HOW TO DISCUSS ETERNAL SECURITY
“Let he who has my word, speak my word faithfully” (Jeremiah ).
The doctrine of God’s sustaining grace, often called “Eternal Security”, is an important part of the gospel message. We are not only brought to faith by the grace of God alone, we are kept in faith by the grace of God alone. That fact should be of great comfort to every believer. Nevertheless, there are churches that rob believers of that assurance, often leading them to live in constant fear of losing salvation. As a result, those who come from such a background sometimes go to the opposite extreme, claiming that once a person is saved they can never lose salvation. Now, because most people approach this topic from two extremes, I know that what I have just said is going to raise a red flag. Therefore, I ask that you please hear me out.
I firmly believe that we, “are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation” (1Peter 1:5). That is what the Bible clearly teaches. However, the minute I replace what the Bible says, with the man-made cliché, “once saved always saved”, I have departed from God’s Word. If you cannot see the problems caused by that cliché, let me explain.
If I am “kept by the power of God”, as the Bible says, then I have no problem with any of the passages that warn us of the danger of losing salvation. After all, if we could not lose salvation God would not have to keep us from losing it. However, those who replace the words of Scripture with the cliché, “once saved always saved,” feel driven to explain away any passage of Scripture that contradicts that cliché. And, whenever they explain away a passage of Scripture they compromise their testimony, while making that passage of no effect (Mark ).
For example, suppose that you tell someone who is burdened with the constant fear of losing salvation, that they cannot lose salvation no matter what they do. And, he then replies by saying, “I cannot believe that, because the Bible says, “some will depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils” (1Timothy 4:1). How would you answer him? If you explain away the words of 1Timothy 4:1 you undermine your testimony. How? Because the words, “Those who are not of God will not accept what we say,” tell us that those who will not accept what the writers of Scripture have said are “not of God” (1John 4:6). Why should I believe anything you say if you do not believe what the Bible says?
Now, suppose that I tell someone who is burdened with the constant fear of losing salvation, that they should believe God’s promise to keep him from falling (1Peter 1:5, Jude 24). And, he then replies by saying, “I cannot believe that, because the Bible says, “some will depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils” (1Timothy 4:1). In that case, he would be the one refusing to accept what the Bible says, not me. On the contrary, I do not need to explain away the words of 1Timothy 4:1 because the only people who give “heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils” are those who are not trusting in Christ to keep them from falling.
I could then go on to explain that, just as the passages that warn sinners of the danger of hell, are intended to show us our need for God’s saving grace, the passages that warn us of the danger of falling are intended to show us our need for God’s sustaining grace (Jude 1:24, Romans 7:4). In both cases God wants us to trust in His grace, not in our own efforts. And, by believing His promise to keep you from falling you commit your soul to His care.
Because I teach what the Bible actually says instead of trying to replace the words of Scripture with man-made clichés or “principles, I have no problem with any of the passages that warn of the danger of falling. Why should I? Without God’s help I could not keep myself saved for ten minutes! Not only is my salvation a gift of God’s grace, faith itself is a gift of God’s grace (Ephesians 2:8-9, 1Corinthians 12:3). Furthermore, we should never explain away the passages that warn us of the danger of falling, because God uses those passages to keep us from losing our salvation. And, whenever we explain them away we make what they say “of no effect” (Mark ).
[These passages warn us of the danger of losing our salvation: Luke 8:13, Galatians 1:6 and 5:4, 1Timothy -20, 4:1, -15, 1Corinthians , Hebrews , 6:4-6, -27, -39, 2Peter -22.]
In order to understand what I am saying it is important to realize that the passages that warn us of the danger of falling are law, while the passages that assure us that God will keep us from falling are gospel. The law is God’s warning to the unrepentant, while the gospel is God’s promise of mercy to all who repent (1Timothy 1:9-11, Romans ). Therefore, in cases where a believer does fall into open sin (as David did in the matter of Uriah) God’s warnings are intended to bring him to repentance, and thus to keep him from losing his salvation. In other words, God keeps us saved by keeping us repentant, not by allowing us to sin!
What I have just said is very important, because those who replace the words of Scripture with the cliché, “once saved always saved” lead those who sin (like David did in the matter of Uriah) to believe that they have no need to repent, thus hardening them in sin by giving them a false assurance of salvation. If you think this is unimportant, you need to realize that anything that gives the unrepentant a false assurance of salvation is a false gospel.
Those who burden believers with the constant fear of losing salvation, and those who claim that once a person is saved they can live in sin with an unrepentant heart and still be saved, are both failing to rightly divide the word of truth (2Timothy 2:15). Those who are burdened need to be comforted with God’s promise of grace, while those who think that they can live in sin and still be saved need to be warned that they are deceiving themselves (1John 1:6, 1Corinthians 6:9-10).
All who claim to be teaching God’s Word can be divided into two camps: 1- Those who believe that the true doctrine is plainly stated in Scripture for all to see; and, 2- Those who believe that the true doctrine is the correct explanation of Scripture. If you do not think this is important, let me remind you that every cult leader assumes that the Bible is a book of mysterious sayings, while claiming that he or she has the correct explanation. In contrast, the Bible says, “no prophecy of scripture is of any private interpretation,” tells us that the message God wants us to get from His Word is nothing “other than what you read,” and tells us that the true doctrine is plainly stated in Scripture, “line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little” (2Peter 1:20, 1Corinthians 1:13, Isaiah 28:9-10).
If the Bible warns the unrepentant of the danger of falling it is because they need that warning. At the same time, if the Bible assures those who repent that He will keep them from falling (Jude 24) it is because they need that assurance. Therefore, it is important to teach everything the Bible says, and not to try to improve on Scripture by replacing what it actually says with man-made clichés and “principles”.
Just consider how many problems are caused by the simple cliché, “once saved always saved”. There are those who use that cliché as an excuse to continue in sin, or to never darken the door of a church. There are those who use that cliché to justify specific sins, or even suicide. And, there are those who do not even know that they need to repent, because that cliché has given them a false assurance of salvation.
Now, I know that many pastors try to get around these problems by claiming that those who fall into open sin (as David did) were never really saved, or that only those who are truly saved are always saved. But, these attempts to bandage the problem can contradict other passages and cause other problems. What we really need is to get back to the Bible, and back to what it says, while rejecting man-made clichés that only confuse the issues and undermine the testimony of those who are trying to share the gospel.
Those who tell believers that they can live in sin and still be saved are just as wrong as those who tell them that they have to keep themselves saved. If I could not lose salvation, or could keep myself saved, I would not need to be “kept by the power of God” (1Peter 1:5). However, because I do need to be kept by the power of God, I find great comfort in the fact God keeps me by His grace, for without His help I would surely fall.
Therefore, believing that God will keep you by His grace goes hand in hand with believing that you are saved by grace (Ephesians 2:8-9). Those who think that they can keep themselves saved are just as foolish as those who think that they can save themselves. At the same time, those who think that they can harden their hearts in unrepentance (by denying their sin or willfully flaunting God's law) yet still be saved, are under a delusion (Galatians 5:4, Hebrews 10:26-27, 2Peter 3:6). Such people need the warning of God's law, while those who have a repentant heart need the assurance that God will keep them by His grace.