Dear abic, Aplogize for the long delay in answering -
Eternal security – Questions
I wrote this article about three years ago answering few questions from someone who had been active here, and still is, to some level in this forum. I am modifying it to some level to address the recent discussions.
“How do you know whether salvation in Jesus Christ is secure and eternal? Ans. - Because God says so in the Word of God.” This is the correct answer. It is like many in the Brethren group would say ‘go study the Bible & you will see that the salvation is eternal.’ – often they would quote few verses and for them those could be totally convincing, but to many others they are muddy and murky.
Our answer is indeed scriptural but there are a number of people who do not see such truths so explicitly as we would see. Most of them are true to their convictions and not refusing to believe what the Bible teaches. This initial answer I gave can be considered as ‘truth based on the word of God.’ It is known otherwise as the ‘objective truth of the gospel.’ It is ‘objective’ because the collective teachings of the Bible are intended to bring out that message, not necessarily just isolated verses. Upon careful study of the very nature of salvation would require us to believe that it is permanent and secured eternally. So, this may require more than a casual study.
We will set aside those ‘objective truth of the gospel’ for now. Let us see how confusing we get without those objective truths and go headlong into the other side -[believe in the conditional security or CS.] Life of someone who believes in the CS can be filled with extreme tension and possesses no peace. Let me explain why I say that. If we were to ask a CS proponent the following question -
“How do you know whether you yourself is a saved child of God?”
The usual answer would be something like – “Because the Spirit of God internally confirms that to my spirit and also because I am externally displaying my internal saving faith in the manner with which I turn away from sin and wickedness.”
When someone says ‘I am externally displaying my internal saving faith in the manner with which I turn away from sin and wickedness,’ how reliable could those be? We all agree that such transformation would gradually happen and at varying degrees from believer to believer. Yet those changes are the biblical standards given to us to measure and see that we are indeed genuinely saved. So, their answer is certainly scriptural. Even then, I’d consider this as the ‘subjective feeling of assurance.’ Let me explain why I believe these are ‘subjective feeling of assurance’ and why they create such confusion even to many devoted Christians.
How the Spirit of God does confirm to our spirit? There is no verbal confirmation. There is no real checklist. 1 John 3:6 reads, “No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him.” In verse 4 we read, “Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness.” How much of a repetition of a certain sin is considered ‘practicing sin?’ Is it two or ten or hundred or thousand? Can I repeat the same sin the same day seven times and would it be considered ‘practicing sin?’
We can safely say that John was not teaching ‘sinless-ness’ when he wrote ‘no one abides in Him sins.’ Otherwise he would not have written in Chapter 1 verse 9 “if we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive our sins.” He goes on to say that if we sin, we have an advocate in heaven - Jesus Christ; to intercede on our behalf. When we see two truths placed side by side, we are bound to acknowledge both. Ignoring one and clinging to the other gives a distorted view of God’s message. So, we have to agree to the fact that there will be sin in believers. Since there is sin we are asked to ‘confess’ our sins.
Now we have another subjective situation to deal with. How well I know - how to ‘confess’ my sins? If I have repeated the same sin five times yesterday and day before and had been doing it for years, what good is my confession and repentance? Gal. 5:20-21 gives a list of sins. “immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” 1 Cor. 6; 9-10 gives another list.
Now we have yet another subjective situation. Is immorality of the same level of sin as outbursts of anger? Is ‘disputes’ as bad as Idolatry? Are factions equal to sorcery? Are the first few sins listed worse than the other sins? Now we come to yet another problem. The verse ends with a dagger –“and things like these.” What are ‘things like these?’ Could those be smoking and visiting movie theaters and drinking or similar vices? Are we at liberty to make up our own list?
Often we do not place much emphasis on anger & disputes or things of that nature. Because who in the world is free of anger & disputes? Is this how we treat sins? No. All sins are equally bad in the sight of God, although each may have its own earthly consequences at varying degrees. Immoral walk could bring children out of wedlock or catch diseases or destroy family lives. [It is considered as one of the most destructive sins and believers are strongly cautioned against it.] Whereas outbursts of anger could lead to physical altercation or vehicle accidents or someone could even beat us up with a club. The results may be different, yet sin is a sin in God’s eyes. [I am not forgetting the OT laws and varying degrees of punishments based on the severity of offenses. Most of those are ways how God measured the need for restitution and personal responsibility.]
Let me go back to my earlier question about ‘confession.’ How do I know if I am confessing correctly? More importantly, what does the biblical meaning of the word ‘confession?’ Most of us think that we tell God the offenses / sins that we committed and ask God to forgive those. Catholics teach their congregation to go to the Priest in a private setting and narrate the sins and the Priest will prescribe certain penance.
But the biblical concept of ‘confession’ is more than that. In fact, asking for forgiveness of sins could be considered as part of repentance. The result of repentance is a willing desire to turn away from sins at all cost. This aspect of repentance will be an on-going task for all believers. But the crucial aspect of repentance is a change in our mind in regard to God and Jesus Christ. That change would lead us to embrace Jesus Christ and accept Him as our Savior. This change would lead us to the other aspect. “The full biblical definition of repentance is a change of mind that results in a change of action. “ Charles Ryrie. Acts 26:20 ‘that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance.’
What is the biblical concept of confession? The Bible sees confession in a more divine way. ‘Confession’ means to say the same thing about sin as God does and acknowledge God’s perspective about sin. Now we face yet another dilemma. How well I know – how God measures sin? Unless I know exactly as God sees, my confession can be flawed. I am sure I could have a mountain of un-confessed sins because my perception of sins and God’s perception of sins must be different.
Jesus Christ made this point clear when he defined ‘adultery and murder.’ The actual acts, though not committed externally, were considered committed internally. So, even if I did not react with outburst of anger and controlled it, I have committed that sin; even to the level of murder. [Matthew 5:21] Pharisees thought they knew all about ‘sin.’ But Jesus Christ stripped them off their façade. All of us do have such façade.
We know that we are commanded to love others. Love one another; [John 13:34.] Love just as I have loved; [John 15:12.] Taught by God to love; [1Thess 4:9.] Love just as I commanded; [1 John 3:23.] Love your neighbor as yourself; [Lev 19:18 & Matt 19:19.] These commandments are the least observed among us. I know that I break these commands several times a day with no second thoughts about it. There seven places in the NT that we see the command to love your neighbor as yourself. When I ignore these commands I do sin against God. When was the last time anyone of us asked forgiveness for ‘not loving our neighbor as ourselves?’ If we did not, do we have a clear stand before God?
What was the sin of Adam & Eve? They violated God’s command and ate the fruit of the tree. Today, such a sin will not raise the eyebrows of church elders. It will not make local news or national news. Even a most devoted Christian might forget to confess such a ‘miniscule’ sin. But God of the universe had to become a Man and die on the cross to wipe away that seemingly ‘insignificant’ sin. This is how God sees sin. Remember, there are seven NT commandments to love our neighbor as ourselves and we don’t even flinch about it. That is a serious sin of ‘omission.’ How many such sins are there that we ignore?
When we do any Christian service with less than absolute pure motif we could be sinning. If I try to show off my knowledge while I write or preach or show hypocrisy I am sinning. When I show arrogance and anger in my expressions I could be sinning. We start conforming to God’s mind about sin as we mature in Christian life. But a new Christian may not have such sensitivity about sins. Our understanding about our own sinfulness goes through changes. It is for the better as long as we properly understand scriptures. This is why studying the scriptures [in the correct way] is so very important.
All what I had written from the beginning of this posting convince me that no matter how pious could I be and conscious of my upright living, still I would fall short of God’s high standards unknowingly and unintentionally or knowingly and intentionally. As we grow spiritually, we become more and more aware of our sins. We understand the mind of God more intimately. So, my repentance can be flawed; my confession could be inadequate; my understanding about sin could be imperfect. If my salvation is based on 1 John 1:9 and its ‘perfection’ and turning away from sins, even if I have the strongest desire to please God by obeying His commands, I may fall short of that lofty goal, with or without my knowledge.
So, if I am left with 1 John 1:9 as my major ‘life-line,’ how could I get peace? If my salvation is based on the good works I am bound to produce as a result of my ‘salvation,’ how can I settle in my mind that I am saved? How much of good works would push me over the threshold to be considered safe? The proponents of ‘conditional security of salvation’ consider that our salvation remain in effect as a result of ‘up to date confessions’ and ‘staying in faith.’ These indeed are evidences of salvation and are necessary factors. Yet they are ‘subjective’ by nature because of the various reasons I cited above.
If, all we are left with is this ‘subjective feeling of assurance,’ it is bound to generate more questions than answers. Those who believe in the conditional security [or Arminian teachings/ CS] are struggling with this ‘tension.’ Although the ‘subjective feeling of assurance‘ is a necessary and sure result of salvation, it does not constitute the necessary cause. The proponents of CS place their anchor of their faith in the shifting sand of ‘feelings.’
The ‘objective truth of the gospel’ found in the pages of scriptures will give a firm foundation and a safe anchor. The CS proponents ignore or give less importance to the very essence of these truths. They sidestep the ‘truth of the gospel’ and go seeking the ‘feeling of assurance.’ Once we have these two concepts [truths] understood in the order it is meant to be, we enjoy the Spirit’s communication assuring of our salvation. Rom. 8:16 ‘The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God.’ But that communication will be received only by those who believe in Rom 8:1 “Therefore there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
It is true that the Spirit of God indeed is communicating to me and confirming to me now that I am saved. I have no doubts. But I did not start out like this. I probably prayed for my salvation more than 100 times in my younger days. I lived in fear and trepidation. I was not sure if I had enough repentance in me to be saved? I was anxious that I could be left out at the rapture. The Spirit of God was not confirming anything to me in those days.
What gave me peace? God removed the ignorance from me. When I started studying the Bible I realized that my salvation is an utterly divine and totally sovereign operation. My assurance came from understanding what took place on the cross. It is no longer a feeling that I am saved. It is not a feeling without reason. My subjective feeling [the Spirit communicating with me & my good works & desire to live a godly life] of assurance remained shaky until I understood the objective truth of the gospel.
Now I can say with confidence that the Spirit is confirming to me the reality of salvation. Now I know what Apostle John is saying in 1 John 5:13 –‘that you may know that you have eternal life.’ Some of you may not be getting that ‘confirmation’ from the Spirit. If you are like that, you are not alone. But you are able to. We need to anchor our faith into the 'objective truths of the Bible and then to the subjective truths.' Not the other way around. I hope & pray that this will help some struggling souls.