The concept of a two-part salvation was unanimous among the early church. In fact, the only ones in early church history to believe in much of what is now considered orthodox—that is: total depravity, arbitrary predestination, and unconditional eternal security—were the Gnostics. That’s right, the heretics John warned us about in his letters—the very ones the early church disputed for centuries—are the only people of the period who subscribed to these ideas. Why did the early church have unanimity on what moderns would consider heresy? It’s because it is what Jesus and the Apostles taught!
We have already seen Jesus teach consistently concerning both aspects of salvation—described here as gaining citizenship in the Kingdom by grace through faith and then retaining citizenship though an obedient love relationship with Christ, abiding in Him. Paul provided a similar illustration in his letter to the church in Corinth through the witness of the Israelites:
“For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea; and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and all ate the same spiritual food; and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not well-pleased; for they were laid low in the wilderness. Now these things happened as examples for us, so that we would not crave evil things as they also craved. Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written, “THE PEOPLE SAT DOWN TO EAT AND DRINK, AND STOOD UP TO PLAY.” Nor let us act immorally, as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in one day. Nor let us try the Lord, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the serpents. Nor grumble, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer. Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall.” (1 Corinthians 10:1-12)
Jude, the brother of our Lord, in the fifth verse of his letter says likewise: “Now I desire to remind you, though you know all things once for all, that the Lord, after saving a people out of the land of Egypt, subsequently destroyed those who did not believe” (Jude verse 5).
Most of us are familiar with the story of the Exodus from Egypt. God displayed signs and wonders to ultimately cause the Pharaoh of Egypt to release their Jewish slaves. The culmination of the miracles was the saving of all the Israelite first born through the blood of the unblemished passover lamb.
Through God’s miraculous intervention, the Israelites were saved from the land of Egypt, over 600,000 men of fighting age and an unspecified number of woman and children. This puts a total count of 2 million conservatively. The Israelites are saved from their Egyptian bondage by walking on dry land through the Red Sea. This is an incredible demonstration of God’s grace and His power to save.
But that is not the end of the story—though we moderns often stop there. An important point to consider is: how many people actually made it to the promised land? Just TWO! The freed Israelites proved to be disobedient, obstinate, idolatrous, grumblers, and even cowards, all due to their unbelief. The result? Even though they were saved out of Egypt, simply two men of fighting age ever made it to the promised land. The reason? Paul’s letter to the Hebrews says sin and disobedience, from unbelief:
“For who provoked Him when they had heard? Indeed, did not all those who came out of Egypt led by Moses? And with whom was He angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who were disobedient? So we see that they were not able to enter because of unbelief. Therefore, let us fear if, while a promise remains of entering His rest, any one of you may seem to have come short of it.” (Hebrews 3:12-4:1, emphasis added)
Well, Paul and Jude explain that this event occurred for our example. Clearly, the passover lamb was a type of Christ’s voluntary sacrifice and shed blood. Walking through the Red Sea symbolizes baptism. Being saved from Egypt is symbolic of being saved from our bondage to Sin and Death, Egypt representing the fallen world. The desert represents our time of testing and growth—our opportunity to demonstrate our faith through obedience, surrender, and spiritual purity. The promised land represents heaven, which comes through struggle and perseverance, requiring courage and commitment.
Now looking at the account of the Exodus and comparing it to our Christian experience, we see that the shed blood of Christ, baptism, and being saved from Sin and Death do NOT guarantee entrance to heaven. It takes perseverance in the faith and obedience to get to the pearly gates; it takes an honest following of Jesus. Yet when most people use the word “saved,” it means saved into heaven. On the other hand, when the New Testament authors say someone is “saved,” they mean saved from Sin and Death—free to walk in holiness and righteousness. Eternal life will only be obtained through actually walking in holiness and righteousness.
Paul said in his letter to the Romans: “But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life” (Romans 6:22). I urge you to read the entire chapter on your own for context. However for brevity, let’s focus on this single passage. Here we see that through Christ we are freed from sin and enslaved to God. This in turn results in our sanctification (or holiness). The outcome: eternal life. Being saved from the Law of Sin and Death sets us free from sin, enabling us to be holy. It is this holiness “in the desert of life” that makes us worthy to walk with Christ in white (remember Revelation chapter 3).
So does that mean that we have no eternal security? Well, yes and no.
– Marc Carrier