A guy was wrestling with a question that had troubled him for years.
“Can a person lose his salvation?”
The question came up when I was recently visiting his men’s Bible study. He explained a scenario to me:
“Christopher, right now you are saved and you are a Christian. You serve the Lord faithfully and are a man of God. However, let’s say that something drastic happens in your life and you walk away from God and your faith. Furthermore, you not only walk away from God but you become an active worshipper of Satan. If you start to worship Satan and have walked away from God, are you still saved?“
The men’s group shared that they often struggle with that same question. If I am saved can I lose my salvation? How do I know I’m saved?
And to be honest, as a pastor I also struggle with this question.
In this post I want to explain two main topics: eternal security and assurance. First, let’s define those terms briefly and then, second look at what Scripture says.
Photo Credit: Finn Terman
The Assurance of Eternal Security
I. DEFINITIONS OF “ETERNAL SECURITY” AND “ASSURANCE”
Eternal security is the biblical fact that once you are saved you cannot lose your salvation. Assurance is the feeling of comfort you experience because you are certain you cannot lose your salvation.
II. WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS ABOUT ETERNAL SECURITY
A. The Father’s Gift of Eternal Life
The first passage I want us to examine regarding the topic of eternal security is from the book of John.
37 However, those the Father has given me will come to me, and I will never reject them. 38 For I have come down from heaven to do the will of God who sent me, not to do my own will. 39 And this is the will of God, that I should not lose even one of all those he has given me, but that I should raise them up at the last day. 40 For it is my Father’s will that all who see his Son and believe in him should have eternal life. I will raise them up at the last day.” (John 6:37–40, NLT)[ref]Unless otherwise noted, all translations are from the New Living Translation. Tyndale House Publishers. Holy Bible: New Living Translation. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2015.[/ref]
1. The Father gives Christians to Jesus, and Jesus doesn’t reject them (v. 37).
There are two points Jesus makes in verse 37 that we need to make sure we see.
- First, is that God the father decides who gets saved. We will talk more about the “call” of God later in this post.
- Second, is that Jesus won’t reject who the Father has chosen.
The phrase, “I will never reject them” (οὐ μὴ ἐκβάλω ἔξω) is a strong double negative in Greek. It’s similar to saying, “I will never ever” or “no not ever.”[ref]A.T. Robertson, Word Pictures (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1933).[/ref] This is a strong way of saying that who the father gives to Jesus will surely be accepted and held on to.
2. The Father doesn’t want Jesus to lose anyone (v. 39).
The Greek word, ἀπόλλυμι, is used in John 6:39 and is often translated as “lose” or “be lost.” It indicates both the intention and sure accomplishment of the person making a statement.[ref]It is called by Greek scholars a “purpose result ἵνα clause.” In this context (the Greek subjunctive mood). New Testament Greek grammar professor Daniel Wallace writes regarding this verse, “What God purposes is what happens and, consequently, ἵνα is used to express both divine purpose and the result” (Wallace, Greek Grammar, p. 473).[/ref] What God wants to happen will happen. Jesus surely hangs on to the ones the Father sends him.
3. The Father wants anyone who “sees and believes” in Jesus to have eternal life (v. 40).
This verse, with the combination of other verses in this chapter, makes it clear that once a person makes a decision for Christ, he won’t be sent away (John 6:47, 50-51, 54, 58). Furthermore, God makes a decree that anyone who makes that decision will have eternal life and cannot be lost (Rom 8:28-30).
B. The Safety of the Gift
Similar to the passage from John 6 which I shared above, in John 10 Jesus continues to explain how Christians are safe and secure with him using the metaphor of sheep.
27 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one can snatch them away from me, 29 for my Father has given them to me, and he is more powerful than anyone else.[ref]Other manuscripts read for what my Father has given me is more powerful than anything; still others read for regarding that which my Father has given me, he is greater than all.[/ref] No one can snatch them from the Father’s hand. (John 10:27-29)
1. Eternal life is a gift.
Jesus tells us, “I give them eternal life” (v. 28) which is a common theme in John’s gospel (Jn 5:24; 6:27, 40), John’s letter (1 Jn 5:11), and Paul’s letter to the believers in Rome (Rm 6:23). Eternal life is a gift that we receive and accept. We do not earn it and we do not deserve it. Yet God gives us eternal life.
2. No one can snatch a believer away from God.
The sheep (Christians) listen to Jesus’s voice, Jesus knows them, and they follow him (v. 27). Jesus gives them eternal life and “they will never perish” (v. 28a).[ref]Robertson, Word Pictures.[/ref] This should cause the sheep to feel secure because they receive eternal life from God (Jn 3:16; 6:39; 17:12; 18:9) and “no wolf, no thief, no bandit, no hireling, no demon, not even the devil can pluck the sheep out of my hand.”[ref]Ibid.[/ref] Despite attempts by Satan and others to steal them, it will not happen.
3. Believers are secure in his hand.
The security of believers is based on the shepherd (God), not the sheep (Christians, see verse 28). What a relief that is to many of us!
One commentary I was reading shares that John 10:28 “is one of the clearest statements in the Bible that one who believes in Jesus for salvation will never be lost. Believers sin and stumble, but Jesus as the perfect shepherd loses none of His flock.”[ref]Edwin Blum, Bible Knowledge Commentary, vol. 2, p. 311.[/ref]
I am not sure about you, but I am comforted knowing that I am safe in God’s hand and not my own. My eternal destiny is not dependent on my own wandering thoughts or wicked behavior. It is based on God, and I am secure in his hand.
C. The Process of Receiving His Gift
Paul describes God’s process for giving eternal life in Romans,
28 And we know that God causes everything to work together[ref]Some manuscripts read And we know that everything works together.[/ref] for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. 29 For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn[ref]Or would be supreme.[/ref] among many brothers and sisters. 30 And having chosen them, he called them to come to him. And having called them, he gave them right standing with himself. And having given them right standing, he gave them his glory.
31 What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? 32 Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? 33 Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one—for God himself has given us right standing with himself. 34 Who then will condemn us? No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us.
35 Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? 36 (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”[ref]Ps 44:22.[/ref]) 37 No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.
38 And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[ref]Greek nor rulers.[/ref] neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. 39 No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:28-39)
1. God called us
This passage says that God’s people are “called” (verses 28 and 30) and “chosen” (verses 29 and 33). To be “called” and “chosen” means more than being invited to receive Christ. It means being summoned to and given salvation (Rom 1:6).[ref]To the prophet Jeremiah, God knew him in advance and called him for a specific purpose. God told Jeremiah that he “knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb. Before you were born I set you apart and appointed you as my prophet to the nations” (Jer 1:5; cf. Amos 3:2). Paul talks about being called in Eph 1:4 (cf. verse 5, 11) as well as Rom 9:11, 2 Thess 2:13-14, and 2 Tim 1:9. God’s call applies only to people who are saved. God does not call people to hell.[/ref]
2. God justified us.
Verse 30 says that since God’s people have been called, “he gave them right standing with himself.” This is the concept of justification. The New Living Translation does not use “justified” here but almost every other translation uses the word “justified” here. (The concept of justification—being declared right in God’s sight—is discussed in Rom 3:24, 28; 4:2, 5:1, 9.) Notice that it is God who gives the right standing. It is not the result of anything that we do. God is the one who initiates and starts it all.
3. God secured us.
God “called” his people (v. 28) into a relationship with him (v. 29-30). It is God who “chose” us in advance (vv. 29-30, 33). Because God did this, nothing can separate us from his love (vv. 35, 38, 39). Believers are secure in Christ because he called them into a relationship and nothing can separate them from that relationship.
D. The Seal of God
In Paul’s letter to the believers in Ephesus he discusses eternal security by describing the identification of God that is placed on God’s people.
30 And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live. Remember, he has identified you as his own,[ref]Or has put his seal on you.[/ref] guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption. (Ephesians 4:30)
1. Our poor behavior brings sorrow, but God doesn’t reject us because of it.
Paul spends the first three chapters of Ephesians talking about doctrine and what Christ did for his people. Then in chapter four he starts to describe the manner in which people should live based on what Christ did. He tells them they need to:
- Throw off their old sinful nature (4:22),
- Put on the new nature (4:24),
- Stop telling lies (4:25),
- Don’t be controlled by anger (4:26),
- Stop stealing (4:28), and
- Not to use bad language (4:29).
But Paul also says that doing these things does not mean that God will reject them or cause them to lose their salvation. Instead, it means that they will “bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit” (v. 30). Please notice the Holy Spirit experiences grief when we live opposite of the way we are supposed to, but God’s relationship with us is still there.[ref]When talking about God’s love for his rebellious people, Israel, Isaiah says that they “rebelled against him and grieved his Holy Spirit” (Isa 63:10). And in 1 Thess 5:19, “Do not stifle the Holy Spirit.” While wicked and immoral behavior might bring sorrow and grief to the Holy Spirit, there is still a relationship.[/ref]
2. Our identification comes from God, and that can’t be changed.
Paul tells the believers in Ephesus that God has “identified you as his own, guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption” (v. 30). Thankfully, God has claimed us. He has literally, “sealed us” which comes from the Greek verb, ἐσφραγίσθητε. This Greek word can be translated as “I put a seal on, seal, mark, certify.” The verb is also used in Ephesians 1:13, “And when you believed in Christ, he identified you as his own[ref] Or he put his seal on you.[/ref] by giving you the Holy Spirit.”
It reminds me of the Stevie Wonder song, “Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I’m Yours”
If you read the lyrics you can see the man who is in love makes mistakes along the way. Yet he still is “yours.” He still wants to have his relationship. In the lyrics he says,
Like a fool I went and stayed too long . . .
Signed sealed, delivered, I’m yours . . .
Done a lot of foolish things
That I didn’t really mean. . .
Signed, sealed, delivered, I’m yours. . .
Done a lot of foolish things
(Done a lot)
That I really didn’t mean
(Got a feeling)
I could be a broken man
(Here I am, Here I am)
Signed, sealed, delivered, I’m yours. . . [ref] Songwriters: Stevie Wonder / Syreeta Wright / Lee Garretti / Lula Mae Harnaway. Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours lyrics © Black Bull Music, Stone Agate Music, Sawandi Music, Johanan Vigoda Admin. Acct. Stevie Wonder Catalogue, JOBETE MUSIC CO INC, STONE AGATE MUSIC CORP, BLACK-BULL-MUSIC, INC., BLACK BULL MUSIC INC, JOBETE MUSIC CO., INC. https://www.google.com/search?q=stevie+wonder+signed+sealed+delivered&oq=steve+wonder+signed+s&aqs=chrome.1.69i57j0l7.4117j0j7&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8 Accessed November 27, 2019.[/ref]
As Christians, we too can sing to God, “Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I’m Yours.” We will mess up at times, but we are sealed by God and are still his people even when we sin and make mistakes.
E. The Future Work of God[ref]Also see 1 Corinthians 1:8[/ref]
Christians can have assurance that they are saved and will enjoy a future life in Heaven because God is in control of our salvation, and he will make sure that he continues what he started. Paul briefly mentions this in his letter to the believers in Philippi.
1. God is the one who does the work.
Right at the beginning of the verse it is clear that Paul’s confidence comes from God. Continuance of salvation (the “work”) depends on God, not on humans’ effort or lack of it. As I shared in the passage in John 6, our confidence for protection is in the shepherd (God), not the sheep (us).
2. Paul is certain God will finish it.
Paul is certain that God will finish the work of salvation which God started. The perfect participle πεποιθὼς is used here from the verb πείθω, which means “I persuade” or “I am convinced.” To express his certainty Paul used the perfect participle which means Paul was convinced that God would continue what he started.
3. Christ will finish it when he comes back.
When Christ returns[ref]We don’t know that time, see Matthew 24:36; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-3; 2 Peter 3:10; Revelation 3:3[/ref] God’s work (of salvation) in us will be completed.
F. The Proof of God’s Work in You
But what about people that appear to be part of God’s church and then they leave? Are they saved? Were they saved? The apostle John talks about this in his first letter.
18 Dear children, the last hour is here. You have heard that the Antichrist is coming, and already many such antichrists have appeared. From this we know that the last hour has come. 19 These people left our churches, but they never really belonged with us; otherwise they would have stayed with us. When they left, it proved that they did not belong with us. (1 John 2:18-19)
1. Those that left never truly belonged.
This seems to be John’s big idea and focus here: If they were true believers they would have stayed with the church (v. 19). The fact that they left the church John was part of means they never truly were saved.
Please don’t misunderstand. Sometimes there are churches that lose their way in their doctrine or sinful conduct, and people should leave. However, this was not the case with John. John was an eyewitness of Jesus and a disciple that traveled with him for three years (1 Jn 1:1-3). Yet, the people that left the fellowship with John spread false teachings about Jesus (1 Jn 4:1; 2 Jn 7). How pompous and prideful it must have been to say that you disagreed with John and that you were leaving the church he was in.
The point John is making here is that if they left the fellowship of the church-led by John-then those people never truly belonged to the church fellowship.
2. Those that left chose to leave, they were not forced to leave by God or humans.
In verse 19 it says “when they left.” It is important to note that these people left under their own will and desire. They were not thrown out by the church, they were not being disciplined by the church leadership, and they were not removed by God. It was their own personal decision to leave.
These people left the church, but they left because they wanted to leave, not because anyone forced them to leave.
3. Those that remain are true believers.
So, staying in the church means I’m saved? Well, not necessarily. However, when you have a relationship with God and appreciate what Christ did for you, you will want to be part of his church. You will want to worship, learn, and serve God with others who share your faith. A Christian wants to be part of the body of believers (1 John 3:14), has the same divine nature (2 Peter 2:14), and is indwelt by the same Holy Spirit (Rom 8:14-16). “Not everyone who is part of an assembly of believers is necessarily a member of the family of God” (Warren Wiersbe, Be Real, p. 90). You are saved by your faith in Jesus Christ (see my post on grace, faith, and justification) as well as having an understanding of what Christ did on the cross for you.
III. WHAT GOD’S CHARACTER SAYS ABOUT ETERNAL SECURITY
A. God Doesn’t Make Mistakes
James (the half brother of Jesus) tells us, “Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens.[ref] Greek from above, from the Father of lights.[/ref] He never changes or casts a shifting shadow.[ref]Some manuscripts read He never changes, as a shifting shadow does.[/ref] (James 1:17). What God decides he wants to happen will happen, and he doesn’t make mistakes. If, as I explained above in the passage on Romans, God has called you to himself and justified you, then surely he will keep you secure and safe in your salvation.
B. God Doesn’t Lie
Paul tells us in his letter to Titus, “This truth gives them [the people God has chosen] confidence that they have eternal life, which God—who does not lie—promised them before the world began” (Titus 1:2). God does not lie. If he has saved us and promised us eternal life, he won’t take that eternal life away. This is because “it is impossible for God to lie” (Hebrews 6:18).
C. God Doesn’t Change His Mind
God has told us, “I am the LORD, and I do not change” (Malachi 3:6). Once God has decided something he doesn’t change his mind. Therefore, we can rest assured we are safe and secure in our salvation.
IV. CONCLUSION AND APPLICATION
A. There are many things in this world I can worry about, but whether or not I will lose my salvation should not be one of them.
I am thankful that my salvation is secure. Once I accepted God’s gift of salvation I no longer had to worry about whether or not I am saved. This is one of the things that makes Christianity unique–our salvation is secure. Not all religions provide this same security to their followers. We know that we are saved and we are going to spend eternity with God in heaven, and nothing can change that. Let’s have one less thing to worry about and not worry about losing our salvation.
B. When times are difficult, assurance is the one thing that I can count on.
While our salvation is secure there will still be difficult and painful times in our lives. But, the assurance of our eternal security is something that we can rely on. Regardless of what happens in life we can always be comforted knowing that our eternal destination will be with God in heaven. This reminds me of Franklin Graham and his life and journey as a believer. If you are familiar with Franklin Graham you know he’s the CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and Samaritan’s Purse. His story of growing up as the son of Billy Graham is told in this book, Rebel with a Cause: Finally Comfortable Being a Graham (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1995). In the book he talks about smoking as a young kid, being sent off to boarding school, moving to Alaska, riding motorcycles, drinking wiskey, renting an airplane to fly across America, and other activities he engaged in as he struggled to find his way in life and to settle as a Christian.
Yet, with all his activities that he knew didn’t align well with his father, family name, or Christian faith, Franklin shares, “I remember my father saying, ‘Franklin, your mother and I love you very much, and we want you to know that no matter what you do in life, no matter where you go, our home will always be your home.'”[ref]Mark Barrett, “Graham’s children managed personal struggles” on Citizen Times, https://www.citizen-times.com/story/news/local/2018/02/25/overcoming-struggles-billy-grahams-children-rooted-ministry-today/360965002/, accessed November 15, 2019.[/ref]
That’s the message of eternal security and assurance for us as Christians. Regardless of what we do and how we may feel, we belong to God. That’s the assurance of eternal security. He loves us, he has called us to him, and even though there might be times when we don’t act like we should, we still belong in his home.