When people put their trust in the Lord Jesus Christ as their Savior, repent of their sins, and follow the Lord in Christian baptism—we say that they are born again, born of the Spirit, justified in the sight of God, and are accepted into God’s family.
The individual is saved, but is that person eternally secure in his salvation, or, under certain circumstances, can he lose his salvation? This is hardly a new question. Down through the centuries there has been tremendous controversy and disagreement over the matter of eternal security. Many sincere Bible students, and lovers of Jesus, and theologians have come up with opposite opinions on the subject. The issue came to a head already in the 1600s. Two major leaders in the conflict were John Calvin and Jacob Arminius.
Calvin was a French theologian who lived in Geneva, Switzerland, and was a strong advocate of eternal security (also known as “the perseverance of the saints”). In addition, he believed that the saved were all predestined to be saved, and that they themselves had very little to do with their salvation.
Arminius was a Dutch pastor who at first also defended the doctrine of eternal security, but as he did further study of the Bible, he was led to the opposite view. He rejected the doctrine of “eternal” security, and taught a “conditional” security. He believed in security (the assurance of salvation), but there were conditions for maintaining that security.
The Arminian teaching of conditional security was examined by church leaders and church councils in those days, and it was condemned. Arminius was branded a heretic. Some of his followers were deprived of their pastorates. Some were banished from their native countries. Some Arminian leaders were imprisoned; one was beheaded for his rejection of the eternal security doctrine. It was dangerous in those days to oppose the eternal security teaching.
Two Bible teachings are closely related to the matter of the teaching on security. One is the “sovereignty of God.” The other is the “free will of man.” In my judgment, the Bible teaches both, but nowhere does it reconcile the two teachings. The sovereignty of God is taught in Romans 9; God does what He does because He is who He is. The free will of man is taught in Revelation 22; whosoever will (whoever chooses to do so) may come, and find salvation. Calvin leaned heavily on the sovereignty of God; Arminius leaned heavily on the free will of man.
1. Scriptures Which Seem To Support Eternal Security
According to some Scriptures, it would appear that when we become Christians, we are eternally saved and we cannot ever be lost.
John 10:27-28 says, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.” The passage says that if you are a sheep in the sheepfold of Jesus, there is no way you can perish, or be snatched away from the Father. Notice however, that there are two clear characteristics of sheep: they hear His voice, and they follow Him.
And a first reading of Romans 8:38-39 makes it look as if once we are justified before God, nothing can separate us from God’s love. Romans 8:38-39 says, “For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” It looks like nothing can separate us from the scope of God’s love. But keep in mind that even though Paul concludes (in Romans 8) that there are no powers in the entire universe that are able to snap the bond between the believer and the Savior, there is one way to break the bond. The one thing that can do it is a stubborn decision of one’s own mind to disobey God, and to turn away from serving Him. Yet it’s true that all the powers in the universe cannot snap the bond.
Another related passage is found in Philippians 1:3-6. Paul says, “I thank my God upon every remembrance of you . . . for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now; being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” The promise recorded here says that God will finish the work He has started in us. God, Who begins the good work of saving us for Heaven, will not give up on us until that work is completed. God will not give up on us, but we, of course, can give up on serving God. That’s why the Apostle Paul says in the next chapter that we are to “work out (our) own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12).
2. Scriptures Which Name Conditions For Salvation
Other Scriptures make it clear that we can lose our salvation. There is the possibility (not the likelihood, but the possibility) of losing my salvation—through apostasy, or by falling away from the faith, or by denying the truth of the Gospel.
The Lord says in Hebrews 6:4-6, that those who have “tasted the good word of God” and have been made “partakers of the Holy Ghost”—if they shall fall away (that is, if they no longer want to repent)—then they have committed the sin of apostasy, and have reached the place where the lights go out on the way to Hell.
The Greek word “parapisontas” (used in Hebrews 6) is a special kind of falling away. It’s not the mere backsliding of a feeble Christian who has been tripped up by Satan—but it refers to a deliberate and outright rejection of Jesus Christ as the only Mediator between God and man. Such a person crucifies the Son of God afresh, and forfeits his salvation. After all, we are saved by grace through faith, and if there is no longer any faith, how can we still be saved?
Other Bible passages which relate to the security of our salvation are those that warn about the danger of continuing on in the practice of sin. Notice these warnings:
“Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor . . . covetous, nor drunkards . . . shall inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10).
“Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife . . . envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like . . . they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:19-21).
“But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints; for . . . no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God” (Ephesians 5:3,5).
In these portions of Scripture, the Apostle Paul warns professing Christians that if their way of life exhibits those kinds of wickedness, they had better not count on inheriting the kingdom of God. Instead, such persons can expect the wrath of God to be poured out.
Peter speaks about the danger of falling back into the ways of the world. He says in 2 Peter 2:20-21: “For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning. For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them.”
The Apostle Peter was inspired to say that sinful and worldly people who have come to know the Lord Jesus as Savior, and who then return to the defilements of the world, will end up in a state worse than the first. That sounds like eternal damnation, not eternal security.
To balance this out, we can cite examples of believers who have fallen (like King David and Simon Peter), but later repented and were restored. Some fell into backsliding (like the Prodigal Son), and some simply gave up and abandoned their commission (like John Mark), and then returned and were forgiven. They were restored into active service for the Master. God longs for that to happen.
Peter’s description (2 Peter 2) is of a much more determined and fixed rebellion, and a slide into ongoing sin. Those who deliberately and continually live in sin should not take their salvation for granted.
There are many New Testament passages which clearly say there are conditions attached to keeping our relationship with God secure.
“And you, that were (once) alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled in the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable . . . in his sight: If ye continue in the faith, grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard . . . ” (Colossians 1:21-23).
Jesus said to those Jews who believed on him, “If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed” (John 8:31).
“Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit. If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned” (John 15:2,6).
Those who have been “in Christ,” but bear no fruit, give evidence of not possessing the Spirit—and will be lost souls forever (every branch in me that bears no fruit . . . shall be cast into the fire and burned).
And also in Revelation 3, we read, “He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels” (Revelation 3:5).
The risen Christ, in His message to the church at Sardis, tells about the possibility of erasing someone’s name from the Book of Life. I don’t know all that is meant by those words, but they certainly are a sober warning not to take our salvation for granted.
3. Scriptures Which Promise the Assurance of Salvation
On the other hand, God doesn’t want us to be constantly running around with gloomy uncertainty about our salvation. There are many Scriptures which assure us that salvation can be certain. There are a number of tests by which we can tell whether or not we are continuing in a right relationship with God.
a) The test of obedience
We can know that we have eternal life because we have a strong desire to keep God’s commandments. We read in 1 John 2:3, “Hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments.”
The Greek word translated “keep” was used to describe the “watch” of a soldier who was keeping guard at his post, and just so one who is saved is to keep his eyes fixed on the commandments of God. God’s commands often run contrary to the things that the old nature would like to do, but as Christ takes up residence in our hearts, He gives us new desires to please Him, and new power to carry out His commandments for God’s glory.
The Scripture says that the very fact that our careful aim is to keep God’s commandments is one sure sign that we abide in Him and He abides in us.
b) The test of loyalty
The true believer in Christ no longer shows loyalty to the fads of this world. We read in 1 John 2:15, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”
The passions and pursuits of the worldly mind are contrary to the delights and activities of the spiritual mind. The things which the believer in Christ once loved, he now hates. The things he once hated, he now loves. One who is born again doesn’t mind going against the world’s fads and customs. He finds no pleasure in many of the things that worldly people find attractive. The entertainments of the world weary the person who truly loves Christ. They appear vain and unprofitable to the spiritual mind.
To please the world is out of the question for the genuine Christian. His first aim is to please God. By way of contrast, those persons who follow the fashions and pleasures of the world give evidence that they love the world, and that the love of the Father is not in them. If your supreme loyalty is to God, rather than to the dictates of the world, you are on the right track.
c) The test of conduct
The sincere child of God will eagerly seek to do what is right, and will keep himself from evil. We read in 1 John 3:9 that “Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin because he is born of God.”
The verbs in the original language of the New Testament are in the present continuous tense, and the passage literally says that those “who are born of God do not keep on practicing sin, for God’s seed (Christ) keeps on abiding in them, and they cannot keep on practicing sin, because they are born of God.” People who are truly born of God do not keep on committing sin as a habit.
When God saves people, He doesn’t fix them up so that they can’t sin anymore—but they won’t be able to sin and “get a kick out of it” (or enjoy it). A good example of this is found in the life of Peter. At our Lord’s trial, Peter cursed and swore that he did not know Jesus. In the hour of temptation, Peter resorted to a weakness that prevailed in his life before he was saved. Peter often lost his temper when his fishing nets tore and when the fish didn’t bite. As an unsaved man, Peter likely cursed and swore many times—and it didn’t bother him. But when his name was written in Heaven—and now he swore—he went out and wept bitterly.
If you are a real child of God, you know exactly how Peter felt, for the true Christian hurts all over when he sins. The saved person despises sin, flees from it, and fights against it. He longs to be delivered from sin altogether.
No Christian on this side of the resurrection will ever be perfect, but imbedded in his life will be an earnest desire to practice righteousness instead of practicing sin.
d) The test of love
The Christian loves even the worst of sinners, and often weeps over them. The words of 1 John 3:14 are clear: “We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren.”
The person who is saved and secure has a special love for those who are fellow-believers in Christ. There is a special bond of love and affection that binds together all those who truly love the Lord. This is not the cheap, gushy, syrupy kind of love that Hollywood mixes in with most every story and song produced for radio and television. Agape love (the 1 Corinthians 13 kind)—is a love that breaks over the barriers of background, race, and temperament, and fuses believers into the one family of God.
Any person who habitually dislikes and misunderstands his fellow Christians is evidently not walking in the light, and cannot have the assurance of salvation. But if you have a genuine love for the brethren, you have good evidence within that you “have passed from death unto life” (1 John 3:14).
We can know that we are saved because of the promises of God’s Word. Those whose purpose it is to (1) obey God’s commandments, (2) be loyal to Christ’s standards instead of the world’s standards, (3) diligently seek to do what is right and cease from practicing sin, and (4) love those who are fellow believers—those persons can know that they know God.
There are warnings in the Bible against becoming careless and against turning away from the Lord—but in spite of these warnings, God’s people in Bible times did not live in fear of their eternal destiny. Because of the work of the Holy Spirit in the heart of the Christian, it is very difficult for a true believer to completely fall away from the faith—but from examining all of the Scriptures on the subject, we must conclude that falling away is possible. Many who falter along the way will quickly repent and receive God’s forgiveness. We should not think that we lose salvation every time we fail to live up to God’s standard; God is gracious and does forgive. The early Christians possessed a calm assurance, and often gave testimony to their peace and joy. The Apostle Paul says:
“For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Corinthians 5:1).
“Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine,
O what a foretaste of glory divine;
Heir of salvation, purchase of God,
Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood.”
by Fanny Crosby