I am back today to explore the hermeneutical problems posed by the doctrine of eternal security. The passage from John (Jn. 10:27-29) that I will deal with in great detail today is the first passage that our preacher “John” brought up in his sermon.
I will print the text here for all to read:
“My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and THEY SHALL NEVER PERISH; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand” (John 10:27-29, NKJV).
Now we must size this up with a passage like the following:
“For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame” (Hebrews 6:4-6, NKJV).
In the commentary work on Calvin from Hebrews 6, I’ve shown that Calvin himself believed that the person wouldn’t even desire to come back to repentance, not so much that God wouldn’t forgive that person. The reason? For the person who fell away, God would “give them over” to their own sin (reminiscent of Romans 1). So what we find in Hebrews 6 is that there are those who can fall away; 1 Timothy 4:1 tells us that in the last days “many will depart from the faith,” and we are told this by the Spirit Himself. Falling away, then, is not just a possibility---according to Scripture, falling away is as sure as the sun will rise tomorrow!!
If falling away is a possibility, then many eternal securitists would ask the question, “Can there be any security?” Many who hold to the Doctrine of Eternal Security (hereafter called “ES”) are those who feel that, should they accept the passages like Hebrews 6 that talk about “falling away,” they would be forced to abandon the notion of any security in Christ whatsoever. This train of thought, however, is false indeed. There is security in Christ, and even Classical Arminians hold to that. However, Classical Arminians believe that security in Christ is CONDITIONAL upon one’s faith in Christ. As long as someone believes, he or she is secure in Christ. Should they “lose faith” and “stop believing,” then and only then does that person lose their security in Christ. For this, there are two main passages that I will reference here:
“But the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these, have no root, WHO BELIEVE FOR A WHILE and in time of temptation fall away” (Luke 8:13, NKJV).
“Because of unbelief they [Jews] were broken off, and YOU STAND BY FAITH...therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on THOSE WHO FELL, severity; but toward you, goodness, IF YOU CONTINUE IN HIS GOODNESS. Otherwise YOU ALSO WILL BE CUT OFF” (Romans 11:20, 22).
Now the question becomes, “How do all these passages line up with John 10:27-29? How do we reconcile these passages together?” And this is a good question to ask. The problem with eternal securitists in this debate is that they refuse to engage the Arminian camp. They refuse to look at the claims of Classical Arminianism and ask themselves, “What about if the other side is right?” Classical Arminians have strong evidence for their view; we have done our research and examined passages of Scripture as well to come to our view. The problem is, most eternal securitists do what “Preacher John” did---they bypass the Scriptures that go against eternal security and only hold up the ones they think confirm their view. If eternal securitists have nothing to hide, then why don’t they engage the other side? That has been the question I’ve been asking and asking, over and over again, in the past year.
In any case, we must decide what to do with John 10:27-29. The passage itself seems to imply eternal security (“they will never perish”). When advocates of ES argue for eternal security, they do so, forgetting the rest of the verse material regarding this passage. The sheep are not just given eternal life because they believe (verse 26); they also “hear” His voice and “follow” Him (verse 27). So these sheep don’t just have faith---but their faith is, to use a James phrase, “justified by works” (James 2:21).
Most ESers assume that believers will automatically do these things; in fact, most Calvinists and Calvinistic sympathizers will tell you that works NECESSARILY follow from faith. But if this were true, then why did James have to write the church and tell them, “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead” (James 2:26, NKJV)? If it were so clear to the church that grace should stir us to good works and not give us a “blanket security” to go sin and get away with it, why did Paul have to tell the Romans that “what then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? CERTAINLY NOT! (Rom. 6:15)”? Most modern-day believers just assume things that the Bible states BECAUSE they are NOT assumed!!! So these things are emphasized in Scripture to daily remind us that we have genuine responsibility before God for our actions, what we do with the lives we have been given (2 Cor. 5:10). Therefore, the sheep of Christ who hear Him, obey Him, and follow His voice are the ones granted eternal security.
Now, having said that, the next question would be, “Okay, so how does John 10:27-29 reconcile with the passages of Luke 8:13, Hebrews 6:4-6, and Romans 11:20,22?” In Luke 8:13, the problem with the rocky soil is that it “stops believing” (“believes for a time...and then fell away”). In Hebrews 6:4-6, the believer “falls away.” In Romans 11, Paul warns the Gentile believers not to be haughty, but to “continue in His kindness,” that being the kindness of God. How could they continue? By remaining in the faith (“you stand by your faith,” Rom. 11:20). So the sheep of John 10 who “never perish” are those who “continually believe.” How do we know that ES involves “continued faith”? Because those who fall away in Hebrews 6 are never again “renewed to repentance” (Heb. 6:6). And what does repentance involve? Confession and belief (Rom. 10:9). To believe is to have faith. The Greek shows us this as well, since the verb “believe” is “pisteuo,” and the word “faith” or “belief” is “pistis.” Notice that both “believe” (verb) and “belief” (noun) have the same word root in common (“pist-").
For the ESers who focus on “never perish,” I would say to them, look at what the sheep are doing in this passage. There is no divine sovereignty in John 10:27-29 that ELIMINATES human responsibility. Rather, both are upheld in John 10. And for those who don’t believe in human responsibility, take a look at Jesus’ requirements of followers: “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him DENY HIMSELF, and TAKE UP HIS CROSS DAILY, and FOLLOW ME” (Luke 9:23, NKJV).