This Fall, I am continuing my journey in the study of Calvinism and Arminianism, which I’ve been involved in all summer. Over the last twelve weeks (3 months), I’ve examined each of the five tenets of the two theological systems. I’ve come to remain Arminian under the tenets of Total Depravity, Conditional Election, Unlimited Atonement, and Resistable Grace. But there’s one more tenet that I will study this semester that will determine the last say-so on my theological system: that is the tenet of Perseverance of the Saints. The doctrine is called “perseverance,” but it will also be identified here (as in theological literature) as “eternal security.” More likely than not, you will see “eternal security” on some book somewhere in some bookstore. For those of you who may not know that, I wanted to give you a “heads-up” so you won’t be alarmed.
As I stated, then, this means that this semester, I will study the doctrine of perseverance quite heavily. I will study the other tenets (doctrines) in semesters to come…but the issue of perseverance is one that I’ve always wondered about. The question that we should ask ourselves regarding this doctrine is, “Is it possible for a person to fall from grace?” Is eternal security promised to us in Scripture? And if so, how exactly is eternal security defined? What we believe about perseverance (as well as the rest of the theological tenets) will determine how we live.
For the last three days, I’ve been reading a book called “Four Views on Eternal Security” by J. Matthew Pinson, general editor (Stan N. Gundry, series editor). I’ve finished the book (didn’t take me long); and of the four views presented (Classical Calvinist, Moderate Calvinist, Reformed Arminian, Wesleyan Arminian), the most interesting (not the best) of the views was Norman Geisler’s chapter on “Moderate Calvinism.”
In his chapter, Geisler devotes a section to “Theological Arguments in Favor of Eternal Security.” One of his reasons for eternal security is “God cannot deny himself.” Geisler writes:
“The apostle declares: ‘If we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot deny himself’ (2 Tim. 2:13, NKJV).This is a particularly powerful text for eternal security. It addresses the Arminian challenge directly, since it declares that even if our faith falters, God’s faithfulness does not. Because salvation comes from God, in order for us to lose our salvation, God would have to ‘deny himself,’ which is impossible. SO WE CAN NO MORE LOSE OUR SALVATION THAN GOD CAN CEASE BEING GOD” (Norman Geisler, “Moderate Calvinist View,” from “Four Views on Eternal Security,” by J. Matthew Pinson, general editor. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002, pp. 80-81).
Norman Geisler quotes 2 Timothy 2:13, but I will quote verses 11, 12, and 13 of that chapter here:
“This saying is trustworthy: For IF we HAVE DIED with Him, we will also live with Him; IF WE ENDURE, we will also reign with Him; IF WE DENY Him, He will also deny us; IF WE ARE FAITHLESS, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself” (2 Tim. 2:11-13, Holman Christian Standard Bible).
The parts of the verses I capitalized above are for emphasis. The “IF”s above are conditionals. A conditional statement is something that happens IN LIGHT OF or BECAUSE OF something else. Another way of discussing conditional statements is to use the phrase “If____, then ______.” For example, a conditional statement would be “if I go outside while it’s raining, then I’ll get my hair wet.” Going outside in the rain is the cause of you getting your hair wet (which is the effect). There is a cause and effect relationship with conditional statements.
So when Paul says “if we have died with Him, we will also live with Him,” he is saying that dying with Him (dying with faith in Him) will cause us to live with Him forever. When he says, “If we endure, we will also reign with Him,” Paul is saying that “if we remain in the faith until the end, then we will rule with Him in the heavens. Notice that he says “we will ALSO reign with Him.” This idea of “also” reigning with Him means that he is attaching the idea of reigning with Christ WITH something else. What is that something else? The previous statement: “if we have died with Him, we will also live with Him.” So, only by ENDURING the race of life will we NOT ONLY live with Him, BUT ALSO REIGN with Him!
Now, let’s look at Geisler’s statement again:
“This is a particularly powerful text for eternal security. It addresses the Arminian challenge directly, since it declares that even if our faith falters, God’s faithfulness does not. Because salvation comes from God, in order for us to lose our salvation, God would have to ‘deny himself,’ which is impossible. SO WE CAN NO MORE LOSE OUR SALVATION THAN GOD CAN CEASE BEING GOD.”
Geisler writes, “EVEN if our faith falters, God’s faithfulness does not.” I would say that according to 2 Timothy 2:13, that is true; however, it is the next statement that poses a problem: “because our salvation comes from God, in order for us to lose our salvation, God would have to ‘deny Himself,’ which is impossible.”
Geisler’s presupposition accounts for the leap in his logic here: since God remains faithful despite our faithlessness, we can’t lose our salvation because God is faithful (and salvation comes from God).
However, this is where Geisler makes his mistake: he uses God’s faithfulness as a way to CANCEL OUT God’s requirement of faithfulness for man. Paul refutes Geisler’s argument with these words:
3 What then? If some did not believe, (C) will their unbelief cancel God's faithfulness? 4 Absolutely not! (D) God must be true, but everyone is a liar, (E) as it is written:
That You may be justified in Your words
and triumph when You judge. (F) (G)
5 But if our unrighteousness highlights [a] God's righteousness, (H) what are we to say? (I) I use a human argument: (J) [b] Is God unrighteous to inflict wrath? 6 Absolutely not! Otherwise, how will God judge the world? (Romans 3:3-6, HCSB)
In the context of Romans 3, Paul is writing about the faithfulness of God (despite the unbelief of the Jews). All throughout the Old Testament, we find Israel being unfaithful to God—and yet, we find God REMAINING FAITHFUL! His faithfulness, however, DID NOT cancel out His judgment on the Jews. Although they were His people, and He loved them, His love involved His wrath as well (because He is a just God who punishes wickedness and rewards righteousness).
Paul asked a question: “If our UNRIGHTEOUSNESS highlights God’s RIGHTEOUSNESS…Is God unrighteous to inflict wrath?” In other words, to use Geisler, “if we are faithless and God is faithful, does that cancel out our judgment?” But let’s hear Paul’s response:
“ABSOLUTELY NOT! Otherwise, HOW WILL GOD JUDGE THE WORLD?”
God can only judge the world IF He is righteous. And since He is righteous, He will remain faithful. However, it does not cancel out man’s responsibility to persevere to the end. So if man does not persevere, despite God’s faithfulness, man WILL NOT BE SAVED! Instead, God’s faithfulness will serve its purpose as Paul tells us in Romans 3—His faithfulness will be judgment upon the heads of all those who were unfaithful to Him.
Geisler makes a nice attempt here to hold up his view of eternal security—but he fumbles when it comes to Romans 3. Paul shows us in the text that God’s actions do not nullify OURS before Him. Contrary to Edwin Palmer’s assessment of perseverance, “Perseverance” itself is not “the perseverance of God.” Man perseveres, but God preserves…