In the 1999 romantic comedy Runaway Bride, Julia Roberts stars as Maggie Carpenter, a spunky, attractive young woman who has been through three relationships that very nearly ended in marriage. In all three cases, however, she literally ran out the door of the church, leaving the would-be groom standing at the altar, ring in hand. Her three epic attacks of cold feet earn her the tabloid moniker "The Runaway Bride."
Although Maggie does finally find true love in the form of co-star Richard Gere, I am reminded of the plot of this movie when I look around and see some of the things that have been happening with the bride of Christ in the last few years. As I look at some of the doctrines being heavily promoted these days, it makes me realize that many Christians are, just like Maggie, running out the door of the church in a panic, spooked by the idea that the moment may actually be rapidly approaching when we will walk down the aisle, so to speak, to be with our Bridegroom.
Although they no doubt dream of being with Jesus in the sweet by and by, they are beginning to get the gnawing feeling we could be about to come face to face with Him in the scruffy here and now. They are beginning to sense the hour is growing late, the clock is ticking down, and all of a sudden this Bible prophecy business is getting a bit too real for their comfort level. In other words:
They're getting cold feet.
Sometimes a young woman about to be married may feel overwhelmed. She doesn't feel ready. She can't decide on the right wedding dress, the right location, the right restaurant, the right invitations, the right bridesmaids, the right photographer, the right anything. She has nagging doubts. Is he really Mr. Right? Does he really love me? Do I really love him? Am I pushing him into this? Am I pushing myself into this? Is it too soon? Are we really ready for this? Am I crazy? Is he crazy? This is crazy!
In this maelstrom of emotions, a bride-to-be can be so overwhelmed that she may not be able to go through with the wedding. Like Maggie, she might just panic and run away, leaving the man to whom she was preparing to pledge her heart and hand standing at the altar with a heartful of doused flames and a handful of wilting flowers.
There are many people in the Church today who are not all that much different. Rather than relishing the idea that we may be extremely close to the moment when we will be caught up to be with our Lord and Savior, they shrink back, just as some earthly brides do. They see the world around them spiraling out of control, they see prophecy being fulfilled, and they know what the Bible teaches about the catching away of the Bride. In spite of all that, they are beginning to tense up and are feeling increasingly unnerved by the stark reality that we are staring right down the barrels of one of the greatest events in human history: the Rapture.
There is an increasing
number of believers in
the Church who have
gnawing fears they can
lose their salvation...
Much like the would-be bride who takes off running out of the church when confronted with the terrifying reality of actually saying "I do," believers suffering from cold feet begin to say "I doubt" (the fact that they will actually be raptured, that is). They, born-again believers though they may be, are increasingly being eaten up with feelings of self-doubt and are becoming self-absorbed with feelings of unworthiness. They don't feel ready. In their eyes, their spiritual life isn't what it could be. If only they could be sure of having, say, five or ten more years to get it together and perfect their walk with the Lord—to overcome those besetting sins they can't seem to shake loose of.
They begin to contemplate their spiritual navels. They know they could and should be living a more victorious Christian life (as do the majority of believers), and down in the boiler room of their psyche, the wheels begin to turn—and a couple of Satan's minions are standing by with a few quarts of 10W-40. As those wheels begin to turn, they may find themselves drawn to a certain type of doctrine that is gaining traction in the Church these days. It is one of the most insidious, debilitating attacks on the bride of Christ Satan has ever launched, and it can infect even relatively mature believers. The symptoms are not difficult to recognize, and the prognosis is a life of spiritual defeat and obsession with one's own works and worthiness:
It causes them to agonize endlessly about the status of their salvation, as well as that of their loved ones whose spiritual condition they fear may not be up to scratch.
I've touched on the topic of eternal security before, but I just felt led to hit it again a little harder. The doctrine of eternal security, or "Once Saved Always Saved" (OSAS) has increasingly come under attack in the last few years, and numbers of even solid Christians have fallen under the spell of these anti-OSAS arguments. As a result, there are more cases of cold feet occurring in the Church today than ever before.
Although there are other doctrines that cause believers to simply put the thought of the Rapture off at a safe distance, such as the denial of the biblical doctrine of the Rapture or various intra-trib views of its timing, that's a different story.
People who hold to such doctrines don't have cold feet—they're like a bride who honestly believes the wedding has been postponed for a few years...or has convinced herself there's not even going to be a wedding!
In this article, I'm not going to deal with those who deny the truth of the Rapture, or have convinced themselves the Rapture will occur sometime during or at the end of the Tribulation, since I've dealt with many of these errors in the past. Such people are able to blissfully go about their lives with scarcely a thought about the Rapture. For them, the Rapture (if it exists at all) is safely off in the sweet by and by—that's their comfort zone.
I'm going to deal with people who believe the Bible's teaching about the Rapture and lean toward the pre-trib view, and are simply beginning to get a good old-fashioned case of cold feet. This can cause them to toy with ideas about how perhaps not all Christians will go in the Rapture—maybe only those who are "worthy" will go, and those who don't quite make the cut will be left behind to suffer through the Tribulation to get whipped into shape. Many begin to flirt with the idea of a partial Rapture, an errant teaching I have dealt with in a previous article, so I'm not going to revisit that here.
If it's not the partial Rapture, however, then it's fears of believers losing or in some way forfeiting their salvation altogether by failing to live a sufficiently overcoming Christian life. There is an increasing number of believers in the Church who have gnawing fears they can lose their salvation if they fall into too much sin, or fail to live up to some fuzzy standard of Christian behavior they have set for themselves.
This last group is the focus of this article: believers who are filled with the agonizing fear that they (or in many cases friends or loved ones) can lose, forfeit, walk away from, or actually give back their salvation, effectively "divorcing" the Lord as people do to their earthly partners all too often, and as a result miss out on the Rapture and possibly heaven. In other words:
At issue is the very nature of biblical salvation.
So, what I want to do in this article is examine more closely the doctrine of eternal security, and demonstrate to you clearly from Scripture why attacks on OSAS are so deceptively misguided by reminding you of a few things that the Bible says are true about you if you are saved. I also want to give you some general reasons why these attacks invariably miss the mark by taking certain verses out of context and misinterpreting or misapplying them. In addition, I want to spell out for you why the idea that you can "give back" your salvation or "divorce" the Lord is so contortedly unbiblical.
Finally, I want to look more closely at what it really means to be saved in the first place, because it is obvious to me that every attack on eternal security is born out of a misunderstanding of the nature of salvation. I am satisfied that when you truly understand from God's Word what it means to be saved—born again, born of the Spirit, any thoughts of your salvation being in jeopardy or being dependent on your behavior or of your being able to forfeit it or give it back blow away like so many dried leaves. I don't want to leave a shred of doubt in your mind:
The question isn't "Are you OSAS?"(You are!)
The only question is "Are you S?" (Are you?)
So, are you OSAS?
Those who attack OSAS are convinced that born-again believers in the gospel can fall away; that by failing to maintain a satisfactory level of works or spiritual behavior, believers can lose or abandon their salvation and as a result be left behind at the Rapture. Some believe such sluggards will be lost forever and will spend eternity in hell with all those who rejected Christ's offer of forgiveness, while some believe they will merely miss out on the Rapture and have to suffer through the Tribulation to get whipped into shape before joining the others in heaven.
And, of course, they have a laundry list of two or three dozen pet verses of Scripture (verses that have been taken out of context, misinterpreted, and/or misapplied) that they snap out like a switchblade to "prove" it.
Speaking of Scripture, the first step as always is to go straight to the Word. The first thing I want to do is look at a few of the things the Bible has to say about you if you have repented and believed the gospel of Jesus Christ in faith and as a result consider yourself "saved." Is your salvation really eternally secure?
Are you OSAS?
If you are saved—if you have repented of sin and believed the gospel and have trusted solely in Christ's finished work of atonement for the forgiveness of sin and for your salvation, then the following is a Top 20 list of things that are absolutely true about you according to God's Word. I could have easily listed three times as many, but I winnowed it down to just these 20.
Note that although some of these things are promised to you and so are future from our point of view, God sees them in the present tense because He already sees you the way you will be in the future, in heaven after the Rapture. In other words, these are all a done deal as far as God is concerned. They are all 100 percent true NOW from God's point of view.
1. You are saved—and by grace through faith, not works.
8For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9not of works, that no one would boast.
This passage makes it crystal clear that we are saved by God's grace and through faith in Christ, and it is not based on anything we do or attempt to do to merit that salvation. Otherwise, we could brag about how good we are, or about how much more we deserve to be saved than someone else.
The anti-OSAS challenge: Show me in God's Word where a believer is saved by his good deeds in addition to or instead of faith.
2. You are forgiven.
12I write to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for his name's sake.
(1 John 2:12)
When we repent and ask in faith for God to forgive us, trusting in His Son's sacrifice alone, we are FORGIVEN. Totally, completely, eternally. But no matter how hard we try or how devoted to the Lord we may be, we still sin in this life because we are still stuck with a sin nature that resides in our flesh, and it wars against our spirit.
But when we fail to turn from sin as much as we could or should (and we all do at times), all that does is rob us of blessings in the here and now and rewards in the hereafter, not to mention the fact that we will still face the earthly consequences for our actions. In spite of that, however, the fact remains: sin's eternal penalty has been paid in full on our behalf.
The anti-OSAS challenge: Show me in God's Word where someone has repented of sin and been forgiven, only to have the Lord go back and "re-impute" the guilt for those sins to them because of their poor behavior or disobedience. In other words, show me where a believer is forgiven and then becomes unforgiven.
N.B. The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant (Matt. 18:23–35) is sometimes quoted by anti-OSAS adherents to show that once forgiven we can be unforgiven, and so no longer saved. But that's not what the parable teaches.
In that parable, a certain servant owes the king a huge debt he can never hope to repay, and the king is ready to throw him and his family into prison until the account is settled. The servant begs for mercy, and the king is moved with compassion and forgives the entire debt. Later, this same servant refuses to forgive another servant who owes a far smaller sum, and has him tossed into prison until he can repay it. When the king learns of the first servant's refusal to forgive the vastly smaller debt, he is angry and turns the servant he forgave over to the jailers to be tortured.
Parables, however, are designed to teach one primary truth, and the truth being taught here is that believers should follow the example Christ set for us and be willing to forgive those who sin against us. If we don't, our disobedience will cause a rift in our fellowship with God, and we can lose out on blessings we would have otherwise received and suffer attacks from Satan and his demons (who are the "jailers" in the parable) because we have foolishly allowed our disobedience to give him a foothold in our lives.
Of course, the only way to mend that rift and restore proper fellowship with God is through repentance and obedience. Although we can cause ourselves great suffering and loss and bring the Father's discipline upon ourselves through our disobedience, if we are saved, we never stop being His children. Notice in the parable the servant never stopped being the king's servant. Trying to read this as a believer losing his eternal salvation is simply reading too much into the parable that isn't there.
Don't make a parable walk on all fours, as they say. They are intended to teach one primary truth, and we err sometimes when we go overboard and try to squeeze every last doctrinal drop out of the story.
3. You are justified before God.
1Being therefore justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
The Greek word translated "justified" is a form of the word dikaioo, which means to be cleared of all charges in a legal sense; to be acquitted and thus regarded as innocent. As a result, God sees us as being righteous—as righteous as His Son who paid the penalty for our offenses.
The anti-OSAS challenge: Show me in God's Word where a believer, being once justified, somehow becomes unjustified for substandard behavior.
4. You are reconciled to God.
10For if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we will be saved by his life.
The Greek word translated "reconciled" is a form of the word katallasso (change, exchange, reconcile), and here is used in the sense that we have been changed, and because of that change we have recovered or have been restored to God's favor.
The anti-OSAS challenge: Show me in God's Word where a believer, once reconciled to God, is somehow unreconciled.
5. You are risen with Christ.
3Or don't you know that all we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4We were buried therefore with him through baptism to death, that just like Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we also might walk in newness of life. 5For if we have become united with him in the likeness of his death, we will also be part of his resurrection; 6knowing this, that our old man was crucified with him, that the body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be in bondage to sin.
(Romans 6:3–6 / emphasis added)
When we repent of sin and believe the gospel, our old "sin man" is baptized into Christ's death; and just as Christ rose to eternal life, so shall we since we are now in Christ.
The anti-OSAS challenge: Show me in God's Word where this is reversed, and a believer somehow becomes no longer risen with Christ.
6. You are sanctified.
11Such were some of you, [practitioners of all manner of ungodliness] but you were washed. But you were sanctified. But you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and in the Spirit of our God.
(1 Corinthians 6:11 / comments added)
The Greek word translated "sanctified" is a form of the word hagiazo (to make holy, consecrate, sanctify; to dedicate, separate). When we repent and believe the gospel, we are sanctified: we are made holy, and set apart unto God. It doesn't mean we're 100 percent holy in the flesh during our earthly lives—it means God sees us as being as holy as Jesus in the spirit.
The anti-OSAS challenge: Show me in God's Word where a believer, once sanctified, is somehow unsanctified.
7. You are a new creation.
17Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old things have passed away. Behold, all things have become new.
(2 Corinthians 5:17)
Many people in the Church today fail to appreciate the reality of this, but when we get saved we literally become a new type of human being. It's almost as if we are changed from the species Homo sapiens (wise) to a new species called Homo spiritus (spirit), although I don't usually go around saying that because this idea has already been hijacked by the New Agers and twisted into something that, rather than Homo sapiens, should be called Homo insipiens (foolish).
As believers in the gospel, we have the Holy Spirit dwelling within us. After we are saved, we are never the same again. Nor should we want to be.
The anti-OSAS challenge: Show me in God's Word where a believer, who has become a new creation, reverts back to the old version by somehow evicting the Holy Spirit who is sealed within them.
8. You have eternal life.
13These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God.
(1 John 5:13)
When we are saved, one of the things we are guaranteed is eternal life in a place Jesus has prepared that is too wonderful for us to imagine.
The anti-OSAS challenge: Show me in God's Word where a believer who had the promise of eternal life somehow lost that eternal life. Or failing that, just explain why "eternal life" doesn't last for eternity.
9. You are born again.
22Seeing you have purified your souls in your obedience to the truth through the Spirit in sincere brotherly affection, love one another from the heart fervently: 23having been born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, through the word of God, which lives and remains forever.
(1 Peter 1:22–23)
When we are saved, we are born again or born of the Spirit, because the Holy Spirit takes up residence in our spirit and seals us for the day of redemption (Eph. 1:13–14), which is the Rapture.
The anti-OSAS challenge: Show me in God's Word where a born-again believer becomes unborn again, which means the Holy Spirit must depart from us before the the day of redemption—which flatly contradicts Scripture.
10. You have been perfected forever.
14For by one offering he has perfected forever those who are being sanctified.
This is one that is still future from our perspective, but God sees us this way now because to Him it's already a done deal.
The anti-OSAS challenge: Show me in God's Word where a believer has been perfected in God's eyes, and then made imperfect in God's eyes.
11. You are an adopted child of God.
4But when the fullness of the time came, God sent out his Son, born to a woman, born under the law, 5that he might redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of children. 6And because you are children, God sent out the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, "Abba, Father!" 7So you are no longer a bondservant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.
"We're all God's children!" If I had NT$1 for every time I heard some perfectly sincere person say that, I could afford a luxury apartment in the Xinyi District of Taipei City, near Taipei 101. Contrary to the belief of most people in the world, we are not all God's children. We only become God's children by being adopted into His family, and we are only adopted into His family through repentance and faith in the redemptive work of His Son.
The anti-OSAS challenge: Show me in God's Word where a believer who has been adopted into God's family is disowned and kicked out of the family.
12. Your citizenship is in heaven.
20For our citizenship is in heaven, from where we also wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.
When we are saved and born of the Spirit, this world is no longer our home—we become citizens of heaven. We are effectively issued a new spiritual passport. As for this world, we're just passing through enemy territory, storing up treasure in heaven as we go.
The anti-OSAS challenge: Show me in God's Word where a believer whose citizenship is in heaven has had his citizenship revoked.
13. You are sealed with the Holy Spirit.
12To the end that we should be to the praise of his glory, we who had before hoped in Christ: 13in whom you also, having heard the word of the truth, the Good News of your salvation—in whom, having also believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, 14who is a pledge of our inheritance, to the redemption of God's own possession, to the praise of his glory.
When we are saved, we are sealed by the Holy Spirit. This is the spiritual equivalent of earnest money, which is a sum paid by a buyer at the time of entering a contract to indicate his intention and ability to complete the purchase (typically a house). We have been bought with a price, and the price was the blood of the God's own Son. The sealing of the Holy Spirit is basically God's down payment on us—the guarantee that God will take possession of what He has purchased.
The anti-OSAS challenge: Show me in God's Word where a believer, once sealed by the Holy Spirit, becomes unsealed and God takes His money back.
14. You are now free from any condemnation.
1There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who don't walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.
When we are saved, it means we will stand before God and be declared righteous. Guilt free. We are no longer under condemnation for sin.
The anti-OSAS challenge: Show me in God's Word where a believer who is free from condemnation is once again placed under condemnation for sin.
15. You are free from the law of sin and death.
2For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus made me free from the law of sin and of death.
If we are saved, we are in Christ. If we are in Christ, the law of sin and death no longer has any power over us. Why? Because Jesus broke it for us on the cross.
The anti-OSAS challenge: Show me in God's Word where a believer who has been set free from the law of sin and death has somehow been placed back under its power.
16. You cannot be separated from God's love.
31What then shall we say about these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32He who didn't spare his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how would he not also with him freely give us all things? 33Who could bring a charge against God's chosen ones? It is God who justifies. 34Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, yes rather, who was raised from the dead, who is at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us.
35Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Could oppression, or anguish, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
36Even as it is written, "For your sake we are killed all day long. We were accounted as sheep for the slaughter."
37No, in all these things, we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
God loved us enough to send His Son into the world to die in our place so we could be forgiven and reconciled to Him if we will but repent and believe in faith—and He loved us that much while we were yet sinners.
Is it really so hard to grasp that nothing can cause Him to stop loving us?
The anti-OSAS challenge: Show me in God's Word where God has stopped loving one of His adopted children.
17. He will complete the good work He began in you.
6Being confident of this very thing, that he who began a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.
This is one of the most precious promises I know, because what Paul is saying is that God will never give up on us. No matter how many times we fall or fail, God is faithful. When we trusted Christ for our salvation, God began a work in us and He won't quit working on us until He finishes us at the Rapture. Later, at the Second Coming, the masterpiece of His grace will be unveiled, and what a glorious sight we will be!
The anti-OSAS challenge: Show me in God's Word where God calls it quits and gives up on a believer in whom He has started a good work.
18. No one can snatch you out of His hand.
27My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28I give eternal life to them. They will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all. No one is able to snatch them out of my Father's hand.
When we are saved, Jesus has us in His hands and He will never let us go. And note that when Jesus says no one will snatch us out of His hand, "no one" includes us. That means we can't remove ourselves from His hands.
The anti-OSAS challenge: Show me in God's Word where either Jesus or the Father has butterfingers, and a believer who is in their hands somehow slips through their fingers.
19. You are an heir of God and a co-heir with Christ.
16The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God; 17and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ; if indeed we suffer with him, that we may also be glorified with him.
As believers, we have been adopted into God's family. And as adopted sons and daughters, we will receive an inheritance from our Heavenly Father...and what an incredible inheritance it will be! We are co-heirs with the Son of God, who will inherit the kingdom. We, too, have an inheritance in that kingdom, and will rule and reign with Christ.
The anti-OSAS challenge: Show me in God's Word where a believer who has become an heir of God and a co-heir with Christ is disinherited.
20. You were predestined to be conformed to the image of Christ.
29For whom he foreknew, he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30Whom he predestined, those he also called. Whom he called, those he also justified. Whom he justified, those he also glorified.
God knew from before the foundation of the world who would respond to the conviction of His Spirit and repent and trust His Son for their salvation, and then arranged for it to happen in real time during their lives. Thus He foreknew us, and predestined us to be conformed to the image of Christ.
At the proper time in our lives, He calls us through the gentle, convicting power of the Holy Spirit, and when we respond by repenting of sin and believing the gospel in faith (as He knew we would), He justifies us and sanctifies us. Then, after our earthly lives, He glorifies us.
And in God's eyes, all of this is already a reality.
The anti-OSAS challenge: Show me in God's Word where God goes back in time and unforeknows and unpredestines a believer who has already been saved because God knew in advance he would believe...with all due apologies if that doesn't make a lick of sense.
Yeah, but what about this verse?!
There seems to be a pool of roughly three dozen passages of Scripture that people consistently draw on in their attempts to "refute" the doctrine of eternal security, and there are numerous websites out there that just as consistently refute these attacks by carefully studying the context and the correct application of these verses. Many do it in a fairly exhaustive laundry-list style, and I was originally tempted to do the same. In the end, however, I decided not to go that route, and for a couple of reasons:
• I'm not writing a book here.
• It ultimately wouldn't do any good anyway.
Here's why I say that, and it is borne out by my experience: Let's say I tracked every down single verse I could get my hands on that is used by anti-OSAS types to attack the doctrine of eternal security, and then carefully, thoroughly refuted each of them from Scripture one by one (which numerous people have already done, and more masterfully than I could ever hope to). All that would happen is some anti-OSAS Lone Ranger would come along and find one I missed, and wave it in my face and exclaim:
"Ah ha! You failed to address THIS verse, you carnal OSAS deceiver! THIS verse that you so conveniently skipped proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that "Once Saved Always Saved" is a lie from the pit of hell! And ya run away from THAT one like a scared little girl, instead of standing and arguing like a man! And that's because it's got you royally STUMPED, doesn't it, you little OSAS wimp? And that proves you're a liar, a heretic, and a clueless pawn of Satan...and I will not rest until I have driven a stake through your Christless heart and exposed your satanic lies to the world!!"
Sigh. And please know that I am just barely exaggerating with the preceding invective—I see stuff like this on a regular basis. It's the same old story: you just can't win with some people.
I know from years of experience that when people have made up their minds to believe a false doctrine, no arguments are sufficient, no matter how scripturally sound they may be. They will invariably find a way to weasel around them every single time. And after a few years of pointless doctrinal playground scuffles, I finally began to realize why.
People who believe a false doctrine start out with a cornerstone of an idea that contradicts some drop-dead clear Scripture, and proceed to build a little doctrinal town around it. They demolish other "offending" passages of Scripture and use the raw material to build streets and houses and schools and hospitals in their little town. When they're done, it's all comfortable and familiar. It's home. They know where everything is. They know their way around their little doctrinal town, and never get lost.
Then, a stranger comes to town and points out how something they believe is contrary to Scripture, and they react as if that person has come hot-rodding into their little town and is careening down a one-way street the wrong way:
"Are you blind?! Can't you read the sign?! You can't go that way!"
Post-trib Rapture. Pre-wrath Rapture. No Rapture. Amillennialism. Calvinism. Preterism. Replacement theology. Anti-OSAS. Kingdom Now. Dominionism. Name the doctrinal error—it's always the same.
Rather than do this laundry-list style, all I want to do is give you some insight into most of the verses that allegedly debunk OSAS by showing you several of the categories that most of them fall in. In other words, most of the scriptural attacks on eternal security are wrong for one of the same relatively few reasons. Here are several of the most common ones:
1. Rewards vs. Salvation
One extremely common error made by OSAS critics is to misinterpret verses that are speaking of a believer's rewards as being about his salvation. Can a believer lose out on rewards at the Bema Seat? You betcha. But there are some verses where if you're not careful you can come away with the idea that the verse is saying you can lose your salvation. For example:
11I am coming quickly! Hold firmly that which you have, so that no one takes your crown.
Ooh, I'd better hang on or I might lose my crown! Yikes! Some are quick to assume this means you could lose your salvation. Crowns, however, have nothing whatsoever to do with your salvation—they are rewards you may receive at the Bema for different types of service and obedience, and Scripture mentions five:
1. The incorruptible crown (1 Cor. 9:24–27), for truly striving to live an overcoming Christian life.
2. The crown of life (Rev. 2:10), for those love God enough to suffer great persecution for their faith—even to the point of martyrdom.
3. The crown of glory (1 Pet. 5:1–4), for faithful pastors who feed their flocks the Word of God.
4. The crown of rejoicing (1 Thess. 2:19), for soulwinners, or those who lead people to Christ.
5. The crown of righteousness (2 Tim. 4:7–8), for those who are anxiously looking for His appearing.
Oops...there's no crown just for being saved, so this has nothing to do with salvation. And you have to be saved just to be present at the Bema Seat in the first place, whether you get any crowns or not!
And will there be believers at the Bema who get no rewards? Yep, there sure will (1 Cor. 3:15).
And how do those believers get to the Bema? Via the Rapture.
Salvation is not a reward—it's a gift!
2. Believers vs. unbelievers
Some verses used to attack OSAS are not addressing believers at all, but pertain to those who have never truly been saved. Maybe they got close, but never let it in. They are faux believers; pretenders who play religious games and talk the talk, but have never surrendered their lives to the lordship of Christ. Long story short, they're still unbelievers. For example:
17The world is passing away with its lusts, but he who does God's will remains forever.
(1 John 2:17)
Taken out of context, this verse seems to say that we must always do the will of God if we are to remain saved. So, obviously, if we fail to do the will of the Father, we won't remain saved!
Two verses later, however, we see this idea refuted, because John says those who do not remain in the faith were never part of it to begin with—they are still unbelievers:
19They went out from us, but they didn't belong to us; for if they had belonged to us, they would have continued with us. But they left, that they might be revealed that none of them belong to us.
(1 John 2:19)
Hebrews 3 gives us another such passage:
12Beware, brothers, lest perhaps there be in any one of you an evil heart of unbelief, in falling away from the living God; 13but exhort one another day by day, so long as it is called "today;" lest any one of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. 14For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our confidence firm to the end.
The entire chapter is in reference to the Israelites who rebelled against Moses and refused to enter into the Promised Land due to their unbelief and lack of confidence in God's promises. Those with an "evil heart of unbelief" are not true believers and do not hold fast their confidence to the end and so are not partakers of Christ. The whole chapter is focused on unbelievers, not "backsliding" believers or believers who are in danger of losing their salvation. This is made clear a couple of verses later:
16For who, when they heard, rebelled? No, didn't all those who came out of Egypt by Moses? 17With whom was he displeased forty years? Wasn't it with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? 18To whom did he swear that they wouldn't enter into his rest, but to those who were disobedient? 19We see that they were not able to enter in because of unbelief.
This is directed at unbelievers, not believers.
3. Church Age believers vs. other groups of believers
Some verses used to attack OSAS do not address Church Age believers at all, but rather are speaking of Gentiles who are saved during the Tribulation (Tribulation saints), or Jews during the Tribulation who will either be among the believing remnant or lost. Either way, those saved during the Tribulation are nowhere in Scripture promised the same security for their salvation that the Church is promised, and that's because the Holy Spirit's ministry of indwelling and sealing believers will end at the Rapture. For example:
13But he who endures to the end, the same will be saved.
The context, which is largely ignored (or misunderstood) by anti-OSAS folks, is Jesus speaking to four of His disciples on the Mount of Olives and answering their questions about the future of Israel: the Olivet Discourse. Jesus is describing the scenario Israel will find itself in during the Tribulation, and you can search Scripture until the Antichrist is cast into the lake of fire and find no promises of eternal security for those who come to faith in Christ during the Daniel's 70th Week. They will have to maintain a faithful testimony in the face of great persecution, and some will and some won't.
Those who do are the sheep and those who don't are the goats in the Sheep and Goat Judgment (Matt. 25:31–46) that follows on the heels of the Second Coming, which will determine who will be ushered into the Millennial Kingdom and who will not.
I'm gonna keep saying it until I'm blue in the face:
As soon as you read the Church anywhere into the Olivet Discourse, the wheels begin to come off.
4. Plain old misinterpretation
There are some verses which the anti-OSAS crowd simply misunderstand: there's no other way I can put it. For example, Peter's words to the chief priests concerning the events pertaining to Christ:
32We are His witnesses of these things; and so also is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.
We are told that the Holy Spirit is given to those who obey God. Anti-OSAS people claim this means that if you fail to obey God, the Holy Spirit will be taken away from you and you will lose your salvation! But that's not what the verse means.
God only gives the Holy Spirit to those who obey, and repent of sin and believe the gospel in faith. He doesn't give the Holy Spirit to those who don't, or are just going through the motions while not trusting Christ for their salvation. If the Holy Spirit could be taken from us for one act of disobedience, none of us would ever be saved!
And there are so many others...verses where the context is being ignored, the group being addressed is misunderstood, and where salvation isn't even the topic under discussion. There are verses in Hebrews that are anti-OSAS favorites that are warnings to Jewish believers who were being pressured by Judaizers to continue offering animal sacrifices "just to be safe," and others that teach that true faith will manifest itself in works, not that works are required to obtain or maintain it.
I haven't given you a whole lot here, but I hope the general drift is clear: When you think you find a verse that on the surface seems to suggest the possibility that your salvation can be lost or forfeited, look again. Consider the context carefully. Ask yourself: Who is being addressed, and why? Is this dealing with salvation, or something else? Because in every single case I have encountered so far, the answer is invariably the same: not one puts so much as a scratch on the eternal security of a member of the body of Christ.
"Our D-I-V-O-R-C-E becomes final today..."
This iconic line sung by country music legend Tammy Wynette sums up how some believers view certain other believers' relationship with the Lord. As powerful as God's promises may be, I know from experience that some people will come back with something along these lines:
"Yeah, God saves us and will never leave us and all that; but that doesn't mean that we can't leave Him and fall away. After all, salvation is like a marriage, and people can sure leave their spouses, right?"
Although they may agree that a believer cannot "lose" his salvation, they are convinced he can "give it back" and fall away by his own volition. Even though they may agree that nothing can separate us from God's love (Rom. 8:31–39), they seem to think we can separate ourselves from His love.
Well, I want to torpedo this idea right here, right now, and give God the glory as I watch it sink to the bottom of the deep blue sea.
Note that this argument applies whether one holds to a Calvinist view of salvation or a non-Calvinist view. Calvinists believe God just arbitrarily chose who He was going to save before the foundation of the world and that it has nothing whatsoever to do with our free will decision to respond to the conviction of the Holy Spirit.
On the other hand, people who reject Calvinism (this writer included) do so because we believe God simply chose people He knew in advance would respond to the conviction of His Spirit and come to a place of repentance. We disagree with the Calvinist view because, in spite of all the exotic theological constructs Calvinists are forced to create to make their theory work, at the end of the day Calvinism makes God just plain unfair. Any six-year-old kid could tell you as much, and far less politely.
But either way, let's think this through. Whether God flipped a coin and said to Himself "Heads you fly, tails you fry" (as per Calvinism), or in His omniscience saw that one day you would respond to the conviction of the Holy Spirit and trust His Son for the forgiveness of your sin and your salvation (as per those who reject Calvinism), the following fact is absolutely, irrefutably true:
God chose you to be saved.
It's just that for the purposes of this discussion, it makes absolutely no difference whether it was due to your good fortune or God's foreknowledge: God chose you to be saved. There's no getting around this one in Scripture.
If you repent and believe the gospel and are saved, it is because God chose you from before the foundation of the world. It was His will to save you. Although God wants all to be saved (2 Pet. 3:9), all are not saved, are they? That's because our free will plays a role, and that's why He gave us free will in the first place. But that's a topic for another day.
But when you do in fact respond to the conviction of the Holy Spirit, admit you are a sinner, ask God to forgive your sin, and believe in faith in Christ's work of atonement on your behalf, then God's will is accomplished. If God knows from the beginning you will repent, then it is His will to save you—so when the time comes, He saves you and His will is fulfilled. Yes, you repented and believed the gospel, but He knew you would all along. That's why He arranged to save you. It's like quantum mechanics or something—there's no real past or future with God, everything just is. But regardless of how you attempt to wrap your head around it, the bottom line is that you are saved for one reason and one reason alone:
It was God's will to save you—not yours.
12But as many as received him, to them he gave the right to become God's children, to those who believe in his name: 13who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.
(John 1:12–13 / emphasis added)
Not only that, but John 10:27–29 (no. 18 above) makes it crystal clear that it is God's will to keep you saved. Thus, if you think you can forfeit or give back your salvation, you think your will can thwart God's will—and that makes no sense in light of this verse.
Your will couldn't save you—it was God's will. And it's God's will to keep you saved. So...how do you figure your will can overturn God's will and unsave you?
Let me get this straight...you actually believe you can win a battle of wills with the Creator of the universe, who created you, foreknew you, arranged the time and place in your life for you to respond to Him the way He knew you would, and at that moment saved, sanctified, and sealed you with His Spirit until the day of the Rapture and promised to keep you that way? And you think you can come struttin' along and somehow "undo" all that and give it back or forfeit it in some way? Return it like a shirt that doesn't fit?
While the Son of God who purchased you with His precious blood just stands there and watches like a helpless schmuck while you walk away? How foolish!
But much more importantly, how contrary to Scripture.
So what can we conclude? First of all, it should be patently obvious that anyone who ostensibly walks away from or gives back his salvation in some way, and remains in that condition permanently, almost certainly was never truly saved to begin with. Profession with no possession. I don't care what they say—it's their word against God's, and God wins that one every time. All this does is give us strong biblical evidence that the individual in question was never born again. They talked the talk and walked some kind of walk, but apparently it never got through to them.
This indicates they never let it in.
On the other hand, if a born-again believer has been going through a rough patch and has seemingly forfeited or "given back" his salvation in the view of some, and even managed to remain in that condition for a period of time—even years, something is eventually going to happen. You can hide and watch. When the time is right, God will draw them back.
Why? Because He is a loving Father.
How? The "hook" of the Holy Spirit.
If they are saved, they are sealed with the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. God has His "hook" in them, and that means they can only drift so far and for so long before He reels them in. And if they don't eventually respond to the Holy Spirit's efforts to draw them back, it is entirely possible God will end their lives prematurely to reduce the harm they may do to themselves and others—which I believe is what John is talking about in his first epistle:
16If anyone sees his brother sinning a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life for those who sin not leading to death. There is a sin leading to death. I don't say that he should make a request concerning this.
(1 John 5:16)
There are Bible scholars who disagree on the interpretation of this passage, so I don't mean to sound overly dogmatic about it; but I am of the opinion that it at least includes believers who fall into sin and stray from God for extended periods of time and fail to respond appropriately to His discipline and His attempts to draw them back to a place of repentance and back into fellowship with Him. They get called into the principal's office, so to speak.
And on a strictly anecdotal basis, I've seen it happen enough times to convince me I'm not too far off track.
Are you S?
As I said earlier, I am convinced that all attacks on the doctrine of eternal security are born out of a flawed understanding of what it means to be saved in the first place. We can talk about God's promises to believers all day long, but if we have misconceptions about what it means to be saved, then we're tragically missing the point.
In all fairness to OSAS critics, there have been far too many preachers over the years who have preached the message of salvation and taught the doctrine of eternal security in a flawed, unbiblical manner. To hear some preachers talk, you would think that all you have to do is let somebody lead you in reciting a 30-second prayer and BAM—you're in like Flynn. Or get caught up in the emotion and the music at a revival meeting and walk down the aisle to be led in a group "sinner's prayer" with scores of other ostensible penitents. Pray the prayer and sign the card—no need to sweat that eternal damnation thing anymore. Hallelujah!
But is that all it is? Is that it—let someone persuade you to repeat a little 30-second prayer and you're good to go?
What ever happened to godly sorrow? What ever became of repentance—a change of mind that produces a change of life? When did humbling yourself before God with a broken and contrite spirit go out of style? When did it become politically incorrect to lie crushed at the foot of the cross, overwhelmed by both the burden of your sin and at the amazing grace and mercy Christ offers a wretch like you...and like me?
Don't look at me like that—I'm talking about the real deal straight from the Word of God. There are many preachers and Bible teachers today who, if they are honest, will tell you the same sad, sobering story: Modern evangelistic techniques have successfully inoculated millions of people against a true saving faith in Christ and a real relationship with God by convincing them that because they recited a little prayer at one point in their lives they are absolutely 100 percent saved and always will be.
The statistics are troubling, to say the least. By some estimates only 6–16 percent of "sinner's prayer conversions" result in a person becoming a member of a church, and according to others that's being generous.
John MacArthur eloquently summed it up:
"I think it is the preacher's responsibility to get attention and comprehension. It is the Holy Spirit's responsibility to produce yielding, retention, and action—that's not my job. All the slick techniques, all the gospel marketing packages, all the pulpit histrionics of jumping and stomping and flailing around, and doing whatever they do to create the mood. All the sad stories, the mood music, the endless invitations, the hand raising, the walking to the front, all of that kind of pressure is not preaching the Word. It has nothing to do with comprehension. The decision of yielding, surrendering and then retaining and acting, is between the hearer and God, and not the hearer and the preacher. You can move people with things other than the Scriptures, but you are working on their feelings and not on their mind."
— Rev. John MacArthur, Pastor of
Grace Community Church, Sun Valley, CA
At the same time, however, many people do get saved this way, and their lives amply demonstrate the reality of their conversion by the abundance of spiritual fruit and works that characterize their ever deepening walk with God. They prayed that prayer under the conviction of the Holy Spirit, got born again for real, and never looked back. And this begs the question:
How do we know for sure whether someone is saved or not?
The short answer is we don't. Not really. And in a sense it's not crucial we do know—it's between them and God. Only God looks on the heart, and we would all do well to remember that. On the one hand, there are what many might deem bottom-feeding slugs who may be saved, but struggle mightily in taking baby steps with the Lord. On the other hand, there are jet-setting celebrity ministers and high-flying super-Christians who are just putting on a mask and playing church. There are, however, some pretty clear guidelines given in Scripture for identifying who is born again and who is not.
First, here's a quick Top 10 list of things the Bible says should characterize the lives of true believers—those who are not mere professors, but possessors of salvation:
1. They hunger for the Word (1 Pet. 2:1–3).
2. They keep His commandments (1 John 2:3).
3. They sense the Lord's leading and follow Him (John 10:27–28).
4. They produce the fruit of the Spirit (John 15:2).
5. They are led by the Spirit of God (Rom. 8:14–15).
6. They are sanctified from an ungodly way of life (1 Cor. 6:9–11).
7. They strive to depart from iniquity (2 Tim. 2:19).
8. They have rested from working for their salvation (Heb. 4:9–11).
9. They maintain their confidence in Christ (Heb. 3:14).
10. They love others, especially other believers (1 John 3:14).
Anyone who is genuinely saved will manifest most of these traits, perhaps some more overtly than others. And maybe not every single moment of their lives, but as a general trend. At any rate, these are some signs to look for.
On the other hand, there are some red flags. These are a few signs that someone is not born of the Spirit, and is not saved. Note that some of these are simply the flip side of some of the above:
1. They profess faith, but do not repent (Luke 3:7–14).
2. They profess faith, but it produces no works (James 2:17–20).
3. They abandon their faith when the going gets tough (John 6:60–66).
4. They have religious zeal apart from the gospel (Rom. 10:1–4).
5. They remain convinced they must work for their salvation (Heb. 4:9–11).
6. They show little concern for keeping His commandments (1 John 2:3).
7. Their lives never bear any real spiritual fruit (John 15:2).
8. They persist in walking in the flesh, not in the Spirit (Gal. 5:16–18).
9. There is no long-term evidence their nature has changed (2 Cor. 5:17).
10. They persist in acting in unloving ways toward others (1 John 3:14).
In my experience, no. 10 is one of the most telling. God is love, and those who love God love others. But there are legions of professing believers on the Internet who will rip your heart out and hand it to you if you dare to admit to holding to a differing view on some hot-button doctrinal issue, such as the timing of the Rapture. And they feel they're doing God a service! It's almost as if they think:
"I attack those deceived pre-tribbers, ergo I must be saved."
In his first letter to the Thessalonians, Paul is doing a little bragging on the believers in Thessalonica:
9For they themselves report concerning us what kind of a reception we had from you; and how you turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God.
(1 Thessalonians 1:9 / emphasis added)
The people in Thessalonica used to worship idols, but when they got saved they quit. They turned from that activity, and turned to the things of God. And in my opinion, that right there provides us the quintessential question that summarizes everything I just said.
If you want to know if someone is saved—born again, born of the Spirit, it all boils down to one basic question:
Are they turning?
Are they turning from sin? Are they turning from the flesh and the things of the world? Are they turning from hate, strife, and doubt? Are they turning toward love, joy, and peace in the Holy Spirit? Are they turning into a new creature in Christ? Are they turning toward the things of God, the things of the Spirit? Are they turning toward His Word? Are they turning towards righteousness? Are they turning toward complete trust in Christ and Christ alone for their salvation?
None of us is perfect, because we're all saddled with a sin nature that is constantly at war with our spirit—and the battle will never stop this side of heaven. Even the apostle Paul lamented, "O wretched man that I am!"
There are times when every believer sins (like, every day). There are times when every believer goes through a tunnel and His fellowship with God is interrupted through disobedience. There are times when every believer goes off the reservation and God has to discipline them and bring them back through various (typically unpleasant) circumstances.
But in the big picture, in the general ebb and flow of their lives, they manifest the fact that they are saved in one fundamental way:
They are turning.
The point is that the "salvation" that OSAS critics are so convinced you can lose is no salvation at all. It is a shallow pretense, a religious charade that can fool everyone but God. It is fruitless profession, not fruitful possession.
As a result, the arguments that are spewed forth against the eternal security of the believer are reduced to a flimsy straw man, because the simple fact remains irrevocably true:
Whatever you've got—or think you've got:
if you can lose it, it ain't biblical salvation.
Speaking of straw men: Many people who denounce and demonize the doctrine of eternal security deliberately refer to people who are about as born again as a rabid dog as being "saved" in order to make OSAS appear to be a false doctrine. Now, none of us is perfect, but these guys...all I can say is I honestly hope I get to hear what Jesus will have to say to them for twisting His Word and using it to lift themselves up while putting their brothers and sisters back under the bondage of the works-based treadmill He shed His precious blood to free them from.
So if you have believed the gospel and been born again, there is no reason whatsoever for you to have cold feet at the thought of the meeting our Bridegroom face to face in the near future. On the contrary, you have every reason to be ready to burst with excitement and anticipation, because judging from the way end-time scenario is developing, our redemption is drawing nigh...and from all indications, we're talking very nigh.
The only reason to have cold feet is because you're afraid you don't measure up to some standard. But I hope you can see that if you have truly believed the gospel and trusted Him for your salvation, then you are in Christ.
And if you are in Christ, you don't have to worry about failing to live up to somebody's standard to keep your salvation—even God's standard.
If you are in Christ, then you meet God's standard. Why?
Because Christ is God's standard.
Greg Lauer / April 2017
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All Scripture is taken from the World English Bible, unless annotated as KJV (King James Version) or AKJV (American King James Version).