Many persons are unsure of their eternal destiny due to false teaching. Some sects in the area of the Christian profession teach their followers that they will have to wait until after death before they will know whether they have been accepted by God. What a system of lifelong doubt and fear. Others think that they can lose their eternal salvation. What does the word of God say?
"My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me; and I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish, neither shall any one pluck them out of my hand. My Father who gave them to me is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand." (John 10:27-29). Here we have double security, eternal security. Not only this, but every true believer - every one who has his faith in Christ and his finished work and is indwelt by the Holy Spirit - is a member of Christ's body. "We are members of Christ's body" (Ephesians 5:30). No member of Christ's body can ever perish. These are facts that give great assurance. In Hebrews 10:25 we are told that he is able to save to the uttermost [completely], all those who come to God by him. "He is able". It is Christ's ability, not ours. We must keep the question of eternal security clear of self, and make it rest entirely on God. "If God be for us, who can be against us?" Again, "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? ...nothing shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:27-29). Of course there may be counterfeit conversions; persons may be deceived and deceive others and others may seem to run well for a time then break down. True believers may fail in many things; they may stumble and fall and have ample cause for self-judgment. Despite all this, the precious truth of eternal security remains unshaken - "I give my sheep eternal life and they shall never perish."
A true believer is among the children of God; such are also sons of God, according to Galatians. The former refers to my likeness and character, the latter tells me my status. A child is always a child, a son is always a son. He may not always conduct himself rightly, and therefore will be disciplined, but he remains a son. A servant may lose his reward, but as a son, I can never lose that place. Sonship is one thing, service or discipleship is another. If our sonship were dependent on being good disciples, where would we be? The more I enjoy my place as a son, the more faithfully I will serve as a disciple; but these two things must not be confused. Our title to heaven is Christ's work; our place in the coming kingdom will be according to faithfulness here. “We have been marked out beforehand for adoption through Jesus Christ to himself”, Ephesians 1:5. The word “adoption” could be translated “sonship” as it is in Galatians 4:5.
In 1 Corinthians 3:13-15 Paul tells us of a person who may build with materials that are not substantial. His works will be burnt up, be he shall be saved. Again a distinction is made between the person and his works.
Another consideration: a true believer is sealed by the Holy Spirit. In Ephesians 1:14-15 we are told, “ye have been sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the earnest of our inheritance…” To suggest that a person could be sealed with the Holy Spirit then later go to perdition is to say that God made a mistake – an unthinkable proposition.
Let us now consider some questions raised on this subject. “How do you keep people honest? If this is the case, people will just live as they like.”
How does a true Christian like to live? As much like Christ as possible. The apostle Paul provides many answers. See 2 Corinthians 5:14-15; "For the love of the Christ constrains us…that they who live should no longer live to themselves, but to him who died for them and has been raised." Persons who ask such questions show they know very little of Christ, or of grace and its teaching. Grace directs to holiness. Paul writes, Titus 2:11-14; "For the grace of God which carries with it salvation for all men has appeared, teaching us that, having denied impiety and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, and justly, and piously in the present course of things”…
Someone might quote a case where a person, having learnt this truth, plunged into a life of sin. Does this bring into discredit the truth of eternal security. Let me quote C.H.Mackintosh:
“It is a very serious mistake to judge the truth of God by the actings of men, i.e. in this case, to question the doctrine of eternal security because persons might abuse it. The only true way is to get hold of God's truth first, then judge everything by that. Set up the divine standard and test everything by it. Set up the public weighbridge, and weigh everyone's load on it. The scales must not be regulated by each man's load, but each man's load by the scales. If ten thousand persons, all professing Christians, were to fall away and live and die in sin, it would not shake our confidence in the divine doctrine of eternal security. The same word of God that proves the doctrine to be true, proves them to be false. The foundation of God stands sure, having this seal, the Lord knows them that are his. And, let everyone that names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity (2 Tim. 2:19)”. There are many who make an outward profession who are not real, and will fall away. The Lord teaches us about the wheat and the tares; both look similar and grow together now, but divine discernment will separate them in future.
“Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” Some may be worried by this. Firstly, the word “salvation” is not just saved for heaven when we die. It has many applications. Always consider the context. For the Jew, “saved” meant saved from his enemies - see Luke 1:71 as an example. A believer is to be saved from the world, now - see Galatians 1:3-4: …our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins, so that he should deliver [save] us out of this present evil world. A brother recently expressed it: You have a great salvation, now work it out [put it into practice].
Another verse used by people who suggest that one can be saved today and lost to-morrow is 2 Peter 2:1. "But there were false prophets also among the people, as there shall be also among you false teachers, who shall bring in by the bye destructive heresies, and the deny the master that bought them, bringing on themselves swift destruction." The difficulty arises from the words "denying the Lord that bought them." There is really no problem here. The Lord has a double claim on every person earth. He has a claim based on creation, and a claim based on redemption. The Lord Jesus has a purchased right over every person. It is a sin to deny him as Creator, and a sin to deny him as Redeemer. It is not a question of being born of God, of divinely given life. The apostle does not say, Denying the Lord that quickened them. This would be a difficulty; but as the passage stands it leaves untouched the question of eternal security of those who belong to Christ. Much of the second epistle of Peter is taken up with God’s government in connection with the wicked. So again, at the end of chapter 2, another passage occurs that deals with mere professors: "For if after having escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, again entangled, they are subdued by these, their last state is worse than the first…it were better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it to turn back from the holy commandment…” To quote C.H.M. again: “The spread of the teachings of scripture and the light of the gospel frequently exerts an amazing influence on the conduct of persons who hear it. Many gross habits may be given up, many "pollutions" laid aside under the influence of a merely intellectual "knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ", while at the same time the heart has never been reached in a saving way at all. When such persons shake off the influence of the light of the gospel - when only their outward conduct has been affected - they are sure to plunge into greater depths of evil. Satan will see to that. Hence the need to ensure that the truth reaches the heart - "with the heart is believed to righteousnes" - and impart that life which can never be lost. There is nothing in this passage to terrify the sheep of Christ, but very much to warn those who may adopt an outward form without the inward reality.”
Hebrews 6:4 is another verse that may cause difficulty to a casual reader. Again, it refers to persons who have tasted the benefits of grace and the Spirit’s presence, but not true salvation or the indwelling of the Spirit.
When persons are unsure as to their eternal salvation, the subjects of faith and works are usually prominent. Paul labours in the epistles to the Romans and Galatians particularly to show that justification is by faith alone. Paul describes works or efforts by us to obtain life as works of law, or dead works. The evidence of faith is what James looks for - actions which flow out of my having faith, of possessing life. In the much quoted verse in James 2:14, "What is the profit, my brethren, if any one say he have faith, but have not works? can faith save him?" The reader should pay attention to the little word "say." People quoting this verse often leave it out. It is certainly there in the Greek original. It is vital to the meaning of the passage. There is no use in me saying I have faith if my actions do not correspond. It would then be a mere intellectual assent. If a person really has faith, it connects him with Christ, and puts him in full and unshakeable possession of all that Christ has done and all that he is for us before God. Then works [actions, decisions and words] will give the evidence that James looks for. Works of law are those done in order to get life; works of life are the fruits or outcome of life already possessed. We get life by believing on the Son of God. "… he that hears my word, and believes him that has sent me, has life eternal, and does not come into judgment, but is passed out of death into life" (John 5:24).
In summary, when studying scripture, never allow what we know to be disturbed by what we do not understand. As we wait prayerfully, our understanding will be opened. Hold fast to the Lord's words. "God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him may not perish, but have life everlasting (John 3:16)." It is a free, unconditional and eternal salvation. Our sins were all future when the work of redemption was accomplished. As having the Holy Spirit we are "sealed to the day of redemption." Grace teaches that a holy walk becomes us. Our new nature delights in it. However, when we do sin, "we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous (1 John 2:1)." It is a period of grace, but God's government is not given up. God's dealings with us on earth are not to be confused with our eternal security.