This post was written by Brant Cole.
I recently read a story about a young boy living with a family that had adopted him. And the story began with the boy convulsing with sobs, choking out his words.
“Don’t make me leave!”
It was one of the saddest stories I’ve ever read. The biological mother of this 4-year-old boy had won a bitter legal battle to reclaim her son from his adoptive family. When she arrived with her lawyer to take him from the only home he had ever known, the terrified, confused little boy pleaded with those he knew as Mommy and Daddy not to give him up to this complete stranger.
“Don’t make me go,” he begged. “Please. Please. Don’t send me away!”
With no understanding of courts, lawyers and legal codes, the boy was removed and left to wonder what he had done to be banished from those who had always said they loved him.
Some Christians live with the terrifying insecurity that in the shadows of God’s mind lurks a willingness to send them away if they fail or disappoint him. Despite their love for God, they fear that God will withdraw his love from them and banish them from his heavenly home forever.
In the Bible, however, God repeatedly assures his people that once he sets his love on them, they are secure in that love forever. But before describing the many reasons why I believe this to be true, allow me to acknowledge that there is still a theological discussion about how secure one’s eternal destiny remains on this side of death. Many good and godly Christians disagree about whether someone’s salvation remains secure once believing in Jesus.
So, before I describe why I believe in the doctrine of eternal security, allow me to give a brief (and admittedly simplistic) overview of this discussion along with definitions of each.
The view of Eternal Security (also called the perseverance of the saints in Reformed/Calvinist circles) states that once a person puts their faith in Jesus alone for salvation from the penalty of sin, their eternal destiny in heaven remains secure, no matter how little faith in Jesus remains throughout their life, nor how much apostasy they experience before they die. In short, you can’t lose your salvation.
The view of Conditional Security (also called the conditional preservation of the saints in Armenian circles) states that believers are kept safe by God in their saving relationship with him upon the condition of a persevering faith in Jesus. In other words, you can lose your salvation if you stop believing in Jesus.
In support of Eternal Security:
Basic Argument #1 – Eternal security is a necessary and logical outcome of total depravity and unconditional election.
Basic Argument #2 – Scripture plainly teaches that one can never lose their salvation:
- John 5:24; 6:39-40; 10:25-29
- Rom. 8:29-30,38-39; 11:29
- Eph. 1:13,14
Basic Argument #3 – Christians can rest in the assurance of their salvation:
- 1 John 5:13
- Phil. 1:6
Eternal Security in a nutshell
“Security and perseverance are two sides to the same coin. It is God’s responsibility to protect and secure our salvation and it is our responsibility to persevere in our belief until the end. However, God will enable those who are His to persevere until the end. Those who don’t persevere until the end were not His to begin with.”
In support of Conditional Security:
Basic Argument #1 – God gives us this freedom to choose him or reject him (free will). God does not take away this freedom when we become believers.
Basic Argument #2 – Scripture plainly teaches that one can lose their salvation:
- 1 John 5:16 ; Mark 3:28,29
- Heb. 6:4-6; 10:26,27
- 2 Pet. 2:19-22; Gal. 5:1-4
Basic Argument #3 – Scripture plainly teaches that salvation requires a continuous belief until death:
- Matt. 24:10-13; Heb. 3:6
- John 3:16; 5:24; 6:40
Conditional Security in a nutshell
“Salvation can be lost through apostate action: scripture proves it and free will requires it. To believe otherwise is a blatant heresy. History supports this view because until John Calvin, no serious church leader had believed in, or promoted, the “once-saved-always-saved” view.”
One quick thought: It is worth noting that both Eternal Security and Conditional Security devotees can furnish convincing prooftexts for their respective beliefs.
That being said, here are my top 5 reasons for believing in the doctrine of Eternal Security.
We have Eternal Security forever because God keeps his promises.
The place to begin to understand a believer’s security with God is with God, for a believer’s security is not rooted in the believer, but in the believer’s God.
Though he had far more evidence in his life than almost anyone else to assure him of his salvation, Paul looked not primarily to himself, but to the character of God for assurance that his soul was safe with him. Paul’s testimony was, “I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me” (2 Timothy 1:12). What was true for Paul is true for every other believer: God is able to securely guard the salvation he gives to believers, from the first moment of faith until the Day of Judgment and their entrance into heaven.
One of the most reassuring aspects of the character of God for fearful believers is the fact that God keeps his promises. God “never lies” (Titus 1:2). In fact, “it is impossible for God to lie” (Hebrews 6:18). As Scripture reminds us, “God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?” (Numbers 23:19).
Among his many promises are these: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31), and “everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Acts 2:21), and “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). Along with these is the great promise of John 3:16. Try to read it as though you have never encountered it before: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
Also, Paul went to great lengths to assure us that nothing “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:39). And so, if he ever stopped loving someone who has believed in Jesus, he would be lying about his love being “steadfast” and “forever.” If God ever allowed anything to separate one believer from his love, he would be a liar.
Conditional Security challenges God’s omniscience.
Romans 8:28-30 claims that God already foreknew everyone that he justified, and that, further, he will glorify them. This claim is strengthened by the language that is used to describe this reality. It uses the past tense to say this, as if it’s so secure that it had already happened long before the world was formed. supports eternal security. However, if we could lose our salvation, the doctrine of God’s foreknowledge in Romans 8:28-30 wouldn’t be true because of those he whom he justified (freed from the penalty of sin at the point of their belief in Jesus), some were capable avoiding the future reality of being glorified (eternally freed from the presence of sin in heaven). This would make Paul a liar, and God less than omniscient. It would mean that God can’t possibly know everything because he clearly didn’t know who would be glorified. Certainly he thought that those he justified might be glorified…but some got away. And he was wrong. And if he we can’t trust that he knows everything, how can we trust what he says about the way to heaven? Conditional security challenges how much God knows, and thus, how much we can trust what he says in the Bible.
Conditional Security weakens the eternal strength of Jesus.
In John 6:39, Jesus stated, “This is the will of the Father who sent me, that of all he has given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day.” Jesus here claimed that he will not lose those who have been given to him by the Father. In other words, he cannot lose those who have received him as their Savior to condemnation or hell. If people have been given to Jesus through salvation, then they will be resurrected. Just as their resurrection is secure, so also is their salvation. But if we could lose our salvation, even by our own apostasy, this would mean that Jesus was insufficient for the task of losing nothing that the Father had given him, and that he was too weak to hold on to us.
Further, Jesus declared, “And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:28). The expression “never perish” is a strong term. The word “never” is a double negative in Greek (ou ma), showing the strongest denial. Thus, the possibility of an individual ever losing his or her salvation must be denied. Jesus also illustrated the security of the believer by stating that “neither shall anyone snatch them out of my hand.” The believer is kept safe in the hand of the almighty Savior.
Then, in verse 29, Jesus emphasized this point even more by stating that the believer is in the hand of God the Father who “is greater than all.” There is no one strong enough to steal a believer from the Father. In different ways, I have heard some version of the argument that although one cannot snatch another from God’s hand, we can snatch ourselves out of God’s hand. The double negative ou ma, however, contradicts such a possibility. A finite person cannot overpower the infinite God. Genuine believers are safe in the hands of God the Father and God the Son.
Conditional Security limits the love of Jesus for those who have believed.
In Romans 8:35, Paul asked the following question: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” For the Christian to be separated from the love of Jesus would mean that the genuine believer could have lost his salvation. In the rest of verse 35, Paul listed several misfortunes that might indicate one has lost his salvation. In verse 37, Paul denied that these events can cause one to be separated from the love of Jesus. In verses 38 and 39, Paul further denied possibilities that might cause one to think that he or she is outside the love of Jesus. Paul strongly and repeatedly contested that one cannot be separated from the love of Jesus, no matter the conceivable limits. In other words, one cannot experience any barrier that would prevent someone from retaining his salvation. Why? Because the love of Jesus is limitless for those who have believed.
Conditional Security asserts that sin could possibly overcome God.
In 1 Peter 1:5, Peter declared that we are “kept by the power of God.” The point is not that a believer must keep himself or herself saved. The point is that it is God who keeps the person saved. One must ask if God has enough power to do this work. The obvious answer is “yes.” God is all powerful. For a person to be able to lose his salvation is to assert that finite sin could possibly overcome an infinite God. This is obviously incorrect and heretical. Once an individual truly trusts Jesus, he is secure in Jesus. There is not a sin that can “unjustify” one who has been justified. A person cannot be plucked from God’s hand, and a person cannot be separated from the love of Jesus.
When I have discussed this issue with people, I have been asked about situations in which people claim to be saved but their actions deny what they claim to be true. How do we understand cases like these?
First, we must remember that we can’t see into a person’s heart. Only God knows for sure the spiritual condition of the individual.
Second, we should remember that this type of individual is in one of two conditions. He or she is either lost and facing God’s eternal condemnation (John 3:18), or the individual is living a fleshly lifestyle and is facing God’s discipline (Heb. 12:7–11). Neither of these situations is a place where a Spirit-filled Christian should want to be.
Third, we should remember that not everyone who claims to be saved is actually saved. Jesus solemnly warned that there are individuals who will claim to be saved, but in reality they are not (Matt. 7:21–23). In the judgment of the sheep and goats, Christ made a similar statement (Matt. 25:31–46).
I don’t give these reminders in order to set ourselves up as judges of someone else’s salvation. We should make comments such as these to another individual only after much prayer and with love, grace, and tact. For genuine believers, passages such as the ones discussed here provide great comfort in the confidence that they have eternal security.
We are Eternally Secure, but not presumptuous.
While the Bible teaches that believers can be assured that their salvation is eternally secure, it also warns about the counterfeit of false assurance. In Matthew 7:21, Jesus gave one of many such New Testament warnings for those who presume that their souls are secure: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven.”
I am convinced that hell will be filled with so many people who were absolutely sure they were heaven-bound because they relied solely upon a public response they made in a church service or some other Christian meeting, or upon their baptism, church attendance, contributions to the church, love for their family, community or military service, an extraordinary experience or some list of accomplishments. The fatal flaw in all these sources of assurance is that they are based upon what the individual has done rather than what Jesus has done. To build your hopes for heaven on something – anything – in your life rather than upon the life and death of Jesus is to build on a rotten foundation.
To put it another way, suppose someone asked you, “Why do you think God accepts you and will let you into heaven?” Beware of any answer that would begin with, “Because I …” Don’t misunderstand. There are some things we must do to know God and go to heaven. We must repent, and we must believe the Gospel (Mark 1:15). But even things we’re commanded to do, such as repent and have faith, are effective only because of what Jesus has done, so that the security of our salvation rests solely in him, and not in us.
BRANT COLE: Gifted in relational connections and transformational preaching, Brant considers it one of his highest privileges to do ministry with millennials and Generation Z. To him, there is no greater calling than to join Jesus in building his church.
With an M.A. in Pastoral Studies and Congregational Leadership from Moody Theological Seminary, and a B.A. in Pastoral Studies from Moody Bible Institute, Brant serves as the Youth and Young Adults Pastor at Walloon Lake Community Church in Walloon Lake, MI. He is married to Christine, has one daughter, Grace, and is expecting a baby boy in May.