The following was taken from a pre-1997 issue of The Berean Call.
Question: Though I've read your excellent discussions on eternal security, I still need understanding of the following Scriptures: Romans:11:21-22, Colossians:1:22-23, Hebrews:3:6,14. Second Peter 2:20-22 speaks of those who have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord, and who were washed, being entangled again and overcome. Please explain these apparent contradictions.
Response: The New Testament contains frequent exhortations to godly living, to "continue in the faith" and to "hold fast the confidence firm unto the end" (Heb:3:6,14) and to "walk worthy of the Lord" (Eph:4:1; Col:1:10), and warns of being "cut off" (Rom:11:22). The exhortation is to two classes of people: (1) those who are false professors, in order to show them that their lives demonstrate that they do not truly know the Lord; and (2) Christians who are living in disobedience, to warn them that if they continue to dishonor their Lord He will severely discipline them. The latter could be "cut off" from fellowship with other believers, or from this life.
Peter completes his argument in the passage to which you refer (v. 22) with these words: "But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire." That seems to make it clear that he has been referring to those who claim to be Christians but are not. He is not referring to "sheep" who truly belong to the Good Shepherd, but to "dogs" and "pigs" who got in among the flock for a time but didn't belong and reverted to the behavior dictated by their unregenerate nature.
The Corinthian church was rife with division, disorder, debate, immorality, and sacrilege. Never is there a hint in Paul's epistles to them, however, that such sins had cost any of them their salvation. They were disciplined as Christians: "For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth...for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?" (Heb:12:6-8). Some who gorged themselves and became drunk at the Lord's table dishonored the Lord to such an extent, not "discerning the Lord's body," that they were cut off in death (1 Cor:11:27-34). The man who had "his father's wife"—a terrible sin—didn't lose his salvation thereby but as a brother in Christ was cut off from fellowship in discipline (1 Cor:5:1-13); then later he was restored (2 Cor:2:4-11).