In an incredible discussion some months ago on a friend’s blog, some fellow believers determined that, though salvation can not be ‘lost’, one may ‘reject’ it after having genuinely received it. The analogy recently came to me, however, of a parent and his/her child: if a child leaves the parent of it’s own free will, who is held responsible? The parent – or rather, the most mature, and in-control person at hand. The parent ‘lost’ the child, even if the child intentionally ran away. As God is the one ‘in control’ and our ‘father’, the question comes back again not to “Can Salvation be Lost?” or even “Can a truly saved person choose to reject Christ?“, but “Can Christ lose a Christian?“, because ultimately it would mean a breakdown of God’s ‘chain of salvation’ if He were to do so.
One of the strongest passages undergirding the doctrine of Eternal Security is Romans 8:28-39, which begins, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” ‘All things’, of course, ties strongly to my current blog series on Suffering & the Sovereignty of God, and means – in fact – ALL THINGS. We immediately get a picture here of a God that is so big that He uses all events and people – whether seeming good or evil, from our perspective – for our (that is, believers – or ‘the elect’ – God’s true children – those who are ‘in Christ’) ultimate benefit. That is what we mean when we say that God is sovereign: He’s over all things, able to ‘veto’ the intended outcome of human decisions and bring good from evil – that He’s the one ultimately in control.
Next comes the centerpiece of this verse: “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” Ignoring all of the other debatable implications of this verse (i.e. – does ‘foreknow’ mean to already have a relationship with, or to see the future – and does ‘predestine’ mean God hand-picks certain individuals for salvation, or that God has a specific destiny for all who are in Christ? Good questions, and I’m not dealing with them here), one thing is clear: the chain is unbroken. If someone is among those God ‘foreknew’ there is no question whatsoever whether or not they will be ‘glorified’ (which means to be sinless in our resurrected Bodies with Jesus) – there is no room in that list for human error or choice to derail what was begun in the very beginning of verse 29. It’s like the old computer program (does anyone remember ‘BASIC’ on the Apple II?) that says “If FOREKNEW then PREDESTINED”, “If PREDESTINED then CALLED”, “If CALLED then JUSTIFIED”, and “If JUSTIFIED then GLORIFIED”. Each of God’s actions towards the elect are guaranteed (and brought about?) by the action proceeding it. It seems to me, given the clarity of this stream of thought, that any understanding of any other verse that might seem to contradict this passage would need to be re-examined, else we would need to accept that there are direct theological contradictions in the Bible, and possibly within Paul’s letters themselves. I don’t personally think the latter is necessary, given that nearly every reading of a verse that seems to contradict this doctrine of ‘Eternal Security’ has other equally viable options that can allow them to fit well within the parameters of this, far clearer, verse.
From this, in Romans 8, Paul asks us for a natural response to this ‘security’ – “who can be against us?”, “who shall bring any charge against God’s elect?”, “who is to condemn?”, and “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” If we are God’s elect – truly His – then the obvious implied answer is ‘NO ONE’! No one can be against us, bring charge against us, or condemn us in a way that could separate us from Christ! All of these things/charges/condemnations are all part of the ‘all things’ which God works for our good in Romans 8:28, over which we are ‘more than conquerors‘ in Romans 8:37 – at least if we find ourselves part of the group which God “foreknew” in verse 8:29. And if ‘NO ONE’ can break that obvious chain of events which flow directly from the over-flowing Grace of almighty God, and we are ‘ONE’ – a person – then wouldn’t we find ourselves included in those being excluded from being able to successfully separate ourselves from the love of Christ, which in this context, is obviously a reference to the SAVING love of Christ, and not merely the love He has for all of creation, included lost humanity.
Of course, this makes perfect sense, as 1 Corinthians 1:8 states that God “will sustain you to the end, in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ“. Why would God ‘sustain’ his elect if part of that sustaining were not spiritual in nature – sustaining the very most important aspect of who we are: our faith? In Philippians 1:6 Paul makes yet another reference to the ‘chain’ in Romans when he says, “I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” The work was begun by God (He ‘foreknew’) will be completed by God (He will ‘glorify’). Remember, ‘justified’ – which is what we call ‘salvation’ – isn’t even at the head of that chain. It’s in the middle. The work God began started long before you were ‘saved’, and will continue long afterward, and He ‘will bring it to completion…‘ – that is an absolute promise, not an ‘if/then’ statement, hinging on our faithfulness to Christ and continued faith. In fact, that faithfulness and continued faith is something God promises to the elect – that is a work HE does IN us, and is only one aspect to His ‘sustaining’ work, as 1 Peter 1:5 states of the elect “who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” God is guarding those who are truly His.
Lastly, John 10:27-29 – “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will 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.” First, notice the reference to ‘know’-ing the sheep, and consider how that relates to ‘foreknew’ in Romans 8. Next, notice that He give ‘eternal’ life. Again, there is no ‘if/then’ statement included in the word ‘eternal’ – ‘eternal’ means forever, or everlasting. If our ‘eternal life’ could at any point be revoked – even by ourselves – then we would have never had ‘eternal life’, would we? It would be a direct contradiction of the word ‘eternal’! Again, notice that ‘NO ONE’ is able to snatch them our of the Father’s hand – and again, NO ONE would obviously include ourselves, because we are some ONE, so we would be included among those who could not snatch ourselves out of the Father’s hands. It only sounds silly because it’s so obvious.
Lastly, and most importantly – “they will never perish“, which according to Greek scholars literally means, “and they shall certainly not perish forever“. Again, who is ‘they’? Christ’s sheep – those He knows, those He foreknew in Romans 8 – those in whom He begun a good work, the ‘chain of salvation’ which begins in God’s foreknowledge and ends in their glorification – eternal life – and which NO ONE (not even ourselves, as we are SOME ONE) can interrupt or permanently derail for we are being sustained and guarded by God himself along the way.
That is not to say the Bible doesn’t allow for people who fellowship among His people, who receive from Him various graces, who may claim the name of Christ for themselves, & who may even serve in His body, yet are not ultimately his, and of them He says “I never knew you, depart from me.” But His true saints will persevere in faith until the end.
Don’t get me wrong – I disagree strongly with the “Once Saved, Always Saved” position as it is commonly expressed, where someone believes they can walk an aisle and then live however they like and still be in God’s good grace. Just take a look at my sermon SAVING FAITH to see what it looks like. The doctrine of “Eternal Security” recognizes that the elect will walk with Christ – live in the Kingdom of God here and now – until the end. Also, I think it’s important to emphasize the common ground we ‘eternal security’ folks share with many of those who aren’t convinced – we both agree that it is Christ that saves, and one must be in Christ to be saved. That is a very good, and solid foundation to find in common, and it means also that we agree that those who persevere will be saved – our only disagreement is ultimately whether or not someone who once claims the name ‘Christian’, yet turns away, was ever really saved or not. Though I hope the verses I mention above will radically re-shape your thoughts on this, I don’t in any way doubt your salvation for not coming to the same conclusion.
Blessings as you dig into the word…may you find TRUTH!