ETERNAL SECURITY – ONCE SAVED, ALWAYS SAVED
Jesus Never Lets Go
When discussing the Biblical doctrine of eternal security, it is important to understand its distinction from one’s assurance of salvation. Eternal security is addressed in Romans 8:28-39. The assurance of one’s salvation is addressed in the book of I John (see 5:13 for example).
- First, note that eternal security is objective; assurance of salvation is subjective.
- Secondly, eternal security is one’s personal salvation viewed from God’s perspective; assurance of salvation is one’s personal salvation viewed from their perspective.
- Thirdly, when the Christian bases their perspective on God’s perspective, they will experience the assurance of their salvation; when the Christian bases their perspective on a substitute for God, they will frequently doubt their salvation.
- Fourthly, when a non-Christian bases their perspective on a substitute for God, they may frequently think they are saved; when a non-Christian bases their perspective on God’s perspective, they will recognize their actual need for salvation.
It is now in line to note some of the errors involved in rejecting the Biblical doctrine of eternal security. Note that such an erroneous theological position fails to adequately understand (1) the nature and effects of all sin; (2) the nature and effects of salvation; (3) the nature and effects of Christianity; and (4) the nature and effects of the context of the Word of God.
Let us examine, first of all the nature and effects of all sin. What sins actually cause the Christian to lose their salvation, or how many times must they be committed? This question has never been adequately answered. The tendency is to focus on the severity of certain sins, while overlooking or underestimating others. The various types of sin recorded in the Scriptures may be categorized as:
- the sinful nature in the essence of humanity (Romans 5:12)
- sins of human behavior (Romans 3:23)
- sins of ignorance (Acts 17:30)
- sins of knowledge (James 4:17)
- sins of weakness (Luke 22:31-34)
- sins of presumption (Psalm 19:13)
- sins of incomplete hard-heartedness (Galatians 2:11-14)
- sins of complete hard-heartedness (I Timothy 4:2). (For an elaboration on these, see the late Dr. Henry Thiessen’s comments on pp. 193-194 in LECTURES IN SYSTEMATIC THEOLOGY, revised edition, Eerdmans, 1979.)
Even though there are degrees of guilt with its respective sin, all sin falls short of God’s holiness. If one sin terminates the believer’s salvation; then any sin terminates the believer’s salvation; if any sin terminates the believer’s salvation; then all sin terminates the believer’s salvation (see James 2:10; Galatians 3:10-11). Roman Catholicism errs when making a distinction between “venial” sins and “mortal” sins. The Scripture makes it clear that all and any sin is mortal (even if it means eating the wrong fruit; see Genesis 3) because all and any sin is alien to the nature of God Who is the Source and Sustainer of all life.
With regard to the subject of sin, mankind is a three-time loser through
- Adam (Romans 5:19)
- Birth (Romans 5:12)
- Experience (Romans 3:23)
Thus, either Christ “finished” the complete payment of past, present, and future sin in one’s life once and for all, or He did not finish the payment for any sin at all (John 19:30; Hebrews 10:10-12). It is this finished work of Christ applied to the Christian’s life (imputation) that grants them a righteous and pure standing before God (justification), and not their human ability or merit (Isaiah 64:6). If the sacrifice of Christ is not sufficient for the Christian’s eternal security, then all believers would be incapable of experiencing eternal salvation.
However, since the finished substitutionary sacrifice of Christ is sufficient, and has been applied to the Christian, there is nothing for the believer to lose their salvation over, since all their sin has already been paid for in Christ (Hebrews 7:23-28). Thus, God the Father is just in judging the Christian’s sin in Christ and is merciful in forgiving the Christian through Christ (Romans 3:26). The sin of the believer was legally credited to the account of Christ at Calvary, while the righteousness of Christ was legally credited to the account of the believer at conversion (Romans 4:t-8). Thus, Christ experienced the Christian’s Hell, so that the Christian could experience His Heaven (a complete legal transaction takes place at conversion, permanently changing the destination of the convert; eternal life can never become temporal life).
The Effects of Salvation
Now let us seek to properly understand the nature and effects of salvation. The Biblical terminology, “born again” (see John 3:3, 7; 11 Peter 1:23; John 1:12-13; Titus 3:5) illustrates the fact of eternal security by comparing/ contrasting the individual’s only and first birth and family relation physically with the individual’s only and second birth and family relation spiritually (see John 3:1-7). For example, first, the individual does not become a part of their physical family until that person is born into that family; likewise, the individual does not become a member of God’s family until that person is “born again” into God’s family (John 3:3).
Secondly the individual did not have anything at all to do with their physical birth; likewise, the individual did not have anything at all to do with their spiritual birth (salvation is not something that I do, but rather something that God does for me; see John 1:12-13).
Thirdly, the individual did not physically mature after their physical birth over night (it takes years for a child to mature physically); likewise, the individual Christian does not spiritually mature after their spiritual birth over night (it takes a child of God an entire lifetime of experience on this earth to mature, and does not fully do so until reaching their Heavenly destination; see I Peter 2:2-3; Phil. 3:12-14; 1 John 3:2).
Finally, the individual, as a physical child, frequently disobeyed their human parents either willingly (knowingly) or ignorantly (unknowingly). In times of disobedience, however, the child did not experience a broken relationship with their parents (he/she did -not cease being the parent’s child), but rather, the child experienced a broken fellowship with their parents (he/she was not on “good speaking terms” with their parent, and came under disciplinary action due to the parent’s loving protection). Likewise, the individual Christian, as a spiritual child, frequently disobeys their Heavenly Father either willingly (knowingly) or ignorantly (unknowingly). In times of disobedience, however, the child of God does not experience a broken relationship with their Heavenly Father (he/she does not lose their salvation; see I Peter 1:3-5), but rather, the child of God experiences a broken fellowship with their Heavenly Father (he/she is not on “good praying terms” with the Father, and comes under disciplinary action due to the Father’s loving protection; see Hebrews 12:5-11).
To this, one may ask, “Well, cannot a parent disown their child? Cannot the Heavenly Father disown one who belongs to Him?” Psalm 27:10 answers this nicely,
When my father and my mother forsake me, then the LORD will take me up.
Furthermore, Isaiah 49:15-16 states,
Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee. Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands; thy walls are continually before me.
The Nature and effects of Christianity
Thirdly, at this point, let us examine the nature and effects of Christianity. It would be helpful to briefly note some distinctions between Christianity and differing world religions. First, various religions focus on “man seeking God”; however, Christianity focuses on “God seeking man” (Genesis 3:9; 1 John 4:10). Secondly, various religions stress man (the creation) as the initiator while God (the Creator) is seen as the reactor (in other words, the focus is centered upon human abilities/inabilities as the cause that determine/initiate Divine abilities/inabilities as the effect;
God grants what man desires and what man earns, so that it is the Creator at the mercy and command of His creature’s whims); however, Christianity acknowledges God (the Creator) as the Initiator while man (the creation) is the reactor (in other words, the focus is centered upon Divine abilities as the cause that determine/initiate human abilities as the effect; man is granted what a just and merciful God desires and sufficiently provides, and it is the creation at the mercy of its Creator’s loving and sovereign wisdom – not the other way around; see Colossians 1:16-17; Acts 17:28; John 19:11; John 6:44; James 1:17).
(God acts in accordance with human will inasmuch as it is first in accord with his.) Thirdly, various religions are humanistic in their philosophy (reliance is on the human self for salvation and security); however, Christianity is theistic in its philosophy (reliance is on the Divine God for salvation and security).
The Bible Speaks of Eternal Security
Finally, we should seek to understand the nature and effects of the context of the Word of God. There does not exist one passage anywhere in the pages of Holy Scripture that supports the idea of the Christian ever losing their salvation.
Only when the Scriptures are interpreted contrary to their context – environment, and their translated text, do they ever become confusing. When one allows the Bible to do the talking for itself (by not reading one’s culture, pre-conceived ideas, or bias in between the lines) the so-called “problem” passages are not problems at all.
However, when the individual fails to have either a primary or secondary understanding of the translated grammar of the respective text being studied, and is unaware of the context of the respective text (recipients, purpose, environment, etc.) being studied, then it is not difficult for that individual to mishandle the text. This has indeed happened by some (unaware of the above) in what could be termed, “the apostate passages.”
The “apostate passages” designate individuals who have been exposed to Christianity, who have externally gone along with Christianity, who have tasted Christianity on its very threshold, but who have finally spit it out in rejection (often by drifting off into theological heresy). These individuals were never saved to begin with (not unsaved, then saved, and then unsaved again; eternal life is not some “roller-coaster ride”; see I John 2:19).
Two such common examples of “apostate passages” that are occasionally misunderstood would include II Peter 2:20-22 (note (1) the recipient’s identification in verses 1, 12, 17, 19, etc., (2) the recipient’s comparison in verses 4, 5, 6, and (3) the contrasted eternal security of Lot in verses 7, 8, 9), and Hebrews 6:4-6 (note (1) the contrast between the unsaved apostate and the Hebrew Christians in verse 9, (2) the first phrase in verse 6 which is a Greek participle actually apart of the apostate’s description in verses 4-5, and (3) the term “partakers” in verse 4 which is translated from the Greek term metochous, implying “to go along with”; thus, these apostates were influenced by the Gospel (having tasted it by having the only way of salvation being enlightened to their understanding), yet they reject and spit out God’s will and “fall away.”).
Many passages throughout the New Testament address the subject of apostasy in referring to those having been exposed and somewhat interested in the Gospel, but who have rejected it for some other system of doctrine in which they preferred (examine closely the epistles of Galatians, Colossians, II Peter, and Jude for just a few further examples among any; virtually every New Testament epistle addresses some form of apostasy; see II Corinthians 11:13-15).
So then, with regard to an individual who could potentially lose their salvation, he/she keeps it in as much as they are capable of keeping it (they reason that God does not turn his back on the individual, but that the individual best not turn their back on God, for they will undo what God has done!). The person, thus, will be secure inasmuch as they are capable of keeping themself secure. Therefore, the practical outcome of such wrong understanding is that human merit determines personal security or insecurity. What causes insecurity [personal sin] is the failure of one’s previous security [personal ability].
Where does God fit in with all of this? Is God passively sitting back watching His children go to Hell? It is not hard to see such humanism in one’s thinking. Individuals are not saved simply because they choose to be saved, but because God wills them to be saved (individual’s could will and strive to experience salvation all day, but without that being God’s sovereign will in which they reacted to, they never would experience salvation); likewise, individuals do not remain eternally secure because they choose or strive to be eternally secure, but because God wills them to remain eternally secure (individuals could will and strive to experience security all day, but without that being God’s sovereign will in which they react to, they never would experience eternal security).
The point is this, the grace of God through the Gospel determines the individual’s salvation; the grace of God through the Gospel determines the individual’s eternal security. In both cases, this was accomplished in spite of the individual’s merit or lack of merit. Eternal salvation is determined by God and not humanity. To assume that one is saved by Divine grace, but is kept by human merit is a logical fallacy (see Galatians 3:3; 4:9; 5:1).
Always remember that people are not saved today and lost tomorrow for Christians are “born twice, not thrice.” The Christian life is not you holding on to God, but is rather, God holding on to us (notice the focus). Therefore, the issue is for us to continue to learn to live in accordance with who we already are in Christ (not in our human ability’s creation, but God’s creation), and not to live someone else’s life (one cannot be something they are not; to live the life of God presupposes one has the life from God). Because we are permanently a Christian, we may as well live permanently like a Christian by not viewing/serving God in fear (fear of losing one’s salvation), but in love (appreciation of eternal salvation; see I John 4:18).