Once and For All
If the author of Hebrews did not believe in eternal security, we can only assume that he would be consistent in his view throughout his epistle. That is, he would not say one thing in one part of his letter and something else later on. A person cannot believe in eternal security and disbelieve it at the same time. However, a person can believe one way and be misinterpreted to the point of making him sound as if he believes the very opposite.
On several occasions I have picked up a newspaper to read a column on what I supposedly believe or said about a particular issue. Those who know me recognize immediately that I have been misquoted or that somebody misinterpreted what I said. Those who don't know me are left to weigh what they read against what they have heard from other, and hopefully more reliable, sources.
To get an accurate picture of what the writer of Hebrews believed about eternal security, we cannot limit ourselves to a few verses. We must take into account the message of the entire book. Other than the book of John, no New Testament book argues so conclusively in favor of eternal security. In several places the author states that what the blood of animals could not accomplish (i.e., forgiveness), the death of Christ achieved. Furthermore, what at one time had to be repeated over and over again was done once and for all at Calvary (see Hebrews 9:26-27; 10:9-14, 18).
The Blood of Bulls and Goats
One passage in particular, Hebrews 10:1-18, seems to sum up the author's thoughts on the extent of our salvation. He compares the inadequacies of the sacrificial system with what was attained through Christ's death. He says that the continual animal sacrifices offered year after year could never "make perfect" those who participate in them (see Heb. 10:1). To "make perfect" here refers to the removal of guilt, which is a process necessary to prepare man to enter into a relationship with a perfect God. Our imperfections disqualify us from a relationship with God. Yet animal sacrifice could not erase those imperfections.
Then he makes an incredible statement:
Otherwise, would they [animal sacrifices] not have ceased to be offered, because the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have had consciousness of sins? Hebrews 10:2, emphasis mine
In stating two of the inadequacies of animal sacrifice, the author gives us keen insight into one of the benefits of Christ's sacrifice. When a sinner is finally "cleansed" of his or her sin, he or she will no longer have any "consciousness of sins." The term cleansed is in a verb tense that means "cleansed once and for all." A person who had been through this process would never have to be cleansed again. The author doesn't sound as if he believes a Christian can lose salvation. If an individual loses salvation, he or she would surely have to be cleansed again.
But what about the idea of no longer having any "consciousness of sins"? Does he mean that a person who experiences absolute cleansing is no longer aware of sin? No. This statement is made in contrast to the statement that follows in verse 3:
But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins year by year.
His point is that animal sacrifice was an annual reminder of one's guilt, but what was needed was a once and for all sacrifice that removed the guilt.
Cleansed Once and For All
Having pointed out the inadequacies of animal sacrifice, the author moves on to explain the sufficiency of Christ's sacrifice. His sacrifice accomplished the very things the blood of bulls and goats could not:
By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all . . . but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God. Hebrews 10:10, 12, emphasis mine
Once again the author uses a verb tense that denotes a one-time action with continuing results: "We have been sanctified." Believers have been made holy; we have been set apart; we have been cleansed to the point of enabling us to enter into relationship with holy God! In case his audience missed the implication of his choice of verb tense, the author of Hebrews spells it out: "One sacrifice for sins for all time." Two verses later he uses this same phrase again:
For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified. Hebrews 10:14, emphasis mine
From this passage, two things are unmistakably clear. First, Christians were sanctified or made holy through the death of Christ--a process that never needs to be repeated. Second, those who were sanctified have been perfected, or had their guilt removed, for all time. That means forever! It is no wonder that the author follows up this discussion with these words:
Let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confes- sion of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. Hebrews 10.22-23, emphasis mine
This passage is just one of many in the book of Hebrews that demonstrates the author's confidence in the security of the believer. Again, this view rests not on a few verses but on the entire tone and flow of the book.
To say that Christians can lose salvation is to say that the blood of Christ was inadequate to perfect for all time those whom God has sanctified. To say that is to equate His blood with the blood of bulls and goats. And that is an equation I doubt many human beings would be comfortable making.
Our whole discussion boils down to this one question, "Was the blood of Christ adequate?" During my own struggles with eternal security, this question used to haunt me. I knew then as I do now that to accept His blood as the adequate payment for my sin settled the question once and for all. On the other hand, to say His blood was not adequate sounded like blasphemy.
I can remember a discussion I had with a missionary who did not believe in once saved always saved. When I posed the question to him he said, "Yes, Charles, Christ's blood was adequate, but we have to do our part as well." For him, "our part" included a consistent walk with God--which really boiled down to works.
He had attempted to do what so many tried in the past: to introduce a third alternative. But there is no third choice. Christ's blood was either adequate or it was not. To qualify the affirmative answer to this question is to affirm the negative. If my salvation hinges on Christ's blood and "my part," then it is plain to see that His blood was not adequate. But I have never met anyone who claimed to be a Christian who would admit that. It sounds too heretical.
Hebrews is clear. Christ's blood was adequate to perfect for all time those whom God has sanctified. We need add nothing to it. Our part is simply to respond to His unconditional love with reverence and obedience, while resting in the assurance that our eternity is secure.
1. Homer A Kent, The Epistle to the Hebrews (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 1972), p. 185. Kent explains the author's use of the perfect tense and its meaning.
This material has been adapted from: Eternal Security: Can You Be Sure?
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