The Security of the Believer, Part 3: Conditional Eternal Security


“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 began our presentation of the biblical argument for conditional eternal security. We looked at

  • the basis for the security of Jesus’ sheep (John 10:27–29),
  • the fact that the Prodigal Son was spiritually dead and lost (Luke 15),
  • the warning about a believer erring from the faith (James 5:19, 20),
  • the possibility of a Christian becoming a castaway (reprobate—I Corinthians 9:27), and
  • the necessity of continuing in the faith (Colossians 1:21–23).

We now continue our discussion of passages that teach the conditional security of the believer.

The Gentile Believers Who Are Grafted Into the Jewish Root

In Romans 11:16–24, Paul uses the picture of an olive tree to help the Gentile Christians in Rome understand their relationship to the Jews. The “root” in Romans 11:16 refers to the chosen people of God extending back to Abraham, if not farther.

In Romans 11:17 the branches that had been broken off were Jews who had rejected Jesus as the Messiah, and the branches that were grafted into the “root” were the Gentile Christians who had become members of God’s people.

Since God had removed unbelieving Jews from His people, the Gentile Christians were tempted to boast and be arrogant toward the Jews, as if somehow they were better. Paul warns them not to be arrogant because, as branches, they are the recipients of many blessings that have
come to them through the “root,” in other words, through Jews.

Paul imagines that someone might say to him, “The Jews were cut out so that we Gentiles could be grafted in” (11:19). He responds by noting
that God cut out some Jews because of their unbelief, not simply to make room for Gentiles.

This leads Paul to his warning: “Do not be conceited, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, He will not spare you, either!” (11:20–21). “What should we be afraid of, Paul?”

Paul answers we should fear because God is both severe and good. If God was severe on His own chosen people who did not believe, how much more can Gentiles, who were not originally part of God’s people, expect God to be severe toward them if they do not continue to trust in Christ alone for salvation?

On the other hand, if the Jews who did not believe will repent and believe on Christ, they may be grafted back into God’s people (the olive tree). This passage teaches us that being one of God’s people is not an unconditional gift.

God saves us in response to faith alone in Christ alone, and He keeps us in His “olive tree” only as we continue in faith.

Gentiles who do not evidence their faith by continuing in His goodness will be cut out just as surely as God cut out the unbelieving Jews.

Jesus’ Teaching About the Vine and the Branches

Another example of conditional security is found in Jesus’ teaching on the vine and the branches. He said, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away; and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit….If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned” (John 15:1–7).

The neo-Calvinist who believes in unconditional eternal security says that these verses teach nothing about the loss of salvation. Even Leon Morris, a Calvinist, says, “We should not regard this as a proof that true believers may fall away. It is part of the viticultural picture, and the point could not be made without it” (Gospel of John. Eerdmans, 1971, p. 669).

With all due respect, it is not true that Jesus’ point could not be made without talking about branches being cut off. Jesus’ point is that the only way to bear fruit is to abide in Christ. Since the text states that branches that are attached to the vine may be fruitless, there is no reason why Jesus couldn’t have talked only about fruitful versus fruitless branches.

The fact that vinedressers cut off fruitless branches need not have been included in the metaphor if it did not convey something about a believer’s relationship to Christ. In relation to Jesus’ point, a study of how John uses the verb “abide” reveals that it involves the maintaining of a personal commitment to Jesus, for abiding in Jesus is not an automatic process.

1 John 2:3, 4 says that the reality of our claim to salvation is measurable. “And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He that says, I know him, and keeps not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.”

The faith that saves is not simply a one-time decision. Saving faith must continue as a life-time commitment that evidences its validity through moment-by-moment obedience to God’s word.

Notice also that if a person does not abide in Jesus Christ, he is cut off from the vine by the Father, thrown into the fire, and destroyed. As promised in John 10:27–28, it is not a “man” who plucks him from the hand of Christ. It is the Father who cuts him off!

Further, the branches which will be broken off were once vitally connected to Christ and therefore true Christians. Nowhere in Scripture is an unsaved person ever said to be “in the vine” or “in Christ.”

Consequently, when a true believer ceases to abide in the vine, Jesus warns of impending spiritual destruction. Thus, when the neo-Calvinist teaches “once saved always saved,” he contradicts the implied teaching of Scripture’s repeated warnings and provides false security for religious sinners.

It is not surprising to find in John 16:1 the explicit statement that one of the purposes of Jesus’ teaching is to prevent his disciples from stumbling (falling away spiritually). Jesus found it necessary to pray that the Father would keep the disciples (John 17:11, 15, 24) even as He had kept them (John 17:12).

Jesus said in Matthew 7:21 that only the people who do the will of the Father will enter heaven. All this indicates that the disciples faced the possibility of being lost, for otherwise they would not need to be warned.

The whole matter of the security of the believer finds balance in the words of Peter: we are “kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation…” (1 Peter 1:5). God graciously supplies the power which keeps us, but we must appropriate this power through a living, active faith.

To separate this balance is to court spiritual disaster.

Can a Christian “Lose” His Salvation?

If a Christian can deny the faith and willfully turn away from Christ and be “lost” spiritually (end up in hell), is it proper to talk about a Christian “losing” his salvation? This is an important question. Most Calvinists and neo-Calvinists misunderstand this concept.

Please learn that Arminians do not believe that one “loses” salvation in the sense that one loses a pen, pencil, car keys, or a pair of glasses. The loss of material possessions normally is accidental and undesired. One does not lose salvation accidentally against one’s will.

Although salvation is a gift from God (Rom. 6:23), it is not a “gift” in the normal sense of the word. It is the gift of a right relationship with God through Jesus Christ (John 17:3). Relationships are either nurtured or neglected, not accidentally lost.

Relationships are either nurtured or neglected, not accidentally lost.

If a believer chooses to neglect his relationship with Christ, ignores the promptings and checks of the Holy Spirit, refuses to use the means of grace, such as Bible-reading, prayer, and church attendance, to strengthen his or her relationship with Christ, his is purposeful, deliberate neglect and will result in the loss of the relationship.

But one cannot correctly say that he “lost” his salvation. Rather it must be said that he chose to sever his relationship with God. The severing of this relationship is what the Scriptures term “backsliding.”

Jesus promised believers that He would never leave them nor forsake them (Heb. 13:5).

Therefore any leaving or forsaking in our relationship with Christ is done only by us.

  • How is your relationship with Christ?
  • Are you nurturing your relationship with Christ or are you neglecting it?
  • Do you have a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ?

Ezekiel on Conditional Eternal Security

Please read the following passages: Ezekiel 3:18–21; 18:21–32; 33:8–20.

Here God warns two classes of people: the wicked and the righteous. If the wicked turns from his wickedness in repentance and obeys God, all his wickedness will not be remembered. That wicked person will become a righteous person and experience eternal life.

On the other hand, if the righteous person turns from his righteousness, commits sin, and dies in that sin, all his righteousness will not be remembered. He will be eternally lost.

It is contextually indefensible to say that the righteous person was righteous only in his or her own eyes and not truly righteous in God’s eyes. The context makes it clear that when God speaks to the “wicked,” he is referring to an unsaved individual.

In like manner, when God speaks to the “righteous,” he is referring to a saved individual. Don’t let your theological presuppositions blind you to the plain teaching of Scripture.



Originally published in God’s Revivalist. Used by permission.

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.