Let’s imagine that the Christian life is a road trip. At your conversion, Jesus Himself climbs into your car and He tells you: No matter what, you are going to make it to Heaven. My Father’s election of you, my death and resurrection for the forgiveness of your sins, the Holy Spirit’s indwelling in you have guaranteed that you will make it—and I will be with you the whole way.
As you drive and at times feel lost, overwhelmed, and uncertain, He keeps reminding you: you’re going to make it. These are the promises of God. Promises like Phil 1:6, “he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”
But as you are driving, you see signs along the way that Jesus keeps pointing out to you that say “Keep driving this way to make it to Heaven”—those are commands; they ensure you that you are living a life of someone who has been truly redeemed, filled with the Spirit, and living for the Kingdom of God. Commands like Col. 3:13, “If one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” If I am sinned against and I forgive that person, I am assured that I am one who really has been forgiven by God.
But, if you veer off of that highway and begin to speed towards the cliffs of judgment, you will see signs warning you, “Turn around or you will die!”—those are warnings; they make you aware of the eternal danger that awaits you if you do not repent and turn from your sins. Warnings like Matthew 6:15, “if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” Woah! If I don’t forgive someone else God won’t forgive me?! That’s a warning, and it isn’t a fake warning. The text really means what it says.
So how do we reconcile these warnings with the promise of eternal security? Didn’t Jesus promise that we would make it to the end? Don’t these warnings seem to put that assurance in question? No, not at all. The warnings and commands in Scripture are one of the means by which God is going to sovereignly ensure that His children make it to the end. In other words, God guarantees that those who are actually His will heed the warnings, they will not flippantly ignore the commands. Certainly, we can leave the road, break commandments, and even plow through a couple of warning signs for some time—but God will not let His children careen off the cliff. They will eventually see the danger they are really in, and will return. Jesus encourages us, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out….And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day,” John 6:37, 39.
And if they do not return? If they barrel over the edge of the cliff then they will have revealed that they actually never were one of God’s children; Jesus was never with them in the car to begin with.
We see this clearly in John’s first letter as he tries to comfort a church who is troubled by many who seem to be abandoning the faith: “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us,” 1 John 2:19. If these individuals really had been “of us,” according to John, they would have remained in the church. But, the fact that they have left and abandoned the faith and denied Jesus has made it “plain” that they “were not of us.” They were never Christians to begin with. But the warning signs are there for us, Christians (see Heb 6:4-6). They are there to warn us of the danger of the cliffs, the danger of judgment. And it is those warnings–alongside the promises and commands–that keep us on the straight and narrow path with Jesus.