Saturday, October 2, 2010

Eternal Security and Its Implications For A Theology of History, Pt. IV: Defending Conditional (Temporal) Security

In my last post, I defined conditional security as being “a living union proceeding upon a living faith in a living savior” (which is Robert Shank’s definition of conditional security). Today, my task is to defend this “living” security in the life of the show you, the readership, that life in Christ is not static. Even Calvinist professors I’ve had at Southeastern have said, “It’s time we move beyond a ‘past-tense’ gospel.” The only problem is, while that statement is true, to do what the statement says would mean that Calvinists would have to abandon their Calvinism.

To do so, I will point to a passage in Scripture that clearly indicates the truth of conditional security. Let’s first look at John 10:27-28, which happens to be one of the beloved texts of proponents of ES (Eternal Security):

“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” (John 10:27-28, NKJV).

Doug Eaton, whose sermon can be found in the section “Outstanding Videos” on the main page, uses this as confirmation of eternal security, as well as other Calvinists. The problem with this is, that they forget that the security comes with conditions. Let’s look back at the text: those who receive eternal life (the sheep), are those who “hear” the Lord’s voice and “follow” Him. They are hearing and following Christ. In other words, they are abiding in Christ (1 John 2:28) and are thus experiencing the reward of following Christ (which is, eternal life).

Secondly, notice the verbs in these two verses? They are “hear,” “follow,” “give,” etc. These verbs are present-tense verbs, which mean that “in the here and now” these sheep are hearing His voice, following Him, and He is “giving” them eternal life.
The verbs, all present indicatives, signify linear action (that is, progression) and are labeled in the “descriptive present.” Regarding this unique type of present indicative, A.T. Robertson writes:

“...with the present this is the most frequent use [descriptive present] these examples the durative (linear) action is very obvious and has to be translated by the progressive form in English, ‘WE ARE PERISHING,’ ‘OUR LAMPS ARE GOING OUT,’ etc.” (A.T. Robertson, “A Grammar of the Greek New Testament In The Light of Historical Research, Fourth Edition.” Nashville: Broadman Press, 1934, page 879).

In other words, Jesus’ sheep “are hearing” His voice, and “following” Him, and He is “giving” to them eternal life. Because these verbs express linear action (represented by a line and not a point), the actions themselves are continual, not completed. Jesus does not say, “My sheep HEARD My voice, and FOLLOWED Me, and I GAVE them eternal life”; rather, He said that My sheep “continually hear” My voice, and “continually follow Me,” and I am “continually giving them” eternal life. Eternal life is “being given” to His sheep, not “having already been given.” This matches what the writers to the Hebrews state at the end of their letter:

“Therefore, since WE ARE RECEIVING a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear” (Hebrews 12:28, NKJV).

Notice that “we are receiving the kingdom,” not that we “have received” it already. The action is in progress, not completed. It is this progress that tells us that, although believers have come far in the Christian life, there remains more to be done before we inherit eternal life. In other words, the race is not over yet!

There are many scholars who acknowledge that the Christian life is still in progress, such as Thomas Schreiner, who writes in his “The Race Set Before Us” regarding issues of faith, salvation, and the Christian life:

“Christians are as inclined as anyone else to reduce complex ideas to simplistic formulas and slogans. Popular evangelical instruction and preaching tend to reduce the intricate elegance and multifaceted glory of the gospel of God’s salvation to a naive notion that stunts biblical knowledge, impairs spiritual growth, dulls Christian worship and, worst of all, MISLEADS SOME TO PRESUME SAFETY RATHER THAN TRUST IN JESUS CHRIST. Like the hardening of the arteries of the human body, the categories by which we understand and explain the gospel too easily become calcified. Once ‘hardening of the categories’ sets in, one is prone to reduce all complex concepts to simplistic notions” (Thomas R. Schreiner and Ardel B. Caneday, “The Race Set Before Us: A Theology of Perseverance and Assurance.” Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2001, page 139).

Because of Schreiner’s observation in the above quote (that people attempt to conflate biblical truths), John 10:27-28 among many others has been taken out of its true meaning and conflated to guarantee individuals eternal life (in other words, provide eternal security). But the very words of God do not do that; rather, they show us that there is a process between what is already and what is not yet, and that everyday, we believers must take up our crosses and follow Christ (Luke 9:23).

The goal of this post was to show why I believe conditional security is true: because it gives us a genuine relationship between God and man in time. If ES is true, then all of the biblical commands for life here on earth are just words written to “play-act.” The Bible affirms that we can be assured of our salvation (Hebrews 4:3); but the Bible also cautions us about becoming “too assured” of final salvation (Heb. 4:11). We must look upon our salvation with a “cautious assurance”...and I am convinced that the Doctrine of Eternal Security provides all assurance with no caution.

1 comment:

whisp said...

I have found that the contingency implied in the word "IF" in numerous contextual verses of Scripture cannot be refuted by those who profess to believe in ES. I also wonder why so many are exercised to keep this doctrine of "LEGALISM" as a defense for their behavior. "ONCE SAVED, ALWAYS SAVED," is an absolute LAW to these proponents who claim to warn about the dangers of "legal salvation."