Q. I am doing a study on 2nd Peter and am having trouble answering a question. My question deals with verse 17 of chapter 3 which is a warning from Peter. I understand the warning but my study question asks, “what does this show regarding once saved, always saved”. Can you help me understand?
A. Every now and then someone will send me a single verse that if taken out of context can be read in such a way as to contradict the dozen or so other verses that support the doctrine of eternal security (once saved always saved). But the Bible is not a book that can contradict itself because it was all written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Therefore when we see an apparent contradiction we have to rely on clear verses to help us interpret verses that are less so. Determining the context of the passage in which the verse is found is also necessary. So let’s do both with this one.
Probably the clearest verses on eternal security are 2 Cor. 1:21-22 and Ephesians 1:13-14. These verses both say we received the seal of the Holy Spirit when we believed, as a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance. 2 Cor. 1:21-22 goes even further, saying that it’s God who makes us stand firm in Christ, and that He has set His mark of ownership on us. And Jesus said once we belong to Him no one can take us out of His or His father’s hands (John 10:27-30).
Now for the context of 2 Peter 3:17. Throughout chapter 3 Peter was talking about the day of the Lord, and how scoffers would try to convince us of the futility in believing the Lord will come back (2 Peter 3:3-4) and deliberately ignore the fact the the Lord does intervene in the affairs of men to bring judgment (2 Peter 3:5-7). Peter reminded us that we have the Lord’s promise of a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness (2 peter 3:11-13). Because of that we should make every effort to be found spotless, blameless, and at peace with the Lord. According to Paul, these conditions apply to every believer where our salvation is concerned, because of the Lord’s death (Ephes 5:25-27, Colossians 1:19-20). So Peter must have been talking about something else.
In 2 Peter 3:17 we’re warned not to be carried away by the error of lawless men and fall away from our secure position, or literally our steadfastness of mind. If our secure position was made possible by the seal of the Holy Spirit, if it’s God who makes us stand firm in Christ, and if no one can take us out of the His hands, then how could we fall away? Again, Peter had to be talking about something else.
He was talking about allowing ourselves to be distracted by the error of lawless men. These are the scoffers from 2 Peter 3:3-7 who insist the Lord is not really coming back. Peter’s warning has nothing to do with eternal security, but in losing our blessed hope in the Lord’s return, thereby losing our peace about His promises and our certainty about the future.
Then, in the final verse, 2 Peter 3:18, we are given the course of action that will prevent this from happening. We are to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. In other words, we aren’t to listen to these lawless men who deny the Lord’s promises to us, but by His Grace and through the study of His word, we are to learn these promises so well no one can dissuade us.