NOTES ON THE ETERNAL SALVATION OF THE BELIEVER
In ‘rightly dividing the word of truth’ (2 Tim.2:15) it seems important to establish main-line scriptural truths which are abundantly confirmed and then see individual texts in relation to them. If our understanding of a particular text seems at variance with a main-line truth, this may indicate that the text should rather be related to a different one.
In the matter of the ‘eternal security’ of the believer, should we not first establish whether there is indeed a consistent main line of scriptural teaching which would lead to the assurance that a person truly born again through faith in Jesus is secure in God’s keeping so far as his salvation from eternal judgement is concerned? We submit that this truth is confirmed from several points of view, e.g.
a) The born-again person is given the right to become a child of God; he is born of God (Jn 1:12-13). No longer a ‘child of wrath’ (Eph.2:3) he is in God’s family. God’s Spirit bears witness to his spirit that he is a child of God (Rom.8:16). This relationship is the basis of his assurance that when Christ is manifested, he will be like his Saviour (I Jn 3:1,2). We know of no scripture which suggests that a re-born person may forfeit this relationship as a child of God. As a result of the new birth we have been made partakers of the divine nature (2 Pet.1:4), so there is now that begotten within us which cannot sin (1 Jn 3:9). At the same time ‘the flesh’, our old nature, is the source of continuing sin in the believer’s experience (Rom.7: 18). But having been begotten of incorruptible seed (1 Pet.1:23) the child of God is eternally His.
b) The believer is sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise (Eph.1:13) and ‘sealed unto the day of redemption’ (Eph.4:30). The present ‘sealing’ is ‘an earnest of our inheritance’ (Eph.1:14) i.e. it’s the pledge now given that we’ll be redeemed, body, soul and spirit at the coming again of Christ.
c) Each believer is a member of the Church the Body, against which the ‘gates of hell’ cannot prevail (1 Cor.12:13; Matt.16:18) What is true of the whole is true of each individual composing it. So the maximum power of Satan can never prevail against any member of Christ’s Church. Christ is the Builder; He is also the Foundation; it’s He who secures every believer who is built by Him to form part of that Church. The Lord Jesus baptizes the believer in the Spirit into the Body when we first receive Him as Saviour (cf Acts 19:2 – ‘when ye believed’) No scripture suggests that any member of the Body of Christ can ever be ‘dismembered’. Christ is the Preserver of the Body (Eph.5:23) Its security is in His keeping.
d) Every believer is justified from all things when he first puts faith in Jesus (Acts 13:39; Rom.3:26)-justified freely by God’s grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus (Rom. 3:24). Having been so justified he will be saved from the wrath of God through Him (Rom.5:8), so much so that because of his standing in Christ the questions are asked in Romans 8: ‘Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect?…who is he that shall condemn? …who shall separate us from the love of Christ?’ (Rom.8:31-35). Verse 30 of Romans 8 views the believer from the divine standpoint foreordained…called…justified …glorified, i.e. seen in divine purpose as though already glorified. All this on the basis of justification through faith in Jesus.
e) It’s clear from such scriptures as Eph.2:8,9 that the believer is saved by faith alone, not of works, that no-one should glory. If after believing in Jesus a person must maintain a certain standard, then he would be contributing to his salvation by his own works. And by what criterion could we judge whether the standard of life was high enough? Who could have any certainty or peace if salvation is not secured through faith in Christ alone? ‘For they who fain would serve Him best are conscious most of wrong within’.
f) The believer is given the gift of eternal life when he first puts faith in Jesus (Jn 3:16; Rom.6:23). Receiving Him, we receive eternal life (l Jn 5:11,12). The apostle John wrote his epistle ‘that ye may know that ye have eternal life’ . It would be a contradiction in terms to suggest that the gift of eternal life is not a permanent bestowal.
g) The believer is seen as ‘in Christ’, a status bestowed when we first believed ‘Even when we were dead through our trespasses’ God ‘quickened us together with Christ (by grace have ye been saved) and raised us up with Him, and made us to sit with Him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus’ (Eph.2:7). We are ‘ blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, even as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world ‘ (Eph.1:3,4) Our life ‘is hid with Christ in God’, and ‘when Christ , who is our life, shall be manifested, we also shall be manifested with Him in glory’ (Col.3:3,4). Appreciation of this truth precludes the thought of God revoking His choice and calling. As the Lord Himself confirmed: ‘All that which the Father hath given Me shall come unto Me; and him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out…this is the will of Him that sent Me, that of all that which He hath given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day’ (Jn 6:37-39).
But there is an equally clear main line of scriptural teaching that as the believer travels daily nearer his assured heavenly home he is accountable to the Lord Jesus for his response to the will of his Lord. He has in this life an opportunity to serve Christ so that eternal blessing and reward will result. He may forfeit some or all of that blessing through unbelief, sin and backsliding – fearful thought! Yet even though all reward may be lost, ‘he himself shall be saved; yet so as through fire’; or ‘as one escaping through the flames’ (1 Cor.3:15). The same truth is reflected in 2 Tim.2:11-13.
‘Faithful is the saying: for if we died with Him, we shall also live with Him; if we endure, we shall also reign with Him: if we shall deny Him, He also will deny us : if we are faithless, He abideth faithful; for He cannot deny Himself – i.e. He remains faithful to His promise of salvation from eternal judgement: God cannot deny Himself by going back on the basic promise of eternal life with eternal glory to every believer in Jesus.
So these two main-line principles of truth in Scripture are distinct yet complementary. One line gives the believer utmost assurance of salvation from his deserved eternal judgement in the lake of fire-a salvation based alone on faith in the Son of God and His completed work. When the gospel message was first believed we were saved from the wrath of God through Him.
But the other main-line principle establishes that such grace in salvation must not be lightly regarded. By faith we’ve had access into this grace wherein we stand, and because of this standing we rejoice in hope of the glory of God (Rom.5:1,2). But for this very cause we need to add on our part all diligence, in our faith supplying virtue, knowledge, self-control, patience, godliness and love of the brethren (2 Pet.1:5-8). In regard to the salvation of our lives for fruitful spiritual service we need to ‘work out our own salvation with fear and trembling ‘ (Phil.2:12). With these two truths of Scripture as background, we now consider some relevant texts.
2 Cor.13:5 The disciples in the Church of God in Corinth were here being challenged to take stock of their spiritual situation. Note that ‘the faith’ refers to the body of teaching revealed by the Lord through His apostles, the faith once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 1:3). It was not a question of whether they had faith in Jesus as Saviour. A reprobate person is one who is disapproved or fails the test-in this context fails the test of steadfast continuance in the apostles’ teaching, in the faith once for all delivered to the saints. The verse is not related to the main-line truth of the believer’s security in Christ
1 Cor.6:9-11 The kingdom of God is not to be identified with the Church which is the Body of Christ. New Testament churches of God formed the ‘ other nation to which God gave the kingdom’ (Matt.21:43); within those churches was the sphere of divine rule among obedient disciples. We believe the churches of God form the kingdom of God in this dispensation. Paul had written to the Church of God in Corinth, ‘Put away the wicked man from among yourselves’ (1 Cor.5:13). The sinning one was then outside the local church of God and so outside the kingdom of God, but not outside the Church the Body. In 1 Cor.6:9-11 the apostle was dealing with some of the sins which would merit such excommunication. Those practising such sins could not continue to share in the inheritance of God’s kingdom, since they were disregarding the principles of righteousness on which divine rule among His people is based.
1 Cor.6:15-20 Paul here brings to bear two facts which should have a powerfully sanctifying effect on disciples in churches of God – (i) our bodies are members of Christ; (ii) our bodies are a sanctuary of the Holy Spirit It’s therefore entirely inconsistent to defile our bodies by immoral conduct. A member of Christ should not degrade himself to be a ‘member of a harlot’. But there is nothing in this striking exhortation to undermine the assurance that each believer is eternally united with Christ as a member of His Body.
Rom.6:16 This chapter must be read in relation to chapter 5 – there Paul established the truth of the believer’s standing ‘in Christ’. Then follow the questions in Rom.6:1 and Rom.6:15, from which it is shown to be altogether out of character with his standing in Christ to choose deliberately to sin. So ‘sin unto death’ in v.16 does not mean ‘the second death ‘ in the failure in their service as the people of God. They had been redeemed by the blood of the lamb from Egypt, and baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea (1 Cor.10:1-5). Then they had pledged their obedience to God’s law at Sinai, but in many of them there was an evil heart of unbelief when it came to the pressures of their wilderness experience, and they were chastised by God as His people. The subject is not therefore our eternal standing in Christ, but our service as the people of God. Moses was penalised for his action in striking the rock; but he will be eternally saved through faith in the promised Christ. We too may know divine chastisement (Heb.12:5-13); but this is because He loves us, not a mark of rejection from eternal salvation.
So the ‘falling away’ (v.12) is from faith in the living God who sustains us in our pilgrimage. ‘Partakers of Christ’ in v.14 relates to our daily fellowship and communion with Him, not our standing ‘in Christ’ – from that viewpoint Christ holds us fast (Jn 10:28,29). But we as disciples are responsible to hold fast our confidence firm unto the end if we are to enjoy continuing fellowship and communion with Christ. Israel failed to enter into God’s rest (the promised land) because of unbelief. We may forfeit progress in spiritual growth and understanding if we fail in faith to obey His word which will lead us to the spiritual rest of God’s house on earth. Our rest in heaven with Christ when earthly service is finished is not in view in this passage.
Heb.10:26-31 This letter is about spiritual service in God’s house, God’s New Covenant people in collective service Godward. It is not about the sinner’s salvation from eternal punishment. Here a disciple has received knowledge of the truth. He has progressed far in his appreciation of divine things. But then he goes back and denies by his life the truths he has learnt, treading underfoot the Son of God (i.e. renouncing His authority). The blood of the Covenant is also referred to in Heb.9:20: it should be distinguished from the blood of the Passover lamb, which has to do with redemption. It is connected with divine service. Moses ratified the Covenant of Sinai with blood upon the people’s promise to keep the Law (Ex.24:7,8). They were then formally recognised as the people of God, with all that implied as to divine service and as to God’s presence with them. One who learns these great truths and then denies them will experience chastisement and reproof, often in this life, and there will certainly be manifestation before the Judgement Seat of Christ (2 Cor.5:10).
Heb.12:14-29 Sanctification here is not that associated with the new birth. It is the result of conscious exercise to holiness in the believer’s life. Only thus can the believer ‘see the Lord’, i.e. have spiritual vision and enjoyment in communion with God. Verses 18-29 contrast the spiritual privileges of God’s house in this age of grace with those of Moses’ day. We are exhorted to offer service well pleasing to God. Regard for God’s character as a God of judgement among His people will help us to serve with becoming reverence. But this is in the context of our present spiritual service. It does not deal with the believer’s salvation from the second death, the lake of fire (Rev.20:14). That aspect of salvation was settled when through faith in Jesus the believer passed out of death into life, and was assured he would not come into judgement (Jn 5:24).
1 Tim.1:19-20 By ‘delivered unto Satan’ we understand is meant the excommunication of these men from the churches of God, and so from the spiritual kingdom of God. They were expelled from the sphere of divine rule where they could know spiritual care and guidance in fellowship with others. In the outside place they would learn by experience the effect of Satan’s false teachings, just as the immoral man of 1 Cor.5 would learn the sad outworking of sexual sin (see 1 Cor. 5:5)
2 Tim.4:10 Demas loved the world, grieved Paul, and his reward at the Judgement Seat of Christ will doubtless be affected, but the verse does not touch the matter of eternal security.
Acts 20:28-32 ‘The inheritance among all them that are sanctified’ is a present inheritance of rest and peace among God’s people for those who need ‘the word of His grace’, c.f. l Cor.6:9. It is not the future heavenly inheritance referred to in 1 Pet.1:4.
1 Cor.9:27 Paul severely disciplined himself as the Lord’s servant lest he should fail in his service and know the Lord’s disapproval, or disqualification. ‘Rejected’ means ‘ fail the test’, in this context the test of faithfulness in service. It could not refer here to Paul’s eternal salvation, which is a matter of gift, not reward.
Matt.10:22 The same promise for the one that endures to the end is also given in Matt.24:13. There it is in connection with the Great Tribulation and the coming to earth of the Son of man. The context is similar in Matt.10, for the gospel of the kingdom proclaimed by the apostles when sent forth by the Lord will again be proclaimed at the time of the end—its emphasis being the imminent presence of the King. In the future time of tribulation ‘the end’ could be either the advent of the Son of Man or martyrdom, but in any case, the Lord is speaking of disciples who have already believed in Him. His word in this verse will be of great encouragement to them in that terrible time, assuring them that He will intervene to bring the tribulation to an end, that they will be saved out of it.
Jn 15:6 Abiding in Christ as the True Vine is an illustration of communion and fruitfulness. It emphasises that apart from Him the disciple can do nothing, for there will be no fruitfulness if the link of communion with Him is broken. Verse 6 likens a disciple who fails to maintain this communion to a withered vine branch, fit only to be burned. The subject of the believer’s eternal salvation is not under discussion in this passage. The Lord was speaking to disciples about fruit bearing. (See 1 Cor.3:15)
Matt.7:15-23 The Lord is here distinguishing genuine believers from false professors. Some who profess Christ and even do mighty works in His Name have never been born again (cf. Acts 19:13).
Matt.25:1-13 Chapters 24 & 25 are about the coming of the Son of Man. Note verse 1: ‘then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto…’, that is at the time of the coming of the Lord Jesus as Son of Man (Matt.24:37). Those who are at that time watching and waiting will enter into millennial blessing. The passage is not dealing with believers of this age of grace, who will have been taken to be with Christ at the Rapture of the Church before the period of ‘great tribulation’.
Lk.9:62 This verse is part of the Lord’s reply to a man who wished to be His disciple, and the Master was impressing on him the stern demands of discipleship. In this context the kingdom of God is God’s present sphere of rule among His people in this world. A person who vacillates in his commitment to the Lord is unfit to serve in the kingdom of God, in view of all the stresses which discipleship will bring. The kingdom of God is not the same as the Church the Body of Christ—see remarks under 1 Cor.6:9-11.
Ezek.18:24-32 In this passage the prophet warns Israelites of that time about the consequences of righteousness and evil. We can apply to the believer of the present age certain principles from such Old Testament passages, e.g. loss and reward, as in 1 Cor.3:14-15 or 2 Jn 8, but any application must have regard to the solid evidence of many scriptures about the believer’s eternal salvation from the wrath of God.
Heb.10:38,39 This epistle was written to Jews, some of whom were drifting back in thought towards Judaism, but not thereby losing eternal salvation. Vine’s expository dictionary says: ‘Soul’ here is the equivalent of the personal pronoun, used for emphasis and effect. It is the ‘gaining’ of the soul in the sense of the person’s present life being used profitably in spiritual service. The believer is a ‘new creation’ in Christ Jesus (2 Cor.5:17); he cannot shrink back and lose eternal salvation, but he may through lack of faith as a disciple shrink back from the difficulties of following the Lord. The Greek word apoleia, translated ‘perdition’, bears the thought of ‘loss of well-being … signifying waste or ruin’ (Vine). If believers reverted to Judaism their service as disciples would be ruined, and they would suffer loss at the Judgement Seat of Christ. But they themselves would be saved, yet so as through fire (1 Cor.3:14,15).
Rev.3:5 In each of the messages to the seven churches there is a special word of encouragement for overcomers. For those in Smyrna under threat of persecution or death it was specially appropriate to be reminded that they could never be hurt of the second death (a truth, of course, applicable to all born-again people). For overcomers in Sardis, associated as they were with a majority in that church who had lapsed into cold formality, it was reassuring to be promised white garments, their names in the book of life and recognition before the Father and the holy angels. It would appear there is a book of life for faithful service (cf. Ex.32:32; Phil.4:3), as well as the book of life of the Lamb, in which names have been written ‘from the foundation of the world’ (see Rev.13:8; 17:8).
2 Pet.2:1-22 Those who deny the Master that bought them (v.1) bring upon themselves swift destruction in this life, a spiritual destruction involving their making shipwreck of the faith, adoption of heretical teachings, and in many cases departure from scriptural principles of conduct (verse 2). The chapter goes on to speak of others (unsaved people) who will be kept under punishment until the judgement day. Verses 20-22 refer to disciples who have made progress to the extent of escaping the defilements of the world, but have then turned back. Even in their present experience it will be worse for them than if they had never known the way of righteousness. As the Lord said, ‘If the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is the darkness!’ Troubled by a guilty conscience, the backsliding believer often goes to greater excess than a person who has not known the Lord; like a dog turning to his own vomit or the sow that wallows in the mire. And at the Judgement Seat of Christ he will face the sad loss of reward and the remorse of wasted opportunity—yet he himself shall be saved, according to 1 Cor.3:15.
On the principle of ‘comparing spiritual things with spiritual’ (1 Cor.2:13) the scriptures under review are seen to harmonise mainly with the second great main-line truth outlined in the Introductory Comments. When understood in relation to that line of truth they do not clash with the many assertions of Scripture about the believer’s eternal security in Christ.
(Published in Bible Studies Magazine 2000)