In this post I will share my perspective on eternal security, as some call it. We will try to answer the question, “Will anyone who has been truly born-again ultimately end up in hell due to habitual, willful rebellion and unbelief?” I must start by pointing out some undeniable biblical facts. I hope this will give context to the answer that is given.
All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.
2 Timothy 3:16-17
I will start by sharing a presupposition I have about the nature of the Scriptures. I do not believe the Bible is primarily a philosophy book meant to satisfy all the answers of systematic theology. I believe the Bible is a book primarily written for the devotional life of God’s children. That is, it was written as daily bread, that will feed the hungry disciple of Jesus with exactly what is needed to know, trust, love and obey his Father in heaven. So, though I am attempting to give a theological answer to the question at hand, I do not believe it will be satisfactory to the one that likes their theology to work out perfectly like mathematics. Instead, I am presenting a disciple’s theology on this matter.
Therefore, brothers, we are debtors not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die, but if through the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.
To those who by patiently doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality will be eternal life. But to those who are contentious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation, and wrath, will be tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man who does evil, to the Jew first, and then to the Gentile. But glory, honor, and peace will be to every man who does good work—to the Jew first, and then to the Gentile, for there is no partiality with God.
Now the works of the flesh are revealed, which are these: adultery, sexual immorality, impurity, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, strife, jealousy, rage, selfishness, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, carousing, and the like. I warn you, as I previously warned you, that those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.
Be not deceived. God is not mocked. For whatever a man sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.
If a person lives in willful, habitual disobedience to the commands of God, should they expect to inherit eternal life? The answer is an absolute NO! People who live in rebellion to God will suffer God’s eternal judgment. If a person believes they are going to heaven even though they are living in open rebellion against the God of heaven, they are self-deceived about the clear teaching of Scripture. Both the classical Arminian and the Calvinist are in total agreement about this biblical fact.
Dearly beloved, I implore you as aliens and refugees, abstain from fleshly lusts, which wage war against the soul.
1 Peter 2:11
And you, who were formerly alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy and blameless and above reproach in His sight, if you continue in the faith, grounded and settled, and are not removed from the hope of the gospel, which you have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.
Be attentive, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, and you depart from the living God. But exhort one another daily, while it is called “Today,” lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence firmly to the end, while it is said:
“Today, if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”
The next fact that we must face is that the Bible warns us about the danger of falling away from the faith, hardening our hearts to God and living in rebellion. I am afraid that when many modern Calvinists read such passages, they do not take them as serious as they should. Many seem to reason that such passages must be in some sense hypothetical since it is “impossible” for a true believer to fall away. This is one danger of always reading the Bible as a theology book, instead of as the very words of life. If our mind is overly focused on systematic theology, we inject our system into every particular verse of Scripture. This is called eisegesis.
I do not feel safe in taking such a position. I believe that if the Bible warns of danger, it warns of real danger. And if my heavenly Father placed it in His Word, then it must be directed towards me as his child. Therefore, I must believe that in some sense it is a genuine possibility for me, as a born-again believer, to fall away. Can I be deceived? In the last 26 years as a disciple of Christ, I have proven beyond all doubt, again and again, that I can indeed. Can I choose to knowingly commit an act of sin? Once again, shamefully, I must confess that there is no doubt that I indeed can. Though, after my conversion, I have never determined in my heart to dive into a life of sin and unbelief, I have no doubt that I could make such an evil decision. God has shown me my heart many times, and it is aptly described in Jeremiah 17:9, “The heart is more deceitful than all things and desperately wicked; who can understand it?”
I hear an objection, “But if a person has been born-again, they have received a new heart with new desires!” This is the crux of the matter! It is here that I believe there is confusion among some modern Calvinists. Consider another fact from God’s Word:
Also, I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them.
“This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws into their hearts, and in their minds I will write them,”
For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, not having the law, are a law unto themselves, who show the work of the law written in their hearts…. Therefore, if an uncircumcised man keeps the righteousness of the law, will not his uncircumcision be counted as circumcision? Will the uncircumcised one who is righteous by nature, if he fulfills the law, not judge you who, by the letter of the law and circumcision, violate the law? He is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is external in the flesh. But he is a Jew who is one inwardly. And circumcision is of the heart, by the Spirit, and not by the letter. His praise is not from men, but from God.
Romans 2:14-15, 26-29
Therefore, brothers, we are debtors not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die, but if through the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God.
These passages confirm that those that are born again are a new creation. They are not the same as the unregenerate who are bound to sin by their hardened hearts. But these passages do not tell us that the new creature in Christ is somehow automatically programmed to obey “God’s law.” Yes, He writes His law on their hearts, but He does this by the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. The Christian heart is no different than the unsaved heart except for the abiding influence of the Holy Spirit. The believer only has “new desires” as the Holy Spirit influences him towards the things above, instead of the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life. All the sinful desires still remain in the converted soul, they are just subdued moment by moment by the sanctifying grace of God. And note clearly, the converted soul must actively “put to death” sin by the power of the Holy Spirit. In the words of another passage, “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For God is the One working in you, both to will and to do His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12-13).
Let me use an analogy to clarify. Imagine a pot of water boiling on the stove. The water might say to itself, “I am hot water. I am not lukewarm like that glass of water over there on the table!” Now imagine that the pot is taken off the stove and placed on the table. What will happen within one hour? Of course, in that hour the water will go from boiling to room temperature, just like the glass of water. In the same way, a born-again believer is different than the unregenerate sinner, but that difference is not found in himself, since the resurrection has not taken place yet. But instead, the godliness that is in the life of the Christian is totally due to the Holy Spirit’s presence and influence in his life.
Ok, but what does this all have to do with the passages of Scripture that warn the believer not to turn away from God? Just as the regenerate heart can be deceived and choose to disobey God’s commands on occasion, he can also choose to dive into sin and unbelief, which of course would damn him as it is stated in Hebrews chapter 6, since it would cut him off from the salvation that is found in Jesus Christ.
For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to be renewed once more to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and subject Him to public shame.
There is nothing in the nature of the regenerate soul that automatically keeps him from returning to rebellion as the pig returns to wallow in the mire. Many modern disciples who call themselves Calvinists do not sufficiently tremble at the Word of God. They are at ease in Zion, resting in certain doctrines, instead of taking heed to God’s divine exhortations. God, in His holy Word, warns the Christian about the dangers of sin and the dangers of apostasy. The believer must actively resist temptation and grow in grace by practicing the spiritual disciplines of fellowship, devotional Bible reading and prayer. He must be acutely aware that he, even with all his theological zeal, is capable of betraying Christ.
God exhorts us to holiness in the fear of the Lord because we must actively walk in the Holy Spirit. If we fail to heed this scriptural truth, we can be sure that we, even we, will perish. The young Calvinist must be humble enough to know that only after he has endured to end will he know with absolute certainty that He is among God’s elect. We have not yet finished the race; “Let not he who puts on his armor boast himself as he who takes it off” (1 Kings 20:11). He may have assurance, but assurance is subjective, which is why Scripture commands, “Brothers, diligently make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never stumble” (2 Peter 1:10). If you are confident that God will preserve you, then strive with all of you heart and life to endure!
For you need patience, so that after you have done the will of God, you will receive the promise. For, “In yet a little while, He who is to come will come, and will not wait. Now the just shall live by faith; but if anyone draws back, My soul shall have no pleasure in him.” But we are not of those who draw back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the saving of the soul.
Up to this point I have been presenting some preliminary biblical facts before trying to articulate my theological perspective on the question, “Will anyone who has been truly born-again ultimately end up in hell due to habitual, willful rebellion and unbelief?” There are still other facts to consider before that can be done. But this post is becoming too long, so I will write the second half another day. I hope each of us will meditate on the solemn passages presented in this post no matter how sure we are of certain theological doctrines and whatever manner of personal assurances we have obtained.