by Jeff Hagan
As a child, like most of us, I didn’t have a real grasp of all that salvation entailed. I was constantly on a spiritual roller coaster all the way through my teens as I was concerned about whether or not I had done something on any given day that would cause God to reject me. I was occupied with the thought that I might commit some sin and God would snatch away my salvation because I had made a mistake. After all, that’s what the denomination I grew up in taught. But that’s not the peace, assurance, and eternal life we are promised in Scripture through Christ. The idea one can do anything to cause the loss of their salvation limits God’s power and promises.
Over the years I have come to understand the security of the believer and realize that it is God who “elects” us, “calls” us, and then “holds” us. I have no more affect over the security of my salvation than I had over God’s decision to elect me to salvation in the first place. But the teaching that one can lose their salvation, lose their forgiveness, lose the eternal life they are promised is still rampant among Christianity. It’s sad so many brothers and sisters in Christ live in a state of perpetual fear about their eternal destiny when Scripture is clear we are eternally secure and “no one” can snatch us from the hand of God.
Eternal Security is often spoken about as one of those doctrines that should not cause division among the Body. While I agree it’s not an essential of the faith, it is still very significant and of the utmost importance. Many say we don’t need to try and convince those who believe that they can lose their salvation that they can’t; we can just let them continue on believing what they do because they do believe in Jesus, they do believe salvation is through Christ. So, if they are wrong but are secure and unable to lose their salvation whether they believe they can or not, then it really will be fine in the long run because they have it and just don’t know they have it. I used to agree with that logic. I mean it makes since. I still believe it’s a non-essential, but I put much more weight into the doctrine now. I’ll still joke a bit with my Assemblies of God, Foursquare and other friends when we discuss the issue, but there really is a danger to the doctrine.
There are many false gospels in the world today: Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Catholicism, Word of Faith (don’t even get me started on this one), and even within Christianity there are denominations with grave errors (such as Church of Christ with their belief in baptismal regeneration), and they all have one thing in common – a works focused salvation. In other words, false teachers agree that in order to get to heaven you must do “works,” you must do your part, and if you are “good” then and only then will God accept you. Of course each has their own twists and details, but in this regard they are virtually the same. Let’s take a very brief look at just two examples:
Roman Catholicism – You are saved by Grace that was acquired by the death of Jesus on the Cross. But you receive that grace as you perform your “good works” (i.e. sacraments, rosaries, prayers, etc). The more works you do the more grace you receive. If you die in the “state of grace” then you won’t go to hell. Eventually you will get to heaven, after a stop off for awhile in Purgatory in order to “pay for your sins.”
Mormonism – You are saved if (a) you believe in Jesus; (b) you are baptized by a Mormon Apostle; (c) and you do good works. If you meet all of these qualifiers first, then you will be saved. Not to mention their Jesus is a completely different Jesus than the biblical Jesus.
But notice that the overriding ingredient is man’s “works” in obtaining or securing salvation. Many of these false teachers hold to a mantra that goes something like this, “You are saved by faith and faith alone (initially), but you are secure in that salvation only as you do good works.” In other words, God saves you initially by grace, but then it’s up to you to “stay saved” by your works. That subtle addition of “initially” in their frame of thought and wording does nothing to justify their position. It is just as false as the ones that claim “works” are necessary for initial salvation.
Let’s take a look at the some bible passages that teach eternal security, and later we’ll look at some of the different objections those who oppose eternal security usually bring up.
What Does Scripture Say?
Ephesians 2:8, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. . .” (ESV). This little quote reminds us about how we “got saved” and that is by grace. The very faith we had did not save us in and of itself; instead, it brought the grace which had the power of salvation. I’m sure you’ve heard this before, and that’s because it’s true, but “Grace is God’s unmerited favor by which He saves us and makes us righteous. It is based solely on His love as displayed through the death of Jesus on the cross. Our works had nothing to do with it; in fact, we were nothing but sinners when God saved us” (Capoccia, Tony. “Eternal Security,” Bible Bulletin Board, 1986). In fact, Romans 5:8 tells us, “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (ESV).
When we were first saved we were by nature sinners who had absolutely nothing to offer God. But God saved us anyway. Why would a God who saved worthless sinners decide to take that salvation away from us because of a sin? Before, when we were at enmity with God He saved us. Now we are children of God, adopted into His family. Would He then treat us with less grace than He does His enemies? Of course not. In fact, He knew that even though He saved us we are still prone to sin, and reminds us that the grace that brought us salvation will continue to “save” us throughout until eternal life, because, “. . .where sin increased, grace abounded all the more. . .” (Romans 5:20, ESV). God’s grace continues to cover whatever sins we commit. God is not surprised by our post-salvation sin. It does not matter how great a sin we might fall into, His grace is sufficient. The unbeliever has never humbled himself before God by asking for that saving grace. But, as Christians, we have received the living and saving grace of our Lord and Creator.
It is God Who Keeps Us Blameless and Eternally Secure:
We find in the epistle of Jude these words, “Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of His glory… (Jude 24, ESV), which helps solidify for us that it is not we who keep ourselves saved by our works. Instead, it is God who “keeps us from stumbling” and presents us blameless. We cannot fall out of God’s saving grace. God continually gives us His gracious, undeserved, unmerited forgiveness to cover our sins.
Just think of all the examples in the Bible of Christians who fell into sin, serious sin. Moses, who was called by God to lead His Chosen people to the Promised land, fell into sin by killing an Egyptian. Did God toss him out of the Kingdom? No, he was covered by the grace of God. And David, God’s anointed King over Israel committed adultery with Bathsheba, and then had her husband murdered. God not only forgave him, but allowed him to keep ruling Israel and to pen most of the Psalms. Let’s not forget Peter, who publicly denied even being associated with Christ, by saying that he was not one of Jesus’ disciples. Yet again, he remained in the kingdom and was given immense responsibility over the new Church. God is not only able to, but does, keep us from losing our salvation despite our sins.
Eternal Life Through Christ:
Jesus, when referring to those who followed him and those who would believe in Him, said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of my Father’s hand” (John 10:27-29, ESV). Knowing God has you grasped in His hand should bring great comfort and assurance to the believer. Who are those who would try to take believers out of God’s hand? Well, Satan and those who follow his ways. But even they cannot “snatch” a Christian away from God. Some say, “we can take ourselves out of God’s hand.” Really? How are we able to “snatch” ourselves out of His hand? That’s silliness. We can be tempted, and sometimes even to the point where we give into sins that grieve God, but they can never remove us from His hand.
Jesus said He gives His sheep eternal life. What makes eternal life eternal? The simple fact that it will never end. If he gives us eternal life today and then takes it away tomorrow because of sin, then it was not eternal but only “temporary eternal life,” which is not eternal life at all.
We Are Sealed by the Holy Spirit:
When we first came to a saving faith something happened that was not visible to us – we were marked as a Child of God and sealed as His own. “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:13-14, ESV). Christians are sealed with the Holy Spirit, who is the earnest (or down payment) that God made when He bought us with the blood of Christ. An “earnest,” or down payment, guarantees the purchase will be completed at a later time. God guarantees us that we are His possession, we belong to Him alone, and the Holy Spirit living inside of us is His proof.
What God Begins He Will Finish: When we were saved it was not by happenstance. God had decreed from eternity past to save us and our salvation was a partial fulfillment of His overall plan. Paul assures us that what God begins He finishes, “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” (Philippians 1:6, ESV). It’s important to see here that it is God who brings the good work He started in us to completion. It is He who sanctifies us and we merely try to be obedient. We will repeatedly fall short of the glory of God, but just need to keep confessing our sins and receiving His precious grace filled forgiveness.
Responding to the Opposition: Those who rally against eternal security usually bring up these arguments to try and make their case against the eternal security of our salvation. The most frequent are:
1) Eternal Security allows people to sin freely.
Response: Neither God’s grace nor the security of salvation provides the believer with permission to sin (See Romans 6:1-2 & 1 John 2:1). If a person has the impression that eternal security gives him or her a license to sin, then the real question would be whether or not they are truly saved, since one who is saved will not willfully make a practice of sinning (See 1 John 3:9). And even if a person is a Christian and tries living in sin since they cannot lose their salvation, God will bring about guilt and discipline upon the sinning believer up to, and including, physical death in order to restore them to right fellowship (1 Cor 11:31-32; Heb 12:5-11; 1 John 5:16-17 with examples in Acts 5:1-11; 1 Cor 5:1-5; 11:27-32; & 1 John 5:16-17).
2) Eternal Security takes away any motivation for Christian living and serving others.
Response: The Bible instructs Christians to live their lives for Christ and to serve Him and others, not to gain or to keep salvation. This is because salvation is a promise, a guarantee. It is an assured possession for the believer and is secured for eternity (Psalm 37:28; John 10:27-29; 1 John 5:13). The true hindrance to Christian living and serving others and serving God is if the Christian were to have to continually worry about keeping or losing their salvation.
3) Eternal Security is contradicted by experiences we find regarding certain people in Scripture.
Response: Oh no, they trapped us. Well, actually they didn’t. One such case they point to is King Saul. Scripture appears to infer that King Saul was saved (1Sam 10:7, 9-10). However, instead of losing his salvation, it appears instead that Saul was chastened or punished by God in the severest form, that being his physical death due to his repeated disobedience to God (1 Sam 28:18-19; 31:3-4).
Another example they often point to is that of Judas Iscariot. But in actuality, it is far more likely that he is an example of a person who was lost and never truly had experienced salvation in the first place. (John 6:64; 70-71; 13:10-11; 17:11-12; Psalm 41:9; Matt 11:19; 26:50).
4) The Bible contradicts the doctrine of Eternal Security in certain passages.
Response: “1) 1 Cor 6:9-10; Gal 5:19-21; Rev 22:15–These verses refer to lost persons who are habitually characterized by the attitudes and/or actions expressed by these sins rather than referring to saved people who supposedly lost their salvation by committing one or more of these sins as an incident uncharacteristic of their general tenor of life. Otherwise, Abraham (lying), Moses (murder), and David (adultery and murder) would not inherit the kingdom of God. (1 Cor 6:9-10)” (same source cited above).
Hebrews 6:4-6 is another passage they attempt to use in showing a contradiction. However, the persons referred to in this passage are unbelievers, not believers. Pay particular attention to the context by also reading Hebrews 6:7-9; & 10:26-39.
Another passage they try to connect to their view is Matthew 24:13, “But the one who endures to the end will be saved” (ESV). However, it’s not our endurance that saves us, endurance is evidence showing fruit of a genuine salvation. It is not us who “brings it to completion” through endurance, it is God. Philippians 1:6 tells us, “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” (ESV). I also point you to 1 John 2:19.
Some more passages they attempt to use as ammunition are found in Ezekiel. Ezekiel 3:20; 18:24, 26; & 33:12-13, 18. It is quite possible that the righteous in this context may be referring only to self-righteousness. It is also possible, even likely, that within this context the death mentioned refers to physical death rather than spiritual death.
Still another passage they tend to use is John 15:2a, “Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away…” (ESV), along with verse 6 of the same chapter, “And if anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into fire, and burned” (ESV). But these verses refer to people who might profess to be saved but are not actually truly born again. You see, all true believers will bear some sort of fruit (Matt 7:20; 13:23). Now, it’s true that the degree of fruit-bearing may vary from one believer to another, but they will bear fruit. The “branch in me” (verse 2) is clearly used in a figurative illustration. An example of this type of branch would be Judas who was in the group of Christ’s disciples and yet he was not a true believer. Others interpret John 15:2,6 as believers who experience severe discipline of some kind, but not an actual loss of salvation.
The last passage we will look at that the opposition uses is 2 Peter 2:20-22. But, if one reads this passage it is very clear that the context in this case is speaking of false teachers, not true believers.
Eternal security is a reality for all those who put their faith in Jesus Christ. When Jesus died on the cross He became the sacrifice for all of our sins. He was our substitute sacrifice. When we received His saving grace as a free gift we received total forgiveness of all our sins whether they be past, present or future. From the vantage point of the cross all of our sins were future. As we walk through our Christian life we are going to sin. 1 John 1:8 says, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (ESV). And Romans 3:23 tells us, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (ESV). But as we grow, as we mature spiritually we will do so less and have the desire to do so less. When we do sin will it affect our joy and communion with God? Yes, it will. When we sin are there consequences? Absolutely. Might we be chastised for our sins in life in the here and now? That’s very possible. Will it have an influence at the final judgment when we receive our rewards? Yes, it will play a part then as well. When we sin we need to admit it, confess it to the Lord, and repent. When we do so it restores our fellowship with God and brings back any joy we may have temporarily forfeited. But God has, by His sovereign will, declared some to be His forever, for all eternity. He chose those of us who are saved out of His great love and mercy, not because of any goodness He found in us and not because of any action we did or did not do. The maintaining of that salvation is also completely up to Him and neither our sins nor our good works have any affect on that security. However, and this is of vital importance, to purposely continue in sin after receiving the great and wonderful gift of salvation is “stepping” on the blood of Christ. It is of the utmost disrespect and can often bring about swift and heavy discipline from our gracious Creator and loving Lord, but never will He remove our salvation. Never will He undo what Christ has done for us.*
John 6:37, “ALL that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will NEVER cast out” (ESV, emphasis added).
Romans 11:29, “For the gifts and the calling of God are IRREVOCALBE” (ESV, emphasis added).
2 Corinthians 1:22, “And who also has put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a GUARANTEE” (ESV, emphasis added).
Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace you HAVE BEEN saved through faith. And this is NOT of your own doing; it is the GIFT OF GOD, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (ESV, emphasis added).
Romans 8:38-39, For I am SURE that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height or depth, NOR ANYTHING ELSE IN ALL CREATION, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (ESV, emphasis added).
*Article inspired by, and adapted from, “Eternal Security” by Tony Capoccia, Bible Bulletin Board.