There are many misunderstandings concerning eternal security.
One is due to
1. A false concept of the term "faith".
Traditionally popular evangelicalism often equals "faith" with a decision to follow Christ. Kierkegaard likened this kind of concept of faith, when speaking of Abraham's journey to mount Morija in "Fear and Trembling" with certain Christians of his time who would have preferred a hunting horse instead of the mule Abraham used. They want to storm mount Morija, do the Isaac-sacrificing-bit and zoom down again. Abraham however is riding slowly, he has a struggle to undergo, he is in a long process and in fact he becomes, without noticing it himself, a type of God the father Himself, in his willingness to sacrifice his own son. This is what faith really is about according to Kierkegaard - a long process during which we die to our selves and become like Christ without bragging about it. This view can be sustained further by Phil. 3, 9-12:
and be found in Him; not having my own righteousness, which is of the Law, but through the faith of Christ, the righteousness of God by faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable to His death; if by any means I might attain to the resurrection of the dead. Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect, but I am pressing on, if I may lay hold of that for which I also was taken hold of by Christ Jesus.
Many evangelicals introduce a new “law” here – the law of “having followed points 1 to 4 of evangelism tract no. 123”. Now they struggle as to whether or not such a candidate can be brainwashed into accepting eternal security or not. But in fact they have not lead that candidate to true faith – only to a HUMAN LAW of one particular way of accepting faith. Romans 10, 9 stands valid: Because if you confess the Lord Jesus, and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved. But this “confession” and “believing in one’s heart” is not only a one-time decision but a long walk as well. For some people it can mean that they really confess Christ, like the one of the two criminals did who were crucified together with Christ, and then that’s it for them. But for others the being-crucified-together-with-Christ-part can take much longer. For many victims of superficial evangelism points 1 to 4 of the evangelism tract can in fact become a law of one’s OWN righteousness. I have accepted Christ on that and that date, so I am saved and that’s it. None has a right to question that. But this is a completely unbiblical view. It is not my OWN steps-one-to-four-faith, not my OWN experience, not MY conversion, not MY pilgrimages to spiritual counselling and anointing and so on but “the faith OF CHRIST” and “the righteousness of GOD by faith” (Phil 3, see above) which saves, not any kind of 1-2-3-faith. In other words, eternal security is attainable, but only as long as I am seeing to it that I am crucified together with Christ.
Note also how Paul introduces some kind of dialectical (i.e. both-and-kind-of) thinking in the above quoted passage from Phil. 3 – he says “I was taken hold of by Christ Jesus” and yet mentions his own effort “… if I may lay hold of that….”. There is a both-and: Paul is responsible to do his part, yet he humbly maintains that the whole thing is only due to the fact that Christ did his part first, namely taking hold of him when he actually was against Christ. “… if by any means I might attain to the resurrection of the dead…” is humble irony, in fact Paul is giving us a 100% sure way to attain to the resurrection of the dead: Namely being made conformable to Christ’s death and suffer together with Christ. Only this, says Paul, will make someone “know Him” and only this will “impart the power of His resurrection”. The reason why Paul so hesitantly says “… if by any means I might attain to the resurrection of the dead…” is that he wants to avoid yet another trap for the religious flesh of man, namely to take these very things and boast about them in a fleshly manner. Yes, we humans are able to even boast about having fellowship with Christ’s sufferings and becoming conformed to His death. Paul is therefore dying to his legal right to boast about this, as it were, for the sake to avoid possible fleshly-religious misunderstandings here. Becoming conformed to Christ’s death and having fellowship with His sufferings could again be misinterpreted as something static, just as “faith”, while in fact these things are movements, growth processes, pilgrimages along a long and narrow way which most forsake for a broader way which leads to damnation. Yet there is 100% security if one really is on that way, but he will not boast about it, just as Abraham did not even notice that he became a type of God the Father on mount Morija. This is a seeming paradox, a dialectic truth, that those who boast about 100% eternal security do not have it but are in fact on the broad way and in their flesh, while those who keep on dying in Christ and continue to suffer with Him in truth and reality are 100% secure – but do not blow a trumpet in front of them because of that. Or, as the Reformed evangelist Kohlbrügge ironically said: “Those who are ‘elected’ are not elected and those who are ‘not elected’ are elected!”. This leads us to the second misunderstanding concerning eternal security, namely
2. A confusion of God’s perspective with man’s perspective.
Often times the Bible takes God’s perspective and God knows of course, who is elected from eternity while at other times it adopts a human perspective (while this is of course still 100% divinely inspired like all the rest) where we are put before our responsibilities concerning discipleship, following Christ, building the Church, fighting the good fight and sanctification without which none will come to see God. This kind of coin with two sides can be seen in verses like the above and other such as Phil. 2, 12 and 13:
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, cultivate your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God who works in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure.
So here you have both God and the Christian “working”. Or 2. Tim.2, 19:
Nevertheless the foundation of God stands sure, having this seal: "The Lord knew those who are His." And, "Let everyone who names the name of Christ depart from iniquity!"
Here you have the “inscriptions” on the respective sides of the coin.
3. A confusion of security in the flesh with security in the Holy Spirit.
Calvin alludes to 1. Cor. 10, 12 and Rom. 11, 20 in his Institutions in part III, chapter 24 and point 7 stating that Paul does not warn Christians about any kind of security, but only of a fleshly security which leads to being puffed up, despising others, cancelling humility and honour before God and forgetting God’s grace. This is not the popular 1-2-3-type of “Calvinism”.
If one is dead to any kind of fleshly security, the only one who is able to impart security will be the Holy Spirit and this impartation of security is so delicate and intimate that the believer will be careful to not talk about it very much. Bonhoeffer said he felt that the name of God took on a false taste when he mentioned it in the presence of Christians while he could talk freely about God with unbelievers. This is because the Holy Spirit refrains from taking God for granted (which is always the underlying danger when Christians talk about God with each other), the Holy Spirit is afraid of “eternal security” to be thrown before the pigs, while that very 100% security which only the Holy Spirit can impart makes one ready to give an account of the hope that the Christian has.
4. A one-sided understanding of Romans 9, 16:
So then it is not of the one willing, nor of the one running, but of God, the One showing mercy.
Arminius points out in his “Analysis of Romans IX” (page 501 in Vol.3 of Nichols’ edition) that not any kind of running and willing can be meant here. He writes: “For when man’s will and running are opposed to God’s mercy, it is certain that he (Paul) means that endeavour and running by which man hopes that he will obtain righteousness and salvation WITHOUT THE MERCY OF GOD. But such is the attempt and running of those who strive after righteousness and salvation by the works of the law. And when “mercy” is opposed by turns to “willing” and “running,” it is plain that that means of attaining righteousness and life is marked out by those opposites of mercy, which has the greatest affinity to mercy, namely, faith in Christ the Mediator. “ (capitals and parenthesis mine).
In other words, Romans 9, 16 cannot be used to defend a static view of eternal security. Striving towards the eternal goal with one’s “willing and running” is not that kind of “willing or running” with which Paul discredits the Judaizers’ performing religious horse-races but “faith in Christ the Mediator” as Arminius says. Christ has DONE something in us, we ARE dead in Him, but this is not static, but leads to GROWTH, i.e. a process (see Col. 2, 10-19). Faith is not merely a static taking-for-granted what Christ has done (although this should be the starting-point), but leads to the only “willing and running” God can approve of, namely a “running” into the death of Christ, which is the only religious act God does not find nauseating but instead is demanding of the disciple of Christ. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. (Phil. 1, 21).
5. Memorizing John 3, 16 and forgetting 1. John 3, 16.
By this we have known the love of God, because He laid down His life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. (1. Jn. 3, 16).
Kierkegaard said: “New Testament Christianity is to suffer for the doctrine of Christ at the hands of men.” A Christian who is not willing to lay down his life for the sake of the true universal church (not any apostate local church), i.e. for the furtherance of the truth, should not take “eternal security” for granted. “Running” into the death of Christ is not a quietistic act, where one retreats from the world and takes refuge in a spiritual ghetto. According to Christianity the term “world” is not that part of humanity which per chance happens to not be enrolled on any church membership list. “World” is that part of humanity which is not willing and running into the death of Christ and being dead in Christ means to get shouted at by angry pharisees, get spit at by vulgar Roman soldiers and become betrayed by Judas and denied by Peter. Christ did not die immediately after the Last Supper. There was Gethsemane, Judas kiss, the Sanhedrin, Pilate, the carrying of the cross, the nails, the vinegar, etc.
Eternal security is to be fought for, while at the same time no man can have it merely by human efforts. It is Christ faith which He sovereignly imparts onto whom he thinks fit, it is Christ’s death which we die, it is Christ’s sufferings, not our own, it is Christ’s power of resurrection, not our ingenuity, stamina or stick-to-it-ness and it is God’s righteousness, not our own. Eternal security is not “cheap grace” (Bonhoeffer). Eternal security is only “secure” when it is anchored in the only thing which could take the devil’s power and overcome death: Namely Christ’s way of suffering and dying.
Yet today we have many Christians who claim to have “eternal security” while never standing up for anything and always following the majority instead of Christ. They commit the folly of deeming themselves eternally secure after having undergone a change of idols, replacing their former secular idols with a deus-ex-machina-Jesus, the automat Jesus, who is there to grant them everything they wish. When challenged to commit an act for the sake of the love for the truth, or for the love for persecuted brothers, they find a pious excuse. The more upright ones among those seduced by contemporary forms of such happiness-gospels are denying eternal security because they are frank enough to admit that they do not have it. However, eternal security can be attained to, however, as shown in this essay, it is something quite different from what Christians all to often are being taught.