If there was one question that haunted me growing up more than the epic debate of “is it okay to listen to Christian rock n’ roll?”, it was the question of “eternal security.”
For the uninitiated, this is the question of whether or not it is possible as a believer to “lose” your salvation. Since I have always been preoccupied with matters of sin and salvation (and perhaps even more so damnation), I don’t know if I can adequately communicate the extent of this struggle, or the degree of study that went into, ahem, “figuring it out,” even when I was barely a teenager. I read Scripture voraciously. So in addition to the end-times youth camp scare us into following Jesus tactics, a lot of my struggle was directly with the texts themselves. The section in the gospels where Jesus talks about the “unforgivable sin” of the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit? The section in Hebrews 10 that talks about willfully sinning after receiving the knowledge of the truth and there now being no sacrifice for such people? The end of I John that talks about the “sin unto death,” that if committed, we should no longer even pray for a person? I memorized them verbatim as a child. Because I needed so desperately to unravel them.
In my Pentecostal tradition, the general understanding was something like this: you hit your thumb with a hammer and say the “s” word–and then Jesus comes back the next moment…you are toast. On the other side was the Southern Baptists, the only people in the world that might have cared about this question as much as we did, who often taught some variation of “eternal security”–that is, Jesus died on the cross for your sins, and if you mess up after you accept Him He’s got you covered. After all, the rhetoric goes: “Jesus died for your past, present and future sins.” I guess you can understand how important this question would be, especially if your own salvation was in question every time you didn’t feel adequately “spiritual.”
There was a big controversy back in the day where my Pastor in the Church of God started preaching a lot about the security of the believer. While we don’t have a doctrinal statement about this per se, the accusation of preaching eternal security was considered high treason. I lived smack dab in the middle of my Pastor’s teaching on grace and my tradition’s emphasis on holiness, and saw this all as an unsolvable Rubik’s cube with cosmic implications.
Since I have never said this publicly, I thought today would be a good day in a relatively public forum to share this great insight: I no longer care about such matters. And I don’t think about it. At all. Ever.
My problem with teaching about eternal security, even when I couldn’t articulate it this way, was essentially this: it’s all about God changing your status, in a forensic, judicial way. God has declared you righteous, so now you are saved no matter what you do. There is no relational component to that. But that was also my problem with teaching against said security. Much of the logic still treated salvation like an object, a football that the running back could either cling to or fumble. In both scenarios, there is a certain legalism looming around the corner, because the terms were not relational. You did this thing, now God is obligated to take salvation back from you (also legalistic), or you dropped the football, which has no relational component at all.
While I do think there is a judicial or forensic component to salvation, I think about salvation much more in relational terms now. What is salvation, if not to mysteriously eat the body of Jesus and drink His blood–to consume the one who cannot be consumed? If not to abide in Him, and His words abide in you? Could such a relationship be ended–could I walk away? I’m Wesleyan enough to say probably yes, because sure–relationships can be ended, people can walk away from those they most love.
But the reason I maintain my much more irresponsible “who cares” is simply this: to know Jesus the way I know Him now, the very idea of sitting around thinking about whether or not it would be possible to leave Him seems appalling and absurd. Why on earth would I ever want to? And what kind of demented relationship is it where you always sit around thinking about whether or not it could be dissolved? Could I divorce my wife? Technically, by the letter of the law? Sure. But the very idea of being separated from her is nauseous to me, and not something I have ever considered for a second. Why do I have to think about this in context of a relationship that is even more intimate to me?
If you are a fundamentalist, no matter what you think about “eternal security” one way or the other, this is unsatisfactory to you. Because you need me to make an argument from Scripture. I know Scriptures about these matters better than I know my name, stuff I wouldn’t forget if I literally forgot who I was. And I will happily, freely tell you that Scripture didn’t put me over one way or the other on this. Sue me. The remarkable, shimmering beauty of the love of God just made me stop caring about asking or answering such questions altogether. I’m too busy loving Jesus to entertain stupid conversations about whether or not I could stop loving Jesus. This is 100% experiential. I have no but for the end of that sentence. Again, sue me. I don’t always have confidence in what I know theologically (though I’m really kind of astute theologically, thanks for asking), but I have great confidence in who I know, and I do in fact know God deeply. I don’t claim a lot of answers, but I’ve got a lot of soul. Which is relevant in these matters.
Is that irresponsible for me to say as a Pastor? As for anybody else, how on earth can I objectively determine a person’s legal standing before God, whether or not they are saved anyway? All I can do for the forwardsliders and the backsliders and the pious and the pagans is scream and holler an achingly sweet story of redemption that is my own, and just point people to Jesus. Anything further is beyond my purview anyway. I don’t convince people that they are saved (because only the Spirit can bring assurance of salvation) nor do I convince them they are not (because the Spirit convicts people of their sin and need of Jesus). I’d win every quiz in Sunday School, because the only right answer I’ve got is Jesus, Jesus, Jesus–so I just keep on pointing at Him.
All I can tell you is that if you know Him the way that I do, the very idea of walking away is patently absurd, positively stark raving freaking batcrap insane. And I don’t spend time in the theoretical when I’ve got a relationship this tangible. I’ve got too much love for God and too much joy to talk that way these days.