Some insist that a person cannot claim to believe both that the believer is eternally secure in salvation and that he can choose to divorce himself from Christ and be lost in eternity.

Some believe that once a person is born again, he can make no choice that would separate him from Christ in eternity. I call that position “once saved, always saved,” and I find no biblical basis for saying that a person who freely chose to follow Christ loses his ability to choose. In fact, I find the New Testament replete with warnings, addressed to believers, which make no sense unless there is a danger of choosing to divorce ourselves from Christ with eternal consequences.

On the other hand, my understanding of the security of the believer is that our security rests solely in God’s ability to keep us in his hand (John 10:28-30) and his faithfulness to do so (Romans 8:35-39). This position affirms two biblical teachings: (1) God chose to predestine and elect believers to salvation and (2) people are genuinely free to choose or reject Christ and to live with the eternal consequences of their choice. Some find that contradictory. I do not, because I don’t believe the Bible contradicts itself, and Scripture clearly teaches both ideas.

Yes, the rationalist in me wrestles with the tension between the doctrines of election and apostasy, but other doctrines – like the Trinity and the deity of Jesus – also appear to involve contradictions, and that does not prevent us from affirming them. Paradox and mystery are unavoidable when human intellect tries to comprehend divine truth.

The doctrine of the believer’s eternal security does not require one to reject the idea of apostasy. It simply affirms that God is able and faithful in the matter of salvation. A genuine believer has no reason whatsoever to worry about his security in salvation.

My conviction, however, is that Scripture also teaches that a believer, still genuinely free and responsible for his decision, can choose to stop being a believer, turn his back on Christ, and walk resolutely in the other direction – with eternal consequences. Security is for believers – followers of Jesus who live by faith, even when they stumble and fall down. Turn back resolutely from following Jesus, and you have no biblical reason to think you remain secure in salvation. To the contrary, the Scripture says that toying with such a decision places a soul in mortal danger.

Some argue that the professing Christian who ends badly was never really a Christian to begin with. Yes, “almost saved” and “never saved” pseudo-Christians are indeed a real problem in the Church, but the Scripture also warns believers about the danger of making a choice that cannot be taken back. We do a grave disservice to Christians when we fail to teach them that a genuine believer – predestined and elect – can treat the Son of God like a doormat, despise the precious blood that sanctified him, insult the Spirit of grace, and find himself falling, terrified, into the hands of the living God. (Hebrews 10:26-31)

Whether that destiny is eternal destruction or being saved “yet as through fire,” it is a fate no believer should face because his pastor/teacher failed to tell him the entire truth about the cost of discipleship. We ought to teach our people what the Bible says about the importance of obedience and endurance in salvation.

It is ironic that pastor/teachers who believe fervently in security avoid the Letter to the Hebrews because it contains “some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction (apoleia).” (2 Peter 3:16 NAS)

The irony is that this most misunderstood of epistles contains some of the most marvelous assurances of eternal security in all of Scripture:

Our Savior was made like us in all things, including our temptations, and is able to come to our aid when we are tempted. (Hebrews 2:17-18 ) Because of that, we can approach God with confidence and receive grace and mercy when we need it most. (4:16) We know God is not so unjust as to forget us who serve him, and we draw assurance from the fact that we serve him diligently until the end. (6:10-11)

Because it is impossible for God to lie, we find the courage to take hold of the hope set before us, a hope that anchors us “steadfast and sure.” (6:18-19) Because Christ always sits at the Father’s right hand, interceding for us, we know he is able to save us forever. (7:25) By offering himself in death, he has perfected forever those who are sanctified by his blood. (10:14) Because he faithfully keeps his promises, we can have the full assurance of the faithful and hold fast to our confession. (10:22-23)

Encouraged by the generations of faithful before us, we can run our race with endurance. (12:1) Because we have received a kingdom which cannot be shaken, we can, in gratitude, offer God an acceptable service with reverence and awe. (12:28-29)

Let us understand that believers are eternally secure – that our security rests on God’s ability to save and his faithfulness to keep his promises, not on any effort of our own to earn his favor.

But let us also understand that security is only for believers, that “abiding” as a believer involves more than the first choice that began our journey with Christ, and that whoever denies Christ before men, Christ will deny before the Father. (Matthew 10:33)

“And now, may the God of peace, who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, equip you with all you need for doing his will. May he produce in you, through the power of Jesus Christ, all that is pleasing to him. Jesus is the great Shepherd of the sheep by an everlasting covenant, signed with his blood. To him be glory forever and ever. Amen.” (Hebrews 13:20-21 NLT)

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