There are many views about the security of sinners who turn to Jesus:
- Some Protestants (e.g. Salvation Army) formally say that a person may be genuinely converted and made a member of the family of God, but then sin in such a way that he is then lost eternally.
- Some (e.g. Roman Catholicism) teach that assurance is sinful, and have anathematised it.
- Much of contemporary evangelicalism says that if we “made a decision”, even 20, 50 years ago, that regardless of the life we now live, we are secure in Jesus ... “once-saved-always-saved”.
All these teachings are unbiblical.
WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS
1. God has only one plan
God’s choice of his elect was made in eternity, before time. It was a choice to bring them to himself in time, through the preaching of the gospel. It was a choice to bring them to eternity to be with him. He has one plan, and all he does is designed to fulfil his plan. See the unbroken chain in Romans 8:29,30 ...
("Romans: An Interpretive Outline", Steele and Thomas, pg.70)
Because it is certain that God has loved his elect, chosen them, called them to Jesus and declared them just, it is also certain that he will bring them into haven, where they shall share the glory of Jesus. God has only one plan – nothing will thwart or spoil it!
2. The preservation of the saints is guaranteed by a triune God:
- The Father keeps by his power (1 Pet 1:5).
- The Son paid a price which guarantees life (1 Pet 1:18,19, Heb 9:12) ... nothing remains to be paid! His risen life is the guarantee of that on our behalf (Heb 7:25 c.f. Lu 22:32, Jn 17:11,15,24 etc). (If any saved by Jesus perish in hell, that would mean Jesus had not paid the price of the sin that sends them there.)
- The Spirit has sealed the elect in safety until the end (Eph 1:13,14).
3. God holds his elect in Christ by causing them to persevere
We are “shielded through faith” (1 Peter 1:5) ... God preserves his children by calling them to faith and to holiness (Phil 2:12,13). In other words, he preserves his elect by causing them to persevere.
God’s ends are usually achieved by means; they do not happen in a vacuum. Just as sinners are called into a knowledge of their salvation through the preaching and believing of the gospel, so they are then kept in Christ by the power of that same Word, and through faith into it.
Thousands of exhortations, promises, warnings etc in the NT are God’s way of keeping us in the way of Christ.
4. Eternal life is eternal
When sinners come to Jesus, they come into eternal life as a present possession (John 5:24, 10:28). This life, so unlike life in this world, is, by nature, unable to be touched by sin and death, and is forever.
THE BIBLE DOES NOT SAY
- That all who profess faith in Christ will go to heaven … possession, not profession, is decisive. Signing a decision card at a crusade is not the same as coming to Christ in true faith and repentance.
- That Christians don’t fall into sin, doubt and denial. Remember Peter ... and Noah, Abraham, David, Jonah etc. But while we fall into sin, and perhaps ‘fall down the ladder’, we shall not fall off the ladder.
- That all Christians are always assured of their salvation. Many struggle deeply with assurance. What matters is not that we are sure of our salvation, but that God is.
A QUESTION TO ANSWER
What about God’s warnings against apostasy? (E.g.1 Cor 10:12, Heb 4:1, 6:1-6 and 10:26-29)
A basic rule for biblical interpretation is: the clearer parts must explain the less clear parts. These few verses must be interpreted in a way that is consistent with other more dominant verses.
Hebrews 6:1-6 does not teach that truly converted people are being lost through apostasy …
- Those who are falling are those who are locked in to the elementary doctrine of Christ (v1) and ‘the foundations’ (vv1b,2) ... the doctrines of repentance, faith, washings, resurrection, judgment etc. These are not particularly ‘gospel’ doctrines, but in context here, refer to teachings God gave to the Jews. It is as though they are part of ‘elementary school’ or ‘kindergarten’ (Judaism), which were intended to lead them to “graduate” to Christ himself.
- These Jews have been enlightened (not regenerated), have tasted (not possessed) and have had a share of the Holy Spirit (not been possessed by him) … they have had some experiences which have brought them some knowledge of Christ, but they have not fully belonged to him.
- Instead of coming all the way to Jesus, they have “fallen to the side” (v6a) (not “fallen away”), and remained content with Jewish forms and teachings. They have missed the goal to which their beliefs were intended to take them. They have fallen short of salvation, not fallen out of salvation. They were never Christians.
- That is why, if they stay where they are (i.e. in gospel unbelief), it is impossible for them to be saved … they stand where the murderers of Jesus stood (v6b).
- The writer is confident that his readers are not like these others. They have come all the way to Christ and to salvation (Heb 6:9, 10:39); what he says in 6:1-6 does not refer to them.
Other references are to backsliders who fall into sin (not out of salvation) whom we must therefore work hard to restore (Gal 6:1, 1 Cor 5 c.f. 2 Cor 2:5-11); the preacher of 1 Cor 9:27 is in danger of losing his ministry, not his salvation
CHANGING OUR PRACTICE
⇒ We are confident, and have comfort, in trial and tragedy
What happens around us, and to us, can only advance, rather than frustrate the wise purposes of God.
The trials of Romans 8:35-37 can be faced only in the light of the golden chain of 8:28-30. (Note that there is nothing here about our decision/faith/commitment etc, but it is all about:
- God who has chosen (33a)
- God who justifies (33b)
- Jesus Christ who died (34)
- the love of Christ (35)
- him who loved us (37)
- the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (39)
Therefore, we must focus all the time on the work, character, plan, greatness and sovereignty of God, and not on decisions, consecration, etc?
⇒ We evangelise with confidence
There is no chance at all that those who truly come to Jesus will be abandoned by him along the way to glory. What God starts, he finishes.
Many we call to Christ doubt their ability to stay loyal to him. All of us should be like that, given the depravity of our minds and hearts! We may assure them with confidence “If God is truly calling you to Jesus, you may be sure that having broken down the resistance of your unbelief and made you his friend, he is certainly able to keep you as his friend. So do not fear that you might come, and not be able to stick at it. You will.”
Our message from beginning to end is one of absolute and glorious certainties, not hoped-for possibilities.
The same is true for the ministry we have to believers who have backslidden, or fallen into sin. We answer their situation with well-reasoned and sound doctrine, as we speak about the absolute certainties of grace, and the reason for great hope, and not despair. We all need to see the bigness of our sin more than we are inclined to do. But more than that, we need to see the bigness of grace that saves from beginning to end.
⇒ We have more reason than ever to be holy
Our being holy is a lovely means that God uses to do eternal things ... it matters more, not less.
To know such love is to wish, above everything else, not to do anything against it. (Boice)
⇒ Our focus can be on Jesus, and not on ourselves
Some Christians never reflect enough about their lives, and the state of their faith. Some others worry too much about the state of their hearts. They are always taking their ‘spiritual temperature’ to see if things are better today than yesterday, and looking for doubts that they can think about too much. This makes them introspective, and even self-preoccupied.
Since your sins do not remove you from Christ, and your obedience to him does not make you more secure … then your focus can be on Jesus, not your losses/advances.
Shake off nervous introspection and the anxious ‘pulse-taking’ of a spiritual hypochondriac. Realise your security in God and allow that realisation to set you free to serve him and minister to others. (Haslam)
VOICES FROM THE PAST
This perseverance of the saints depends not upon their own free will but upon the immutability (unchanging nature) of the decree of election, flowing from the free and unchangeable love f 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 the Spirit, and the seed of God within them, and the nature of grace. (1689 Baptist Confession of Faith)
Christ is to be answerable for all those that are given to him at the last day, and therefore we need not doubt but that he will certainly employ all the powers of his Godhead to secure and save all those he must be accountable for. (Thomas Brooks)
Earthly jewels sometimes get separated from their owner; Christ’s jewels never ... earthly jewels are sometime lost, Christ’s jewels never ... earthly jewels are sometimes stolen, Christ’s jewels never! (Thomas Brooks)
The Lord Jesus has paid too high a price for our redemption to leave us in the enemy’s hand. (Spurgeon)