"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 10:27-29)
While the Doctrine of Limited Atonement is easily the most controversial of the "Five Points of Calvinism", the last point, Perseverance of the Saints, is easily the most debated and misunderstood. Various teachings on Eternal Security range from the classical Arminian view that a true saint of God can fall away from Salvation and be lost, to "Easy Believism", a new monster that has reared it's ugly head in recent times, combining elements of "free will" evangelism with the last point of Calvinism, creating a "Once Saved, Always Saved" based on a one time personal decision. Thankfully, this is the last of the "five points", so the Doctrines of Salvation itself have been, of necessity, clearly established before we deal with this point.
As we have already shown in previous posts, a person is saved only by the work of God. Man has no part to play in his salvation. Man is not saved by altar calls, repeating some prayer, or any other work. He is saved when God gives him a new heart, when he is born again.
So let's address the question of a "backslider"? Can a professed Christian fall away from the faith and be eternally lost? The answer is undoubtedly "yes". It happens all the time. However, Can a true "sheep" lose his faith and become lost? No. Once we understand how one is saved, the difference between the two questions becomes much clearer.
We cannot assume that just because a person comes to the altar and repeats the sinner's prayer that he is indeed saved. Many, including myself, have known many people who have come to church, gone to the altar, and even got into the ministry. But as the parable of the sower (Matthew 13:3-9; Matthew 13:18-23) shows, they did not have the right heart, so they fell away. I believe that much of the modern rejection of eternal security is a backlash against "easy-believism", and as such, it is perfectly understandable.
What "Eternal Security" is Not.
"But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls." (Hebrews 10:39)
Eternal Security is not meant to be "fire insurance for the wicked". I have met many a poor soul who thought that they were guaranteed a heavenly inheritance simply because they once responded to an altar call and repeated the "Sinner's Prayer". This can easily be cleared up by the “P” in the acronym TULIP. It stands for Perseverance. This means that the true saints of God will persevere, and also means that those who do not persevere are not true saints of God, but are merely tares planted among the wheat, sons of the Evil One (Matthew 13:24-30). Those that fall away from the faith "were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us." (1 John 2:19). In the exact words of the Canons of Dort, "Assurance of this their eternal and unchangeable election to salvation is given to the chosen in due time, though by various stages and in differing measure. Such assurance comes not by inquisitive searching into the hidden and deep things of God, but by noticing within themselves, with spiritual joy and holy delight, the unmistakable fruits of election pointed out in God's Word-- such as a true faith in Christ, a childlike fear of God, a godly sorrow for their sins, a hunger and thirst for righteousness, and so on."1 However, Dort affirms that this assurance of salvation must bear fruit. "In their awareness and assurance of this election God's children daily find greater cause to humble themselves before God, to adore the fathomless depth of his mercies, to cleanse themselves, and to give fervent love in return to him who first so greatly loved them. This is far from saying that this teaching concerning election, and reflection upon it, make God's children lax in observing his commandments or carnally self-assured. By God's just judgment this does usually happen to those who casually take for granted the grace of election or engage in idle and brazen talk about it but are unwilling to walk in the ways of the chosen.”2
There is no such thing as assurance apart from Perseverance. Jesus' warning to professing Christians who continue to practice lawlessness (Matthew 7:21-23) must be taken seriously. What is signified by "perseverance"? Does that mean that it is our responsibility to maintain our salvation? No. It means that our perseverance is a result of our salvation. The Apostle Paul, who was as eternally secure as anyone (Ephesians 1:13; Romans 9:23), clearly viewed perseverance and holiness as evidence of that security. He writes, "I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be castaway" (1 Corinthians 9:27). In fact, one reason he gives for preaching the gospel is because "necessity is laid upon me", to which he adds, "Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!" (1 Corinthians 9:16). Paul knew nothing of the modern "easy-believism, cheap grace" nonsense being made popular today. The Christian, however secure, must heed the New Covenant warning expressed in Hebrews 12:14, that without holiness, no man shall see God. It is because of this driving desire imputed by the Holy Spirit that Paul "press[ed] on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own" (Philippians 3:4-12), "so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh" (2 Corinthians 4:11), "For the love of Christ constrains us" (2 Corinthians 5:14). Paul, writing to Corinthian "saints" (1 Corinthians 1:2), who had been given the grace of God in Christ Jesus (1 Corinthians 1:4), warned them "that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God" (1 Corinthians 6:9-10). In the end, the blessed saints are "they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus”. (Revelation 14:12) One cannot separate God commandments from faith in Jesus. They go hand in hand.
One of the promises of the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31), which is for the Church (Hebrews 8:8-13) is that God "will put my law in their inward parts, and in their heart will I write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people" (Jeremiah 31:33). Those who are part of the New Covenant are His, and He is their God. He gives His people a new heart, and puts His Spirit in them, which in turn causes them to walk in His statutes (Ezekiel 36:26-27). Our works are not the cause of our salvation, but they are the evidence. For, "this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says "I know him" but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may be sure that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked". (1 John 2:3-6)
James tells us that "faith without works is dead" (James 2:26). This is not salvation by works, but it is clear that salvation must result in works. Paul gives the Galatians a test to see if they are indeed, "led by the Spirit" (Galatians 5:18).
"Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit." (Galatians 5:19-25)
Paul gives them no middle ground. The works of the flesh, contrasted with the fruits of the Spirit, are evident. Belief cannot be separated from repentance (Acts 19:4). One who does not "Repent" (Matthew 3:2) and "bear the fruits worthy of repentance" (Matthew 3:8) does not believe, but will suffer "the wrath to come" (Matthew 3:7). If one truly believes that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God, they will repent, for Jesus came to call sinners to repentance (Luke 5:32). Thus Paul, writing to believers on Corinth, gives them this solemn warning.
"Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God." (1 Corinthians 6:9-10)
I will share this same warning to those who promote easy believism. Do not be deceived. Jesus is both your Lord and your Savior, or He is neither (Luke 6:46).
Finally, Paul balances perfectly the assurance of the believer and the necessity of his holiness in 2 Timothy 2:19.
"Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his. And, Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity." (2 Timothy 2:19).
The True Meaning of Eternal Security
“Blessèd assurance, Jesus is mine!
O what a foretaste of glory divine!
Heir of salvation, purchase of God,
Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood.”
Having refuted those who would dishonor Christ's Lordship, let us now pay homage to His work of Salvation, not challenging His ability to save His sheep to the uttermost. Despite the understandable objections of the cautious Arminian on this point, the Scriptures teach us that whom the Lord redeems he also keeps (Isaiah 43:1-3). Jesus seeks and restores the wandering sheep and it is not the will of God that one of them should perish (Matthew 18:14). Christ's saving work cannot fail in the life of His sheep, for He predestined unto adoption, not just justification (Ephesians 1:5). Thus, we are "sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise” (Ephesians 1:13). "The foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his..." (2 Timothy 2:19).
Eternal means Eternal
The Arminian c0nstantly tells us that, even though no one can take you out of God's hand, you can walk out. However, this is clearly adding to the Word of God, for Scripture tells us that "…he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them" (Hebrews 7:25). Will we deny His ability to save to the uttermost? Does His intercession fail, considering that Christ is always heard of the Father? (John 11:41-42).
Those that believe have everlasting life (John 6:47). If everlasting life can be lost, then by definition, it is not everlasting life. This is the eternal life that the Good Shepherd gives to His sheep, "and they shall never perish" (John 10:27-30). Thus we are “born of incorruptible seed by Word of God" (1 Peter 1:23). Christ has obtained an eternal redemption for us (Hebrews 9:12), and those who are called will receive the promise of the inheritance (Hebrews 9:15).
Calvinists hold that "eternal life" means "eternal life", "eternal redemption" means "eternal redemption", and "incorruptible seed" means "incorruptible seed". Once God changes a person's heart, He is not going to change it back. Once that person is truly born of the Spirit, he will never become "unborn". "Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift" (2 Corinthians 9:15).
For further study, I would recommend.
A Divine and Supernatural Light by Jonathan Edwards.
Pursuing Holiness in the Lord by Jonathan Edwards.
The Security of Believers; (or Sheep Who Will Never Perish) by Charles H. Spurgeon
1 The Canons of Dort – Section I Article 12
2 The Canons of Dort – Section I Article 13