Our final considerations in this session surround the assurance and security of salvation. Can someone lose their salvation? Are we ‘once-saved-always-saved’ or is there a requirement placed on the believer to remain in a state of grace?
God desires that the believer receive assurance of salvation.
Assurance is defined as “freedom from doubt, firmness of mind, confidence, and to make certain”. It also has the idea of a pledge or guarantee which brings security. In theological terms assurance is “the inner knowledge that God has forgiven us in Christ and accepted us in His Beloved Son. Ephesians 1:6. (‘Foundations of Christian Doctrine”, Kevin J Conner)
Paul was able to preach the gospel with “full assurance” (1 Thess. 1:5).
He also wrote:
“I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed to Him until that Day.” 2 Tim 1:12
John in his epistles wrote the word “know” over 20 times and assured the believer of his acceptance in Christ!
Suggested exercise for students at home
Read the epistles of John and underline or highlight every instance where he uses the word “know”. What are we to “know” and be sure of?
Means of Assurance
There are various means by which the believer can have assurance of salvation. Conner in ‘Foundations’ lists them as follows:
The testimony of the Word of God. God has spoken in His word the truth about our position in Christ and our right standing with God. 1 John 5:1-5, John 3:36, John 5:24. We must believe these promises that God has written in His Word.
The testimony of the Holy Spirit. This is the internal evidence. The Holy Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are born again. Romans 8:15-17, Galatians 4:6, 1 John 5:9-13.
The testimony of a clear conscience. This is also an inner witness. Rom 9:1
The testimony of the Christian life. The life a person lives should be in harmony with the word of God. This is the outward evidence of the inner Christ-life. 1 John 3:14, 2 Corinthians 13:5.
Hindrances to Full Assurance.
These are some of the hindrances that rob believers of full assurance of salvation.
- Lies and accusations of the Devil, which bring condemnation. Revelation 12:10, Zechariah 3:1.
- Judgementalism on the part of other believers. Matthew 7:1-5.
- Doubts and unbelief. Mark 11:22-24, James 1:5-8.
- Love of the world. 1 John 2:15-17, James 4:4.
- Wilful sin. Hebrews 10:26-31.
- Walking by feelings and not by faith. 2 Corinthians 5:7.
- Failure to maintain a close love relationship with Christ. Rev 2:4.
Perseverance and Security
Once saved, are we always saved?
Can we lose our salvation?
What are the conditions for the continuance of our relationship with God, if any?
Concerning the perseverance and security of the saints there are two main views:
This view of unconditional security (once saved always saved) teaches that because God has chosen and called the believer by His irresistible grace, that believer cannot fall away. Once he is born again, he can never be “unborn”, however he lives his life.
This view puts a strong emphasis on the sovereignty of God. It is supported by such scriptures as:
“But you do not believe, because you are not of My sheep, as I said to you.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 Father’s hand.” (John 10:26-29 NKJV)
See also: John 6:37, 17:12, Philippians 1:6; 2 Timothy 1:12; 4:18 ; Romans 11:29; 2 Thess 3:3; Isaiah 45:17; Hebrews 5:9; 9:12 and Jude 23-24
Take a few minutes to look up the above scriptures. What do they suggest?
“This view holds that the Scriptures teach conditional security of the believer. It holds that the doctrine of perseverance is not only on God’s side, but also on man’s side. It further holds that a believer may lapse into a period of backsliding and unless there is a return to the Lord, the believer could fall into apostacy and be eternally lost. In this view there is strong emphasis on human responsibility.” “Foundations of Christian Doctrine”, Kevin J Conner
This view is supported by such scriptures as:
Hebrews 6:4-6; 10:23-30; Ezekiel 33:12-16; Matthew 7:24-25; 24:11-13; Matthew 25; John 15:2-6; 1 Corinthians 9:24-27; Revelation 3:5; 1 Timothy 1:19-20; 2 Timothy 4:9; 2 Peter 2:20-22
Take a few minutes to look up the above scriptures. What do they suggest.
Many scriptures encourage the believer to keep going on with the Lord, the responsibility seems to be with us not to get distracted and pulled away by the world, the flesh and the devil.
The balance between divine sovereignty and human responsibility must be kept or the believer can get into fatalism or Antinomianism (carrying on in sin that grace may abound: See Appendix 1: What is antinomianism?), or on the other hand be in fear of losing their salvation and getting into works and legalism.
This balance between us “working out our salvation” and God working in us and bringing us safely through to His heavenly kingdom is perfectly described by Paul in His letter to the Philippians:
“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.” (Phil 2:12-13)
We are to work out in loving obedience what God, by His grace, is working in us. This work of God within can be resisted, ignored or even shunned if the heart becomes calloused.
The scriptures abound with exhortations to the believer to persevere in the Lord and continue in the Word. The word “persevere” means “to persist in any business or enterprise undertaken.” In theology it means “continuance in a state of grace”.
Jesus encouraged His disciples to continue or abide in His word.
“Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed.” (John 8:31 NKJV)
They were to stay in the word of Christ, to abide, dwell and remain in a state of grace. The believer is exhorted to:
- Continue in the faith. Colossians 1:23.
- Continue in the grace of God. Acts 13:43.
- Continue in the love of Christ. John 15:9.
- Continue in the goodness of God. Romans 11:22.
- Continue in prayer. Colossians 4:2.
- Continue in the apostles’ doctrine. Acts 2:24.
- Continue abiding in the vine. John 15:1-10
- Continue in the Word. 1 Tim 4:16; 2 Tim 3:14
Dangers of Backsliding
There are many warnings given to believers against backsliding or drawing back from following the Lord.
The Old Testament.
The word “backslide” is used by the prophet Jeremiah 13 times, (Jeremiah 2:19, 3:6, 5:6, 49:4 etc). The prophet Hosea also uses this word several times, (Hosea 4:16, 14:4).
The word is “meshubah” in the Hebrew and means “to turn back, to retreat” with implications of faithlessness and disloyalty.
The New Testament.
The New Testament uses various expressions to indicate backsliding.
- Jesus warned about “looking back” and being unfit for the kingdom of God. Luke 9:62, 17:32.
- Paul spoke of those who made “shipwreck” of their faith.
1 Timothy 1:18-19.
- Peter warned of those who “returned” as a dog to its’ vomit.
2 Peter 2:20-22.
- The writer to the Hebrews warned of those who “drew back” to perdition. Hebrews10: 38-39.
- The believer is told not to “neglect” so great salvation. Hebrews 2:3.
- Paul warned the Gentile believers that they could be cut off as Israel was. Romans 11:22, 16-26.
Both Old and New Testaments also speak of names being removed from the Book of Life. If this were not possible, then these warnings would be meaningless. Exodus 32:30-33, Revelation 3:5. Judas is an example of this. Acts 1:18-22, Psalm 69:25-28.
These scriptures in both Testaments become meaningless if a believer is unconditionally secure.
Dangers of Apostasy
Apostasy is one step further than backsliding. A backslider can return to the Lord and be healed and restored. An apostate cannot return. Backsliding usually takes place gradually. It takes place secretly, in the heart at first, and then is manifested outwardly. Apostasy is a deliberate and wilful renunciation and rejection of Jesus Christ.
Two passages in Hebrews give explanation of this:
“…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 an open shame.
For the earth which drinks in the rain that often comes upon it, and bears herbs useful for those by whom it is cultivated, receives blessing from God; but if it bears thorns and briers, it is rejected and near to being cursed, whose end is to be burned.
But, beloved, we are confident of better things concerning you, yes, things that accompany salvation, though we speak in this manner.” (Hebrews 6:4-9 NKJV)
“Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know Him who said, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. And again, “The LORD will judge His people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (Heb 10:29-31 NKJV)
Apostasy means “falling away” and is the sin unto death.
“If anyone sees his brother sinning a sin which does not lead to death, he will ask, and He will give him life for those who commit sin not leading to death. There is sin leading to death. I do not say that he should pray about that.” (1John 5:16 NKJV)
Examples of backsliding and apostasy in the Old and New Testament
In the Old Testament King Saul became an apostate and was rejected by God.
1 Samuel 10:1-10, 16:22-23, 1 Chronicles 10:13-14.
King David on the other hand became a backslider when he sinned with Bathsheba, but he was restored. 2 Samuel 11-12, Psalm 51, Psalm 32.
In the N.T. Judas became an apostate after being called as an apostle.
John 6:64-70, 13:1-30, Acts 1:15-25. Whereas Peter backslid when he denied Jesus, but was restored. Luke 22:31-34,54-62, Mark 16:7.
Causes of backsliding
Conner on pages 263-64 of ‘Foundations’ lists the following causes of Backsliding.
- Lack of maintaining a personal love relationship with the Lord. Revelation 2:1-7.
- Lack of spiritual watchfulness. Mark 13:33.
- Lack of spiritual fervency. Romans 12:11, Rev.3:14-22.
- Lack of obedience to the Word and Spirit of God. Hebrews 5:9, Acts 5:32.
- Lack of prayer. Luke 22:39-46.
- Lack of fellowship with the people of God. Hebrews 10:24-25.
- Lack of separation from the world. Psalm 1, James 4:4,1John 2:15-17, 2 Cor 6:14-18.
- Lack of humility. 1 Corinthians 10:12, Proverbs 18:12.
The scriptures keep a balance between the perseverance of the saints and warnings of the dangers of backsliding and apostacy. The security of the believer is conditional upon obedience and faith in the Lord Jesus.
“Christ is the author of eternal salvation to all them that obey Him.” Heb 5:9.
The redemptive work of Christ does not exempt man from obedience to the Word of God. Obedience is the law of security for all created beings. The angels who fell disobeyed God’s law. Adam and Eve fell when they disobeyed. God places this responsibility on His people, that if they obey His voice, then He will be their God.
No believer need backslide or fall away from the faith. The Lord Jesus is our Advocate and Intercessor. The Holy Spirit is our Counsellor and Indweller. The Lord gives the assurance that:
In later lessons we will look at the ‘means of grace’ God has provided whereby believers can gain strength to continue victoriously in the Christian walk. These include the Word of God, prayer, and fellowship with other believers who can help and encourage us. God has also provided godly leaders, to whom we can make ourselves accountable, and who “watch out for our souls” and pray for us. Fellowship and participation in a local church body are essential to this process of growth together with others.