By Leonard Lauriault: QCS columnist
Overheard once after a funeral: “He went to church when he was younger, so he’ll be alright.” Such statements are based in the un-Biblical philosophy that once one becomes a Christian, he cannot lose his salvation. John 10:28, 29 and Romans 8:38, 39 (read those verses) are commonly misused to support the idea of once saved, always saved, also known as unconditional eternal security. The context of each of these passages, interpreted along with other scripture, show why they do not support that notion.
In John 10:27, Jesus described those who couldn’t be snatched out of God’s hand (lose their salvation). They’re known by him because they listen to his voice and follow him (Luke 6:46-49; Matthew 7:21-23). We must do what God says, all of it, for the rest of our lives, to receive eternal life (Matthew 28:18-20; Revelation 2:10). This isn’t as difficult as it sounds, in view of the outcome (1 John 5:3; 1 Timothy 4:8). While we can’t be snatched out of Jesus’ hand, he doesn’t close his fist and keep us from jumping out, which we can definitely do (1 Timothy 4:1; 2 John 2:15-17; 2 Timothy 4:10).
Nothing can separate us from God’s love because he loved humankind even before he created the world (John 3:16; Ephesians 1:3-10). God demonstrated his love completely to all people, just at the right time, through Jesus’ death, even while we were his enemies because he loved us (Romans 5:6-8; John 19:30). The love was there before we were and its demonstration is a done deal; so, neither can be retracted (Romans 11:29; 2 Thessalonians 2:13-15; Titus 2:11). We can’t be separated from God’s love, but we can still separate ourselves from God with eternal consequences (Isaiah 59:2; 2 Thessalonians 1:8-10).
Romans 8:1 says there’s no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. We must be in Christ for this to apply (Galatians 3:26-4:7). We’re placed in Christ when our sins are forgiven (Acts 2:38, 39; 22:16; 1 Corinthians 12:12, 13; Ephesians 1:22, 23).
There’s no condemnation in Christ, because God marks us with his Spirit as the seal guaranteeing our salvation (Acts 18:24-19:5; Ephesians 1:13, 14; John 3:5).
For the relief from condemnation to continue, we must remain in Christ. Otherwise, he won’t remain in us (John 15:4). That is, we lose the guarantee of our eternal security. This is why Paul tells Christians about the significance of having and keeping the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:9-17; Ephesians 4:30; 1 Samuel 16:14). If we don’t follow the Spirit, we’ll live according to our sinful nature and die (1 John 2:3-6; 3:4-10). This doesn’t mean we’ll be perfect – free of sin, like Jesus (Hebrews 4:15); but, it does mean we remember our position in Christ and continue to put to death the misdeeds of the body by the Spirit so we don’t become enslaved by sin again (1 John 1:5-9; Romans 8:26, 27; 6:1-23; Hebrews 12:1).
The New Testament contains lots of warnings about what will happen to Christians who become re-entangled by sin (Hebrews 3:12-14; 6:4-6; 10:19-31, to list a few examples from just one book). Peter seems to describe three states of man (1 Peter 2:20-22): lost, saved, and lost again, stating that the lost again are worse off than those who had not yet been saved. The Bible never says that unrepentant backsliders weren’t saved to begin with.
While unconditional eternal security is contrary to the Bible, there is strong scriptural teaching that we can have eternal security. This promise is given in 2 Peter 1:10, 11, which refers to the conditions given in verses 3 to 9 (see also 2 Peter 3:10-18; 1 John 5:11-13). We can prevent ourselves from falling (jumping) from our secure position in God’s hand only by feeding on his word and sowing to please his Spirit (Galatians 6:7, 8).
By the way, while church attendance is a necessary part of sowing to please the Spirit, it does not make one a Christian.