Many Bible passages emphasize the reality of our security as believers in Jesus Christ: John 10:27-30; 13:1; Romans 8:29-39; Ephesians 1:13; 4:30; Jude 1:24.
But even genuine believers can backslide and lose the joy of their salvation. The New Testament gives many examples of believers who drew back from their fellowship with Jesus Christ: the disciples (Matthew 26:56); Peter (26:69-75); the Christians in Corinth (2 Corinthians 12:20-21); and the Asian churches (Revelation 2:4,14-15,20).
There is a stark difference between backsliding and apostasy—a permanent departure from the faith. A true Christian can backslide, be chastened, and then repent and return (Hebrews 12:6; Revelation 2:5). A person who has merely professed faith without a genuine encounter with Christ may depart, prosper outwardly, and never return. The apostle John said that some who had left the fellowship of believers and were now teaching false doctrine showed by their actions that they never really belonged (1 John 2:19).
The doctrine of eternal security is taught in Scripture, but it is intended to comfort true Christians who are earnestly concerned with living faithfully for Jesus Christ. People who once professed faith and are now living sinfully without remorse should not be comforted by assurances that their profession of faith guarantees their salvation. We gain nothing by examining the nature of the “decision” they made. We need to point out to them that their present lifestyle is out of keeping with their profession by showing them Scriptures such as 1 John 3:4-9. They must be led to self-examination. If they are genuinely saved, God will chasten them (Hebrews 12:6). They will repent and return.
It may be impossible for us to make a judgment as to whether a person is a backsliding Christian or an impostor. Sometimes only time will tell.
In Romans 9:13, we read that God loved Jacob but hated Esau. Some people think this means that God actively chose Jacob to go to heaven and Esau to go to hell.
The word hated didn’t have the same meaning to the biblical writer as it does to us. To the biblical writer, you “hated” someone when you chose another person for a position of more favor or honor. For example, in Genesis 29:31, we are told that God saw that Leah was hated by Jacob, so He opened her womb. Yet we have every indication that Jacob was fond of Leah. He loved Rachel more, but he treated Leah with kindness. (Before Jacob died he asked to be buried with Leah.) Luke 14:26 gives another example of the biblical use of the term hated. Jesus said that we should “hate” our parents for His sake. He certainly wasn’t telling us to dislike them or to wish them evil. He only asked that we regard them as less important than Him, which is completely reasonable given who He is.
When the apostle Paul declared that God “loved” Jacob but hated Esau, he was affirming that the Lord had chosen Jacob, not Esau, to be the channel through whom He would carry out His covenant promises to Abraham (Genesis 12:3). God’s choosing had nothing to do with election to heaven or hell.
The election of Esau and Jacob as described in Romans 9:13 had to do with privilege and covenant blessing, not with individual salvation. The door of salvation was open for both of these men and to all of their descendants. God offers salvation to all.
Many Scripture passages support the security of the believer (See the ATQ article, Should I believe in the Doctrine of Eternal Security?), while a few passages can be interpreted to imply the possibility of falling from grace. Overall, Scripture seems to support the view that genuine believers can backslide and experience discipline, but never fall from grace.
There is no way of knowing for sure whether a professing believer caught up in deep sin or apostasy was ever truly converted. So, practically speaking, when we consider our responsibility to God, it makes little difference whether we believe apostasy could lead to loss of salvation or whether someone who thinks they are a believer might be mistaken. Whichever view one takes, there is no grounds for living carelessly and irresponsibly.
Regardless of one’s view of eternal security, anyone self-satisfied and insensitive to sin in his life should be on guard. It is more important to pursue spiritual growth than to resolve the theoretical question of whether an apostate has never been saved or has lost his salvation.
Self-examination and re-dedication are important not so much to ensure that our salvation has not departed (or that we have truly been converted) as to keep our hearts tender and sensitive to the convicting work of the Holy Spirit. True spirituality isn’t based in fear but in our confidence in a heavenly Father who has already demonstrated His love for us (Isaiah 53:6; Romans 5:8; 1 John 4:9).
Whether we identify with Calvin or Arminius, our main concern should be relieving the fears of the insecure believer while confronting sinners (whether inside or outside the church) with their need for repentance.
Nevertheless the solid foundation of God stands, having this seal: “The Lord knows those who are His,” and, “Let everyone who names the name of Christ depart from iniquity” (2 Timothy 2:19 NKJV).
Practically speaking, eternal security isn’t worth arguing about.
It’s been nearly 2,000 years since Jesus Christ personally offered forgiveness of sins and eternal life. Of the millions who have accepted His offer, many have found the peace and joy of knowing they have a secure relationship with their Lord and Savior. Others, however, haven’t felt as secure. Some routinely struggle with confusion and uncertainty, wondering if they’ve lost their salvation in Jesus Christ because of something they have or have not done.
It’s a frightening and tense place to be in when you are uncertain about where you stand in your relationship with Jesus Christ. Understanding the basis and the nature of salvation can eliminate much of the uncertainty that some Christians feel regarding their relationship with Jesus Christ.
The Bible stresses that salvation completely rests on trusting in Jesus Christ’s death on the cross as full payment for our sins ( John 3:15-16,36 ; Romans 3:22-24 ). Faith alone is the basis for our salvation. It is not based on our own merit or performance ( Ephesians 2:8-9 ; Titus 3:4-5 ), nor is it based on the amount of our faith. It is the object of our faith that matters. Trusting in Christ (not anyone else, including ourselves) brings salvation. A strong sense of security settles in our hearts as we realize that while we are the fortunate recipient of God’s grace and mercy, we are not responsible for earning it. It’s free!
Additionally, the Bible teaches that we are eternally secure when we solely trust the Lord Jesus Christ as our Savior. This is the eternal and binding nature of the salvation that Jesus grants. Jesus said that He gives us eternal life and we shall never be lost. He declared that no one can take us out of His or the Father’s hands ( John 10:27-30 ).
In the same way, the apostle Paul wrote that those who have trusted in Christ for salvation are eternally saved. He stated, “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” ( Romans 8:1 ). He went on to say that absolutely nothing can separate us from God’s love ( Romans 8:35-39 ). So then, according to the Scriptures, we can confidently believe that we are eternally secure if we have placed our trust solely in what Christ accomplished on the cross as full payment for our sins ( John 5:24 ; 1 John 5:13 ).
If we could somehow lose our salvation in Christ, then Jesus and Paul would be liars since they both described the gift of salvation as eternal ( John 3:16 ; Titus 3:7 ). Eternal means that it never ends. Our salvation is permanent. In other words, once we are saved, we are always saved.
God doesn’t give us the gift of eternal life and then take it back if we are bad. Our eternal security is not based on our ability to be good or perform, but on the promises of God ( John 3:16 ). Moreover, any attempt on our part to say that we can somehow earn and maintain a secure relationship in Christ is an affront to God. It strips Him of glory and lessens His remarkable offering of grace and mercy to an undeserving world.
Although we never lose our salvation in Christ, we can lose the enjoyment of close communion and fellowship with our heavenly Father. For example, when my daughter sins against me, it temporarily hinders our ability to be close and enjoy each other’s company. But even though all is not well between us, she never ceases to be my daughter. The same is true for those of us who have trusted Christ as our Savior. Whenever we sin against God and put distance between ourselves and Him, we are still His children who are secure in His love. That is why in Luke 7 Jesus told the sinful woman whose faith had saved her to “go in peace” ( Luke 7:50 ). She could rest and not worry about where she stood with God. That relationship was eternally secure.
We will sin as Christians, and our sin should grieve us. But it shouldn’t take us by surprise. The apostle John said, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” ( 1 John 1:8 ). Most importantly, there is no sin we could commit that would cause us to lose our salvation. The apostle John added that God is willing to forgive all of our sins if we confess them ( 1 John 1:9 ). He didn’t just mean the total amount of our sins, but the various kinds of sins as well. In other words, God forgives and cleanses us from every kind of sin possible. His mercy has no limits.
One of the biggest mistakes we can make about our own security in Christ is to base the reality of our salvation on our feelings. Our emotions are affected by so many different things that it is misleading to base our security on them. Each of us grows up in an environment that leaves us with emotional scars. Some people feel anxious and tense because of events in their past. Others are afflicted with anxiety because of neurological disorders or imbalances in body chemistry.
Since salvation is based on belief in Christ and a choice to trust His death on our behalf, the road to assurance is not found in our feelings but in acknowledging and trusting what God has done.
As we voluntarily place ourselves under the influence of Christ and trust His Spirit to guide us toward behavior that is consistent with our confession of faith, we will experience spiritual healing–healing that will extend even to our feelings and emotions. This, however, is a gradual process, and one that may involve many setbacks.
It helps to share one’s doubts with a Christian friend, pastor, or counselor. Just talking to another person can help us see ourselves and our situation more clearly. We can also be comforted by the many Bible passages that emphasize the security of believers in Christ (eg. John John 10:28-30; 13:1 ; Romans 8:29-39 ; 1 Corinthians 3:15 ; 1 Corinthians 12:13 ; Ephesians 1:13; 4:20 ; Jude 24 ).
Although the Bible doesn’t teach that believers can lose their salvation, real believers can backslide and lose their joy. The New Testament gives us many examples of believers who drew back from their fellowship with Jesus Christ: the disciples ( Matthew 26:56 ); Peter ( Matthew 26:69-75 ); the Christians in Corinth ( 2 Corinthians 12:20-21 ); and the Asian churches ( Revelation 2:4,14-15,20 ).
But we should distinguish between backsliding and apostasy–departing from the faith. A true Christian can backslide, be disciplined by God, and repent and return ( Hebrews 12:6 ; Revelation 2:5 ). A person who has merely professed faith without a genuine encounter with Christ can depart, prosper outwardly, and never return. The apostle John said that some who had left the fellowship of believers and were now teaching false doctrine showed by their actions that they never really belonged to Christ ( 1 John 2:19 ). It may be impossible for us to make a judgment about whether the person is a backsliding Christian or an impostor. Sometimes, only time will tell.
The doctrine of eternal security as taught in Scripture is intended to comfort true Christians who want to live faithfully for Jesus Christ. People who once professed faith but are now living sinfully should not be comforted by the assumption that a profession of faith guarantees their salvation. We gain nothing by examining the nature of their past “decision.” They need to soberly consider their lifestyle in the light of passages like 1 John 3:4-9 . If they are genuinely saved, God will discipline them ( Hebrews 12:6 ).