Sticky Subject – Promise and Warning Passages in the Bible Pertaining to Eternal Life

When I was younger, Christianity was simple, because I was unstudied.  Ignorance is bliss.  Boy, is this ever true.  Then I started thinking, started learning, started asking questions.  Lots of questions, better questions, sophisticated questions, more probing questions.  Never an end to my questions.  I think you get the point.
Now that I’m more studied, Christianity is complex, academically, personally, and pastorally.  I see it as exegetically difficult, and resistant to neatly fitting into systematic theological systems.  Or perhaps it can be fit into historical systematic theological categories, but I just don’t know which one.  Or so this is my current position.
I hold an MA in Biblical Exegesis from Wheaton, and am open to any input on the following topic.  I’ve been at this one for a year now, slowly combing over “Four Views on: The Role of Works at the Final Judgment,” and could use insight from anyone knowledgable in this area.  I don’t care your denomination background, I’m looking to expand my knowledge base.

I’m looking for help in articulating meaningfully both the promise passages and warning passages as they pertain to eternal life and final justification.  I’m seeking a position that honors BOTH.  I know James Dunn attempts to hold such a position.  I am sympathetic also to Thomas Schreiner’s larger framework on this subject matter, but don’t fully understand the details.  That is my stating point.  Perhaps this blogpost will reach a few people, that are keyed into what I’m attempting to tackle in this quagmire.  If you are this kind of person, please respond.

It seems to me that taking promise of assurance of salvation passages and warning against failing to persevere passages pit themselves against one another.  Perhaps you can convince me otherwise.  I would love to reconcile this tension, and keep both.  Without such a reconciliation, I do not see how PROMISE and WARNING can coexist at the same time.  One’s truth seems to negate the other.  In my schema, once a person lifts up one, they are forced to push down the other.  Hard reconcile the tension and let both speak with the weight that each particular Bible passages intends.

If the promise is true (assurance of salvation once a believer), than the warning (make sure a person keeps the faith, or the person will lose salvation) has no real bite.  It would be an empty warning with no recourse for follow through, because, God, after all, already promised salvation.

Simply put, warning passages are meaningless if a person cannot fall away.

If the warning is true (you better make sure you persevere in the faith, otherwise you will not have eternal life), than the promise of assurance once a believer is null and void.

Simply put, promises become conditional, qualified, or modified, if the warning carries both potentiality and actuality.

Promise passages that believers will never fall away:

37 All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. 38 For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. 40 For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.”  -John 6:37-40

28 I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.30 I and the Father are one.”  -John 10:28-30

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.  -Romans 8:37-39

being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.  -Philippians 1:6

23 May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.  -1 Thessalonians 5:23-24

Of course to complicate matters, I’m not always sure exactly what God’s promise is encompassing in the passages.

Warning passages that if believers turn away from the gospel they will face eschatological destruction:

If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.  -John 15:6-8

19 You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.” 20 Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but tremble. 21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either. 22 Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off. 23 And if they do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again.  -Romans 11:19-23

It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance. To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.  -Hebrews 6:4-6

26 If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, 27 but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. 28 Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29 How much more severely do you think someone deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?  -Hebrews 10:26-29

10 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble, 11 and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  -2 Peter 1:10-11

Of course to complicate matters, I’m not always sure exactly the warning is pertaining to loss of eternal life and final justification in the passages.

Your thoughts?


Assurance as I define it currently pastorally, is not what people are looking for usually when a common person speaks about Christian assurance of salvation.  They want a more robust idea of assurance than what I, in good conscience, can give them.  I can only provide assurance in the moment by saying, “If you are currently expressing your faith through a posture of repentance, then you are assured that you are a child of God.”  But of course, I cannot provide solace and extrapolate that out into anyone’s future and provide that kind of assurance, because no one knows if they will continue to persevere and continue to express their faith in a posture of repentance, if I take the warning passages with my current understanding of their authorial intent.

Your thoughts?


How does a person teach adoption and children of God passages if a person takes the stance that shipwrecking one’s faith is possible?  I don’t hear people preach de-adoption sermons!

Your thoughts?

I got weeds growing in my exegetical grass, and want to honor all the different passages, can anyone help me?


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Prayer 12-1-14

Teach us to be quick to listen and slow to speak.
Teach us to honor space and silence in our lives.
Teach us how to turn away wrath and offer a word of grace.
Teach us the value of weighted and timely words.
Teach us to the power of a controlled tongue.
Teach us the power and healing that comes by listening.

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Prayer, “Create space in me for more of you” 9/12/14

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Biblical Hipsteria

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Is it a “Blessing” ?

Receive all things from the hand of God trusting.  But be wary of pointing to any one thing and naming it a blessing.  You might display your foolish finiteness.  Instead, trust that God’s goodness proves true as the road straightens out when you take the long perspective.  God’s blessing weaves it way into broken lives with fuzzy narratives. (Genesis 50:20; Romans 8:28)


Do you use the word “blessing” too loose?

Do you have an eternal God-centered perspective when it comes to “blessing,” or a selfish human-centered perspective?


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How I got to 3rd Base (No, this is not about sex.)

How I got to 3rd base.

How did I get to 3rd base?  Well, it’s quite simple really.  I started on 3rd base.
I am a young pastor.  I wasn’t born until 1980.  That makes me 33 now.  Before I was even born, much less living a Christian life and bearing fruit, others were busily at work.
I would not be where I am today, think the way I think, or behave the way I behave, without others selflessly pouring into me.  I look around the base pad and realize I got a head start.  Others invested in me.  I benefited from them, and they often times got very little in return from me.  They hit, did the dirty work, and tagged me in to run for them where they left off.  There are days where I get to run to home plate and score a run.  It is great stuff.  From third base to home plate is a short trip.  When I am not dripping with arrogance, I rightly understand my privileged starting position.
I am deeply indebted to the ones who came before me.  Here are a few lessons I learned as others ran around the bases to put me on 3rd.
College Days
1.  Presence:  A older man mentored me in college.  His name was Ralph Luciano.  You may not see Ralph do some of the flashy hip things that would generate a lot of buzz.  However, from my relationship with Ralph I take away an important lesson.  The gift of presence, consistent presence in another person’s life.  It may not be flashy, but boy does it matter.
2.  Perseverance:  The staff worker for CRU at UW-Green Bay was Jim Kelly.  Most college ministry staff workers move unto something else as they get older.  Some sense there is a shelf life on their days in college ministry.  Not Jim.  Jim stayed.  And God continued to use him.  Year after year after year, Jim stayed.  Students would come in as Freshmen, and go out as Seniors, Jim stayed.  Although I have not had a lot of direct conversations about ministry droughts, discouragements and dry spells with Jim as he has now been seasoned by many years, I am glad Jim stayed.  At my previous ministry position I was able to see freshmen come and leave as seniors.  Why did I stay?  I think part of the answer is simply, “Jim.”  And I do not regret staying as long as I did.
3.  Engagement:  Dr. Derek Jeffreys at UW-Green Bay showed me how to better engage people of differing beliefs.  His classes were often discussion based, and he taught a lot of Philosophy of Religion type courses.  I will be forever shaped by his classes, and more precisely by his excellent handling of discussion dynamics.  If there were any benefit to students from my “Does God Exist,” and “Is the Bible Reliable,” groups in Pella Iowa, I thank Dr. Jeffreys for putting me on 3rd base.


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4 historic statements

Without the starting point of believing the Bible as God’s Word, can you still establish Christianity by the following 4 historic items? 

1. Jesus’ burial
2. discovery of his empty tomb
3. his post-mortem appearances
4. origin of the disciples’ belief in his resurrection


Your Thoughts?

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