When exploring the topic of eternal security, one of the primary passages used to defend and describe the security of the believer is John 10:27-30. In Christian Theology, Millard Erickson writes (page 1003):
Jesus’ words in John 10:27-30 constitute a powerful declaration of security. … Jesus is categorically excluding the slightest chance of an apostasy by his sheep. … All in all, this passage is as definite a rejection of the idea that a true believer can fall away as could be given.
Charles Stanley, in Eternal Security: Can You Be Sure, agrees (page 18):
Think about it. If our salvation is not secure, how could Jesus say about those to whom He gives eternal life, “and they shall never perish” (John 10:28)? If even one man or woman receives eternal life and then forfeits it through sin or apostasy, will they not perish? And by doing so, do they not make Jesus’ words a lie?
Is that the case?
The author of Hebrews challenges his original audience to “run the race with endurance” and to cast aside those things that will slow them down. And while we may not be tempted to return the Mosaic Law as they were, we too are called to “finish our race” by keeping the faith.
As some readers may know, when I am not reading a theology book or hanging with the family I can be found working out for an upcoming race. A race that often involves mud and obstacles. As in any race, we can start off well, but fail to reach the finish line if we become sluggish in our training and fail to keep our eyes focused on the finish line.
This truth about running races was an analogy used by Paul (1 Cor 9:24-27; 2 Tim 2:5) as well as the author of Hebrews (12:1) to describe the Christian life. Both Paul and the author of Hebrews were afraid of running the race in vain (Gal 2:2) even if they started off well (Gal 5:7) because they did not want to fail to receive what was promised (1 Cor 9:27; Heb 10:35-36). This motivated them to press on and strive to reach their goal (Philippians 3:14; Heb 4:11) so that they could reach that finish line (2 Tim 4:7) and exclaim:
I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.
And they encouraged others to do the same.
A conundrum is a difficult or challenging problem. And if any book in the NT presents a conundrum it is the writing we know as Hebrews. Filled with incredibly profound theological depictions of Christ and His work, it also has some of the most difficult passages for the reader to wrestle with. There is significant debate on who wrote the book, where the original audience lived, and to a lesser degree when it was written. But the real challenge is trying to determine what the warning passages are warning us about.
There is even debate as to which passages are to be considered warning passages (see this list here
The warning passages confront the scholar and lay reader alike.
- What does it mean to “hold fast our confidence”, “confession” or “hope” to the end (3:6, 14; 4:14; 6:18; 10:23)?
- What happens if we fail to heed these warnings?
- What punishment will we fail to escape (2:3; 10:28-29; 12:25)?
- What rest will we fail to enter (3:11,18-19; 4:3-5)?
- What does it mean to be part of “God’s house” (3:6) or to “share in Christ”? (3:14) or to “share in the Holy Spirit” (6:4)? How does enduring confidence and falling away affect how we participate in these things?
- What does the author mean by sanctification? And is that something that is considered in process, completed, and/or reversible (2:11; 10:10, 14, 29; 13:12)?