Is Once Saved, Always Saved a True and Biblical Teaching? #128 Perseverance of the Saints, Part 3.
[podcast src=”https://html5-player.libsyn.com/embed/episode/id/14288855/height/360/theme/standard/thumbnail/yes/direction/forward/” width=”100%” height=”360″ scrolling=”no” class=”podcast-class” frameborder=”0″ placement=”top” use_download_link=”” download_link_text=”” primary_content_url=”http://chtbl.com/track/C2GDE1/traffic.libsyn.com/biblemystery/BibleReadingPodcast128.mp3″ theme=”standard” custom_color=”#87a93a” libsyn_item_id=”14288855″ /]Hello friends, and Happy Tuesday to you. I realize with some chagrin that I missed wishing you a happy Star Wars day yesterday, but I can wish you a happy Cinco De Mayo today. Today’s Bible readings include Numbers 11 and 12, Psalms 49, Isaiah 2 and Hebrews 10, which is our focus passage. Today we finish up our discussion of The Perseverance of the Saints, or Once Saved Always Saved, which basically deals with the question: Can a Christian lose their salvation?
And today is the finale, The Return of the Jedi of our discussion of the Perseverance of the Saints. This is an important theological discussion, but it is a very, very important practical pastoring and real life spirituality question to consider, especially in the West. The fact is that there are many in the U.S. and other Western countries that proclaim Jesus with their lips, but deny Him with their lifestyle, as the old quote goes. In other Words, they are Christian in name only. Perhaps this is because they made a one time decision eons ago in their childhood, or perhaps it is because they grew up in church, or grew up with a very religious mom, or in a very religious area, or what have you.
In the same way that almost everybody that grows up in Alabama is either an Alabama fan or an Auburn fan – whether you like/know anything about football at all – many people born into religious families or churchy areas consider themselves Christians. However, it needs to be understood that Jesus Himself did not consider being a follower of His to be something you are born into, something you naturally inherit from your parents, or a decision you make in the heat of the moment when the choir is on the third verse of “Just as I Am,” and the preacher is pleading for sinners to come, and you walk the aisle simply because you got caught up in the moment. Generally, when Jesus called people – He told them to FOLLOW HIM, and He meant that quite literally. Matthew left his money and his tax collecting business and began to literally FOLLOW Jesus all around the country. Peter, James, John and Andrew abandoned their fishing business and followed Jesus. Mary Magdalene and the other ladies that took care of Jesus and the disciples left their lives behind, and literally travelled around the country with Him – hanging on His every Word, and serving Him actively.
The Jesus way, however, is not how usually how churches have treated following Jesus over the past few decades. Instead, many churches, pastors and evangelists have preached for ‘decisions,’ which is when you give a message and an invitation at the end of it, and invite people – usually with a strong emotional appeal – to give their lives to Jesus – usually by praying and ‘asking Him into your heart.” I think there are many good things about proclaiming the good news in a way where somebody should be led to make a decision, but the fact is that most Western churches don’t follow the pattern of Jesus and the disciples when proclaiming the Gospel, and that has led to many more people making decisions for Christ than actually becoming genuine followers of Christ. As we discussed in episode 124 – this is not a terribly big surprise, because Jesus shows in in Mark 4 – the Parable of the Sower – that many of the people who receive the Word of God – even some who receive it joyfully – do not ultimately go on to be saved. They believe for a moment in time – maybe an extended moment in time – but their belief is not actually a saving belief in Jesus, because ‘they have no root,’ and they don’t persevere in following Him.
Hebrews 2, 3, 6 and 10 all contain strong warnings to followers of Jesus – urging them to not quit, but to persevere and continue on in the faith. Hebrews 10 contains a particularly sober warning for any who would backslide (a fancy old-school religious term that basically means moving away from Jesus and His teachings.):
26 For if we deliberately go on sinning after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire about to consume the adversaries. 28 Anyone who disregarded the law of Moses died without mercy, based on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29 How much worse punishment do you think one will deserve who has trampled on the Son of God, who has regarded as profane the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know the one who has said,
Vengeance belongs to me; I will repay,
The Lord will judge his people.
31 It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God….
35 So don’t throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. 36 For you need endurance, so that after you have done God’s will, you may receive what was promised.
37 For yet in a very little while,
the Coming One will come and not delay.
38 But my righteous one will live by faith;
and if he draws back,
I have no pleasure in him.
39 But we are not those who draw back and are destroyed, but those who have faith and are saved.
Some see in those verses a strong warning against falling away – a warning that true Christians can and do fall away, and when they do, they are potentially lost forever, unless they quickly turn back and follow Jesus. Others see a strong exhortation to hold onto faith, and find great assurance (in other Bible passages) that genuinely saved Christians won’t lose their salvation because they are held secure not by their own strength, but by the power of God.
Seminary professor and author Wayne Grudem addresses this question head-on in his most excellent Systematic Theology, making a convincing case to believe that a genuinely saved Christian will not be lost:
There are many passages that teach that those who are truly born again, who are genuinely Christians, will continue in the Christian life until death and will then go to be with Christ in heaven. Jesus says,
I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me; and this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up at the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that every one who sees the Son and believes in him should have eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. (John 6:38–40)
Here Jesus says that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life. He says that he will raise that person up at the last day—which, in this context of believing in the Son and having eternal life, clearly means that Jesus will raise that person up to eternal life with him (not just raise him up to be judged and condemned). It seems hard to avoid the conclusion that everyone who truly believes in Christ will remain a Christian up to the day of final resurrection into the blessings of life in the presence of God.2 Moreover, this text emphasizes that Jesus does the will of the Father, which is that he should “lose nothing of all that he has given me” (John 6:39). Once again, those given to the Son by the Father will not be lost.
Another passage emphasizing this truth is John 10:27–29, in which Jesus says:
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me; and I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish and no one shall 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 the Father’s hand.
Here Jesus says that those who follow him, those who are his sheep, are given eternal life. He further says that “no one shall snatch them out of my hand” (v. 28). Now some have objected to this that even though no one else can take Christians out of Christ’s hand, we might remove ourselves from Christ’s hand. But that seems to be pedantic quibbling over words—does not “no one” also include the person who is in Christ’s hand? Moreover, we know that our own hearts are far from trustworthy. Therefore if the possibility remained that we could remove ourself from Christ’s hand, the passage would hardly give the assurance that Jesus intends by it.
But more importantly, the most forceful phrase in the passage is “they shall never perish” (v. 28). The Greek construction (οὐ μή plus aorist subjunctive) is especially emphatic and might be translated more explicitly, “and they shall certainly not perish forever.” This emphasizes that those who are Jesus’ “sheep” and who follow him, and to whom he has given eternal life, shall never lose their salvation or be separated from Christ—they shall “never perish.”3
Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House, 2004), 788–790.
He further elaborates on the perseverance part of the Perseverance of the Saints doctrine here:
While Scripture repeatedly emphasizes that those who are truly born again will persevere to the end and will certainly have eternal life in heaven with God, there are other passages that speak of the necessity of continuing in faith throughout life. They make us realize that what Peter said in 1 Peter 1:5 is true, namely, that God does not guard us apart from our faith, but only by working through our faith so that he enables us to continue to believe in him. In this way, those who continue to trust in Christ gain assurance that God is working in them and guarding them.
One example of this kind of passage is John 8:31–32: “Jesus then said to the Jews who had believed in him, ‘If you continue in my word you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” ’ Jesus is here giving a warning that one evidence of genuine faith is continuing in his word, that is, continuing to believe what he says and living a life of obedience to his commands. Similarly, Jesus says, “He who endures to the end will be saved” (Matt. 10:22), as a means of warning people not to fall away in times of persecution.
Paul says to the Colossian Christians that Christ has reconciled them to God, “in order to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him, provided that you continue in the faith stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel which you heard” (Col. 1:22–23). It is only natural that Paul and the other New Testament writers would speak this way, for they are addressing groups of people who profess to be Christians, without being able to know the actual state of every person’s heart. There may have been people at Colossae who had joined in the fellowship of the church, and perhaps even professed that they had faith in Christ and had been baptized into membership of the church, but who never had true saving faith. How is Paul to distinguish such people from true believers? How can he avoid giving them false assurance, assurance that they will be saved eternally when in fact they will not, unless they come to true repentance and faith? Paul knows that those whose faith is not real will eventually fall away from participation in the fellowship of the church. Therefore he tells his readers that they will ultimately be saved, “provided that you continue in the faith” (Col. 1:23). Those who continue show thereby that they are genuine believers. But those who do not continue in the faith show that there was no genuine faith in their hearts in the first place.
A similar emphasis is seen in Hebrews 3:14 (NASB): “For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm to the end.” This verse provides an excellent perspective on the doctrine of perseverance. How do we know if “we have become partakers of Christ”? How do we know if this being joined to Christ has happened to us at some time in the past?10 One way in which we know that we have come to genuine faith in Christ is if we continue in faith until the end of our lives.
Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House, 2004), 792–793.
Finally, Grudem concludes with a pastoral call to hold fast and hold firm to the Gospel and to Jesus:
At this point, in terms of pastoral care with those who have strayed away from their Christian profession, we should realize that Calvinists and Arminians (those who believe in the perseverance of the saints and those who think that Christians can lose their salvation) will both counsel a “backslider” in the same way. According to the Arminian this person was a Christian at one time but is no longer a Christian. According to the Calvinist, such a person never really was a Christian in the first place and is not one now. But in both cases the biblical counsel given would be the same: “You do not appear to be a Christian now—you must repent of your sins and trust in Christ for your salvation!” Though the Calvinist and Arminian would differ on their interpretation of the previous history, they would agree on what should be done in the present.
But here we see why the phrase eternal security can be quite misleading. In some evangelical churches, instead of teaching the full and balanced presentation of the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints, pastors have sometimes taught a watered-down version, which in effect tells people that all who have once made a profession of faith and been baptized are “eternally secure.” The result is that some people who are not genuinely converted at all may “come forward” at the end of an evangelistic sermon to profess faith in Christ, and may be baptized shortly after that, but then they leave the fellowship of the church and live a life no different from the one they lived before they gained this “eternal security.” In this way people are given false assurance and are being cruelly deceived into thinking they are going to heaven when in fact they are not.
Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House, 2004), 806.