In the Bible Study class we attend there has been an on again off again discussion about “eternal security” in the context of the Book of Hebrews. Naturally, the majority – no, make that 99% of the class, falls on the traditional side of affirming that particular doctrine. The other 1%, myself included, land on the other side of the issue.
As one might also suspect, discussing that topic is not one that’s done with much calmness. Folks get pretty ramped up when you challenge the idea of their eternal security. In fact, some can get down right hostile. But, when you net it all out, what’s at risk if your relationship to God is conditional, just like Israel’s covenant relationship with God was conditional? Why would God change His mind about such a thing? Yes, the way into His presence, through Christ and not the blood of bulls and goats changed and changed dramatically. But that does not release us from our obligation to maintain that covenant relationship through an abiding faith, a working out of our salvation – does it?
This week I was reading about a theologians remarks regarding “shelf doctrines.” Doctrines people hold who may have no rationale for holding them and find them awkward to defend. Basically, the idea behind the concept is this:
”…Many religious people grew up in a denomination or tradition and want to stay in it for whatever reason even though they don’t really believe all its doctrines enthusiastically. They may even be embarrassed by some of them even as they continue to affirm them.
Anyone who thinks this isn’t a common reality just hasn’t been around in denominations long enough or hasn’t been very observant.”
From my perspective, I put the concept of once-saved-always-saved in that category of “shelf doctrine.” People come across passages of scripture that seem to turn that idea on its head, they get uncomfortable and they put it back on the shelf because they find it too challenging to talk about or even defend. What’s worse are commentators who jump through hoops trying to massage away the plain meaning of a text simply because it confronts their belief about eternal security and they must find a way around the intention of the text. Their summary usually begins or ends with “this is what the author really meant.” If that’s what the author meant, then why didn’t the author say that! What was he trying to hide? Thus the difficulty of a “shelf doctrine.”
Now I’ll confess, I was of the eternal-security camp for quite some time before I allowed the text of scripture to speak for itself. Over the years it became more apparent that something was amiss as I listened to pastor after pastor attempting to dilute the Parable of the Sower into something that would conform to their “theology” rather than conforming their theology to the text. As I disciplined myself to read the text, in its context, and gave it its full measure, there began to be little doubt that I have an obligation in this relationship to God. It is not His responsibility to keep me in the faith, it is mine. As one writer said, “it’s the life that is eternal, not my possession of it.”
Now, before you pick up another stone, let me ask one simple question. In 1Cor. 9:27 what was it that gave Paul concern that he might somehow be “disqualified?” It seems unlikely that his rhetoric concerned something that was not possible. It seems disingenuous for him to use powerful words that had no real meaning simply to pump up the Corinthian church. There must have been something that gave him balance to his faith knowing that he must finish the course.
When it comes to this discussion there are folks firmly entrenched on both sides of the camp. There are also, I suspect, many closet believers that, if pressed, would confess they cannot support the idea of “eternal security” based on the evidence of scripture. So again I ask, what’s at risk?
Now, before I complete this post, let me point out that I am not inferring that one can “lose their salvation.” Salvation is not something we “find” so it cannot be something we “lose.” However, it is something that we make a rational and at times emotional choice about. Consequently, apostasy – turning away from the faith – is also something that is a rational choice. Just as one chooses to enter a faith relationship with God, one can choose to abandon that relationship. Naturally, the consequences of such a choice are severe – hence the risk!