The Eternal Security of a True Believer
There is a question that seems to plague believers, not just in Christianity, but in every religion which has ever existed. And that question is summed up in "IS THERE ANY SECURITY IN MY BELIEF?", or put another way, "WILL I RECEIVE THE BENEFITS WHICH I HAVE BEEN PROMISED?"
Leaving aside any consideration for other "religions" or belief systems, and focusing only on Christianity, we find today that there are three completely divergent and mutually exclusive approaches to the question. One approach says YES!, emphatically and with no reservations, "I am saved, and no matter what, I will always be saved." We will call this the "faith only system". The second approach says essentially NO! there is no security in salvation UNLESS I do certain things. We'll call this the "faith plus works system". The third approach is much harder to understand, in that it says "well, maybe...what saves me MAY NOT save someone else, because there are different rules for different folks at different times." We'll call this the "capricious god system".
To answer this question, and to decide which system is scriptural requires first and foremost that we "define" who and what God is or isn't. To do this, we must needs look to the only source available to us that tells us these things, and that is the bible, or Word of God.
To be God, there are certain things that He must be. If He is not these things, then He can be no more than a man, or a figment of our imagination. First, He must be perfect and without any character flaw. In other words, Holy. In Exodus 15:11 we see "who is like unto thee, O LORD...who is like thee, glorious in Holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders?" Psalm 47:8 says "God sitteth upon the throne of His Holiness". Amos 4:2, "God has sworn by His Holiness...". And in Hebrews 12:10, "...that we might be partakers of His Holiness." While there is no single definitive summation in scripture of what constitutes "holiness", everything seems to point to it being absolute perfection, a complete absence of sin or error.
Second, it seems that He would have to be powerful, powerful in ways that no man or any other thing could possibly be. I think there are only two places we need to look to see this power established. In Genesis 1:1, "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth." And in John 11:43, "and when he thus had spoken, he cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth. And he which was dead came forth...". He who is capable of creating something from nothing, and to give life in place of death would indeed be more powerful than anything we can imagine.
Thirdly, we look at something that actually is encompassed with the first (perfection, holiness, without sin), but definitely bears emphasizing. God cannot be like unto man in His ethical dealings, ie: He cannot be a liar. What He says is the truth, capital T, and is not dependent upon what any one believes. He is one who keeps His word. If this were not true, then there is no way that we could believe in anything He says, for if one statement or promise is false, then ALL others "might" be. In Romans 3:4, we see "...yea, let God be true, but every man a liar". In Numbers 24:19, "God is not a man, that He should lie". And again in Romans 3:3, "for what if some did not believe; shall their unbelief make the faith (fullness) of God without effect?", and in 2 Timothy 2:13, "if we believe not, yet He abideth faithful: He cannot deny Himself".
While there are many more verses available to substantiate what has been said this far, I think it has been adequately established that God is powerful and able to bring to pass what He says or promises, that He is faithful to what He says or promises and will do it regardless of what we may believe, and that He does not lie.
There is then one last issue to be confronted, that being the sovereignty of God. Is God sovereign over His creation? Does He, and He alone determine the final outcome of all things, or is the outcome subject to the desires, whims, decisions or actions of His creation? There are literally hundreds of scriptures from Genesis to Revelation that establish the sovereignty of God over all things: His creation, man, things seen and unseen; but we will only point out two, both located in Psalms. Psalm 103:19, "The LORD has prepared His throne in the heavens; and His kingdom rules over all". And in Psalm 115:3, "our God is in the heavens; He hath done whatsoever He pleased".
God is sovereign. He is Lord. He can do whatever He wants to. BUT, in that sovereignty, there are certain things He cannot do (this does NOT limit or hinder God, but further establishes His absolute power, righteousness, and holiness). He CANNOT be untrue or unfaithful to Himself. What He has spoken, so shall it be done. If it were otherwise, then all that He has said would be questionable.
Let's look first at the "Capricious God" system. Within this category are two major groups, one within Christianity, and the other outside. Those outside are basically what are referred to as Universalists. Their belief is that all mankind will be "redeemed" in the end, as long as they have found "their pathway" to the "cosmic consciousness". To them, there is no set way to approach God, or to be counted worthy of entering into His presence. This then essentially says that how we live, or what we do, is of no real consequence to God, only that we live or do according to the dictates of our own conscience. Scripture does tell us however, that "there is none righteous, no, not one" (Romans 3:10), and that "the heart of man is only on evil continually" (Gen. 6:5). If this is true, then man cannot by any stretch of the imagination devise a way to be holy enough to stand in the presence of God, who is perfect. Scripture also tells us that "salvation is by faith, and not of works, lest any man should boast" Eph. 2:9). To which we add the scripture "I am the way, the truth, and the life. NO MAN cometh to the Father but BY ME" (John 14:6). and "Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved" (Acts 4:12). By the very Word of God, there is only one way, not many. The slopes of universalism are indeed slippery, and according to scriptures impossible to climb.
Within Christianity itself there is a movement that goes variously by the names of "Acts 9 Dispensationalism", "Mid-Acts Dispensationalism", "Ultra Dispensationalism", and a few others. At the heart of their teaching is that God, in His sovereignty (which they gladly acknowledge) is the master or ruler of the house. As such, it is entirely His prerogative to change or alter the "house rules', and that He has done it many times in His dealings with man. They define a "dispensation" as a period of time in which God has altered these rules by adding to or taking away the requirements for being accounted "righteous" in His sight. As proof of "dispensations", they generally refer to Paul's expositions concerning the "dispensation of grace" found in 1 Cor. 9:17, Eph. 1:10 and 3:2, and Colossians 1:25. They make a distinct separation between salvation by grace, and salvation by grace PLUS works. They acknowledge that in "this dispensation" (or current period of time) salvation is by grace only, BUT at different times in the past, there have been other rules and addendums requiring different methods or ways of being saved. According to them, Jews of the time period up until Paul finished writing his epistles could only be saved by belief (faith) coupled with adherence to the law. Scripture does tell us, however, that failure in any aspect of the law meant failure in all, so there could be no salvation. Then again, maybe there was, if they fulfilled all the law. Hmmm. A leading proponent (Bob Hill) of this school of thought says that there are (in his opinion) only twelve dispensations (or ways to be saved), although he also says there "could be as few as three, or as many as 37 or so" (for more information, refer to the bible study entitled Is There More Than One Gospel?).
This methodology manages to perform some tricks that would make a circus contortionist look like a strait-jacketed invertebrate in attempting to support their contentions, but the danger lies in the characterizations of God that they present, without saying it in so many words. While acknowledging God's sovereignty, or ability to do as He pleases, they also accuse Him of being arbitrary, devoid of equity or fairness (which equates with love), and capriciousness, changing His way or method to suit Himself or at the requirement of those He governs.
God is not capricious in His dealings with man. Such activity would indeed by classed as double-minded, not staying with one thing but flip-flopping, back-tracking, weaving here and there to grant or deny arbitrarily. James 1:8 says that a "double-minded man is unstable in all his ways." If double-minded men are unstable, what would that make a double-minded God? Is God unstable? If so, does He then meet the criteria established at the beginning of this study? If He is double-minded, or unstable, can we then count on anything He says?
This ultra-dispensationalism raises one other question that then leaves any believer in absolute limbo. How do we KNOW that we are "obeying" the right set of "house rules"? How do we KNOW that there has not been another "dispensation" dropped on us, and we're missing the boat? How do we KNOW that Mohammed, or Joseph Smith, or Sun Myung Moon hasn't ushered in a whole new "dispensation"? We couldn't know, we wouldn't know, unless we then determined that the Word of God was worthless. And if it is worthless, then what do we have to base the idea of salvation (or dispensationalism) on to begin with? Catch-22. Ultra-dispensationalism impales itself on the horns of a dilemma.
The real capper to the destruction of ultra-dispensationalism can be found in the words of Paul the apostle in writing to the Galatians, chap.1 verse 6. Paul, at this point in his ministry, had been dogged at every turn by those he called "judaizers', who presented themselves to his converts and preached a "gospel' that required faith and acceptance of Jesus as the messiah, but included a requirement for adherence to the laws of Judaism, without which no one could be truly saved. Paul writes to the Galatian church, and says "I marvel (am amazed) that you are so soon (quickly) removed from Him that called you into the grace (free gift) of Christ unto another gospel; which is NOT another (gospel); but there are some that trouble you, and would PERVERT (change, twist, alter, make unrecognizable) the gospel of Christ". Paul is making clear that the "gospel" being preached by these others is NOT the gospel of Christ, there is no such thing as "another:" gospel, and what is being preached is a perversion of the gospel (sounds a little like the serpent in the garden, huh?). Paul then goes on to say that anyone (himself included) that preaches a "gospel" that does not conform EXACTLY to what he had first preached to them is accursed. And he repeats that curse to emphasize it.
What was the gospel that Paul preached. In Chap.2, vs. 16, "knowing that a man is NOT justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of (in) Jesus Christ...", and in vs. 21, "I (Paul, a Jew) do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness comes by the law, then Christ died in vain".
Pauls argument in Galatians establishes adequately that the concept of "ultra-dispensationalism" or multiple paths to salvation is not grounded in the Word of God, but only in the minds of men. It also destroys the argument of those today who believe that one is saved by faith, but kept saved only by works. Later in Galatians, Paul says (3:2), "this only would I know from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? (3) are you so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are you now made perfect by the flesh"?
Throughout the entirety of scripture, we are shown examples of people who were considered righteous by God. Enoch, Job, Abraham, Lot, David, the prophets, Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, Gideon, Joshua, Zacharias, John the Baptist, Stephen...the list goes on. And each of these "believed God, and it was counted unto him as righteousness". That each and every one of these people did something (a work) as a result of faith has no bearing on the fact that faith preceeded and is the sole causative factor in being counted righteous. The best single example I can think of to establish this is the story of the man who was a sinner (he was a thief), and had no chance whatsoever to perform any "good work" or law-keeping act before he died. Just before his death, he professed Jesus as "the Christ, the Son of God", and asked remembrance. Jesus promised him that he would be with Him that very day in paradise. That's right. The thief on the cross. A Jew, "required" by Hebrew law to do the works of the law. A Jew, who, according to the dispensationalist, fell under the "house rules" requiring faith AND the adherence to the law. A Jew who, according to one dispensationalist I questioned about it, said that God "obviously made him a special dispensation" since he couldn't do anything. Hmmmm...
What is salvation? What does it mean to receive it, and what comes along with it? What is the "promise" or reward of salvation? On another page of this website, the subject of salvation is discussed. If you have any questions about what it is, click here to read up on it.
At this point we entertain the question of "if I am saved, how do I KNOW I won't lose it"? First, we'll look at what Jesus said in John 10:27; "my sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me". Ask yourself, do I hear Jesus? Can I read His Word, and hear Him speaking to me? Then Jesus said "and I give unto them (the sheep) eternal life, and they shall never perish". If you have heard Jesus, and follow Him, He has given you eternal life. Notice that He does NOT say "until you mess up, then I'll take it away," or "I'll let you have it AFTER you have done xxx good works (what IS a good work?) and been baptized properly, and spoken in tongues, and ......". No, He just gives eternal (forever, and ever, and ever) life and you shall NEVER perish. Notice the emphasis Jesus then puts on this gift. "My Father who gave them (the sheep) to me, is GREATER than all (anyone, anyplace, anytime, anywhere) and NO (man, one, person, thing) is ABLE to take them (the sheep) out of my Father's hand".
I think that's pretty clear. God, through His Holy Spirit, convinces man that he is sinful, and unrighteous. He then shows us that Jesus is righteous, and through Him we too can be "counted righteous", because we believe. And once Jesus has us, He SEALS us with the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:13) as a promise (earnest, guarantee, downpayment on the lay-a-way) of the inheritance (eternal life) UNTIL we are redeemed. He does not say "until you mess up, then I'll take it away".
Scripture is very straightforward about what salvation is, how we receive it, and how long its good for...eternal...life...by believing (see Salvation-What Is It). Now there are some who would say, "OK, salvation is by faith, but I have to do certain things (works) to keep it. Besides that, God gave me free will, or choice, so I can choose to walk away from God, in which case I lose my salvation".
Jesus said "whosoever believes in me SHALL NOT PERISH, but have ever-lasting life". How much simpler can it be said? For those who would argue that there are other places and scriptures that tie works in as a requirement, such as "keep my commandments", and then go to work itemizing all the commandments (including a lot of law), I will point to two things. The first is a philosophical/scientific argument called "Ockham's (occam's) Razor". It says that when there are two or more "competing" theories arriving at the same conclusion, the simpler of the theories is to be used. So what is it? Faith=salvation, or Faith+works=salvation? The second point here is that Jesus did several things concerning the "commandments" and the law. First and foremost, He "fulfilled the law" and it's requirements, thereby setting us free from that law, the law of death and not life. Second, He pulled the "Big 10" into two, which are summaries of the first 4 and the last six. "Love the Lord your God with ALL your heart, and ALL your strength, and ALL your mind", and "love your neighbor as yourself...on this hangs ALL the law and the prophets". Lastly, He gave us ONE NEW commandment. This "new" commandment is really a restatement of the second above, but He emphasized it for those who would follow Him, His sheep, the members of His body, the Church... "Love one another, for by this all men shall know you are mine".
For those who would argue that Hebrews 6:4-6 "proves" that we can "fall away" from salvation by our own choice, I would submit the following. First, by stating that we can, of our own choice and free-will, OR by interference from some outside influence, "fall away", be drawn away, or walk away from that gift imparted to us, is to then call Jesus (and therefore God) a liar. And if we believe Him to be a liar, then we did not believe in Him to begin with., Secondly, we are stating that God is limited in His power. Someone (me) or something (the devil?) has MORE power than God, and can do something that He cannot. Both of these beliefs, or attitudes are implicit in the statement "I can lose my salvation", and they are totally inconsistent with the established concept of who and what God must be to be God. A careful study of this passage indicates that those being referred to are not saved, but have just been present in church (like Simon the sorcerer?), and like the Jews in the wilderness, pine to return to that which they know, Judaism, and willingly turn away from the offer of life in Christ to go back to the death of the law.
Let's take a look at Simon the sorcerer, found in Acts 8. We begin in verse 13; "then Simon himself believed also, and was baptized, he continued with Phillip, and wondered, beholding the miracles and signs which were done". So far, this is a classic description of a convert to Christianity. Now to verse 18: "and when Simon saw that through laying on of the Apostles hands the Holy Ghost was given, he OFFERED THEM MONEY". Verse 21, Peter tells Simon "you have neither part or lot in this matter; for your heart is not right in the sight of God". What part? What lot? I would submit the part, the lot, was in Simon in his belief. It was not a belief born of truth, but one of covetousness, one of belonging, one of desire for self-gain. Now get this...Peter tells Simon to pray, and repent, so that God might forgive him. Does he? No, instead he tries to get Peter to pray FOR him, on his behalf. I don't think we'll see Simon the sorcerer in heaven. The book of Jude in its entirety is about false professors, members of the church, teachers, who pervert the truth of the Word of God for their own gain. Why then should we be so surprised that people like that are still with us? Why should we believe that they are saved Christians who turn away, and lose themselves and their salvation? "These are those who separate themselves (depart from the gospel), fleshly, having NOT the Spirit (they are unredeemed!)".
The summary of the matter concerning "security in salvation" is shown best in two places. In Phillippians 1:6, Paul writes: " being CONFIDENT of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you WILL perform it UNTIL the day of Jesus Christ". In 2 Timothy 1:12, "...for I KNOW whom I have believed, and am PERSUADED that HE is able to KEEP that which I have COMMITTED unto Him against that day".
There is security in salvation for the one who truly possesses the grace of God, but there is no security for those who merely profess Jesus, and by their actions and words deny His ability.
"Now unto Him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before
the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and
majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen".