Certain and Conditional: More on Eternal Security
The following is a transcript of the audio.
Podcast listener Jonathan writes in with a very important question. “Pastor John, you tweeted recently: ‘Election is unconditional, glorification is not. So the certainty that the elect will be glorified rests on God’s enabling.’ This reminded me of a line in your new book Five Points where you say essentially the same thing, ‘Election is unconditional, but glorification is not’ (page 63). I have been having a hard time with this because Romans 8:29–30 seems to say to me that if we have been predestined or elected then we will be also glorified — guaranteed. So how can glorification be conditional? Can we be elect and yet not know if we are going to be glorified? If God seems to labor to help us know that our election is secure, why wouldn’t he want us to think that our glorification is secure as well? Pastor John, can you help me with this?”
Ok, this is really, really crucial and I am very thankful for the question and I want to try to help Jonathan and a lot of people who stumble in this way at what I am saying. Jonathan is not making a distinction that I make and I think it is a distinction that is absolutely crucial to make in order to make sense out of biblical teaching. He is not distinguishing between certainty and conditionality. For him, if something is certain, a guaranteed, it cannot be conditional. And if something is conditional, it cannot be certain or guaranteed. Here is what he says, quote: “It seems to me that if we have been predestined or elected, then we will be also glorified.” Guaranteed. And he is absolutely right about that. That is what Romans 8:29 through 30 says. Those whom he predestined he called and those whom he called he justified and those whom he justified he glorifies. So yes. If we are elect and predestined, then our glorification is certain, guaranteed, yes, yes, yes, praise God and amen, Jonathan.
Then he says — and this we have got to wrestle with — why does he say this? So, quote, “So, how can glorification be conditional? Can we be elect and yet not know if we are going to be glorified?” So do you see what he assumes? He assumes that if our glorification is conditional, we cannot know that it will happen. It becomes not guaranteed and uncertain. Now where does that notion come from? Where does he get that? That if there are conditions we must fulfill in order to be glorified — which I am saying there are — therefore our glorification is uncertain. But what is the assumption behind that? I certainly don’t agree with that. And yet I find this assumption everywhere. People have this assumption. There is nothing in logic that demands it. There is nothing in the Bible that demands it. There is nothing in our experience that would demand it. So where are ... where is the idea coming from that if there are conditions there can be no certainty?
Now I have got an idea where this comes from. So let me push on this for a minute. Let’s take just one condition as an example. We must persevere in faith if we would be glorified. Persevering faith is a condition that must be met in order for us to finally be glorified. 1 Corinthians 15:1. I remind you of the gospel in which you stand, by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preach to you, unless you believed in vain. Or Colossians 1:22: God has reconciled you by his death in order to present you holy and blameless above reproach, if, indeed, you continue in the faith stable and steadfast. Or, Mark 13:13: But the one who endures to the end will be saved. Or Revelation 2:10: Be faithful until death and I will give you the crown of life.
So that is why I say that election is unconditional and glorification is conditional. We don’t persevere in faith in order to be elect. But we do persevere in faith in order to be glorified. Now, what is behind the assumption that this condition would make our glorification uncertain? It must be the assumption that this condition cannot be guaranteed. God cannot guarantee that we will meet his condition. And then I ask: What is behind that assumption that if you must persevere in faith to the end and you assume God cannot grant that guarantee that you will persevere to the end, where does that come from? What is behind that assumption? And my answer is this. There is an unbiblical notion of free will or Arminianism or semi-Pelagianism behind that assumption. And Jonathan may not even know what those words mean. He has just absorbed this from somewhere. If I must endure to the end then my glorification is as insecure as my free will. That is the assumption. And that is a fundamental, theological, biblical mistake. On the contrary, God almighty has promised his elect, his predestined, his called, his justified children, he himself will infallibly keep us from falling. We don’t have the free will of ultimate self determination. Praise God, he has that final, ultimate, decisive determination of what our wills will do. God has conquered our rebellious, dead, anti-God wills. He has written his law in our heart. He has given us his Holy Spirit.
So 1 Corinthians 1:8: He will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of Christ. Philippians 1:6: He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the last day. 1 Corinthians 10:13: He will not let you be tested beyond what you are able. Jude 1:24: Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ be glory and majesty and dominion and authority before all time now and forever.
So my prayer, Tony, is that every one would realize what a serious mistake it is to assume that conditionality means uncertainty. It doesn’t mean uncertainty for God’s children. Not if God is sovereign over conditions and he is sovereign over the condition faith. It says so.
Well said — thank you Pastor John. And speaking of the new book from Pastor John, titled: Five Points Towards a Deeper Experience of God’s Grace, it was mentioned by Jonathan at the start of this podcast. See the book and especially chapter 7 on the “Perseverance of the Saints” for more on this topic. The book Five Points can be downloaded in its entirety, free of charge from our website, desiringGod.org. Click on “books” at the top, and then look for the title: Five Points. While you’re at the website, please look around. We have thousands of books, articles, blog posts, sermons, and other resources from John Piper and all free of charge for you to enjoy — and they’re all intended to explain why God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. I’m your host, Tony Reinke. We’ll be back tomorrow with a new episode.