Today’s sermon raised a number of questions. I am glad because it allows us to continue to wrestle with what God is saying in Hebrews 5:11-6:12. It also helps me to think through ways I can be more clear when I preach.
Let me begin by stating that I believe in eternal security. Once a person is saved, they cannot lose their salvation. I affirmed that doctrine in the sermon when talking about the “in/out” language of being born again, adopted, forgiven, justified, redeemed and united with Christ. Once someone has been born again, they cannot be un-born again. Once they have been adopted into God’s family, they will never be un-adopted. That’s the doctrine of eternal security.
But that was not the focus of this week’s sermon because it is not the focus of Hebrews 5:11-6:12.
There is another related doctrine that people sometimes confuse with eternal security and that is the doctrine of assurance of salvation.
- Eternal security holds that if you are a Christian (from God’s point of view), you cannot lose your salvation.
- Assurance of salvation is concerned with whether you or I can know that we are Christians (from our point of view).
Being a Christian and knowing that you are a Christian are two different things, although they are usually connected.
The doctrine of assurance of salvation fits better with the journey, sports, agricultural and maturity metaphors. It is viewing salvation not from God’s point of view but from ours.
From our point of view, someone who does not continue to end of their journey with Jesus will not make it to the final destination of heaven: not because they lost their salvation but because they never truly had it in the first place. 1 John 2:19 makes this point. John Calvin formulated it this way: how do you know if someone is a Christian? If they persevere to the end.
If you abandon Jesus and the journey of faith you are demonstrating that you are not genuinely born again.
Don’t genuine believers sometimes wander away from Jesus for a season? Absolutely. But, you know that a person is a genuine believer if he or she comes back. If a person doesn’t come back, you cannot know whether they are a genuine Christian.
In the sermon I said if you have loved ones that have walked away from God, I do not want to give you false hope. I do not want to simply tell you that if your loved ones made a profession of faith when they were younger then those individuals will be fine. But what I do believe is that “God is not unjust.” He will do the right thing. If they are genuinely believers by faith, they will end up in heaven, even though they walked away. If they were never believers, they won’t.
But if someone is not currently journeying with Jesus, then neither you nor I can know whether that person is a Christian or not. And so our job is not to give false assurance but to warn them – if they do not keep going with Jesus they will not get to their destination (not because they lost their salvation, but because they are giving evidence that they are not actually saved).
But here’s the additional point to be made from Hebrews. If you go and read Hebrews 2:1-3, 3:12-14, 10:26-31, 12:25 and 5:11-6:12 you will not find any discussion about eternal security. You will not even find a discussion like what is found in 1 John 2:19 about how people who turn away from Jesus were not believers in the first place. What you will find are warnings not to walk away from Jesus. These verses are meant to frighten people who call themselves Christians (also see Matt 7:21-23; John 15; Romans 11:17-22; 1 Cor 9:27-10:12; James 2:14-26). If we preach these passages in such a way that they don’t frighten us, then we have not preached them correctly.
The author of Hebrews believes in eternal security. But he understands that people who are constantly fed a diet of “once-saved/always saved” can draw from it an incorrect inference, namely if I pray to receive Christ it doesn’t matter what I do from that point on. I realize that it is a difficult tension, but we have to let the Word of God speak in all its complexities without using one passage to silence another.
Scripture both affirms that “even if we are faithless, he is still faithful because he cannot deny himself” (2 Timothy 2:13) and “See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end.” (Hebrews 3:12-14).
I know that we want to hear just the eternity security passages, especially if we have a loved one who once professed faith but now no longer does so. But we should not silence the truth of Hebrews. While I have seen God use 2 Timothy 2:13 to bring comfort to believers, I have also watched him – just this morning in fact – use the real, bona fide warnings of Hebrews to bring people who were wandering from the faith back to him.