The Security of the Believer, Part 2: The Neo-Calvinistic Argument


“Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall.” (2 Peter 1:10)

Last time, we examined the subdivisions of Calvinism and Arminianism and gave a brief description of the terms:

  • Calvinist,
  • Neo-Calvinist,
  • Wesleyan-Calvinism,
  • Arminianism, and
  • Wesleyan-Arminianism.

In this sermon we continue our theme by examining two typical examples of the neo-Calvinistic argument for unconditional eternal security.

The Neo-Calvinistic Argument for Unconditional Eternal Security

Our first example comes from Jesus’ words,  “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand” (John 10:27-29).

Neo-Calvinists argue that once a person is saved, he is saved forever, since no one can pluck Jesus’ sheep from His Father’s hand.

The Arminian response begins with agreement that this passage affirms the safety of Christ’s sheep. But the Arminian stresses that the passage makes it unmistakably clear who Christ’s sheep are, for Jesus says in verse 27, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.”

All these statements are present-tense statements. A more literal rendering of the promise is: “My sheep are hearing My voice, and I am knowing them, and they are following me.”

When the qualifications for being a “sheep” are being met, Jesus’ promise of security is absolute. But if a professed Christian is not living up to the present-tense qualifications for being one of Christ’s sheep, that person does not qualify for the promise of security.

The Arminian insists that a person who is hearing and following Jesus will repent of and forsake any action or attitude that he learns is displeasing to Jesus. A person who willfully disobeys Christ’s voice demonstrates that he is not hearing His voice nor following where He leads.

Therefore, such a person is not one of His sheep. Nothing in the passage promises security to those who are not presently following the Lord.

A classical Calvinist would argue that a professed Christian who is living in sin has never been saved. Only the neo-Calvinist would argue that such a person, on the basis of an earlier conversion experience, is still unconditionally eternally secure.

Neo-Calvinists will also use the family analogy, arguing that once a person is born into the family of God, he can never be unborn, no matter how much he sins. The idea is “once a son, always a son.”

Scripture to support this assertion is found in the story of the Prodigal Son recorded by Luke. It is argued that although the Prodigal was wayward, and could even be termed a “pig-pen” Christian, he never ceased being the son of his father.

A Calvinist would argue that the Prodigal Son was never saved, while a neo-Calvinist would call such a person a “backslidden” Christian, placing the emphasis on the fact that although backslidden, such a person is still a child of God and on his way to heaven.

But the Arminian responds that the neo-Calvinist teaching proves more than the neo-Calvinist wishes it to prove. If the premise of “once a son, always a son” were true, we would be compelled by the same logic to argue that no one can be saved.

According to Ephesians 2:3, we were all born “children of wrath,” and 1 John 3:10 says we were all “children of the devil.” If being a member of a spiritual family is a permanent condition with no way to change one’s family relationship, then all human beings are hopelessly damned and must remain the children of the devil’s “family.”

Many neo-Calvinists desire to use the story of the Prodigal Son as an illustration of a backslider who is still a child of God. They argue that although he wasted his substance with harlots and in riotous living, he was still the father’s son. The refutation to this assertion is found in Jesus’ own words.

He said that the Prodigal Son was spiritually dead and spiritually lost while he lived in sin (Luke 15:24, 32). This is not the description of a Christian.

The Arminian stresses the importance of remembering the warning of James 5:19, 20, “Brethren [fellow Christian], if any of you do err from the truth and one convert him; let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and hide a multitude of sins.”

James is addressing Christians and is plainly stating that a true Christian can depart from the truth and thus reject salvation. But such a person who genuinely repents can be brought back into a saving relationship with God through Jesus Christ and thus save his or her soul from spiritual, eternal death.

Before such a person is brought back into saving relationship with Christ, he is termed a “sinner” and not a so called “sinning Christian.”

The Argument for Conditional Eternal Security

Before we look at some important Scriptures that teach that one’s security is conditioned upon continuing in the faith, we need to make sure we understand that the exercise of faith is not a “work.”

In Romans 4, Paul states that Abraham exercised faith and his faith was reckoned (imputed) to him for righteousness. Paul regards faith and works as opposites; therefore, faith cannot be a meritorious work.

The emphasis on maintaining one’s relationship with Christ through faith is not equivalent to maintaining one’s relationship with Christ through good works. One is saved only by faith, not by works, and one maintains his relationship with Christ only through faith, not by works.

Obedient works are the fruit of faith, or as Paul said, “the only thing that matters is faith working through love” (Gal.6:5, NIV).

Paul on Conditional Eternal Security

The conditional aspect of a believer’s security is spoken of by Paul. Concerning himself he writes, “But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway” (1Corinthians 9:27).

The neo-Calvinist who believes in unconditional eternal security says that Paul was not speaking of his personal salvation here, but rather his office of apostleship. Even the Calvinist prefers to make the term “cast away” refer to a loss of rewards.

For example, Leon Morris says, “Paul’s fear was not that he might lose his salvation, but that he might lose his crown through failing to satisfy his Lord” (1 Corinthians, Tyndale press, 1958, p. 140).

It is true that a crown is offered for faithful service. However, the term translated “castaway” (adokimos) does not focus on receiving a crown. It rather expresses Paul’s fear lest, after having brought others to salvation, he himself should be disqualified from it. To establish this truth, let’s look at the Scriptural data.

The Greek word adokimos occurs in eight New Testament passages. It is translated six times as “reprobate,” once as “cast away,” and once as “rejected.” We have examined 1 Corinthians 9:27.

Let us look at each of the other seven passages.

  1. Romans 1:28, “And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate (adokimos) mind, to do those things which are not convenient.”
  2. 2 Corinthians 13:5, “Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you except ye be reprobate (adokimos)?”
  3. 2 Corinthians 13:6, “But I trust that ye shall know that we are not reprobates (adokimos).”
  4. 2 Corinthians 13:7, “Now I pray to God that ye do no evil; not that we should appear approved, but that ye should do that which is honest, though we be as reprobates (adokimos).”
  5. Timothy 3:8, “Now as Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, reprobate (adokimos) concerning the faith.”
  6. Titus 1:16, “They profess that they know God; but in works they deny him, being abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate (adokimos).”
  7. Hebrews 6:8, “But that which beareth thorns and briers is rejected (adokimos) and is nigh unto cursing; whose end is to be burned.”

The contextual setting for these verses shows clearly that Paul is speaking of a lost condition when he uses the word “reprobate” (adokimos). To introduce the concept of “losing one’s reward” as the meaning of the term in 1 Corinthians 9:27 is to ignore the use of the word in all of the other seven passages.

Clearly, “reprobate” (adokimos) refers in each case to those who are lost. Paul kept his body under control and obeyed the commands of the Bible lest after preaching to others, he himself should be damned.

Another example from Paul is Colossians 1:21-23, which is addressed to true believers. Paul says that only the believer who perseveres to the end (“continues in the faith”) will be saved.

In like manner, Philippians 1:6 promises, “He who began a good work in you shall continue it unto the day of Christ.” This promise is not an offer without qualification.

In the next verse Paul explains why he had such confidence: “It is fitting,” he says, to be confident about the Philippian Christians, because they were continuing in the faith and demonstrating their faith by obedience to Scripture. Such people will never have reason to doubt their salvation.

Originally published in the Ministry Library of God’s Bible School & College.

Allan Brown
Allan Brown
Dr. Allan Brown is Professor and Chair of the Division of Ministerial Education at God's Bible School & College. He holds his PhD in Old Testament Interpretation from Bob Jones University and is the author of several books and articles.