Major divisions exist in Christian circles over the doctrine of eternal security. Once a person has accepted Christ, is it possible to lose that
salvation or is salvation eternally secure in spite of committed sin?
Plan of Salvation
The questions about eternal security are many and the answers affect a myriad of theological issues. While the divide is great among theologians and there are scriptures used to support radically different perspectives, the scriptures do not teach opposing doctrines. The Bible in its entirety presents a beautiful plan of a covenant relationship of faith between God and man. God will stand by His Word and be faithful to His children, but for the relationship to be complete, His children must continue in their choice to follow Christ regardless of the cost. A believer continues to have the power of choice to step outside of faith and follow after a life of sin. In so doing, the believer forfeits the work and benefits of salvation by personal decision.
A False Doctrine Allows for Continued Sin
The doctrine of eternal security is often referred to as “once saved always saved.” This doctrine either opens the door to continued sin while professing salvation or it falls into a theological quagmire by purporting that someone was never really saved if he goes back to a life of sin. Both of these are incompatible with the Word. While eternal security as a doctrine is incorrect, there are important truths espoused in its teaching. We must be careful not to throw out vital truths because someone has used those blocks to build a false edifice.
Salvation by Grace, Not Works
“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). Salvation is not of works and is exclusively a divine operation and gift of God’s grace when one puts his faith and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. Salvation is complete and Jesus saves to the uttermost (Hebrews 7:25).
There is great rest found in the knowledge that salvation is not obtained of our own goodness but by God’s merciful grace. These scriptures, often used to teach eternal security, do not do such; but while good works are fruit of true faith, salvation is of grace alone and not of our own merits. The Christian must remain committed to the efficacy of Christ’s atonement. Believers CAN be secure that God’s grace which restored a broken relationship will be sufficient to enable them to maintain that relationship.
The Consequence of Choice
John 6:37-40 states that whoever comes to Jesus will in no wise be cast out and those who believe will have everlasting life. This passage speaks not of the indefectibility of faith but of the gift of eternal life to those who believe on Him. Later, in the same chapter, we read of many of Christ’s disciples going back and walking with Him no more. People always have the choice to walk away from God, thus walking away from their very salvation.
Similarly, John 10:27-29 speaks of Jesus giving His sheep eternal life and “they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.” No man or power but we ourselves have the ability to steal the gift of salvation that God has bestowed; for the sheep Jesus spoke of were those that hear His voice and follow Him (v27). If the sheep cease to follow Jesus of their own volition, they willfully step outside of the security of the Father’s hand.
There is great rest in the knowledge that nothing can separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:35-39). Our choice is the only thing which truly breaks the relationship of faith and love once it has been restored. The consequences of choice still exist to all people, “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23).
God Is Able to Keep Us from Falling
Many scriptures speak of the faithfulness of God and of His power to “keep you from falling” (Jude 1:24). God seals the believers (2 Corinthians 1:22) and preserves and protects them from the evil of the world, but only as they maintain their faith by following Christ. Jesus illustrated the relationship as a vine and branch in John 15:1-11. If a branch does not bear fruit, it is taken away. We are instructed to “abide” in Christ. If we do not abide or stay in Christ, we are cast forth and burned. All fruit or righteousness comes only from abiding in Christ, for without Him, we can do nothing. If a believer stops abiding in Christ, the relationship is severed, and the consequence is eternal destruction rather than eternal life.
The Bible is very clear that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9-11). If someone has confessed faith in Christ and been saved but then turns back to the works of the flesh, he is spiritually lost. Hebrews 12:14 teaches that without holiness we will not see God. True holiness comes from Jesus, but if we forsake Jesus, we will not be holy, and if we are not holy, we will not see the Father. Verse 15 reads, “Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled.” Clearly, the believer must remain acceptant of God’s practical working grace or the result will be failure and defilement. This disproves the doctrine of eternal security.
Warnings Against Backsliding
There are a large number of scriptures in the New Testament which warn against falling away and give evidence that salvation can be lost and faith destroyed. The parable of the sower in Matthew 13:3-9 illustrates well the reality of people being saved for awhile but when temptation came, they withered away as they did not allow the Word of God to take deep root. 1 Timothy 4:1 warns that some would “depart from the faith,” and Galatians 5:1 warns us to “stand fast…and be not entangled again.” The Jews that turned back to the law after receiving salvation were “fallen from grace” (v4). 1 Timothy 6:9-11 speaks of those who “erred from the faith.” The saints are instructed in Hebrews 3:12-14 to take heed lest they depart from God with an evil heart of unbelief. If a believer, as a temple of the Holy Spirit, defiles the temple that was once clean, God will destroy that temple (1 Corinthians 3:16-17). God gave the congregations in Revelation an opportunity to repent because many of them had fallen and defiled their garments. 2 Peter 2:20-22 speaks without ambiguity of those who had been saved but were entangled again and illustrates how their eternal end would be worse because they had turned away from truth.
Be Not Moved Away
There is a preponderance of scriptural evidence proving that when people are saved, they still have the power to turn away from their original faith in Christ and forsake their experience of salvation. It is for this reason the apostles challenged the saints repeatedly that they “be not moved away from the hope of the gospel” (Colossians 1:21-23), “be ye steadfast, unmoveable” (1 Corinthians 15:58), and “fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life” (1 Timothy 6:12).
The doctrine of eternal security is contrary to the truth of God’s Word. God’s power is sufficient to keep us from sinning and to enable us to live a holy life by His grace. Let us stay watchful, trusting not in our own merits but faithfully trusting in the merits of the blood of Jesus as we serve God in holiness. He can and will preserve us from all evil as we allow His holiness to work in our lives