Salvation, Part 1
The doctrine known as “Perseverance of the Saints” …
If you’ve correctly understood the previous four points in our study, then you’ll easily see how this last one logically blends with the others. You’ll also understand why Calvinists believe the T.U.L.I.P. accurately represents biblical teaching about salvation in a coherent, non- contradictory and systematic expression.
Having a systematic theology is important when trying to make sense out of anything taught in the Bible. For example, when someone asks, “Is it possible for a believer to lose their salvation?” they’re seeking an answer to a fairly common, heartfelt question. I remember asking this myself, soon after making a Christian profession of faith. A study of the “Perseverance of the Saints” has helped many Christians over the past few centuries understand what the Bible says about this subject.
The first evangelical church I ever attended (known in evangelical Christian circles as a “fundamentalist” church) taught that once a person comes to personal faith in Christ they can never “lose” their salvation. They simply expressed this as, “Once saved, always saved.”
Now, if you’ve read and understood the previous four articles in our T.U.L.I.P. discussion you already know something is wrong with the idea of anybody “losing” something God has decreed they WILL have. In other words, if you truly understand salvation comes by God’s sovereign grace (apart from ANY human effort whatsoever) then you know it’s silly to think anyone can “lose” it.
The notion of “losing” comes from the mistaken idea of “getting.” Arminianism is responsible for Christians thinking they somehow “get” their own salvation through their own act of “believing.” But the Bible clearly teaches God births spiritual life into us before we believe – not after we believe. You’re no more in control of your own spiritual birth than you are in control of your own natural conception and natural birth.
Let’s go back to the opinion of my fundamentalist friends a moment here. To support their idea of “once saved; always saved” they pointed to Bible texts like these:
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
“…if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9)
“Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession-to the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:13-14).
“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. 29My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand” (John 10:27-28).
At the same time I was having this discussion with them I met some other Christian friends who saw things a bit differently. They told me the Bible clearly teaches it’s possible for true believers to “lose” their salvation. To support their position they emphasized passages in Scripture like these:
“… men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.” (Mark 13:13).
“Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain” (1Corinthians 15:1-2).
“Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation – if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel” (Colossians 1:21-23).
“Here is a trustworthy saying: If we died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him. If we disown him, he will also disown us” (2 Timothy 2:11-12).
“Hmmmmm….,” I wondered. “Which camp is right?”
While trying to figure this out I met a young woman who told me she was a Christian. She’d grown up in a fundamentalist church and fervently believed she could never “lose” her salvation. She also told me she loved “having sex” with her “many” boyfriends at the time. I asked her if she was worried that her sinful lifestyle might prevent her from being saved if she died anytime soon. “No,” she said. “Once somebody professes Christ as their Savior, like I did when I was a little girl, they can never lose their salvation.”
I didn’t know much theology back then. But what she said just didn’t make any sense. How could she be saved? Paul clearly says those who practice such things will not see the kingdom of God (Galatians 5:19-21).
Still…I was perplexed. On the one hand, it seemed like the Bible gave assurances in Scripture, offering eternal security for believers. But on the other hand, certain Scriptures seemed to say good works and a holy life were necessary to get into heaven (Romans 8:13; Hebrews 12:14). Both Christ and the Apostles admonished us to holiness and moral purity. Jesus clearly said not everyone who calls him “Lord” will enter his kingdom (Matthew 7:21).
So the issue was now even more of a puzzle for me. If lacking good works and morality can keep a professing Christian out of heaven then why does the Bible teach salvation comes by God’s grace through faith alone – and not by works? But if works can’t earn you a way into heaven then why would a lack of good works seem to indicate you might not get into heaven?
Little did I realize it at the time, but the theology in both of these Christian camps was defective – having been influenced by Arminianism. Both groups held the notion that you “get” your own salvation. The difference was this:
The fundamentalists believed once a person grabs a hold of God’s gift of eternal life God then grabs a hold of that person and will never let go. This meant it was possible for someone to “truly” confess Christ as their savior at a certain point in their lives to be saved, only to later backslide and live in sin – yet still be saved.
My other evangelical friends believed once you grab a hold of God’s gift of eternal life you can wrench yourself free from God’s gift of salvation by failing to continue exercising your faith and going back into the old life of sin. This meant it was possible for someone to be “saved” at one point in their lives, but then lose their salvation at another point in their lives.
Both camps ultimately rooted someone’s salvation within an individual believer’s own act of personal faith rather than in God’s redeeming grace. And neither of the above opinions can rationally harmonize the Scriptures’ speaking of eternal security with those teaching that a persevering faith and good works are requirements of salvation.
Written by: Charles F. Betters and Joe Farinacchio