Eternally Secure, Perpetually Striving

One of Christianity’s longest running arguments has to do with the believer’s security. If one has been born again, can he ever lose his salvation? If so, how? And, once lost, can it ever be retrieved?eternal-security

I’m not entirely settled on the issue myself.

On the one hand, some of my favorite scriptures bolster the “once saved, always saved” position. “No man is able to pluck them out of My Father’s hands” (John 10:29) for example, and “There is now therefore no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.”(Romans 8:1) Ditto for “He is able to save to the uttermost” (Hebrews 7:25) and “ye who are kept by the power of God.” (I Peter 1:5) Indeed, if we’re saved, as Paul told Titus, “not by works of righteousness which we have done but according to His mercy” (Titus 3:5) then my works, righteous or not, don’t figure into the salvation equation.

But I’m also sobered when I consider Christ’s warning that if a man does not abide in Him he is “cast forth as a withered branch and thrown into the fire” (John 15:6) and Paul’s description of some as “having damnation because they’ve cast off their faith.” (I Timothy 5:12)

Save it; I’ve heard all the pro and con interpretations of these verses, so I know exactly how both Calvinist and Arminianist would explain them. All of which leaves me preferring the idea of eternal security (who wouldn’t?) though not being entirely convinced of it.

You’re in good company, wherever you stand. My all-time hero Charles Spurgeon was true-blue Calvinist firmly holding to the once-saved-always-saved position. Yet my spiritual father and favorite Bible teacher Chuck Smith did not fully endorse the position and my denomination, the Assemblies of God, officially rejects it.  So honestly, I can’t see this as an essential doctrinal issue, and while debating it can be enlightening, I hope none of us would break fellowship over it.

I prefer, instead, to focus on what we do know about future judgment, including this: The great white throne judgment described in Revelation, at which those whose names aren’t written in the Book of Life are consigned to eternal damnation (Revelation 20:11-15) isn’t the only judgment people face after death. There’s also, for the believer, the Judgment Seat of Christ (II Corinthians 5:10) before which we who’ve been born again will stand, and at which we’ll face bestowal of, or loss of, eternal rewards. (I Corinthians 3: 12-15) And while heaven or hell won’t be the issues we face there, the believer’s gain or loss at that hearing will be momentous.

So Jesus encouraged us to lay up treasures in heaven (Matthew 6:20) referring to heavenly rewards in quantities (Matthew 5:12), and Paul compared our earthly life to an athletic contest in which competitors strive for a crown:

“And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they [do it] to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible.”(I Corinthians 9:25)

No wonder, then, he (Paul) referred to himself as a man who “presses on toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:14) Surely he of all people knew his good works could never save him, but he likewise knew he was in a race, striving to give it his best to please His Lord and receive the rewards he’d been encouraged by that same Lord to go for. He was saved, and eternally secure in that knowledge, while still zealous to be a faithful, diligent steward of the temporal gifts and responsibilities he’d been given.

Us, too, I hope. It’s discouraging to hear a believer say “If I’m saved and that’s unchangeable, why should I bother resisting sin? Why not kick back, enjoy whatever I want, then go home to Glory with my fire insurance policy all paid up?” That shows a remarkably immature view of our relationship to God, and a general ignorance of the fact that eternity isn’t just about heaven or hell, but also – and largely – about the eternal rewards, or loss thereof, given for faithful stewardship in this temporal life.

I’m secure. I’m striving. No contradiction there, only a deep, and ever deepening, desire to run this race, finish this course and say, as Paul did shortly before his own was finished:

“Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.” (II Timothy 4:8)


susanlkh | Sep 14, 2016

Couldn't agree more. Great post, Joe.

Tom Harmon | Sep 15, 2016

Love C.H.Spurgeon also Joe. Read his small booklet, "all of grace". God does the saving, we prove that its real, by "awaking to righteousness", and desiring Him. If that isn't true, then maybe we really didn't receive Him? When one sees the gravity of one's sin, and the price that was paid...then that is what lights the fire to follow Christ! If it doesn't, then maybe we didn't get it in the first place. I'm sure this is just one view, but I can just attest to it in my own life, and the study of scriptures for over 40 years. God bless!

Elizabeth | Sep 15, 2016

There's something deep inside me that appreciates the other view - the not-eternally-secure view. It keeps me on my toes... not striving... but ever aiming to ensure by my dependence on the Lord that I am one of those who belongs to Him. I know my own carnal inclination to slack off and be complacent, and this view keeps it in check. .. even as I hold fast to the once-saved-always-saved view. Now this o-s-a-s view provides me with that peace that will prevent me from falling into an anxious state of mind or heart... an unhealthy striving... as you call it. God knows what each person needs, and I love how He keeps us Secure and Questioning all at the same time! :-) Always enjoying your perspective... thank you!

bobstith | Sep 15, 2016

Wow Joe. As with your upcoming book this post bugs me because it is exactly what i've been wanting to write. As a life long Southern Baptist, I've always been convinced of the security of the believer. But as you said, I've also been aware of great men of the faith who've seen it differently. Not sure why we think we're suddenly going to present the case in such a way that all of the Christian world is going to say "of course. you're right." I remember saying in college that while I believed in the security of the believer the idea of warning people they might lose their salvation sure would make good sermon material. For me, my emphasis is increasingly on stressing the wonder and depth of new birth. It's not just praying a prayer as some like to throw out. It's a matter of being changed at the core of your being. Honestly it is hard for me to think of willfully choosing to walk away from that. BTW, you've heard I'm sure of the man who was rescued off an island in the ocean. Ship's captain asked if there were others on the island since he saw several buildings. The man replied, "no, it was just me. One building is my house, the other is my church and the third is where I used to go to church."

Dennis Michael Ames (@DennisAmes) | Sep 20, 2016

The answer must take into consideration both biblical perspectives, known in the history of theology as both the preservation of the saints and the perseverance of the saints. Put simply this means that God will preserve his people to the end, but he will do it by giving them the grace to persevere through all the difficulties of the Christian life. 'Once saved always saved' is a less desirable way to look at this truth, because it gives the impression that no matter how a professing Christian lives, they will still get to heaven. The biblical perspective is rather that the true believer will surely make it to heaven, but only by continuing in faith and holiness to the end. Yes, God gives the grace to do this, but it's precisely grace that results in effort and obedience.

Patricia | Sep 20, 2016

As so often in Scripture, we are called to balance 2 seemingly contrary teachings. But it is the balance that is important: We are preserved as Saints and as a result, we persevere--enabled by the God's power and the work of the Spirit. For me, it is hard sometimes to balance the two, and I tend to worry whether I am showing enough fruits of the Spirit to evidence I am in the Book of Life. I would rather have a stronger sense of eternal security than I do have; I believe I would be a more effective (and winsome ) witness for Christ if I possessed unshakable certainty. Maybe God knows if I had such certainty, I would be too pious and proud, so I have this to wrestle with until I see Jesus face-to-face. Appreciate any insight or thoughts you all have on this. Thanks.

Tom Harmon | Sep 20, 2016

When I fear my faith will fail, Christ will hold me fast. When the tempter would prevail, He will hold me fast. I could never keep my hold, through life's fearful path, for my love is often cold, He must hold me fast. He will hold me fast, for my Savior loves me so, He will hold me fast. Ada Habershon

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