Most of us know people who have made a profession of faith in Christ and who have perhaps even made a strong display of faith, involving themselves deeply in the life and ministry of the church, only to later repudiate that faith and become spiritual dropouts. Such evidence always raises the question, “Can a person once saved lose his salvation?”
The Roman Catholic Church teaches that people can and do lose their salvation. If a person commits a mortal sin, such sin kills the grace of justification that inhabits his soul. If he dies before being restored to a state of grace via the sacrament of penance, he will go to hell.
Many Protestants (those who hold to the “Five Truths of Arminian Theology”) also believe that it is possible to lose one’s salvation. The warnings of Hebrews 6 and Paul’s concern about becoming “disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:27), as well as the examples of King Saul and others, have led some to conclude that people can fall fully and finally from grace.
On the other hand, Reformed theology teaches the doctrine of eternal security. In essence the doctrine teaches that if you have saving faith you will never lose it, and if you lose it, you never had it. As John writes, “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us” (1 John 2:19).
We know it is possible for people to be enamored by certain elements of Christianity without ever embracing Christ Himself. Perhaps a young person is attracted to a fun and stimulating youth group that has an appealing program. The person may be “converted” to the program without being converted to Christ. Such a person may be like those pictured in the parable of the sower:
“A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell by the wayside; and it was trampled down, and the birds of the air devoured it. Some fell on rock; and as soon as it sprang up, it withered away because it lacked moisture. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprang up with it and choked it. But others fell on good ground, sprang up, and yielded a crop a hundredfold.” (Luke 8:5-8)
The parable may refer to those who believed at first, but afterwards fell away, or it may mean that those who “believed” had a false or spurious faith, as Reformed theology maintains. Only the seed that falls on the good ground yields the fruit of obedience. Jesus describes these as ones who hear the word “with a noble and good heart” (Luke 8:15). Their faith proceeds from a truly regenerate heart.
The doctrine of eternal security does not rest on our ability to persevere, even if we are regenerate. Rather, it rests on the promise of God to preserve us. Paul writes to the Philippians, “Being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6). It is by grace and grace alone that Christians persevere. God finishes what He begins. He insures that His purposes in election are not frustrated.
The golden chain of Romans 8 gives further testimony to this hope. “Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified” (Romans 8:30). Paul goes on to declare that nothing “shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:39).
We have security because salvation is of the Lord and we are His craftsmanship. He gives the Holy Spirit to every believer as a promise that He will fulfill what He begins. He has likewise sealed every believer by the Holy Spirit. He has marked us with an indelible mark and given His personal down payment that guarantees He will finish the transaction.
A final basis of confidence is found in the high-priestly work of Christ, who intercedes for us. Just as Jesus prayed for the restoration of Peter (and not for Judas), so He prays for our restoration when we stumble and fall. We may fall for a season but never fully or finally fall away. Jesus prayed in the upper room, “While I was with them in the world, I kept them in Your name. Those whom You gave Me I have kept; and none of them is lost except the son of perdition, that the Scripture might be fulfilled” (John 17:12). Only Judas, who was a son of perdition from the beginning, whose profession of faith was spurious, was lost. Those who are truly believers cannot be snatched from God’s hand (John 10:27-30).
- Many people make a profession of faith in Christ and later repudiate Him.
- Eternal security rests on the promises of God to preserve the saints.
- God will bring to completion the salvation of the elect.
- Those who depart from the faith were never really believers.
- We can have confidence in our salvation because we have been sealed with the Holy Spirit. He is God’s pledge to bring our salvation to completion.
- The intercession of Christ is for our preservation.
Biblical passages for reflection:
John 6:35-40 Romans 8:31-39
Philippians 1:6 2 Timothy 2:14-19 Hebrews 9:11-15
THE ASSURANCE OF SALVATION
Can anyone know for sure that he is saved? For someone to declare that he is certain of his salvation may seem to be an act of unspeakable arrogance. Yet the Bible calls us to make our salvation a matter of certainty. Peter commands, “Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure” (2 Peter 1:10).
It is our duty to seek assurance of our salvation with diligence. This is not done out of idle curiosity about the state of our soul, but to enhance our growth in sanctification. Christians who remain uncertain about the state of their salvation are subject to all sorts of questions that paralyze their walk with Christ. They stumble in doubt and are vulnerable to the assaults of Satan. So we must seek to be assured of our salvation. There are four possible positions with respect to one’s assurance of salvation.
Position One: There are people who are unsaved and know that they are unsaved. These people are aware of the enmity they have in their hearts toward God and clearly want nothing to do with Christ as their Savior. They are bold to proclaim that they do not need Christ. Such people are often openly hostile to the gospel.
Position Two: There are people who are saved but do not know they are saved. These people are actually in a state of grace but are uncertain of it. Perhaps they are wrestling with sin in their lives and doubt their own salvation because of a troubled conscience. In this group are those who have not yet made certain that they are among the elect.
Position Three: There are people who are saved and know that they are saved. This is the group who are certain of their election and calling. They have a clear and sound understanding of what salvation requires and know they have met the requirements. They have believed the testimony of the Holy Spirit when He witnessed to their spirits that they are the children of God (Romans 8:16).
Position Four: There are people who are not saved but confidently believe that they are saved. These people have assurance of salvation without salvation. Their assurance is a false assurance.
Because it is possible to have a false assurance of salvation, how do we know if we are in group three or group four? To answer that we must look more closely at group four and ask how it is possible to have a false sense of assurance.
The easiest way to have a false assurance of salvation is to have a false doctrine of salvation. For example, if a person holds to a universalist view of salvation they may reason as follows:
Every person is saved. I am a person. Therefore, I am saved. …………….. Because their doctrine is faulty, their assurance has no firm basis.
Another way that people falsely assure themselves of salvation is by believing that they will get to heaven by trying to live a good life. Those who think they are living a good enough life to satisfy the demands of a holy God are only deluding themselves into thinking they are saved.
But what if a person has a sound doctrine of salvation? Is it still possible to have false assurance? We must answer yes. A person might think he has saving faith but not really possess it. The test for authentic assurance is twofold. On the one hand, we must examine our own hearts to see if we have true faith in Christ. We must see whether or not we have any genuine love for the biblical Christ. For we know such love for Him would be impossible without regeneration.
Second, we must examine the fruit of our faith. We do not need perfect fruit to have assurance, but there must be some evidence of the fruit of obedience for our profession of faith to be credible. If no fruit is present, then no faith is present. Where saving faith is found, fruit of that faith is also found.
Finally, we seek our assurance from the Word of God through which the Holy Spirit bears witness to our spirit that we are His children.
- It is our duty to diligently pursue assurance of salvation.
- Assurance of salvation enhances our sanctification.
- There are four possible groups or positions regarding assurance:
- Those who are unsaved and know they are unsaved
- Those who are saved but don’t have assurance that they are are saved
- Those who are saved and know they are saved
- Those who are unsaved but believe they are saved
- False assurance is primarily based on a false doctrine of salvation.
- For authentic assurance we must search our hearts and examine the fruit of our faith.
- Full assurance comes from the Word of God coupled with the testimony of the Holy Spirit.
Biblical passages for reflection:
Matthew 7:21-23 John 3:1-21
Romans 8:15-17 2 Corinthians 1:12
1 John 2:3-6 1 John 5:131