Episode 39: Troubling Passages for Eternal Security

Peace to Live By Episode 39: Troubling Passages for Eternal Security - Daniel Litton
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[Transcripts may not match broadcasted sermon word for word, and may contain extra material that was cut from the broadcast due to time constraints]

       When we come to God's Word, and as we read it and become familiar with it, there are some passages that we’ll come across which will trouble us. Indeed, there are a few passages in the New Testament where it would appear a believer can lose his or her salvation. And this is very troubling for a new believer, as he or she may not yet understand the doctrine of eternal security. Plus, different churches vary on what they believe about eternal security, so it only can work to complicate the matter. Not only is this a problem, but different commentaries and elaborations on passages can also differ.

       Now there are four particular passages that I want to talk about today. These passages are as follows:

1) Matthew 12:31-32
2) 2 Peter 2:20-21
3) Hebrews 6:4-6, and
4) Hebrews 10:26-31

I think as we examine these passages it will become clear that a believer cannot lose his or her salvation. I have studied this very carefully, and the answers I am going to provide today are what I believe to be the best explanations for these passages. Now, obviously, various people out there will disagree about what I say, and some may even perhaps disagree a lot. And that's ok. I think, though, the important thing here is that we remember and hold to the fact that a believer cannot lose his or her salvation.

       So, number one, I want to discuss the issue of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. This is probably the most famous and feared way that some believers believe they can lose their salvation. This sin of blaspheming the Spirit of God is commonly referred to as the unpardonable sin in many circles. So, let's take a look at Matthews account of this saying from our Lord Jesus Christ, which is found in Matthew chapter 12. In the passage, the Pharisees were trying to point out to the surrounding crowd that Jesus was casting out demons through the power of Beelzebul, the prince of demons. And Jesus, hearing what they were saying, pronounced God's judgment upon them with the following statement:

“Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.” (Matthew 12:31-32, ESV)

Now before I get into the specifics of what I believe is being stated here, I want to note that in the most basic sense that many of us, if not all of us, have spoken against the Spirit of God in our lives, and for most of us probably inadvertently. Let's say, for example, we are singing one Sunday morning in church and we are singing a song which has the Holy Spirit's name in it. Now, if we have sung that verse with his name in and we were thing about something else, like where we were eating lunch after church, then we have spoken against the Spirit because we have uttered his name idly. And there are other ways we can do this as well, but the point I am making here is that many of us have not been perfect with our speech.

       Now, of all the interpretations of this passage that are made, I believe the best way to understand this is that this sin was only possible to commit during the time of Jesus' earthly ministry because the people of that time saw the great miracles that he did. They saw the great power of the Spirit of God right before their eyes, yet some of them said it was not coming from the Spirit but from Satan. And perhaps one might extend the period that this sin could be committed even during time of the Apostles. It is true that the Holy Spirit surely still displays his power today, but at that time he did great, magnificent miracles, that were clearly open for many to see with the naked eye. And these were seen before the eyes of both believers and non-believers. People were healed of their sicknesses, had demons cast out, and were even raised from the dead. And this power, by the Spirit of Jesus himself, was greatly displayed. People saw God's goodness in abundance.

       The next passage I want to look at is found in 2 Peter chapter 2. Now this text is talking about false prophets and false teachers. So, really, there shouldn't be a whole lot of worry to begin with, since we know that both false prophets and false teachers are not going to go to heaven. But some think this text I am about to quote is talking about the ‘hearers’ of the false prophets and teachers, but I think that's a far stretch in this passage. So, we'll go with the former audience as those who are being addressed. The passage states,

“For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them.” (2 Peter 2:20-21, ESV)

Now bear in mind here that nothing Peter says is addressing the loss of salvation. The people in this passage, no matter who they are, had only received “the knowledge of the truth,” but actually hadn't been saved. They escaped the defilements of the world by being part of the church, as Peter said they went to the love feasts for example earlier in the passage. But there is no mention here that these people were actually saved.

       The final two texts that I want to discuss today come from the Book of Hebrews. I want to say upfront that there are some ministers and Bible teachers, who I respect highly, who will disagree with some of what I am about to say. I understand that. I have listened to their sides, and done so with great respect. Not everyone one of us has to agree about these passages; it’s okay that we disagree. What I am about to say has come after ‘years’ of thinking about these passages, and this is no quick or unthoughtout answer. The texts I want to talk about are the famous, or infamous ones found in Hebrews chapters 6 and 10. Really, at the heart of these texts is whom the writer of Hebrews is addressing his letter to. Now, this point is very important. Most commentaries or expositions will state that the author is only talking to 'Hebrew' or Jewish Christians. But is that true?

       To find the answer as to the audience of the book of Hebrews, we should examine some of its verses to see who the audience is. We can see in chapter 1 and verse 1 that the letter is addressed to Jews, or Israelites. It says, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets” (ESV). So, "our fathers" and the mention of “the prophets” would be the reasons for this. Now if we look at the sayings of the book as a whole, we can clearly see it is addressed to Jewish Christians, those who have believed in the Lord Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins.

       But that isn't the whole story. If we go to chapter 2 and verse 3, we read the following: “how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard” (ESV). Now this verse wouldn't make any sense if the writer were only, specifically writing to Christians. So, if I were to say, “How shall all of us escape if we, ourselves, neglect the gift of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf?” It wouldn’t make any sense for me to say that if I were only talking to Christians. Why would I bring up “neglecting the gift” if all of us have already received the gift? This verse shows us that the writer also has non-Christians in mind. So, through this verse and others, we can see that the writer has both Jewish Christians and Jewish non-Christians in mind as he is writing this. We should also note that God has placed this in his Word for Gentiles as well, for it is in his Word.

       So, if we turn or tap to Hebrews chapter 6, let's look at this first passage from the writer of Hebrews. Hebrews chapter 6, starting in verse 4:

“For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.” (ESV)

In my opinion, there are two possible interpretations for this passage which seem reasonable.

       For the first interpretation, we can look at the people the author is talking about in this text as unsaved, not born-again. In this case, these people would be people who were part of the church, sharing in church activities with believers, but who never really committed themselves to accepting Jesus as Lord and Savior. These would be people like Judas Iscariot, who was part of the Twelve, walked with them, did all the same things they did, but who in the end was not saved. Judas preached the Word, cast out demons, and did everything else the other Eleven disciples did, but he was not saved.

       So, in this case, these people, once they leave the church and decide in their minds that Christianity isn’t true, cannot have a second chance at a second look at Christ. It would seem the author is saying that God prohibits them from having a second chance, kind of like the “strong delusion” for unbelievers at the end times that the Apostle Paul talked about in 2 Thessalonians. Remember what Paul said there? He said of these people: “they refused to love the truth and so be saved. Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness” (2 Thessalonians 2:10-12, ESV). They would be people like the Apostle John talked about in his epistle, when he said, “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us” (1 John 2:19, ESV).

       For the second interpretation, the reader believes that the people the author is talking about are people who are in fact saved. In this case, it is believed that while the people mentioned here don't lose their salvation, they can, by walking away from God, walk away to the point were they cannot be brought back to repentance in this life. They are too far gone. They would be like people whom the Apostle Paul talked about in 1 Corinthians chapter 3: “If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire” (3:15, ESV).

       However, the problem I personally have with this second interpretation is that I have known people in my own life who were clearly saved but then walked away from Christianity, ten miles in the other direction. But later in time, they came back to Jesus and are better servants than most of us who have never fallen away. So, seeing that in people in my own life, that's why I have a hard time with this interpretation. I suppose it could be that the people I know didn't stray away long enough or far enough, but that seems wishy-washy. What about King David? Why was he able to turn back to God after committing adultery, grossly lying, and murdering Bathsheba’s husband? It sounds like David got pretty far away from God. Yet, the Bible calls him ‘a man after God’s own heart.’

       So, next, let's turn to Hebrews chapter 10 and consider this passage. Now, I believe this passage is easier to breakdown as talking about unbelievers, and this is for ‘several’ reasons. But, let's read the passage to see what it says:

“For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (Hebrews 10:26-31, ESV)

So, there are several key points I want to note here in why I believe this passage is talking about unbelievers.

1) The writer says these people received the "knowledge of the truth." He doesn't come out say they are saved.

2) The people who reject the truth in this passage face God's judgment, which is impossible for the Christian. If these people here were Christians, Romans 5:1 and 8:1 are violated for these people. This sentence cannot be talking about God's discipline, which believers do receive from time to time because the writer says this judgment is of the same fire that consumes God's adversaries. So, these people are numbered clearly with unbelievers.

3) These people are compared to those who had set aside the Mosaic law in the Old Testament. So, it would seem that these people, having seen what Christ has done for them in sanctifying them by his death on the cross—for Jesus died for all people, he shed his blood for everyone—have turned aside from ‘almost’ accepting that and want to follow the old Jewish law, or perhaps some other worldly system. Again, these would be people like the Apostle John talked about, ““They went out from us, but they were not of us…” as I stated earlier (1 John 2:19ex, ESV).

4) The author said that God will inflict “vengeance” on these people. However, the Apostle Paul said in 1 Thessalonians, “For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing” (5:9-11, ESV). How can people who are still saved bare any penalty for sin, unless it be discipline from the Lord for going astray? But in that case, it’s discipline, and not really ‘vengeance.’ It cannot be “vengeance” as pertains to eternal condemnation, or Hell. The author does say, “The Lord will judge his people.” But the phrase “his people” can be explained by the fact that ‘all’ people technically belong to God.

       It is much, much more difficult to say these people are believers, talked about in Hebrews chapter 10, then to say they are unbelievers. There are many more ‘hoops’ one has to jump through it make the passage talking about believers. The following is how the passage looks if talking about believers:

1) The believer lost the sacrifice of Christ on his or her behalf, and needs a new sacrifice for sins. The problem here is that there is no suitable sacrifice for sins apart from Christ.

2) The believer now has “a fearful expectation of judgment.” This is the same judgment that unbelievers will receive, for the author couples them with “God’s adversaries.” The person is now an adversary of God. So, the person is going to Hell.

3) The believer has trampled on Jesus, profaned Christ’s blood, and “outraged” the Holy Spirit. How is this possible for a Christian, at least long-term until his or her death? Peter blasphemed Christ when he denied him, but came back to him afterward.

4) The believer is open to God’s vengeance, just like an unbeliever. And, again, he or she is open to God’s judgment.

On the other side of this, the only two ‘hoops’ one has to jump through in saying the people discussed are unbelievers. These are the following:

1) The author calls the unbelievers “sanctified.” But, like I stated beforehand, technically everyone has sanctification available to them if they will only accept Jesus’ sacrifice on their behalf.

2) The author says, “The Lord will judge his people.” So, the author calls unbelievers God’s people. But, as I stated, this can be explained by the fact that ‘all’ people technically belong to God. Jesus showed this point many times when he told his parables. Plus, this would definitely be true in a Jewish context, since all the Israelites were God’s, as God’s chosen people, whether they internally believed or not.

If you have to believe that this passage is talking about believers, I think it it is best to say the passage is a ‘hypothetical’ situation that really can’t happen at all in real life. In other words, the author is just stating it for shock value, trying to get the listeners to stay on the right track. And one can look at the Hebrews chapter 6 passage the same way.

       After all of this serious talk about salvation, I don’t want to end today without providing some good verses to support the reality that the Christian cannot lose his or her salvation. Indeed, once we are saved as people, we will always be saved in Jesus. And we will be with him forever, guaranteed. And I think these verses are good to consider if you are struggling with doubts about your salvation as a Christian.

The first one here is from the Lord Jesus Christ. John 10:28-29, Jesus said:

“I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will 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 the Father's hand.” (ESV)

Next, John 14:1-3. Jesus said,

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” (ESV)

The following passages are from the Apostle Paul:

Romans 5:9-10:

“Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.” (ESV)

Romans 6:5-6a:

“For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him.” (ESV)

Romans 8:1:

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus who walk not according to the flesh (but according to the Spirit).” (ESV)

Romans 8:29-30. Notice what Paul says is in past tense:

“For those whom he [God] foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” (ESV)

Romans 8:38-39:

“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (ESV)

Ephesians 1:13-14:

“In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.” (ESV)

Philippians 1:6:

“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (ESV)

The Apostle John noted in 1 John 1:9:

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (ESV)

The Apostle Peter stated in 1 Peter 1:3-5:

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” (ESV)

Saint Jude notes in Jude 1:1:

“To those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ.”

Finally, the Prophet Isaiah encourages us in Isaiah 32:17:

“And the effect of righteousness will be peace, and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever.” (ESV)

So, we can see from all of these passages the believer’s salvation is kept, secured, guaranteed in the Lord Jesus Christ.

       In conclusion today, perhaps you’re a Christian and you’ve been fearful in the past that you could lose your salvation. Well, I truly hope that today’s message has been encouraging to you. I hope you can give up your worry and fear and embrace God’s goodness toward you in the safety of his guaranteed salvation. If you are still having doubts, I would encourage you to keep going over the verses I just read, and let them sink into you. Ask God to show you the truth, to make you feel comfortable about this matter.

       Now, perhaps today you’ve been listening to all of this and you're a person who doesn’t know the Lord Jesus Christ, you are not in a personal relationship with him. Perhaps you’ve never accepted God’s provided salvation for you, or maybe this is the first time you have ever heard about it. Maybe this is all new to you. Whatever the case, I want to tell you that I have good news for you today. It is true that God sent his Son to the earth, 2,000 years ago, and he died on a cross as a perfect sacrifice for sins, which God in his righteousness requires. Jesus was perfect, and he died the penalty of death for our sins, so that we could have a payment for our sins. We can depend on Jesus’ sacrifice to cover the wrong things we have done in our lives. Now, it didn’t end here, but Christ rose from the dead by God’s power, and he is at God’s right hand today. Anyone who believes in him, surrendering him or herself over to him, can be saved from all sins against God and gain eternal life.

       God gives his goodness to whoever with believe in Jesus. He gives eternal life, and freedom in this life from the dominant pull of sin. A Christian is set free from sin. A Christian can have true peace of mind in this life because he or she has come under God’s provision. He or she can lean on God for help in life, help in time of need. No one wants to go through life alone. Why not have God on your side to love you, help you, and give you all the good things that we wants to give you.

       If you would like to accept Christ today as your personal Lord and Savior, and come into a personal relationship with him, then follow my lead in this prayer:

God, I have sinned greatly in my life. I have done many things against you and against others. I have a great need for forgiveness, and today, I want to turn to Jesus for the forgiveness of all of sins. I believe Jesus died for me and rose from the dead. I want to ask Jesus to come into my heart, and I accept him as my Lord. Father, please transform my life, and make me become more like Jesus. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

-Daniel Litton