It is my firm belief that a Christian cannot lose his or her salvation, or continually pass through a state of flux between being saved and being lost. This doctrine has been given several names, such as “once saved, always saved” or “eternal security.” The first question, however, that must be asked is, if salvation can be lost, how much sin will cause one to lose their salvation?
James, the pastor of the Jerusalem Church and half-brother of our Lord, writes, “For whoever may observe the whole law, but slip up in one [point], he has become [and forever remains] guilty of all” (James 2:10). The word γέγονεν, gegonen, translated “has become,” is in the perfect tense which conveys past action, present results. Therefore, if sin can cause us to lose our salvation, then all it takes is just one sin to forever keep us guilty before God. In other words, if we can lose our salvation, then after having trusted Christ, one must live perfectly from that point forward, never slipping up even once.
The Father’s Imperishable Gift
One of the key passages regarding the eternal security of believers comes from the Lord himself during his earthly ministry. The Lord in John 10:28-30 gives us the beautiful promise (my translation):
And I give them eternal life and never ever may they perish, neither shall anyone carry them off out of my hand. My Father who has given them to me is greater than all, and no one is able to carry [them] out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.
We are secure in his hands just as Israel was clay in his hands (Jeremiah 18:1-6). Believers are the Lord’s temple and if necessary he will break us in order to rebuild us into the image of his Son (1 Corinthians 3:16-17). The term in this verse translated as “never ever” is the Greek double-negative οὐ μὴ, ou mey, the most emphatic way in Greek of negation. Therefore, it could also be rendered, “they shall absolutely never perish,” to bring out the force of the Greek. The Lord promises that he will absolutely never ever ever allow his sheep to perish.
Yet, the Lord continues in verse 29 saying, “My Father who has given them to me…” The word translated “has given” in this verse is δέδωκέν, dedoken, another perfect tense verb, which as explained above, conveys past action, present results. That is, as believers, the Father did not merely give us to his Son before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4), but we remain forever the Father’s gift to the Son. The idea that we could have been given to the Son by the Father and then later fall out of favor for any reason is completely excluded by the force of the Greek text. As Christians, we have been given to the Son and remain gifts to the Son.
The Lord also says in John 3:36, “He that is believing in the Son has eternal life…” and in John 5:24, “He that is hearing my word and believing him that sent me, has eternal life…” In both cases, the Lord uses the word ἔχει, echei, translated “has,” which is in the present tense. The latter verse also uses the present participles “hearing” and “believing” in conjunction with “has,” to say when someone believes then at that moment they have eternal life. Eternal life is not something that Christians gain when they die, but is something that is gained the moment one surrenders to the Lord Jesus. The moment anyone becomes a Christian they have eternal life; if salvation, therefore, can be lost, then eternal life would be conditioned on human merit.
The Theology of the Apostle Paul
Furthermore, if we can lose our salvation for any reason then salvation on some level becomes a matter of merit and works. The apostle Paul says plainly, “For by grace you are saved [and remain eternally saved] through faith, and this not of you, the gift of God, not of works so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). The verb ἐστε, este, translated “you are,” is in the present tense, while the verb σεσῳσμένοι, sesosmenoi, translated “saved,” is a perfect tense, passive participle. Therefore, we are presently saved through trusting in the Lord Jesus and we will always remain in that state. Also, as a passive participle there is no action a person can do to change his or her state before God. Someone is either saved and eternally secure, or they are lost and have never been saved.
Now, there has been much debate on this verse regarding whether “the gift of God” that Paul says is “not of you,” references “grace” or “faith.” Typically, those who lean toward Calvinism argue that it refers to faith while others say it refers to grace. Either could be true, but it seems that both views miss the point of the text. It is much more likely that “the gift of God” is that we have been saved, both grace and faith merely modifiers of “saved.” How are we saved according to this text? By grace and through faith. The apostle’s point in the text is not the order of salvation, but that we are saved and will forever remain so; that is the gift of God.
The eternal security of believers is further evident in 2 Corinthians 5:17 which says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, [he is] a new creature: the old has passed away [and gone]; behold, the new has come [and remains forever].” First of all, this verse uses the aorist verb παρῆλθεν, parelthen, translated “has passed away,” the aorist conveying punctiliar action. That is, the old does not merely gradually pass away, but passed away in an instant. Secondly, the verse then uses the perfect tense verb γέγονεν, gegonen, the same word we observed in James 2:10, to state that the new “has come.” Therefore, the old passed away completely at the moment of salvation and we not only were made new creatures then but we forever remain new.
Common Arguments Against Eternal Security
It is commonly asserted, however, by those who deny eternal security, that such a doctrine is merely a “get out of hell free card,” a license to sin freely. Yet, one who believes that he or she can sin as often as possible because salvation is by grace is thinking carnally – in the flesh – rather than in the spirit, and may not be saved (1 Corinthians 2:14-15; Romans 6:1-2). J. Vernon McGee put it well when he said, “I believe in the eternal security of the believer and in the insecurity of the make-believer.”
As new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17), we have a new nature that enables us to do good works (Ephesians 2:10), our old Adamic nature only capable of sin. From our earliest years as children we all have the innate proclivity to lie, steal, and have things our way. As Christians, however, such is no longer our nature, the old completely gone; of course, we still sin, but the Christian sins against their nature while the non-Christian sins in accordance with their nature.
Yet, perhaps the most common argument made against eternal security uses two passages from the Epistle to the Hebrews. The first passage, Hebrews 6:4-6, says:
For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.
It must be remembered that this epistle was written to Hebrew (Jewish) believers; then, we must consider both the meaning of the passage and the application for today. The application, which we will get to after the specific meaning of the text, is perhaps the most important because it keeps us humble and bids us to examine ourselves carefully.
This passage specifically refers to those who were waiting for the Messiah and were saved in accordance with the Old Covenant. Yet, when they were confronted by the preaching of the gospel by the apostles, they rejected Jesus as being the Messiah. The writer, therefore, tells his readers that despite being Jews who God had enlightened by giving the Law at Sinai and who had tasted and glimpsed the things of heaven, if they rejected Jesus, there was not going to be another Messiah to come.
This is made especially plain a few chapters later in which the text says (Hebrews 10:26, 28-29):
For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins. … He that despised Moses’ law died without mercy under two or three witnesses: Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith He was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace.
The writer contrasts the punishment given to ones who despised the law of Moses with the “much sorer punishment” to those who turned back to that very law after receiving the knowledge of the truth, that is, after hearing the gospel of the Lord Jesus but rejecting him as the Messiah for whom they had been waiting. For anyone to “wilfully” go back under the law or their own morality or their particular religious ideas rather than trusting in Jesus does so “despite unto the Spirit of grace” and “there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins.” That is, the Father is not going to send another Messiah; Jesus is the only way to the Father.
Yet, this passage also has application for believers today, specifically in the raising of children. The apostle Paul says, “For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the [believing] wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the [believing] husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy” (1 Corinthians 7:14). This is not speaking of salvation, for such is a personal decision, but rather, the influence of a believing parent on a home. Children who are raised in strong Christian homes taste and glimpse the things of heaven from a very early age in much the same manner as the Jews of old did. Yet, Christian parents should not be content with their children merely being good, but should continually share the plan of salvation with them and pray earnestly that they will confess Jesus as Lord. No one is saved by their family heritage or how they were taught to live; all must confess Jesus as Lord to be saved.
We all at some point get caught up in comparing our stance with the Lord by our actions; if we are doing well, we tend to think the Lord loves us more than when we slip up. It is natural in the flesh to sometimes think this way, but we must never “wilfully” go back to trying earn favor with God through the law or our morality or religious ideas. The oft-quoted She’ma states: “And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with ALL thine heart, and with ALL thy soul, and with ALL thy might” (Deuteronomy 6:5; Luke 10:27).
If we are honest, this is a great impossibility. Yet, this should not come as a surprise, as this text is the single most important part of the law of Moses. No one can love the Lord with absolutely ALL that is within him or her; everyone eventually starts thinking of things other than the Lord, even things we may consider trivial. It is not the She’ma that we should focus on living by, but instead, we should focus on living each day under the liberating grace of God.
Peter believed that he loved the Lord with all that was within him, declaring he would never forsake Jesus under any circumstances. Yet, soon after saying that, he denied with cursing that he knew the Lord. John, on the other hand, remained by Jesus at the Cross who entrusted the disciple with the care of Mary, the Lord’s mother. The difference between Peter and John during the time of the Gospel Period is that instead of focusing on his love for Jesus, John focused on Jesus’ love for him (John 21:20), and that enabled him to keep the law and remain faithful to his Lord. God is not concerned with us keeping the She’ma because he knows we can never keep the law perfectly. He is concerned with us acknowledging His love and responding to it, living in true liberty (2 Corinthians 3:17).