Why Christians Can Be Sure of Eternal Security
Eternal security for Christians is sometimes a debated doctrine. But it is a precious truth that needs to be emphasized among God's people.
Years ago, I met a dear Christian lady who was utterly terrified at the prospect of dying. Further conversation with her revealed the reason. She believed that if she were to die with one single sin unconfessed, she could be eternally lost. She had no sense of her eternal security in Christ. Somewhere along the way she had missed the great truth of the believer's presevation. She'd never realized that the believer's sin affects his fellowship with God, but not his relationship--he's still a "child of the King." This is a truth that needs to be emphasized in our preaching and teaching.
Some contend that a saved person can actually lose his salvation and be eternally lost all over again. But that is not what the Bible teaches. In the Gospel of John, Jesus asserts emphatically that those to whom He gives eternal life shall "never perish" (Jn. 10:28). It is recognized there are "problem passages" which have to be explained. (Usually, it is not the passages but the interpretation of them that is at issue.) But the evidence for the eternal security of the believer is so overriding that it dominates all of Scripture. Once the foundation for our security in Christ is recognized, we can seek the correct explanation for verses that seem to contradict it--and there are such explanations.
I. A DEFINITION OF THE DOCTRINE OF ETERNAL SECURITY
What do we mean by "eternal security for Christians"? We mean that when a person gets saved, he's saved forever. When a person becomes a Christian, when he's truly born again, he can never, ever be lost. He can never under any circumstances lose his salvation--that it is impossible for a saved person to become an unsaved person. "Once saved, always saved." All who are actually born again of the Spirit of God through faith in the saving work of Christ are eternally secure in Him, and are meant to be assured of the same.
Charles Ryrie, in his fine book So Great Salvation, offers this simple definition: "Eternal security is that work of God which guarantees that the gift of salvation, once received, is possessed forever and cannot be lost" (p. 137). To miss that leads to some dangerous misconceptions about God's salvation. Rejecting that truth has led people into uncertainty and confusion. Carried to the extreme, it has led some to conclude that they cannot know if they are saved or not, until they die! But that is totally contrary to what God says.
II. OBJECTIONS TO THE DOCTRINE OF ETERNAL SECURITY
Basically, three lines of evidence are appealed to in contradiction to the teaching of eternal security for Christians. Briefly, they are as follows.
1) Human Experience
This is the argument that goes: What about So-and-so? He got saved five years ago and now he says he doesn't believe any more. That argument begins with human experience and tries to prove a particular interpretation of God's Word on the basis of it.
But that is starting in the wrong place. God's Word remains true whether it appears to be true in one person's experience or not (Rom. 3:4a). Our judgment of another person's spiritual condition can be faulty so many times.
2) Logical Difficulties
This argument goes like this: Tell people they're secure and they'll get careless about their spiritual lives. Human nature being what it is, if you give people freedom, they're going to take advantage of it. But that is not a problem with the doctrine; it's a problem with people. And God says just the opposite. In the biblical view, the gift of salvation and free grace promote godliness, not a defection from the faith.
God says understanding our liberty in Christ will encourage holiness, not carnality. "For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that [What? That we can sin as much as we please because we're safe? No!]...teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age (Tit. 2:11-12). Confidence and joy in what God has done for us bring a desire to please Him and live for Him. That is love responding to grace.
3) Problem Texts
The third argument against eternal security has been alluded to already. People will say, "What about this verse? What about that verse?" Sometimes, the explanation is simple. Sometimes it's not. But that's true of any doctrine. The Bible is a profound book. There will always be difficulties and uncertainties to wrestle with.
Yet we know that God does not contradict Himself. So if it can be shown that the Bible strongly supports the doctrine of eternal security, then we need to consider some other interpretation for the passages that seem to suggest otherwise. In fact, the Bible does teach that Christians can never lose their salvation. The whole doctrine of salvation cries out for that. The whole scope of God's work on our behalf necessitates it.
While there may be other lines of argument we could pursue, we shall deal with four, briefly. We could call them four pillars on which the doctrine of eternal security rests.
III. FOUR PILLARS OF THE DOCTRINE OF ETERNAL SECURITYThese four foundational Bible truths make eternal security absolutely necessary and certain.
Pillar #1 - Without Eternal Security, GRACE WOULD NOT BE GRACE.
Grace is God's unearned, undeserved favour. The root meaning of the word is "gift." And for a gift to be a gift, it must be without cost to the receiver. Again and again, the Bible says salvation is all of grace. Ephesians 2:8, "By grace you have been saved..." Romans 6:23, "It is the gift of God..." Romans 3:24, "Justified freely, by His grace..." And God is just as emphatic when He tells us that grace excludes all human effort (Rom. 4:4-5). It is the same in Ephesians 2:9, "Not of works, lest anyone should boast."
There's nothing to be done about salvation but receive it (by faith). Christ has done it all. "It is finished" (Jn. 19:30). My salvation depends not on what I will do for God, but on what He's already done for me. For anyone to suggest that God can save me, and then I can undo His work, is to make salvation partly God's work and partly mine. It's to say Christ's sacrifice for us is not enough. It's to say Christ was wrong when He cried from the cross, "It is finished." That what He should have said is, "It's partly finished."
Harry Ironside uses an illustration that might be helpful at this point: Picture God saying to Noah after the ark was finished, "Now, Noah, I'd like you to hammer eight pegs in the outside of the ark. Leave them sticking out a few inches. And then, when the rain and the floods come, I'd like each one in your family to grab hold of a peg. The ark will enable you to ride out the storm, if you can only hold on until the flood is over." But that's absurd, isn't it? God said, "Get inside," and then God shut the door (Gen. 7:16). To say God will save me if I can just hold on is to make a mockery of grace.
To say I have eternal security if I can live a consistently good Christian life, or if I can just manage to remain faithful to Him is to mix grace and works. Then grace is no more grace. Good works are a response to salvation, not the cause (Eph. 2:8-10). Eternal life is a gift received, not a reward for faithful service. Salvation is a gift. It is God's work, not mine. That's how I know I am saved forever. The doctrine of free grace makes eternal security absolutely essential.
Pillar #2 - Without Eternal Security, JUSTIFICATION WOULD NOT BE JUSTIFICATION.
To "justify" in Bible terms--and particularly in Paul's theology--means to declare righteous. To pronounce righteous. It is a legal matter. It affects the books of heaven. Heaven's record of our lives is changed. When God saves us, He justifies us--He pronounces us righteous. Righteous enough to get into heaven. And how righteous is that? Perfectly righteous.
But now, here is the key. How can wicked, fallen sinners be pronounced righteous? What is the basis of God's righteous verdict? As we've already seen, it's not our own works. Instead it is the righteousness of Christ that has been credited to us. The believer has Christ's righteousness credited to his account (II Cor. 5:21).
Those who suggest that a saved soul can ever be lost again have moved the ground of justification. They are saying, "Although I was saved on the basis of Christ's righteousness, I'm kept saved on the basis of my own righteousness. But that can never be. When I get to heaven I'll never be able to say, "Thanks, Lord--but as we both know, I'm here partly because of my own goodness and faithfulness." Never! My justification is by grace. That excludes my deserving it in any sense. My heavenly destiny rests forever and only on the righteousness of Christ. Rom. 3:24, "Justified freely, by His grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus."
Consider carefully: I am justified because of Christ's righteousness. I am saved because of His faithfulness. Until Christ sins, I am justified! The record next to my name shows that I'm as righteous as Christ. For any charge anyone in the universe brings against me, God's answer is always the same: It is God who justifies on the basis of the finished work and perfect righteousness of Christ (Rom. 8:33-34). Is that righteous enough? Indeed it is! If I can ever be lost again, then God does not mean what He says, and justification is not justification.
Well, does that mean it's okay to go on sinning? Should we, as Martin Luther once bluntly put it, "Go out and sin boldly"? No, of course not. Sin is a barrier to fellowship with God. Sin robs us of peace and joy in the Spirit. Sin hinders our witness and our fruitfulness. Sin affects our future rewards. Sin dishonours the name of the One we love. But it cannot alter a relationship that is determined by the sinlessness of Someone else. And that's what justification is all about.
Pillar #3 - Without Eternal Security, ETERNAL LIFE WOULD NOT BE ETERNAL.
There is an obvious proof of eternal security we sometimes overlook. When God saves a person, He gives him new spiritual life. And think of how the Lord describes that life. It is called "everlasting" or "eternal." And it is our present possession. Jn. 5:24, the believer " has passed from death into life." Life that is eternal.
And what does that mean? Eternal. Compare the physical for a moment. There are certain people described in Scripture who died physically, and by a miracle were restored to life. That happened to Lazarus, and to a number of others. But they are never said to have received everlasting physical life. And for good reason. They all died again. Lazarus died again. The life he was given (physically) was not everlasting. It was only a temporary restoration.
The notable exception to that is Jesus. His physical life was restored, by resurrection. And what was the nature of that life? Hebrews 7:25 tells us "He always lives..." And Romans tells us, "Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. [And what do you mean by that, Paul? Explain. He goes on...] Death no longer has dominion over Him" (Rom. 6:9). And that is exactly what it means to have life that is eternal. You live always. You die no more. Death no longer has dominion over you. If you are given spiritual life, and you die again, then that life was not eternal. It's that simple. It did not last forever.
If the doctor tells his patient, "You're fit as a fiddle; you'll live to be ninety," and he dies the next day at the age of thirty-five, then the doctor's guarantee was no good. And if God tells the one He saves "You'll live forever," and he but loses his salvation and suffers eternal death, then God's guarantee was no good. But it is. Jesus says, "Whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die" (Jn. 11:26).
And he uses the strongest possible word for "never." The Greek expression means: not under any circumstances, not under any conditions. No room is left for exceptions. And the same word is used in another verse. John 6:37, when Jesus says, "The one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out." By no means--it's the same word, "never." Not under any circumstances, not under any conditions.
And look at another passage, John. 10:27-29. That word "never" in vs. 28 is the same one used in the above verses. Having eternal life means we never perish. Not under any circumstances, not under any conditions. If I can ever lose the life God has given me, then forever does not mean forever, and eternal does not mean eternal, and everlasting does not mean everlasting, and Jesus did not speak the truth when he said, "Whoever believes in Me shall never die." But He did speak the truth. And that is why eternal security is an essential doctrine--because eternal life is eternal.
Pillar #4 - Without Eternal Security, SALVATION WOULD NOT BE SALVATION.
There are some who will say, "No, I don't believe a person needs good works to keep him saved. I don't even think a Christian can lose his salvation when he sins. But what if he actually stops trusting in Christ? What if he chooses to stop believing?
In response, we could ask another question: What is it that keeps us saved? Is it our faith? Or is it the Lord? And let me say emphatically: It is not our faith that keeps us saved. Faith is simply the means of receiving God's gift. Faith is entering into salvation. Faith is how we get saved. But it is not what keeps us saved.
To illustrate: Suppose you had your appendix removed. You placed yourself in the hands of a surgeon. You trusted the doctor to do the operation, and he did. But then, suppose at a later date you learn some things about the doctor that cause you to question his ability. You decide, in fact, that you will never let him operate on you again! Question: Since you have now lost faith in the doctor, will your appendix grow back? Will your gall bladder return? Of course not! The doctor, by his work, has brought about a basic change in the structure of your body. Faith received the work of the doctor But it is not faith that maintains it.
It's a silly illustration, but it makes a point. Properly understood, the work of salvation is radical surgery. It is not simply a trivial cosmetic change. It is not superficial. God has transformed us and we can never be the same again. If salvation is all the Bible says it is, then we have been irreversibly changed. Faith receives the transforming power of God, but it is not faith that maintains it. That is one reason we can have full confidence that we are saved when we are asleep--or in a coma. We do not have to keep trusting Christ every moment, in order to be sure of heaven.
And consider another problem. If our continuing faith is the basis of our salvation, how much faith is enough faith? And how can I tell? Or if I die in a moment of doubt, will I be lost? You see the difficulty? Faith is not the foundation of our salvation. The finished work of Christ is. That was received as a gift is received, and God wrought a fundamental change in our beings. Salvation is not a superficial thing. It is not just a matter of having a certain attitude toward God.
So, what is the difference between saved and unsaved? All Christians should do good works. But the difference between saved and unsaved is deeper than that. (Lots of non-Christians do good deeds.) All Christians should avoid sinning. But the difference between saved and unsaved is deeper than that. (There are lots of good people who are lost.) All Christians should walk by faith. But the difference between saved and unsaved is even more basic than that.
There are actually dozens of things God does for the sinner the moment He saves him. It would make a worthwhile study to go over them. (The following is not intended as a complete list, but it will give some idea of the scope of this wonderful reality.
1) ELECTION. The work of salvation is rooted in the eternal, sovereign purposes of God. The believer is foreknown (I Pet. 1:2); predestined (Rom. 8:29); elect (Col. 3:12); chosen (Eph. 1:4); and called of God (Rom. 8:30). And we have Jesus' own assurance, "All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means [not under any circumstances] cast out" (Jn. 6:37). As God's chosen one, the believer is held in the unbreakable clasp of the Father and the Son (Jn. 10:28-29).
2) ENTRANCE. Our acceptance by God is guaranteed on the basis of Christ's finished work. The believer is redeemed (Rom. 3:24); forgiven--not just of past sins, but all sins (Col. 2:13); reconciled (II Cor. 5:19-20); justified (Rom. 3:24); God is fully propitiated--His justice is satisfied (I Jn. 2:2); the believer is accepted ( Eph. 1:6); made near (Eph. 2:13); he has access to God (Eph. 2:18); the believer is loved by the Father as He loves His own Son (Jn. 17:23) and nothing can separate him from His love (Rom. 8:35-39).
3) ELEVATION. The reason that entrance is possible, is the new standing of the believer in Christ. He is God's inheritance (Eph. 1:18); a gift from the Father to the Son (Jn. 17:11); in the household of God (Eph. 2:19); a member of God's family (Eph. 3:15); a child of God (Jn. 1:12); adopted (Gal. 4:5); a son and heir in the family (Gal. 3:26); belonging to a chosen generation (I Pet. 2:9); part of a holy nation (I Pet. 2:9); a special person in God's sight (I Pet. 2:9); he has become a citizen of God's kingdom (Col. 1:13); a citizen of heaven (Phil. 3:20); a member of Christ's spiritual body (Eph. 1:22-23); in the fellowship of the saints (I Cor. 1:9; I Jn. 1:3); a royal priest (I Pet. 2:5, 9); he is light in the Lord (Eph. 5:8); made righteous (II Cor. 5:21); sanctified, positionally (I Cor. 6:11); perfected forever (Heb. 10:14); freed from the condemnation of the Law (Rom. 6:14); under the rule of grace (Rom. 6:14); standing in grace (Rom. 5:2); he is built upon Christ and His finished work (I Cor. 3:11); he is already positionally in the heavenlies (Eph. 2:6).
4) ENRICHMENT. With that great standing has come eternal enrichment. He has every spiritual blessing (Eph. 1:3); he is complete (Col. 2:10); he qualifies for a heavenly inheritance (which is already reserved for him, Col. 1:12; I Pet. 1:3-4); he is an heir of God (Gal. 4:7); and a joint heir with Christ (Rom. 8:17); he has the down payment of the Holy Spirit indwelling him, guaranteeing his future (Eph. 1:13-14).
If that seal is to remain on us--if the Holy Spirit is with us forever, but it is possible to lose our salvation and face eternal judgment, then the Spirit of God must go to hell with us. But there again we run counter to Scripture. Second Thessalonians 1:9 states that the unsaved "shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power."
5) ENABLEMENT. Some of God's blessings relate to spiritual life and enablement. The believer is born again (Jn. 3:6); made alive (Eph. 2:1); a new creation (II Cor. 5:17); indwelt by the Triune God (Eph. 4:6; Jn. 14:20; I Cor. 2:11); freed from sin's grip (Rom. 6:6-7); delivered from Satan's power (Col. 1:13); possessing a heavenly Intercessor (Rom. 8:34); having everlasting comfort (II Thess. 2:16); he has all that is necessary to live a godly life (II Pet. 1:3).
And none of these operations is ever said to be reversed and/or repeated. We do not read of the born again person becoming "unborn"--an impossibility. We do not read of the citizen of heaven losing his citizenship and needing to reapply for it. We do not read of the one baptized into the body of Christ becoming "unbaptized" and needing to be "rebaptized," or "unsealed" by the Spirit and needing to be "resealed." These are all part of the permanent work that God does when the sinner receives His great gift.
When God saves a person, He brings into being a "new creation." He changes the very nature of the person. Think of what the Bible says in Second Corinthians Cor. 5:17. "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away [You and I cannot bring them back; they have passed away.]; behold, all things have become new." Colossians 2:10 declares, "You are complete in Him [in Christ. And nothing more can be added to something that is complete.]." Hebrews 10:14 assures us, "By one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified. [Perfected forever--two words that cannot be improved upon: perfected...forever.]."
First Corinthians 12:13 says, "By one Spirit we were all baptized into one body--whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free...[The moment we were saved the Spirit of God has placed us into the body of Christ--the Church--and united us with Christ and with one another. God did that.]."
Colossians 3:3: You died and your life [that is, your new life] is hidden with Christ in God. [My! That is radical surgery! The patient died! Who is going to resurrect him? Do you have the power to raise the dead?]." From God's perspective, the saved person is as good as glorified already (Rom. 8:29-30).
God knew from the beginning those who would trust in Christ. And those who receive God's gift of salvation enter into the total work. It is all one. It is not "whom he justified some of whom he glorified." There are no exceptions allowed. God is able to view the work from eternity as final and complete. The same verb tense is used in each case. He will not fail to finish what He has started in each of us. The outcome is guaranteed.
To sum up, the wonderful truth of the believer's eternal security harmonizes perfectly with the great doctrines of Scripture. It gives full value to the grace of God by rejecting any human condition or effort. It recognizes the true ground of justification--not our righteousness but always and only Christ's. It lets eternal mean eternal. The believer shall never perish. Not under any circumstances; not under any conditions. And it reckons with the absolute and total nature of God's work that we call "salvation."
Certainly there are questions and difficulties--as there are with any doctrine. But once the foundation of our salvation is recognized, we are driven to the conclusion that the answers must lie elsewhere than abandoning our trust in God's keeping power. See also
Assurance of Salvation.
The following book may be helpful to you, if you wish to study the subject of eternal security further.