From "Once Upon a Time..."
To "...Happily Ever After"?

A Discussion of the "Once Saved, Always Saved" Theory

Neil Girrard

Scriptures Referenced in This Article:
          (Follow the Scripture links if you want to study the Scriptures for yourself.)
Gen. 25:34 π Num. 21:4-9 π Jer. 17:9 π Lam. 3:22-23 π Ezek. 15:2-8 π Dan. 11:32 π Mt. 3:8 π Mt. 3:10; 2nd π Mt. 5:13; 2nd π Mt. 5:29-30 π Mt. 7:13-14 π Mt. 7:15-20 π Mt. 7:19; 2nd π Mt. 7:21-23 π Mt. 8:12 π Mt. 9:13 π Mt. 10:22 π Mt. 10:28 π Mt. 10:32-33 π Mt. 11:12 π Mt. 11:20-24 π Mt. 13:12 π Mt. 13:13-17 π Mt. 13:18-23 π Mt. 13:19 π Mt. 13:41-42 π Mt. 13:47-50 π Mt. 18:8-9 π Mt. 21:18-19 π Mt. 22:13-14 π Mt. 22:14 π Mt. 24:48-51 π Mt. 25:14-30 π Mt. 25:29-30 π Mk. 9:42-50 π Mk. 10:21-22 π Lk. 3:8 π Lk. 3:9; 2nd π Lk. 5:31-32 π Lk. 8:18 π Lk. 12:5 π Lk. 13:2-5 π Lk. 13:5 π Lk. 13:6-9 π Lk. 13:24-28 π Lk. 15:1-10 π Lk. 15:7 π Lk. 15:10 π Lk. 15:11-32 π Jn. 3:14 π Jn. 3:16 π Jn. 3:16-18 π Jn. 6:15 π Jn. 10:12 π Jn. 10:27 π Jn. 10:28 π Jn. 10:28-29 π Jn. 10:28-30 π Jn. 10:29; 2nd π Jn. 15:2-6 π Jn. 15:6 π Jn. 15:16 π Jn. 21:15-19 π Acts 8:39 π Acts 23:10 π Rom. 6:6 π Rom. 8:1; 2nd π Rom. 8:38-39; 2nd π Rom. 10:8-11 π Rom. 10:13 π Rom. 11:17-23 π 1 Cor. 6:9-10 π 1 Cor. 15:1-2 π 2 Cor. 12:2 π 2 Cor. 12:4 π Gal. 5:4; 2nd π Gal. 5:19-21 π Col. 1:19-23 π 1 Ths. 4:17 π 1 Tim. 3:6 π 1 Tim. 5:11-12 π 2 Tim. 1:7 π 2 Tim. 2:19 π Tit. 1:16; 2nd; 3rd π Tit. 2:11-14 π Tit. 3:8 π Heb. 2:1 π Heb. 2:1-4 π Heb. 2:3 π Heb. 3:12-4:1 π Heb. 3:14 π Heb. 6:4 π Heb. 6:4-8 π Heb. 6:11-12 π Heb. 10:26-39 π Heb. 12:11 π Heb. 12:14 π Heb. 12:14-17 π Jas. 2:14-26 π Jas. 5:19-20 π 2 Pet. 2:20-21; 2nd π 2 Pet. 3:9 π 1 Jn. 1:9; 2nd π 1 Jn. 3:3 π 1 Jn. 3:5-10 π 1 Jn. 4:17 π 1 Jn. 4:18 π 1 Jn. 5:3 π 1 Jn. 5:4 π 1 Jn. 5:5 π 3 Jn. 11 π Jude 21 π Jude 23 π Rev. 3:1-6 π Rev. 3:6 π Rev. 12:5 π Rev. 21:7-8

We live in a land that loves stories with happy endings. Our movies, our books, our television sitcoms, our fairy tales, almost everything in fiction seems required to have a happy ending in order to be popular. Sadly, Christianity has succumbed to this quest for popularity and has sought, in many instances, to guarantee a happy ending for all who would embark upon the Christian's spiritual journey to heaven. Unfortunately, in her zeal to provide comfort and assurance to those who are struggling against doubts and questions, the church has too often inadvertently given comfort and assurance to those who merely believe that they have embarked upon this journey.

It has come upon my heart to address a grievous lie that has crept into our thinking, into our beliefs, and into our actions as the Church, the spotless Bride of Christ. This lie is monstrously blasphemous in proportions - not because there is no element of truth in it (the best lies have a great deal of truth in them) - but because ignorant and unlearned people have taken the elements of truth and used it at the expense of other obvious truths of the Scripture. And the ignorant and unlearned are assisted by some well-meaning, well-educated but not necessarily spiritually-led teachers of the Word of God who, in seeking to assure the disquieted soul, have truly only succeeded in giving license to the immature and unlearned and in giving comfort to the apostate and lazy. This is one of the terrible fruits of our modern, impersonal "gospel."

This lie which must be consciously confronted can be so deceptive as to allow one to be deceived into forfeiting their heritage and birthright as children of God. That blasphemous lie is the popular, albeit Scripturally inadequate "once saved, always saved" doctrine.

What makes this lie so deceiving is that it is only a partial rendering of the biblical truth. The more accurate biblical rendering, if it must be put into a quaint and quotable phrase, would be "once saved, always saved, so long as you abide." And I am not unaware that some will argue with even this statement.

So why, after this argument has gone on for centuries, is it so important to raise the issue once again and risk dividing the body of Christ yet again? I believe this concept of "once saved, always saved" is deceptive and dangerous because many "Christians" have a severe lack of understanding as to what salvation truly is. Many view walking up a church aisle and saying a "sinner's prayer" as salvation and feel that this is the end of the matter. Others believe that continued, faithful attendance at an established "church" constitutes salvation. Such a view neglects the very nature of Jesus' call to forsake all and follow Him while it promotes a tendency to grow complacent, perhaps even stagnant or dead, in one's spiritual life.

And while there is truth that one who truly knows God will draw ever nearer to him, there is still an element of human nature that, on occasion, requires the fear of losing so precious a gift to spur us on to return to our first love. Thus, if even one person uses the "once saved, always saved" theory as an excuse for apostasy and sin, or if even one person is convinced by this writing of the fallacy and foolishness of such an attempt, then the risk of division will have proven itself appropriate and worthwhile.

Keep the Focus

This essay is not intended to cause anyone who is truly struggling against sin in their life to doubt their eternal security - in fact, your struggle against your sin is your best assurance of your security in Christ. An unsaved person is not concerned with being obedient to God. No, this study in God's Word is intended to help us think more correctly about God's side-by-side attributes of both severity and goodness and to cause those who have grown complacent in regards to sin and love for God to reconsider their precarious position. This controversy does not apply to those who make a deathbed conversion and die immediately for they, without question, enter into eternity with exactly what they have at that moment - a wasted life washed clean by the blood of Christ and no fruit because they have not had any time to grow any. This controversy applies only to those who know Christ Jesus and who have the time to bear fruit for Him - and the time to reject Him. Beyond these considerations, this essay has no other purpose, and the reader will place other purposes herein at his own risk.

At the bottom of it all there lies two questions which will go far to assess the approach you, the reader, are taking and how you are going to receive what is said in this discussion. First, does this question directly apply to you or to any specific individual that you know? That is, are you convinced of your own eternal salvation and does your life demonstrate the qualities of one who is truly a Christian? Or are you concerned about yourself or a friend or loved one who relies on the "once saved always saved" theory but demonstrates little or no change that proves repentance? If so, then this discussion has specific applications in your life.

But there are those who look at this discussion as an academic and abstract exercise of the intellect. If you, the reader, are of this latter category, you may as well stop reading now for you will only waste your time and energy if you look upon this controversy as merely an argument to be won or lost.

The second question relates to the motives of the individual also. Are you 1) by faith committed to complete surrender of all of your self, strength, and resources in obedience to all that God tells you? Or do you 2) reserve certain activities and attitudes as distinctly your own and refuse to surrender these things to God - all the while relying on this "once saved always saved" theory to "get you through" on judgment day? If you are of this second group, you will find what I have to say offensive for it will sting your flesh to be confronted with your need to completely and abjectly surrender all of your life to God. But if you are of the first group, you will probably see this whole discussion as rather trivial because you are in no danger of slipping into disobedience, deception, depravity, and, ultimately, destruction.

Love and Holiness

But it is in viewing the nature of God's twofold call of love and holiness upon our lives that we must absolutely reject the notion of "once saved, always saved." If the Bible's teachings in this area must be boiled down into a rule, a formula, a pithy statement, then it must be recognized that there are two pillars of truth between which stretches a line, held taut by the contrasting truths contained therein. Much as a bridge will have two pillars on either side of the roadway or a train will have two tracks that never meet or touch, so too do these contrasting truths stand side by side and one will do well to avoid either extreme. For it is true that nothing can take us out of God's hands; there is no earthly force or power outside of our own will that can bring us into or out of God's gracious gift of salvation. God honors our will, our choices, or He cannot be the God of love and power He claims to be.

But for those of you who are not easily convinced, I would like to present you with some Scriptures. I know that this debate has gone on for years, even centuries, but I believe that when one realizes that the more accurate rendering of the Bible's teachings on this matter is "once saved, always saved so long as you abide," then I believe that we will easily see that the Bible truly teaches that one who is not abiding will neither bear fruit for God nor enjoy the eternal rewards of grace.

This is true for one who never has abided in Christ (in spite of their claims to have done so) - consider that one who professes to know God but by their actions demonstrate that they don't even know Him is an abomination to God ( Tit. 1:16; top ) - and it is just as true and Biblical that one can start off in a relationship with God and then later neglect to abide under His grace, thus demonstrating a refusal to believe and receive. Human nature, being what it is, without a knowledge of our need to zealously pursue God who holds us securely, we will never press ourselves forward, straining ahead to grab hold of that which has been given to us in Christ Jesus, we will never grasp the concept of the fear of the LORD, and we will never become wise.

Look at the Scriptures

Consider the implications of the following Scriptures for yourself:

Check Your Own Heart First

Yet some will undoubtedly cry, "legalism" and "guilt" because of the heavy note which sounds by putting all those verses next to each other. Some will accuse me of trying to strike fear into the hearts of those who attempt to "ride the fence" in their so-called Christian life, that is, those who always seek to find out just how many worldly things they can do and "still be a Christian" - and they would be right for such a person has much to be afraid of. (see Tit. 1:16; top ) And they will be correct. Someone has once correctly stated that Satan is not worried about stumbling those who walk the fence because he owns the fence.

That someone would actually hold that half-hearted attitude most often demonstrates a casual, lackadaisical approach to the things of God that, at best, is mere foolishness and ignorance or, at worst, outright disobedience and rebellion, and is deserving of correction, reproof, rebuke, discipline. And if this attitude is left unchanged, only judgment and eternal destruction await this misinformed, misguided soul.

And yet these half-hearted folk have their Bible verses upon which they pin their hopes of eternal salvation. They will turn to a Scripture like "There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love." ( 1 Jn. 4:18; top ) There it is, they cry, God loves us and I love God so I don't have to be afraid because I have been perfected in love.

Wrong! People who take this attitude ignore what the verse directly before it says: "Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world." ( 1 Jn. 4:17; top ) Notice that this verse says " He is, so are we..." How is God? He is holy and pure and righteous and just and truthful. Does the lifestyle of these people on the fence match that description? Not usually. Usually they are bound by sins that they have not yet decided to be fully done with. This in spite of such truths as "our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin" ( Rom. 6:6 ) and such commands as "Pursue...holiness, without which no one will see the Lord" ( Heb. 12:14 ) and such warnings as "They profess to know God, but in works they deny Him, being abominable, disobedient, and disqualified for every good work." ( Tit. 1:16; top ) Anyone whose life is characterized by life-controlling sins and who has no desire and makes no attempt to appropriate God's grace to overcome those sins has good reason to doubt the validity of their salvation experience and great reason to have grave concerns about their eternal destiny.

Another mistake these people make is in mistaking what love for God really is, especially perfected love. A few verses later John writes and explains what love for God really is: "For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome." ( 1 Jn. 5:3; top ) If we love God, we keep His commandments. If we don't keep His commandments, our love is immature, not fully developed, not perfected. If we don't have perfect love for God, as will be demonstrated in absolute and complete obedience to His commands, then we have reason to expect His discipline. We ought to be afraid of His discipline - that is only common sense, for "no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but grievous.? ( Heb. 12:11; top ) And if we ignore or run from His discipline, then we have good reason to begin to expect punishment or chastisement. And if we ignore or run from His punishment, we have reason to believe we will come under His wrath and judgment. How far we progress along these lines is, in large part, up to us.

Jesus' confrontation with Peter after His resurrection illustrates graphically how God deals with our less than perfect love. ( Jn. 21:15-19; top ) Jesus asks Peter, "Do you love me with godly love (agape?" Peter answers, "You know I have brotherly love (phileo) for You." This interchange is repeated and then Jesus asks, "Do you really have brotherly love (phileo) for Me?" And Peter was hurt. But the point is made here that God recognizes our immature, imperfect love and He will continue to poke and prod us to objectively realize just who and what we are. It has been wisely said that God loves us right where we are at, and He loves us too much to leave us there.

The Depravity of Man

A doctrine that has sadly fallen into much misunderstanding and disuse is the doctrine of the depravity of man. This doctrine states that man is completely corrupted and hopelessly lost and in desperate need of a Savior. There are no hidden or innately good parts of man - whatever good that remains in man, who was originally created in the image of God who is the ultimate good, is tainted and corrupted by sin. Even what good deeds man does outside of Christ are merely acts of self-gratification to either gain some reward or to achieve some other self-oriented goal. This reward can be praise from others or simply a sense of personal accomplishment. These self-oriented motivations in and of themselves seem benign and harmless but in truth reflect a selfishness that falls far short of the glory of God as is demonstrated in the selfless life of Christ Jesus. No, the heart of man is nothing but wicked, and we would do well to come to grips with that.

This is why such programs as gun-control, prison rehabilitation, sex education, and addiction treatment fall short of solving the problem. They do not deal with the wicked heart. They attempt to train a person to modify behavior. But behavior is rarely altered to the radical extreme that is required to prevent a gun owner under certain conditions from becoming a murderer; to prevent a "rehabilitated" prison inmate from becoming a repeat offender; to prevent naturally curious children from experimenting with the "wonderful knowledge" supplied to them to "help them make adult decisions"; or to prevent an emotionally immature individual from turning yet once again to some substance to escape reality and responsibility. Until the deceitfully wicked heart ( Jer. 17:9; top ) is dealt with, the problems will remain and will resurface. Only Jesus Christ is capable of setting us free from our sin and our self-centeredness, both of which must be ever-increasingly evident in the life of one who claims to believe. For it is equally true that Hell is equally stocked with gun owners who never fired a shot as it is filled with mass-murderers; Hell is equally furnished with thieves and liars who never saw the inside of a prison cell as it is with "rehabilitated" ex-cons; Hell has sufficient numbers of virgins to match its vast numbers of sexually promiscuous residents; and Hell never rejects an alcoholic on the basis of whether he is drunk or not. The deciding factor is not self-generated actions but faith in Jesus Christ which produces radical changes, not just superficial actions.

Eternal Security

There are those who rely on certain "proof texts" to claim "eternal security." And indeed there are great and precious promises for those who abide ( Jn. 15:16 ) and continue steadfastly ( Heb. 3:14 ) and keep themselves in the love of God. ( Jude 21 ) Indeed we are promised that no one can snatch us out of the hand of God ( Jn. 10:29 ) and that nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ. ( Rom. 8:38-39; top ) But I challenge you to find even one Scripture that says that you can live your life in a sinful or self-willed manner, ignoring the commands of Jesus Christ for your life, and still expect to be welcomed into Paradise. You won't find one. We are called to a life of obedience and we must not neglect that.

That does not mean we have no room to fail. Quite the contrary. God graciously gives us much room to fail in our obedience to Him - more room to fail than any human will ever grant you. That's why John wrote that "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." ( 1 Jn. 1:9; top ) But if there is no confession, there is no fellowship, no forgiveness, and the process of hardening your heart against God has begun. Where that process ends is, in large part, up to you.

Some point to Jn. 3:16-18 for evidence of eternal security. "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God." They argue that we have believed, therefore we need not be concerned with condemnation. These same people often look to Rom. 8:1 also. "There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus..." (top)

What is ignored in these verses in John is the tense used in Greek for the word "believes." The Greek language possesses tenses which renders an added meaning to a word that does not always come through well in English. Such is the case here as the tense used in Greek indicates an on-going action. Hence, one cannot have believed at one time in the past and expect to escape perishing and to receive eternal life. No, one must continue to believe.

And what is ignored in the Romans passage is that there is no condemnation for those who are "in Christ." The passage does not say there is no condemnation for those who merely claim to be "in Christ.: Consider the Galatian Christians who claimed to be "in Christ" but who were in truth "estranged from Christ" because they were attempting to return to justification through law and they had "fallen from grace." ( Gal. 5:4; top ) If a person, no matter what he has claimed to believe in the past, lives according to his own fleshly desires and has no desire to live a godly, obedient lifestyle, it is difficult to imagine that such a person truly believes in Christ at all, it is extremely difficult to believe that such a person is living in and by the Spirit of Christ, and it is impossible to declare that such a person has crucified the flesh. It is therefore wrong to encourage such a person by telling them that they are "saved."

The Law of Inheritance

There are some who rely on a theory of "spiritual genetics" to put forth this "once saved, always saved" argument, believing that since a human father can never truly say that his son is not his son by virtue of genetic parentage, so too, when a person is born again, God can never sever the relationship of father and son. I have heard the parable of the prodigal son ( Lk. 15:11-32; top ) used as support for this notion and must address that here. The misuse of Scripture to make this argument is twofold. First, the parable is primarily intended by Jesus to show the need to repent and come home to the Father before one dies poverty-stricken in a far off land and it is not intended in any way to teach any doctrine about eternal salvation. If anything, the warning is clear that we must not die while in a backslidden and unrepentant state. I believe God does all that is divinely possible (stopping short of violating a person's inward choice, a choice known and knowable only by God) to see to it that the person does not die in that unrepentant state.

The second flaw in this argument comes from the law of inheritance. While the son may always be a son, he can be disinherited. The numerous times that the Holy Spirit and our eternal life in God is called an inheritance ought to make us wonder if God might not "write us out of His will" if we refuse to come in true repentance and obedience to Him. Consider that our names can be blotted out of the Book of Life. ( Rev. 3:6 ) And perhaps the "latter end" which is worse for the ones who "...having known [the way of righteousness and who turn] from the holy commandment delivered to them" ( 2 Pet. 2:20-21; top ) is that of being a disinherited son of God in hell.

I will answer this ?spiritual genetics argument with an even more disturbing and more on target example of a father and son situation from Scripture. Consider Heb. 12:14-17 :

"Pursue peace with all men, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: looking diligently lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled; lest there be any fornicator or profane person like Esau, who for one morsel of food sold his birthright. For you know that afterward, when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought it diligently with tears." (top)

Let me restate this even more bluntly. Without holiness, that progressive diligence which produces acts of goodness, love and righteousness and which makes you different from the rest of the world, you fall short of receiving God's grace and you will not see the Lord. So be diligent lest you fall short and miss God's grace. Those who are believers but become bitter, fornicators, or profane could become like Esau who sold his birthright for a temporary "fix."

Esau's attitude toward his birthright is expressed in Genesis: "Then Jacob gave Esau bread and stew of lentils, and he ate and drank and rose up and went his way. Thus Esau scorned his birthright as beneath his notice." ( Gen. 25:34 - Amp.; top). And that's the attitude generally displayed by those who are despising their heavenly birthright: they eat and drink and rise up and go their own way, neglecting and rejecting God's commandments as beneath their notice. And when Esau wanted to inherit the blessing that otherwise was his rightful due, he was rejected because he found no place for repentance though he sought it diligently with tears. When it's time to inherit, it's too late to call on a "once saved, always saved" theory. If you've sold your birthright for morsels of carnality or worldliness, you've sold your birthright and you have no reason to expect to inherit. While there is life, there is hope for true repentance and one can renew (for the Lord's mercies are new every morning - Lam. 3:22-23 ) one's birthright with God by putting 1 Jn. 1:9 into practice. And again, God's mercy and grace for a humble and repentant sinner is boundless while at the same time there is no forgiveness and grace for those who refuse to repent ( Mt. 9:13 ; 11:20-24 ; Lk. 5:31-32 ; 13:2-5 ; 15:1-10 , esp. vv. 7 and 10; top )

There are fearsome warnings about inheritance given by Paul when he writes, "Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God." ( 1 Cor. 6:9-10 ) And again when he writes, "Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God." ( Gal. 5:19-21; top ) You cannot live your life in a self-serving, flesh-pleasing manner and expect to inherit eternal life - no matter what prayers you have prayed, what aisles you have walked up, and no matter what claims you make. The proof is in the lifestyle and if there is no proof whatsoever, you need to be concerned that there is no salvation either.

The writer of Hebrews warns us to "show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope until the end, that you do not become sluggish, but imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises." ( Heb. 6:11-12 ) The key words here which lead a person to inheriting the promises of God are diligence, faith and patience - not laziness, sluggishness, disobedience, and sinful living. Jesus Himself tells us, "He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son. But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death." ( Rev. 21:7-8 ) "Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?" ( 1 Jn. 5:5; top ) All those who believe that Jesus is the Son of God overcome the world. He who overcomes the world inherits all things. All others have their place in the eternal lake of fire. Simple, straight-forward, and to the point.

The Best of the Opposing Arguments

But it is only fair to include the best arguments that well-meaning, well-instructed teachers use to support the concept that has become known as eternal security. Most rely heavily on Paul's declaration that no place, no thing, no being, no creature - not even yourself - can separate you from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus. ( Rom. 8:38-39; top ) But I challenge you to find a ?proof text? that says God, who is love, does not continue to love those who have condemned themselves to an eternal hell. Or a Scripture that says that God, who poured out His love to all mankind in Christ Jesus and whose gifts are without repentance, ever takes back His love even as He consigns a man to his chosen destiny. To equate being "loved" by God with "eternal salvation" misses the point completely.

"For God so loved the world..." ( Jn. 3:16 ), very true, but "Many are called, but few are chosen" ( Mt. 22:14 ) is just as true, as is "...wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it." ( Mt. 7:13-14 ) Jesus "loved" the rich young ruler but made no effort to stop him from walking away in sadness because he loved his wealth more than he loved God. ( Mk. 10:21-22 ) And there is no evidence that the young man ever returned to Christ. If the love God has for humanity is the only requirement for salvation, why isn't the whole world saved? For God is not willing that any should perish ( 2 Pet. 3:9; top ) but that many will perish is blatantly obvious throughout Scripture. God saves those who are willing to believe and who are willing to obey Him. He never forces anyone to go to hell nor does He ever force anyone to go to heaven.

The Good Shepherd

There are those who rely on Jn. 10:28-30 : "And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone 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 My Father's hand. I and My Father are one." There it is, they say. Jesus has given us eternal life and no one can ever take it away from us, not even ourselves. Well there are two problems with forcing that interpretation onto those verses. First, by context, who are "them" and "they" to which Jesus refers to in these verses? That question is answered in verse 27 which says, "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me." (top) It is His sheep who hear His voice, whom He knows, and who follow Him who have eternal life which can never be taken from them. If you do not hear His voice, if He does not know you, and if you do not follow Him, you have no reason to think you possess eternal life.

The second problem with the above forced interpretation is the misunderstanding of the word "snatch" in vvs. 28 and 29 . The Greek word is harpadzo and is used twelve times in the New Testament. Always it has the idea of someone acting upon the object being "snatched." Never does it once give the connotation of the object being able to "snatch" itself. This word is used in Jesus' cryptic saying that the violent take the kingdom by force ( Mt. 11:12 ), of the "snatching away" of believing Christians out of this world ( 1 Ths. 4:17 ), of Philip, Paul, and the Christ child being caught up and taken to other places ( Acts 8:39 , 2 Cor. 12:2 , 4 ; Rev. 12:5 ), of the crowd's intent to kidnap Jesus and prematurely make Him their king ( Jn. 6:15 ), the thievery Satan accomplishes in hearts when the Word of God is planted but not believed and obeyed ( Mt. 13:19 ), the actions of a wolf who catches sheep without their shepherd ( Jn. 10:12 ), of the soldiers' actions to rescue Paul from the angry Jewish mob in Jerusalem ( Acts 23:10 ), and how we are to treat believers who walk too close to fiery disaster ( Jude 23 ) as well as the two times in Jn. 10:28-29 (top) . To use this word as proof that we have eternal security is a misappropriation of this word. The other Greek words closely related to this word (harpage, harpagmos, and harpax) all refer to extortion, robbery, the goods stolen, or a person who commits these acts. These actions all require a "victim" or an object to be acted upon. And no one normally does these things to himself. To use this word to say that it is never possible to personally and willfully exit from God's hand is to force a meaning into the text which is not there. While we can rely on God's promise that no one can forcibly remove us from His protective hand, there is nothing in this passage that refutes our ability and prerogative to forfeit our receiving His grace and to forfeit our inheritance in Christ.

Assurance vs. Doubt

But there is even a greater argument made by certain teachers of eternal security but it too falls short because it ignores the basic nature of man. I have heard it put forth that if a person truly becomes saved, they have complete assurance of salvation and nothing whatsoever can take that away from that individual. The teacher went on to say that a person who is truly saved needs that assurance in order to have the confidence to live the life of Christ, that teaching someone of even a remote possibility of losing one's salvation only introduces fear and uncertainty into their walk. But the one who "knows" that he is saved will go on to do the works that accompany salvation. I both agree and disagree and I believe that this contrasting tension is also the right dividing of the word of truth in this matter.

I agree, as I have already stated, that there are awesome promises for those who are temporarily uncertain or fearful (this is, of itself, an attitude not from the Lord - see 2 Tim. 1:7; top ) of losing their salvation "by accident" as it were. That one can accidentally stumble out of one's salvation is as much an exaggeration of the Bible's teaching as is stating that one can never rebelliously or callously forfeit God's precious offer and gift of salvation. I agree that those who truly know God and who are experiencing Him will produce the works that accompany true salvation and I agree that some, perhaps even many, may need assurances to overcome the fiery darts of fear, doubt and confusion the enemy hurls at them. And multiple assurances are available for the believer who truly desires to be saved and who diligently makes effort to remain cooperative with God's grace at work in his life. These assurances are found throughout the Bible and are substantiated in experience.

In fact, as has been stated earlier, the struggle to be obedient to God through the power of the Holy Spirit is the best evidence that one is truly saved. And even when one has received a seemingly fatal bite from the serpents of sin, one can gauge the validity of your saving faith by observing where your attention turns to. Do you continue to see only your sin and the damage it is doing to your life? Are your own selfish interests all you are concerned with meeting? Or do you look up and away from yourself to see the Savior who was lifted up on a cross to take away the sting of sin and death? If you eyes turn to look at the Savior and you trust Him to deal with your situation and your sin in His time and in His way, you have reason to believe you are on the right path to salvation.

But if your eyes refuse to look to Him for rescue and salvation, for whatever self-centered reason or excuse you give, you have great reason to believe that you are not on the right road. Take some time to contemplate what Jesus said to Nicodemus: "Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so too must the Son of Man be lifted up." ( Jn. 3:14 , also see Num. 21:4-9; top )

However, I completely disagree with the position that only the positive message is needed and that it is the only truth contained in Scripture. The basic nature of man often requires him to have both a negative consequence and a positive reward in order for him to remain motivated to follow a certain course of action. "The carrot works with some while only the whip will work with others" is a sound piece of wisdom in dealing with stubborn animals and has a certain usefulness in dealing with people, whom God lovingly and accurately describes as willful and wayward sheep. The carrot produces the best results, but we must never forget that the whip does exist and is quite useful when the carrot has failed. What is required is the balanced teaching that the things of God are to be handled with both bold confidence and fearful respect. One should neither trivialize nor treat with contempt something that was paid for at the price of Christ's blood by dogmatizing either extreme.


For if you have a true faith, you will remain where God has put you in Christ, no matter the number of times you stumble and rise again to walk with Him. (see 1 Jn. 3:3; top ) And if you are in Christ, you will be fruitful in love and in holiness by the power of the Holy Spirit, no matter how many times you fail in your efforts to be diligent. Any "salvation" that offers you anything other than this process of sanctification while you move through time (a movement toward eternal perfection and glorification once this life is over) is not true and genuine salvation that will translate you into eternal glory when you face your final judgment. If your life is characterized by slavery to sin and rebellious disobedience against God, you have great and valid reason to be concerned about the validity of your "salvation experience." Spurgeon said, "Another proof of the conquest of a soul for Christ will be found in a real change of life. If the man does not live differently from what he did before, both at home and abroad, his repentance needs to be repented of and his conversion is a fiction."

It cannot be said better than in the Bible: "Therefore we must give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest we drift away. shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?" ( Heb. 2:1 , 3 ) And, "...the people who know their God shall be strong, and carry out great exploits." ( Dan. 11:32 ) Paul also wrote to Timothy regarding this seeming contradiction: "Nevertheless the solid foundation of God stands, having this seal: 'The Lord knows those who are His,' and, 'Let everyone who names the name of Christ depart from iniquity.'" ( 2 Tim. 2:19; top )

One of the reasons there is such a controversy over this issue is because we do not comprehend the balance of truth. Just as there are two railroad tracks that uphold a train on its journey; or two pillars to uphold a bridge across a river, there are two truths which stand side by side to help the believer in his pilgrimage. These truths are a paradox that don't easily come into full resolution. There is assurance of salvation for those who abide just as much as there is warning of judgment for those who are no longer in Christ. And there is as much danger in slipping into a comfortable apostasy as there is a very real danger of carelessly slipping into a works-based mindset where your works are what you do to earn or achieve your salvation. Each is indeed dangerous; religiosity and hypocrisy are as equally disgusting to God as are rebellious sin and apostasy. But while we cannot draw an exact map point of where "too far to come back" is, we must not ignore the blatant truth that our salvation is a visible and demonstrable thing - not just a convenient label we tack on after our name but which never affects our behavior.

Father, we turn to You and to You alone. We embrace Your salvation and Your salvation alone. We seek to live the life of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. We forsake all attempts to imitate or measure up to Your requirements in our own strength. We acknowledge the deep-seated root of sin within our own being and we recognize that it will never be completely removed in this life.

But we earnestly desire and fervently plead with You, Father, to minimize its effect on our lives and on the lives of those around us. Cause me to practice and perfect righteousness as much as is possible in this life that I now live. Help me to never become complacent about sin and help me never to become comfortable while there remains any lack of conformity in my life to the image of Christ who is my source, my example and my standard. Cause me to walk in true love balanced with true holiness.

Let me not be deceived into a legalistic or a lazy lifestyle but cause me to rise up after every stumble and after each fall. Teach me to walk with You, my God, that we may together share many a leisurely stroll in the cool of the day in the garden of my heart. Teach me not to grieve or quench or insult or rebel against Your Spirit. But teach me to walk in ever greater love and holiness in simple obedience to Your life within me. Amen.

I'd love to hear comments and/or questions from you! Email me!

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