God’s Perfect Work: A Study of the Doctrine of the Eternal Security of the Believer
by Matt Costella
©FOUNDATION Magazine, May-June 1998
The question of whether or not a true believer can lose his salvation after he has become justified by the shed blood of Christ has existed within the church almost from its inception. The idea that one can lose his salvation is not a new doctrine that has recently surfaced. In fact, during the persecution of the early church in the second and third centuries, many individuals who were faced with the prospect of persecution and even death renounced their faith in order to avoid persecution and live. Later, when Christianity became tolerated in the Roman Empire, those same individuals who renounced their faith in Christ desired to become accepted back into the church. Perry Lassiter notes that “out of this setting arose the theological discussion of whether those who had denied Christ had lost their salvation.”1 Whereas some believed that those who had renounced their faith were still justified in the sight of God, others concluded that while the renouncers were once truly saved, they now were no longer saved because they had repudiated their faith. This, in part, led to a further question: “What about anyone who sinned? If you sinned after conversion, could you lose your salvation?”2
Notice that the title of this article contains one key word that must be understood by the reader—the word believer. A true believer is an individual who has genuinely come to trust Christ as his Saviour by believing in His substitutionary death, burial and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins. This study does not address or refer to one who possesses only a professed belief in Jesus Christ but has not produced spiritual fruit as an evidence of his faith. This study addresses and refers only to a true believer in the Lord. One must realize that this matter of eternal security is of utmost importance because it concerns the believer’s view of the all sufficient work of Jesus Christ on the cross and the indwelling work of the Holy Spirit within the believer. The purpose of this study is not to scripturally refute those who do not accept the eternal security of the believer nor to address the biblical passages that appear to support the view that a believer can lose his salvation. The purpose of this study is to state the importance of the doctrine of eternal security, to present the four views on the topic, and to scripturally support the view that the writer believes to be correct.
Various authors and works will be cited within this study, but that does not mean the writer or the Fundamental Evangelistic Association approves of those individuals or all of their writings. Certain individuals are mentioned or their works are cited only to provide the reader with further information that may be helpful in his personal study. While the views of some men may be biblical concerning the doctrine of eternal security, their ministries and fellowships may involve compromise or a disregard for biblical separation.
It is necessary to address the topic of the eternal security of the believer for several reasons. First, it has become obvious that a great number of professed believers, even fundamental, Bible-believing Christians, have espoused the view that a believer can lose his salvation. These individuals often accept this view simply because they were subjected to such an idea at one time in their lives and never took the time to carefully search the Scriptures themselves. Others who have actually searched the Scriptures have come to their conclusions after failing to see the clear teaching of God and relying instead upon the more obscure passages of Scripture that seem to confirm their belief. Harry A. Ironside addressed this issue well when he said, “If you have a clear, definite, positive Scripture, do not allow some passage that is perplexing, that is difficult of interpretation, that seems somewhat ambiguous, to keep you from believing the positive statement ‘He that believeth hath everlasting life.'”3
Second, it is necessary to address the topic of eternal security because it has serious implications and ramifications in the believer’s walk with Christ and witness to others. Anyone who believes he can lose his salvation and gain it again at a later time has removed himself from a belief in grace through faith alone and has concluded that his own works have become an integral part of his salvation or lack thereof.
In his book Eternal Security: Can You Be Sure? Charles Stanley, a well known pastor and author who used to subscribe to the idea that one could lose his salvation, expounds upon six doctrines or Christian characteristics at stake when the doctrine of eternal security is rejected. First, he says assurance of salvation is at stake because the individual who believes he is not eternally secure can never be completely sure that he is saved throughout his entire life. Second, forgiveness is at stake because the one who rejects eternal security believes, whether he realizes it or not, that Jesus Christ only died for the sins he committed prior to his salvation. Therefore, Christ did not die for all his sins. Third, the doctrine of salvation by faith alone is at stake because the one who rejects eternal security believes that his own actions can cause him to lose his salvation and then receive salvation again at a later time. Thus, salvation is accomplished by faith plus works since his salvation, he believes, is maintained by works. Fourth, the rejection of eternal security undermines the love of Christ. Christ’s love is only conditional upon the works of the individual. Fifth, the work of evangelism is at stake when one rejects the eternal security of the believer because the one sharing the Gospel cannot be assured that he is always saved himself. Finally, a clear focus on God is at stake, for the person who believes he can lose his salvation must focus more upon himself and his own actions in order to secure his salvation rather than focusing his attention upon God as the “author and finisher” of his faith.4
Other Christian leaders of various doctrinal and denominational persuasions recognize the extreme importance of the doctrine of eternal security, or “perseverance of the saints” as some label it. The issue is not only important because of the particular doctrines or Christian characteristics that are at stake as listed above, but it is also extremely important because the credibility of Jesus Christ and the Bible Itself seem to be at stake. All the interpretations regarding the security of the believer cannot be correct, and Bible-believing Christians affirm that God’s Word does not contradict Itself. Therefore, all interpretations except one must necessarily be incorrect due to a faulty exegesis of Scripture, and the other must be correct because it is what the Scripture teaches. The question the believer must ask when attempting to study the doctrine of the security of the believer, then, is, “What does God’s Word clearly teach, and how can one properly harmonize the more obscure passages that seem to contradict the more clear passages?” A false conclusion regarding the eternal security of the believer indirectly questions the credibility of Jesus Christ who so often explicitly stated in the Gospel of John that He came to earth to do the will of the Father so that man might have eternal, everlasting life based upon His [Jesus Christ’s] sacrificial work upon the cross.
Various Opinions Regarding the Security of the Believer
Four primary views exist regarding the security of the believer. They are highlighted in the February 1992 issue of the Faith Pulpit by Dr. Myron Houghton and listed below. Each view of this vitally important doctrine will be individually developed more completely in the pages following. According to Houghton, the four views are as follows:
Truly saved persons forfeit salvation by sinning and may regain salvation by repentance.
Truly saved persons can forfeit salvation only by renouncing their faith in Christ; once this happens, it is impossible for them to be saved again.
God chooses and predestines certain people to be saved apart from any foreseen faith or works. Christ died to save and keep saved only these people. A professing believer will continue to persevere if he or she is really one of God’s elect.
True believers in Christ are eternally secure because of God’s protecting plan. They can be absolutely certain of their own present and future salvation through the promises of God found in the Gospel.5
View #1 – Sin Can Cause Loss of Salvation
Two individuals who adhere to this view are Alexander Campbell and Virgil Warren. Campbell clearly spells out his position in The Christian System: In Reference to the Union of Christians, and a Restoration of primitive Christianity, As Plead in the Current Reformation. Warren expresses his views in his book Salvation.
Alexander Campbell, along with his father Thomas Campbell, is the founder of the Campbellite movement that stressed, among other doctrines, the importance of baptism by immersion for the remission of sins. His teachings are followed today by religious groups and denominations such as the Church of Christ, the Disciples of Christ and the Christian Church.6 Campbell believed an individual could lose his salvation through the lack of certain works, and this teaching continues to be a belief of most, if not all, of the aforementioned Christian groups.
Campbell mentions on page 48 of his book that the Spirit of God is promised only to those who believe and obey God. He continues by saying, “It [the Holy Spirit] actually and powerfully assists in the mighty struggle for eternal life.”7 Thus, Campbell makes a distinction between possessing the Holy Spirit and being assured of eternal life. Notice the following portion of a paragraph that highlights Campbell’s belief in the difficulty of the struggle for eternal life:
And while the commands “believe,” “repent,” and “be baptized” are never accompanied with any intimation of peculiar difficulty; the commands to the use of the means of spiritual health and life; to form the Christian character; to attain the resurrection of the just; to lay hold on eternal life; to make our calling and election sure, etc., are accompanied with such exhortations, admonitions, cautions, as to make it a difficult and critical affair, requiring all the aids of the Spirit of our God, to all the means of grace and untiring assiduity and perseverance on our part; for it seems “the called” who enter the stadium are many, while “the chosen” and approved 11 are few”; and many, says Jesus, “shall seek to enter into the heavenly city, and shall not be able.” 8
This quote was recorded in full in order to demonstrate, without question, the numerous inferences to the necessity of the assistance of the Holy Spirit in order to keep an individual saved so that he might see eternal life. Campbell says that while believing, repenting and being baptized are not difficult, to live the Christian life, to “lay hold on eternal life” and to “make our calling and election sure” are difficult indeed. Notice that Campbell again delineates between being saved and actually gaining eternal life.
Two other portions in Campbell’s book reveal his teaching that salvation can be lost by not producing good works. First, he mentions that the believer is not one who “is pious by fits and starts, who is religious or devout one day of the week, or for one hour of the day.”9 According to Campbell, the “whole bent of the soul” of the believer is to “make his calling and election sure.”10This is the “business of [the believer’s] life.” In Campbell’s view, apparently the Christian can end up being on of the many “called” but not one of the “chosen” few if he does not live up to particular standard.
The final reference by Campbell under consideration is prefaced by the statement that the believer can know that the blood of Jesus Christ has cleansed him of sin. Campbell continues, “You have an Advocate with the Father; and, where conscious of any impurity, coming to God by him, confessing your sins, and supplicating pardon through his blood, you have the promise of remission.”11 Many use the term remission to describe simply the forgiveness of sins subsequent to salvation. However, it seems as though Campbell is using the term to describe the forgiveness of sins unto salvation, for he constantly uses the word remissionwhen referring to baptism by water as a means of salvation. The seemingly ambiguous reference to “remission” in Campbell’s statement combined with his aforementioned concrete references to the loss of eternal life by the believer provide any individual with enough documentation regarding Campbell’s position.
Virgil Warren states, in no ambiguous terms whatsoever, that salvation must be maintained by the works of the believer. He says, “The important truths here are that beyond our conversion God gives continued assistance to our further improvement, and that we have continued responsibility for our continued security in Christ.”12 Warren believes that the Bible does not “countenance a separation between salvation status and salvation behavior.” In other words, if one is not behaving like a Christian then it is not possible for him to be a Christian. The whole point that Christianity seeks to address, according to Warren, is “separation from God because of sinful behavior.”13 He says that perseverance and security undermine this major point. “Continued salvation is fundamentally interpersonal,” Warren says.14
View #2-Renunciation of Faith Can Cause Loss of Salvation
The second view regarding eternal security has been popularized by I. Howard Marshall. Marshall made it abundantly clear in his book Kept By the Power of God that the believer can lose his salvation, not by sinning, but by renouncing his faith in God. It is interesting to note that this renunciation need not be a blatant, conscious rejection of faith in God on the part of the believer, but it may actually be the by-product of a sin which, according to Marshall, assumes a rejection of faith. For example, Marshall lists four areas of temptation into which the believer may fall that can cause him to lose his salvation because each temptation assumes a renunciation of faith. The first temptation is the increased pressure from the world and the general opposition faced by the Christian from those in the world. Marshall says, “Believers, therefore, are frequently tempted to give up their faith because of the difficulties of maintaining [their faith] amid fierce opposition.”15 The second temptation is to accept false doctrine, and “the temptation is to blunt the edge of faith in Jesus Christ and ultimately to destroy it altogether” says Marshall.16 The third temptation involves various sins and immorality. Marshall mentions that in many cases, “Sin is an act and attitude which is incompatible with the obedience of faith, and hence constitutes a denial of faith.”17 Finally, Marshall adds that a general “weariness in the faith” is the final temptation that can cause one to, whether he realizes it or not, renounce his faith and, therefore, lose his salvation.
Marshall clearly states that sin itself will not cause one to lose his salvation. He says the New Testament does not expect the believer to be completely free from sin: “While sin is obviously inconsistent with faith, it does not immediately and automatically extinguish it.”18 This is what makes Marshall unique to Campbell and Warren. He believes only the renunciation of faith can cause one to lose salvation, although, as was mentioned, certain sins lead to a denial of faith.
So what is perseverance according to Marshall? “Perseverance is not some particular quality of faith but the fact that faith continues.”19 Only when the believer is confident in his faith toward God can he be certain that he is saved and on his way to eternity with Christ. So, salvation is completely up to the believer and his continual faith. Concerning Romans 8:38 and 39, Marshall says that while “no outside power” can separate the believer from the love of Christ, a possibility exists that the believer can separate himself from the love of Christ. However, Marshall says this possibility “is meant to drive us to renewed faith in God, because the danger is a real one.”20 He believes that perseverance is completely possible for the believer and that God even gives strength to the believer so that he may persevere, but the reality is the same according to Marshall-a believer can lose his salvation if he fails to persevere in faith.
View #3-A Professing Believer Will Persevere Only if He Is One of the Elect
At first glance, this third view is somewhat difficult to delineate from the fourth view, but Houghton adequately explains this view by saying, “An elect person cannot forfeit salvation and become lost. But certain knowledge of one’s own salvation is not possible, because the person’s works, that is, perseverance, rather than the promise of God, are the means by which one is assured of salvation.”21 So one must make a distinction between “theory” and “practicality,” so to speak. While theoretically those who are actually saved cannot lose their salvation (just as view #4 states), practically, works are what give the assurance of salvation or the lack thereof.
The noted Reformed theologian Louis Berkhof is a proponent of this view. In his Manual of Christian Doctrine, Berkhof makes a distinction between the external calling of God, which comes to “all those who hear the word,” and the internal calling which “comes only to the elect.”22 He mentions that the internal calling only to the elect is “a calling without repentance, one that is not subject to change and is never withdrawn.”23 The elect, those who receive the internal calling, will certainly be saved.
According to Berkhof, the responsibility of the believer is to actively persevere (or do good works). He says that while it is God who perseveres, perseverance is “certainly regarded as a work in which [the believers] cooperate.”24 This statement refers back to the difference between those who were externally called, but were possibly not one of the elect, and those who were internally called and are a part of the elect. Berkhof concludes that all who profess to believe must cooperate in perseverance since they may be one of the elect.
Charles Hodge is another proponent of this third view. He rigorously contends that Christ died only for the elect, not for all mankind; therefore, only those who are genuinely, actively elected by God will persevere. Hodge says, “From this [Romans 1:1-11] Paul argues [the elect’s] absolute security for time and eternity … Nothing could ever separate them from [God’s] love. This whole argument is utterly irreconcilable with the hypothesis that Christ died equally for all men.”25 Because Hodge believes Christ died only for the elect, he contends that those who are elect have to persevere in order to be sure that they are part of the elect. Notice the following passage:
If Christ was given for the redemption of his people, then their redemption is rendered certain, and then the operations of the Spirit must, in their case, be certainly efficacious; and if such be the design of the work of Christ, and the nature of the Spirit’s influence, then those who are the objects of the one, and the subjects of the other, must persevere in holiness unto the end.”26
Again, Hodge is referring here only to those who are actually the elect of God, those individuals who will persevere unto the end. However, Hodge provides no explanation as to how an individual can know for certain whether or not he is one of God’s elect. One can therefore conclude according to this third view that all who come to Christ must do their part by persevering so that they can know they are one of the elect, that is, to “make their election sure.“
View #4-The Believer Is Forever Secure Due to God’s Protecting Plan
Lewis Sperry Chafer is a main proponent of this fourth view. Chafer believes that salvation is “a work of God for man, not a work of man for God”; therefore, an individual is eternally secure because of God’s work for the believer .27 He mentions that not only is the believer’s salvation secure in the work of Christ, but it is also secure because no force outside of God can separate the believer from the love of the Savior.
Chafer highly emphasizes the fact that salvation and security rest fully in God’s work, not man’s. According to Chafer, salvation would be constantly in flux and uncertain in the lives of individuals if it depended upon something man could do for himself. But because salvation is completely an act of God, man cannot possibly undo it. Concerning salvation, Chafer says, “The extensive character of the salvation of a believer in Christ is such that it is an irreversible work of God which cannot be changed by human decision or failure.”28 Any human being who comes to Jesus Christ, regardless of whether or not he is called by an “internal” or “external” calling, and believes on Him shall be saved and secure because of the work of God.
Charles Ryrie is another individual who espouses this fourth view. In his book So Great Salvation, Ryrie defines eternal security as “that work of God which guarantees that the gift of salvation, once received, is possessed forever and cannot be lost.”29 Ryrie lists nine specific reasons, supported by abundant Scripture references, why the Christian should believe in eternal security. He mentions that while a person cannot always be certain whether another individual is truly born again, anyone who has trusted in Christ alone as his personal Saviour can be sure that he himself is secure forever and cannot lose his salvation.30 This security, again, is based upon Christ’s finished, perfect work upon the cross, not upon the merit of any individual. In So Great Salvation, Ryrie also scripturally refutes the idea that one can lose salvation through renouncing his faith and rejecting Christ even though he has genuinely been born again at one point in his life.
Scriptural Support for the Eternal Security of the Believer
While every individual who supports one of the aforementioned views regarding the security of the believer claims to possess scriptural support for his view, the writer believes that because the four views conflict, it is only logical that one view is correct in light of Scripture and that the other views have erred from the clear teaching of Scripture. As was mentioned earlier, many who adhere to the view that an individual can lose his position in Christ, regardless of the reason, base their beliefs on a few obscure passages that seem to support their view rather than upon the many clear passages that contradict their view. Louis Sperry Chafer accurately noted, “Under superficial examination some Scriptures seem to contradict the concept of eternal security. On the other hand the many Scriptures that affirm the believer’s eternal security are so clear that their testimony outweighs any objections that may be raised.”31 Also previously mentioned, Ironside alluded to this same idea and warned the believer not to base his theology on the fewer obscure passages but on the many clear passages that support eternal security. The writer agrees with Chafer and Ironside and stands firmly convicted that God the Father has provided a perfect, complete salvation through His Son and that the security of the believer rests in the finished work of Christ on the cross, on the continual work of the Holy Spirit and on the intercession for the believer by Jesus Christ.
The purpose of this next section of the study is not to scripturally refute the Bible passages that supposedly contradict the eternal security of the believer. This section of the study is intended only to show some scriptural passages that support the eternal security view, as this is the view the writer firmly believes to be scriptural and wishes to clearly express, just as it is clearly expressed in God’s Word.
There are several possible ways to organize ideas and argue for the doctrine of eternal security, but the most effective way will be simply to identify the passages of Scripture that are most definitive on the subject and expound upon them. Since Scripture itself is the believer’s sole authority of faith and practice and since Scripture clearly teaches that once a believer is truly saved he is eternally saved and secure, then it will be helpful to see those Scripture passages prior to any comment on the content of the passages. Eight main or primary passages of Scripture will be recorded and analyzed, using various other verses to support the primary passages. These verses being studied are by no means exhaustive. A multitude of other verses in God’s Word declare the wonderful truth of the eternal security possessed by every believer. For the sake of time and space, however, the eight passages below will suffice to support the vital doctrine of the eternal security of the believer.
Before noticing these passages, however, it is only logical and highly beneficial to consider that God desperately wants his children to know that they are safe and secure in Him. 1 John 5:13 says, “These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life….” What are the things that are written? They are found in the first 12 verses of the chapter, namely, that those who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ have eternal life and, in turn, will show fruit by keeping the commandments of God. John wrote this portion of Scripture to “you that believe on the name of the Son of God.” The apostle John was speaking to believers. He was writing and explaining to them that those who are saved produce fruit and know that they are saved. The salvation produces the fruit. The fruit is a result of the salvation, not a part of the salvation. God does not desire for any of His children to be confused as to whether or not they belong to Him one day and are bound for the lake of fire the next day. No, God wants the believer to know where he stands for all eternity. Hebrews 10:22 invites the believer to “draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith” because he has a High Priest who has purchased him with His own blood (Heb. 10:19-22). God wants the believer to have assurance because of Christ’s work on the cross, not because of any work of man.
Romans 6:23–For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
The key word one needs to recognize in this verse is the word gift. This gift that God has provided is eternal life through Jesus Christ. Salvation only comes through Christ’s work on the cross, not through any work or merit of man, which is precisely what makes this a free gift of God. R. T. Kendall says, “Salvation is a free gift. If I must know whether or not I am saved by the state of my own faithfulness, it is no gift at all.”32 Those who believe they can lose their salvation once they have been saved are placing their trust in their works plus their faith. But the gift, the free gift given by God, leaves no room for works but only for belief in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. That free gift can be obtained only through Jesus Christ. No individual can gain, or keep, eternal life through any other way.
The last sentence in Revelation 22:17 further supports the truth that God’s gift of eternal life is, in fact, free. That sentence states, “And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.” The Lord extends this invitation of salvation to all and expressly states that whoever hears the Gospel message may respond to it by partaking of the water of life freely. No works are involved, nor is any mention made of possibly having to pay for the gift at a later time.
Ephesians 2:1-9 also clearly states that salvation is a free gift that is not determined upon whether or not an individual fulfills certain works, but upon whether or not he has faith in Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul tells the Ephesian Christians that while they once were dead in trespasses and sins (v. 1), that in times past they walked according to the course of the world (v. 2), that in times past they lived according to the lust of the flesh (v. 3) and again, that they were dead in sins (v. 5), they are now raised up together and made to sit in heavenly places in Christ Jesus (v. 6). A difference clearly exists between their walk prior to salvation and their walk subsequent to salvation. Following their salvation, the Ephesian believers produced fruit in their lives and turned from their wicked ways. Furthermore, God raised up these Ephesian Christians and made them to sit in heavenly places “in Christ Jesus.” W. E. Brown says, “Those who have salvation are saved by this grace-this unspeakable gift of God in the person of His dear Son, and this through faith which is also God’s gift.”33 Salvation, Paul says, is God’s free gift given to the one who has believing faith in Him, not to the individual who does or does not perform certain works. If the latter were the case, then men would have cause to boast in their own works. But God’s free gift is “Not of works, lest any man should boast” (v. 9).
Finally, notice that this free gift of eternal life involves both the Father and the Son. The Father is the One who gives the gift, and the Son is the One who makes the gift possible. This wonderful Scripture passage reveals the work of both the Father and the Son in making our salvation available and secure.
Romans 8:38,39–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.
This portion of Scripture is located within the context of various other passages that support the eternal security of the believer, but the other passages will be examined at a later time. It is presently necessary to focus attention upon the truths found in these two verses alone.
Ironside reminded his readers that these two verses are the answer to the question, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” as found in verse 35. In describing the answer given in verses 38 and 39, he declared, “How full, how clear, not a shadow, not a doubt, not a question left when the apostle says that neither death nor life shall separate!”34 Nothing imaginable can separate a believer from the love of Christ, for these verses cover the whole realm of possibilities. In all, Paul lists 17 things in verses 35, 38 and 39 that cannot separate the believer from the love of His Lord. Those 17 things are all-encompassing. According to these verses, love is even “stronger than death and more powerful than the hosts of darkness.”35
This portion of Scripture underscores the work of God the Son concerning the security of the believer. The Christian absolutely cannot be separated from his Heavenly Father. If an individual has placed his faith in Jesus Christ as Savior, then he is forever secure because NOTHING can separate the believer from the love of Jesus Christ. That is ultimate security! Henry Morris writes that “this is perhaps the most marvelous passage in the Scripture that assures us of the permanence of our salvation.”36
Hebrews 7:25–Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.
This wonderful passage not only tells the believer that he is secure once he is saved (saved “to the uttermost”), but also it tells him how he is actually kept secure-by the intercession of Jesus Christ. The believer is eternally secure because of the intercession made on his behalf by Jesus Christ, who “continueth ever, [and] hath an unchangeable priesthood” (v. 24). Kendall says it is the “continual intercession of Christ [that] guarantees salvation to every believer.”37 Because Jesus Christ arose from the dead, showing that His perfect sacrifice was acceptable in the sight of the Father, He can intercede on the believer’s behalf when he sins.
The fact that Christ’s intercession is continual because “He ever liveth to make intercession” for the believer shows that although the believer will sin and displease the Father, Jesus Christ pleads his case before God. 1 John 2:1-2 clearly teaches that the believer will in fact sin after he has believed, but because Jesus Christ is the “Advocate with the Father” and the “propitiation for our sins,” the believer can rest assured that his salvation is secure in Christ and that he is forgiven in the sight of the Father. These two verses in 1 John not only show that Christ is the believer’s Advocate but also that He was the Bearer of the sinner’s deserved punishment so that the believer will not have to pay sin’s damnable price himself. The result of Christ’s intercession is that God will hear the advocacy of the Son and forgive the wayward saint because the Son was the perfect, acceptable sacrifice for all mankind and paid sin’s price on the cross “once for all.”
Ryrie mentions that while Satan accuses the believer (Rev. 12:10) and the believer often accuses himself, no one except God Himself can actually bring a charge against the believer according to Romans 8:33. He notes that God is the only One who could accuse the believer, but He does not bring any charges against the believer because He has already declared him to be “not guilty” even though he deserves to have a charge leveled against him.38
Romans 8:34 is a similar portion (also situated in the context of other verses which speak of the eternal security of the believer) that describes the work of Jesus Christ. It provides even more information than Hebrews 7:25, for it says that Jesus Christ is at the right hand of the Father making intercession for His children. The Christian can know he is eternally secure in Christ because Christ’s perfect work on the cross makes Him the perfect intercessor on the believer’s behalf. At this very moment Christ is sitting at the right hand of the Father in His glorious presence! Notice what Morris has to say about this issue: “At least twenty-one times in Scripture He is said to be at God’s right hand, and at least four times He is said to be interceding there for us.”39
Hebrews 7:25 is a beautiful verse that reveals the work of the Son concerning the security of every believer. We are forever saved because of the work of Jesus Christ, the perfect Son of God, Who is accepted in the sight of the Father.
Ephesians 4:30-And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption.
This verse specifically tells the believer that he is not to grieve the Holy Spirit of God, for it is by this Holy Spirit that the believer is sealed unto the day of redemption. Notice that 2 Corinthians 5:5 tells the believers at Corinth that God is the One who has given the seal of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the seal of the believer’s salvation, and God is the One Who gives the seal. As was shown earlier, God has already declared the believer to be “not guilty” because of the perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the Cross; therefore, the seal is permanent and sure and cannot be removed.
Morris notes, “The sealing ministry of the Spirit [serves] as an assurance (a down payment or earnest money) of our ultimate complete redemption when Christ comes again.”40 The believer is sealed, or kept secure, until Christ returns and the believer is glorified, forever to be with his Lord in glory. The believer clearly can do nothing to break the seal of the Holy Spirit. Paul reveals in Ephesians 4:30 that while it is possible for a Christian to grieve the Holy Spirit of God through his actions, his sinful deeds are powerless to break the Spirit’s seal. The seal is secure until the redemption of the body.
The context of this verse shows that God requires the believer to “put off ‘or put away” sins such as anger, tying, stealing and corrupt communication. Paul mentions that these sins grieve the Holy Spirit of God indwelling the believer, but Paul never says that the Holy Spirit will leave the believer who commits such sins. On the contrary, Paul exhorts the Ephesian believers to “put off ‘the old things and “put on” the new things because the Holy Spirit indwells and has sealed the true believer until the day of redemption, regardless of whether or not he is walking in righteousness as he should be. According to Strong’s Concise Dictionary of Words in the Greek New Testament, the word sealed in this verse means “to stamp for security or preservation.” Because God is the One doing the preserving and securing through the Holy Spirit based upon the work of the Son, the seal cannot be broken.
This verse reveals the work of the Father and the Holy Spirit in relation to the eternal security of the believer. God is the One who has sealed the believer, and the Holy Spirit is the seal by which the believer is guaranteed to be glorified one day. The believer is eternally secure due to the work of the Father and the Holy Spirit.
John 10:27-29–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 My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand.
These three verses are perhaps the most often used verses to support the doctrine of the eternal security of the believer. Four times in these three verses Jesus gives the idea that His sheep will never be lost:
- I give unto them eternal life (v. 28)
- They shall never perish (v. 28)
- Neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand (v. 28)
- No man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand (v. 29)
These references to the security of the sheep cannot be ignored. When Jesus Christ says that no man can pluck them out of His hand and that no man is able to pluck them out of His Father’s hand and that He and His Father are one (v. 30), He is making the strongest possible statement that could ever be made concerning the security of the sheep.
Who are the sheep? The context of this passage clearly reveals that those who genuinely believe in the Lord Jesus Christ are the sheep. Verse 26 informs the reader that the Pharisees were not the sheep because they “[believed] not.” The sheep to which Jesus refers in this text are those who truly believe in Jesus Christ as the Messiah. They became sheep by believing, not by performing any particular work of their own accord.
After making it clear that the sheep are only those who believe in Christ, the Lord mentions four times that those sheep have eternal life and cannot lose that eternal life no matter what should befall them. Millard Erickson writes, “Verse 28 is especially emphatic … John uses the double negative ουμη with the aorist subjunctive, which is a very emphatic way of declaring that something will not happen in the future.” He further states, “All in all, this passage is as definite a rejection of the idea that a true believer can fall away as any could be given.”41
Some individuals have argued that while the text reads, “No man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand,” this portion does not prove the individual himself cannot pluck himself out of the Father’s hand through his own sins. However, Jesus Christ says “no man” two times in the aforementioned verses and prefaces those statements with the idea that His sheep shall never perish. One must therefore conclude that Christ also includes the believer himself as part of the “no man” who possesses the ability to pluck a believer out of the Father’s hand. When Christ says no man can cause a believer to lose his salvation, He includes every man-even the individual who committed the sin.
Another aspect of these verses that proves the sheep are eternally secure is found in the phrase “no man is able….” J. Dwight Pentecost says, “The power of God to save and to keep the one who comes to Him through Christ is a sufficient basis for our security.”42 Pentecost mentions that able is the key word in verse 29. While no man has the ability to snatch the sheep from God’s hand due to a lack of power, God is perfectly able to keep the sheep secure because of His omnipotence. “The only reason that God would not be able to keep is that there is someone stronger than He who could snatch the believer from His hand,” Pentecost says. “Since God is sovereign and supreme and omnipotent, there is no power that can rise against Him so that He would be unable to keep those who had come to Him through Jesus Christ.”43
This portion in the Gospel of John reveals the work of the Father and the Son in relation to the security of the believer. The true believer is forever secure because the all-powerful Father knows every one of His sheep and has promised to keep them secure because they have believed in the Son.
Philippians 1:6–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 apostle Paul is certainly confident in this verse, and the “very thing” about which Paul is so confident is that God is the One who has begun the good work in the believer and has promised to perform it, or carry it through, until the day of Jesus Christ. This verse provides no room whatsoever for the possibility that one can lose his salvation, for if that were so, then the believer would not be confident of his salvation, nor would God actually finish what He had begun in the believer’s life. Paul likewise wants the believer to be confident. The apostle states that God will finish His work that He started in the life of the Christian. He does not say or even hint that God might not finish His work if the believer stumbles and falls in his Christian walk and witness. No, this verse says God will finish His work in the believer until the day of Jesus Christ.
Ironside believes that this verse refers particularly to the work of the Holy Spirit. He says, “It was He [the Holy Spirit] who convicted you of sin, it was He who led you to put your trust in Christ, it was He who through the Word gave you the witness that you were saved, it is He who has been conforming you to Christ since you first trusted the Lord Jesus.”44 Chafer and Morris, on the other hand, simply refer to the work as that of God, not mentioning the Holy Spirit in particular. Morris cites Ephesians 2:8 as proof that the “good thing” is the “gift of God.”45 Additionally, Chafer cites 1 Peter 1:3-5 as a parallel portion to Philippians 1:6, showing that God is the One who is “blessed” and who has “begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, To an inheritance incorruptible.”46 Philippians 1:6 supports the view of eternal security of the believer, regardless of whether one believes it is referring to the Holy Spirit or to the Father in general. This passage teaches that it is God who has begun the work and who has used the Holy Spirit to convict and seal the believer (notice 2 Timothy 2:19).
1 Peter 1:3-5, the text to which Chafer referred, contains several important words that further support the eternal security of the believer. Verse five says, “Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” This is referring to the believer who has been “begotten … unto a lively hope” (v. 3). This believer is kept by the power of God. Because God is all powerful, the believer cannot possibly be “un-kept” or become lost from the grasp of God’s hand. The believer has a “lively hope” described in verse four, and it is obvious that if the believer has the ability to lose his salvation, he has no “hope” or confidence in the first place.
Philippians 1:6 and the parallel portion of 1 Peter 1:3-5 reveal the work of God the Father regarding the eternal security of the believer. The Father has promised to finish the work that He began in the believer, and this glorious fact proves that nothing the believer can do will thwart the plan and purpose of God. God cannot break His promise or disregard what He says in His Word.
Romans 8:28-30–And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified and whom he justified, them he also glorified.
Some authors refer to this portion of Scripture as God’s “golden chain” of redemption. Notice first of all in verse 28 that those who believe possess two positive characteristics: they love God, and they are the called according to His purpose. The following two verses (vv. 29, 30) describe God’s plan in the lives of those individuals who believe, that is, those who love Him and who are called according to His purpose.47 Notice this “chain of redemption”: God foreknew, God predestinated, God called, God justified and God glorified.
Before noticing some individual concepts in these verses and breaking them apart, one must understand the overall implication of these three verses as a whole. They tell the reader that “he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6). Nowhere in these verses does God say that He possibly will not fulfill one of the five “links” in the chain, nor does He mention that the chain can be broken due to sin that the believer may commit. In fact, God emphatically states that He “glorified” the believer. This verb is written in the past tense and implies that although the believer has not officially been glorified yet, his future glorification is as good as accomplished in God’s sight.
Next, notice the fact that God glorifies the ones whom He justifies. If God justified a believer, and the believer lost His salvation because of a sin he committed, then God could not glorify him. This scenario is completely contrary to what God’s Word teaches. The Bible says that God glorifies those whom He justifies-no exceptions! Furthermore, glorification is an event that will not occur until Christ’s return. Thus, the justified believer cannot possibly lose his salvation because his glorification, an event yet future, is guaranteed. Ryrie says, “The same group that was chosen before the foundation of the world is the same group that receives adoption through faith and is the same group that God pronounces ‘not guilty’ and is the same group of sons who will come to glory.”48 He further states, “It is so certain that not one will slip away from the group that those whom He predestinated He has glorified.”
Notice also that this chain of redemption contains no reference to a believer’s daily sanctification before the Lord. Kendall mentions that the believer obtains his calling, justification and glorification by God’s grace alone. However, he states that sanctification, the continual cleansing from sin, comes by the believer’s cooperation once he has trusted in Christ: “Sanctification does not come by irresistible grace. It is what we do in voluntary response to God’s grace .”49 Continual sanctification, as revealed in 1 John 1:9, involves the daily confession of and repentance from sin. Nevertheless, the fact that the believer’s redemption is not contingent upon his progressive sanctification does not give the believer license to sin, for Kendall adds, “If we do not willingly respond to [God’s] beckoning call to be like Jesus, He has away of hemming us in, boxing us in, so that we become very willing indeed.” Ryrie seems to agree with Kendall and gives a reason (in the form of a question) why sanctification is most likely not included in this chain of redemption: “Could it be that Paul did not want to base our guarantee of ultimate glorification on our personal sanctification?”50He further explains that individual Christians exhibit varying degrees of holiness while on earth and will be rewarded accordingly; nevertheless, every believer will be glorified, regardless of his works.
This wonderful portion of Scripture reveals the work of God in relation to the believer’s eternal security. This passage discusses the redemption of the believer, especially noting that those who God justifies, He also glorifies. No one who has been justified can go against God’s plan and not be glorified. Once an individual is saved, God will fulfill His plan and purpose in the believer’s life. Loss of salvation is never even a viable option!
1 John 2:1-3—My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: And he is the propitiation for our sins. and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world. And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments.
The true child of God is certainly prone to wander from the commandments of the Word and from a right relationship with his Lord. However, he will not lose his salvation as a result of his waywardness. No, the perfect work of the Son has secured his salvation, for He is the believer’s “advocate with the Father.” God has made provision not only for the salvation of men, but also for their security in Him.
Those who reject the doctrine of eternal security on the basis that such a teaching allows for rampant, unchecked sin, fail to notice the magnificent yet sobering words found in these three verses. A true believer can indeed sin, but he will not continue in that sin because “hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments.” If an individual is truly born again, then he will obey God’s commands even though he may spiritually slip and fall for a period of time. This portion states in no uncertain terms that: 1) these verses are addressed to believers, 2) believers will sin at times, 3) when they do sin, believers have Jesus Christ as an Advocate before the Father, and 4) a true believer will not continue in sin but will keep the Father’s commandments. Hebrews 12:5-8 also informs the child of God that he will be chastised when he sins, for “whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.” Because God loves His own, He chastens them so they will not continue in sin.
This wonderful passage of Scripture reveals the work of the Son concerning the eternal security of the believer. Because Jesus Christ is accepted by the Father, Jesus Christ can intercede on behalf of the believer. The Christian, therefore, can be assured that his salvation is safe and secure in Christ even when he fails Him.
God makes it clear in His Word that the wayward saint, the genuine believer who sins, will be chastised and will lose reward (2 Corinthians 5:10). He also says that many who profess to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ do not sincerely believe in the first place, but are deceiving themselves and others (Matthew 7:21-23). A genuine believer will show fruit in his life and will demonstrate a veritable attitude of repentance and sorrow when he wanders from fellowship with God.
God’s Word also makes it abundantly clear that the Christian possesses eternal life that is based on the work of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, not on the work of the individual believer. Those who think a person can lose his salvation usually base their belief on the human idea that one will live recklessly and unrighteously unless his salvation is at risk. While this idea might seem logical from a human perspective, it is taught nowhere in Scripture. In fact, one could conclude that if a believer’s salvation could indeed be lost, even after he had genuinely believed, then God’s Word would give a wealth of specific information regarding what it takes to forfeit salvation and what it would take gain it again. For example, since God wants the believer to be assured of his salvation (I John 5:13), then it is only reasonable that the Bible contain specific information regarding how a person loses his salvation. It should reveal the quantity and types of sins one must commit in order for salvation to be forfeited and how the believer can know for sure whether or not he has lost his salvation. However, God’s Word does not contain this information and, to the contrary, assures the believer that he is secure in Christ.
The doctrine of eternal security is vitally important. If anyone believes he can lose his salvation, then he is not trusting completely in the perfect, finished work of Christ. He is placing his faith in Christ plus his own works or plus a religious institution to preserve his salvation. But God’s Word says salvation is only by faith in Jesus Christ alone! If an individual believes his eternal life can be terminated by something he does or does not do, then he has concluded that his own actions or lack thereof are an integral part of his salvation. No, the genuine believer has a perfect salvation that is completely secure due to the work of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Proclaim this glorious truth to the world!