A LETTER REFUTING THE DOCTRINE OF
A dangerous and unscriptural teaching that affects many aspects of Christian life.
Recently I was reminded of the Apostle Jude, who set about to write the account of the gospel story, but at length was constrained by the Holy Ghost to “write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.” In conversations with you directly, and in reading some of your written dialogue with others that you forwarded to me, I have been troubled about a major doctrine that you not only hold yourself but also have been teaching others. I understand this teaching to be entirely unscriptural, and – in all honesty – a false doctrine. The existence of this point of difference has not only cramped our fellowship, but has awakened me to see the gravity of this particular error. I write from the standpoint that it is ignorance of the truth that has caused this falling away (rather than intentional indifference).
“Ye did run well; who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth? This persuasion cometh not of him that calleth you.” Galatians 5:7-9
I do not wish to attack your person or character, nor is it my place to do so. I do not wish to tell you that you are not happy. I do not wish to tell you that the experiences which you have had (which you feel confirm this point of doctrine) did not occur. Instead, the following paragraphs are written in response to a statement that you made to me on the phone, and when dialoguing with a “false prophet” as you called him (probably a believer arguing in the flesh) who accused you of taking verses out of context. I quote – “…please point out which verses instead of using that cliché that everyone pulls out to justify not believing the Bible.” I take that to mean you are asking the “false prophet” to tell you which verses you take out of context. Furthermore, you are accusing those who stress contextual interpretation of scripture in their defense of certain doctrines of doing so to avoid believing God’s Word. I completely disagree.
And so, as you read the following pages, I hope you will find not merely mindless rambling, but rather a whole-hearted (though feeble) attempt to point out the context and interpretation of the passages of scripture which you have used to support the false doctrine which states: a soul’s security is not necessarily forever, but may be lost if they do not maintain good works. I completely disagree. I hope you can believe that I do not write the following paragraphs to “justify not believing the Bible”, but rather to present the scriptures in their correct context “that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.”
Before I begin, I want to state what I believe is the underlying error behind this teaching: namely, that the credit for the salvation of lost souls does not go entirely to God.
Following first, is a list of several texts of scripture (most of which you referred me to) which I believe have been twisted out of the tenor of Scripture, and into the foundation of a false doctrine. Below each passage is a description of the proper context or interpretation – to the best of my understanding at this time, for I realize that I have much to learn. After that, a summary of several scriptural principles, the lack of which I feel is the source of many falling into this error. In closing are a few remarks about substituting supernatural experiences for the Word of God, and then a summary of the implications of this false doctrine. As you read please remember that I am motivated by care for you, as well as an urgent sense that the truth of the Gospel is being given up on every side.
Note: I will hereafter refer to the doctrine that you once held (but now detest) as the doctrine of “Eternal Security” and the doctrine that you now hold as the doctrine of “Conditional Security”.
Texts Which “Seem” to Support Conditional Security
Before I begin, I would like to point out that attempting to bring out the correct context of a passage of scripture is not “apologizing for what God has said”. When we are reading with the “eyes of our understanding being enlightened” we will see the scriptures in their proper context and interpretation.
Passages from the Epistle to the Hebrews
Before we begin to look at several texts from the Epistle to the Hebrews we should understand the context of the epistle. This epistle does not address assembly or church doctrine (the church is only mentioned once, in Chapter 12, and at that, only in passing), nor does it entertain the thought of the Body of Christ. This book is written to a mixture of saved and unsaved Jewish people. It completely passes over the subject of the church, although it is very applicable to us. It is written as a call to Jews to “go forth therefore unto him without the camp” (Hebrews 13:13) leaving the Jewish system. The writer does this by presenting Christ as the mediator of a new covenant, by showing the reader the contrast between the Jewish economy and the “better thing” that God had in store for them, by revealing to these ones the object of all the Old Testament pictures and shadows (Christ), by telling them of the heavenly calling that had displaced their old earthly calling, and by stern warning to those Jews who would refuse to leave the system and come onto Christian ground. This epistle was written shortly before the destruction of Jerusalem – the center of the Jewish system – by the Roman general Titus who burned the city and killed all those who did not flee. So we see, right from the beginning, that the warning “how shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation?” (Hebrews 2:3) was a sobering reality. Most of the confusion with this book is not understanding to whom this book was written, and the Spirit’s purpose in writing.
“For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.”
This is referring to an unbeliever who has seen the way of salvation and the benefits of salvation. They have conversed with others who had the life of Christ within them. They have even partaken in the operations of the Holy Ghost (probably an unbeliever who was attending a local assembly – Paul spoke of the assembly in Corinth; “…God is in you of a truth…”(1 Corinthians 14:25) – or like Balaam who spoke by inspiration of the Holy Ghost in Numbers 24:15-17 even though he was unregenerate). Lastly, they have tasted of the good Word of God (felt the impact of the Word on consciences with power – like Simon Magus in Acts 8) and the powers of the world to come – that is, a foretaste of millennial power that was given to the apostles near the birthday of the Church, which was displayed in miracles, tongues, and mighty acts of power. On that unbeliever, God has poured out the treasures of heaven for the benefit of his soul, and yet he has rejected His greatest gift, His Son! In effect he has “crucified to himself the Son of God afresh, and put Him to an open shame.” God gave him everything he could give, and it was all rejected. Therefore, once it becomes evident that he was never real (“if he shall fall away”), God says, “it is impossible to renew him again unto repentance” because it is clear that he doesn’t want what God is offering. This is amplified at the end of the epistle in the climactic chapter twelve, where we get it presented even more clearly (although even that text has been twisted by some to support Conditional Security). The “falling away” is not from justification, but from the profession of Christianity. This passage is speaking of an apostate, whose eternal fate is sealed through rejecting the gift of God.
“For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries. He that despised Moses’ law died without mercy under two or three witnesses: Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace? For we know him that hath said, Vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense, saith the Lord. And again, The Lord shall judge his people. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”
This passage is probably the most difficult to understand, but once again, you have to keep in mind the context. First, we must read what is found previously (read Hebrews 10:1-18). In the Jewish economy, thousands upon thousands of sacrifices were “offered year by year”, and they could never “make the comers thereunto perfect.” But Jesus Christ “offered one sacrifice for sins forever” and now “there is no more offering for sins” because there is no more need, Christ has done it all. In the Jewish economy, if an individual sinned, he would make an offering for that sin. If he sinned that same sin again, he would simply make another offering. But if “we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth”, in other words, if we reject this offering, we cannot just make another offering. There is only one offering, and only one way into the holiest… by the blood of Jesus. The most difficult part is where it says “the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified”. How can someone who is sanctified lose their salvation? Sanctification simply means “to be set apart for a holy purpose.” But there is internal sanctification and there is external. When it says “he hath perfected forever them that are sanctified” it is internal sanctification… cleansed from sins – it is forever. The “blood of the covenant” was sprinkled in Exodus when the Law was given, and it set Israel apart as under the obligation to obey God’s Law. Therefore, this “sanctified” is external sanctification… it doesn’t reflect whether there was ever believing faith or not. This is a warning to the Jewish people not to treat this offering lightly, and not to reject this “better thing” that God was now speaking in these “last days” in the Person of His Son. Once again, it is a warning not to reject the work of Christ as the eternal sacrifice. This passage is not saying that a true believer can do something to lose their Eternal Security.
“Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees; And make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed. Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord: Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled; Lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright. For ye know how that afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected: for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears.”
This portion is probably the most “seemingly” supportive of Conditional Security; although, the true meaning is easier to discern. In order to understand this passage one must remember the context. “…Holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord” is a statement of fact – no unholy person will enjoy the presence of a holy God. That does not mean that if you slip or become lukewarm, you will lose your salvation. This particular verse does not tell us how we can become holy, that comes only by faith, “not by works, lest any man should boast”. Next come exhortations and warnings. First, “Looking diligently lest any man fall from [or, lack of]the grace of God”. This is a different thought than Galatians 5:4. The writer is saying, look around and see if there is any soul who lacks grace (carrying on in a legal way), and warn them. And if you don’t, a “root of bitterness” will spring up, and many will be defiled. Specifically, this is talking about one who is clinging to Judaism. Ironically, this verse, which you use to support your doctrine, is actually talking about someone like you, who “lacks of the grace of God” because you have chosen to live in a legal way. That is why I am writing: to warn you.
However, it is the next part that people tend to twist. “Lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright.” A profane person is one who makes light of or defiles something that is very precious to God. In Ezek. 44:23 the “holy and profane” are contrasted as opposites. Esau took the greatest blessing that he had (precious to God), and traded it away for almost nothing. This is an exhortation to the Jewish audience not to sell the heavenly calling (their birthright) for the earthly Jewish system (one morsel of meat). If they rejected this message of grace from the Son of God, they would miss out on all the blessing. “Ye know how that afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected: for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears.” Note that Esau sought the blessing, but there was no place in his wicked heart for repentance. The rest of the chapter goes on to explain; “For ye [this gives us the key that he is speaking to the Jewish people] are not come unto the mount that might be touched, and that burned with fire, nor unto blackness, and darkness, and tempest…But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven…” That is, Mount Sion has been presented to you, the covenant of grace with all its heavenly blessings – don’t reject it for the Mount Sinai that burns with fire, which, if you were to touch it, you would have to die. This is the culminating statement: “See that ye refuse not him that speaketh. For if they escaped not who refused him that spake on earth, much more shall not we escape, if we turn away from him that speaketh from heaven.” If you reject this wonderful gospel, all that will be left for you are the fires of God’s Judgment. So, we get the final warning – “For our God is a consuming fire.”
To me it is very clear that the answer to v.15, “looking diligently lest any man lack of the grace of God”, is in v.28 which says “wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear”.
Passages from the Epistle of James
The epistle of James was written to the twelve tribes of Israel. Like Hebrews, this epistle definitely does not discuss church truth. But, unlike the Epistle to the Hebrews, James does not call to the Jewish believers to leave the Jewish system. Instead it is written to people just like those at the time of our Lord’s ministry. They knew the basic truths of Christianity, but nothing close to Ephesian truth. They knew of the Lord’s coming (as in John 14) but not in all its details (as in 1 Thessalonians 4). The believers knew that Jesus was the Christ, and professed His name, but at the same time would keep the law and the ordinances. See Acts 21:18-24, where you can read about James saying that Christians ought to be saved, but also to walk orderly and keep the law. This epistle does not explain redemption, or our spiritual blessings. Instead, James focuses on the display of the life of Christ in our practical walk – what others see.
The danger that James addressed was, if these Jewish Christians had not yet externally separated from unbelieving Jews, there might be a great deal of cross-over of the old, fleshly Jewish practices that are unbecoming for a Christian. James asks the question; what marks you believers out as different? The answer is: the works that are a result of faith. The only way that the reality of their conversion would be manifest to the world was if there was the practical outworking of new life in their lives by works. They would prove their faith by their works.
If you meet a man on the street who claims to be British, but his accent is German, how can you believe his profession? His claim is dead, so long as he cannot prove his citizenship. That does not mean that he is definitely not British; however, what it does show is that as far the evidence may demonstrate, the profession is false. Without works to go with our profession of faith, it is essentially dead, as far as the eye can see. Justification in Romans is how we are justified before God; justification in James is how we are justified before others.
“What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works. Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.”
As mentioned by way of introduction, this passage brings that, to the world, a profession of faith without works is dead, practically speaking. The book of James does not present the way that we are justified to God, but only how this world will know. It is of interest to note that Paul quoted the same verse (Genesis 15:6) in Romans to make the point that justification before God is only by faith. He used it again in Galatians for the same purpose. But James brings out how that the faith that Abraham had “wrought with his works” to prove outwardly that his faith was real. This passage does not infer that salvation is gained or upheld in any way by works.
Passages from the Epistles of Peter
The epistles of Peter were written to Jewish believers, as opposed to James which was written to “the twelve tribes”, or Hebrews which was written to a mixture of believing and unbelieving Jewish people. This is why there does not appear to be quite so many passages that “seem” to support Conditional Security. However, I will point out the “questionable” passages that you use to support your teaching.
1 Peter 4:17
“For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God?”
You take this verse to mean that believers are going to come under the judgement of God, in the sense of eternal damnation. First, the term “house of God” may refer to slightly different aspects in scripture, but always it has the thought of the public testimony of believers. I believe in this verse it is speaking about true believers. We are getting a principle that God always begins to judge at His own house. For example, if I had children, and my children were involved in some mischief with my neighbor’s children, would I reprimand my neighbor’s children before I reprimanded my own? Of course not. Neither will God. In the book of Revelation, we find that one half of the way through the seven-year tribulation God will judge His house – that is, the false professors alive at that time. After the false church has been dealt with, God will allow the world to follow after a man called “the Beast” (the leader of the revived Roman Empire) and his spiritual accomplice the “False Prophet” (or Anti-Christ) head on into judgment under the sword of none other than Jesus Christ Himself. In that way judgment will begin at the house of God, and afterward will continue to the rest of the world. However, this passage in 1 Peter refers to the way God holds true believers responsible live uprightly. He will judge His people through allowing sickness, death, and division – even to the point of a local assembly’s extinction – because of His perfect, just character. The “judgment” here does not mean eternal damnation. This is easily seen by the distinction made between the “house of God” and the “ungodly and sinner”. Peter is saying, if God is faithful enough to judge those who profess His name, then what a terrible fate awaits those who refuse the gospel!
2 Peter 2:1
“But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction.”
You say this verse proves that the Lord saved certain ones, but because they became false teacher they lost their salvation, and thus will bring destruction upon themselves. First, note that the Darby Translation and Young’s Literal Translation both have the word ‘Lord’ changed to ‘master’. The simile that is being used in this verse is that of a rebellious servant who disobeys and disowns his master. The emphasis is not on the purchase of the individual, but on their disobedience to authority.
Also, the Spirit of God carefully distinguishes between two great truths: purchase and redemption. To purchase a slave would be to buy them. To redeem a slave would be to buy them and set them free. For true believers, both things are true; we are purchased and we are redeemed. The classic example is the treasure hid in the field (Matthew 13). The Lord Jesus bought the entire field. Previously, the field had been defined; “the field is this world.” The entire world was purchased by Christ, including both believers and unbelievers in it. He owns them all in the sense that He has rights over them. But scripture never says unbelievers were redeemed… because they are still in bondage, slaves in their sins. These are false teachers who were never true believers.
2 Peter 2:20-21
“For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning. For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them.”
You say this verse shows that it is possible to know the Lord Jesus as savior, and then to be entangled with the things of the world and thus lose your salvation. What this verse is speaking of are those who have practically escaped the “pollutions of the world” through association with other Christians; partaking at Christian love-feasts, going to the assembly meetings, and carrying on with a profession. But they are not real, and God will judge them as more responsible, because they were on the threshold – even tasting the benefits of Christianity – but they had no love for Christ. Notice that the passage goes on to say that these ones “had known the way of righteousness” but “turned from it.” This makes it abundantly clear that these men are apostates; they made a profession, but never knew the Lord in a personal way, and eventually fell away.
At this point it would be profitable to reflect on the passages we have previously mentioned. A large number of the verses that “seem” to support Conditional Security are found in the Jewish epistles (Hebrews, James, and I and I1 Peter). This is quite obviously due to incorrect assumptions about the context of the verses in the Jewish epistles, or the subjects of these epistles in general. However, we should briefly touch on several verses from the general (not specifically Jewish) epistles that I believe you have not understood in the context of the chapters where they are found. In every case, context is critical.
Passages from the Epistles of Paul
1 Corinthians 9:24-27
“Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air: But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.”
The “troubling” part of this passage is the last sentence: “lest that by any means… I myself should be a castaway.” Some people try to deny that that word castaway means someone who goes to the lake of fire. Clearly, that is not the case. A castaway is someone who God casts away. What you misunderstood here is not the definition of what a castaway is, but the way Paul is writing. What the Apostle is saying is, he is not only a professing believer, but he is practically living out his faith like a believer. If he only preached, he might be cast away as well as any unsaved person. He was: “walking the walk as well as talking the talk.” This is not saying that Paul was in doubt of his Eternal Security, but rather that he was using himself as the “guinea pig” in his warning. He was speaking to those who talked like Christians but were not living like true children of God.
Note: We speak in this way quite often. It is a way of being less pointed with an exhortation… you exhort yourself and effectively exhort the listeners. We get this principle in 1 Corinthians 4:6 “And these things, brethren, I have in a figure transferred to myself and to Apollos for your sakes; that ye might learn in us not to think of men above that which is written, that no one of you be puffed up for one against another.” This verse confirms that in Chapter 1 the Corinthians were not actually saying “I of Paul, and I of Apollos”, but they had leaders in the sects among them, whose names Paul was not even willing to mention, lest he add to their reputation. This makes sense because we know that the Corinthians doubted Paul’s Apostleship, and he had to defend it: “Am I am not an apostle? am I not free? have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord? are not ye my work in the Lord? If I be not an apostle unto others, yet doubtless I am to you: for the seal of mine apostleship are ye in the Lord. Mine answer to them that do examine me is this…” (1 Corinthians 9:1-3).
“Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace.”
The passage will be taken up in depth at the conclusion of this letter. It refers to a believer that has ceased to live by the principle of grace (a higher principle that rests on the sovereign grace of God for righteousness) and has begun to live by the principle of law (the principle of works as an effort to be acceptable to God – a lower principle). They have “fallen” from the principle of grace down to the principle of law; a “foolish” thing, Paul says in Chapter 3. Ironically, this verse – though used by them to say the opposite – actually condemns supporters of Conditional Security who hold that it is a Christian’s obligation to maintain their salvation. It is the very same “principle of law” that Paul warns about.
“Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.”
This verse is often stumbled over, although there is really no need. “Your own salvation” refers to the effort that the Philippians were going to have to make for their preservation now that Paul was no longer with them to make that effort. It is in contrast to the salvation that Paul worked out for them when he was there. Once the context is understood, it becomes instantly clear what the “salvation” is speaking of. It refers to the salvation of the assembly, which was in danger of being ripped apart by their bickering among themselves and through persuasion from the enemy.
Paul’s view of a healthy Philippian assembly can be found in Philippians 1:27. The only way that the assembly would be saved was if they took heed to the exhortation in Chapter 2; “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, etc.” Philippians 2:4-6. Once again, this passage (Ch. 3:12-13) is not referring to a loss of Eternal Security or to the idea that one could lose their salvation.
1 Timothy 1:18-20
“This charge I commit unto thee, son Timothy, according to the prophecies which went before on thee, that thou by them mightest war a good warfare; Holding faith, and a good conscience; which some having put away concerning faith have made shipwreck: Of whom is Hymenaeus and Alexander; whom I have delivered unto Satan, that they may learn not to blaspheme.”
This is a case where the Apostle Paul has excommunicated these two from the assembly so that they might endure the discipline of God at the hands of Satan himself. This is similar to the instance in 1 Corinthians 5 where Paul had judged from a distance that the fornicator was a wicked person and needed to be excommunicated: “In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.” There was a chance that the person would be saved if they were put out. The man professed to be a Christian – but he was acting like an unsaved person. Being exposed to Satan’s sphere of influence (outside the assembly) would cause the breakdown of his body (sickness, etc.) and the Apostle hoped that this would turn him to the Lord before he died. In the same way, Hymenaeus and Alexander were being disciplined by God for blaspheming. These two had professed to be Christians, but whose practical lives were literally shipwrecked. We are left to conclude (to the extent that the evidence indicates) that they were never truly saved.
1 Timothy 4:1
“Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils.”
You say this verse refers to true believers departing from the faith, and thus losing their salvation. I insist that these would be professing Christians who apostatize – or prove themselves to have never been truly born again. This verse refers to the great apostasy that began in Paul’s lifetime, and is growing rapidly in the world around us. In a future day, after the church has been raptured, the great apostasy will mushroom into a huge movement, at the head of which will be the False Prophet, the Man of Sin, the Antichrist himself… whom the Lord shall destroy with the spirit of His mouth.
1 Timothy 4:16
“Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee.”
You say that this verse shows that in order for Timothy to maintain his eternal salvation he had to be very careful about his walk and doctrine. One look at the context of the passage will show that it is not talking about eternal salvation, but temporal salvation. Being “saved” here is to be saved from a wasted life of either foolishness or progress in the school of natural philosophy; rather than progress in the institution of God. The Word of God tells us what we need to do to “save ourselves” in more than one way. But we need to remember that we can have a saved soul, but a lost life.
2 Timothy 2:16-18
“But shun profane and vain babblings: for they will increase unto more ungodliness. And their word will eat as doth a canker: of whom is Hymenaeus and Philetus; Who concerning the truth have erred, saying that the resurrection is past already; and overthrow the faith of some.”
You say this verse shows that it is possible for someone to lose their salvation because it says their faith was overthrown. Here were two individuals – false teachers – that brought a message which was deeply troubling the people of God. Their false teaching had shaken the conviction of true believers. They taught that the resurrection was past. This would make the believers afraid that their faith was in vain – and they would doubt their salvation. However, this did not mean that their salvation was actually taken away; but only that their peace was taken away. Their salvation rested on a foundation which can never be shaken. So we get the following verse: “Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his. And, let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity.” Salvation is in the Lord and it can never be shaken. As far as responsibility is concerned, it is a two sided coin (seal). The Lord’s side – He knows which ones belong to Him, whether false teachers like Hymenaeus and Philetus have shaken their faith or not. Our side – since we profess to belong to Christ, we need to hold fast and walk godly in this world. Ironically, this verse – which you use to support your doctrine – actually condemns those who teach Conditional Security, because their doctrine causes simple believers to doubt a fact that is eternal and true, and in a similar way they “overthrow the faith of some.”
“Boast not against the branches. But if thou boast, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee. Thou wilt say then, The branches were broken off, that I might be grafted in. Well; because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not highminded, but fear: For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee. Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off.”
It surprised me that you use this passage to support Conditional Security because it is really a simple one, but you need to see the context in Chapters 9, 10, and 11 of the Epistle to the Romans. To stumble at this text demonstrates a misunderstanding of God’s purposes with regard to Israel (an area of doctrinal neglect which is the source of much of the confusion in the mainstream Christian denominations today). In Chapters 9, 10, and 11 of Romans we get a profound statement about God’s dispensational purposes in dealing with Israel as a nation, and indirectly, the Gentile nations. In my understanding (and I trust the understanding that “the Holy Ghost teacheth”), if we miss the meaning of these verses we have missed the clearest New Testament teaching on God’s past, present, and future dealings with Israel. If we read these chapters with our understanding enlightened, it will open up the rest of the Word of God to us.
Israel was the people of God. He tested man as a race by running the specimen – the nation of Israel – through a number of tests throughout most of the Old Testament. Pictured as the vineyard in Isaiah 5, they brought forth only “wild grapes”. After forsaking the Lord God of their fathers, they chased after many false gods, and wanted their independence from Jehovah. So God gave them over to their lusts, and they were taken captive, and “Then said God, Call his name Loammi: for ye are not my people, and I will not be your God” (Hosea 1:9). And so He cut off the natural Jewish branches, which had grown from birth on the tree of God’s blessing. But now the door was open to the Gentiles, and in grace those who were “in time past Gentiles in the flesh… aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise… But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:11-13). And so we read, “For I speak to you Gentiles… thou, being a wild olive tree, wert grafted in.” Now the way has been opened, after so many years, for Gentiles to come into the blessing of God.
The main points of Romans 9-11 are to reveal God’s righteousness in how He is dealing with Israel; i.e. God was not unjust to set Israel aside, and He is not unfaithful to His promises because Israel will not be cast off forever.
- Ch. 9 – God has always acted in Sovereign Grace, but that grace does not absolve Israel from their responsibility to accept Christ.
- Ch. 10 – Israel has broken the law and rejected the gospel. Now God turns to the Gentile and sets aside Israel.
- Ch. 11 – Israel is not cast away forever. The Gentiles will eventually reject the grace of God, and their fall from grace will become the occasion of Israel’s restoration.
But Paul gives a warning to those Gentile “Christians” who only boast that they are “in” and the Jews as a nation are “out”; who are there in profession, but not in reality. The warning is; “Boast not against the branches… For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee… if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off.” If they continued in false profession, God would cut them out of the tree of blessing in a very severe way. Remember, he as addressing the Gentiles as a class of professing Christians in these Chapters (“For I speak to you Gentiles”), and Israel as a nation. He is in no way saying that an individual can lose their Eternal Security; for it is a different subject altogether! Notice that what Paul warned of will come to pass in the tribulation, when the False Church (largely made up of Gentile professors) is judged halfway through the tribulation, and at the end of the tribulation Israel as a nation is restored to blessing under their Messiah; “And they also, if they abide not still in unbelief, shall be grafted in: for God is able to graft them in again” – what perfection in scripture!
God never contradicts Himself. If it seems that He is contradicting Himself, then it is we who must ask for wisdom to understand the meaning of scripture. It is only our miserable human minds that blind us from the truth. Let us speak “not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth” (1 Corinthians 2:13).
Passages from the Gospels & the Importance of the Mystery
The key to understanding the gospels is to understand the Mystery. In fact, if one understands the Mystery, all the Old Testament prophecies will appear to be quite contiguous and will be easily understood. Moreover, in my experience, the whole of scripture will become clear.
What is the Mystery?
In Ephesians 3 we learn that the “dispensation of the grace of God” was given to Paul, and the principle truth within that dispensation (or package of truth) was the doctrine of the Mystery. Paul’s life mission was to be a steward over the dispensing of the gospel of the grace of God, and the revelation of the Mystery. Also, in Ephesians 3, the Apostle Paul explains what the Mystery is:
“The mystery… which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel.” Ephesians 3:5-6
The Mystery is the truth that God has brought in something brand new – different from Judaism and everything that came before – in which God has brought Jews and Gentiles onto the same ground, to be fellow heirs with Christ and parts of the same body. Paul’s mission statement was twofold: to preach the gospel among the Gentiles, and to make known to all men the doctrine (and the associated administration) of the Mystery. The Mystery was a brand new thing – and a very important thing to God Himself to have been kept secret from all those living in ages past.
Now, we must understand that this Mystery was brought in because it was purposed by God of course, but also because Israel rejected God. “For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in” (Romans 11:25). The mystery mentioned here is not exactly that same thing as “the Mystery” in Ephesians or Colossians, but it is the mystery of how God had allowed Israel to be set aside and the Gentiles to be brought into blessing (“the fullness of the Gentiles”) – it is easy to see how it ties in ever so closely with “the Mystery”. From this we learn that Israel had to be set aside administratively in order for the Gentiles to be brought into blessing and the Mystery unfolded.
Understanding the Transitional Book of Acts
Now consider the book of the Acts. In the first seven chapters of Acts, God is speaking to Israel who had crucified the Messiah, and beseeching them to repent.
“But those things, which God before had shewed by the mouth of all his prophets, that Christ should suffer, he hath so fulfilled. Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, [so] the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord. And he shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you: Whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began.” Acts 3:18-21
The Apostle Peter here is preaching to “men of Israel” and pointing out how that the coming and sufferings of Jesus Christ as Messiah were prophesied about in the Old Testament. He tells them (and the offer was genuine) that if they repented the “times of refreshing” would come, which had also been prophesied about in the Old Testament (i.e. the millennial reign of Christ). From this passage we understand that at this point if Israel as a nation had repented, God would have brought in the Millennium! We know that God knew Israel would not repent, and that the Mystery was His purpose from a past eternity. Yet from the perspective of God’s dealings with man in responsibility, it could have gone either way at this point. This is supported further when Stephen is martyred horribly in Acts 7. He gives them the clearest history of Israel’s rebellion, the crowning act being the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, their Messiah. Stephen’s preaching was the last window of opportunity for Israel as a nation for repentance but they would not hear it, and killed the man who spoke the truth. The moment Stephen is with the Lord, who comes on the scene? They “laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul.” A few paragraphs later we find Saul struck down on the road to Damascus, and the Lord saying of him, “he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel.” Paul was given the responsibility to dispense the truth of the Mystery.
Understanding the Prophetic Aspect of the Gospels
Now one might ask: how does this help us understand the passages in the Gospels – spoken by our Lord Himself – that seem so different from the writings of Paul, etc.? It helps us in this way: we now may conclude that when the Lord was speaking in the gospels, He was often speaking in prophetic terms. When He spoke to the Pharisees, He was addressing them as the leaders of an apostate and backwards Israel. When He addressed the disciples, He was addressing them as a faithful remnant of the Jewish people – not as the Church of God – with exceptions; e.g. parts of Matthew 16, Matthew 18, etc. I do not mean to say that all the words of Christ are not applicable to Christians. Surely they are very applicable, as we are part of the Kingdom of God, and the Kingdom of Heaven. Yet when considering the prophetic utterances of our Lord (i.e. the Olivet Discourse) or His tirades against Apostate Israel, it is important to remember this very clear distinction.
This distinction explains the Lord’s answer to the disciples’ question in Matthew 24: “what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?” The Lord answers the disciples as the faithful Jewish remnant, the same company that will reappear in the Tribulation (Revelation 12:17). Not only were these prophetic utterances of the Lord, but – if the Mystery had not been unfolded – these disciples would have literally been the actual people that made up the Jewish remnant that we read about in Revelation and in many of the Prophets! The entire Tribulation, Millennium, and Day of God would have been “slid” forward in time. The Mystery was not an accident, but the Kingdom of Christ had to be postponed. So the Lord was prophetically and literally talking to the Jewish remnant! That is why as intelligent members of the Church of God we do not look for the events spoken of by the Lord in either “the Beginning of Sorrows” (first 3 ½ years) or the “Great Tribulation (also called Jacob’s Trouble)” (last 3 ½ years); because the Church is on the earth in a ‘parenthesis’ in the prophetic timeline! To us who “keep the word of His patience” it has been promised “I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them which dwell upon the earth.” You might ask, “where are we going with this?” The reason is, supporters of Conditional Security often use verses spoken by Jesus addressed to the Jewish remnant to support their doctrine. The classic example is:
“But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.” Matt. 24:13
You say this verse means that those who give up on God partway through their life will not be saved. But we can clearly see from the context that this is talking about the faithful Jewish remnant in the tribulation. It is NOT talking about members of the Church, and it is NOT talking about the time we live in. This verse is shows that in the midst of an apostate nation, the delusion of false prophets and false Christs will so strong that “if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.” God will allow this time of purification to manifest which ones are real. All those who merely profess will take the mark of “the beast” and will worship him (Revelation 14:9). They will make a covenant with him for protection from their greatest enemies. That covenant will not be able to protect them, and they will be destroyed (Isaiah 28:15-20). We can see from the prophetic events mentioned elsewhere in the Bible how comforting to those faithful Jews will be these words from Jesus Himself; “But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.” Let us examine another case:
“And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh.” Luke 21:24-28
In these verses the Lord is telling the faithful Jewish remnant to be encouraged when they see these signs: because it will not be long until the Lord comes out of heaven to save them! This is not talking about the rapture (1 Thess. 4 – the Lord’s coming for us) but rather His appearing in power and glory.
These things are important for several reasons; I will mention two of them.
- First, the subject of all prophecy is Christ. In the first chapter of Ephesians God tells us “the secret of his will” is that He has purposed to bring all created things “both which are in heaven, and which are on earth” together “in one… in Christ”. Prophecy shows how God is doing this in the earthly realm, through dealing with Israel, judging the nations, and reining as Messiah, etc. When we do not see Christ as the center and object of God’s Eternal Purpose we will look at salvation as: ‘my salvation’, ‘myself’ as the object and center of God’s purpose. In so doing we will try to force all scripture to be about ‘me’ and ‘my salvation’, and even twist prophecies concerning Israel to be about the Church.
- Secondly, for us, understanding Paul’s doctrine is vital to stability in our Christian lives. At the end of Peter’s second epistle we get the following statement about Paul’s epistles:
“…even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you; As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures…” 2 Peter 3:15-16
If we do not understand Paul’s writings – be it the fundamental doctrine of the Gospel or the truth of the Mystery – we will be unstable in our Christian lives. We will wrestle with these principles until we are doctrinally confused and practically unbalanced. Although they may seem to be at first “some things hard to be understood”, when we finally see these truths the whole of scripture will become clear to us.
Passages from the Gospel of John and John’s Epistles
Very briefly, it would be prudent to mention several passages from John’s writings that might seem to support Conditional Security. John’s style is different from the other writers; typically, he wrote in the absolute. This means that he often states black and white facts without giving reasons as Peter and Paul do. This will be evident in the next few passages quoted.
Also, the subject of John’s ministry is much different from Paul’s, although there is some overlap. To Paul was given the Gospel of God, the revelation of the Mystery, Church doctrine, and the purpose of God in all things, etc. But John’s ministry teaches us deeper, and more fundamental doctrines, such as the nature of God as light and love, and eternal life. We will look at two passages; one from the Gospel of John and one from John’s First Epistle.
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit. Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.”
You say these verses prove that security is conditional because a branch is cut off and burned. Once again, this would be a contradiction to the multitude of verses that assure us of Eternal Security. If there “seems” to be a contradiction, the problem lies not God, but with the reader. The vine was the earthly relationship between the Lord and His disciples. It is not the heavenly link of the Holy Ghost that indwells the believer. It is an earthy relationship, as was the vine is Isaiah 5 – earthly Israel – and it refers only to earthly ties of profession. The difference between this vine and the vineyard in Isaiah 5 is that this vine is the true vine. There is no need to put a hedge around it, build a tower, and hope for good fruit. The fruit will be produced where there is true communion with Christ.
Whether there is really life or not will be manifested by whether there is fruit or not. Those that have no life are cast forth and burned. The only way fruit can be produced is through Christ. If we are not abiding in Christ, we will not produce fruit. This passage does not infer that you can lose your salvation. A branch that is cut off or burned is an apostate (never saved). However, the Husbandman may purge us from time to time to help us bring forth more fruit.
1 John 3:8-9
“He that practises sin is of the devil; for from [the] beginning the devil sins. To this end the Son of God has been manifested, that he might undo the works of the devil. Whoever has been begotten of God does not practise sin, because his seed abides in him, and he cannot sin, because he has been begotten of God.”
You say these verses prove that security is conditional because if a believer practices sin, immediately they switch from being a child of God to being a child of the devil. That is not the case. Here again we have John speaking in the absolute. He is describing the family character of those who are children of God (they do not practice sin), and the family character of children of the Devil (they practice sin). John isn’t suggesting that if a true believer has a fall and commits a sin that they will lose their salvation. We know from the first chapter, verse 4, that John’s purpose in writing was to build up the children of God and to give them assurance; “And these things write we to you that your joy may be full.”
What is the Doctrine of Eternal Security?
The doctrine of Eternal Security is, simply put, the principle that once I am saved, I will always be saved; my eternal destiny is never in doubt. It recognizes that there was nothing that I could do to obtain my salvation (as far as works or manner of life is concerned) and there is nothing that I can do to uphold it. Two unambiguous, indisputable verses would be:
“For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.” Hebrews 10:14
“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand. I and my Father are one.” John 10:27-30
These sheep will never be lost, because the Father has given them to the Son, and “all that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out” (John 6:37).
I would say to a supporter of Conditional Security, please consider the following verses:
Rom. 4:25 – 5:2
1 Cor. 1:8-9
1 Cor. 3:15
2 Cor. 1:21-22
1 Pet. 1:3-5
1 John 2:19
1 John 3:19
1 John 5:4
The Epistle to the Ephesians is a book that gives the reader the eternal viewpoint on everything. If one is trying to understand which doctrine is correct (Eternal Security or Conditional Security), the Epistle to the Ephesians holds a most direct answer.
“According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: Having predestinated us unto the adoption of [sons] by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved. In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace.” Ephesians 1:4-7
These verses are so clear on the subject that I do not need to write another word. Could the Holy Ghost have been clearer in revealing the Eternal Councils concerning our Eternal Security? Is there a simpler way to say, “chosen in him before the foundation of the word”? Is there a more perfect acceptance than that which is “in the Beloved”? Can one possibly think that they could be accepted in all the perfect acceptance of God’s well-beloved Son, and then by any carelessness of their own slip backward from that blessed position into unacceptability? Such a thought is not only absurd, but contradictory to these most explicit verses.
“…in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession…” Ephesians 1:13-14
Not only are we “accepted in the Beloved” and have our eternal destiny secured, but God is His grace has chosen to involve us in His plans to glorify Christ in heaven and in earth (read Ephesians 1:10-12). We are going to inherit all created things with Christ, and as a down payment He has sealed us with that “holy Spirit of promise”! You and I being indwelt with the Holy Ghost is God’s own promise that we will, without a shadow of a doubt, inherit all things with Christ! What a glorious future we have promised to us!
At the end of chapter one, Paul prays for the Ephesians and in his prayer makes mention of how Christ was raised from the dead by the power of God, and seated in heavenly places, all things being put under his feet. Now, in chapter two he shows how God (in His grace) has applied the same pattern to us – with one difference. We were dead in our own sins. But when we were utterly dead and unresponsive to God, he has “quickened us together with Christ” and “raised us up together” and “made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus”. Next we find that we are saved by grace alone, through the gift of faith, which we could never have had on our own. Salvation is all of Him! Don’t you see brother? The beauty of it all is that there is nothing that our dead corpses could produce, so He gave us new life (quickened) and with it faith, which gave us to believe. Our salvation was not won by our own works, nor can it be upheld by them. There are good works that we can do; however, even these have been chosen for us, “unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” What a story of dimensionless love; what a tale of infinite grace! It is the glory of His grace.
The promise of God, as we get it in Ephesians, reminds me of another passage in Hebrews about the promises of God:
“For when God made promise to Abraham, because he could swear by no greater, he sware by himself, Saying, Surely blessing I will bless thee, and multiplying I will multiply thee. And so, after he had patiently endured, he obtained the promise. For men verily swear by the greater: and an oath for confirmation is to them an end of all strife. Wherein God, willing more abundantly to shew unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath: That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us: Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and stedfast, and which entereth into that within the veil; Whither the forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus, made an high priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec.” Heb. 6:13-20
These verses describe the wonderful certainty that the believer may have of inheriting what lies before him based on the sworn promise of God. God has promised us that we are secure in Christ, and that we will be with Him in the day of His glory. But, as if God could have gone back on His word (which he never could have), He swore upon the greatest being that exists – Himself – and so confirmed that which he had already said. “That by two immutable things”, His word and His sworn oath (see Genesis 22), “in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation.” It is impossible for God to lie! And His sworn promise is secured in Jesus who has already entered within the veil as our forerunner. In context, this is an encouragement to Jewish believers to look to Jesus within the veil, and in doing so, to gain fresh energy to refrain from falling back to Judaism, and to press on in faith to “better things”.
Helpful Principles that Need to be Observed
It would be wearisome to go through each of the thirty-five verses that you believe support Conditional Security. We would do well to note that the following principles will clear up, I think, the vast majority of the passages we have not mentioned heretofore:
1. Approach scripture in a “Christ-centered” way
“All scripture is profitable” (2 Timothy 3:16) and “whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning” (Romans 15:4) but they were not all addressed to us directly. Note to whom the scriptures are addressed. We need to take context into consideration when we read. I am particularly thinking of the Jewish Epistles and the Gospels. God’s eternal purpose is to glorify Christ… the blessing of man is secondary to that.
2. Understand the rest of scripture in the light of the Mystery
Many Christians struggle to understand prophecy because they think the Church is the subject of prophecy… it’s not. If they would first understand the Mystery, that the Church is a brand-new institution of God formed of Jew and Gentile in one Body, they would better understand prophecy. They would not fall into the trap of Replacement Theology, which claims that the Church in the New Testament is the replacement for Israel. The Mystery shows us what God has been getting at all along; and finally – now that His heart is free to flow out in grace – God is calling out a bride for His Son.
3. God requires from man that which he can only present in full dependence on God
An example is in Hebrews 12; “holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord” – God is requiring practical external holiness (hagiasmos) which man could ever present to God without a nature of holiness (hagiosunē or hagiotes) which is only obtained as a sovereign gift from God. Following is a quotation that puts these principles into words very nicely.
“It is a great thing never to twist a single text of scripture to a doctrine. God is wiser than we are, and He has made no mistakes. I see people afraid of certain texts about certain doctrines, and I feel, therefore, that doctrine is not a settled thing with them… It is quite true, that the moment I look at a believer in Christ, there is no “if,” nor can be, as to his security; he is accepted in the Beloved, and there is no “if anything”; he is sitting in the heavenly places in Christ, and the whole matter is settled; but that is not all that God has chosen to do about him. He has chosen to put him through the wilderness when he has redeemed Him, and then we have “ifs” and “whens” without end: “If ye hold fast,” in Hebrews; “If ye continue,” in Colossians, and so on. But what we have along with it is, absolute dependence upon Another, and infallible faithfulness in Another. As I have sometimes said, I may be standing with my child on the top of a rocky precipice, and he is apt to run about foolishly, and I say to him, “If you tumble over, you will be smashed to atoms”; but I have not the slightest idea of leaving my hold of him, or of letting him fall. Now we are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation. This shews we need to be kept; but on our side it is dependence on the power that does keep. You cannot confuse that with acceptance; but it is constant dependence upon God keeps my soul in a right state towards Him.” – J.N. Darby
Understanding this principle clears up many objections to passages in Hebrews, particularly in the third chapter where the apostle is bringing out the result of unbelief; i.e. not entering into rest.
4. God addresses man’s responsibility in order to affect his conscience
Often God addresses man’s conscience without bringing out the abstract truth of Eternal Security in the same moment. Once again I will use the verse in Hebrews 12; “holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord” – at that moment the Spirit does not bring out that a nature of holiness (hagiosunē or hagiotes) comes only by new birth – the Spirit here is addressing the conscience, and therefore is calling for practical outward holiness (hagiasmos). To a person that is truly saved, and one that has the assurance of their salvation, these verses affect our conscience. But we “know of whom we have believed”, and would never use these verses to make ourselves or another soul doubt their salvation. Another quotation from JND:
“Different states of soul need different treatment. We must give meat in due season. A passage which might help on one, might puff up another; that is a question of spiritual wisdom in dealing with souls. All that I feel anxious about is the maintenance of the positive dealing of scripture with conscience. Take that passage in Romans we referred to: “Who will render to every man according to his deeds; to them who, by patient continuance,” etc. Well, a man says, There may then be good people, and if they work good, they will get glory, and honour, and peace. But I say to him, “You are wrong entirely; there is none good but God.” There is plenty of scripture to meet such a case, but we need not weaken this sentence in Romans in order to do it. It is the necessity of God’s nature, that there must be a certain life and character in a man for him to be with God. We have a scripture that God has given that nature, and that He will keep it to the end; but the latter does not enfeeble the fact that the nature is such as it is. You must have that life and walk in that life, or you will not be in heaven. Thus we have broad dealing with conscience, and that is what we must not weaken. We have it plain enough in scripture, unmitigated and unenfeebled. Consciences want it, they are slippery enough. If I use it to weaken a person’s faith in God’s fidelity, I use it wrongly; but I want to give it all its force as it stands, while giving meat in due season. Suppose I found a person slipping into sin, and I say to him, “Well, never mind, God is faithful”; though that is abstractly true, it is not what I should use to him then, but just the opposite. Yet if God did not keep me, I know I should be soon slipping off somewhere.”
Often the Holy Spirit speaks about a soul that is positionally destined for glory, yet when that soul is practically walking in self-will, He speaks about that soul as they are “on the path to destruction.” They will never reach destruction, but they can still spend their whole life on that path. An example of this is Philippians 3:18-19, “For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.” I have no doubt that this is speaking of unbelievers, yet that is not the subject. The subject is those that “mind earthly things” as opposed to those who “mind heavenly things”. The end of the path of the latter is glory, the end of the path of the former is destruction. The fact that I walk in that path for some time doesn’t change my eternal destiny; however, I would be on the “wrong track”. Consider Lot, his life, and his eternal destiny (i.e. his “righteous soul”).
Another form of language that appears repeatedly in scripture is the idea of working toward something, or working toward an end. Paul often writes about conforming his life to “the day of Jesus Christ”. Would he ever fully conform his life to the point where he would be perfect in the day of Jesus Christ? Never: yet he labored to that end. This principle clears up 2 Peter 1:10, “Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall: For so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” The force of the text is this: to labor to conform our practical life to the calling and election that we know is true of us. It would be like me saying to my son, “Son, you are a man now… I expect you to show me that you are.” It is to practically conform one’s life to what is positionally true of it. If we do this, Peter tells us, we will have an abundant entrance when we return with Christ in glory.
5. God uses the judgment of the wicked as a warning for true believers
“For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no man deceive you with vain words: for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience.” Eph. 5:5-6
Supporters of Conditional Security claim that v.5 is written to warn the believers that they may lose their salvation if they fall into any of the categories listed in this verse. From v.6 we can tell that this is not the case, because it goes on to say that the sins listed in v.5 are the reasons for judgment of the children of disobedience (the unbelieving). The apostle’s point is that God judges the sinner for their actual sins, not merely for rejecting the gospel. Paul brings this out to show believers the seriousness of sin, not to bring into question their Eternal Security. This is a classic case where the Spirit of God uses the judgment of the wicked as a warning for true believers. Those to whom Paul was writing – those who “love our Lord Jesus Christ” – would never end up in a lost eternity. Yet it was needful to exercise their consciences by showing them the eternal consequences of these sins in “the children of disobedience”.
6. Man’s Responsibility does not negate or annul God’s Sovereignty
This does not negate or annul God’s sovereignty. These two lines of truth run throughout scripture; (1) God’s Sovereignty, and (2) Man’s Responsibility. Our human minds cannot comprehend how God can be absolutely sovereign, and yet He hold man responsible. Trying to reason these two things out – to make them meet together in a rational way – has led many into the error of picking one side, and explaining away the other. I fear this has not been the case with you. Two chapters that have been a great help to me in this regard have been Romans 9 (God’s Sovereignty) and Romans 10 (Man’s Responsibility). Romans 9 sets forth God’s sovereignty in every choice He has made. Romans 10 sets forth man’s failure in light of the grace of God, and how God will hold man responsible for his actions. Romans 11 shows how God can hold man responsible, and yet bless on the basis of sovereign grace.
7. Propitiation and Substitution
During our phone call the other night I began to see that there is a fundamental disagreement between us concerning the work of Christ. When I questioned you on it specifically, you told me that you do not hold the doctrine that Jesus Christ was the substitute on Calvary’s cross for each individual believer. You told me that you do not hold that Jesus Christ suffered for individual sins. You acknowledge that Jesus is the Savior, and that He suffered for sin, but you clearly do not either understand or believe the doctrine of substitution. The work of Christ on the cross has two aspects: one is propitiatory, the other is substitutional.
The propitiatory aspect is required because of our sins, but it is the aspect of the sacrifice in which Christ has perfectly glorified and satisfied God the Father. Thus, ‘sin’ was taken care of before God. In this sense, propitiation is the grounds of God’s mercy to man. As a result of this, the gospel can go to the whole world, and anyone who comes in the value of that shed blood will be saved. The work of Christ has perfectly satisfied God, and so we have heard the gospel message; whosoever will may come.
“And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for
the sins of the whole world.” 1 John 2:2
“For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Romans 10:13
“God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.” 1 Timothy 2:3-6
“…that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man.” Hebrews 2:9
“…Christ Jesus; whom God has set forth a mercy-seat, through faith in his blood, for [the] shewing forth of his righteousness, in respect of the passing by the sins that had taken place before, through the forbearance of God.” Romans 3:24-25
But there are also the individual ‘sins’ (plural) of all those that believe which must be accounted for. The checks and balances are perfectly kept by the righteousness of God. In order for us to stand in the presence of a holy God, our sins must be expiated. In order for God to be “just and the justifier of him that believeth in Jesus” (Romans 3:26), our sins had to be paid for, and Christ must suffer for them in the believer’s place. When scripture mentions bearing sins, the word “all” is intentionally avoided. Instead, the word “many” or “some” is used, because not “every man” will believe, and Christ could not be punished for the sins of those who believe not.
“Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:28 or Mark 10:45
“For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.” Matthew 26:28
“So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation.” Hebrews 9:28
“…Jesus our Lord, who has been delivered for our offences and has been raised for our justification…” Romans 4:24-25
“The Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” Galatians 2:20
“Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree.” 1 Peter 2:24
There is one passage that bring both propitiation and substitution together very nicely. “Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe…” (Romans 3:22) I have no doubt that this means that because of the propitiatory aspect of the work of Christ, the offer of salvation is “unto all”, but because of the substitutional aspect, it is only “upon all them that believe” or “it takes effect only on them that believe”. Until you see that Christ bore the individual sins of those that believe, you will never be able to say with assurance: “the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).
The Holy Ghost inspired a beautiful picture of these two aspects in the Old Testament. On the day of atonement, the high priest was to take two bullocks, and cast lots over them; one goat would be “the Lord’s” the other would be the “scapegoat”.
The first goat (Leviticus 16:7-19) was for the Lord as a sin offering and it represents propitiation – the aspect of the work of Christ that was “for the Lord”, although it was necessitated by our sins. The second goat was for the people (the scapegoat) and it represents substitution – the aspect of the work of Christ which was “for the people”, to put away our sins. This first goat was wholly for the Lord, although it had to be offered “because of the uncleanness of the children of Israel, and because of their transgressions in all their sins”. This goat had no individual sins confessed over its head, but it was slain and its blood was sprinkled before the Lord to satisfy His holy nature! This represents propitiation.
This second goat (Leviticus 16:20-22) was for the people, had all the individual sins of the people confessed over its head. The goat was sent into the wilderness never to be seen again – picturing our sins being taken “as far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12). What joy to know that our sins are gone! This aspect of the work of Christ is for me! This represents substitution.
This balance of doctrine is lacking in many places in the Christian profession. Armenians hold only propitiation – and the doctrine of Conditional Security. Calvinists hold only substitution – and the doctrine that the believer was predestinated from an eternity past. Calvinists see no point in preaching the gospel because “if God predestined you, you will be saved; if He didn’t, you have no choice.” What balance we have in scripture! Those who will be saved were “chosen in the Beloved”, but because of propitiation, the offer “whosoever will, let him come” is a genuine offer!
The bottom line is, if I did not hold substitution – and the realization that my sins were covered, and that those sins (like that scapegoat) will never come back to haunt me – I could never enjoy Eternal Security. This is where you stand: in denial of one aspect of the work of Christ. The result? No peace.
8. God’s Sovereignty in the Impartation of Life
Another theme in the New Testament that a supporter of Conditional Security most likely does not understand (for obvious reasons) is the principle of divine life from God. I will only go into it a little now, but if one really lays hold on this truth, all thoughts of Conditional Security will be forever put from their mind.
Divine life is, very simply, life from God. Eternal life is the same, but in a greater capacity such that the believer knows “the only true God and Jesus Christ whom [God] hath sent.” John 17:3.
“He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” John 1:11-13
We find from this verse that those who believe on the name of the Lord Jesus were already born of God. In John 10 it is assumed that those who heard the Good Shepherd’s voice were already His sheep, and they showed that they belonged to Him by responding to His voice. It is so important to see that, without life from God, there would never be a response to the call of God, or the call of the Shepherd.
Supporters of Conditional Security believe that that work of salvation begins with a choice made by the sinner, to seek God. This idea is foolishness in light of four principles:
- The flesh will never produce fruit for God. “The carnal mind… is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God.” Romans 8:7-8.
- The flesh cannot improve itself.“That which is born of the flesh is flesh.” John 3:6
- The flesh cannot “invite” new birth.“Which were born… not of the will of the flesh.” John 1:13
- The flesh has been categorically condemned by God. “God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh.” Romans 8:3
The importance of this truth is: If you couldn’t even initiate your own salvation, how could you think that you can complete it or maintain it? Paul insists that such a premonition is foolishness in Galatians 3:2-3.
“This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?”
Why is it so hard for you to admit that your salvation is due to the sovereign grace of God alone? The flesh wants to take “partial credit” for our salvation.
9. Reality vs. Profession
Those who hold conditional security will often point to examples of “believers” who gave up Christianity as evidence that a believer can be saved and lost again. A Biblical understanding of the difference between human belief and true faith will clear that up. All through scripture we find that there are a large number who associate themselves with the name of Christ, but not all of them have a personal relationship with Him. There are the wheat and the tares (Matt. 13). The wheat are those who received the Word of God by faith, while the tares (darnel) are those who make a profession (i.e. look like real wheat), but are not genuine. We must understand that not everyone who says “Lord, Lord” will enter into heaven. Those with true faith will be gathered into the garner, and the tares will be cast into the fire.
It is possible, along with outward profession, to have a kind of external belief in the facts of Christianity without having true faith. An example would be the “seed that fell on shallow ground” in the parable of the sower. The seed sprung up, but it had “no depth of earth”. They “received the word with gladness”, but the Word of God did not sink down into their conscience and take root there.
There is such a thing as external, human belief in Jesus, but it isn’t true faith. In John 8:30 “many believed on him”, but if you keep reading, it was merely an external belief. In v.31 Jesus “said to the Jews who believed him, If ye abide in my word, ye are truly my disciples”. They had believed on Him in an external way, but they were not “disciples indeed”. The conditional “if you continue” is inserted, because whether they had true faith was not evident, and would be tested by obedience to His word. In John 3:16, “believing on the Son” is real faith, a gift from God (Eph. 2:8-9), and it is through this faith we are justified. There is no condition; he that believes “shall not perish”… period. When real faith is present, there are no conditions.
A helpful passage is John 2:23-25, where “many believed on his name, beholding his signs which he wrought.” These were people that were impressed by Jesus’ miracles, but there was no inward work of faith in their souls. “But Jesus himself did not trust himself to them, because he knew all men, and that he had not need that any should testify of man, for himself knew what was in man.” (vv.24-25). Why didn’t Jesus commit Himself to them? He knew their hearts, that they were still in darkness. There is a great difference between human belief and real faith. For example, I see in the news that the Patriots have won the Superbowl… and I give mental assent to the fact. That is human belief, but it is different than true faith. Faith simply receives God’s testimony (John 3:33), even without evidence.
Those “Christians” that once claimed to believe and later turned their back on God most likely never had the true faith of John 3:16. They only had the external belief of John 8:30 and John 2:23.
10. True Doctrine Glorifies Christ, False Doctrine Glorifies Man
The verse that I will use to support this statement is John 16:13-14. The Lord Jesus makes a statement that the Spirit of God would not speak words from Himself, but rather would show to the New Testament saints what a risen and glorified Jesus gave unto Him!
“Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will show you things to come. He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall show it unto you.”
The simple fact is, every true doctrine – which we are guided into by the Spirit – will have the effect of glorifying Christ. This is a simple litmus test that we can perform on every teaching we are presented with. I have never seen this test fail. Let me give you several examples:
|Jesus Christ could have sinned.
||No. Denies that Jesus has a sinless holy nature.
||Yes. Makes man seem closer to Jesus… makes man seem not quite as bad.
|Man has a free will.
||No. Among other things, it sets aside Christ’s glory as a quickening Spirit, giving life to lost souls.
||Yes. Says that man was not totally depraved. There was something in man that reached out for God.
|Christ was not raised from the dead.
||No. Makes Christ a liar, denies His sinless perfection, denies the completion of the atoning work, etc.
||Yes. If God never gave His approval for the work of Christ, then lost man wasn’t bad enough to need it.
|Jesus was 100% human and 100% divine.
||Yes. Gives him manhood glories as the one man God could take pleasure in. Made Him able to be sympathetic, etc. At the same time maintains His Godhead glories.
||No. Shows how wicked the race of man is in contrast to the Perfect man. Establishes man’s guilt because we rejected God Himself in flesh.
| Apply this test to Conditional and Eternal Security:
||No. Says the atoning work was NOT enough.
||Yes. Takes partial credit for salvation.
||Yes. Gives Christ ALL the credit for my salvation.
||No. Says that man could do nothing to earn his salvation.
The conclusion is simple, but solemn. Conditional Security does not glorify Christ, and is a false doctrine.
The Great Result of the Doctrine of Conditional Security
The doctrine of Conditional Security ultimately states that salvation is upheld, in some measure, by human efforts. I explained this to you over the phone, but will demonstrate it again. We might witness the following dialogue between supporters of the opposing positions (E.S. for a supporter of Eternal Security and C.S. for a supporter of Conditional Security):
E.S. “What is the basis of your salvation? On what grounds do you expect to escape the wrath of God?”
C.S. “On the basis of the work of Christ.” (sounds pretty good so far…)
E.S. “Is that all that is involved in being saved?”
C.S. “Well, the work of Christ only would apply to those who ‘endure to the end’ and never slip into a state of lukewarmness. Still, I believe salvation is based on the work of Christ; without it, no one would be saved.”
E.S. “Do you mean to say that salvation is dependent on how one conducts their life, in some measure at least?”
C.S. “Well, yes I do. If one gives up the faith they have ‘made shipwreck concerning the faith’ and the work of Christ no longer applies to them and they are no longer saved.”
E.S. “Let us get this straight – you believe that salvation is upheld by your own works in some measure at least?”
C.S. “Yes. Salvation is… well… indirectly dependent on works.”
In essence, the doctrine of Conditional Security undermines the truth of the gospel. We will show this by examining the Epistle to the Romans, in which the doctrine of the gospel is very simply laid out.
In the first three chapters of Romans, Paul systematically proves beyond the shadow of a doubt that all men are sinners by nature and by practice; “for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin; As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one”. The apostle continues to explain about the righteousness of God: “Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe”. While man has been unrighteous, God has been perfectly righteous. In His righteousness, He has contrived a plan to save rebellious man. That plan of salvation is offered to all, and it is effectual upon those who believe. In chapter 4, we have more details; namely, how God reckons a sinner as righteous. God looks at those that believe and marks them off as righteous. Why do we need to be marked as righteous? “…for there is no difference: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” If we are all sinners (all the world has become guilty before Him) then how can we be justified before God? It is only by His grace: “Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus…”
Finally, God’s purpose in the work of Christ is brought out: “Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God.” In other words, the gospel explains the way in which a righteous God could overlook the sins of Old Testament believers such as David, Abraham, and Noah. But this is not only for those who lived before the cross, but to those of us on the New Testament side of the cross: “To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.” That is, how God can justify sinners, and still remain consistent Himself. The Righteousness of God is not the perfect life of Christ. Rather, it is the fact that God can save lost sinners, and yet still remain righteous. His righteousness is shown out or “revealed” (Rom. 1:17) through the Gospel.
The doctrine of the gospel shows how that a man that lives his whole life as a thief or a murder can repent in faith in his last moments on earth, be counted righteousness, and thus be justified before God. How would he be justified? “Being now justified by his blood”. If he was justified, the work was accomplished by Christ on the cross through the shedding of His blood “who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification.”
To say that justification is obtained or upheld by anything other than the finished work of Christ on Calvary’s cross, would be to openly contradict the truth of the gospel, and to teach false doctrine in its most basic form.
Where I feel that this doctrine of Conditional Security has landed many poor Christians is: off of the ground of complete resting in the work of Christ, and onto the ground of their own works. A Christian who holds Conditional Security is a person who is trying to complete an already finished work.
They might talk about “brokenness” all day long, and how “broken” they are; yet to the spiritual man this is merely the boasting of one trying to convince themselves of their current standing with God. What saith the scripture? “Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith.” They are essentially in the position of the Galatians: one that was “born free” yet by some measure of fleshly religion having put themselves back under the law. What that individual is really saying is that the work of Christ is not enough: “for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ has died for nothing.”
“O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you? This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?” Galatians 3:1-3
How can you possibly think that being saved initially by faith in Christ alone that now you can uphold your salvation by works? Such a thought, Paul says, is foolishness – you have been “bewitched”.
“Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage. Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing. For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law. Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace. For we through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith. For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love. Ye did run well; who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth? This persuasion cometh not of him that calleth you.” Galatians 5:1-8
The key principle to draw from this passage is in the statement: “For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law.” If you try to do any part of the law – even the ceremonial parts, you become responsible to keep all the law – including the moral parts, because you are leaving the principle of grace. You are either resting on grace alone or the works of the law alone: there is no middle ground! People talk about polarizing an argument, and how it is not fair to formalize two moral poles in a debate setting, yet that is what the Holy Ghost (by inspiration through the Apostle Paul) does here! You are living by either the principle of grace alone, or works. Trying to mix the principles of grace and works will only result in the principle of works – a fact which Paul has stated and which we have proved heretofore. The result is a slight against the work of Christ, and you have fallen from that wonderful position which you could be enjoying: “Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace.”
Brother, we need to “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.” Our flesh is always looking for something to do – whether it be to gain or uphold salvation – but the only way to have true liberty is to rest completely on the finished work of Christ and His sovereign grace.
If I have “fallen from grace” and “Christ has become of no effect” to me, then my relationship with Him is far removed from what it should be. If I hold Conditional Security, then:
- I am standing in doubt of an everlasting relationship that was predestined before the foundation of the world, made good at the cross of Calvary, and sealed when I was indwelt with the Holy Spirit of Promise.
- I have been made to fear what is most precious to God: communion between God and His creature man.
- I have put a slight on the work of Christ, inasmuch as I have declared the work was NOT finished, as it alone cannot save me.
What can we conclude? Brother, I am hesitant to write these things, but I must summarize my conclusions. You do not hold or understand substitution; therefore, you do not believe that your individual sins were borne by the Lord Jesus Christ. I must ask, how can you know Him as your personal Savior, if His work for you wasn’t personal? You hold Conditional Security which is fundamentally opposed to the doctrine of the gospel, and which indirectly attributes your salvation to your own good works. Lastly, you are fallen from grace and – I speak very plainly, but I trust lovingly and carefully – you are not constrained by the love of Christ, but by the fear of judgment.
Do I believe that you are saved?… at this point, I still do. I only pray that you would “come unto the knowledge of the truth”, that you would be not “tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine”. Brother, we are called to something far greater than this.
My prayer is that we will both take these thoughts to heart and “search the scriptures” to see if these things are so – praying always that the eyes of our understanding would be enlightened. If I have misunderstood where you currently stand with this matter, please tell me. If you feel that I am wrong, please tell me. Please continue to be before the Lord in prayer about this subject, as I will.
Joshua P. Stewart
“That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive… Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” Eph 4:12-13