J.D. Greear is the Pastor of the Summit Church in Durham, NC, and is the 62nd President of the Southern Baptist Convention. A few days ago, on Jan 29, 2020, he wrote a blog entitled “Beware of Complacency of ‘Once Saved, Always Saved.’” You can read his blog by clicking here. (See here for a similar article by John Piper.)
He engages in a sort of theological doublespeak:
Eternal security is a glorious and comforting truth. But notice what Paul says in Romans 11:20: You will be kept if [italics his] you avoid the unbelief that overcame Israel and “stand by faith.”
If [italics his].
We have two seemingly contradictory truths: On the one hand, the Bible says that once God saves you, you’ll always be saved (e.g., John 10; Romans 8); on the other, it says that only if you endure to the end will you be saved (cf. Hebrews 3:12–14).
You have to put the two together. One of the essential marks of truly saving faith is that it endures to the end. The real doctrine of eternal security reads like this: Not only “once saved, always saved” but also “once saved, forever following.”
What does he mean? How can eternal security be true and yet loss of salvation be true as well? Once saved, forever following has a very different meaning than once saved, always saved.
Here are some of the things which tell Greear that someone never was born again in the first place:
- “They don’t sacrificially give.”
- “They couldn’t tell you the last time they told someone about Jesus.”
- “They come to church about once every couple months, because they are ‘just so busy.’”
- “They don’t live their lives as if Jesus is Lord.”
- “They avoid most major sins—at least, the ones they think are major. But in their heart of hearts, they know Jesus is not Lord.”
Certainly if these people (who still attend church and give and avoid major sins) prove that they are not born again, then Greear would say that backsliders (who are walking in immorality and are not going to church at all) must not be born again either.
Or maybe he’d say that people who fall away lose their salvation? In this blog he both affirms eternal security and says that if a person falls away, he loses his salvation. He calls these “two seemingly contradictory truths.” I don’t think the word seemingly fits. Those truths are contradictory.
Greear cites Rom 11:17-21, a verse often cited by Arminians. That passage speaks of Israel being “broken off because of unbelief” and of the possibility that Gentiles too will not be spared if Gentiles fall into unbelief. He applies this to his readers, saying,
Friend, if God removed those branches from Israel who didn’t really walk with God and submit to his lordship, won’t he also remove you?
The only Jesus is Lord Jesus—Lord of all or not Lord at all. His lordship is demonstrated not by the confession of your lips but the obedience of your life.
That text is speaking of two groups, Jews and Gentiles. Nothing in that verse speaks of individual Jews being removed or individual Gentiles being grafted in. The passage is corporate. Something the Lord Jesus said can help us understand: “Jerusalem will be trampled by Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled” (Luke 21:24, italics added). The time of the Gentiles will end when the Lord returns and saves Jerusalem and Israel from the beast and his armies at the end of the Tribulation.
Romans 11:17-21 is not speaking of a tree of salvation, as Greear implies. It is speaking of a tree of blessings. From AD 70 to date, Israel has not been under God’s blessings. Gentiles have been.
An article on the olive tree in Romans 11 at Doctrine.org says, “Due to their unbelief (stumbling, transgression) God broke off national Israel (natural branches) from the tree. God then grafted Gentiles (wild olive tree branches) into the place of blessing. Gentiles now occupy the place of blessing previously held by Israel” (see here).
Obviously when Paul wrote Romans 11:14-21, there were many saved Jews. And there will be many Gentiles who will come to faith and will be born again during the Millennium, which will be the times of the Jews once again.
In his commentary on Romans, Zane Hodges says concerning Rom 11:20, “Very simply put, should the Gentile world cease to be a responsive instrument for the gospel, God could return His focus to Israel. This would mean the cessation of the present period of Gentile privilege and a return to the original privilege of Israel as the chief vehicle for the divine message” (p. 336).
Greear seems to be talking about loss of salvation for the one who fails to follow Christ forever. Remember he asked, “won’t he also remove you?” Paul was speaking of blessings upon Gentiles as a group. Greear speaks of the salvation of individual believers (= forever followers).
Ironically, Lordship Salvation does not yield to the Lordship of the Lord Jesus Christ in the areas of evangelism and assurance. John 3:16 is replaced with Rom 11:17-21. Ephesians 2:8-9 is replaced with James 2:14-17. Instead of simply believing in Jesus to be born again, one must submit to His Lordship and follow Him forever.
If we must follow forever in order to be sure we are saved once and always, then we can’t be sure we are saved until we die. That’s because we can’t be sure we will follow forever. After all, the Apostle Paul was not sure that he himself would persevere (1 Cor 9:27)!