This week’s feedback:
Question: “If God has infallible foreknowledge, isn’t it unreasonable to assume that God would regenerate people whom he knows will not persevere? The idea that God starts what He does not finish seems contrary to His nature – Phil. 1:6.”
Answer: No. If we were to conclude that it is unreasonable to assume that God would regenerate people because He has infallible foreknowledge of their apostasy, then logical consistency demands that we conclude that it was unreasonable for God to deliver the Israelites when He had infallible foreknowledge that many of them would fall.
Yet the Scriptures are quite clear: God, who most certainly does have infallible foreknowledge, did deliver the Israelites, despite the fact that He foreknew that many who would be delivered and hear the good news would nonetheless fall.
“That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off.”
1 Cor. 10:1-6
“For I want you to know, brothers, 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 drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness. Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did.”
“Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, again he appoints a certain day, “Today,” saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.”
“See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven.”
“Beloved, although I was very 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. 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. Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe. And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day–just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire. Yet in like manner these people also, relying on their dreams, defile the flesh, reject authority, and blaspheme the glorious ones. But when the archangel Michael, contending with the devil, was disputing about the body of Moses, he did not presume to pronounce a blasphemous judgment, but said, “The Lord rebuke you.” But these people blaspheme all that they do not understand, and they are destroyed by all that they, like unreasoning animals, understand instinctively. Woe to them! For they walked in the way of Cain and abandoned themselves for the sake of gain to Balaam’s error and perished in Korah’s rebellion. These are hidden reefs at your love feasts, as they feast with you without fear, shepherds feeding themselves; waterless clouds, swept along by winds; fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever. It was also about these that Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied, saying, “Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of his holy ones, to execute judgment on all and to convict all the ungodly of all their deeds of ungodliness that they have committed in such an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things that ungodly sinners have spoken against him.” These are grumblers, malcontents, following their own sinful desires; they are loud-mouthed boasters, showing favoritism to gain advantage. But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. They said to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.” It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit. But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.”
As all the above passages make clear, the Israelites salvation out of the land of Egypt is analogous to our salvation:
“They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off … (Rom. 11:20-22)
Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did … (1 Cor. 10:1-6)
Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience … (Heb. 4:6-11)
See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven … (Heb. 12:25)
Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe… But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.” (Jude 3-21)
It is therefore not unreasonable to believe that God will regenerate someone, despite the possibility that they will later apostatize – an apostasy which God would infallibly foreknow.
Having shown a Scriptural precedent for God delivering people, only for them to later fall, I’ll now move on to Philippians 1:6. You say that the idea of God starting what He doesn’t finish seems contrary to His nature, citing Philippians 1:6, which reads,
“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”
On the subject of eternal security, this is one of the most oft-quoted verses by those who hold to the unconditional eternal security position. For example, noted Calvinist R.C. Sproul writes,
“Writing to the Philippians, Paul says, “He who has begun a good work in you will perfect it to the end” (Phil. 1:6). Therein is the promise of God that what He starts in our souls, He intends to finish. So the old axiom in Reformed theology about the perseverance of the saints is this: If you have it—that is, if you have genuine faith and are in a state of saving grace—you will never lose it. If you lose it, you never had it.”
Despite its frequent use, I don’t believe that this verse was ever intended to convey an idea like the one that you’ve raised.
The confidence that Paul expresses to the Philippians can hardly be applied to every person who has, for at least one moment in their life, had faith in Christ. Paul makes frequent reference to the basis of his confidence. He had confidence because of the Philippians’ “partnership in the gospel from the first day until now” (1:5), because of their steadfast work with him “in the defense and confirmation of the gospel” (1:7), because of their complete obedience (2:12), because they were the only ones to partner with him “in giving and receiving” from “the beginning of the gospel” (4:14-16), and because he had received abundantly more than a full payment of their ever-increasing spiritual fruit (4:17-18). Paul had every reason to be confident of the Philippians’ final salvation. If a believer bore nothing but good fruit from the day of their conversion up to the present in the way that the Philippians did, then there would be no choice but to have confidence of their final salvation.
The branch that stops abiding in Christ can’t take any comfort from this (see John 15:1-6), nor can the branch that stops abiding in the root of the olive tree (see Rom. 11:17-22).
Note also that Paul only has confidence, strong confidence, yes, but not absolute certainty. This is made clear by the fact that Paul was worried about the possibility that his labor for the Philippians was in vain. In fact, he was so determined to make sure that his labor was not in vain that he was willing to give himself as a sacrifice to ensure that it wasn’t (2:14-17). Such a concern would be unwarranted if Paul had absolute certainty that the Philippians would be saved no matter what. There is a reason that Paul was constantly exhorting the Philippians to walk worthy of the gospel, to stand firm, to strive for the faith of the gospel, to work out their own salvation, to hold fast to the word of life, and to hold true to what they’ve attained.