Many believers have anxious thoughts at times as to whether they are truly Christians. This can be as a result of listening to preachers who exhort their audience to examine themselves on this question. It is indeed a good exercise to do this, but it needs to be done in accordance with Scripture. If done otherwise, merely trusting to feelings or experiences, there is a danger that the soul will be cast down and depressed even further than it may have been before. In this way as healthy spiritual exercise degenerates into obsession with self.
We will consider this matter in two parts. First, the assurance that God gives in Scripture as to the eternal security of the true believer. Then, second, the tests that may be applied to confirm that one is a believer.
Many true believers are confident that they were “once saved”. They doubt, however, whether they are “always saved”. This situation can come about for several reasons. Some honestly think it arrogant to be sure of heaven. Others have misinterpreted and misapplied passages of Scripture which deal with those who only profess faith, and are not genuine. Still others are conditioned to look to personal experiences for assurance. When these experiences fail to come up to their expectations, then anxious fears arise.
The root cause of these anxieties is an over-occupation with self, instead of occupation with the Saviour; a failure to turn from looking within and around, to looking above and beyond.
If these lines can help anxious souls to a calm appreciation of the sufficiency of the person and work of Christ, to God’s glory, then they will have achieved their object.
The Scriptures would indicate to us that there are various sorts of faith, and we need to be aware of these differences, for they are of vital importance.
This is the sort of faith that they have who trust in themselves that they are righteous, as the Lord Jesus indicated in Luke 18:9. Faith in works, “church” attendance, or the words of a minister of religion, whether over a cradle or over a coffin; these are the things that some sinners believe in. Such people are not eternally secure.
The sort of “faith” that is professed for the sake of advantage, perhaps to please parents, friends, or even the electorate in the case of politicians. Such people are not saved. It is with the heart that man believeth unto righteousness, Romans 10:10. The heart, morally considered, is the centre of man’s being, from which everything else issues, Proverbs 4:23.
In the parable of the sower as recorded by Luke, the Lord explains that “they on the rock are they, which, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, which for a while believe, and in time of temptation fall away.” Luke 8:13. It is those who receive the word with gladness, but who wilt under the heat of trial and testing, who only have temporary faith.
We might think that to “receive the word with gladness” is a good thing. If, however, it denotes that there has been no genuine repentance, and only a belief about Christ, rather than an earnest belief in Him, then such faith is only for a while, and is valueless. It is true that on the Day of Pentecost “they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.” Acts 2:41. It is important to notice, however, before dismissing these people as temporary believers, that verse 37 records that they had already been pricked in their heart. Clearly the sin of crucifying their Messiah had come home to them with force, and they had repented.
John 2:23-25 reads as follows: “Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, in the feast day, many believed in His name, when they saw the miracles which He did. But Jesus did not commit Himself unto them, because He knew all men, and needed not that any should testify of man: for He knew what was in man.” He who knew the hearts of men was aware that they believed on Him only as a miracle-worker. It was Passover time, and the religious excitement of the people was at fever pitch. At the first Passover time, God had done great works through Moses- was this Jesus of Nazareth another great man of God like him? Because the people were in this frame of mind, He did not trust Himself to them. Their faith was an incomplete faith, and needed further light to become saving faith. It was not enough to believe that Jesus was a holy man of God, that He was able to work miracles, perhaps by the power of prayer, and that He was an able teacher and a fine example.
The Lord Jesus is too concerned about the welfare of the souls of men to leave them to think of Him only as one able to perform miracles. He went on to explain, therefore, in His conversation with Nicodemus as recorded in John 3:1-21, that the faith that saves is faith in a crucified Saviour. “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up: that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life,” John 3:14-16. It is as one lifted up upon a cross that we must believe on Him. The reference to the serpent lifted up in the wilderness gives the clue to the meaning of this lifting up. It was because of Israel’s sin and rebellion that God provided the remedy of the serpent lifted up, Numbers 21:4-9. And it was because of the sin and rebellion of the whole world that the Lord Jesus needed to die upon the cross to deal with sins. Faith in a crucified Saviour results in everlasting life for the one exercising it. Such is the sure promise of the Saviour Himself. Those who believe like this are eternally secure.
Faith and repentance
True faith, then, is neither partial nor temporary. It involves the receiving of the Word of God without reserve, not seeking to escape from its convicting power.
When a sinner realises not only that his state is hopeless and dangerous, but also that Christ is able to give full salvation through His work upon the cross, and then commits himself to Him with true repentance for sin, real faith is in evidence.
It is to such persons that the Scriptural doctrine of the eternal security of the true believer can come with all its comforting assurance. In considering this doctrine, we shall think of it in connection with the new birth, the will of God, the unity of the Godhead, the Spirit of God, the present position of Christ and His people, and then finally, the purpose of God.
Eternal security and the new birth
We have already alluded to the promise of eternal life to those who believe in the only begotten Son of God, whom God has given at Calvary. It is through the death of the Son of God upon the cross that eternal life is gained by those who look to Him in faith.
In His words recorded in John 17:2,3, the Lord Jesus contrasted men in the flesh, with all their frailty and mortality, with those who have eternal life. he said, “As Thou hast given Him power over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as Thou hast given Him. And this is life eternal, that they might know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom Thou hast sent”. Clearly, then, there is a marked difference between natural life and eternal life. Natural life, which gives us the ability to know natural things by natural senses, is the result of being born into the family of Adam. Eternal life, on the other hand, gives us the ability to know Divine things, and comes through being born of God.
John 1:12,13 makes it very clear that the will of man cannot effect the new birth; it is solely God’s doing. We read of “them which believe on His name: which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” Neither Christian parentage, religious ceremony, self-will, or the will of others, are of any avail to bring it to pass.
On the other hand, verse 12 also makes clear that man has the responsibility to receive the Lord Jesus by faith, “But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name.” God is sovereign. That means He reigns on His own, with none to dictate to Him. In the exercise of His sovereignty He has decreed that only those who willingly believe in His Son shall be blessed with eternal life.
Those who are born of God, then, are amongst His children, and share His life. One of the reasons the Lord Jesus came was to manifest this life in the world of men. “The life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and show unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us,” 1 John 1:2. He has this life because He is equal with the Father, whereas believers have this life because God has graciously granted it to them.
Just as those who are born naturally cannot be “unborn”, so those who are born of God are His children for ever. Since their new birth is the result of the exercise of His sovereign will, and God never changes His mind, then their position in His family is secure, and secure for ever. The life He gives is eternal life, and the word translated “eternal” is used in Romans 16:26 of “the everlasting God”, so it cannot mean anything less than enduring for ever.
Eternal security and the will of God
“I am the bread of life: he that cometh to Me shall never hunger: and he that believeth on Me shall never thirst,” John 6:35. These words are part of Christ’s explanation of the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand. Just as manna had come down for Israel in the wilderness, so Christ has come down to earth as the Bread of God to give life to the world. When He came, however, they said “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know?” John 6:42. They saw Him, but did not realise who He was. This was so like the response of the people of Israel when the manna was given, for they said, “What is it”, for they did not know what it was, Exodus 16:15.
The total inability of the natural man to appreciate the person of Christ, and to realise that He is worthy of trust, does not frustrate God’s purpose. The Father will ensure that there are those who come to Christ, as they are drawn to Him by the teaching of the Scriptures. Those who hear, and learn from the Father through His Word, are sure to come. His words were, “All that the Father giveth Me shall come to Me;” John 6:37, and, “Every man therefore that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto Me.” John 6:45.
The Saviour makes a firm promise to those who come to Him. John 6:37 reads, “him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out.” The Lord looks upon those who come to Him in genuine faith as a gift from His Father. Is it conceivable that He would refuse such a gift?
The Son of God came down from heaven expressly to do the Father’s will. His words were, “For I came down from heaven, not to do Mine own will, but the will of Him that sent Me. And this is the Father’s will which hath sent Me, that of all which He hath given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day,” John 6:38,39. That will, then, involves keeping those who have been entrusted to Him. This keeping extends to the resurrection of the bodies of His people. If Christ was concerned about fragments of loaves, and instructed His disciples to gather them up “that nothing be lost”, verse 12, then how much more will He be concerned about the bodies of His people. They, too, shall be gathered up again, for He is determined to lose nothing of that gift His Father has given Him.
Eternal security and the unity of God
John 10 contains the teaching of the Lord Jesus regarding His relationship to His people under the figure of a shepherd and his flock. In verse 11 the Lord makes one of the “I am” statements in John’s gospel- “I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth His life for the sheep.” He adds nothing, in this instance, to His plain statement. Elsewhere in John where we find other “I am” statements, there is a certain responsibility placed upon others, such as to believe, to come, or to follow. Here, the total responsibility rests upon the Saviour Himself, and since He is the good shepherd, we may rely absolutely upon what He does.
The foundation of blessing and security for the flock is the giving up of the life of the shepherd as His own willing act, in obedience to the will of His Father This in itself should be enough to reassure His people of His devoted care for them. He goes further, however, and rests their security upon another basis, that of His Deity. He has spoken of those who are enemies of the flock, and now shows that He and His Father are united in their care and protection of that flock.
The flock of God has many enemies. First, in John 10:5, there is the stranger, “and a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers.” He represents those who bring “strange doctrines” Hebrews 13:9. Even little children in the family of God recognise those who teach error that dishonours their Saviour, and which will seduce them, I John 2:18-27. Then there are thieves and robbers, verses 8,10, who come not “but for to steal and to kill, and to destroy.” These picture those who “spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ”, Colossians 2:8. A further enemy is the hireling, verse 12, whose only interest in the sheep is personal gain, or as Peter graphically puts it, “filthy lucre”, I Peter 5:2. Finally there is the wolf, verse 12 again, which comes to catch and scatter the sheep. The apostle Paul warned of men who, like “grievous wolves”, will stop at nothing to disrupt and spoil the flock of God, Acts 20:29. The Good Shepherd is more than a match for all these enemies. His voice is so attractive to His sheep that they wish to follow no stranger.
He gives life, and that abundantly, in contrast to the stealing, killing and destroying of the robbers. He gives His life for the sheep, and this shows Him to be no hireling, who would do the opposite, and give the sheep for his life. And He gives His word that the wolf will never succeed in snatching His sheep from His hand. His statement is clear, “I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of My hand,” verse 28.
The confidence of believers in Israel was expressed by the psalmist in the words “And we are the people of His pasture, and the sheep of His hand.” Psalm 95:7. The reason they give for their confidence is significant, “For He is our God.” This, too, is the confidence of the Christian, for the shepherd heart of the God of Israel has been manifested to perfection by His Son, who is equal with God.
Having explained in John 10:28 that none can pluck the sheep out of His hand, (echoing the mention of “hand” in Psalm 95:7), the Good Shepherd then reinforces the truth with His statement, “My Father, which gave them Me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of My Father’s hand. I and My Father are one,” John 10:29,30. The Father is greater than the enemies of the flock as well, so the sheep are doubly, divinely, secure.
The Jews understood perfectly well the implications of the statement, “I and My Father are one”, for we read they immediately took up stones to stone Him, saying, “for a good work we stone Thee not; but for blasphemy; and because that Thou, being a man, makest Thyself God”. It is nothing less than a claim to Deity, and coming as it does in the context of the safety of the sheep, is the strongest possible assurance of their complete security If it is possible to sever the persons of the Godhead from one another, then it is possible to sever Christ’s sheep from Him and His Father. To sever the persons of the Godhead, however, demands a power superior to Divine power, which does not and cannot exist. The Godhead is safe, and just as safe are the sheep.
Eternal security and the Holy Spirit
Just as it is true that the unity between the Father and the Son is a guarantee of the safety of the believer, so the other person of the Godhead, the Holy Spirit, is involved in this too.
One of the distinctive features of this present age is the fact that every believer is indwelt by the Holy Spirit. This was not the situation before the Lord Jesus was glorified, as John 7:39 makes clear, “But this spake He of the Spirit, which they that believe on Him should receive: for the Holy Spirit was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified.” Of course it is true that men of Old Testament times had been empowered by the Holy Spirit for specific tasks, but now that Christ is glorified in heaven, He is given in a new way.
Especially relevant to our present consideration is the statement of the Lord to His own, “And I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, that He may abide with you for ever,” John 14:16. Note it is not “shall abide”, but “that He may abide”. So it is not only that the Spirit would abide in the future in a new way, although that is true, but also that the very purpose for which the Spirit is given is to abide for ever. In contrast to Christ, who was leaving them to go back to heaven, the Spirit would stay in them for ever.
Every true believer has the Spirit of God within. Romans 8:9 is very clear on this point, “Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ he is none of His.” His abiding presence is not in virtue of anything the believer has done, but solely because of God’s grace. The question of the apostle in Galatians 3:2, “Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?” can receive only one answer, namely, “by the hearing of faith.” The presence of the Spirit of God within the believer is therefore due to the grace of God entirely; He is neither earned nor merited.
When preparing His own for His departure to heaven, the Lord spoke of the Spirit as dwelling with them already, John 14:17. This was true because the Lord, full of the Spirit Himself, was personally with them, and in that sense the Spirit was alongside of them. His promise for the future, however, was that His personal presence would be made good to them by the Spirit of God indwelling them.
One aspect of this indwelling which is particularly relevant to the subject of eternal security, is presented to us in Ephesians 4:30. There the apostle speaks of being sealed by the Holy Spirit of God Just as a document is sealed for security, so God has sealed His people by giving them His Spirit. This sealing is “unto the day of redemption.” One day the bodies of the saints shall be redeemed from all traces of contact with this old creation. The sealing, however, is not simply “until” that day, but “unto” it. When the sealing is done, (and Ephesians 1:13,14. makes clear that this is when faith is exercised), the redemption is already in view as far as God is concerned. The sealing bridges the interval between initial faith and final redemption. Once the sealing is done, the redemption is certain. As far as God is concerned the deed is done, and this should settle the matter for the believing heart.
Eternal security and association with Christ
The second chapter of the Epistle to the Ephesians opens with sinners dead in trespasses and sins, walking according to this world, dominated by Satan himself, walking in lust and self-will, and facing the prospect of God’s wrath. The words of scripture are:
“And you hath He quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins; Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others,” Ephesians 2:1-3.
This is not security, but vulnerability! But then we are taught that in the purpose of God the position He has given to Christ is shared by all who are united to Him in faith. It does not matter whether they were Jews or Gentiles before, those who know God’s rich salvation are together in a place of safety in Christ. The apostle writes:
“But God, who is rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith He loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: That in the ages to come He might shew the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.
For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them,” Ephesians 2:4-10.
Introduce God and His mercy into a situation, and everything changes. His mighty salvation is detailed for us, and the apostle takes us stage by stage through the process. Were sinners dead? So once was Christ, for He died for our sins, but God quickened Him, and quickened believers together with Him. That which was true on the resurrection morning, as far as God was concerned, comes into effect for the believer as soon as initial belief takes place. Were sinners in the world? So once was Christ, as He lay lifeless in the tomb. But He has been raised from the grave and given heavenly glory, and believers are associated with Him in this too. Were sinners walking according to the prince of the power of the air? Christ has defeated that foe, and been exalted above all principality and power, Ephesians 1:21. Linked with Him in His exaltation, His people are safe from the Evil One’s grasp. Finally, the ultimate triumph, for instead of being associated with this present world-system, believers are now involved in God’s plan, even to the extent of being seated in heavenly places in Christ. His place is their place. He occupies it by merit, they by Divine grace. Formerly they could only expect God’s wrath in the future, but now in the ages to come they shall be the showpiece of God’s grace and kindness.
With these glorious truths on the page of Holy Scripture, what believer will doubt his security? The believer is as secure as Christ is, for there is a vital and Divinely-made link between them both.
Eternal security and the purpose of God
In his heart the apostle Paul was persuaded of the truth of the believers security, and was filled with confidence as he penned the closing verses of Romans chapter 8. Wherein lay his confidence? In the purpose of God. Note his words, “For whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He did predestinate, them He also called: and whom He called, them He also justified: and whom He justified, them He also glorified. What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us? He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord”, Romans 8:28-39.
As far as God’s purpose is concerned, those whom He has called by the gospel, and justified by the blood of Christ, are already glorified. So certain is the believer’s future glory, that God speaks of it not even as a present thing, but a past thing. And that glory involves being conformed to the image of His Son.
Again, what gave the apostle confidence was the fact that God had given His Son at Calvary, not sparing Him any of the sufferings which dealing with sins entailed. This is the sure pledge, writes the apostle, that God will freely give all things, and this includes the glory of heaven. It is elementary mathematics that the whole is greater than the part. If nothing could stop God giving the greatest gift, under the worst circumstances, then there is nothing that will stop Him giving lesser things. And amongst these is a place in heaven for His people.
The apostle confidently challenges any to successfully bring an accusation against God’s elect people. The only one who has a right to do this is God Himself, but far from accusing His people He has justified them.
The only one who has the right to sit in judgement and condemn God’s people, is the very one who died for the sins that merit judgement; who rose again to prove those sins were dealt with; who is in the place of supreme authority at God’s right hand; and who constantly intercedes for them before His Father, to safeguard them from the accusations of the Devil.
The conclusion of the matter
We have reviewed some of the passages of Scripture which tell of the total and eternal security of true believers. Born again by the will of God, the God who does not change His mind, their position in the family is settled. Drawn to Christ by the teaching of the Scriptures, they have found a ready welcome, and the assurance that they will never be rejected. Part of Christ’s flock, and therefore protected by the persons of the Godhead in united defence against every wily foe. Indwelt by God’s Spirit, and that for ever, sealed as His until the day of final redemption. Linked to Christ in His unassailable and glorious position at God’s right hand. Involved in God’s purpose which can never be frustrated, and defended from every attempt of the Adversary to accuse. Well then might all God’s people join with the apostle as he rejoices in the triumphs of God’s grace, “For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38,39.