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Eternal Security and Assurance of Salvation Are Two Different Things
Posted by Clare
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I rarely blog on strictly theological issues, but on Monday I posted a blog on why I’m so hesitant to ask people to pray “the prayer” of salvation, anymore, until I’m confident they understand what and who they’re about to commit their lives to. And, one of the reason why I don’t, is due to the misunderstanding between the doctrine of eternal security (once saved-always saved) and the promise we make people that if they do pray the prayer, they can know without a doubt that they are saved (assurance of salvation).

All of us would like to have assurance of our salvation. But the question all Christians ask of themselves, if they’re honest, “How can I know, or can anyone know, if they’re really saved for sure?”

My purpose in this blog is not to give an apologetic argument for either of these doctrines, but rather to explain the important difference between them for ourselves and the people to whom we are are presenting the gospel or spiritually mentoring.

The paragraphs in italics and some of the bullet points, I’ve borrowed and edited from a recent blog on this subject by Jim Samra, my pastor and an amazing Bible teacher, Olives and Coffee, November 9, 2014.

Eternal Security
Let me begin by saying that I believe in the doctrine of eternal security. Once a person is saved, they cannot lose their salvation. Once a person has been “born again,” they cannot be unborn again. Once they’ve been adopted into God’s family, they will never be un-adopted, (they are eternally secure both in this life and the next).

Not all Christians believe in this doctrine. There’s plenty of scripture/evidence to suggest it’s possible to lose one’s salvation for any of these reasons:

1. Hardening of one’s heart toward God’s moral laws
“Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.  And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” 1 Corinthians 6:9-11

2. Having a lukewarm faith.
“I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other!  So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” Revelation 3:15,16

3. Denying Jesus and his salvation work.
“Who is the liar? It is whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a person is the antichrist—denying the Father and the Son.  No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also.” 1 John 2: 22,23

However, for the purposes of this blog, lets assume that we believe once a person is truly born again, they are saved for all eternity.

It depends on your point of view.
Here’s why there’s so much confusion between eternal security and assurance of salvation.

  • Eternal security is our salvation from God’s point of view.
  • Assurance of salvation is our salvation from our point of view.

Eternal security is God’s promise to guarantee our salvation by the Holy Spirit’s indwelling, to every person who is truly born-again. God guarantees it. From God’s perspective, we belong to him. We’re totally secure!

God knows all who are eternally secure, but we don’t. That’s why we cannot have assurance of our salvation, with certainty, unless we finish our life loving and serving God. John Calvin said it this way, “How do you know someone is a Christian? If they persevere to the end.”

Someone who does not continue to the end of their journey with Jesus will not make it to the final destination of heaven: not because they lost their salvation but because they never truly had it in the first place. 1 John 2:19 makes this point. “They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.”

If you abandon Jesus and the journey of faith, you are demonstrating that you are not genuinely born again. “See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.  But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.   We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end.” Hebrews 3:12-14

Don’t genuine believers sometimes wander away from Jesus for a season? Absolutely. But, how do you know that a person is a genuine believer? If he or she comes back. If a person doesn’t come back, you cannot know whether they are a genuine Christian.

Abraham lied, twice about Sarah being his wife because he didn’t trust God to protect him. David committed adultery and murder. But both finished strong, so no one has any doubts about their salvation.

If you have loved ones that have walked away from God, I do not want to give you false hope.  I do not want to simply tell you that if your loved ones made a profession of faith when they were younger then those individuals will be fine. But “God is not unjust.” He will do the right thing. If they are genuinely believers by faith, they will end up in heaven, even though they walked away. (Here’s a case where from our perspective, some people who we believe should have no assurance of their salvation, but from God’s perspective may be eternally secure.)

Eternal insecurity isn’t always a bad thing
If you go and read Hebrews 2:1-3, 3:12-14, 10:26-31, 12:25 and 5:11-6:12 you will not find any discussion about eternal security. What you will find are warnings not to walk away from Jesus. These verses are meant to frighten people who call themselves Christians (also see Matthew 7:21-23; John 15; Romans 11:17-22; 1 Corinthians 9:27-10:12; James 2:14-26).

The author of Hebrews believes in eternal security. But he understands that people who are constantly fed a diet of “once-saved/always saved” can draw from it an incorrect inference, namely if I pray to receive Christ it doesn’t matter what I do from that point on. I realize that it is a difficult tension, but we have to let the Word of God speak in all its complexities without using one passage to silence another.

But doesn’t it say in the Bible…?
This passage is the one most often quoted to give people “assurance of their salvation.” I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.” 1 John 5:13

But, before you claim that promise, you have to read all of 1 John. If you are still believing and sincerely are trying to live out, at the end of your life everything John describes in the first four chapters of 1 John, then and only then, may you know you have eternal life. But no one can predict how any of us will finish the race.

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.” Philippians 3:12

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Comments (7)
  1. Stu said...

    If from God’s point of view – that we are eternally secure is true – why then would you suppose that Paul issues this somber warning to the believers in Rome?
    “So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (Rom 8:12-13).

    • Clare said...

      Stu, as you know, there are wonderful brothers and sisters in Christ who love God and have a high view of scriptures, who believe the Bible teaches a believer can lose their salvation. I could give you a dozen passages of scripture that appear to say that, and perhaps Christians can. However, the majority of theologians for the past 2,000 believe the strongest evidence is that Christians cannot lose their salvation. I’m in their camp, for the same reason.
      There’s an old saying that “Christians ought to believe like Calvinists, but live like Arminian’s.”

  2. Stu said...

    I think it is risky to base one’s belief on the majority belief of theologians. God did not create the written Word so that only theologians would be best equipped to interpret it for the rest of. If the Spirit dwells within in us, then the Spirit teaches and illumines the scriptures for our understanding. After all, in Jesus’ day, were not the theologians the Sadducees and Pharisees yet they misunderstood the scriptures and substituted their own traditions. We are not immune from the same thing happening today. Each believer must wrestle with the plain meaning of the text; thus my citation of Rom. 8:12-13 as a starter.

    • Clare said...

      Stu, ever since the Church was founded, doctrinal error or confusion has been a problem and a way was needed to resolve them. Once the Apostles died, Christian leaders have handled this issue either at the local level, but if it couldn’t resolve it, a “council” was called. It seems obvious that the Church would look to godly men and women whose full time job it was, to study and teach the scriptures, to resolve these questions. Did the “theologians” always get it right? Of course not. But to leave some of the more complex teachings of scripture for every Christian to figure out, just doesn’t make sense. However, Christians should never just accept what these people say as the gospel. We’re commanded in the Bible to examine scripture and to test every idea, or doctrine, by scripture alone.
      So I’m grateful to theologians to help organize some of the more complex teaching of scripture, but their conclusions must be tested by scripture and should never be revered as ultimate truth.

  3. Stu said...

    We both agree that theologians are helpful to understanding scripture and their teachings should be tested against the scriptures. However I also believe that Scripture is meant to be understood by the common lay person if one commits oneself to diligent study of the Word allowing the Holy Spirit to illumine the scriptures as we abide in him.
    “But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie—just as it has taught you, abide in him” (1 Jn 2:27).

  4. Bob said...

    “Someone who does not continue to the end of their journey with Jesus will not make it to the final destination of heaven: not because they lost their salvation but because they never truly had it in the first place.”

    I do not believe in the doctrine of eternal security. At the same time I know believers of devout, sincere faith who do (Christ Community Church in Brandon, FL. I have known devout , sincere believers who believe we can forfeit salvation after sincere saving faith. So I make no assumptions about the sincerity of someones faith based on their stance with these viewpoints.

    With that I must say the line of reasoning above seems to contradict itself. How can someone “not continue” on their journey with Jesus if they never began it? If your answer to this question is “they can’t because they never began a journey with Jesus.” The problem with this answer is everything this quote and others like it in this post expressly state is that the person who supposedly was never really born again started or began a journey of faith in Jesus. It it like saying someone began a 10 mile journey to walk from town A to town B. Their was a guide who was from town B, and said he would show them the way. But because they never arrived at town B they never really began the journey at all with the guide. Never-mind the fact that they traveled 3 miles with him, or 5, or 9. The fact that they didn’t arrive at town B, means they never actually left town A with the guide.

    What I would propose the Scriptural quotes you shared above including those in the book of Hebrews are expressing is that it is possible to really begin the journey from town A to town B with the guide, but decide to turn back to town A at some point. It is not that you never started it is that you did not persevere to the end, you stopped following the guide to the end. In biblical terms you started out with genuine faith, but you turned from that faith in Jesus and went back to your old life.

    That is much different than saying ALL of those who are not in heaven never really were born again. I would say it is quite likely that most of them were never born again, as Jesus did say the road to destruction was a wide path that most were following. At the same time that I believe according to Scripture there will be those began to walk with Jesus and who turned back, those who were really born again, but who died inwardly by their sin of turning away from faith in Jesus they once expressed.

    I realize we see differently on this issue, and I respect you as a fellow believer. I just could not make biblical or rational sense of your logic in this post.

    • Clare said...

      Bob, long ago I came to this conclusion; There are good Christians who love God and have a high view of the Bible, who disagree on some doctrines. This is one of them. Your view is well within the “evangelical circle” and therefore i can embrace you as a brother in Christ. We can agree to disagree. Bless you for your thoughtful comments!

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