Eternal security? or Can you lose your salvation? Part 1
This is a hotly-contested issue upon which many will take sides largely based upon what they have been taught to believe. I have done some research on this matter over a number of years and was very surprised to find that what I had been taught (and had also believed) was not necessarily so. So often Bible passages are explained according to what the “teacher” already believes to be the truth, such that we get interpretations of verses and passages that are compromised by such beliefs before they are “proved” or “tested” according to 1 Thessalonians 5:21. Too many interpretations are made to fit what the person already believes to be true (and this occurs in more than just this particular doctrinal issue).
There are a number of “proof” verses that each side of the debate claim to “prove” their stand; these should all be looked at to determine if, in fact, they teach what they are claimed to teach, without any added preconceived ideas from beliefs already held by the teacher. I have, for a number of years now, settled upon my views on this matter, and I no longer fully believe what I had always been taught to believe. And, this is one of those topics that can only be seen in its proper light if one puts aside all previously held beliefs and investigates the issues with an open and rational mind. Also, all too often, a person is labelled with a particular “-ism” according to what they determine to believe, regardless of whether or not they actually are of that “-ism” belief. There should be room for allowance for Christians to actually read the Bible itself to determine what they perceive to be the truth independently of other doctrinal belief systems (with “-isms” such as calvinism and arminianism being thrown around like confetti).
At first glance, there appear to be two main camps of opinion, loosely described as “Yes, you may be assured of your salvation for eternity; you cannot under any circumstance lose your salvation!” (sometimes termed Once-Saved-Always-Saved) or “No, you cannot be assured of your salvation for eternity; certain circumstances may prevent you from continuing with your salvation!” Yet, on closer inspection, a third view may be understood: that you cannot lose your salvation unless you by your own free will renounce such eternal life. Of course, it is difficult to understand why anyone who had eternal life would ever want to give it away for the sake of the world, but nevertheless it may be seen as a doctrinal point of view on this issue.
There are even more views on this. They include the belief that you have to lose your salvation at least once. I never could understand this from any Biblical point of view; no doubt the person who told me this was certain that he was right. Another view states that all names of all mankind are written in the book of life and are removed at death if that person hasn’t made a decision to be saved by that time. Hal Lindsey in “There’s a New World Coming” P 48 says (of Revelation 3:5) that “his name will remain in the Book of Life. This Book contains the names of all the individuals ever born. If a person does not receive Jesus Christ as Savior by the time he dies, his name is blotted out of the Book of Life.” However, I’ll concentrate on the 3 main options as first listed above.
Firstly I’ll look at verses and passages which support the assurance of eternal salvation.
1/. 1 John 5:12-13 – 12 He that hath the Son hath life; [and] he that hath not the Son of God hath not life. 13 These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.
This states two facts that cannot be denied: (a) that the one who has the Son of God (Christ) has life, and (b) that those who believe on the name of the Son of God have eternal life. It may be assumed that this means born-again Christians who have accepted Jesus Christ as their Saviour. In addition, this verse has clearly been written with the purpose of assuring such Christians that if they have the Son and believe on the name of the Son of God, then they may be assured of eternal life, and that they may continue to confidently believe in the name of the Son of God.
This verse appears irrefutable, yet some comments must be raised: (a) If life is attached to having the Son, and not having the Son means not having life, then all this verse is saying that having life eternally is dependent upon you having the Son eternally. Permanence of life is dependent upon permanence of having the Son. It really comes down to whether or not you can choose to stop having the Son at any time. Thus, personal free will may be an objection to the claim of assurance of having eternal life. (b) Why assure those who believe on the name of the Son of God that they may believe on the name of the Son of God, if in fact this is a permanent state of belief?
This verse is strong evidence of the assurance of salvation, yet does appear to rely upon continuing to have the Son and to believe on His name. Can a person choose to not have the Son after firstly having the Son? Or is it impossible to reject the Son once you have Him? If free will permits a person to choose to have the Son, can free will also permit that same person to then stop having the Son? Thus this verse teaches assurance of salvation as long as the Christian does not have a free will to turn away from the Son again.
2/. John 5:24 – Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.
The question of eternal security rests upon the promise of having eternal life that can never be lost under any circumstances. So, this is an assurance of everlasting life as long as it is impossible for a person to choose to not believe. Does this verse require the person who believes on the Son to continue to believe on the Son for the rest of his life? Or does this verse allow the possibility that a person may cease believing on the Son? Once again, if free will permits a person to choose to believe on the Son, can free will also permit that same person to then stop believing on the Son? Thus this verse teaches assurance of salvation as long as the Christian does not have a free will to cease believing on the Son.
3/. Jude 1:24 – Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present [you] faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy,
Being able to keep the Christian from falling, and being able to present the Christian faultless before the presence of God’s glory does not actually promise that it will happen but is simply a statement of capability. God is able to keep a Christian from falling into sin, but does He actually do it without the Christian wanting God to do so? I may be able to jump into deep hot water, but does that mean that I will do so? The truth is that Christians do fall into sin when God commands them not to do so; therefore it is clear that personal free will is involved in this situation. This verse simply states what God is able to do, not necessarily what He actually will do. It’s the calvinist denial of personal freedom of will that makes what God is able to do the same as what He actually will do. Thus this verse does not necessarily assure the Christian of eternal security of salvation.
4/. Romans 8:16 – The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God:
A very good verse to demonstrate eternal security of the believer, as long as we have the Holy Spirit eternally (and unquenched) in our lives. Ephesians 4:30 says that we are sealed by that same Holy Spirit unto the day of redemption. But, we may also quench the Holy Spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:19) in which case does the Spirit then continue to bear witness with our spirit that we are the children of God? Does that mean then, that if the Spirit (through being quenched) cannot bear such witness, that we are not the children of God? This verse appears to teach assurance of salvation, yet also appears to depend upon whether or not we choose to commit sin which may quench the Spirit of God. Once again, freedom of will may be a factor here.
5/. Hebrews 7:25 – Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.
As per the argument for Jude 1:24, this states the ability of God to save to the uttermost, yet does not actually say that he will do so. Again, if by our free wills we choose to disobey God, then we demonstrate that we do not love Him (John 14:15) So, can our disobedience jeopardise God’s ability to save us to the uttermost?
6/. John 10:28-29 – 28 And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any [man] pluck them out of my hand. 29 My Father, which gave [them] me, is greater than all; and no [man] is able to pluck [them] out of my Father’s hand.
This passage, along with Romans 8:38-39, does make it very clear that no-one may take us out of God’s hand. This is quite conclusive, except for one thing which must be noted. We do have eternal life and shall never perish while we are in the Father’s hand, and certainly He will not permit anyone to take us out of His hand. And, if God is infinitely more powerful than all His creation put together, then literally no-one may overcome God’s protection of His children. These facts cannot be denied. But, are we able to take ourselves out of the father’s hand?
7/. Ephesians 4:30 – And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption.
This verse certainly looks like a bullet-proof defence of eternal security. A seal is just that: a seal, something that cannot be broken by anyone except an authorised person. And if it is the seal of God, then who can break it. It is definite that this is as strong a verse in support of eternal security as you can get, up there with not being able to be plucked out of God’s hand. After all, who is going to be able to overcome God’s authority?
But, does anyone other than God (via His Holy Spirit) have the authority to break this seal? A seal was put on a document or correspondence to ensure that only the authorised person could open and read it. Thus, only two people had the authority to break that seal, the one who put the seal there, and the one to whom the document was addressed (or two parties to a covenant or contract). In this case, a seal is placed upon the covenant that God makes with the Christian in ensuring the eternal salvation of that believer. There are two parties to this covenant, God and the Christian. It is clear that God will not break this covenant, but does the other party to this covenant (the Christian) have the authority to break that seal? Once again, this would rest on whether or not the Christian is permitted the freedom of will to make such a decision.
8/. John 6:47b – He that believeth on me hath everlasting life.
As with John 5:24 above, this assurance depends upon whether or not a Christian is permitted the freedom of will to cease believing? It is hard to understand why any Christian would wish to cease believing in the Saviour, but if he could, and did so, then he would lose his eternal life. But, can he cease believing in Christ? Is this a choice God permits him to make? Once again it really depends upon whether free will may be applied to our belief in Christ after as well as before we believed.
9/. Romans 8:38-39 – 38 For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, 39 Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
This is the one verse which seems to be absolute in its support for the assurance of our eternal salvation. It covers just about everything. Absolutely nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Once we’re on that train to heaven, nothing whosoever or whatsoever can ever take us off it, because God will prevent every effort to remove us from His love. However, that one problem still raises its head: Are we able to get off that train to heaven if we should choose to do so? Unless you’re a calvinist who denies the free will of man to call upon the name of the Lord to be saved, then you will believe that anyone who makes a genuine decision to be saved does so by their own free will. Does the person who chose to be saved by his free will, have the right to reject that salvation also by his free will? Can he choose to lose his salvation? Or is that prevented by God by not permitting man free will to choose the world once he is saved for heaven?
Two of the above passages (3, 5) have more to do with God’s ability to save to the uttermost, rather than whether or not He will actually do it. But many passages (1, 2, 4, 6, 7, 8, 9) do not allow for any possibility of loss of salvation/eternal life unless one is permitted to use freedom of will to recant one’s belief in Christ.
Basically this is what it comes down to: Can a person, after coming to Christ of his own free will, also have the right to leave Christ by his own free will. A major difference between calvinist and non-calvinist doctrines is that calvinism demands no freedom of will especially with respect to spiritual matters such as salvation and its consequences. Non-calvinist doctrine teaches the free will of mankind to accept or reject God’s gift of salvation. However, does salvation remove that freedom of will from the person once he is saved? This will be looked at in further posts.