What is the Eternal Security of the Believer
by Matt Slick
Unfortunately, the teaching of eternal security is sometimes a source of problems within Christian circles. Some Christians believe that if you hold to eternal security you are purposely promoting a license to sin. On the other hand, some Christians believe that if you don't believe in eternal security you have to keep your salvation by works. Both sides often misrepresent the other, and instead of being gracious on this debatable issue (as we are commanded to be in Romans 14:1-12) people accuse each other of being unbiblical.
It is the position of CARM that once a person is saved he cannot lose his salvation. I place my conviction upon this position because of my study of Scripture, but I do not claim that if someone is as studious as I am that he will arrive at the same position. I recognize that there are godly people on both sides of the argument. Nevertheless, I must be true to my convictions and in light of repeated attacks upon CARM as a ministry because of this position, I felt it necessary to write a more detailed defense.
Please understand that eternal security is not a license to sin. The Christian is regenerated. He is changed from within, being made a new creature (2 Cor. 5:17). Those who were indwelt by the Holy Spirit will war with their sin and not seek to abide in it. Those who declare that they are eternally secure, and then go out and sin on purpose in any manner they so choose, are probably not saved to begin with since this is contradictory to what Scripture teaches. 1 John 2:4 says, "The one who says, 'I have come to know Him,' and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him."
There are a lot of verses raised by Christians who believe it is possible to lose one's salvation. I could analyze each one and provide explanations of how they fit together, but it would not be necessary if we can find Scripture that clearly states that a person cannot lose his salvation. If found, this would mean that any other Scriptures used to teach we can lose our salvation must be interpreted in a manner consistent with the one(s) that clearly say we can't.
I will deal with three sets of scriptures: John 6:37-40; John 10:27-28; 1 John 2:19.
“All that the Father gives Me shall come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out. 38 “For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. 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. 40 “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," (John 6:37-40).
In verse 37, Jesus says, “All that the Father gives Me shall come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out." It is clear that the Father gives to the Son those who believe, and that Jesus says he will not cast them out.
In verse 38 Jesus says, “For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me." Jesus tells us he is here to do the will of the Father. What is the will of the Father?
John 6:39-40, “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. 40 “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 can easily draw the conclusion that the will of the Father is that all who were given to the Son (v. 39) will not be lost and will be raised on the last day, but the common objection is that the will of the Father is not always accomplished. In other words, it is the will of the Father that none be lost, but since his will is not always accomplished there will be people who were saved but then became lost. This might seem a possible interpretation, but when we look at the next verse we see it doesn't work. In verse 40, Jesus continues to tell us what the will of the Father is by saying that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in him will have eternal life and that Jesus would raise him up on the last day.
Various versions translate verse 40 differently. The NIV says, "shall have eternal life." The KJV, NKJV, NRSV, say, "may have everlasting life." The RSV, ASV, ESV, GNT, ISV, NLT, say, "should have eternal life." NASB95, "will have eternal life." So, is eternal life something we may have when we believe, or actually have when we believe? In other words, are we saved when we believe or not? It cannot be that we "may" have eternal life (be saved) if we believe, because believing is what justifies us (Rom. 5:1); only the saved are justified. Furthermore, upon believing we have eternal life and we can know we have it as 1 John 5:13 says, "These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, in order that you may know that you have eternal life." To settle the issue, John 6:47 says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life." So, we can conclude that there is no conditional eternal life upon believing, but that we receive salvation and eternal life when we believe, which is why it says all who behold the Son and believe will have eternal life.
If verse 39 can be interpreted to say that the will of the Father can fail and some perish, then verse 40 must likewise be interpreted to say that the will of the Father fails in that those who believe on Jesus won't be saved and don't have eternal life. This cannot be! Otherwise, no one who believes in Christ can be sure he or she presently has eternal life -- which is in contradiction to 1 John 5:13 which says we can know!
Therefore, both 39 and 40 must be interpreted in the same manner; namely, that the will of the Father is actually accomplished in that all who belong to the Son will not perish, and all who believe on the Son will have eternal life. Again, if all who belong to the Son might perish, then likewise all who believe on the Son might not be saved; that is, they might not possess eternal life if they believe in Christ! If that is the case, then we aren't justified by faith (Rom. 5:1).
Furthermore, versus 39 and 40 tells us that Jesus will raise them up on the last day. The one group of people who are raised on the last day are those who have been given by the Father to the Son (v. 37), who have believed on the Son (v. 40), who have eternal life (v. 40), and cannot be lost.
"My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; 28 and I give eternal life to them, and they shall never perish; and no one shall snatch them out of My hand," (John 10:27-28).
Jesus tells us that he gives eternal life to the sheep, the Christians. He clearly and definitely states that they shall never perish. There is no qualifier here. There is no statement such as, "they shall never perish if they remain faithful." There is only the clear declaration that they shall never perish. This inability to perish is a result of the Lord Jesus giving them eternal life.
Furthermore, Jesus says that no one shall snatch them out of his hand, which further emphasizes the idea that those who have eternal life will never perish. But, can we snatch ourselves out of Jesus' hand? No we can't, because the term "no one" includes the person who is saved. Therefore, you cannot snatch yourself out of Christ's hand.
There are opponents to this position that would state elsewhere in Scripture such declarations exist that teach we can lose our salvation. If that is the case, then they must be harmonized with the above sections of Scripture. But I do not see how it is possible, especially in light of John 6:37-40 above which teaches you can't lose your salvation.
1 John 2:19
The third Scripture I want to focus on is 1 John 2:19. It says, "They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, in order that it might be shown that they all are not of us."
The context is as follows. In 1:1-4, John speaks about the manifestation of Christ in the world. In 1:5-10 he speaks about God being light and the forgiveness of our sins. In 2:1-6 John says he writes so that we will not sin, that Christ is the propitiation for our sins, and that we are to keep his commandments so as to demonstrate that we are walking in him. 2:7-11 is where John writes about a new commandment, about loving your brother and walking in the light rather than darkness. In 2:12-14 he tells us that our sins are forgiven, that we have overcome the evil one. In 2:15-17 John tells us not to love the world, and that the world is passing away with its lusts. In 2:18-24 he writes about the Antichrist and those who deny the Son. In 2:25ff he speaks of the promise of eternal life, of loving one another, etc.
So, 2:18 is the immediate context of John telling us that many antichrists have arisen, and then in v. 19 he says that they were not from us. Now, some people say this verse does not prove eternal security because the people who left were antichrists and they naturally would not have stayed. But, John is not telling us that if the antichrists had been of them they would have stayed with him. That would make no sense. The reason the antichrists left was to show they were not of us; that is, of God. John declares that if these people had been "of us, they would have remained." Antichrists aren't going to remain, only the true believers will.
To me, this declares clearly that those who really are of God will remain, and those who are not will leave. It does not say that Christians become antichrists or that Christians lose their salvation. It differentiates between those who are true and false, and states that the false will leave and the true will stay.
Predestination is another controversial topic within the Christian church. Nevertheless, predestination is biblical. To predestine means that God has foreordained, chosen to bring about, what he has decide to accomplish. In Eph. 1:4-5 we find that God "...chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. In love 5 He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will." If God, who knows all things from eternity, knows those who are his, knows whom he has chosen and predestined, and knows whom he gives to the Son, can they be lost? If so, would that not mean that God, who has foreordained whatsoever shall come to pass (predestined), has ordained that he lose some of those whom he has called from eternity -- just so he can lose them? That makes no sense.
Is not God powerful enough, or knowledgeable enough in his predestination to ensure that the ones whom he has chosen for salvation (2 Thess. 2:13) will have eternal life and thus never perish (John 10:27-28)? It would seem to me that God's abilities far surpass our weaknesses and frailties.
The goal of this paper is not to provide an exhaustive study on the topic of eternal security. Instead, it is to present what I see as the definitive Scriptures supporting our security with Christ. Having said that, I am not aware of a convincing arguments that can refute my understanding of John 6:37-40, John 10:27-28, and 1 John 2:19. If any exist, I'm always open to examining them and be corrected since I desire to represent God's Word properly.
Christians on both sides of this argument fail to be gracious. Each side sometimes misrepresents the other's position. Therefore, we must honestly try to represent the other side properly before tackling it. Still, as Christians we must learn to be gracious to one another as Romans 14:1-12 states.
Another concern I have is that the extremists on both sides point fingers at each other and accuse the other side of the worst heresy possible. I have heard eternal security labeled as a doctrine of demons, straight from the pit of hell, and a purposeful excuse to abide in sin. Such accusations are foolish at best, and those who make them should repent.
I've likewise heard people refer to conditional security as nothing more than works righteousness which leads to damnation. But is this a fair representation of the conditional salvation position? Not so. Most of those who hold to that view believe in salvation by grace through faith alone.
Personally, I believe we are saved with a great deal of error and ignorance. The essentials revolve around the person of Christ and his work, not our faithfulness, not our goodness, not our ability to maintain ourselves. Instead, we must keep our eyes focused on Christ and his accomplishment and rest in him, not in our ability to stay saved, to remain faithful, to keep believing, etc.
No one has everything perfectly understood regarding this topic. Therefore, the best we can do is be faithful to God according to the understanding we have, treat fellow Christians with love and grace, and seek not to mislead others either into a license to sin, or inadvertently advocate keeping our salvation by being good. Each position has its strengths and weaknesses, and if I understand human depravity properly I know that it doesn't take much for us to use the grace of God for evil -- no matter what position you hold. So, let us be careful when judging others.
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