The term Conditional Preservation of the Saints
is used to describe the belief that a Christian's salvation can be lost. The central tenet holds that believers are preserved from all attempts to "snatch them from the Father's hand" but can willingly reject the Gospel after it has been accepted, thus being conditional on remaining faithful to Jesus.
Pastor and theologian David Pawson comments, "The Arminian position is accurately portrayed by someone throwing a lifeline to a drowning man and saying 'grab hold of this and keep holding on tightly until I pull you to safety.' I would maintain that no one rescued in this way would dream that he had saved himself or even made a 'contribution' which merited his rescue. He would be filled with gratitude towards his rescuer."
- Main article: History of Calvinist-Arminian Debate
Although the debate between Christian theologians has been raging since the days of Augustine and Pelagius before him, the battle lines were first clearly drawn with the issuance of the Five articles of Remonstrance and the rebutting Five points of Calvinism. Article V of Remonstrance is summarized below:
- "Those who are incorporated into Christ through faith have received power and victory over Satan and this world through the continual ministry of grace; and as such, all who cooperate with God's continual grace will not fall to any attempts of Satan to snatch them from His hand. Regarding the possibility of apostasy, we [the Remonstrants writers] cannot authoritatively teach this without further study of the Scripture."
The Remonstrants never completely affirmed the ability to lose one's salvation. Even Jacobus Arminius rarely brought up the doctrine (choosing instead to focus on conditional election, prevenient grace, and unlimited atonement) although he did briefly refer to the doctrine in his teachings, saying that the Bible allowed for the possibility of "some individuals through negligence to desert the commencement of their existence in Christ, to cleave again to the present world, to decline from the sound doctrine which was once delivered to them, to lose a good conscience, and to cause Divine grace to be ineffectual." In response to the Five Articles, the five points of Calvinism ("P" in the acronym TULIP) proclaimed the doctrine of Perseverance of the Saints.
John Wesley is quite possibly the most outspoken theological defender of a condition preservation in Protestant history. He criticized what he saw as the "insidious danger of false security and moral complacency," arguing with friend and comrade George Whitfield and publishing the periodical The Arminian, thus forever connecting the name of Arminius with the systems now known by his name. Wesley taught that it was possible for true believers refusing to walk in holiness to lose their salvation.
The following doctrinal statements are made following the beliefs outlined by Stephen M. Ashby (advocating Reformed (Classical) Arminianism) and Steven Harper (advocating Wesleyan Arminianism) respectively in Four Views on Eternal Security
Classical Arminian doctrine
Classical Arminian theology holds to a perspective that would include the key attributes below:
- God preserves all those who are saved through faith in Jesus Christ
- This divine preservation includes grace to overcome temptation, grow in righteousness, and endure persecution
- This preservation is conditional upon continued faith in Jesus
- God will not force continued salvation upon those who deliberately renounce their faith
- The willful, deliberate act of apostasy is irrecoverable; it is not possible to recover salvation once it has been lost
Wesleyan Arminian Doctrine
Wesleyan Arminian theology differs slightly in its understanding, disagreeing with the last two points above. Instead, Wesleyan Arminianism holds that:
- Conscious, unconfessed sin (without any expression of regret) is the beginning point for the fall from grace
- Repentance (confession and change) is a necessary part of the Christian walk and restores holiness and salvation
- It is possible for long periods of backsliding to create a "shipwreck" of faith and loss of eternal life should it continue untended, but in spite of this God can radically call one back to saving grace
It should be noted that the overwhelming majority of Arminians deny any accusations of "works-based salvation." See Criticisms and Responses for more information.
Below are some scriptures that are used to defend and challenge the doctrine of Conditional Perseverance. All Scriptures are NKJV unless otherwise cited.
Scriptures used to support
- John 15:5-6 - I [Jesus] am the vine, you [the disciples] are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned.
- Gal 5:4 - You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.
- 1 Tim 4:1-2 - Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron.
- Heb 3:6b, 12-14 - [And we are His house] if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm to the end.... Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing 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 steadfast to the end.
- Heb 6:4-6 - For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame.
- Heb 10:26-29 - For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries. Anyone who has rejected Moses' law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace?
- Heb 10:23, 35-36, 38-39 - Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.... Therefore do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise..."Now the just shall live by faith; But if anyone draws back, My soul has no pleasure in him." But we are not of those who draw back to perdition, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul.
- James 5:19-20 - Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins.
- 2 Peter 2:20-22 - For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning. For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them. But it has happened to them according to the true proverb: "A dog returns to his own vomit," and, "a sow, having washed, to her wallowing in the mire."
- 2 Peter 3:17 - You therefore, beloved, since you know this beforehand, beware lest you also fall from your own steadfastness, being led away with the error of the wicked.
- 2 John 1:8-9 - Look to yourselves, that we do not lose those things we worked for, but that we may receive a full reward. Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son.
- Rev 2:4,5 - Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place—unless you repent.
- Rev 3:5 - He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels.
- Rev 3:16-17 - So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth. Because you say,'I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing'—and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked.
There are also a group of Scriptures that use the present participle of the word "believe", which some interpreters take to mean a continual, progressive nature. Thus, these verbs could be translated "is believing" or "is continuing to believe". Below are some of these verses, commonly cited by proponents of Conditional Preservation. The present participle interpretation is noted in brackets.
- John 3:16 - For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes [is believing] in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.
- John 3:36 - He who believes [is believing] in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe [is not believing] the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.
- John 5:24 - "Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears [is hearing] My word and believes [is believing] in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life.
- John 6:35 - And Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes [is believing] in Me shall never thirst."
- John 6:40 - And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes [is believing] in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day.
- John 10:27-28 - My sheep hear [are hearing] My voice, and I know [am knowing] them, and they follow [are following] Me. And I give [am giving] them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.
Note that John 5:24 and John 10:27-28 above are also on the below list of Scriptures that must be reconciled with conditional preservation. Robert E. Picirilli explains the Arminian interpretation by comparing John 5:24 ("...he who hears My word and believes...shall not come into judgement") and John 3:36 ("...he who does not believe the Son shall not see life...") as follows:
- Grammatically, if the first means that the condition of the believer cannot be changed, then the second means that the condition of the unbeliever likewise cannot be changed. In fact, neither passage is even speaking to that issue.... Each promise applies with equal force to those who persist in the respective state described.
Scriptures that must be reconciled
Opponents of conditional preservation cite a number of verses to support their case, including:
- John 5:24 - Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life.
- John 10:27-28 - My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.
- John 17:12 - While I was with them in the world, I kept them in Your name. Those whom You gave Me I have kept; and none of them is lost except the son of perdition, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.
- Ephesians 1:13-14 - Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love.
- 1 Peter 1:5 - ...who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time
- Romans 8:38-39 - For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
- Philippians 1:6 - ...being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.
- 2 Timothy 1:12 - For this reason I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day.
- 2 Timothy 4:18 - Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.
- Jude 24-25 - Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, And to present you faultless Before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy, to God our Savior, Who alone is wise, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and forever. Amen.
- 1 John 3:9 (Amplified Bible) - No one born (begotten) of God [deliberately, knowingly, and habitually] practices sin, for God's nature abides in him [His principle of life, the divine sperm, remains permanently within him]; and he cannot practice sinning because he is born (begotten) of God.
Comparisons to opposing doctrines
theology, perseverance of the saints
is the logical culmination of the entire system, logically following the theory that if (a) believers are individually and unconditionally elected, if (b) grace is irresistible, and if (c) atonement is limited, then (a+b+c=d) perseverance is necessary. Even Reformed Arminian Stephen Ashby graciously acknowledges that 5-point Calvinism is logically tight. Nevertheless, Ashby - and all other Arminian theologians - disagree with the Calvinist' presuppositions (the 'ULI' in TULIP) and claim justification in their own logical system that holds conditional election
, general atonement
, and resistible grace
to be more Biblically sound.
From a practical perspective, traditional Calvinism (see Perseverance of the Saints - The Traditional Doctrine for the definition as it is referred to here) and Arminianism are very similar in their belief that only those Christians who persevere to the very end are glorified (receive eternal life). The difference occurs in the labelling of those who showed outward signs of faith but fell away; traditional Calvinism believes that these were never recipients of saving grace and that they never possessed genuine faith. Arminians hold that preservation is conditional, and though faith was indeed genuine at one point, that person disqualified himself through a rejection of Jesus.
Conditional preservation is much more strongly opposed to the non-traditional, more moderate understanding of Calvinism (see Perseverance of the Saints - The Non-Traditional Doctrine). From the non-traditional paradigm (of which Martin Luther was a strong supporter), salvation is not contingent upon subsequent holiness; indeed one could deny Christ repeatedly and be sure of their eternal life. Conditional preservation clearly contradicts this belief, both theologically and practically.
Criticisms and responses
Many criticisms have been offered of Conditional Preservation of the Saints. The criticisms and responses below come from David Pawson's book Once Saved, Always Saved?
. Note that both the criticisms and responses are vast simplifications and are given here for clarification and reference, not purposes of debate.
- Criticism: A conditional preservation depreciates the meaning of grace
- Response: There is a difference between doing something to deserve a gift and doing something to receive a gift. There is also a difference between an 'undeserved favor' and 'irresistible force'.
- Criticism: Conditional preservation denies predestination
- Response: It absolutely denies a Calvinist understanding of predestination. See Conditional election for more information on an Arminian understanding of predestination.
- Criticism: If God declares a believer innocent when he accepts Christ, the believer cannot be made guilty again
- Response: Regeneration (being born again) and justification (being made innocent before God) do not reduce the necessity of sanctification (the process of being conformed to Christ's image). It is possible for acquitted criminals to find themselves in court again for returning to their crimes.
- Criticism: A rejection of "once saved, always saved" destroys assurance of salvation
- Response: It does destroy assurance of future salvation, but strongly maintains assurance of present salvation. Conditional Preservation arguably offers more assurance than traditional Calvinism (because in traditional Calvinism, for one to not preserve requires that he was self-deceived and never was truly regenerate)
- Criticism: Conditional Preservation necessitates a works-based salvation
- Response: This criticism is often directed at the possibility of apostasy, which non-traditional Calvinists maintain requires continual good works to achieve final salvation. Most Arminians assert strongly that salvation and eternal security is "by faith, first to last" (Rom 1:17) and "not by works, so that no man can boast" (Eph 2:9), and they draw a distinction between works meriting salvation and works proving faith, which in turn secure salvation (Eph 2:10, James 2:17-26). In the Arminian system, belief is the condition for entrance into the Kingdom of God, and unbelief – not a lack of good works – is the condition for exit.
- Pawson, David Once Saved, Always Saved? A Study in Perseverance and Inheritance (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1996), Pg. 106
- Arminian Articles: The Remonstrant Articles (Synod of Dordt, 1618-1619) Philip Schaff Bibliography Pages 545ff.
- Arminius, James The Works of James Arminius, 3 vols. (Albany, Ore.: AGES Software, 1997) 1:229
- Pawson Once Saved, Always Saved? Pg. 99-101
- Ibid., Pg. 121-124
- Ibid., Pg. 10-13, 103
- Ibid., Pg. 9-10
- Ibid., Pg 104-124
- Harper, Steven (contributor) "Wesleyan Arminianism", Four Views on Eternal Security (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002) Pg. 207ff
- Ashby, Stephen M. (contributor) "Reformed Arminianism", Four Views on Eternal Security (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002) Pg. 135ff
- Ibid., Pg. 156
- Ibid., Pg. 164
- Picirilli, Robert Grace, Faith, Free Will: Contrasting Views of Salvation: Calvinism and Arminianism (Nashville: Randall House Publications, 2002) ISBN 0-89265-648-4
- J. Matthew Pinson, ed. (2002). Four Views on Eternal Security. Zondervan. ISBN 0-310-23439-5
- Fidelis Nwaka. The Absurdity of Eternal Security Doctrine. ISBN 1-4134-0452-9
- Daniel Corner. The Believer's Conditional Security: Eternal Security Refuted. ISBN 0-9639076-8-9
- Daniel Corner. The Myth of Eternal Security. ISBN 0-9639076-6-2
- Benny Prince. Once Saved, Always?: The False Doctrine Of Eternal Security. ISBN 1-4184-9855-6
- David Pawson Once Saved, Always Saved? A Study in Perseverance and Inheritance ISBN 0-340-61066-2
Traditional Calvinist view
- Thomas R. Schreiner & Ardel B. Caneday (2001). The Race Set Before Us: A Biblical Theology of Perseverance and Assurance. Inter-Varsity Press. (ISBN 0-8308-1555-4)
- D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Romans 8:17-39: The Final Perseverance of the Saints. Banner of Truth. ISBN 0-85151-231-3
- A. W. Pink (2001). Eternal Security. Sovereign Grace Pub. ISBN 1-58960-195-5
Non-traditional Calvinist view
- Charles Stanley (1990). Eternal Security: Can You Be Sure?. Nelson Books. ISBN 0-8407-9095-3
See Perseverance of the Saints
for a large list of external links from a variety of perspectives