In 2016, in Lafayette, Tennessee, a Missionary Baptist Preacher by the name of Michael Brawner had a public discussion on the subject of baptism with brother Jack Honeycutt. That discussion brought about so many positive results and conversions that the elders of the Willette Church of Christ (in Red Boiling Springs, Tennessee) sought to shine the light of Truth in the community on other matters of doctrinal importance. I received an invitation to participate in a public discussion with Michael Brawner concerning the matter of eternal security.
Mr. Brawner and I corresponded and agreed to participate in a public discussion at the Macon County Junior High School auditorium in Lafayette, Tennessee on May 26-27, 2017. We consented to follow certain rules, and we submitted propositions to one another for review and approval.
On Friday night, May 26th, Michael Brawner affirmed: “The scriptures teach that those who have been born again cannot so far depart from the will of God as to be finally lost in hell.”
On Saturday afternoon, May 27th, I affirmed: “The Scriptures teach that one saved by the blood of Christ can thereafter fall from grace by departing from the living God, and thus be lost eternally.”
Does the Bible teach the doctrine of “once saved, always saved”? Does the Christian have any security at all in Christ?
Michael Brawner’s Affirmatives
In his first presentation, and throughout the discussion, Mr. Brawner affirmed that if man could do anything to bring about his salvation, or to keep it, this would constitute salvation by works and nullify the grace of God. He argued that since grace is God’s doing, then once a man is in God’s grace that man is always in God’s grace; otherwise God’s efforts to save him would have failed, and man would be greater in power than God.
The problem with this argument is that it forgets the fact that God chose to give man the responsibility to obey His will in order to receive the benefits of His grace (Matt. 7:21; Heb. 5:8-9; Eph. 2:8-9). Thus, when man obeys God, in order to receive His promised blessings, he is not wresting the role of Savior away from God. Rather, he is humbling himself before God. This is true, not only in becoming a Christian, but also in remaining a faithful child of God.
The argument also fails to recognize that there are different types of works spoken of in the New Testament. Salvation is not by works of the flesh (Gal. 5:19-21), works of the Law of Moses (Rom. 3:28), or works of human devising wherein we may boast (Eph. 2:8-9; Titus 3:5). However, works of obedience, while not meritorious, are essential to be accepted with God (Acts 10:34-35; Psa. 119:172; James 2:17-24).
One of the chief arguments made by Mr. Brawner in the discussion had to do with the composition of man as both flesh and spirit. However, Mr. Brawner’s position was/is that, because the flesh and spirit are different in nature, what one does in the flesh does not affect the salvation of the soul. This is not a new argument. Famed Missionary Baptist preacher, Ben Bogard, affirmed the same. He taught that once one becomes a Christian his soul becomes incapable of sinning. He cited 1 John 3:9 as proof of this. Consider the following quotation from the debate Ben Bogard had with N. B. Hardeman:
“But the reason given why they cannot sin is not because they can’t do it consistently — his seed remaineth in you — therefore you cannot sin! Jesus Christ remains in us! That prevents sin. My soul Sin? No. ‘Has Brother Bogard ever sinned?’ In my soul, I do not. I am as perfect as God himself as far as my soul is concerned. Then what about my body? It does sin. (Hardeman-Bogard Debate, pp. 309-310).
Whereas the Bible certainly does recognize that man is made of flesh and spirit, the teaching of Scripture is emphatic that what we do in the flesh affects our soul/spirit. Paul concluded: “…I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess. 5:23). If one’s soul is automatically preserved blameless once and for all, why would Paul pray for something to be that was already guaranteed to be?!
Furthermore, Paul warned the Corinthians, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad” (2 Cor. 5:10). This settles it—the things we do in our body, in our flesh, are the very things we will answer for when we appear before the judgment seat of Christ!
Does the Christian have a God-given responsibility to avoid the sins of the flesh because those sins will contaminate the soul? Let Paul answer the question: “Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Cor. 7:1).
B.J. Clarke’s Affirmatives
The Teaching of Ezekiel. Ezekiel 18:24-32 is a devastating passage for the proponents of the once saved, always saved doctrine. This text states emphatically the possibility of a righteous man turning from his righteousness (18:24), and also states the consequence of this turning—“for his iniquity that he hath done shall he die” (18:26).
The Teaching of Jesus. Many words of Jesus have been isolated by some in an attempt to prove unconditional eternal security. Mr. Brawner brought up passages like John 5:24; John 6:37, and John 10:28-29 in an attempt to prove his proposition. However, upon closer inspection these texts actually deny his proposition because they all employ present continuous action verbs to indicate that the promised blessing is only for those who keep on hearing, believing, coming, and following. You can have a driver’s license right now and yet lose it in the future because of future crimes. Possessing something right now does not necessarily guarantee permanent possession.
In my very first speech, (my first negative) I made certain to emphasize that I/we believe in the eternal security of the believer, as long as he remains a believer. Jesus did teach the doctrine of eternal security in John 10:28-29, but He promised it unto the sheep described in John 10:27. “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27). Accordingly, the sheep that will never perish are the sheep that keep on hearing the voice of Jesus and following His lead. But what about the sheep who quit following the Shepherd? They are not the ones promised eternal security! In fact, Jesus further taught that a branch that did not remain connected to the vine would be cast forth and burned (John 15:1-6).
The Teaching of Paul. Paul knew that men in a covenant relationship with God could fall and thus he warned, “Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:1-12). He informed the Galatians that their decision to seek justification in the Law of Moses meant that “ye are fallen from grace” (Gal. 5:4). In one of the most compelling passages, Paul affirmed that he kept his body in subjection lest he himself should be a castaway (1 Cor. 9:27). Paul was cleansed by the blood of Christ, and yet knew that he could end up castaway from God if he did not keep his body under control! Does this mean that Paul lived in constant doubt and fear? Far from it—he affirmed his readiness to die and knew that he would receive a crown of life (2 Tim. 4:6-8).
The Teaching of Peter. One text from Peter’s pen deals a demolishing blow to the once saved, always saved doctrine. In 2 Peter 2:20-22, he described those who had escaped the pollutions of the world and had become entangled again therein. Are they still saved, according to Peter? The inspired writer affirmed, “The latter end is worse with them than the beginning.” Does their apostasy mean they were never washed in the first place? No! They were washed but went back to the muck and mire of sin (2 Pet. 2:20-22).
This is but a small sample of the many passages discussed. The full discussion is available on DVD. As for measurable results, a young man came up to me during the discussion and said, “I was converted to Christ after the discussion last year on baptism. I left the denominational church my family raised me up in, and it has been very difficult. However, the truth you have preached here this weekend has confirmed for me that I made the right choice. Thank you.” If that is the only good to come of this discussion it was certainly worth every hour of preparation!
B.J. is a faithful gospel preacher of the Lord who is also involved in teaching future preachers at the Memphis School of Preaching, teaching on the Gospel Broadcasting Network, and many other fruitful works in the kingdom.