For centuries, controversy has persisted over the question of whether Christians can lose their salvation. In fact, that is the number one concern noted by those who ask questions of me. If all the writings in the Bible were clearly visible as a combined story, there would be no controversy. But for ages noted theologians have used Scripture to justify their positions on both sides. In this article I will help to clarify the answer, but first allow me to pose some guidelines when studying the Bible.
In referencing various verses, here are a few guidelines: Ask the Holy Spirit to inspire you with a deeper understanding and believe in God’s Spirit to elucidate the answers. Weigh the more difficult texts by moreover considering the texts that are more clearly understood. Evaluate each text in the context of the entirety of the Bible and pray for wisdom to elucidate the meaning of each text. Finally, interpret individual texts by looking for any contradictions in comparing other texts within the Bible, and you can conduct word or topic searches to compare verses. I will attempt to summarize my finding here.
When it comes to the security of our salvation in Christ, based on my studies and the wisdom I gleaned being in the Presence of Jesus, if God has saved us, He will keep us for all eternity. Our salvation is secure. When validating this against the verses in the Bible, let’s look at the complicated texts that seem to say that you can lose your salvation by considering the clearer texts that say you cannot, because the easier-understood verses are more undeniably validated. My firm conviction that “if saved always saved” derives from the Apostle Paul’s overall doctrine of salvation. Paul reveals to us that our salvation from start to eternity is from the Lord and so it can never fail:
Our salvation is secure because God established it, He secured it through Christ, and He will complete it for eternity.
Paul’s verses when writing to the churches reveal our past, present, and future. Before the foundation of the world, God planned our salvation: He created His plan for salvation and secured our position with Him through Christ’s righteousness for all who confess Jesus as Lord and ask for forgiveness. As a result of God’s supreme decision, at some point in our lives, He predestined to call us, and He justified us through Christ, so that subsequently, He could begin conforming us to the image of Jesus Christ. All who reject that call refuse God’s plan of salvation, and those who accept that call will be eternally surrendered to Jesus. In the future, in Heaven, we will be glorified, meaning that we will be fully conformed to Christ, who will be preeminent overall. The process comes through Christ and is sustained by Him alone. It’s all designed for His glory. God exists in three persons who, as One entity, created one supreme purpose for the glory and supremacy of Jesus Christ. That truth is certain, meaning that our future glorification with Christ is certain. Once in Heaven, within our new spirit bodies, we will share in God’s glory, made perfect through Christ, so that we can realize the fullness of our relationship to God.
It is vital that we understand that Paul’s purpose in writing these profound truths is so that we will not wrestle with our salvation, but instead, we will mature in Christ so as to become more Christ-like – not the same as Christ, but more like Him. Paul did not write about predestination in order to create confusion. Remember, God gave each person a free will to accept or reject their calling in Christ. Paul wrote the letters in the New Testament to comfort believers at the time of his writings who either were facing persecution or probably would face it soon. They, like us, faced plenty of trials in life that could cause them to stumble if they were not clear about their position with God. And thus, Paul wanted us to know that “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28), one of my favorite verses because it assures us of a joyful future.
Many continue to doubt the promises of God, and I must admit that before I personally experienced Heaven, I too had my doubts. So, I want to help secure your faith so that you can trust in the assurance of God’s promises. How can we absolutely know that God will truly work all our trials together for our good? Paul explains this in Romans 8:29-30, where he shows us what “good” means, namely, that we will ultimately be conformed to the image of Christ and be glorified with Him.
God’s purpose is certain – unlike the wavering plans that many people make – a purpose which He decreed before the creation of this world. And what is that purpose? It is this: that His most beloved creation would be saved so that unhindered intimacy with Him could once again be restored! God planned our glorification in the age to come so that our union with Him would be made complete, when we will be perfected through the release of our spirit, born-anew through Christ, and freed from sin once and for all time. It is essential that we realize that our salvation from start to eternity is totally of the Lord. If any part of it is due to us, then as imperfect people, our salvation would be imperfect. If you’re saved, it is because God determined to save you and planned it for all of eternity. If we could create our own salvation, then why did Jesus sacrifice Himself on the cross?
Now let’s look at some facts:
1. Our salvation is secure because God originated it.
This is a review of what I discussed above.
remember: GOD ORIGINATED OUR SALVATION BY establishing HIS LOVE for US BEFORE TIME BEGAN.
This is what Paul referenced when he used the term, “foreknew” (8:29). It does not mean that God looked down from His Throne, perceived who would believe in Him, and predestined those people to salvation. That would make God’s eternal purpose depend on the ways of sinful people. It would make humankind the arbiter of salvation, not God. It speaks against many verses that prove that apart from God’s determination, nobody would seek Him. It would give a fallen people a reason to boast of their iniquities and to say that they could save themselves. And it contradicts the Scriptures which tell us that God ordained all to enter into a relationship with Him, desiring “…everyone to be saved and to understand the truth (1 Timothy 2:4).” But only those “who call(s) on the name of the Lord will be saved (Romans 10:13).” So, there is a call to believe in Jesus as the Son of God in John 3:16, and a subsequent belief in Jesus as the only Way toward salvation as spoken by Jesus in John 14:6. But there is no verse that states that God will ever rescind the salvation bestowed by Him.
Read through the eighth chapter of the book of Romans in order to understand that God’s foreknowledge is not simply that He knew in advance what people would do. Yes, He could look at the “trend lines” of people’s lives, but choice was always honored by God. Rather, God chose to set His love on His beloved, and He predestined these to salvation, and then He gave them the choice to surrender to the Lordship of Jesus Christ or not. Paul’s point in saying that God foreknew us is that He originated our salvation by choosing to set His love on us before the creation of the world.
also remember: GOD ORIGINATED OUR SALVATION BY PREDESTINING US TO BE CONFORMED TO THE IMAGE OF HIS SON.
Again, predestination is part of God’s plan to rule His creation as He determined. Just as a person establishes a predetermined plan to buy or build a home, so God predetermined His purpose and plan for history. We can be grateful that our salvation is a part of God’s plan to glorify Himself through Christ, who will have dominion over everything (Col. 1:18). As Paul writes (Eph. 1:11), “In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will.” If we want God’s promise of salvation, then we must be confident in our salvation according to the promise of Jesus as our Messiah or Savior, because our salvation is His determination and commitment to the plan of redemption for those who confess Jesus as their Lord and Savior.
God predetermined to save us so that His Son might reign as “the firstborn over all creation” (Colossian 1:15). Nothing “will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39). This means that Christ will have supremacy over all the redeemed.
If our salvation is integral to God’s purpose of exalting His Son, then we are bound forever. God predestined us to be conformed to the image of His Son so that He will be preeminent over all. If you call yourself a believer in Jesus Christ, having confessed your sins and asked Christ’s forgiveness, then you are part of God’s predestined plan. The security of our salvation rests on God’s ability to fulfill His predetermined purpose.
So “foreknew” and “predestined” are important words to explain God’s plan of redemption. These two words were established before the foundation of the world. Let’s dig deeper into the security of our salvation:
2. Our salvation is secure because God caused it.
By “caused it,” I mean that He made our salvation happen. There are two dynamics of this that Paul wrote about.
A. GOD caused OUR SALVATION BY CALLING US.
As previously mentioned, Paul writes in 8:28 that we as believers “are called according to His purpose.” Called (or calling) has dual meanings in the New Testament. First, the general call of the Word of God (the Bible) goes out to all people. Jesus mentioned this when He said (Matt. 22:14), “Many are called, but few are chosen.” He issued a general call when He said (Mark 1:15), “Repent and believe in the gospel.” Or, when He said (Matt. 11:28), “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” This general call is applying to all, but many deny that call because they are part of the fallen human race insisting on their own preconceived way (John 3:19-20). Those who refuse the gospel of Jesus Christ’s call will appear before the Throne of Judgment having denied the Author of Life, without being made righteous through Christ and making them unfit to be part of a righteous Kingdom – Heaven; and that means that the only place left for them is the place where all who reject the Lordship of Jesus Christ can go – the wasteland of existence, hell.
But in the New Testament, call (or, calling) is always targeted to the believer. The calling fulfills God’s purpose of giving life to the spiritually dead so that they respond to the call. Think of the general call as a light showing the way, but the destination remains to be found. The effectual call as emphasized in Jesus’ words, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them” (John 6:44) is when the person finds the destination.
An example of God’s effectual call is Jesus calling Lazarus from the tomb. Remember, Jesus had just said (John 11:25-26), “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die.” The raising of Lazarus that followed was an unforgettable revelation of Jesus’ power to call the spiritually dead to spiritual life. When Jesus called, “Lazarus, come forth,” He imparted life with His call, so that Lazarus was compelled to respond. God’s word is powerful to create new life (John 5:24-26; James 1:18). Knowing God’s Word builds faith.
Paul refers to the reprobate mind (2 Cor. 4:4) when he says that, “the god of this world (Satan), has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” How can such spiritually blind people see? Paul explains (2 Cor. 4:6), “For God, who said, ‘Light shall shine out of darkness,’ is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” God’s word gives light and life to all whom He calls to salvation. His effectual call cannot fail or be thwarted by our flawed thinking because God’s effectual call comes through a general call to all. The general call was stated by Jesus when He said (John 6:37), “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me….” And the effectual call is Christ’s declaration of eternal life to those who surrender their life to the Redeemer, Savior, Lamb of God, Jesus, the I AM (Exodus 3:14).
God’s effectual call starts with His general call. In other words, the truth of God’s Word is shared to all. By now, the entire world has learned of the God of Jesus, and even those from the remotest places can call upon God to reveal His truth to them. I once learned of a woman in an isolated African tribe who prayed to an unknown God asking for a sign to point her toward the “one true God.” She journeyed to get water from a well and noticed an odd formation in the sky – clouds in the shape of a cross. Later in the village she asked someone if they had ever seen such a formation, and the other woman said, “Yes, that is the symbol of Christianity.” For that woman in search of the one true God, God indeed revealed the answer to her.
Some deny the Truth altogether. Some may pray the sinner’s prayer or even go forward after an altar call is made, but their heart is not in it. They are like people who go to a concert, get roused by the crowd to sing along with the music, but when they go home, they forget the tune. For a while, it looks as if they’ve been converted. But they’re like the seed sown on the rocky ground that springs up quickly but has no root. They bear no fruit in their lives – forgetting God most of the time as if He were a passing thought. They may respond to the general call because they want God to make their lives better. But when suffering happens and their situation worsens, they fall away. Or they’re like the seed sown on the thorny ground, where the worries of life or the allure of riches choke out the word so that it does not bear fruit (Matt. 13:20-22) – they care mostly about the things of the world.
But for God’s elect, God’s effectual call comes with power so that they are made alive in the Spirit, and desire more of God and less of the world. Their eyes are opened to the glory of Christ and what He did for them on the cross. They respond in faith and sincere repentance. The difference between the two responses depends on their accepting or rejecting the call to those He predestined to salvation.
B. GOD caused our salvation BY JUSTIFYING US.
“These whom He called, He also justified.” We know this in Romans 3 & 4, where we see that we are justified by God’s grace alone through faith in Christ alone (Rom. 3:24, 26, 28, 30). To justify means to declare righteous. Only Jesus Christ can impute His righteousness to an unrighteous person. Based on Christ’s paying the penalty of separation that we deserved because of our own self-righteousness, God declares as righteous all who trust in Him. This doesn’t make us good, because as Jesus said to the rich man, “Only God is good.” (Matthew 19:17). No, Jesus bore the penalty of our sins, our ‘stinken thinken,’ our breaking of the Ten Commandments, and those impure thoughts that our minds consider. All of these impurities separate us from God. Faith in Christ operates as the conduit through which we can receive the free gift of Christ’s redemption. But faith alone is not the destination, it is the path to the destination.
Of interest is that Paul does not mention faith in Romans 8:30 because he is emphasizing that salvation is from the Lord from beginning to end. This makes God’s effectual call to salvation a result of regeneration. The first evidence of new life is faith in Christ, through which the unclean person (you and me) is justified. Those who are justified by faith grow in holiness, which is called sanctification. Paul does not mention sanctification directly for the same reason he does not mention faith, because we play a part in our sanctification (being conformed to Jesus Christ) and Paul is emphasizing that salvation is totally from the Lord. But Paul mentions sanctification in 8:29 when he writes about becoming “conformed to the image of His Son.” This means that sanctification is closely connected to “glorification,” which refers to our final state of total sanctification in Heaven. Thus, Paul states that our salvation is secure because God originated it. Indeed, in Heaven I realized that our future is in God’s past. During creation, God caused it, or brought it to pass.
3. Our salvation is secure because God will fulfill it.
Paul says that we are “glorified,” past tense, to reveal that it’s as good as done, because God has predestined it to occur in line with His purpose. In Romans 5:2, Paul stated, “We exult in hope of the glory of God.” The same focus is reflected in 8:18, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” Consider these two outtakes of what Paul wrote:
1. GOD WILL COMPLETE OUR SALVATION BY GLORIFYING US in heaven.
To be glorified means that we will be completely conformed to the image of Christ, free from all sin and positively like Christ in His holy character. That’s how I felt in Heaven within my born-again spirit body, and it’s how each of God’s believers will feel in Heaven minus our sullied way of thinking. We will not become “gods,” as many false teachers proclaim; or “one with the universe,” as universalists claim; and certainly, we will not return as some other person or animal as believers in reincarnation claim. But in our character, we will be like Christ.
You may ask, when does glorification take place? The process begins at salvation, when we begin to be transformed into the image of God’s Son “from glory to glory” (2 Cor. 3:18). But we will never be completely sanctified in this lifetime (Phil. 3:13-14), only in Heaven. At that point, we are free from all sin.
In Philippians 3:20-21, Paul states, “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.” Or, as 1 John 3:2 states, “We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is.” The resurrection of our spirit to Heaven will result in the instant, permanent glorification of all believers, as we all receive our new glorified bodies.
2. GOD manifests our SALVATION in heaven BECAUSE CHRIST WILL GLORIFY US.
But what about the second coming? Paul refers to the second coming as the time “when He comes to be glorified in His saints on that day” (2 Thess. 1:10). He adds (2 Thess. 2:14), “It was for this He called you through our gospel, that you may gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.” When Christ returns for the second time, He will come in His glorified state. Those present, both those in Heaven and those on the earth who are believers in Christ, will share in His glory. Since God’s purpose to glorify His Son is complete, then our final glorification is secure through Christ.
I hope this article provides you with some assurances, but I also realize that you may still have questions.
Question 1: Does God love everyone in the world?
Answer: While God so loved the world as to give His only begotten Son so that whoever believes in Him will be saved (John 3:16), He has a special love for His chosen bride, the Body of Christ: “Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her” (Eph. 5:25). God loves everyone, but He especially cherishes His children.
Question 2: If God saves those whom He has predestined to salvation, should we still pray for the lost?
Answer: Prayer is part of the means that God uses to save His children (2 Thess. 3:1; 1 Tim. 2:1-4). It is not our purpose to choose who will heed the call and who will not, but when people respond to the truth, they are set free (John 8:32), resulting in a changed life. We know that God chose His beloved Bride (the church) for salvation (1 Thess. 1:2-6; 2 Thess. 2:13). To help them open their hearts, we should pray that God will open their hearts to the gospel (Acts 16:14).
Question 3: If God is going to save all whom He has predestined, then what good is evangelism?
Answer: Evangelism, like prayer, is God’s chosen means for saving His elect (Acts 13:46-48; Rom. 10:14-15). We know that there will be some in heaven from every tongue, tribe, and nation (Rev. 5:9-10). So, we should proclaim the good news to all nations, knowing that God will use it to save His elect.
Question 4: If salvation is completed solely by the Lord, then is there anything that an unbeliever can do to be saved if he or she is not the elect?
Answer: While salvation is from the Lord, He still commands us to repent and believe the gospel (Mark 1:15). The Bible encourages sinners to repent (Isa. 55:6-7), “Seek the Lord while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return to the Lord, and He will have compassion on him, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon.” Paul (Rom. 10:13) cites the promise of Joel 2:32, “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Since “faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the Word of Christ, (Rom. 10:17), those who have not trusted in Christ are responsible for responding to God’s general call for salvation. Not all of the answers are shared with us, but we do know that sinners are unable and unwilling to seek God unless God first draws them to Christ (John 6:44, 65; Rom. 3:10-18), and this comes from an earnestness to know the one and only Truth. There is a personal responsibility in that they are responsible to repent and believe in Christ. Those who will answer the call from God are open to hearing His voice.
Question 5: If our salvation is totally secure, won’t that lead to sinful living, giving license to sin?
Answer: Even Paul’s critics accused him of this same thing (Rom. 3:8) – that the belief in “once saved always saved” will give license for someone to sin. But the truth is that an adequate understanding of God’s grace will motivate us to know Him better (Phil. 3:8-14), to grow in holiness (2 Cor. 6:16-7:1), and to grow closer to God – to love Him more and more.
A good parent wants his or her children to feel secure in their love. Our heavenly Father wants you to know that your salvation is secure because He originated it by setting His love on you and predestining you to salvation before the foundation of the world. He effected it by calling you to salvation and justifying you when He brought you to faith in Christ. He will bring it to completion in Heaven when you are eternally glorified with Him. Your salvation is secure because it is bound up with God’s eternal purpose of glorifying His beloved Son. You are reading this because you want to know more about the Way, the Truth, and the Life – you want to grow closer to Jesus because you are drawn to who He calls Himself (John 14:6), and that indicates that you are called and chosen. Know this for certain: God loves YOU because He chose you first!