Last week, we sought to address a couple of passages that are often difficult for some to reconcile with the doctrine of eternal security. What may seem at first glance to be in the favor of the conditionalists (that is, Christians who believe that true saints can later lose their salvation) upon closer examination of the context of the passages in question and understanding the clear teaching of Scripture of true vs. false conversion, show they are not.
To better understand the difference between a true conversion and a false spiritual experience, one passage we can go to is the parable of the soils in Matthew 13. Here, Jesus teaches about how some seed fell beside the road (v. 4), some on rocky places (v. 5), some among thorns (v. 7), and others on good soil (v. 8). Later, His disciples privately asked Him if He can explain the meaning of the parable, and He does so in v. 18-23. What He reveals is a bombshell because it is essentially a guide to understanding the four different ways people respond to the gospel when it is preached to them. For some, it basically goes in one ear and out the other. Then, there are those who are emotionally drawn to the gospel only to withdraw from any further pursuit of it once faced with adversity. Others may be intellectually drawn to the Word of God and convicted, but never truly surrender their worldly pursuits for the sake of the gospel. In either case, the false convert is compared to a seed that initially sprouts, but the root never takes hold and the crop never comes. When comparing Jesus’ description of a false convert to what we read in some of those challenging passages, whether it is John 15 or Hebrews 6, it starts to really aid our understanding of what we are reading. Allowing the clear to interpret the unclear is the way to go! It becomes evident that the branch that never bears fruit in John 15 represents the exact same kind of person as the one who falls away according to Hebrews 6. These apostates were not true Christians who later fell away; they were false converts from the get go whose spiritual experience they might have had was based on mere emotion and not on the genuine repentance and faith that characterizes the true convert. As 1 John 2:19 so clearly states, “They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us.”
If you find yourself among those who really do not know the Lord Jesus Christ but have simply been emotionally drawn to some form of religiosity, you have been warned by the testimony of Scripture. To reject the gospel after coming to a full knowledge of it is a surefire way to be damned because you have refused the only means of salvation provided by our gracious Lord. Today is the day to truly repent and be forgiven of your sins. Put your faith and trust in Jesus Christ, and He will save you from your false conversion and make you a true convert. If you are in Christ, God promises that you will bear fruit in your daily walk with Him, and one such fruit He grants His people through the ministry of the Holy Spirit is perseverance. Though you may fall at times and may even be given over to Satan to sift you like wheat like the apostle Peter once was, you will never ultimately fail because you are in Christ. You have been granted a perseverance that is guaranteed to last to the very end.
If Scripture is unmistakably clear about the eternal security of believers, then why are so many Christians convinced that they could lose their salvation? I would suggest that this persuasion is rooted not in Scripture but in personal experience. For some, it is fear that embracing the doctrine of eternal security leads to licentiousness and a “once saved always saved” attitude. Now, is it true that as genuine believers we are “once saved always saved”? Absolutely. However, in many people’s minds, the phrase “once saved always saved” means “I made a profession of faith in some past experience or event, so I am good to go and don’t need to be concerned about how I live my life.” But, this is not only an inaccurate assessment of the doctrine of eternal security, but it also reveals that such a person who thinks this way has never truly understood and been transformed by the grace of God. The apostle Paul warns us against such thinking in Romans 6:1-2 by saying, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?” Also, the Scriptures inform us that such people who live a habitual life of sin are of the devil and not born of God (1 John 3:8-9).
In addition to that, there are some who may believe it is possible to lose their salvation because they are aware of their sinfulness and constantly ask themselves, “How can I still be a Christian when all I seem to do is sin?” If you find yourself in this camp, take comfort because you are asking precisely the right question. The fact that you are aware of your sinful tendencies and loath them is not a sign that you are not saved, but that you are saved! An unbeliever would not even bother asking that kind of question. As Christians, our desire to not sin and to pursue holiness comes not from some decision we made, but from a new nature that has been given to us by God through the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. It was never a decision we made that caused this change, and it will likewise never be any decision we make that can undo it. As new creations in Christ, we can only go one direction, and that is towards our eventual glorification. Take heart Christian if you find yourself warring against your flesh. Keep up the good fight, knowing that the Lord has already given you all the perseverance you will ever need to live the Christian life.
In the final analysis, are we eternally secure as true believers? Does the doctrine of eternal security, otherwise known as the “perseverance of the saints”, measure up to what Scripture teaches? The answer is a resounding yes to both. Every element of our salvation is completely secure, including the perseverance that is necessary until the day when the Lord takes us home and completes the work of sanctification that He had started at the moment of conversion. Meanwhile, we are still growing in maturity, and in this life, we face trials that we are to endure. We are never given adversity without our perseverance, and we are also never given perseverance without our adversity. Otherwise, how would perseverance be a visible marker of spiritual maturity? Next week, we will dive more into perseverance as it relates to the trials we experience in life and why trials are a necessary ingredient of our ongoing process of sanctification.