Eternal Security: Biblical Truth or Revival of a Gnostic Heresy?

Definition of Heresy:

A theological or religious opinion or doctrine maintained in opposition, or held to be contrary, to the ‘catholic’ or orthodox doctrine of the Christian Church -Oxford English Dictionary

In Calvinism one is “Eternally Secure”, or at least the “elect” are, no matter what they do, even if one continues in sin. There seems to be much debate among modern Christians on this doctrine. For a doctrine that is less than 500 years old, it amazes me that it can be such a cause of division among Christians. Even among those who believe this false doctrine, there is division on how it is interpreted. This should be a red flag in itself as to the authenticity of Eternal Security, however, Calvinists remain faithful to this doctrine even though it causes more division and sin than it actually helps those who adhere to it.

If you are unfamiliar with the different interpretations of Eternal Security among those who adhere to it,  the division is based on how far and in what way assurance of salvation extends. On one side the more conservative believe that if you truly have faith, you are thus saved and eternally secure, although this security is somewhat limited since some who profess faith can (and do) stop believing or continue in sin.  Thus, they were never truly saved.

However, the liberal idea of Eternal Security is that while you can backslide (continue to sin), lose faith, denounce Jesus, or even become atheist, you will never lose your salvation. As long as you once had faith, you are eternally secure. I have heard comments of this sort myself with sayings such as, “there’s nothing you can do to lose your salvation.”

Putting aside the debates among Eternal Security supporters on various interpretations of this doctrine, the question should not be how far or to what extent does Eternal Security go, but rather is it Biblically truthful? Or is it the revival of an ancient heresy that was refuted early in the history of Christianity?

First looking to the Bible, we must look at what it says in regards to our assurance of salvation. While there are a few verses in the Bible that are used to support Eternal Security, they are usually taken out of context:

Verses used for Eternal Security:

John 5:24:
Amen, amen, I tell you; the one who hears my word and believes in him who sent me has eternal life and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life. (emphasis mine)

At first this verse may seem to imply Eternal Security, however faith alone is not the focus of what would make us “Eternally Secure”,  as Jesus goes on to make it clear that everyone will be judged based on their good or evil deeds:

John 5:28-29:
Do not be astonished at this, because the hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice 29 and come out; those who have done good, to the resurrection of life; and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment.

It is apparent from Jesus’ own words in John that we all will be judged according to what we have done, be it good or bad.  Therefore, we cannot do bad and believe that we are saved based solely on our profession of faith, for as James says, “even the demons believe.” Therefore belief in itself is not enough to give us assurance of salvation. We will be saved (or condemned) depending upon what we have done in this life, if we cooperated with the Holy Spirit in synergy and if we truly practiced love, justice and mercy, all of which are the manifestation of ones faith.

Another verse quoted out of context in support of Eternal Security is found in 1 Peter:

1 Peter 1:5:
who by the power of God are protected through faith for a salvation which is ready to be revealed in the last time.
Note: Some Bible versions incorrectly insert the word “kept” rather than protected.

This verse may seem to imply Eternal Security based simply on our faith as well, however, again if read in context we understand that Peter is not speaking of Eternal Security as defined by many evangelicals:

1 Peter 1:14-17:
14 Be children of obedience and do not conform yourselves to your former lusts as in [the days of] your ignorance. 15 But just as he who called you is holy, you yourselves should also be holy in every aspect of your life, 16 because it is written, “Be holy, for I am holy.” 17 If you call on him who judges without discrimination according to everyone’s work as Father, spend your lives as exiles here [on earth], in reverent fear. (emphasis mine)

While there are a few other verses (all taken out of context as demonstrated by the verses above) that are used to support eternal security, they are few as compared to verses which refute this false doctrine. In fact other verses clearly state that we must be diligent to not fall away.

Verses against eternal security:

2 Peter 3:17
Beloved, since you know these things in advance, be careful and fear that being carried away with the error of the wicked, you might fall from your own secure position. (emphasis mine)

James 5:19-20:
19 Brethren, if someone among you wanders from the truth and is brought back by another, 20 know that whoever brings back a sinner from wandering will save a soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins (emphasis mine)

According to James a believer can fall away and be brought back, thus refuting the idea that only the truly saved persevere and do not fall away.

Hebrews 3:12:
12 Beware, brethren, for fear that one of you may have an evil and unbelieving heart that would fall away from the living God. 13 Instead, encourage one another day by day, as long as it is called “today,” for fear that one of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. 14 For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold on to our first confidence until the end

2 Peter 2:14:
14 Their eyes are full of adultery and they cannot break away from sin. They entice unstable souls, having a heart trained in greed, and they are children of cursing. 15 They have forsaken the right way and have gone astray by following the path of Balaam the son of Bosor who loved being paid for doing evil

1 Corinthians 9:25–27:
25 Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. Now they do it in order to receive a corruptible crown, but we [seek] an incorruptible crown. 26 This is how I run, not without a goal. This is how I fight, not beating the air! 27 Instead, I chastise my body and bring it into submission, for fear that after having preached to others, I myself should be disqualified.

Of all the verses in the Bible that refute Eternal Security, 1 Corinthians 9:27 is the most straightforward refutation. However for some reason this verse is rarely mentioned by the Eternal Security believers. Paul mentions that he could lose his salvation, so he apparently made a huge effort to practice self control and to not backslide into sins. Paul obviously knew that being certain and assured of Eternal Life versus being assured of salvation was not accomplished simply through faith in Jesus, but faith working through love.

Following and striving to become Christ-like with the Holy Spirit is the key and Paul was well aware of this. It is clear that there are verses within the Bible used by supporters and non-supporters of Eternal Security to prove either side. However the verses used in favor of eternal security are taken out of context. Given this fact, it is important to consider the early church in matters that cannot be resolved through various interpretations of the Bible.

In the writings of the Church Fathers, you will not find any support for eternal security.

We take earnest heed in these last days; for the whole [past] time of your faith will profit you nothing, unless now in this wicked time we also withstand coming sources of danger, as becomes the sons of God that the Black One may find no means of entrance. -Barnabas (A.D. 70-130) ch.4

Take heed, lest resting at our ease, as those who are the called [of God], we should fall asleep in our sins, and the wicked prince, acquiring power over us, should thrust us away from the kingdom of the Lord. And all the more attend to this, my brethren, when you reflect and behold, that after so great signs and wonders were wrought in Israel, they were thus [at length] abandoned. Let us beware lest we be found [fulfilling that saying], as it is written, “Many are called, but few are chosen.” -Barnabas (A.D. 70-130) ch.4

Watch for your life’s sake. Let not your lamps be quenched, nor your loins unloosed; but be ready, for you know not the hour in which our Lord will come. But come together often, seeking the things which are befitting to your souls: for the whole time of your faith will not profit you, if you are not made perfect in the last time. -Didache (A.D. 80-140) ch. 16

Not only is Eternal Security not supported in the writings of the Church Fathers, it is also condemned as a heresy:

Irenaeus:Animal men, again, are instructed in animal things; such men, namely, as are established by their works, and by a mere faith, while they have not perfect knowledge. We of the Church, they say, are these persons. Wherefore also they maintain that good works are necessary to us, for that otherwise it is impossible we should be saved. But as to themselves, they hold that they shall be entirely and undoubtedly saved, not by means of conduct, but because they are spiritual by nature. For, just as it is impossible that material substance should partake of salvation (since, indeed, they maintain that it is incapable of receiving it), so again it is impossible that spiritual substance (by which they mean themselves) should ever come under the power of corruption, whatever the sort of actions in which they indulged. For even as gold, when submersed in filth, loses not on that account its beauty, but retains its own native qualities, the filth having no power to injure the gold, so they affirm that they cannot in any measure suffer hurt, or lose their spiritual substance, whatever the material actions in which they may be involved. -Irenaeus, Against Heresies (Book I, Chapter 6)

Origen:
Let us begin, then, with those words which were spoken to Pharaoh, who is said to have been hardened by God, in order that he might not let the people go; and, along with his case, the language of the apostle also will be considered, where he says, “Therefore He has mercy on whom He will, and whom He will He hardens.” For it is on these passages chiefly that the heretics rely, asserting that salvation is not in our own power, but that souls are of such a nature as must by all means be either lost or saved; and that in no way can a soul which is of an evil nature become good, or one which is of a virtuous nature be made bad. –Origen (A.D. 248) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol.4 pg.308

Tertullian:
For this reason it is that they [the Valentian heretics] neither regard works as necessary for themselves, nor do they observe any of the calls of duty, eluding even the necessity of martyrdom on any pretence which may suit their pleasure. -Tertullian (A.D. 198) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol.3

 

Conclusion

As you can see from the Bible and the early Church writings, Eternal Security is a false doctrine. While we are promised that eternal life does exist and salvation is through faith in Jesus, this does not equal a guarantee of salvation unless we strive for it and even then some may still fall away. We must faithfully follow Jesus, dying to the world and striving to stay on the narrow path. We are not Eternally Secure based on a sinners prayer or a one time profession of faith, then allowed to backslide in and out of sin or even lose faith in Jesus denouncing Christianity while remaining secure. Both ideas on either side of the reformed Christian division on Eternal Security are in the end teaching a doctrine that is not Biblical. The bottom line is that the Biblcial teaching on salvation has not changed in 2000 years. The Bible can be twisted to suit the views of Calvinists, but eternal security is not to be found within the Bible or the early Church fathers who were taught the true faith by the Apostles.

Bible verses used to support Eternal Security are taken out of context and are very few as compared to verses which prove it to be a false doctrine. Eternal Security is another dangerous doctrine stemming from Calvinism. In Irenaeus’ writings against Gnostic thought of his time, along with that of Tertullian and Origen we see that modern interpretations of Eternal Security are nothing more than an old Gnostic heresy revived.

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