Eternal Security/Part 9
|By: Dr. John Ankerberg and Dr. John Weldon; ©2001|
|Can Christians cause themselves to be eternally lost? What if a believer’s faith should fail? What promises from the Bible can we cling to when we begin to doubt our salvation?|
Eternal Security, Objections—Part 2
Can Christians cause themselves to be eternally lost? What if a believer’s faith should fail? Several times we have cited God’s promise, “If we are faithless he remains faithful for he cannot deny himself.” Further, is faith itself meritorious? Not if faith itself is a gift (Rom. 12:3; Eph. 2:8-9). In truth, we are not saved because we have the saving virtue of faith; we are saved through faith by the saving virtue of God. Further, complete loss of faith is only a theory. Given the stated purposes of God in the life of the believer, we do not think it a genuine possibility. The fact is that believers will remain believers because of God’s power directed in their behalf. Co-author John Weldon can personally testify that he would have lost his faith long ago were it not for God’s faithfulness. Believers may temporarily fail or perhaps even temporarily “cease” to believe, at least as far as outward appearances seem, but again, God’s promises remain.
Cannot the believer rebel and choose to be released from Christ and eternal salvation? But remember that the human will never acts alone (Phil. 2:13; Eph. 2:2) and God has promised to keep His own. Further, who would honestly wish this? One who did so would certainly be insane, and God would obviously keep and provide for any of His dear children who lose their reason.
Most of those who say believers can lose their salvation will concede that because of the death of Christ and the power of God that neither sin nor Satan can cause the loss of salvation. They agree that God promises the believer “…if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn. 1:9). But they say that there is one condition that invariably will lead to loss of salvation and that is when a believer forsakes the faith and finally becomes apostate. But even here we have to admit this is, at best, a hypothetical situation. No one can point to someone who was indisputably a true believer who permanently apostatized. We simply don’t have enough information about a person’s heart to know whether or not someone truly apostatized.
The Scriptures teach that the believer will persevere. Why? Not because of his own power or goodness, but because of the power and working of God. Extremely adverse circumstances in the life of a Christian may lead to temporary rebellion or even falling away or even denial of Christ (as was true, remember, even with the Apostle Peter), but this is not equal to apostasy and is typically healed with the passage of time. Further, people who claim they were saved and then say they no longer believe, and this continues for years, were probably never saved in the first place. It is easy for someone to think they are saved when, in fact, they are not. Those who believe for a short time and then stop believing permanently until death were obviously never regenerated because the hallmarks and characteristics of regeneration were not present.
The question in all this is really whether God will permit one of His own children, a child for whom Christ died on the cross, to finally apostatize. Biblically, the answer is clearly no. But theoretically, even if a regenerated person did apostatize, this could not nullify the eternal nature of those things already accomplished at the point of regeneration such as eternal life, imputation, union with Christ, justification, etc. It is not a question of our own ability to keep ourselves saved, but of the ability and purpose of God to keep us saved and to preserve us. If our salvation were finally dependent on us keeping ourselves saved, would anyone, ever, be saved? We don’t think so. Thus, Scripture emphasizes the keeping power of God:
The Lord will protect you from all evil; he will keep your soul. The Lord will guard your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forever. (Ps. 21:7-8)
Holy Father, keep them in thy name, the name which thou hast given me, that they may be one, even as we are. (Jn. 17:11)
And stand he will, for the Lord is able to make him stand. (Rom. 14:4)
Who shall also confirm you to the end, blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship with his Son… (1 Cor. 1:8-9)
For I am confident of this very thing that he who began a work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. (Phil. 1:6)
The God who gives perseverance and encouragement. (Rom. 15:5)
When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory. (Col. 3:3-4)
The Lord will deliver me from every evil deed and will bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. (2 Tim. 4:18)
He himself has said, “I will never desert you nor will I ever forsake you.” (Heb. 13:5)
Those who are the called, the beloved of God the Father, and kept for Jesus Christ…Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to make you stand in the presence of his glory blameless with great joy. (Jude 24)
But I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail. (Lk. 22:32).
Unfortunately, some Calvinistic theologians interpret the doctrine of perseverance in almost an Arminian fashion—that perseverance in faith and good works is the only guarantee of true regeneration. Therefore, a believer cannot know with certainty they are regenerated until they have persevered until the point of death. Only after they have persevered, that is maintained faith and good works throughout their lives, can they know they really were saved in the first place. But this is not the Gospel which guarantees the believer eternal life from the point of saving faith. The believer’s trust is to be in God and His ability, not in their own ability.
The following material demonstrates clearly that God promises to keep the believer— not because of the believer’s ability or faithfulness, but because of God’s own ability and faithfulness.
If the New Testament teaches us anything, it is that God has made a covenant with the believer through His blood. The book of Hebrews refers to the “new covenant made in his blood” (Heb. 8:7-10, 25). This covenant is unconditional and “includes every promise of God for salvation and keeping…. It wholly passes over every question of human merit or conduct.”  Thus, no human conditions, perfection of character, or conduct, are found in many verses teaching the eternal security of the believer (Jn. 5:24; 6:37; 10:28-29; Rom. 8:28-20; Phil. 1:6; 2 Tim. 4:8). They depend for their fulfillment on the goodness and faithfulness of God, not the believer. Belief in Christ is the one condition for entrance into the covenant; it is not a condition that must be perfectly maintained within the covenant lest one lose one’s salvation.
Considering the eternal purposes of God in election and His reference to “the blood of the eternal covenant” (Heb. 13:20-21), the following passage from Hebrews, the book most cited as evidence of loss of salvation actually indicate the security of the believer:
Men swear by someone greater than themselves, and the oath confirms what is said and puts an end to all argument. Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath. God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us may be greatly encouraged. We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure… (Heb. 6:16-19).
God also promises to keep believers by influencing their will. Scripture implies that God has the power to sustain us and move us in the direction of faith even when we are too weak to do this in our own power, “For it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13). Because God has an infinite love for the believer, He works in that believer’s life “by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to himself” (Phil. 3:21). Thus, David could confess his horrible state of mind and yet also remain confident that he would go to heaven, “When my heart was embittered and I was pierced within then I was senseless and ignorant; I was like a beast before Thee. Nevertheless I am continually with Thee; Thou hast taken hold of my right hand. With Thy counsel Thou wilt guide me, and afterward receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but Thee? And besides Thee, I desire nothing on earth. My flesh and my heart may fail; but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Ps. 73:21-24). Thus, “The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hands of the Lord; He turns it wherever He wishes” (Prov. 21:1). And, “I know, O Lord, that a man’s way is not in himself; nor is it in a man who walks to direct his steps” (Jer. 10:23).
God also promises to keep the believer because of Christ’s intercession. If Christ has paid the full penalty for our sins; if we are gifts from the Father to the Son; if Jesus has prayed to the Father to keep us, if the Father has declared us righteous and chosen us from before the foundation of the world, why would Christ ever stop interceding for us? And if He never stops interceding, will not the Father honor His requests? Would God have paid the price He did for us if He knew beforehand He would not keep us? The Scriptures emphasize that the intercessory prayer and power of Christ is related to the eternal security of the believer: “…but He, on the other hand, because He abides forever, holds His priesthood permanently. Hence, also, He is able to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them” (Heb. 7:24-25).
Many have placed an emphasis out of all due proportion upon the three year ministry of Christ on the earth as compared with His present ministry at the right hand of God. So little is this latter ministry considered that it is almost unknown to many Christians; but no one can enter intelligently into the revelation concerning the fact, purpose and value of the present ministry of Christ and not be assured of the eternal security of all who have put their trust in Him. Whatever else lies within the purpose of the Eternal Son at the right hand of God, the Scriptures reveal only that He is there for the keeping of His own who are in the world. The present heavenly ministry of Christ is both intercessory and advocatory. As Intercessor he prays for all that the Father hath given Him or every member of His blessed body. This prayer is concerning their weakness and helplessness…. He also continues to pray only for His own, and concerning their keeping in destiny (Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25). No child of God will ever know before reaching heaven from what dangers and testings he has been saved by the faithful and unfailing intercession of his Lord…. What conciliation it yields to contemplate the fact that He, with all his understanding of every weakness and danger before us, is praying this moment, and every moment, for us! His is not a prayer that will not avail. His praying is perfect and the result is absolute. Moreover, His intercession is without end…. The Lord Jesus Christ is now appearing before the face of God for us and He appears there with his glorified human body in which are the scars of His crucifixion (Zechariah 13:6). It is the presence of that very death-scarred body which answers the condemning power of every sin of the child of God. It is also a sufficient answer to every accusation of Satan…. We have been kept to the present hour by the living Intercessor who ceases not to shepherd our wandering feet, and by the living Advocate who ceases not to appear for us before the right hand of the Father…. To challenge the eternal security of the believer is to deny that the prayer of the Son of God will be answered and to deny the eternal efficacy of his atoning blood. 
In conclusion, if sin, Satan, self and the world itself (1 Jn. 5:4-5) cannot defeat God’s purposes, what else can? Here, we can see the reason for such straightforward promises in Scripture as “they shall never perish” and “and this is the promise which he himself made to us: eternal life” (1 Jn. 2:25) and “and being fully assured that what he had promised, he was able also to perform” (Rom. 4:21).
But, some ask, why do so many converts seem to fail? First, many people today are only professing Christians; they are not regenerate, but merely converts who were self-reformed, so it is hardly surprising that when difficulties come, they fall away. Apart from a spiritual rebirth and the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit, it could hardly be otherwise. Second, in any true warfare (Eph. 6:10-18) there are some injuries and casualties. With the world, the flesh and the devil as adversaries, it is not surprising that some Christians may find themselves in trouble, especially if they don’t take their walk with the Lord seriously. Nevertheless, God’s promises stand sure concerning their final perseverance and glory.
- Chafer, Salvation, pp. 126-27.
- Ibid., pp. 128-32.