A Commentary on Article Nine:
The Security of the Believer, of “A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan for Salvation”

By Johnathan Pritchett

 


Article 9: The Security of the Believer

We affirm that when a person responds in faith to the Gospel, God promises to complete the process of salvation in the believer into eternity. This process begins with justification, whereby the sinner is immediately acquitted of all sin and granted peace with God; continues in sanctification, whereby the saved are progressively conformed to the image of Christ by the indwelling Holy Spirit; and concludes in glorification, whereby the saint enjoys life with Christ in heaven forever.

We deny that this Holy Spirit-sealed relationship can ever be broken. We deny even the possibility of apostasy.

John 10:28-29; 14:1-4; 16:12-14; Philippians 1:6; Romans 3:21-26; 8:29,30; 35-39; 12:1-3; 2 Corinthians 4:17; Ephesians 1:13-14; Philippians 3:12; Colossians 1:21-22; 1 John 2:19; 3:2; 5:13-15; 2 Timothy 1:12; Hebrews 13:5; James 1:12; Jude 24-25

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When it comes to the security of the believer, it is important to frame the doctrine properly from the outset. The doctrine of the believer’s security in the Traditionalist understanding is not a borrowed doctrine from the Reformed understanding of Perseverance of the Saints, which can unfortunately devolve into works-based security. Nor is it simply a way of saying “once saved always saved” because the phrase preaches well in Southern Baptist circles and is, unfortunately, often confused with “cheap grace” or “easy believism”. The doctrine, as the subject heading to the article states, is regarding the issue of security. Rightly speaking, the doctrine pertains to only those who are believers. Most importantly though, as the article states in the affirmation, the security of the believer is quite properly classified as promise-based security.

This doctrine under discussion generally tends to be the unfortunate victim of gratuitous qualifiers. These qualifiers include phrases such as “true believers”, “real believers”, “genuine believers” and so forth. However, in terms of people and belief, the Bible basically has three categories. There are believers, non-believers, and believers-in-vain (1 Corinthians 15:2 for instance, or James’ clever way of putting it in James 2:19 of people with the same kind of faith as demons). What this article addresses concerns only believers, and the security in which they possess as believers. Those who believe in vain, and obviously non-believers, have no such security. As such, when this presentation uses the term ‘believers’, it does so without the gratuitous qualifications to the term.

As the affirmation states, when people respond to the grace and calling extended to them through the Gospel by faith, they are immediately justified by God. This declaration of righteousness in the present is vindicated at the final judgment because of the work of God in the life of the believer through sanctification, and is finally consummated in the glorification of the believer. The Holy Spirit regenerates and indwells the believer, and works in the life of the believer to complete the process of redemption from beginning to end, continually pointing the believer to Christ, the object of the Christian faith.

The cited texts above clearly state these assurances and promises to the believer, and part of what it means to be a believer in the Triune God is to believe the promises made in His word. Such promises are not for the benefit of either unbelievers or believers-in-vain. The work of the Holy Spirit in the process of sanctification continually affirms these promises in the lives of believers. How sanctification plays out temporally will ultimately differ from individual to individual, but the believers will always have such confirmations of the Holy Spirit, even in times of trial and doubt.

The article denies that the seal of the Holy Spirit until the day of redemption can be broken for the believer. Those who object to the Traditionalist view of the security of the believer do so on the grounds of the Traditionalists’ affirmation of libertarian free will. The objections assume that since one may freely respond to the grace of God at one point, such a person may also freely reject it later. There are two points to be made regarding this objection.

The first point is that those who reject a libertarian view tend to give free will more power than those who affirm it. The second point to be made is that it misunderstands both the nature of free will as the libertarian understands it, and how this interacts with the work of God in the life of the believer. The transformation that occurs to the believer by the power of God creates in the believer a new heart and mind bent towards the Triune God. The power and presence of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer rightly causes the believer to continually believe Jesus. God is doing a work in the believer that is renewing and transforming. This obviously has an effect on the one with the Holy Spirit residing within. As such, a believer lives and prays according to what the Teacher they believe in teaches.

The prayer of the believer is not for the believer’s ‘free will’ to be done, but for His will to be done. Those who believe in vain, and non-believers, do not pray such prayers or live according to the pattern expressed in Scripture since the Holy Spirit in not in such people to enable them to do so.  To be a believer in Christ is to be a believer in God’s Word, part of which contains the promises of security. It is the believer who “surrenders all” to the Triune God, not one who surrenders some. Moreover, libertarianism is the best explanation of why a believer still commits sin after having been regenerated. Why would a God who predestined a people to be holy and blameless (Eph. 1:5) meticulously predetermine such people to continue to sin after having been born again? Texts such as 1 Corinthians 10:13 make absolutely no sense if it were determined prior that the believer not take the way of escape. In fact, on any other view, the way of escape seems superfluous at best, and disingenuous at worst, if it were not a genuine avenue for the believer to take. Quite simply, libertarian freedom is not a problem for the Traditionalist understanding of the security of the believer, and is in fact a solution to many of the problems other views of providence have regarding sanctification in general.

The article also denies the possibility of apostasy. The point here is not to deny apostasy in general, but to deny the possibility of a believer committing apostasy. Again, this is an article regarding soteriology rather than ecclesiology and people associated with Christian congregations who eventually fall away (1 John 2:19). It pertains to believers, not to believers-in-vain. Hence, a justified saint can not ever “lose salvation”, or forfeit salvation because believers are saved and continually believe in God’s power to save them in Christ Jesus.

From the Traditionalist perspective, the believer obviously believes in God’s promises and God prevents apostasy because God has made promises that pertain to believers that they will enter into eternity with Him. This does not turn libertarianism into compatiblism however. This is because that      confuses a believing agent’s will being transformed and made “compatible” with the divine will for the believer to be saved and “compatiblism” proper, which is a view of providence. The latter is a different wheelhouse altogether.

In any case, believers are undeniably grateful for this gift of God’s grace. However, if the Traditionalist must tolerate understandings of libertarianism and how this operates in sanctification that they themselves do not hold, some considerations can still be made. The distinction between God’s eternal knowledge, and the temporal unfolding of history is not simply the purview of Reformed theology. The Traditionalist position gladly affirms that in eternity God knows who are His, and He knows those who will not be His. Thus, God delivers on His promises accordingly to those who are His. Even if there were a hypothetical logical possibility that a believer can fall away due to libertarianism, the Traditionalist can still reject the necessity of it, or the possibility of it actually happening in reality. This line of reasoning is found even among Reformed theologians regarding the inspiration of Scripture.

Liberal theologians often state that even though human authors are carried along by the Holy Spirit in authoring biblical texts, the humanity of the authors leaves open the possibility that they could err in transmitting the words of Scripture to the written media. Thus, liberal theologians reject inerrancy. However, this assumes that because they could err, it follows that they must have erred. This is a non-sequitur rightly recognized by all who affirm the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture. Likewise, even if the Traditionalist could concede a logical possibility that a believer can commit apostasy, which is, as stated above, not a necessary concession at all anyway, they can still rightly reject it as actually being a necessity that must or will occur in reality.

God is sovereign, and fully capable of delivering on His promises regardless of the freedom He has given His creatures. So while some Reformed theologians reject libertarianism because they somehow think that it would make the God of the universe unable to handle His own creation and accomplish His purposes; believers who affirm libertarianism simply and happily state that this God-given freedom we possess is absolutely no match for the infinity powerful, sovereign God and His ability to save us from beginning to end because of His promises to do so. That is our gigantic view of God. That God is this powerful and sovereign is why believers believe He has the power to save by grace through faith in Christ in the first place, even in times when believers may stumble into sin, doubt, or despair in their lifetime before glorification.

All of those objections are beside the point though. The Traditionalist position affirms biblical promises made to believers, and does not affirm, nor cares to entertain, hypothetical possibilities posited by objectors concerning a view of libertarianism and an understanding of sanctification that Traditionalists do not hold.

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Today’s Discussion Topic:
Article 9: The Security of the Believer
in “A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist
Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation

A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation,” authored by Eric Hankins and others, has drawn strong interest in many social media and news outlets. The statement and the discussion of it have been accessed by over 45,000 persons over 90,000 times, totaling over 190,000 pageviews in SBC Today the last few weeks, and have evoked thousands of comments. At this point, over 800 persons have signed the document, including some key leaders from every level of Southern Baptist life. You can sign it also by following these directions.

To structure the discussion, we are focusing the comments on the affirmation and denial statement of one article of the statement at a time. Today’s discussion will address the Southern Baptist doctrines of grace in Article 9: The Security of the Believer. Keep in mind that each of the affirmations and denials in the articles complement each other, just as they do in the Together for the Gospel statement signed and/or affirmed by some Southern Baptist leaders who embrace Reformed views.

Please confine your comments to the article being discussed each day, not general comments about the statement. If you want to comment on other things, follow the links to other discussion threads:

Thank you for your comments on these important theological issues!

– The Editors of SBC Today


Click this link to see the full statement of “A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation”
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A Statement of Traditional Southern Baptist Soteriology SBC Today.pdf
Discussion of Article 9: The Security of the Believer in “A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation”

Note: As we discuss each article of the statement, today’s comments should focus on the affirmation and denial in Article 9. Please limit your comments here to Article 9.

Article 9: The Security of the Believer

We affirm that when a person responds in faith to the Gospel, God promises to complete the process of salvation in the believer into eternity. This process begins with justification, whereby the sinner is immediately acquitted of all sin and granted peace with God; continues in sanctification, whereby the saved are progressively conformed to the image of Christ by the indwelling Holy Spirit; and concludes in glorification, whereby the saint enjoys life with Christ in heaven forever.

We deny that this Holy Spirit-sealed relationship can ever be broken. We deny even the possibility of apostasy.

John 10:28-29; 14:1-4; 16:12-14; Philippians 1:6; Romans 3:21-26; 8:29,30; 35-39; 12:1-3; 2 Corinthians 4:17; Ephesians 1:13-14; Philippians 3:12; Colossians 1:21-22; 1 John 2:19; 3:2; 5:13-15; 2 Timothy 1:12; Hebrews 13:5; James 1:12; Jude 24-25

 

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