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Eternal Security: More Than A Doctrinal Distinctive

(Or more simply: Why you can’t lose your salvation and why it matters)
By: David Harris

After several semesters of being heavily involved in campus ministry, I’ve realized that a Christian can have unity with other Christians, even if they have a wide range of theological differences- as long as Christ is central, unity can be present. However, this is not to say that some issues cannot be debated, and it is also not to say that they aren’t IMPORTANT. One issue in particular I’ve had numerous discussions/debates with fellow Christians is that of eternal security. I’ve oft found myself among a group of people, where I am the only one among them that holds to this doctrine- and I have the obligation thus of defending it. I’d like to take a fairly brief look at the importance of this doctrine, because if not carefully thought through and considered, extremely serious consequences may result- consequences as critical as one’s eternal destiny.

First off, let me just be clear on one thing: I don’t believe that believing in eternal security is essential for salvation (especially considering those who are saved are eternally secure). Some of my closest and dearest friends do not believe in this doctrine, and it has had no great effect on our friendships. However, if this theology is taken too far I believe it can be damning because ultimately salvation rests not on Christ, but on the individual person.

Let us examine the antithesis of eternal security first: let’s say we CAN lose our salvation. There are three possibilities as to how one could lose it (with the third being “intertwined” with the other two). Number one: a person’s deeds have a negating effect on salvation. So perhaps if a man accepts Christ, but then goes out and murders someone, he has lost his salvation and is now out of the saving grace of God.  Number two: a person loses their FAITH in Christ. So while he made a “decision” to follow Christ, now he has turned his back on Christ and no longer believe in His saving grace- this triggers the negating effect on that individual’s salvation. Thirdly, and finally, God removes you from His grace (which could intersect with the other two). Let’s take a look at each of these individual options.

Option one: sin removes salvation. Let’s take a man who came to faith in Christ as a young man of 15. He appeared to be convicted of his sin at the time of his conversion, and immediately had a changed life. However, several years later the young man is now an unrepentant fornicator- he is persisting in sin of which God directly commands not to commit (1 Corinthians 6), and has therefore “lost” his salvation. There are several problems with this assessment. For one, there is a strange and unanswered haze around this. The question remains: what sin does it take to remove salvation? Insert any sin you want. We know from James 2:10 that if someone even breaks one of God’s laws, he is held accountable for breaking all the law- therefore we could say that no sin is “worse” than another. So what sin does it take to lose salvation? Is it a lie? Sexual sin? Not putting God first in life? What is the time of the loss? Minutes? Seconds? Milliseconds? 1 John 1 says that if someone says they have no sin (Christians included) they are liars- so we will never be 100% rid of our sin. Romans chapter 7 gives the portrayal of a very mature Christian (Paul). He only becomes more aware of the depth of his sin in his maturity. Furthermore, 1 John 2 talks of how Christ is our advocate when we do sin (“But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous”). This statement does not have any salvation “qualifiers”; it is all encompassing. In verse 12 John says: “I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake.” When someone comes to Christ, they are totally and fully forgiven of their sins- past, present, and future.

Let’s examine the second “possibility”; that when one loses their faith in Christ’s atoning work on the cross, that person loses their salvation. First of all, there is an entirely (and I would argue more biblical way) to look at this: if someone renounces their faith in Christ, then it’s a good indication that they were never a Christian to begin with. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” If when God draws someone to faith in Christ they are a totally new person and have a new heart and new desires, does their new God given nature in Christ somehow “become old” again? Cannot God keep those who (as asserted in Ephesians 1) foreknew before the foundation of the world?

This last “possibility” is perhaps the most difficult to deal with, because it has to do with a fundamental understanding of God’s work in salvation. If you believe that God “does the saving” in salvation, then you are in a much better place to understand this issue- this is one of the reasons I believe that the issue of eternal security is so critically important. While ignorance may be a viable excuse, if you are relying on your own works to “maintain” your salvation, I fear you could be in danger of being among those whom Christ says: “Depart from me ye who practice lawlessness”. Your reliance on yourself for salvation does not equate to trusting in the saving work of Christ. In no way am I trying to make lightly of sin- 2 Peter 1 warns to “make your calling and election sure”. Notice however, he doesn’t say: “make sure of your salvation”. He isn’t warning against falling out of God’s grace, but having a false profession of faith. One verse often used for those arguing for eternal security is John 10:28: “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. The common retort is: well, it says no one else, but it doesn’t say anything about them leaving the hand. To that I say: What about never perishing? Is Jesus lying here then? He said that those who are His sheep will have eternal life- once again, there is no qualifier here. John 6:39-40 says: “And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I will lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him, may have eternal life, and I myself will raise him up on the last day.” We see two things of great importance here: Salvation is decided by God, and not one of those whom God has chosen will be lost (so one would at the very least have to say that even if a man loses his salvation many times, if God has chosen him he will be raised up on the last day and inherit eternal life no matter what).

In all my various discussions with those of the opposite persuasion, I’ve still never been given a reasonable, hermeneutical response to Ephesians 4:30: “and do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” The word sealed here does not merely mean being “set” in Christ, but being totally secure from all outside and inside harm. Finally, Romans 8:38 says: “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor thing to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Speaking in the context of the redeemed, this passage also is a great example of God’s everlasting and unchanging holding on our salvation.   

Once again, I would like to make sure that the readers of this piece know that I’m in no way making light of the seriousness of sin. “Are we to sin more so that Grace may more abound? May it never be!” Paul fought fiercely against the doctrine of antinomianism, which says: “as long as we’re eternally secure, we might as well sin!” However, Paul never compromised the doctrine of eternal security while fighting against antinomianism- he only affirmed it while he rebuked those who were living carnally- in fact (in 1 Corinthians) he never even assumes that those whom he is rebuking are not saved.
While I admire the concern of living holy for those who deny eternal security, I would strongly warn and admonish those deny this key doctrine to “make sure they’re calling and election”. There is nothing in this life as important as knowing where you will spend your eternity, and if you are relying on yourself instead of the cross, you may find yourself in the wrong line when you meet your maker.

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