sovereign in the plan of election. God has an eternal purpose in Christ. God is conforming to the image of Christ those whom God foreknew from the beginning of the world
And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. (Romans 8:28,29—KJV)
And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. (Romans 8:30)
What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath — prepared for destruction? What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory — Even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles? (Romans 9:22-24)
“Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated” — and this before they were born, before they had done anything good or bad! The whole Bible reveals an Israel whom God called out from the nations of the world to belong especially to Himself, apart from any righteous works on their part. There is no biblical evidence that Abraham was more righteous than the other inhabitants of Ur of the Chaldees.
A strong case can be made for the sovereignty of God in the plan of redemption, giving rise to the doctrine that our behavior does not significantly affect our salvation, that we are eternally secure once we have “accepted Christ.”
Can an equally strong case be made for the idea that our behavior can significantly affect our salvation? In my opinion, it can.
We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first. (Hebrews 3:14)
You know, if there were no other verse in the Bible that proclaims the conditional aspect of salvation, Hebrews 3:14 alone would be sufficient. We “share in Christ if”! Assuredly, to not share in Christ is to miss out on the best part of salvation — perhaps all of salvation. What could there be of salvation that is without Christ?
If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, But only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (Hebrews 10:26-31)
Let us examine carefully the above passage. First of all, who are being discussed? “We deliberately keep on sinning.” Who are the “we”? “We” are the holy brothers.
Therefore, holy brothers, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, the apostle and high priest whom we confess. (Hebrews 3:1)
I am making a point of who is being discussed because those teachers who resist vehemently any attempt to moderate the unconditional viewpoint will attempt to show that those being discussed were unsaved, or those who were merely professing Christ, but who never actually “accepted Christ.” They will use finer points of the Greek language to prove their point, and we who are not well versed in Greek are placed at a disadvantage. So we must resort to the words of the epistle itself, and also to common sense.
We are discussing, in the passage above, those who have “treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified” us. I think the writer is referring to Christians.
“The Lord will judge his people.” It sounds as though those being addressed are the Lord’s people — in this instance, Jewish believers in Christ.
As we study the Epistle to the Hebrews, it is clear that those being exhorted are believers in Christ, not mere professors of religion, as some would have it.
What is the penalty to be applied to those believers who keep on sinning?
- “No sacrifice for sins is left.”
- They are faced with a “fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.”
- They are compared with those “who rejected the law of Moses” and who “died without mercy.”
- They are to be punished “severely” because they have “trampled the Son of God under foot” and have “treated as an unholy thing the blood” of Christ.
- They have “insulted the Spirit of grace.”
- God will avenge Himself on them because of their betrayal of Christ.
- They will experience a dreadful thing as they “fall into the hands of the living God.”
The above either is the incorruptible word of the living God, or it is not.
Though you already know all this, I want to remind you that the Lord delivered his people out of Egypt, but later destroyed those who did not believe. (Jude 1:5)
Jude brings up a point, also found in Hebrews chapter three. It is this: salvation is future, as well as past and present. Remember, it is he who endures to the end who shall be saved, according to the Lord Jesus.
Salvation is past. Once we come to the Lord Jesus Christ for the salvation of our sins, we have been saved, to that point.
Salvation is present. Each day we must work out our salvation with fear and trembling. This is what the Bible says.
In one sense, salvation is never actually past. What we had with Christ yesterday is as yesterday’s manna. It is beginning to breed worms. Salvation in this sense is always today. All that matters is: are you abiding in Christ right this minute? If not, you are looking back to an experience that already is decaying.
By the same token, there is no future salvation, so to speak. When you arrive at some point in the future, it will be “today.”
Salvation is future, according to the New Testament. He who endures to the end shall be saved. This is what the Lord Jesus said, although there are Christian commentators who claim this cannot be the case because we are saved independently of our behavior. Thus, in their determination to make salvation unconditional, to make election inevitable, they denounce the very words of Christ Himself.
But Paul spoke of salvation in the future.
And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. (Romans 13:11)
Undoubtedly Paul was referring to the redemption of the body, to the Day of Resurrection. The redemption of the body is considered to be salvation, and our behavior today affects the kind of resurrection we will experience.
There are two problems with the concept of unconditional salvation, with inevitable election. These two problems must be addressed clearly if one is to hold a balanced understanding of sovereign redemption coupled with the response of the believer:
- How do we know who has been elected to salvation?
- What are we to do with the numerous dire warnings in the New Testament concerning the conduct of Christians? If the warnings have no application to us, why are they in the Bible as though they are meant for Christians? God is not speaking to the unsaved about their behavior!
With respect to the warnings, the superficial response is: “We have been saved by grace, and so we need not pay attention to the warnings.” To respond in this manner is to say the warnings of Christ and His Apostles are to those who are not saved by grace; in other words, they are not addressed to Christian believers. Yet the tenor of the New Testament, plus the salutations that begin the various books, beginning with the four Gospel accounts, indicate that the recipients of the writings are God’s elect. I do not see how anyone could deny this.
To maintain unconditional salvation is to make all these warnings to Christians incompetent, immaterial, and irrelevant. This is not a sound manner in which to approach the Scriptures.
Some scholars have sought to remove the warnings by showing that those being warned were not actually Christians. For instance:
It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, Who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, If they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace. Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God. But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned. (Hebrews 6:4-8)
Consider the above. There are scholars who claim that the people being addressed were not true Christians. But what does the Scripture say about them?:
- They had been “enlightened.”
- They had “tasted the heavenly gift.”
- They had “shared in the Holy Spirit.”
- They had “tasted the goodness of the word of God and the power of the coming age.”
Would you say from this they actually were Christians? If not, how could we identify a true Christian? You know, I find it difficult to understand how devout, intelligent scholars, as the commentators are, can examine the above and say these were not genuine Christians.
Yet, if they are genuine Christians, then we see that if they turn their back on Christ, they are in clear danger of no longer being able to repent. To strengthen this statement, these Jewish believers are compared to a land that produces thorns and thistles. They are in danger of being cursed, and in the end, burned. This precisely is what the Lord Jesus said about unfruitful branches. An unfruitful branch is a believer who does not continue to abide in Christ, and who does not, as a result, bear the moral image of Christ in his or her personality.
If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. (John 15:6)
But, the proponents of unconditional salvation will object, the individual never was a true Christian. But the verse says: “Does not remain in me.” This expression is referring to someone who at one time was in Christ but did not remain in Christ.
It seems to me the main idea of those who reject John 15:6 and Hebrews 6:4-8 is that we cannot tell who a true Christian is. If the following criteria are not indexes of a true Christian, then what is?:
- They had been “enlightened.”
- They had “tasted the heavenly gift.”
- They had “shared in the Holy Spirit.”
- They had “tasted the goodness of the word of God and the power of the coming age.”
We are discussing whether election is an inevitable state or whether it is an opportunity that depends on our response for its validation. The following passage is relevant:
Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall, (II Peter 1:10)
By “do these things” Peter is referring to adopting characteristics of godly behavior.
But notice: “be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure.” So when we state that our election is inevitable, being a sovereign act of God, we are going against the need to adopt godly characteristics as the way in which we establish our election.
Either we need to be eager to make our calling and election sure, or we do not. The Bible says we do. I think this is a fact that those who insist on inevitable election must consider if they are to maintain a defensible belief.
Writers who call into question the election of those mentioned in John 15:6 and Hebrews 6:4-8 add to the uncertainty concerning who finally is one of the elect and who is not. It is clear that if we announce that the elect are eternally secure, we must be certain who the elect actually are.
Another consideration that must be reviewed before we become too adamant about the inevitability of election is, as we have described before, the numerous passages in the New Testament that present salvation as a goal that must be pursued with vigor. The Scripture speaks of a fight of faith rather than the passive acceptance of a theological statement of belief.
Think about the following in terms of the vigorous pursuit of an objective rather than the acceptance of an inevitable salvation:
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. (I Corinthians 9:24-27)
Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses. (I Timothy 6:12)
Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:13,13)
But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. (Matthew 7:14)
Someone asked him, “Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?” He said to them, “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.” (Luke 13:23,24)
But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut. Later the others also came. “Sir! Sir!” they said. “Open the door for us!” But he replied, “I tell you the truth, I don’t know you.” Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour. (Matthew 25:10-13)
Take the talent from him and give it to the one who has the ten talents. For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matthew 25:28-30)
But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. “Friend,” he asked, “how did you get in here without wedding clothes?” The man was speechless. Then the king told the attendants, “Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” For many are invited, but few are chosen. (Matthew 22:11-14)
Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it. (Hebrews 4:1)
For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, (Romans 8:13)
Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God. (II Corinthians 7:1—NKJV)
Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. (Galatians 5:24)
I don’t know about you, but I seem to see in the above passages a strong exhortation to seek Christ with diligence after we make an initial profession of faith in Christ. They do not appear to even resemble today’s preaching of unconditional grace.
In addition, there seems to be evidence that if we do not do what the Apostles of Christ have commanded, there is a danger of our suffering great loss in the Kingdom of God if not outright banishment. How do you feel about this? Would it be fair to derive this understanding from these verses?
Our conclusion is that God’s sovereign purposes are present and active in our salvation. Also, our response must be present and active. If we emphasize one at the expense of the other, we are in danger of wrecking our discipleship, leaving ourselves exposed to severe punishment or even loss of our position in Christ and His Kingdom.
(“An Inevitable Election?”, 3870-1, proofed 20211112)