(The following blogpost was originally a series of posts that I published here beginning on 1/7/06. I re-published part of this material after an evangelistic conversation that I had on 9/25/13. Over the past couple of weeks, I have been involved in a couple of discussions where this topic has come up again.)
Can a person who has truly come to faith in Christ- who has been justified in the sight of God and has been brought into a state of salvation- can such a person ever fall away from the faith and thus lose their salvation?
Christians have asked this question for centuries: some ask it for academic reasons, others because they realize the frailty of their own hearts and are concerned that they may one day lose their salvation, and some because they know of some one (perhaps a friend or loved one) who once claimed to be a believer and later rejected the Christian faith.
In answering the question of whether someone can ever lose their salvation, Christians must turn- as in all things- to God’s Holy Word, the Bible, for,
The Holy Scripture is the only sufficient, certain, and infallible rule of all saving knowledge, faith, and obedience, (The 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith).
It is my belief that the Bible teaches that a person who truly comes to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ will never, in fact, lose their salvation. In the words of the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith
Those whom God hath accepted in the beloved, effectually called and sanctified by his Spirit, and given the precious faith of his elect unto, can neither totally nor finally fall from the state of grace, but shall certainly persevere therein to the end, and be eternally saved, seeing the gifts and callings of God are without repentance, whence he still begets and nourisheth in them faith, repentance, love, joy, hope, and all the graces of the Spirit unto immortality; and though many storms and floods arise and beat against them, yet they shall never be able to take them off that foundation and rock which by faith they are fastened upon; notwithstanding, through unbelief and the temptations of Satan, the sensible sight of the light and love of God may for a time be clouded and obscured from them, yet he is still the same, and they shall be sure to be kept by the power of God unto salvation, where they shall enjoy their purchased possession, they being engraven upon the palm of his hands, and their names having been written in the book of life from all eternity. (John 10:28,29; Philippians 1:6; 2 Timothy 2:19; 1 John 2:19; Psalms 89:31,32; 1 Corinthians 11:32; Malachi 3:6)
This perseverance of the saints depends not upon their own free will, but upon the immutability of the decree of election, flowing from the free and unchangeable love of God the Father, upon the efficacy of the merit and intercession of Jesus Christ and union with him, the oath of God, the abiding of his Spirit, and the seed of God within them, and the nature of the covenant of grace; from all which ariseth also the certainty and infallibility thereof. (Romans 8:30; Romans 9:11,16; Romans 5:9,10; John 14:19; Hebrews 6:17,18; 1 John 3:9; Jeremiah 32:40)
And though they may, through the temptation of Satan and of the world, the prevalency of corruption remaining in them, and the neglect of means of their preservation, fall into grievous sins, and for a time continue therein, whereby they incur God's displeasure and grieve his Holy Spirit, come to have their graces and comforts impaired, have their hearts hardened, and their consciences wounded, hurt and scandalize others, and bring temporal judgments upon themselves, yet shall they renew their repentance and be preserved through faith in Christ Jesus to the end. (Matthew 26:70,72,74; Isaiah 64:5,9; Ephesians 4:30; Psalms 51:10,12; Psalms 32:3,4; 2 Samuel 12:14; Luke 22:32,61,62)
The Teachings of Christ
In the clearest terms possible, our Lord Himself has taught that all who come to faith in Him will, in fact, persevere in their faith, saying,
No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day. It is written in the prophets, `AND THEY SHALL ALL BE TAUGHT OF GOD.' Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father, comes to Me. Not that anyone has seen the Father, except the One who is from God; He has seen the Father. Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life. (John 6:44-47 NASB)
In this passage, the Lord Jesus gives two doctrines that directly support the idea that a person who is “saved” cannot be “unsaved:”
1. Jesus teaches that He will raise up (resurrect) all who come to faith in Him. "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day." As He teaches elsewhere:
I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. (John 11:25b NKJV)
Jesus said, “I will raise him up on the last day” and “he shall live.” The certain connection of a person’s coming to faith to their eventual resurrection- based upon the drawing of the Father- ensures that a person who comes to true faith in Christ will never lose their salvation.
2. Jesus teaches that those who believe are given eternal life at the time of their belief. "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life." As He teaches elsewhere:
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life. (John 3:16 KJV)
That the life we possess when we come to Jesus in faith is everlasting- or eternal- should indicate to us that we cannot lose it. If we could lose eternal life, then it would not really be eternal.
An Objection Raised
But someone will point to a “problem passage” such as Hebrews 6:4-8, which reads:
For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame. For the earth which drinks in the rain that often comes upon it, and bears herbs useful for those by whom it is cultivated, receives blessing from God; but if it bears thorns and briars, it is rejected and near to being cursed, whose end is to be burned. (NKJV)
Does this teaching contradict that of Jesus in John 6:44-47? Not at all. For the Word of God here declares the glory of Christ’s atonement of sinners by introducing a hypothetical situation- the texts says “if they fall away.” By this statement we cannot then automatically infer that this is something that in fact ever does happen. As the Word makes clear in the verse following the passage mentioned above:
But, beloved, we are confident of better things concerning you, yes, things that accompany salvation, though we speak in this manner. (Hebrews 6:9-20 NKJV)
By this verse, the author of Hebrews tells us that he was speaking in a peculiar manner, and that he was confident of those things which actually accompany salvation in the lives of his believing readers. This phrase, “though we speak in this manner
,” at the end of this passage along with the word “if
” at the beginning of the problematic portion indicate to me that the Bible is, in fact, utilizing a hypothetical situation contrary to that which ever actually occurs in order to make a significant point: that of teaching gratitude. As Charles Spurgeon illustrated in his sermon, Final Perseverance
The chemist tells us, that if there were no oxygen mixed with the air, animals would die. Do you suppose that there will be no oxygen, and therefore we shall die? No, he only teaches you the great wisdom of God, in having mixed the gases in their proper proportions. Says one of the old astronomers, "There is great wisdom in God, that he has put the sun exactly at a right distance—not so far away that we should be frozen to death, and not so near that we should be scorched." He says, "If the sun were a million miles nearer to us we should be scorched to death." Does the man suppose that the sun will be a million miles nearer, and, therefore, we shall be scorched to death? He says, "If the sun were a million miles farther off we should be frozen to death." Does he mean that the sun will be a million miles farther off, and therefore we shall be frozen to death? Not at all. Yet it is quite a rational way of speaking, to show us how grateful we should be to God. So says the Apostle. Christian! if thou shouldst fall away, thou couldst never be renewed unto repentance. Thank thy Lord, then, that he keeps thee. [Emphasis added.]
So in Hebrews chapter 6, when it is written "if they fall away" in verse 6, a hypothetical situation is being presented that- in fact, by God's grace- never actually occurs. In other words, no one who has truly become a partaker of the Holy Spirit (cf. Heb. 6:4)- whose indwelling in our lives guarantees that we will remain sealed in Christ (cf. I Cor. 1:21-22)- not one of these will ever actually "crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame" (Heb. 6:6b).
What of Those Who Do Seem to "Fall Away?"
But someone will point to an experience that they have had that seems to contradict the teaching that no one who has been granted eternal life will ever truly "fall away." For many of us sadly know someone who professed faith in Christ, and who even seemed to take great joy in the things of God, and yet later came to repudiate his or her belief.
But the Scripture specifically addresses the subject of how we should understand our experience of seeing people who claimed to be Christians yet later turn to skepticism or other various forms of unbelief. For I John 2:19 declares,
They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us. (NIV)
In this verse, the fact that someone turns their back on the Church is taken as proof that they had never really come to belong in the Church- by faith- to begin with. And it is easy for someone to come into the Church without faith, for when someone hears about the peace, love and forgiveness found in the gospel- if the benefits of the gospel are presented well- then it is only natural that that person would want to profit from these benefits. But when the harsher reality of the life of faith becomes evident- namely, that "all those who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted" (II Tim. 3:12 HCSB)- then many are shown to have no true, enduring faith in the Lord.
And this is the reality that Jesus indicated in His parable of the soils, when He spoke of the seed that fell on the rocky ground:
And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: when they hear the word, immediately they receive it with joy. But they have no root in themselves; they are short-lived. And when affliction or persecution comes because of the word, they stumble immediately.(Mark 4:16-17 HCSB)
These 'rocky-ground hearers' receive the preaching of the Word with joy, but since "they have no root in themselves"- they have no true faith- they end up fruitless and dead. These 'rocky-ground hearers' may deceive others for a time and they may even be self-deceived for, as the prophet Jeremiah declared,
The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it? (Jeremiah 17:9 NKJV)
What is even more frightening is the fact that since the 'rocky-ground hearers' do NOT really "want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus," they may avoid persecution for their entire lives- and even do great, seemingly spiritual works- and then face judgment before Christ as self-deceived unbelievers. As Jesus warned,
Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!' (Matthew 7:21-23 NIV)
And so it becomes clear why James, the brother of our Lord, can confidently instruct us to
Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. (James 1:2-3 NIV)
Trials or persecutions that come into our lives reveal who we really are. For those who are making a show of faith, but have no real heart for God, persecutions reveal unbelief. But for those with true faith in Christ, trials test our faith and develop perseverance. There is no chance that trials will cause the faithful to lose our faith- and thus our eternal security- otherwise the command to consider trials to be pure joy would be nonsense and the promise that "the testing of [our] faith develops perseverance" would be in doubt.
But praise be to God that we, like the Apostle Paul, can be "confident of this very thing that He who began a good work in [us] will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ" (Phil. 1:6 NKJV).
Preservation: A Trinitarian Work
In conclusion, we should examine the underlying theology behind the teaching that all who are brought into a state of saving grace will be preserved in that state eternally (again: the doctrine of Eternal Security is necessitated by the phrase eternal life itself).
For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:6 NASB)
For salvation is entirely the work of God, depending in no way upon sinful Man.
So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy. (Romans 9:16 NASB)
And our salvation, both in coming to Christ in faith and in being preserved in Christ eternally, is based wholly upon the character of God. And each Person of the Trinity works to ensure that all persons chosen by God for salvation will be saved eternally.
In this article, Dr. White examines the words of Jesus recorded in John chaper 6, verses 37-39:
All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day. (NASB)
Concerning these verses, White makes the following exegetical comments:
Jesus presents the complete sovereignty of God in salvation. All that the Father gives to Jesus - everyone - will come to Him. The operative factor in answering the question of why some come and others, presented with the same opportunity, do not, is simply the nature of the Father’s choice. The Father "gives" persons to the Son - a gift of love, to be sure. When the Father gives to the Son a person, that person will come to Christ (as the one avenue to the Father). There is no question that if a person is so given to Christ (or, to use the terminology of verse 44, is so "drawn" by the Father) that he/she will come to Christ. This is the "Godward" side of salvation - absolute certainty and security. Yet, He says that they will "come to Me” which speaks of the human response - not that the human can change the decision of God - but that the response is there all the same. Man is not pictured simply as a “thing” that is bounced around like a ball, but rather a vastly important person who comes to Christ for salvation, all as the result of the gracious working of God in his/her life.
Jesus continues by stating that when one is so given to Him by the Father, and comes to Him, that one is secure in their relationship with Him He will never cast them out, The aorist subjunctive of strong denial makes it clear that rejection of one who seeks refuge in Christ is a complete and total impossibility. What words to a sinners heart! Those who come to Christ will find Him a loving Lord who will never cast out those who trust in Him!
Why will the Lord never cast out those who come to Him? Verse 38 continues the thought with the explanation - the Son has come to do the will of the Father. And what is the will of the Father? That “of all which He has given Me from Him I lose nothing hut raise it up at the last day.” Can we doubt that Christ will do what He promises? Will the Lord Jesus ever fail to do the Father’s will? Here is eternal security beyond dispute. But note that again all is pre-eminently balanced - the security of the person is based on two things - the will of the Father that none he lost, and secondly, the fact that those who are not lost are those who are given to the Son by the Father Himself. So, in reality, there is security in the Father (He gives us to Christ) and security in the Son (He always does the Father’s will).
The realization of the co-operation and interaction of the Father and the Son in the salvation of each individual Christian is an awesome thing! It is self-evident why so many soteriological systems cannot deal with eternal security - it is based on the understanding that salvation is completely the work of God! Man is the object of salvation, the object of God’s sovereign grace. The gospel is the message of grace, and grace is something given totally on the basis of God’s desire to give it. Such is terribly damaging to man’s “self-esteem” and to any concept of our being able to save ourselves or even to “help God along” in our being made righteous. We must realize that we come to God wholly unworthy of His love and grace, totally incapable of effecting even the beginning of His work in our hearts.
Once we rest ourselves in God’s provision of salvation, however, we see that our position in Him is one that is based upon the sovereign act of the Father in giving us to the Son, and in the eternal obedience of the Son to the Father in effecting our salvation! Can we possibly picture a more secure situation than this? I think not! But wait, there is more...
Dr. White next turns to examine the role of the Holy Spirit in securing the preservation of the saints, appealing to the text of Ephesians chapter 1, verses 13-14:
In Him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation--in Him when you believed--were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit. He is the down payment of our inheritance, for the redemption of the possession, to the praise of His glory. (HCSB)
Of this passage, White notes:
We find the fact that the Holy Spirit is described in two important ways relevant to our eternal security. First, we are said to he “sealed” by the Holy Spirit of promise. This term was used in secular documents to refer to the act of placing a seal upon one’s possessions to mark them as one’s own. In this case, the presence of the Holy Spirit in a person’s life is God’s way of sealing that person as His own. The believer is shown to he God’s “own property” - His possession.
Paralleled with this is the phrase “who is the down-payment of our inheritance." Both phrases speak of the same fact. Here the Spirit is described by the Greek term arrabon- a term used in secular documents to refer to guarantee money. The giving of an arrabon contracted the giver to finish the process of payment. In our context, this would refer to the fact that the Holy Spirit in a believer’s life is the guarantee on the part of God the Father of completing the work which He has begun in that life (Philippians 1:6). Both phrases are then tied together by the paralleling of “promise" and “inheritance.” These terms are used by Paul of the completion of God’s work of salvation in our lives in the end time.
Hence, we see that the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives is God’s way of “this person is mine - I have begun of salvation in his/her life, and by placing My Spirit in this life. I am telling all that this person belongs to Me, and I will finish the work I have begun!”
We learn from other discussions of the role of the Spirit in the believer’s life (e.g., Romans 8) that the Spirit empowers and sanctifies the believer as well. So it is clear that each of the Divine Persons is vitally involved in the work of salvation. The Father sovereignly and unilaterally chooses us for salvation. He gives us to the Son, who, in obedience to the Father’s will, saves those who are joined to Him by the Father, and raises us up to eternal life. The Spirit of God is placed in our lives to empower and seal us as God’s own possession. Salvation, then, is of God - God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Since salvation is of God, and is God’s work, its eternal character is simply the reflection of the nature of its author - God Himself.
Dr. White closes out his article with the following sentence, which I would also like to use as the conclusion for this post:
Each of the three Persons [of the Trinity] is intimately involved in bringing about the salvation of the elect, and that salvation is eternal and secure.
Glory to God alone!
Labels: Reformation Theology