From the archives


Are you eternally in-secure?

I have to admit that while in junior high I wasn't sure of my relationship with God.

For instance, one day I came home to an empty, silent house. The lights were on, but no sign of life. Then it hit me like a ton of Bibles. It could only mean one thing: Christ had returned "like a thief in the night" and snatched up Mom, Dad, my brother Tom, and Buster, our Boston bull terrier.

For years, I had lived under apocalyptic terror. I would be living a "good Christian life," but in a moment of weakness, I would sin (see definitions below). And, then--at that very instant, even before I could ask forgiveness--Christ would return for his faithful followers. Now, I was left behind, all alone to face the battle of Armageddon and then the fires of hell!

Suddenly, my conscience recalled the reason for my doom. Just an hour before, my little brother had done something stupid that little brothers often do, and in the emotion of the moment, I had called him a name. Not just any name, but the four-letter name that my pastor warned would guarantee a ticket straight down--or at least keep one from going straight up at Christ's return.

Yes, I had called my brother a F-O-O-L! And according to my pastor's interpretation of Matthew 5:2, there was nothing left to do but flick on the TV and wait for Emergency Broadcast System announcements.

But then to my rapturous relief, my family and Buster returned from visiting the neighbors. While comforted that I had one more chance, my upbringing instilled an eternal insecurity when it came to salvation. And, apparently I'm not alone.

A youth-pastor friend asked his teens, "How many of you are sure that you are a Christian?" These were teens whose parents were professors at an evangelical college and administrators at a denominational headquarters. With heads bowed and eyes closed, not one of the forty young people raised his or her hand! The majority professed to be Christians, but none were sure that Christ had forgiven their sins and made them a part of his church.

I'm afraid that in my tradition's zeal to avoid the error of "once saved-always saved," it has created something worse; a large number of teens and adults who are "eternally in-secure."

Wait! Before the District Board of Administration meets to revoke my ordination, let me assure you that I do not believe that once someone believes in Christ that eternal life is unconditionally guaranteed.

Jesus himself makes it very clear that those who once knew him can turn away into eternal punishment: "I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned" (John 15:5-6).

Both the Old and New Testaments agree:

    If a righteous man turns from his righteousness and commits sin, he will die for it; because of the sin he has committed he will die (Ezekiel 18:26).

    If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?" (Hebrews 10:26-29).

But Scripture also assures us that we can be eternally secure, but we have created eternal insecurity in at least two ways:

Insecurity comes from a limited view of Scripture

Some teachers, pastors and evangelists have only stressed the preceding verses. These leaders fear that those under their care will reject Christ. And that is a legitimate concern. But Christian leaders sometimes spend too much time preaching warnings of "falling away."

In fact, Christians do not "fall" as if salvation was a slippery log cascading down a raging river. Notice that 2 Timothy 2:12 reads,

    . . . if we endure, we will also reign with him. If we disown him, he will also disown us." We lose our relationship with Christ, and thus our eternal home, by willfully, deliberately rejecting our Lord and his will.

We must balance our warnings with equal parts of assurance.

First, anyone can be saved.

    For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned . . . (John 3:16-18, italics mine).

    If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9).

And, then, we can remain saved.

Paul writes

    . . . that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39).

    But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen and protect you from the evil one (2 Thessalonians 3:3) for he "guards" your faith (2 Timothy 1:12).

Christian can be sure of this because "the Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children" (Romans 8:16). The author of Hebrews reinforces this truth: God's children can have "full assurance of faith" and a clear conscience in Christ (10:22) for our hope of salvation is "an anchor for the soul, firm and secure" (6:19). John writes his first epistle "so you may know that you have eternal life" (1 John 5:13).

Finally, Paul assures believers that God "who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus . . . for it is God who works in you to will and do what pleases him" (Philippians 1:6, 13).

Insecurity comes from a limited view of Christianity

Those who believe a quick dip in a baptismal guarantees heaven --no matter how they live after they dry off--need to be warned that God demands holy behavior. The preaching of the holiness message is essential.

However, there are some in the Wesleyan-Arminian tradition who have preached personal tastes rather than scriptural standards. These extra-biblical teachings often create eternal insecurity in those who attempt--and inevitably fail--to live up to these human standards.

Conditional security comes from Scripture in context

When taken in context, Scripture rejects the idea of unconditional eternal security. The Christian life is just that--a life-long commitment to Jesus Christ--not just a quick trip to the altar and then back to the same life without Christ.

But Scripture does support the concept of conditional security. Believers needn't live with doubts about our relationship with Christ. He prayed for each of us in the Garden of Gethsemane:

    "My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.

    "My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message . . .

    Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.

    "Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them" (John 17:15-20, 24-26).

I thank God that I no longer fear coming home to an empty house. And I pray that you can raise your hand today and say "I'm sure that I am a Christian."

Copyright © 1988 James Watkins


In the broadest definition, "sin" is any action or attitude that is not motivated by love for God, for others, or ourselves.

Christ makes this clear he declares that the most important commandments are to "love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind, and to love your neighbor as yourself" (Matthew 22:37-39 NIV).

So I did sin by not having loving attitudes toward my brother. But under this broad definition of sin, there are different types of sins. For instance, the apostle Paul writes that "all have sinned" (Romans 3:23 NIV). We would say that a minister, who uses pastoral influence to lure others into sexual activity, has sinned. A drug-dealing pimp, with a criminal record as long as his stretch limo, has sinned. A person who chooses to reject God, has sinned. And a person whom God tells to "depart into utter darkness," has sinned.

While I've used the same English word in these five cases, the New Testament's original language distinguishes between each with five separate words--with five separate meanings.

1. Hamartia

Paul uses this Greek word in the sentence "for all have harmatia-ed and fall short of the glory of God." Hamartia describes actions and attitudes that "fall short" of God's perfection. I hamartia-ed when I yelled at my brother. We hamartia when we're impatient with the clerk at Burger King. We hamartia whenever our actions and attitudes are not completely God-like.

Luke uses hamartia in his version of the Lord's Prayer: "Forgive us our hamartia-s for we also forgive everyone who hamartia-s against us" (Luke 11:4 NIV). Christ implies that his followers do hamartia--fairly regularly!

John is even more direct. "If we claim to be without hamartia , we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us" (1 John 1:8-10 NIV). But John encourages us by revealing "there is hamartia that does not lead to death" (1 John 5:17b NIV).

Occasional hamartia, then, doesn't cancel one's reservations for heaven. But it mustn't be ignored! When hamartia is not confessed and repented of, it can evolve into deadlier varieties.

2. Adikia

While often translated "sin," adikia more accurately describes an action that is "a perversion of righteousness." The person who adikia-s has lost sensitivity to God and views immoral actions as completely normal, even righteous. The minister who uses parishioners sexually--and even believes this is spiritually helpful for them--is sinning in this manner. The whole being is twisted toward impure living.

I was concerned about pleasing God in my actions and attitudes, so I wasn't adikia-ing when I gave in to the temptation to tell Tom what I thought of him at that moment. And so, I was still in relationship with God--and that is what determines where we spend eternity! The person who adikia-s has willfully and deliberating turned away from God and His love, and will spend eternity separated from God unless he or she restores that relationship with God.

3. Anomia

The drug-dealing pimp with twenty years in the business is living a lifestyle of sin. This is not the occasional woops-I'm-sorry-God-I-won't-let-it-happen-again sin, but anomia.

Just as fish understand no other life than swimming, anomia -ers understand no other life than sinning. So while I hamartia-ed by calling my brother a "fool," I was still trying to live, as best I knew, a life that was pleasing to God and others. Therefore, I had not anomia-ed or disqualified myself from heaven.

4. Asebia

Asebia deals specifically with rebellion toward or rejection of God. The Lord will never cut off the believer who wants to please Him and maintain a relationship with Him.

Paul reminds us in Romans: "For I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from his love. Death can't, and life can't. The angels won't, and all the powers of hell itself cannot keep God's love away. Our fears for today, our worries about tomorrow, or where we are--high about the sky, or in the deepest ocean--nothing will ever separate us from the love of God demonstrated by our Lord Jesus Christ when he died for us (Romans 8:38-39 TLB).

However, we can choose to reject God--through active rebellion or passive indifference--and thus separate ourselves from Him. The Apostle Paul uses the word asebia when he describes the immorality and idolatry in the first chapter of Romans (18-32).

My anger toward my brother was in no way a willful, conscious rejection of God, the Bible, or the church. I may have wanted to reject my brother at the moment, but I had not asebia-ed.

5. Parabasis

Finally, parabasis is a legal term for guilt and condemnation. This term was reserved for condemned criminals: "Guilty as charged!" But Christians don't live under God's gavel of judgment: "There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:1). "God's love is made complete in us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment (1 John 4:17).

For believers, who have sincerely asked forgiveness for past sins (all varieties) and desire to daily love God, others, and themselves, there is no parabasis. There will be occasional times when Christians will sin (hamartia) by falling short of God's perfection. However, hamartia shouldn't be taken lightly, but confessed since the "wages of hamartia is death" (Romans 6:23). I not only had to ask God for forgiveness, but my little brother as well.

These occasional hamartia-s, however, do not earn one an overheated eternity--unless the believer chooses to reject God (asebia), live a lifestyle of immorality (anomia) and unrighteousness (adikia), while refusing God's forgiveness (parabasis).

But I do wish my parents would have told me they were going over to the neighbors! Or better yet, that someone would have told me that sin is not always "sin."

Copyright © 1988 James N. Watkins

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