This is a highly disputed topic and we need to have grace with one another as we discuss this issue. We also need to humble ourselves before the Word of God and let it do the teaching. Often times we believe something because it is what we were taught and we never really examined it closely by the Scriptures.
We are seeking to answer the question: Can a person who was once saved by the gospel fall away from grace, lose their salvation, and spend eternity in hell?
Throughout church history the primary answer has been “No.” With that said, there has always been a segment of Christianity that have believed that a person can lose their salvation if they fall away after being saved by the gospel. My position is what has been called for centuries, “Perseverance of the Saints.”
Defining Terms: Perseverance of the Saints
The doctrine of Perseverance of the Saints teaches that once God saves a person (justification) he will work to make them like his Son (sanctification) and sustain them until the day of Jesus’ return (glorification). In essence, he will guarantee that they will persevere until the end.
Once a person has been made right with God through repentance and faith God promises to sustain and sanctify that person into the image of his Son, Jesus. When a person believes the gospel they take on the righteousness of Jesus (2 Cor. 5:21). Perseverance of the Saints teaches that God will continue to transform that person into the image of Jesus and they will never lose the righteousness given to them through belief in the gospel.
Philippians 1:6 says, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”
Storms: Those who by the Spirit’s work are born again and justified by faith alone in Christ alone, will, by the work of that same gracious Spirit, persevere until life’s end.
To sum up how one defines Perseverance of the Saints it is sufficient to say, “God will finish what he started.” It might help to think of it as “the preservation of God.” It is not God that needs preservation, but rather it is God that does the preserving. God saves us and he also preserves us until the final day that we are fully united with Him.
A couple false views:
Once Saved Always Saved (no matter how you live):
One version of “eternal security” wrongly teaches that a person can be saved by the gospel and no matter what happens after that they will go to heaven. This view says that once a person becomes a Christian they will always remain saved no matter what their life looks like. “Once Saves Always Saved” is a good line, but only when we use it correctly. Once we are saved we are always saved because God promises to preserve us to the end. This does not mean that once we say a “sinners prayer” we can then live however we would like.
The Bible teaches us that once we are saved (justified) there will be evidence of this in our life. 2 Cor. 3:18 says, “But we all, with unveiled faces, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”
The life of a Christian is not only a one time status change from “not saved to saved.” The life of a Christian is one of continual transformation into the image of Jesus. God did not save us from our sins to simply leave us where he saved us. He saved us in order to change us by making us more like his perfect Son, Jesus.
Storms: Yes, true believers can backslide and fall into grievous sin, but God the Father, on the basis of the work of God the Son, will, through God the Spirit, preserve them in faith and present them to Himself on that final day of judgment.
Losing Your Salvation
Another popular false view is that you can lose your salvation. This view says once a person’s salvation may be lost by choosing to stop following Jesus and forsaking his/her faith.
God did what we would consider unthinkable- sending his very own Son to die on a cross so that sinners can be saved. He paid the ultimate price to take us- you and me- from death to life. This is incredible! If God can raise us from death to life can he not also sustain something that he made alive? We are dependent on him to save us, but all of a sudden he decides to leave the rest of our salvation up to us?
God saving sinners doesn’t stop at us initially being saved. He is working to restore our entire being. He doesn’t just want our sins removed, he wants us to walk in “newness of life” until He returns and sin and death is no more.
What is the purpose of what Jesus did?
“All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”
Jesus came to do the will of the Father. The will of the Father is to give everyone who looks to Jesus and believes in him eternal life! He then makes a promise, “I will raise him up on the last day.” Indeed, God will raise up everyone who believes in Jesus on the last day. This passage is crystal clear. Jesus will lose none of the people that trust in Jesus for salvation and God will raise all of them on the last day.
John 10: 37-40 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”
If anyone that was justified by God lost his/her salvation that means Jesus failed. The cross failed. The resurrection failed. God’s power is limited, for he is not able to sustain those he saves. The gospel is not very good news. If we can lose our salvation it means the gospel really only gives us a chance to be saved, but is unable to secure it. In this scenario the gospel gets us in the door, but it gives us no assurance that we won’t turn around and run right back out!
The Heart of Perseverance of the Saints
It is all grace. By God’s grace we are justified, initially made right with God. By God’s grace we are being sanctified, we are being transformed day by day into the image of Jesus. We are dependent on the grace of God from beginning to the end. Perseverance of the Saints should give us hope because we know that it is not up to us. It is not up to us to maintain a certain level of godliness to remain in God’s grace. If that were the case it wouldn’t be grace!
Christians, take heart. God is big. His love is big. He loves you so much that he not only saved you initially, but he promises to sustain you until the end. Your salvation is in His hands!
One final passage to encourage your heart:
Ephesians 1:13-14 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it to the praise of his glory.
Remember, the Holy Spirit is God. When we believed in Jesus we were sealed with the Holy Sprit “as the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it to the praise of his glory.” That, my friends, is good news.