A Review of Charles Stanley’s Eternal Security Book
Review of Eternal Security, Charles Stanley, 1990
Disclaimer: while this review is critical in nature, it’s not my place to judge Stanley’s motives, sincerity, or faith. All believers will stand before Jesus Christ very soon to give an account —starting with myself. The critical standard applied to Mr. Stanley’s book should be equally applied to my review based on the Word of God.
This is a critical review of Charles Stanley’s book, Eternal Security (Thomas Nelson; 1990; Kindle edition). It reviews chapters 1-5.
The subject of eternal security is extremely important. No less than an eternity in hell is at stake. For absolute truth and certainty in this matter, search the Scriptures with an open mind, a yielded will to the Spirit of God, humbly seated at the feet of Jesus Christ.
Charles Stanley masterfully presents convincing arguments throughout his book. But what matters for all eternity is what God says in His Word. You won’t stand before Dr. Stanley (or myself) in future judgment. Jesus said, “fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt. 10:28). Those who are wise fear Him and heed His Word!
For this review, the Word of God will be “front and center”. Human arguments will be minimal. What matters ultimately is the standard of God’s Word —properly understood.
For this review I will use the ESV translation; words inside brackets are my own. If you find I’ve misrepresented the author’s book, please respond with details so corrections can be made.
Stanley writes, “If our salvation hinges on anything but the finished work of Christ on the cross, we are in trouble” (Stanley, 1990, Kindle Edition, location 169 of 181).
When it comes to the salvation of our souls, what matters is what God says in His Word. You can stake your eternal destiny on Stanley’s polished arguments, or on the Word of God. He goes on to quote this verse:
“I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13).
This verse overthrows Stanley’s assertion. In fact, it teaches conditional eternal security. Let’s examine this verse together. Before we begin our examination, please consider an important principle of biblical interpretation. A passage should first be read in neutral, intending to understand what the author wrote and how the original audience would have understood it.
In God’s Word, verbs are important. The promise of eternal life (1 John 5:13) is conditional on what key verb? It is “believe.” In the English language this verb is in the present tense. Dear believer in Christ, John did not say, “used to believe,” but “believe” —which means right now —this very moment. This verse has three present tense verbs. Here is the verse again:
“I write these things to you who believe [right now in the present] in the name of the Son of God that you may know [“know”, right now] that you have [right now] eternal life” (1 John 5:13).
This verse grammatically says (in context) what it says —plus nothing —minus nothing. We only have liberty to extract what it says. Dear believer, this verse is conditional on ongoing belief in Christ. To say this verse promises someone eternal life forever even if they someday become an unbeliever is not to draw out what it says; it would ignore rules of grammar and a consideration of how the original audience would have understood it. God has strong words of warnings to those who add or remove from His Word.
If we say we believe the Bible —we believe 1 John 5:13 as written without twisting it to match a theology, no matter how sincere. The Bible should define our theology. Tragically, most “Christians” define the Bible under the lens of their theology.
Stanley writes, “If the sins you commit after becoming a Christian can annul your relationship with the Savior, clearly those sins were not covered at Calvary” (location 180).
Again, man-made arguments can be your bible. Or, the Bible can be your sole authority for faith and practice. Not one verse grammatically and contextually teaches that all past, present, and future sins are forgiven the moment one enters the family of God. Our sins after we are saved can “annul” our relationship. Listen to what God says:
“And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away” (Luke 8:13). This passage describes those who “believe for a while.” Did sin annul this relationship? Yes, in time of testing this group stopped believing.
“Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart [implies a possibility], leading you to fall away [same Greek word as prior verse] from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if [conditional] indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end“ (Hebrews 3:13-14).
The verses above undoubtedly teach that an “unbelieving heart” can separate us from God. Satan used the argument in the garden, “you will not surely die” (Genesis 3:4). He still uses the same argument today —promising Christians that they can commit any sins, including unbelief because Jesus died for all sins.
“Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received [in the past], in which you stand [present tense], and by which you are being saved [right now, ongoing action], if [conditional] you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain [a possibility]” (1 Corinthians 15:1-2).
Adam and Eve were children of God living in the Garden of Eden. Because of their sin their sonship was lost. You can bank your eternal destiny on God’s Word or Stanley’s alluring promises.
Stanley continues writing his theology: “To differentiate between forgiven and unforgiving sins is to make a distinction foreign to Scripture” (location 182).
God’s Word in contrast states: “But if [conditional] we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).
“If [conditional] we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins [implies they were unforgiving] and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
“For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins“ (2 Peter 1:9).
“For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14).
Are we saved by faith plus forgiving others? We are saved by faith. When one believes (ongoing) in Jesus Christ, he/she forgives others. (See 1 John 2:9-11; 3:15; 4:20-21.)
Stanley goes on to write: “Once good works are introduced into the salvation process, salvation is no longer by faith alone” (location 185).
Stanley apparently believes that a single act of “faith alone” or our works saves us. The correct answer from Scripture is God requires enduring belief for salvation. The works we perform as a consequence of our faith do not save us (Ephesians 2:8-9).
A sovereign God has decided the response required for salvation. Over 100 verses in Scripture teach ongoing faith for salvation. John 3:16 teaches “…that whosoever believes [ongoing belief] in Him will not perish but have [in the present] everlasting life.” Stanley’s one time belief is a counterfeit. Jesus said, “For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads [present tense, ongoing action] to life, and those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:14).
“For by grace you have been saved [The word “saved” is in the Greek perfect tense; it describes a realized objective in the past, that remained true to the present] through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works [our ongoing works do not saved us!], so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).
Stanley writes, “To imply that salvation is maintained by good works (or not sinning) is to take the daily burden of our salvation upon ourselves. In that case, there will be room for boasting in heaven” (location 186).
While Stanley is correct that works do not justify us before a holy God and boasting is excluded, he paints his critics as if “we imply salvation is maintained by good works…” (location 186). This mischaracterization is a straw man argument
A sovereign God has established ongoing faith in His Son as a condition for the kingdom. Stanley believes a one-time faith secures the Kingdom. God’s Word over and over sets the condition as ongoing belief.
“Whoever believes [present tense; ongoing action] in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives [ongoing action] and believes [ongoing] in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26).
“Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes [ongoing action] to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes [ongoing action] in me shall never thirst” (John 6:35).
If you have not started feasting on Jesus, the Son of God, Master and Lord, please start feasting on Him while it is still day. He is eternal life:
“And this is eternal life, that they know [ongoing action] you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3); see also 1 John 5:20.
Those who know (present tense) Jesus Christ know eternal life. Believe in Him and live the abundant life!
“For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing” (2 Corinthians 2:15).
Stanley writes, “If holiness is a condition, His love is not unconditional” (location 196).
Stanley pretends to speak for God over and over. Once in the family of God, must we wash our robes with the blood of Jesus to stay holy?
“Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14). You may ask, are we not saved by faith? Is it now ongoing belief —plus holiness? We are saved by faith. Ongoing faith in Jesus Christ results in holiness. We cannot spend time with Christ and not be affected (Acts 4:13).
“For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20). A wrong understanding of this verse can lead to a legalistic lifestyle of self-righteousness and pride. A correct understanding further clarifies entry into the Kingdom of God.
This chapter is a brief survey of the doctrine of conditional security. Stanley writes, “Historically, this view [that salvation can be lost] has been associated with Arminian theology” (location 236). While Stanley is correct, he did skip over approximately 1500 years of church history beginning with the New Testament Church. Stanley doesn’t disclose that the doctrine “once saved always saved” was not believed until hundreds of years after Pentecost and it came about from Calvinism. Because this review focuses on the Bible as the final authority, it does not contain quotations from the early church fathers that were Arminian in their theology.
He finishes the chapter with this statement, “If our salvation is not secure, how could Jesus say about those to whom He gives eternal life, ‘and they shall never perish’ (John 10:28)? If even one man or woman receives eternal life and then forfeits it through sin or apostasy, will they not perish? And by doing so, do they not make Jesus’ words a lie?” (location 348).
Reading the quote reminded me of Satan when he tempted Jesus in the wilderness and twisted Scripture. Here is the passage that Stanley uses:
“My sheep hear [present tense, ongoing] my voice, and I know [present tense, ongoing] them, and they follow [present tense, ongoing] me. I give them [those who “hear” and “follow” in the prior verse] eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:27-28).
Jesus gives eternal life to those who “hear” and “follow” Him in the present (John 10:27)! Could Jesus be any clearer? When rules of grammar and context are omitted, the Bible can be made to say anything one wants.
To further highlight the clarity of John 10:27-28, here is a hypothetical illustration for the word “them.” Suppose there were three groups of people standing in front of Jesus waiting for the final verdict at the judgment. Only one of the groups will enter eternal life. One group is called “I still believe”, the second group is called, “no longer believe” and the last group is called “never believed.” Jesus looks at the group on His right called “I still believe” and says to them, “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:28).
Stanley writes, “If there is a condition —even one … to maintain a relationship with His children, it is not unconditional” (location 191). God is sovereign; He has the authority to set conditions for the gift of salvation. Man submits to God or dies. Should we believe Jesus Christ, or Charles Stanley’s unconditional gospel?
Jesus said, “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul” (Matthew 16:25)?
Jude, the half brother of Jesus wrote the shortest New Testament book. He wrote how he was, “eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1b-3).
The next verse states why he did not write concerning our salvation: “For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ“ (v. 4).
Please notice how these deceitful teachers hover over “grace” as a license to sin. They “pervert the grace of our God into sensuality”. They don’t point sinners to ongoing faith in Jesus Christ as their Master and Savior. Instead, they present salvation as a completed package where the grace of God pays for all their sinful pleasures while promising them eternal life even if unbelief occurs.
The book decides for his readers that salvation comes from a one-time action or its “maintained by good works (or not sinning)” (location 181).
Not only is salvation never presented as a one-time completed action in Scripture —Scripture is clear that salvation is not by works or becoming sinless.
“He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified [an ongoing action, dear brother or sister in Christ] by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus. 3:5-7).
“Who gave himself for us [why] to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works” (Titus. 2:14).
“And he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised” (2 Corinthians 5:15).
Stanley writes, “To justify people is to declare them not guilty. In the book of Romans, Paul makes it clear that Christians have been justified (see 5:1)” (location 417). Stanley goes on to write, “God does not wear rose-colored glasses. He is not in the habit of pretending something is true when in fact it isn’t” (location 420).
Here is the passage that Stanley references: “Therefore [in light of what Paul previously wrote], since we have been justified by faith [in the past], we have peace [right now!] with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1).
Who is Paul describing when he writes, “since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God?” Is Paul writing to all who made a one-time profession of faith including those who no longer believe? No, Paul writes to those who believed in the past and continued believing in the present. To identify the audience, please consider the last two verses of chapter four: “…It will be counted to us who believe [right now] in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification” (Romans 4:24-25).
So Paul is writing to Christians in the faith (Romans 4:24-25 to 5:1) who were justified in the past and have peace with God in the present. To change the audience to those who no longer believe is to disregard the context and grammar and read theology into the passage that Paul never intended.
Considering that Paul is addressing those with ongoing faith in 5:1, how should we understand the word “justified” (declared righteous; past tense)?
Because God is sovereign and the Bible is God’s Word, we must view the doctrine of salvation through God’s eyes. Does God present salvation as a past reality for believers? The answer is yes. Does God present salvation as ongoing action and not a completed action for believers? The answer is yes. Believers can confidently affirm their past and present ongoing justification. God doesn’t view salvation as a completed action; neither should we.
Further evidence comes from the word “justification” which is presented in several passages as an ongoing reality for those who continue in the faith. Consider these verses:
“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified [in the present] by his grace as a gift, through the redemption [ongoing gift] that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:23-24).
“For we hold that one is justified [right now] by faith apart from works of the law” (Romans 3:28).
“And to the one who does not work [to earn salvation; see prior verse] but believes [an ongoing activity] in him who justifies [ongoing] the ungodly, his faith is counted [ongoing] as righteousness” (Romans 4:5).
“Yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law [an ongoing action] but [how:] through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified” (Galatians 2:16).
“So that being justified [in the present] by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope [desired outcome] of eternal life” (Titus 3:7).
Summary: believers were justified (declared righteous) by God when they entered the family of God. Believers (those in the faith) are being justified right now in the present. In great error Stanley presents justification as a completed action and a guaranteed-permanent reality even if apostasy occurs in the future.
Stanley writes, “The good news is that after the Judge pronounced you and me ‘not guilty,’ He walked from behind the bench and welcomed us into His family. The days of the courtroom are over. That is apparent from John’s gospel: Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life” (location 542).
Stanley masterfully twists Scripture. A careful examination of Scripture considers the grammatical construction that God inspired John to write. Here is the passage again: “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears [present tense; ongoing] my word and believes [present tense; ongoing] him who sent me has [present tense; ongoing and conditional on the two previous present tense verbs] eternal life. He [the one who “hears” and “believes”; ongoing] does not come into judgment, but has [present tense; ongoing] passed from death to life” (John 5:24).
Stanley continues his gospel contrary to Scripture: “As a believer you will never be judged for your sins” (location 546).
But God’s Word states:
“Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door” (Jam. 5:9).
“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you“ (Matthew 7:1-2).
“Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven” (Luke 6:37).
“Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God” (Romans 2:3)?
“But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged” (1 Corinthians 11:31).
“For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God“ (Hebrews 10:30-31).
He writes, “To believe we can be unadopted is to believe that man is able to thwart the predestined will of God” (location 567).
Stanley’s arguments outside of Scripture are common tactics used by the proponents of the doctrine of eternal security.
According to the Word of God, genuine believers have been adopted (past reality) into the family of God (Romans 8:13; Colossians 1:5), and yearn for a yet future adoption (Romans 8:23; Galatians 4:5). This fact is consistent with the biblical teaching that we were saved in the past (Romans 5:1; 2 Timothy 1:9, etc.) and we continue to be saved in the present (Acts 2:47; 1 Corinthians 1:18, 21; 1 Corinthians 15:2; 2 Corinthians 2:15; 1 Peter 1:9, etc.) as we live by faith in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
On the topic of adoption, Stanley writes, “Never once are believers threatened with losing membership in the family of God. Jesus taught just the opposite” (location 597).
Does God’s Word affirm or undo Stanley’s thesis written to the church? Jesus said, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God” (Revelation 2:7). In Genesis, the first book of the Bible, we read about the tree of life (Genesis. 2:7). In the last book of the Bible Jesus mentions it again. In both cases man’s free will decides their fate. Man’s free will does not compromise nor undermine the absolute sovereignty of God. God knows every future action before it becomes an action. The sovereignty of God and man’s free will are on display from Genesis to Revelation. God requires and encourages believers to conquer.
Jesus went on to say, “…Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.” (Revelation 2:10a-11; see also 20:6). May a correct understanding of God’s Word define our theology
“The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels” (Revelation 3:5). Jesus is not joking about blotting out names from the book of life. We can elevate man-made theology above the Word of God, or believe the Bible as written. After each message to the seven churches, Jesus states, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” May God give us ears to hear these messages!
Jesus describes a future time in Matthew 24:9-13: “Then they will deliver you [believers] up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. And then many will fall away [former believers] and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures [the conquering required in Revelation] to the end will be saved” (See also Matthew 10:22).
Stanley writes about the Prodigal Son. In Luke 15:24, after the prodigal son returns home, the father says, “For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate” (Luke 15:24). For this verse Stanley writes, “He did not say, ‘This was my son and now he is my son again.’ On the contrary, there is no hint that the relationship was ever broken, only fellowship. By ‘dead’ Jesus meant ‘separated‘” (location 687).
Stanley cannot interpret this passage literally and objectively because it teaches the conditional security of the believer. Instead, as a “side show” argument he directs his readers away from a literal interpretation by stating what the father did not say and further lies about the meaning of “dead”.
The father stated, “For this my son was dead, and is alive again.” The word “dead” means “dead.” I looked at five other English translations and all have the word “dead.” A look at the Greek further confirms the word means “dead.” The prodigal son was spiritually dead until he returned to his heavenly Father. The verse continues and the context further affirms the son was dead: “he was lost, and is found.” Because the dead son returned to the father, he was no longer spiritually “lost” but spiritually “found.” The father joyfully celebrates because his son is back from the dead.
The prodigal son represents former believers who come back to their heavenly Father. What a gracious loving God our Father is.
Aren’t you happy to be found in Him. Your feedback for this review is welcome. Keep the faith in Jesus!
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