Is our salvation kept by being faithful, or is our faithfulness kept by our salvation?

by Matt Slick

If we maintain our salvation with God by being faithful, then it would follow that our willful, continuous act of believing is what keeps us saved.  This would mean that we maintain our salvation by our continued belief.  Or, on the other hand, is it our salvation (and regeneration) that causes us to remain faithful?  In the former case, our salvation depends on our ability and choice. In the latter case, our salvation depends on God's work of salvation for us and his regenerative change in us.  So which is it?  Is our salvation dependent on our ability to remain faithful, or is our faithfulness God's work in us?

There are verses in the Bible that tell us those who endure to the end will be saved (Matthew 10:22; 24:13) and that if you hold fast to the word which is preached, then you'll be saved (1 Corinthians 15:1-2).  These verses are dealt with in the section on eternal security, but we have to ask if the statements to endure and hold fast are conditional or factual?  In other words, are they stating that a person keeps salvation by being faithful, or is the faithfulness a manifestation of salvation?  It is true that all who endure in belief to the end will be saved, but why do they endure to the end?  Do they endure because of their own will or because of the indwelling of God in regeneration or both?

We can say that an unbeliever cannot, of his own free will, choose to believe in God because the Bible tells us he cannot.

  • 1 Corinthians 2:14, "But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised."
  • Romans 3:10-12, "as it is written, there is none righteous, not even one; 11 there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God; 12 all have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one."
  • Mark 7:21-23, "For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, 22 deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. 23 All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man."

So, it should be clear that the spiritual condition of the unbeliever is so bad that he cannot receive spiritual truths (1 Corinthians 2:14), that he does not seek God (Romans 3:11), and that he is full of evil (Mark 7:21-23).  So then salvation is necessarily outside of his grasp unless God works in him.

  • John 6:28-29, "Therefore they said to Him, 'What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?' 29 Jesus answered and said to them, 'This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.'"
  • Philippians 1:29, "For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake."
  • 2 Timothy 2:25, "with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth."
  • Acts 16:14, "A woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul."

It should be clear that God works faith in us, grants that we believe, grants us repentance, and opens the heart to respond to the gospel.  God regenerates us and that regeneration results in our faith the same way light is the result of electricity in a lightbulb (see, Does regeneration precede faith?).  This is important because even though people automatically assume that their believing in God is due to the freedom of their own will even when they were enslaved to sin (Romans 6:14-20), the Bible tells us that it is God who works faith in us (John 6:28-29) and grants that we believe (Philippians 1:29) because the unbeliever cannot receive the things of God (1 Corinthians 2:14) on his own.  This work of God to grant us belief (Philippians 1:29) would not be necessary if the initial step of believing was completely up to the unregenerate sinner.  So, why is all this important to us "staying faithful"?

Who is the one who remains faithful--God, man, or both?

I would recommend you read the article Scriptural proof that Christians cannot lose their salvation for a defense of the position that we are eternally secure in Christ.  But, to continue, the Bible tells us that God will always remain faithful to us even if we are not faithful to him. 

  • Hebrews 13:5, "Let your character be free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, “I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you."
  • 2 Timothy 2:12, "If we are faithless, He remains faithful; for He cannot deny Himself."
  • John 6:39, "And 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."

The Bible tells us that the unbeliever cannot receive spiritual things (1 Corinthians 2:14).  This means that he cannot believe them of his own sinful nature which is enslaved to sin (Romans 6:14-20).  Once we are new creatures (2 Corinthians 5:17), we most definitely exercise our faith in God.  But, is it possible for a regenerated person to stop believing in God?  Some say yes; some say no.  Again, see the article Scriptural proof that Christians cannot lose their salvation.

This is important because it suggests that our believing is the work of God, at least at the beginning of salvation.  But is a Christian's faithfulness a necessary by-product of regeneration?  We Christians are choosing to continue to believe, but we are also automatically going to continue to believe because we are regenerate; and as long as we remain regenerate, we will continue to believe.  So, can we become unregenerate? (See the article If we can lose our salvation, does our regeneration become unregeneration?)

What does God do?

It is biblical to say that God makes us born again, that God regenerates us, that God appoints us to eternal life, and that God grants that we believe.  Consider the following verses:

  • John 1:12-13, "But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, 13 who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God."
  • John 6:28-29, "They said therefore to Him, “What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent."
  • Acts 13:48, "And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed."
  • Philippians 1:29, "For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake."

Does God make people unregenerate?

Regeneration is the rebirth.  It is being born again, being made a new creature (2 Corinthians 5:17), and it is accompanied by the indwelling of God.  Please consider the following verses:

  • John 3:3, 8, "Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God . . . 8 The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit."
  • 2 Corinthians 5:17, "Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come."
  • Ephesians 2:10, "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them."
  • 1 Peter 1:3, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead."

The Scriptures clearly teach that Christians are changed internally by God.  This change is called regeneration.  So we have to ask if a person stops believing, then how does he become unregenerate if it is God who regenerates him in the first place?  Those who teach that you can lose your salvation would have to say that God would then choose to switch the person back to his old, unregenerate, sinful nature.  But, does God do that?  Does God change people into unsaved sinners?  Is this concept found anywhere in Scripture?  No, it is not.  Or, should we say that God does nothing in our 'unregeneration,' and our unbelief somehow changes our nature back to being unregenerate?  But, if it is God who regenerates us and not ourselves, then it would seem logical to say that God would have to unregenerate us if we somehow stop believing and that God would turn a person back into his old, sinful self.  Does that make any sense at all, especially when God says he will never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5)?  No, it does not.

Conclusion

I believe that the Scriptures clearly teach that it is God who remains faithful to us and that a true Christian cannot lose his salvation because God is always faithful to us and does not make us "unregenerate."  I believe our faithfulness is the direct result of God's regeneration in us and that we do continue to be faithful because we continue to be regenerate.  As long as we are regenerate, we will continue to believe.

 

 

 

 
 
CARM ison