SECURITY OF THE BELIEVER

by James P. Dawson

Eternal security is the promise of God which guarantees that the gift of salvation,

"For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them." Ephesians 1:8-10.

once received, is forever and cannot be lost, (393) "For the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable, RSV."I believe that when the Word and the Spirit of God have regenerated a sinner, once he has received a new life by accepting Jesus as Lord and Savior and knows Jesus' blood sacrifice has washed away his sins, it is absolutely impossible that he should ever again be a lost soul. The Westminster Confession states, one will be eternally saved and cannot fall from grace. Romans (394) asks the question,

"Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?"

and Romans provides the answer:

"For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." Romans 8:38-39.

Nothing can separate us from our Salvation. Not all churches teach the doctrine of eternal security. The Roman Catholic Church insists that the grace of justification (eternal security) can in fact be lost. They established the sacrament of Penance, which demands Confession, for this very reason. According to Rome, saving grace is destroyed in the soul when a person commits a "mortal" sin. The Catholic Church calls it a mortal sin because they believe it can kill grace, grace can die. If mortal sin destroys it, it must be "restored through the sacrament of Penance or the sinner himself finally perishes." The Roman Catholic church, for example, has decreed the following: "If anyone says that a man once justified cannot lose grace and therefore he who falls and sins never was truly justified, let him be accursed" (Council of Trent).

The Reformed faith does not believe in mortal sin in the way Rome does. They believe that all sins are mortal in the sense that they deserve death, but that no sin is mortal in the sense that it destroys the grace of salvation in the elect.

Theological dictionaries sometimes use other terms in place of eternal security, such as perseverance, preservation and assurance. Preservation does emphasize God's work in preserving the believer's salvation; therefore, it is quite similar to eternal security. They call the Reformed view of eternal security the "perseverance of the saints." The idea is, "Once in grace, always in grace," or "If you have it, you never lose it; if you lose it, you never had it." They can misunderstand the term perseverance since it might imply that the believer is the one who preservers, and not the work of God. The reason true Christians do not fall from grace is that God graciously keeps them from falling. Perseverance is what we do. Preservation is what God does. We persevere because God preserves. The doctrine of eternal security or perseverance is based on the promises of God. We give a few of the key biblical passages above and list additional ones below:

"My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. 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 Fathers hand." John 10:27-29.

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time." I Peter 1:3-5.

"For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified." Hebrews 10:14.

Our preservation is a Trinitarian work. God the Father keeps and preserves us. God the Son intercedes for us. God the Holy Spirit indwells and helps us. We are given the "seal" and the "earnest" of the Holy Spirit. (396) These images are all images of a divine guarantee. The seal of the Spirit is an indelible mark like the waxed imprint of a monarch's signet ring. It shows that we are his possession. The earnest of the Spirit is not identical to earnest money that we pay in modern real estate transactions. Such earnest money may be forfeited. In biblical terms the earnest of the Spirit is a down payment with a promise to pay the rest. God does not forfeit his earnest. He does not fail to finish the payments he began. The first fruits of the Spirit guarantee that the last fruits will be forthcoming. Still we ask why it seems that some people do in fact fall away totally and finally. Here we must echo the words of the Apostle John:

They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us. 1 John 2:19. KJV.

The word or doctrine of assurance can be misleading. A believer can have eternal security and not realize it or believe it. This is the reason some continually come forward during a service or continually tries to earn their way into heaven by doing good works. They are just not sure that their salvation "took." There are several possible reasons for sometimes doubting. Some doubt their commitment to Christ, because they cannot seem to stop sinning. All sin! Paul (398) said he could not help himself. They have taught some in their churches that they can fall from grace, but this is not what we find in Scriptures. Some lack the peace of assurance because of the procedure they went through when they accepted Christ. They keep asking themselves questions. Am I really saved? I did this privately, was that all right? Did I ask in the right way? Can God really love me since I am still sinning? God has promised that He will keep you and make you a new creature. (399) Some think they must have a deep emotional experience with bells and lightening and if they don't, they have doubts. People are either saved or lost, they may not be able to pinpoint the time or a given moment they were converted, but we all grow in our understanding of conversion. God knows the exact second even if we do not.

When a serious sin or a tragic experience occurs in the believer's life, then doubt sometimes accompanies such an experience. We need to realize that Christians will sin, and that sin does not cause us to lose our salvation. The Christian is never sinless, (400) for "we all stumble in many ways" NIV and sin does not cause a forfeiture of salvation. Eternal Security does not give us the license to sin and never excuses sin, but through sin, doubt and repentance the Christian will also grow in holiness.

We have known people who made a commitment to Christ and were on fire for the Lord only to repudiate their faith later. We have heard of great Christian leaders who have committed gross sins and destroyed their ministry. We know that Christians "backslide." We know that Christians can and do in fact commit gross and heinous sins. True Christians can fall, but we do not believe that they can fall totally and finally. King David was guilty not only of adultery but murder. His subsequent repentance was as deep as his sin. David sinned terribly but not totally and finally. He was restored. Both Peter and Judas betrayed Jesus, but Judas killed himself and Peter repented and was restored, becoming a leader in the church. What made the difference between these two men's action after they betrayed Jesus? Jesus predicted that both of them would betray him. Judas was a son of perdition from the beginning. His conversion was spurious. Jesus did not pray for his restoration, but He did for Peter's. (401) All three of these words really mean the same thing, that the true believer will not lose his salvation or his eternal life.

Arminianism teaches that God's decrees are based on His foreknowledge. Election was due to foreseen faith and sin to foreseen resistance to grace. Arminius also viewed foreknowledge as foresight, but he did say that "God decreed to save some and damn certain particular persons. (402) Arminianism clearly teaches that a believer may lose his salvation. Arminius said: "I never taught that a true believer can either totally or finally fall away from the faith and perish; yet I will not conceal that there are passages of Scriptures which seem to wear this aspect. (403)

Eternal security is based on the grace of God and the fact that eternal life is a gift and it is eternal. The acceptance of God's gift of salvation brings the believer into a relationship with the Godhead that assures his salvation is secure. There are those who profess but do not possess life. Sometimes we make a judgment about whether an individual was really saved or only professing with his mouth. Christ told us in Matthew, (404) "Judge not, that ye be not judged," so we must leave that decision and judgment to God. Our confidence in perseverance is based on the power of God and His promises. God promises to finish what He starts. Our confidence does not rest in the will of man. This difference between the will of man and the power of God separates Calvinists from Arminians. The Arminian holds that God elects persons to eternal life only on the condition of their voluntary cooperation with grace and perseverance in grace until death, as foreseen by him.

A chief argument given by Arminians is that forcing his perseverance is inconsistent with man's free will for God. Yet the Arminians themselves believe that believers will not fall from grace in heaven. In our heavenly life God will render us incapable of sinning, and yet heaven we are still free. If preservation and free will are consistent conditions in heaven, they cannot possibly be inconsistent conditions here on earth. If God can preserve us in heaven without destroying our free will, he can preserve us on earth without destroying our free will. The decrees of God concerning election are immutable. They do not change, because he does not change. All whom he justifies he glorifies. None of the elect is ever lost.

Biblical Warnings about Falling Away

Probably the strongest arguments the Arminians offer against the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints are drawn from the manifold warnings in Scripture against falling away. Paul, for example, writes:

But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified. I Corinthians 9:27.

Paul elsewhere speaks of men who have been an apostates:

And their message will spread like cancer. Hymenaeus and Philetus are of this sort, who have strayed concerning the truth, saying that the resurrection is already past; and they overthrow the faith of some. II Timothy 2:17-18.

These passages suggest that it is possible for believers to be "disqualified" or to have their faith "overthrown." It is important, however, to see how Paul concludes his statement to Timothy.

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. II Timothy 2:19.

Peter also speaks of washed sows wallowing again and dogs who return to their vomit, comparing them to people who have turned away after being instructed in the way of righteousness. These are false converts whose natures have never been changed. (406)

The text that contains the most solemn warning against falling away is also the most controversial regarding the doctrine of perseverance. It is found in Hebrews.

For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to open shame. Hebrews 6:4-6.

This passage strongly suggests that believers can and do fall away, totally and finally. How are we to understand it? The full meaning of the passage is difficult for several reasons. The first is that we do not know for sure what issue of apostasy was involved in this text, since we are not certain of either the author or the destination of Hebrews. There were two burning issues in the early church that easily could have provoked this dire warning. The first issue was the problem of the so-called iapsi. The iapsi were those people who during severe persecution did not keep the faith. Not every church member went to the lions singing hymns. Some broke down and recanted their faith. Some even betrayed their comrades and collaborated with the Romans. When the persecutions died down, some of these former collaborators repented and sought readmission to the church. How they were to be received was no small controversy. The other burning issue was that provoked by the Judaizers. They deal the destructive influence of this group within several parts of the New Testament, most notably in the Book of Galatians. The Judaizers wanted to profess Christ and enforce the Old Testament ceremonies. They insisted, for example, on ceremonial circumcision. I believe that it was the Judaizer heresy that concerned the author of Hebrews.

A second problem is to identify the nature of people whom they are warning against falling away in Hebrews. Are they true believers or are they tares growing among the wheat? We must remember that we are concerned with three categories of people. There are:

1. Believers,

2. Unbelievers in the church,

3. Unbelievers outside of the church.

The Book of Hebrews draws several parallels with Old Testament Israel, especially with those in the camp who were apostates. Who are these people in Hebrews? How are they described? Let us list their attributes:

1. Once enlightened

2. Tasted the heavenly gift

3. Partakers of the Holy Spirit

4. Tasted the good Word of God

5. Cannot be regenerated again to repentance

At first glance this list certainly appears to describe true believers. However it may also be describing church members who are not believers, people who have made a false profession of faith. A nonbeliever may possess these attributes. The tares who come to church every week hear the Word of God taught and preached and thus are "enlightened." They participate in all of the means of grace. They join in the Lord's Supper. They partake of the Holy Spirit in the sense that they enjoy the nearness of his special immediate presence and his benefits. They have even made a kind of repentance, at least outwardly. Many Calvinists thereby find a solution to this passage by relating it to nonbelievers in the church who repudiate Christ. That interpretation does not satisfy me. I think this passage may be describing true Christians. The most important phrase for me is "renew again to repentance." I know there is a false kind of repentance that the author elsewhere calls the repentance of Esau. However, here he speaks of renewal. The new repentance, if it is renewed, must be like the old repentance. The renewed repentance of which he speaks is certainly the genuine kind. I assume therefore that the old were likewise genuine. I think the author here is arguing in what we call an ad hominem style. An ad hominem argument is carried out by taking your opponent's position and carrying it to its logical conclusion. The logical conclusion of the Judaizer heresy is to destroy any hope of salvation.

The logic goes like this. If a person embraced Christ and trusted in his atonement for sin, what would that person have if he went back to the covenant of Moses? In effect he would be repudiating the finished work of Christ. He would again be a debtor to the law. If so, where would he turn for salvation? He has repudiated the cross; he could not turn to that. He would have no hope of salvation, because he would have no Savior. His theology does not allow a finished work of Christ.

The key to Hebrews 6 is found in verse 9.

But, beloved, we are confident of better things concerning you, yes, things that accompany salvation, though we speak in this manner. Hebrews 6:9.

Here the author himself notes that he is speaking in an unusual manner. His conclusion differs from those who find here a text for falling away. He concludes with a confidence of better things from the beloved, things that accompany salvation. Obviously falling away does not accompany salvation. The author does not say that any believer actually does fall away. In fact he says the opposite that he is confident they will not fall away. But if no one falls away, why even bother to warn people against it? Exhorting people to avoid the impossible seems frivolous. We must understand the relationship of perseverance to preservation. Perseverance is both a grace and a duty. We are to strive with all our might in our spiritual walk. Humanly speaking, falling away is possible. Yet as we strive we are to look to God who is preserving us. It is impossible that he should fail to keep us. Consider again the analogy of the child walking with his father. It is possible that the child will let go. If the father is God, it is not possible that he will let go. Even given the promise of the Father not to let go, it is still the duty of the child to hold on tightly. Thus, the author of Hebrews warns believers against falling away. Luther called this the "evangelical use of exhortation." It reminds us of our duty to be diligent in our walk with God.

Finally, with respect to perseverance and preservation, we must look to the promise of God in the Old Testament. Through the prophet Jeremiah, God promises to make a new covenant with his people, a covenant that is everlasting. He says:

And I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from doing them good; but I will put My fear in their hearts so that they will not depart from Me. Jeremiah 32:40.

God's reasons for making salvation available to us are embedded in His merciful and loving nature. God purposed to glorify the same group He predestined, called, and justified. (409) He could not make such a commitment if one of that group could lose his salvation, or the Scripture would be in error. He has the power to keep the believer safe, (410) and no one can take away your salvation, not even yourself. (411) When Jesus said "no one," He meant no one not even yourself. No one can bring a charge against the elect no one can condemn them, Christ died for our sins and He does not have to die again. (412) Christ promised to keep us and raise us on the day. (413)

The Holy Spirit also has an active role in the eternal security of the individual. When one accepts the gift of salvation, the Holy Spirit indwells the believer (414) and seals him until the day of redemption. (415) If the believer could be lost, the Holy Spirit would have to be expelled. This would mean that the believer would be removed from the body of Christ, he would have to be unsealed, and the Scriptures are incorrect. True believers do sin and they are warned against false profession and Christian immaturity, but God never takes back the gift of His salvation once they receive it. At the Judgment Seat of Christ the believers will receive their rewards, some may suffer loss, but not the loss of salvation. (416) Every believer bears some fruit, (417) and we cannot pass judgment on the spiritual condition of any individual.

There are some Scripture passages which are sometimes understood as negating the doctrine of eternal security. One such passage states:

"Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace." Galatians 5:4.

Paul is not canceling the doctrine of eternal security, he is saying that those who try to use the Law as their grounds for salvation are falling away from grace which provides salvation,(419) express the same admonition. Paul also implies this possibility in the "race" passage. (420) Paul said racers seek corruptible crowns, but we seek incorruptible crowns. Paul kept things under control so as not to be a castaway. Some try to interpret this verse as the believer is "falling from grace." Some of the writers I consulted declare that Hebrews 6:1-8 is one of the disputed passages, but it seems to me that one must totally misinterpret this passage to come to that conclusion.

Paul was totally confident that nothing, including any other created thing (which has to include yourself), can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ. (421) Again he declared: "If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself. (422) The consistency of God's character and His word guarantees a secure salvation throughout life eternal.


Now that you have read these articles on the web pages,
www.aaronc.com and www.jpdawson.com and seen how God works through individuals, through His creation and nature, through countries and history and how He reveals Himself through prophecy it is time to take a look inside yourself.


1997, 1998, Aaron C Ministries

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Cited References

(393) Romans 11:29 For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance. Return

(394) Romans 8:35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?.Return

(396) II Timothy 2:19 Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his. And, let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity.

Ephesians 1:14 Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory.

Romans 8:23 And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body. Return

(398) Romans 7:14-16 For we know that the law is spiritual; but I am carnal, sold under sin. For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not: but what I hate, that do I. If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good.Return

(399) Philippians 1:6 Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.
II Corinthians 5:17 Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. Return

(400) James 3:2 For in many things we offend all. If any man offend not in word, the same is a
perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body.Return

(401) Luke 22:31-32. And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.Return

(402) The Works of James Arminius, translated by James Nichols, 1853, Derby and Miller.Return

(403) The Works of James Arminius, translated by James Nichols, 1853, Derby and Miller.Return

(404) Matthew 7:1 Judge not, that ye be not judged.Return

(406) II Peter 2:22 It has happened to them according to the true proverb, The dog turns back to his
own vomit, and the sow is washed only to wallow in the mire Return

(409) Romans 8:30 Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.Return

(410) Jude 24 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,Return

(411) John 10:28-30 And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any
man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no
man is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand. I and my Father are one.Return

(412) .Romans 8:33-34 Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.Return

(413) .John 6:39-40 And this is the Father's will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day. And this is the will of him that sent me, that everyone which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day.Return

(414) I Corinthians 12:13-14 For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many..Return

(415) Ephesians 4:30 And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption.Return

(416) I Corinthians 3:15 If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.Return

(417) I Corinthians 4:05 Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God.Return

(419) Hebrews 10:26-29 For if we sin willfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries. He that despised Moses' law died without mercy under two or three witnesses: Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?Return

(420) I Corinthians 9:24-27. Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. 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 therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air: But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: let that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.Return

(421) Romans 8:38-39 For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.Return

(422) II Timothy 2:13 If we believe not, yet he abideth faithful: he cannot deny himself.Return