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Defense of Bible Passages vs. Eternal Security & Faith Alone

Defense of Bible Passages vs. Eternal Security & Faith Alone August 12, 2020

vs. Anti-Catholic Protestant Apologist Jason Engwer

Jason wrote an article (late 90s) entitled, “A Response to Passages of Scripture Often Cited in Opposition to Salvation Through Faith Alone and Eternal Security.” In it he critiques the passages from theological opponents that (in our opinion) prove eternal security to be a false doctrine. E for effort and a certain sort of sophistical cleverness, but ultimately his reasoning fails, as always, when he attempts to war against Catholicism. This is my counter-reply. His words will be in blue. I will post the entire Bible passages (not included in his article) in black, indented (RSV).

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Matthew 7:21-23 – These people were never saved. Jesus says that He never knew them. They couldn’t have lost a salvation they didn’t have.

“Not every one who says to me, `Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. [22] On that day many will say to me, `Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ [23] And then will I declare to them, `I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers.’

The main point is that those who claim the name of Christ but don’t follow His commands (i.e., do good works) — combined with faith by His grace — are not and cannot be saved. He condemns falsely claimed works but at the same time affirms good works (“does the will of my Father”); i.e., doing as well as merely saying words. There are indeed certain folks that He never knew, that were never saved or in His good graces at any time (just as in the parable of the sower). But this doesn’t (logically or theologically) rule out another category of those who were in such a good state and forsook it.

The context provides further insight. In 7:15-20, Jesus warns against false prophets. How do we know they are false? “By their fruits” (7:16, 20): again, good works as the manifestation of genuine faith. In 7:24-27 He makes the analogy of building a house on a foundation of rock rather than sand. “House” in this analogy is salvation. The house built on rock stands; i.e., the salvation is genuine and permanent. But the house built on sand “fell; and great was the fall of it” (7:27). It seems clear to me that the house falling, by analogy, refers to falling away from salvation. The man once “had” the house, then he no longer did.  Therefore, Jesus refutes eternal security.

Matthew 25:31-46 – Jesus doesn’t say that these people were saved through works. The works of the sheep reflect a regenerated heart (2 Corinthians 5:17), and are the result of salvation (Ephesians 2:10), but they aren’t the means of salvation (Ephesians 2:8-9). The sheep became sheep through faith (Acts 15:9), then behaved as sheep. There are lost people who feed the hungry, visit people in prison, etc. And there are saved people who don’t do any of that (Luke 23:39-43, 1 Corinthians 3:15). What Jesus is addressing in Matthew 25 is the general contrast between the lives of the regenerate and the lives of the unregenerate at the time of His second coming. He’s not teaching salvation through works.

“When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. [32] Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, [33] and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left. [34] Then the King will say to those at his right hand, `Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; [35] for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, [36] I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ [37] Then the righteous will answer him, `Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink? [38] And when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee? [39] And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee?’ [40] And the King will answer them, `Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.’ [41] Then he will say to those at his left hand, `Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; [42] for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, [43] I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ [44] Then they also will answer, `Lord, when did we see thee hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to thee?’ [45] Then he will answer them, `Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.’ [46] And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

We agree that He’s not teaching salvation by works, which is the heresy of Pelagianism.  But He is teaching salvation that cannot be obtained without good works (enabled and wrought always in His grace). The ultimate means of salvation are, of course, Jesus’ death on the cross and God’s grace, sufficient to reconcile us with Him. We agree again with our Protestant brethren about that. The passage is remarkable in that it never mentions faith in Jesus as the sole (?) key to salvation. And that’s because the strict (almost or sometimes actually antinomian) “faith alone” position is not biblical at all.

The key to interpreting the above passage is the word “for” in both verses 35 and 42. Jesus is saying, in effect, “you are saved and will go to heaven [or hell], for you did these good works: x, y, z [or did not do them].” He makes it a directly causal relationship. “For” can only plausibly be interpreted, I submit, by giving it the meaning of “because.” In other words, in the overall context of biblical soteriology, it means, “you proved that you have a genuine faith by your good works; therefore you are rewarded with eternal life.”

Luke 18:18-25 – Jesus had just taught salvation apart from works (Luke 18:10-14). He doesn’t contradict Himself in the conversation that follows with the rich young ruler. To the contrary, the conversation is a further illustration of what Jesus had taught in verses 10-14. The rich young ruler, like the Pharisee mentioned a few verses earlier, expected to be saved through works. He thought he had kept all of God’s commandments throughout his life (Luke 18:21), though he obviously hadn’t (Romans 3:9-23). As Jesus told him, only God is good (Luke 18:19). Since this man thought that he was good enough to attain eternal life through works, however, Jesus revealed the man’s imperfection by commanding him to do a work that he then refused to do (Luke 18:22-23). The disciples asked who, then, could be saved (Luke 18:26). If the rich young ruler couldn’t be saved, despite claiming to have kept all of God’s commandments throughout his life, how could anybody be saved? Jesus explains that what’s impossible with men is possible with God (Luke 18:27). He was reaffirming what He had taught in verses 10-14. God justifies the ungodly (Romans 4:5-6). A tax collector who relies only on the mercy of God is saved, while a Pharisee and a rich young ruler who try to attain eternal life through works are lost (Romans 9:30-10:4). Rather than supporting salvation through works, the conversation with the rich young ruler is more evidence of the hopelessness of trying to be saved through works. To be saved through works, a person would have to perfectly fulfill God’s laws for all of his life (Galatians 3:10, James 2:10), and nobody does that (Romans 3:9-23, Galatians 3:22, James 3:2). Only Christ perfectly obeyed God throughout His life. Only Christ is good (Luke 18:19). Only His righteousness, accepted as a free gift through faith, apart from works (Romans 3:21-24, 4:5-6, 5:16-17), can justify.

[rich young ruler story] And a ruler asked him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” [19] And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. [20] You know the commandments: `Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.'” [21] And he said, “All these I have observed from my youth.” [22] And when Jesus heard it, he said to him, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” [23] But when he heard this he became sad, for he was very rich. [24] Jesus looking at him said, “How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God! [25] For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

I love this example, because it totally goes against Protestant soteriology, as I have written about (in fact, two times). Jesus wasn’t condemning works per se in 18:10-14, but rather, pride in works or self-righteousness, which was the Pharisees’ main fault. Jason simply reads that into it (eisegesis), because it’s what he wants to see, according to his mistaken theology in this respect. Jesus didn’t run down good works (“commandments”) at all. He was directly asked how one obtains eternal life. So what does He mention first? Faith alone? Nope: He inquires as to whether he kept the commandments. Jesus’ answer is more straightforward and explicit in the version in Matthew (“If you would enter life, keep the commandments”: 19:17). That was His first answer as to how a human being can be saved. 

Jason contradicts himself by saying, “Since this man thought that he was good enough to attain eternal life through works, however, Jesus revealed the man’s imperfection by commanding him to do a work . . .” If the ruler thought that works saved him, why didn’t Jesus start talking about faith, rather than another work? It makes no sense. The whole passage only makes sense within a Catholic or Orthodox paradigm. This particular person (not all rich people) idolized his riches; therefore it was necessary for him not just to have faith, but additionally to yield up his idolatry and to give up his riches.

No one denies that we can’t save ourselves (contra Pelagianism again). Jesus, in saying, “”What is impossible with men is possible with God” (18:27) is simply noting that God’s grace can make all kinds of “impossible” things possible. That’s not running down works, but rather, asserting God’s providence and power. Jesus didn’t saya Pharisee and a rich young ruler who try to attain eternal life through works are lost”. That’s putting words in His mouth. To the contrary, Jesus asserted that if the ruler sold all he had, he would ” have treasure in heaven” (meaning that he would be saved, which is proven by his being in heaven at all). And remember, the original question was, “what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus’ answer was, 1) keep the commandments, and 2) sell all that you have (two instances of good works). The word “faith” is never mentioned.

Moreover, Jesus again emphasizes the necessity of good works in the following passage: “Truly, I say to you, there is no man who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, [30] who will not receive manifold more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life” (18:29-30). They did stuff and received eternal life because they did it. Again, I think grace and faith are implied and are present in the whole equation, based on many other passages, but the works clearly play a key and indispensable role, too. It’s not “salvation by works” but rather, “salvation by grace and faith, which inevitably manifests itself through required good works.” That is the biblical, Pauline, and Catholic position (summarized).

Romans 2:7 – Those who perfectly fulfill God’s laws will live eternally, as Paul explains. However, he goes on in chapter 3 to explain that nobody lives up to that standard. Everybody falls short (Romans 3:9-23). As he writes in Galatians 3:22, all men have been shut up under sin. God’s laws are meant to be a tutor to lead us to salvation through faith in Christ (Galatians 3:21-25). Those who try to attain eternal life by following all of God’s laws will fail, and they’ll be rejecting the perfect righteousness of Christ in favor of their own imperfect righteousness (Jeremiah 23:6, Romans 9:30-10:4, Philippians 3:9). As Paul explains in Romans 2:12, everybody who sins is lost. And nobody is without sin. This is why those who are saved must be saved by grace (Romans 4:4, 4:16) as a free gift (Romans 3:24, 5:16-17, 6:23), not as a reward attained through works. Anybody who is so deceived as to think that he’s living up to the standards of Romans 2 should go on to chapter 3 to be undeceived.

to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life;

Once again, “well-doing” is directly tied to “eternal life.” How could it be any more clear than that: that faith alone is nonsense, and manifestly unbiblical? I have found no less than fifty biblical instances of this same dynamic. As fully expected, Jason skips over 2:13: ” For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified,” and 2:6: “For he will render to every man according to his works:” because they don’t fit very well at all into Protestant theology and false traditions. 2:8 notes that “there will be wrath and fury” for those who “do not obey the truth” (not just refuse to believe it in their head). 2:9 tells us that “every human being who does evil” will suffer (perhaps implied damnation?), while God honors “every one who does good” (2:10).

It’s works works works all through the passage. Jason blithely ignores and passes over this, which is his classic methodology: simply ignore what you can’t explain as if it wasn’t there. But it is there, and it’s there for a reason. All he can do is play “Bible hopscotch” and bring in many other passages (“pet” Protestant verses), rather than honestly address the one passage before him at the moment. When he does make arguments, it’s a non sequitur, because we already agree with him that works alone salvation is every bit as false as faith alone salvation.

Romans 11:22 – The context is a discussion of Jews and Gentiles in the plan of God. Paul isn’t saying that individual Christians can lose their salvation. That would contradict what Paul says repeatedly elsewhere, including in Romans (Romans 5:9, 8:30). Paul is referring to the Gentiles as a group. They could fall out of God’s favor, just as the Jews had.

Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness; otherwise you too will be cut off.

I agree that he is talking primarily about groups (Jews and Gentiles) and “communal salvation,” so to speak, and that this is by no means a strong argument against eternal security of individuals. That said, it’s still, nonetheless, the same general notion that groups (like individuals) can possess salvation and then lose it (“those who have fallen” / “cut off”). It’s not instant (as shown by the words, “provided you continue . . .”). The passage is also reminiscent of Jesus’ sayings about individuals who will be “cut down” and damned if they fail to produce “fruit”:

Matthew 3:10 Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. (cf. Lk 3:9, exactly the same)

Matthew 7:19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

1 Corinthians 9:24-27 – Paul is discussing rewards and setting an example for others to follow. He’s not discussing how to attain eternal life. As he explained earlier in the epistle (1 Corinthians 3:11-15), how a Christian lives his life will determine rewards in Heaven, but not entrance to Heaven. Paul was sure of his own future in Heaven (Romans 5:9, 2 Corinthians 5:1-8, Philippians 1:21-23, 3:20-21, 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18, 2 Timothy 4:18), and he was also sure that the Corinthian believers would always be saved (1 Corinthians 1:8). To assume that Paul is referring to attaining eternal life in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 is speculative, and is contrary to other passages of scripture.

Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. [25] Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. [26] Well, I do not run aimlessly, I do not box as one beating the air; [27] but I pommel my body and subdue it, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.

Jason claims, “He’s not discussing how to attain eternal life.” This is untrue. He refers to an “imperishable” wreath. That’s eternal life, that never ends, or at the very least, eternal rewards that come as a result of having been saved. Being “disqualified” is a rather obvious reference to possible loss of salvation, if we don’t persevere. Salvation is also evident in context, with references to winning men (i.e., playing an instrumental role in helping them to become saved: five times in 9:19-22). He refers to preaching the “gospel” (9:14, 16, 18, 23). That has to do with salvation, folks. No Protestant can deny it. And he writes, “that I might by all means save some” (9:22). It’s all salvation. And it can be lost: so teaches St. Paul: the greatest evangelist of all time.

Romans 5:9 and its surrounding context is a general statement about salvation, as opposed to being about Paul’s own salvation. 2 Corinthians 5:1-8 is of a similar nature. And the context includes reference to altogether necessary works (as always in Paul): “we make it our aim to please him” (5:9), “so that each one may receive good or evil, according to what he has done in the body” (5:10). Paul writes in Philippians 1:20: “it is my eager expectation and hope that I shall not be at all ashamed . . .” That’s not absolute assurance. The word “hope” is about things not yet surely or certainly attained. If I say that “I hope to get a ten-speed for Christmas” I don’t have absolute assurance that I will. See Paul’s many other uses of the word “hope.”

Philippians 3:20-21 is another general soteriological statement, not a personal one only about Paul, as is 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18. 2 Timothy 4:18 is about as good a proof as the eternal security proponent can submit, but I would say that it’s written by Paul just before the end of his life, so he can be fairly assured that he will be saved, as an apostle. That’s a lot different from a 20-year-old claiming that he will always persevere and never ever fall away from the faith. He or she simply can’t say that because they don’t know the future. An apostle near the end of his life is a whole different ballgame. 1 Corinthians 1:8 is another general statement about an entire church, not each and every individual in it. It has to be understood in conjunction with 1 Corinthians 10:12, about individuals: “Therefore let any one who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” 

Galatians 5:19-21 – Paul is addressing the general differences between the unregenerate life and the regenerate life. Not all unbelievers bear all of the fruit of the flesh that Paul mentions, and not all believers bear all of the fruit of the Spirit that Paul mentions. Paul is addressing lifestyles, not individual actions that would cause a Christian to lose salvation. The same is true of similar passages (1 Corinthians 6:9-10, Ephesians 5:5-6). Paul is describing the lifestyle of the unregenerate, and is telling believers not to partake of that fruit of the flesh (1 Corinthians 6:11, Ephesians 5:7). The unregenerate who practice such things as a lifestyle are proving that they’re lost. Paul isn’t saying that a Christian who sometimes commits some of those sins will lose his salvation. To the contrary, the list in Galatians 5, for example, includes just about every sin that can be committed, if not every sin. If Galatians 5 was teaching that Christians would lose their salvation by committing those sins, then salvation would be lost every time a sin is committed. But Christians can sin, yet still be saved. 1 Corinthians 3:1-3, for example, tells us that the Corinthians were committing some of the sins listed in Galatians 5, yet they were still saved. They were “babes in Christ”, but were in Christ nonetheless.

Now the works of the flesh are plain: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, [20] idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, [21] envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.

Why warn them about the possibility of not “inherit[ing] the kingdom of God” if they are in no danger whatsoever of losing it? That makes no  sense. I do agree that this is addressing lifestyles in general terms. But then, why does Paul use the word “warn” if it didn’t also apply to real potential danger in the spiritual lives of his Galatian recipients? The early part of the chapter makes it crystal clear that a Christian can fall away from the faith:

Galatians 5:1-2, 4 For freedom Christ has set us free; stand fast therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. . . . [3] I testify again to every man who receives circumcision that he is bound to keep the whole law. [4] You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.

How does Jason deal with that data? Well, true to form, he doesn’t. He simply ignores it and plays Bible hopscotch again. But in order to be honest with the text, he can’t run from it and only pick and choose what he likes. He brings up Ephesians 5:5-6:

Ephesians 5:5-6 Be sure of this, that no fornicator or impure man, or one who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. [6] Let no one deceive you with empty words, for it is because of these things that the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.

Yeah, I agree that it is a “general” observation. But (precisely as in Gal 5:19-21), Paul makes also a direct connection to the Ephesians, whom he addresses collectively as “the saints who are also faithful in Christ Jesus” (1:1):

Ephesians 5:3 But fornication and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is fitting among saints.

In other words, he says that [habitual / “lifestyle”] fornication can lead one to hell (general statement), but he also warns the Ephesian Christians not to fall into the sin. If they do — the implication is clear — they put themselves in danger of damnation. I don’t see how all of this data taken together can have any other plausible interpretation. Jason remarks, “If Galatians 5 was teaching that Christians would lose their salvation by committing those sins, then salvation would be lost every time a sin is committed.”

But that’s not the point. The point is that even Christians can fall and descend into habitual / lifestyle sin (we’re not talking about momentary lapses; repented of), and that if they do, they are in just as much danger of hell as the ones who never were Christians; maybe more so, on the biblical principle of “Every one to whom much is given, of him will much be required” (Lk 12:48).

Philippians 2:12 – The context is about trials in the Christian life, so Paul may not even be referring to salvation of the soul. Even if he is referring to the attaining of eternal life, Paul tells the Philippians to work out their salvation, not to work for their salvation. Works are the fruit of salvation (Ephesians 2:10), not the means of attaining it (Ephesians 2:8-9). Why does Paul refer to fear and trembling, then? Even for those who are already saved, standing before God is a fearful thing (2 Corinthians 5:10-11). Works aren’t a means of salvation, but we are accountable to God for the works we do after salvation (1 Corinthians 3:11-15).

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling;

Quite obviously, salvation is a persevering process, involving our cooperation with God’s grace and possible loss. Jason can try to spin and obfuscate the clear meaning all he likes, but he won’t succeed. He plays the sophist by Clintonian-like parsing words (“out” and “for”), but how could, for example, St. Peter say, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation” (Acts 2:40), or write elsewhere, “so that some [husbands], though they do not obey the word, may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives” (1 Pet 3:1)? There is obviously profound human cooperation with God and good works in all these instances.

Paul isn’t talking about merely standing before God and being understandably awed and scared, but about “salvation,” which is why he used the word. Duh! This ain’t rocket science.

Philippians 3:10-12 – Paul is referring to persevering in the Christian life. He just explained that he was relying on the righteousness of Christ given through faith (Philippians 3:9), not a righteousness of his own. He goes on to refer to his and his readers’ future in Heaven (Philippians 3:20-21). He commented earlier that he would go to be with Christ when he died (Philippians 1:21-23). It’s untenable to argue that, in the midst of all of this, Paul was teaching salvation through works in Philippians 3:10-12. That would be a contradiction of what he had just written about being justified by a righteousness not his own. It would be a contradiction of his repeated references to being sure of his future in Heaven. The resurrection he speaks of attaining in verse 11 probably is a reference to Christ’s resurrection power, as mentioned in verse 10. He can’t be referring to attaining eternal life through works, since he explains in 1:21-23 and 3:20-21 that he’s already sure of his future in Heaven. In other words, Paul seems to be referring in 3:11 to living as victoriously as Christ had lived. It’s a continuation of what he referred to in verse 10. The resurrection was the crowning achievement of Christ’s life, and Paul hadn’t yet attained to that perfection (Philippians 3:12). What Paul was working for was the “upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14). Paul is addressing sanctification in Philippians 3:10-12, not justification. He’s addressing perseverance in the Christian life, not how to attain salvation.

that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, [11] that if possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. [12] Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.

How can it be merely “persevering in the Christian life” when Paul makes reference to becoming like Jesus in “death” and “the resurrection from the dead”? Jason becomes flat-out desperate to vainly explain away clear meanings. Yes, of course salvation is through “faith” and not the “law” (3:9). Once again, Jason wars against straw men, but it’s par for the course in these discussions (to the endless frustration of the Catholic participant, including myself). On the other hand, works are fully in view as part of the whole package (“I have suffered the loss of all things, . . . in order that I may gain Christ”: 3:8 / “straining forward”: 3:13 / “I press on toward the goal”: 3:14 / “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, do”: 4:9). The word “faith” (as opposed to “the faith”: which means doctrines: see 1:5), appears only four times in Paul’s entire epistle.

As I wrote above,Philippians 3:20-21 is another general soteriological statement, not a personal one only about Paul.” It’s true (and I freely grant it) that 1:21-23 does indeed sound very assured (and there are several other passages like that), but the thing is, we can’t just collect Bible passages that “sound” like one thing and ignore others that are of a different nature. We have to incorporate all of them into a harmonious whole. I think Catholic theology (with its “both/and” outlook) quite adequately does that, whereas Protestant theology (more “either/or” in nature and filled with false dichotomies) is incoherent and full of holes, due largely to its tendency to deliberately (almost cynically) avoid large portions of Scripture: “pegs” that don’t fit into the Protestant “hole.”

Once again, Jason special pleads at the end. Paul is simply not talking about sanctification, but rather, eschatological salvation, because the words “death” and “the resurrection from the dead” can only refer to that and have nothing to do with earthly sanctification. To make it even more obvious, what he is talking about, so that no one can misunderstand it, Paul ends the chapter by writing, “. . . our commonwealth is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will change our lowly body to be like his glorious body . . .” (3:20-21). How this somehow only refers to sanctification on earth, as opposed to salvation in heaven, Jason would have to explain, and he’s not likely to ever reply to this paper. One can only stretch things so far without becoming absurd.

Hebrews 6:4-6 – If salvation could be lost, if Christ’s sacrifice wasn’t enough to atone for all sins, there would be no possibility of being saved a second time (Hebrews 6:6). Some people were considering a return to the animal sacrifices of the old covenant, but if Christ’s sacrifice wasn’t enough to atone for all sins, no other sacrifice would be enough either. Rather than contradicting eternal security, Hebrews 6:4-6 affirms it. Christ’s work is sufficient to atone for all sins. People cannot be repeatedly lost and saved. They’re either saved once and forever or they aren’t saved at all. In verse 9, not falling away is described as a “thing that accompanies salvation”, once again affirming eternal security. “Though we thus speak” in verse 9 is a reference to verses 4-6 having been hypothetical. Nobody actually loses salvation. The point is that if salvation wasn’t secure in Christ, it wouldn’t be secure anywhere. Looking for salvation in a return to animal sacrifices is hopeless, as is looking for salvation through works.

For it is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, [5] and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, [6] if they then commit apostasy, since they crucify the Son of God on their own account and hold him up to contempt.

Now we’re onto some of the very best texts against eternal security, in Hebrews. Jason starts out with Protestant platitudes. This passage is referring to (as I see it, anyway), blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, which is indeed unforgivable; but that doesn’t cover all cases of apostasy. Other cases may involve a person returning to the faith. Jason tries to pretend that the passage is merely rhetorical or hypothetical. I don’t see that it reads that way at all. It’s talking about real people: “those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit” and it refers to them literally committing what we are saying is a real and distinct (and terrifying) potentiality: “they then commit apostasy.”

There is occasionally hypothetical rhetoric in Scripture. Perhaps the most famous example is the following passage from St. Paul:

1 Corinthians 15:12-20 Now if Christ is preached as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? [13] But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; [14] if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. [15] We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. [16] For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. [17] If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. [18] Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. [19] If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied. [20] But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

Note that the logical structure is of this form:

“If x isn’t true, neither is y; if y is untrue, then so is z.” (15:13-14 and repeated in 15:16-17)

“If x is untrue, we are of all men most to be pitied.” (15:19)

“But in fact, x is true, and therefore, so are y and z.” (15:20)

Paul makes very clear (leaving no doubt) what he is doing, by saying “if there is . . . ” and using the word “if” over and over, signifying a hypothetical word-picture. But then he counters that by saying “in fact” in verse 20. Hebrews 6:4-6 is not at all like that. It has neither the required structure nor all the “ifs” to suggest that it is merely hypothetical. Jason is special pleading once again. He’s trying his best, but as the old saying would have it: “you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.”

To top it off, the writer once again shows that works and perseverance (as opposed to instant assurance) are always part of the overall picture:

Hebrews 6:10-12 For God is not so unjust as to overlook your work and the love which you showed for his sake in serving the saints, as you still do. [11] And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness in realizing the full assurance of hope until the end, [12] so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.

Hebrews 10:26-31 – God disciplines His children (1 Corinthians 11:29-32, Hebrews 12:6-7). Despite what some people assume when reading this passage, the people being addressed are not people who lost their salvation, but rather they’re God’s people (Hebrews 10:30). Hebrews 10:39, like Hebrews 6:9, once again suggests that not falling away is a thing that accompanies salvation. Those who are saved remain saved (1 John 2:19). Those who are justified are also glorified (Romans 8:30). Nobody is justified, then goes to Hell. Hebrews 10:26-31 may be only a hypothetical, like Hebrews 6:4-6, but even if not, verse 30 explains that the passage is about God’s people being disciplined, not a lost sinner going to Hell.

Hebrews 10:26-31 For if we sin deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, [27] but a fearful prospect of judgment, and a fury of fire which will consume the adversaries. [28] A man who has violated the law of Moses dies without mercy at the testimony of two or three witnesses. [29] How much worse punishment do you think will be deserved by the man who has spurned the Son of God, and profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and outraged the Spirit of grace? [30] For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” [31] It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

Jason engages in the worst kind of eisegesis: almost utterly ignoring the plain intent of the text itself. He pretends that it is about mere discipline of children who can never lose their salvation. That’s certainly not how it reads. It refers to a “fury of fire” and people who havespurned the Son of God, and profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and outraged the Spirit of grace”. Somehow all is fine and they are still saved after all that. Failing any plausible, feasible eternal security interpretation of the text, Jason, as is his wont, wanders off into many other passages, thinking that this gives him the appearance of strength of argument, where there is none. Each one has to be examined on its own, as in his other uses of this technique above.

Context reveals that it is not as Jason makes out. A “full assurance of faith” is referred to in 10:22, but then in the next verse we are told that we must “hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering.” Again, if wavering or falling is impossible from the outset and poses no danger, then why is it mentioned at all? Works are urged in 10:24: “and let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works,”. The same indications of possible falling away occur after our passage above:

Hebrews 10:35-36, 38-39 Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. [36] For you have need of endurance, so that you may do the will of God and receive what is promised. . . . ” . . . [38] but my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him.” [39] But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and keep their souls.

One doesn’t talk about a group of people who commit terrible sins and lose the faith, if indeed it’s not possible in the first place.  It would be like saying, “We are not of those who can swim from Boston to the coast of Spain . . . ” If something is utterly impossible, it makes no sense to mention it.

1 John 2:19 (“They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us . . .”) is merely declaring that folks who leave a Christian group are not “of” it: which is common sense and a truism. It has no direct bearing on the eternal security debate. Romans 8:30 is about the predestination of the elect, which Catholics fully agree with, so it’s a moot point, not having to do with the question at hand.

James 2:14-26 – As James explains in 2:8-12, people would have to live perfectly, obeying all of God’s laws (James 2:10), in order to be saved through works. Instead of trusting in a law of works, we have to trust in a law of liberty (James 2:12). Does James go on to contradict himself later in the chapter? No, he doesn’t. He’s addressing the evidence of saving faith (James 2:14) and justification before men (James 2:18). Faith without works is dead in the sense that true faith results in works. James can’t be saying that faith without works is dead in the sense that people aren’t saved until after working. If he was saying that, he would be contradicting what he wrote in 2:8-12, and he would be contradicting Mark 2:5, Luke 7:50, Luke 17:19, Luke 18:10-14, and other passages in which people are saved through faith alone. Abraham was justified before God when he believed (Romans 4:10-11), not when he later did works as a result of his faith (Romans 4:2). However, Abraham was justified before men (James 2:18) not through faith alone, but through works (James 2:21-24). Paul and James aren’t addressing the same issue. Paul is saying that we’re justified before God through faith alone. James is saying that saving faith is evidenced by works, which justify us in the sense that they prove that our faith is true. James agrees with Paul that people are saved through faith, not works, but James is addressing the contrast between true faith and false faith. That’s why he asks in verse 14, “Can that faith save him?” The question assumes that people are saved through faith. James wouldn’t be addressing the type of faith that saves if faith didn’t save. People are saved through faith while ungodly and not working (Romans 4:5-6), then they produce fruit as new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17). The fruit justifies the believer before men (James 2:18), just as wisdom is justified by her children (Luke 7:35).

What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works? Can his faith save him? [15] If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food, [16] and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit? [17] So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. [18] But some one will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith. [19] You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe — and shudder. [20] Do you want to be shown, you shallow man, that faith apart from works is barren? [21] Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he offered his son Isaac upon the altar? [22] You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by works, [23] and the scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness”; and he was called the friend of God. [24] You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. [25] And in the same way was not also Rahab the harlot justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way? [26] For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so faith apart from works is dead.

Jason starts out with the usual straw man canard about his opponents supposedly being advocates of salvation by works. He just doesn’t get it (poor fellow). His bondage to Protestant hyper-rationalistic and very unbiblical “either/or” reasoning causes him to be out to sea in these matters. He is unable to comprehend the biblical / Hebraic paradoxical and “both/and” approach. As this paper is already very long (more than 7000 words), I’ll refer the reader to my exposition of the passage elsewhere:

Justification in James: Dialogue [5-8-02]

Justification: Not by Faith Alone, & Ongoing (Romans 4, James 2, and Abraham’s Multiple Justifications) [10-15-11]

Reply to James White’s Exegesis of James 2 in Chapter 20 of His Book, The God Who Justifies [10-9-13]

“Catholic Justification” in James & Romans [11-18-15]

2 Peter 2:20 – In 2 Peter 1:3, Peter refers to true knowledge of Christ. The knowledge of the false teachers in 2 Peter 2:20 apparently isn’t a saving knowledge. These people were dogs and pigs all along, and they proved it by returning to the vomit and mire (2 Peter 2:22). They were headed for Hell all along (2 Peter 2:3, 2:9).

For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overpowered, the last state has become worse for them than the first.

This is one of the very best indications of Catholic soteriology and the possibility of apostasy. Jason utilizes the time-honored technique of redefining words, in order to bolster his erroneous views. “knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” is not a saving knowledge, you see. It’s just head knowledge. The problem with that is the preceding clause: “they have escaped the defilements of the world through . . . ” Only God’s grace offers such an escape. So they were indeed in God’s graces (as Catholics would say), or “saved” (as Protestants would describe it).

Moreover, 2 Peter 1:3, that he brings up, uses the same word “knowledge” (the same Greek word, epignosis) in (undeniably) the sense of saving knowledge (thus Jason futilely tries to draw a distinction without a difference). St. Peter uses this Greek word repeatedly in this sense:

2 Peter 1:2 May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.

2 Peter 1:8 For if these things are yours and abound, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The same word is used four times, yet in one instance, Jason arbitrarily redefines it because it doesn’t fit his preconceived false theology. It’s classic, notorious eisegesis. St. Paul also uses the same word, epignosis, in the same sense, 13 times (Rom 10:2; Eph 1:17; 4:13; Phil 1:9; Col 1:9-10; 2:2; 3:10; 1 Tim 2:4; 2:25; 3:7; Titus 1:1; Philem 6), and never for mere head (non-saving) knowledge. Jason’s case here is nonexistent and utterly untenable.

He also gives us circular reasoning: because they returned (returned?) to the mire, they never were saved. In other words, he assumes what he needs to prove. He appeals to 2 Peter 2:22 (“The dog turns back to his own vomit”), thinking that this proves they always were outside regeneration and salvation, but it’s contradicted by the verse right before it, that Jason (what a surprise!) ignores: “For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them.”

1 John 5:16-17 – Since John recommends praying for the life of those who commit a sin not leading to death, he must be referring to physical life and death, not spiritual life and death. Otherwise, why pray for the life of a person whose sin doesn’t lead to death? Apparently, John is referring to people who are ill. If they’re dying as a result of a sin, then don’t pray for them. God sometimes disciplines Christians with death (Acts 5:1-10, 1 Corinthians 11:29-32). If their illness is not a result of their sin, however, then pray for them to recover.

If any one sees his brother committing what is not a mortal sin, he will ask, and God will give him life for those whose sin is not mortal. There is sin which is mortal; I do not say that one is to pray for that. [17] All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin which is not mortal.

This where Catholics derive the notion of mortal and venial sins. It wasn’t pulled out of a hat by some pope in AD 865. “Life” can be used to refer to both physical and spiritual life in the Bible. It’s obviously the latter in this passage since the guy’s walking around and committing a venial sin and someone prays and God gives him “life.” He already has physical life, so it must mean more grace in the spiritual life. But somehow (don’t ask me how) Jason manages to get it backwards. The context (1 Jn 5:11-13) refers to “life” in Jesus  three times and “eternal life” twice. It couldn’t be more clear than it is.

Then he goes into a rabbit trail of the passage supposedly referring to illness, when there is no such indication. It’s yet another desperate, failed attempt to explain away a clear text that supports Catholic positions and refutes Protestant ones.

Revelation 20:13 – This is the judgment of the unregenerate. While Christians are not under any law of works (Romans 6:14, Galatians 3:21-25, James 2:12), unbelievers are judged according to the laws of God. They’re all condemned, and are sent to Hell (Revelation 20:14). John goes on to repeatedly refer to eternal life as a free gift, not something that’s worked for (Revelation 21:6, 22:17). Revelation 20:13 is about the condemnation of the unregenerate, who didn’t accept eternal life in Christ as a free gift. They’re judged by a law of works, while Christians are under grace (Romans 6:14) and are judged by a law of liberty (James 2:12).

And the sea gave up the dead in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead in them, and all were judged by what they had done.

Works again! I refer the reader again to my compilation of 50 biblical passages where works are presented as central in the area of the final judgment and who is saved and who is condemned. The passage doesn’t say that only unbelievers and the damned are judged this way. That is simply Jason superimposing his false tradition onto it. The text says that “all were judged by what they had done.” Hades contained both good and evil people, as we learn from Luke 16: Jesus’ tale (not parable) of Lazarus and the rich man. This is what Ephesians 4:8-10 refers to: Jesus went to Sheol / Hades in “the lower parts of the earth” and “led a host of captives”. That can’t refer to the damned. So Jason’s view is decisively refuted twice. The passage means what it says: “all” were judged, and once again, as so often, the central criterion (though not excluding faith) was good works.

Case closed.

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Photo credit: Abraham’s Parting from the Family of Lot, by Jan Victors (1619-1676) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

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