I have had this doctrine expressed to me as, "Once you have accepted Christ as your personal saviour, you can't throw salvation away. After that, you are SAVED - period, end of story - and nothing you can say or do will ever alter that fact."
Common sense would indicate that such an idea is wrong-headed. But more importantly, what does scripture say? After all, "common sense" may be just the thinking of the flesh disguised as wisdom. So, common sense aside, what does the word of God have to tell us about this idea?
There are three distinct uses of "saved" which occur in Scripture:
1. "Saved" in the past tense referring to the sacrificial work of Christ or when the believer avails himself of that sacrifice at his baptism.
- "Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began." (2 Tim. 1:9). The reference here is to the sacrifice of Christ in the plan of God.
- "Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit." (Titus 3:5). This verse refers to the believer's acceptance of divine salvation at baptism, therefore the past tense is used.
2. Saved" in the present tense (continuous tense in the Greek). These passages indicate that salvation is a continuing process throughout the whole of the believer's life.
- ". . . And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved [were being saved, R.S.V.]." (Acts 2:47).
- "For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; buy unto us which are saved [being saved, R.S.V.], it is the power of God." (1 Cor. 1:18).
- "By which salvation ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you . . ." (1 Cor. 15:2).
- "For we are unto God a sweet savour of Christ, in them that are saved [are being saved, R.S.V.] . . ." (2 Cor. 2:15).
3. "Saved" in the future tense and ultimate sense.
- ". . . but he that endureth to the end shall be saved." (Matt. 10:22).
- "Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee." (1 Tim. 4:16).
- Timothy had been appointed leader of the ecclesia by Paul. According to Evangelical teaching Timothy was "a saved man". But note, the Apostle Paul writes of Timothy's salvation as yet future and conditional on giving heed to and continuing in sound doctrine.
In the past, God manifested His great salvation in the person and work of Christ. This is appropriated by the believer at his baptism. A life of discipleship follows in which the salvation is worked out in fashioning a new creation. It is not until the Day of Judgment, that one is ultimately saved. It is, therefore, presumptuous for a man to consider himself unalterably reserved for eternal life before that time.
Arguments from Hebrews
- Read Heb. 3:12-14; 6:4-6 and 10:26-29. Were or were not these believers saved? Since the references specifically state that they were "brethren", were "partakers of Christ", "enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Spirit . . . and have tasted . . . the powers of the world to come." These individuals were once saved but had lost their hold on eternal life by their ungodly behaviour.
- Since these believers were in the way of life, did (or could) they fall away? The fact that a "sorer punishment" and "fiery indignation" awaited such reprobates (of whom it is said that it is impossible to renew them again to repentance since they crucify afresh the Son of God and put him to an open shame - Heb. 6:6) is proof that either the believers had committed such offences, or were about to. Either is fatal to the idea that believers are irrevocably reserved for eternal salvation.
The logic of the above reasoning may be summarized as follows:
- Believers in the way of life had either fallen or were about to fall from their calling.
- Upon such a "sorer punishment" will come.
- But if believers are to be punished, then they are not irrevocably reserved for eternal favour, and by implication believers have no justification for claiming "eternal security".
Arguments from the life and statements of the Apostle Paul.
- Believers in this doctrine of "eternal security" believe that the Apostle Paul was "saved" when he confessed, "What shall I do, Lord?" (Acts 22:10). If that is true, why was he told, "And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord." (Acts 22:16). If he were "saved", (having had his sins washed away when he said, "What shall I do, Lord?") why was he told not to tarry but to arise and wash away his sins?
- If the Apostle were "eternally secure" how is one to understand the following language: "That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead. Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect . . . Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended . . ." (Phil. 3:10-13).
- Similarly: "But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway." (1 Cor. 9:27). Is this the language of a man who knows that his eternal blessedness is already fully assured?
- The Apostle Paul said, "That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life." (Titus 3:7). But the Apostle defined hope explicitly: "hope that is seen is not hope: for what man seeth, why doth he yet hope for?" (Rom. 8:24). If the Apostle had already been assured of eternal security, why was he "merely" in hope of eternal life?
I hope you have found this helpful.