Soteriology – Study of Salvation – Assurance of Salvation
The assurance of salvation is the theological position from which a believer can be assured or know that they have salvation. For many, this is directly related to the belief in eternal security. Others who accept eternal security and believe they can lose their salvation, usually still adhere to some form of assurance of salvation.
Keeping in mind that salvation is an immense word and encompasses additional Biblical points that also need to be taken into consideration; such as justification, sanctification and glorification. These positions are discussed throughout each of the major Christian denominations soteriological theology:
The answer to the question, how can you have assurance of salvation, or assurance of a believer’s salvation and its implication, definition, and extent are defined in various ways throughout different Christian denominations.
Scripture Supporting Eternal Security
The following scriptures support the theology that once a person has been saved, or justified by genuine faith, their salvation is eternal and can never be lost. These scriptures are used to point out specifics concerning the assurance of salvation.
The Apostle John wrote the book of first John for the purpose of helping believers know that they have eternal life (as he states in v.13), thus helping them understand the assurance of salvation. Apostle John systematically explains in this epistle how a believer can know that they are saved.
The first point being, whoever has the Son (Jesus Christ) has life. Not someone who has said a prayer to God one time but continues in faith in Christ. Not someone who did a rosary or was confirmed in the past but is an on-going believer. Not someone who does many good works to try and earn their way into heaven, but lives by faith in Christ. Apostle John is very clear and this important point needs to be completely understood in its most simple of statements “He who has the Son has life”.
Kept by God – Assurance of Salvation
God keeps us from sin and from stumbling. God keeps those who are His. Once we belong to God, the Lord Jesus has given us many teachings to show us that God will pursue us and keep us in faith in Him.
I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. – John 10.28
My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. – John 10. 29
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. – Romans 8.1
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 8. 38-39
(God) who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ – 1 Corin 1.8
It is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, 22. set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come. – 2 Corin 1.21-22
Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy – Jude 1. 24
Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them. – Hebrews 7. 25
God Finishes His Work in You
The Bible affirms that God will finish the work He begins in you
And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. – John 6.39
Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. 8 He will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. – 1 Corin 1. 7-8
He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. – Phil 1.6
Which is why I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to me. – 2 Tim 1.12
Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. – Hebrews 7.25
Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith – Heb 12.2
Who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. – 1 Peter 1.5
Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory – Jude 1.24
Believers Follow Jesus by Faith
Whoever believes in Jesus Christ will be saved, believers will continuously follow Jesus
But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, – John 1.12
The one who endures to the end will be saved. – Matthew 24.13
Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. – Mark 16.16
Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him. – John 3.36
All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. – John 6.36
Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life. – John 6. 47
You do not believe because you are not my sheep. 27. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. – John 10.26-27
Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. – Romans 10.9
For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” – Romans 10.13
Confirmation by the Holy Spirit
God Spirit testifies to His children that they belong to Him. Those who believe and remain in Christ are born again, and have already received eternal life.
For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God. – Romans 8.15-16
Anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. – 2 Corin 5.17
Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. – Ephesians 4. 30
Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us. – 1 John 3.24
Hope of Heaven and Salvation
God tells us He desires us to have the hope of Heaven and have an assurance of eternal salvation. Hebrews 6.11 is one of the primary verses where we get the term in this theology specifically for assurance. For here the writer of Hebrews tells us that we are to have the full assurance of hope until the end. Showing that believers are to have an assurance of their hope in salvation (Romans 8.24-26).
We desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, 12. So that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises. – Hebrews 6.11-12
Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and stedfast, and which entered into that within the veil; – Hebrews 6.19
Scriptures on the Loss of Salvation
Those who advocate that believers can lose their salvation take the position that once a person is ‘saved’, there is a possibility that salvation may be lost depending on some fault of the believer. There is often the association of a list of requirements that must be upheld or avoided to maintain salvation. For this reason, most work-based theologies do include some type of loss of salvation in their system. Those who advocate that a believer may lose their salvation will use the following verses for their beliefs.
Believers do not Practice Sin
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.- Matt 7.21
On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23. And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ – Matt 7.22-23
No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God. – 1 John 3.9
By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother. – 1 John 3.10
Believers are to Practice Obedience
If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples – John 8.32
In it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” – Romans 1.17
What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? … So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. – James 2.14-16
And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, – 1 John 2.3-4
We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. – 1 John 3.14
Believers are Renewed from Sins
He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, – Titus 3.5
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. – 1 John 1.9
Believers Must Continue in the Faith – Perseverance
We find that believers are to continue in faith, because if they do not, they reveal that they were never truly of the brethren.
They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us. – 1 John 2.19
Col 1.22-23 – now you are reconciled to God and are free from accusation if you continue in your faith.
By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. – 1 Corin 15.2
Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test! – 2 Corin 13.5
The saying is trustworthy, for: If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful – 2 Tim 2.10-13
Can Believers Fall Away
Throughout various verses we find the term ‘fall away,’ or ‘fall from grace.’ It is important to understand these terms in proper context of when scripture uses it.
But it (God’s word) does not go down deep in his heart. He [believes it for a short time] (alla estin proskairos – but is temporary). When trouble or a hard time comes because of the message, he [stops believing] (skandalizetai – falls away). – Matthew 13.21
Prodigal Son – Luke 15
Luke 15.31-32 – The prodigal son was a son that left his father to go live in self-indulgence. When he came to his senses and returned the father said, my son was dead but has come back to life (v.24).
Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son is typically interpreted as a representation of those who strayed away from God. Notice he was a son and never ceased from being a son, for sons always return home, because God brings them home.
This is evidence as stated earlier in the same line of parables Jesus used to describe why he spent time with sinners (Luke 15.2). In both previous parables, in the case of the lost sheep and the lost coin, Jesus doesn’t stop searching until he finds the lost sheep or the coin. All three of these parables are told by Jesus and should be taken in consideration of each other. That God searches for those that belong to Him until He find them. All three parables are told in a broad sense of sinner turning to God, of going from being lost to being found.
Grafted Branches – Romans 11
Romans 11 shows those who where once grafted into reconciliation to God (the Jews) are now facing God’s severity because of their unbelief, and we (the church) are now grafted in (to God’s family) by faith, so long as we continue in faith. God tells us here that if they do not continue in their unbelief, they will be grafted back in.
The context of this being about Israel and the Church is important; however it also parallels how God works with individuals.
But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, 18. do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. 19. Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” 20. That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. – Romans 11.17-20
For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. 22. Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off. 23. And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. – Romans 11.21-23
Notice again the necessity for continuance in the faith, or rather continuing in God’s kindness; and the warning for those who fall away in unbelief, that God will be severe towards them, God knows those who are not elect shall slide in due time (Deut 32.35). Just as there were many that wandered in the desert with Moses that did not believe (Rom 11.7-8), there will be many that profess to be a part of the church that have hearts of unbelief.
The evidence that this is more of a national exposition, revealing God’s great plan is seen in verse 11.11-14.
Judaizers – Galatians 5
Galatians Chapter 2 – 5 contains instructions from Paul to the Galatians concerning the effects of returning to the law after coming to God’s grace in Christ. The Book of Galatians begins with a rebuke for turning from the gospel of Christ. In 2.4 Paul tells us this false teaching has come in due to false brethren that have slipped their way in among believers.
In 2.14 we find that even the Apostle Peter was being led astray in acting contrary to the gospel because of these false brethren. In chapter 3 Paul explains that if they are trying to be justified by works, they must keep the whole law. Therefore, if they return to the Law of Moses, they are severed from Christ and fallen from grace. It is this different gospel that is cursed (3.10) because it is no gospel at all when you attempt to combine salvation by faith with works of the law.
But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more? – Galatians 4.9
The question here is not, can a believer turn to apostasy after accepting the truth, but rather, does this cause you to lose your salvation. We know believers can be deceived (James 1.16). It could be stated that a true believer under conviction of the Holy Spirit will always eventually return to God (or rather those who are elect), and this could be taken as the same example seen in the prodigal son. Then the question remains, if a believer dies before they returned, would they lose their salvation and go to Hell?
One thing you will have to take into consideration if you believe you can lose your salvation; did the Apostle Peter lose his salvation (temporary or not) while he was being led astray by the Judaizers (Gal 2.14)? What about Barnabas in verse 13? Also notice that Paul continues to call the Galatians brethren (v1.2, 4.12) and exhorts them in Gal 5.5 sharing that they wait for the righteous hope.
He also states that they have been set free (5.1), they received the Spirit (3.2, 4.6) all statements that can only be said about believers. Throughout this book of Galatians there is no direct statement of warning or loss of salvation or eternal judgement (as in 2 Thess 1.8).
I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. 4 You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. – Galatians 5. 3-4
Paul is referring to the Galatians falling from God’s grace because they are no longer walking by faith but by works. In the Greek this term ‘fallen from grace’ is in the present tense, not the past or perfect tense. Meaning the Galatians are ‘currently’ not under God’s grace, meaning that God cannot operate in their lives because they are not trusting in God by faith.
It is important to pay attention to the words used; the term ‘fallen from grace’ is not ‘fallen from salvation.’ Grace is Biblically defined as either favor from God being receiving without earning it. This is why this portion of scripture is better interpreted by understanding that falling from grace is attempting to live by your own works in order to earn God’s favor, which cannot be accomplished by a sinful human. This is why Paul is explaining that if you try to earn God’s favor by keeping the law, you must keep the whole law perfectly and never stumble (5.3).
Looking at the phrase, they will be ‘severed from Christ,’ (5.4) the word for this phrase in Greek is ‘katagethete’ meaning to become idle, to ‘make inoperative or of no effect.’ It is also translated as alienated (estranged) or removed from fellowship/relationship. Is it possible that believers may be separated or severed from the Church (body of Christ) due to some egregious sin and still go to heaven, the answer is yes, as we see in 1 Corin 5.5.
Paul seems to finalize a view from the eternal security standpoint in verse 5.10 “I have confidence in the Lord that you will take no other view,” somewhat signifying that those Galatians who are truly saved will always be brought back by God. However, Paul condemns those false brethren, that they would be cut off in as seen in verse 12.
False Teachers – 2 Peter 2
Peter speaks in his second epistle about heresies and false teachers. Those who have fallen away from the faith, seeking to gather disciples to follow themselves. Keep in mind he references what occurred in ancient times (there were false prophets) with modern times (now false teachers).
But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. 2 And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. – 2 Peter 2.1-3
In the first three verses of chapter 2 we find that Peter speaks about these false teachers as those whom the Lord bought (v.2). Does this mean they were saved because they were bought by the blood of Christ? Just because God purchases a people, does not mean they are all saved; this is evident when He bought Israel as stated in Deut 32.6, however not all the Israelites purchased where saved, for many where unbelievers (Rom 11.7-8).
Many of them were shown to be unbelievers and died in the wilderness (Heb 3.7-19). This verbiage is seen in other areas of scripture, we know that Jesus’ purchase or sacrifice was for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2.2), therefore God bought all men (Rev 5.9), and it’s up to the individual to put their faith in Him.
They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption. For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved. 20 For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. – 2 Peter 2.19-20
We find additional terms that indicate they did believe for a season, for they escaped the corruption of the world by knowing the Lord Jesus, however after they knew the Lord, they turned their backs on Him and His ways. They are entangled in the ways of the world, showing their love for the present world. This echoes all the verse beginning with Jesus’ parable of the sower (Matt 13.22, 2 Tim 4.10, 1 John 2.15).
These verses reveal that God shows no partiality (Deut 10.17, Gal 2.6) and when someone believes in Him, he gives them grace, cleansing and freedom however when the times of trials and temptation come, what they really are will be revealed, whether they are a person of faith, trusting God, those whom He has called and predestined or a faithless person who turns from God.
You, therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability (fall from your secure position). – 2 Peter 3.17-18
Here Peter is warning the beloved not to be carried away by the error of the lawless and fall from their secure position or stability. Notice again this verse does not say, lose your salvation.
As with Paul, Peter gives us a verse that refers back to eternal security for the elect, showing that it is God who keeps His own people and reserves the unrighteous in their sins in 2 Peter 2.9;
The Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment, 10. and especially those who indulge in the lust of defiling passion and despise authority. – 2 Peter 2.9-10
Other Verses that Reference Falling Away
Revelation 2 – Remember from where you have fallen
Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. – Revelation 2.5
Revelation 2 is Jesus’ rebuke to the Church of Ephesus, not to an individual. Just as with any group you speak to, there will be a mixture of true and false believers. The Church at Ephesus did eventually have its lamp stand removed (closed its doors). The reference to ‘fallen’ was to bring to remembrance where you came from, and the love they had for Jesus when they were first converted.
James 5 – Turn a sinner from the error of his way
My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, 20 remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins. – James 5.19-20
In verse 19 James exhorts those whom he speaks to as Brethren (in Greek ‘Adelphos’ meaning brethren). He states that if any of you do wander or err (Greek planao meaning roam, deceive, go astray, seduce, wander, err) from the truth and one converts him (turns him back), let him know that he which converts the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death and shall hide a multitude of sins. This verse speaks about converting a brother, a believer, from sin or error shall save him from death, which in turn covers his sins that led to death.
Just as in other examples, this verse never says they lost their salvation, but rather they will be given over to death, which can be directly correlated to the punishment of believers set forth in 1 Corin 5.5.
The Wicked Servants
If that wicked servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed,’ 49. and begins to beat his fellow servants and eats and drinks with drunkards, 50. the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know 51. and will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. – Matt 24.48-51
Jesus gave us multiple examples of wicked servants in the gospels. Those whom thought or believed they were servants of God, however when they were judged, where shown to be wicked. These references go back to Matt 7.21, to those whom did many works in Jesus name but lived lives of iniquity (sin). [Other examples of wicked servants – Luke 20.9-19, Matt 21.33-46, Mark 12.1-12, Matt 18.21-35, Matt 25.30].
Book of Hebrews
It is important to remember as your reading the book of Hebrews, the context of the entire book. That this was written to the Hebrew people, who were coming out of the work-based Mosaic Law into a grace-based salvation in Christ. It was written to help them understand all the foreshadowing in the Old Testament (i.e. religious festivals, priesthood, etc.) and how it foretold the coming Messiah and His accomplishments. Portions parallel other writing of the Apostles, such as Paul’s warnings to the Galatians should they continue to seek justification by the works of the law.
Heb 2.3 – how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?
Hebrews Chapters 2 and 3 begin with various warnings. A warning to those who would neglect salvation in Christ. It continues warning those who would allow themselves to have an evil heart of unbelief causing them to turn away from God (3.12). It contains a message concerning the heart of those who once professed to be a believer but never truly where, as v 4.2 says they received the good news (they believed), but it never mixed with faith, it became of no value to them.
See to it, brothers, that none of you has a wicked heart of unbelief that turns away from the living God. 13 But exhort one another daily, as long as it is called today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.14 We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly to the end the assurance we had at first – Hebrews 3.12-14
Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it. For we also received the good news just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, since they did not share the faith of those who comprehended it – Hebrews 4.2
Hebrews chapter 6 gives one of the two most ominous warnings in the book that targets those who believe. Describing those who are partakers of the Holy Spirit, of which the world cannot receive (John 14.17, 1 Corin 2). They have tasted the heavenly gifts the goodness of the word of God and the power of the age to come, and where once enlightened.
For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5. and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6. and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. – Heb 6.4-6
We are given a parable of the person described in Hebrews 6.4-6 immediately after in Hebrews 6.7-8 – as someone who drinks the rain and only bears thorns (like in the parable of the sower in Matt 13.18) is rejected and near to a curse whose end is to be burned. Jesus taught us these are those who believe for a season but the word is choked because of the thorns (care of the world) that are brought forth, and they never bear fruit.
In contrast to those that remain in faith, verse 9-10 shows that better things are for those who are beloved and who show love towards God and His people. Again in verse 11-12 we find those who are diligent to full assurance of hope and followers of the faith inherit the promise.
One of the difficult portions of this chapter is verse 6 that states for those who have fallen away, it is impossible to bring them again to repentance. For those that take the position that you can lose your salvation and believe you can return to God, verse 4 is a problem. Verse 4 reveals these who once enlightened, tasted the heavenly gift, partook of the Holy Spirit, and tasted the good word of God and His powers (someone who would be considered a believer); however they can never be brought back to repentance.
This is because they partook of everything God has to offer and still turned back to the world, because that is what their heart is (not good soil -Heb 6.8); the world is all they desire. They experienced the things of God and desired sin more than God. They heart is filled with thorns, the cares of the world (Matt 13.22).
Notice the verbiage is not ‘it is impossible for you to return,” it is “it is impossible to restore such a one.” This is why it is impossible to bring them back to repentance, for they only love the world, and will not repent (turn away) from it. They have come to understand the things of God and do not love Him, rejecting Christ in unbelief.
And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. … 14. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. – Heb 10:10,14
If we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. – Hebrews 10.26-27
How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? – Hebrews 10.29
Hebrews 10.10 and 14 reveals that Christ died once for all sins; past, present, and future for all that are being sanctified (believers). We find in verse 29, that the one who turns back on God has trampled Jesus, upset the spirit of grace and profaned the blood that sanctified him.
It should be notated here there are other places in scripture that unbelievers are considered sanctified. 1 Corin 7.14 says the unbelieving spouse is sanctified by their believing spouse. 2 Peter 1.9 and 2 Peter 2.18, 20, 22 speaks of those being cleansed or purified then returning to the filth of the world.
These verses show that this person was at one time sanctified in Christ; however because of unbelief in living a life of continual, deliberate sin (v.26) they will face Gods judgment reserved for His adversaries. The point of all this is summed up at the end of chapter 10, that God’s elect are not those who turn away but have faith:
(God said) My righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him.” 39. But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls. – Hebrews 10.38-39
Hebrews chapter 12 exhorts us to pursue holiness, without it no one will see the Lord.
We know that it is Jesus that sanctifies us (10.14), He gives us His righteousness and holiness (Rom 13.14, Gal 3.27), and we are to pursue this. Then the warning is given not to allow a root of bitterness in your heart that causes trouble (v.15). The chapter ends with a warning not to refuse God who is speaking to us from Heaven.
Pursue peace with everyone, and holiness, for without it no one will see the Lord. – Hebrews 12.14
See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; – Hebrew 12.15
See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. – Hebrews 12.25
Continual Warning Not to Harden your Heart
It is interesting to notate how often the New Testament warns believers against hardening their heart in their path of sanctification. As the hardening of the heart is the path of unbelief as see in Hebrews. [Pr 28.14, Ez 36.26, Mark 8.17, 16.14, John 12.40, Rom 2.5, 9.18, 11.7, 2 Corin 3.14]
So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. 18. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts.
Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed. 20. That, however, is not the way of life you learned 21. when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus.– Ephesian 4.17-21
Reconciliation of the Viewpoints of Scripture
There are many different topics that get confused with assurance of salvation, such as the evidence of salvation. Evidence of salvation is more subjective from our viewpoint. In fact, it is the understanding of different viewpoints that often cause issues like this to seem irreconcilable.
The Bible gives us two different perspectives; God’s perspective that is eternal, He already knows all who will be saved and predestined them. Then there is man’s viewpoint [or really the viewpoint of all creatures, for not even the Devil knows who will be saved (Job 2.5, Luke 22.31)] of whom no one truly knows the destiny of any other being, except what has been decreed (John 17.12). These two different viewpoints have to be understood before any reconciliation can be made.
First of all, let’s look at what the Bible says about those who once believed but then later fell away, these individuals that are considered who believed for a season, false brethren, or false believers;
- They performed miraculous works (Matt 7.21)
- They healed the sick (Matt 7.21)
- They cast out demons (Matt 7.21)
- They prophesied in Jesus name (Matt 7.21)
- Jesus was their Master (Matt 24.48)
- They believed for a season (Luke 8.13)
- They where graphed in to Christ (Rom 11.21)
- They were bought by Christ (2 Peter 2.1)
- They where cleansed (2 Peter 2.20)
- They had the knowledge of Christ (2 Peter 2.20)
- Received the good news (Heb 4.2)
- Tasted the Heavenly Gift (Heb 6.4)
- Where once enlightened (Heb 6.4)
- Shared in the Holy Spirit (Heb 6.4)
- Tasted the goodness of the Word of God (Heb 6.5)
- Tasted the power of the age to come (Heb 6.5)
- They where sanctified (Heb 10.29)
However in these same chapters we also know the following about this group of people:
- Jesus never even new them (Matt 7.21)
- They where workers of Iniquity- never departed form iniquity (Matt 7.21, 2 Tim 2.19)
- They where wicked to their fellow servants (Matt 24.49)
- Refuse to believe (John 10.26)
- They only bear thorns (Luke 8.14, Heb 6.8, 12.15)
- They do not bear fruit (John 15.2, Rom 11.21, 2 Peter 1.8, 2.17)
- They were broken off because they stopped believing (Rom 11.20)
- Again entangled in the world, following sensuality (2 Peter 2.2, 20)
- Continue deliberately practicing sin (Heb 10.26, 1 John 5.18)
- Trod underfoot the blood of Jesus, not considering it holy (Heb 10.29)
- Despised (blasphemed) the Holy Spirit (Matt 12.31, Heb 10.29)
- Not disciplined by God (Heb 12.8)
- They reject and shipwreck their faith (1 Tim 1.19)
- They Abandoned the faith (1 Tim 4.1, 2 Tim 2.12)
This group of individuals would seem to be distinct from true believers (or rather, the elect), when you list out everything about them and compare it to true believers (the elect), there is a difference. True believers even those who stumble, will return to God. We find a contrast throughout the verses concerning false believers from what we see from the list of those who are true believers:
- They are (spiritually) born again (John 3, 1 John 3.9)
- God knows those who are His (2 Tim 2.19)
- They do the will of the Father (Matt 7.21)
- They bear fruit (Luke 8.8, John 15.5)
- They hear Jesus voice and follow (John 10.27-28)
- They remain in Christ (the vine) (John 15.5, Rom 11.22, 29)
- Disciplined by God (Heb 12.8)
- Delivered by God from temptation (2 Peter 2.9)
- They do not continually sin (1 John 3.9)
- Kept by God from falling (Jude 1.24)
- They names are never blotted out (Rev 3.5)
This all goes without even mentioning the verses that speak about the eternal election, being chosen of God and being kept by God. The children of God have the spirit of God dwelling within them, leading, and disciplining them, and by their faith they have already overcome the world. God’s children practice the fruits of the spirit and are obedient to God; they have His desires in their heart and always return to Him.
Taking these points into consideration, the scriptures seem to separate those who are true believers (the elect) that struggle with their faith from those who truly apostatize (those that believe for a season) never to believe again. This maybe one of the points Jesus is making, in only He who knows our hearts can truly separate the sheep from the goats.
Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. 34. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. – Matthews 25.32-34
Those that love the world the love of the Father is not in him (1 John 2.15).
Believers are Disciplined
We find in scripture that believers live lives of holiness in God because this is their new nature, because they are spiritually born again, and their desires become like Gods (1 John 3.9). It is evidence that for those whom God foreknew, He predestined to be with Him. Further, since He already knows who will be with Him in eternity, He already knows who to predestine.
It can be stated simply those whom He knows will not be with Him where never predestined because God knew they would not continue to believe in Him, or in other words, they did not have a lasting belief unto faith (Luke 8.13, Heb 4.2).
So what do we say about those who truly are God’s elect but ‘fall into apostasy,’ or begin to live a sinful lifestyle. God will discipline His children, and bring them back to Himself because He constantly pursues us (thus fulfilling the mystery of 1 John 4.19). The Bible gives us details on these believers who will face discipline:
Hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord. – 1 Corin 5.5
Have you forgotten the encouraging words God spoke to you as his children? He said, “My child, don’t make light of the Lord’s discipline, and don’t give up when he corrects you.6 For the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes each one he accepts as his child.”7. As you endure this divine discipline, remember that God is treating you as his own children. – Hebrews 7.5-7
If God doesn’t discipline you as he does all of his children, it means that you are illegitimate and are not really his children at all. 9 Since we respected our earthly fathers who disciplined us, shouldn’t we submit even more to the discipline of the Father of our spirits, and live forever? 10 …But God’s discipline is always good for us, so that we might share in his holiness. – Hebrews 12.8-10
When we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned with the world. – 1 Corin 11.32
Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. – Revelation 3.19
They entice by sensual passions of the flesh those who are barely escaping from those who live in error. – 2 Peter 2.18
Each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. 14 If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. – 1 Corin 3.12-15
Examples in scripture
Judas Iscariot is a primary example of an apostate, a false believer, someone who appeared to be a true believer but then falls away and in the end showed he was never saved. The same is for all those whom are foreordained to God’s wrath (1 Thess 5.9).
We know that Judas was predestined for Hell, as scripture foretold however it was his own choices that lead him there. God foreknew Judas choice before the world was in motion (John 17.12), Judas even had an opportunity to repent, but instead he tried to pay for his sin with his own blood in committing suicide (Matt 27.5-8). Jesus even said it would be better for this man if he had never been born (Matt 26.24).
Judas Iscariot partook of the heavenly gifts and miracles (Luke 19.1-6), of the knowledge of Christ was even washed by Jesus. However he never had a true saving faith. We see all throughout scripture the truth of Judas heart. The Bible makes it clear Judas was not a true believer but a child of the devil (John 6.70). He sought opportunity to betray Jesus for money (Matt 26.16). He pretended to be concerned about the poor but truly on wanted to steal from them (John 12.6).
Peter faced a severe trial of denying Christ (Luke 22.34), and Satan asked to sift Peter like wheat, however Jesus prayed that his faith would not fail (Luke 22.32). Jesus then proceeds to tell Peter, knowing that he would repent and turns to Jesus again, to strengthen his brothers. In this same way Jesus prays for all his believers (Romans 8.34). Jesus tells us in John 17 that He does not pray for the world but those who the Father has given to Him (John 17.9-11).
Warning in the New Testament
The Apostle Paul continually warns Christians to test to see if they are truly in the faith (2 Corin 13.5) and the workout their own salvation with fear and trembling (Phil 2.12). This does not negate assurance but rather enforces it for the true believer. For only a true believer that loves God will continue to test his own heart to ensure he is following what the Spirit of truth teaches him.
What is the purpose of testing your heart if we are predestined or elect? If we are to work out our own salvation, who is to say that the fear and trembling you receive when learning about these verses is not one of the ways which God uses to keep us out of the ways of sin and death.
A person on the border of apostasy may hear these words of warning and turn back to God, knowing God’s judgment is going to fall upon him. In other words, this is how God predestined that person to be kept from apostasy, by mixing the word of warning with faith to keep them in God’s way. God gives the grace and ability to have obedience, but the faith of the individual in God causes him to repent. How can anyone turn back unless he hears the word of God, warning or otherwise (Romans 10.14-15)?
Early Church Fathers on Assurance of Salvation
The following are various quotes from early church fathers concerning the assurance of salvation, eternal security and falling away.
“This blessedness (preparation for goodness) comes upon those that are chosen of God by Jesus Christ our Lord,” – Clemens Romanus 69 a.d. – Epist. ad Corinth. 1:p. 114
All therefore are glorified and magnified, not by themselves or their own works of righteous actions, which they have wrought out, but by his will,” – Clemens Romanus 69 a.d. – Epist. ad Corinth Ep.1. p. 72.
not by ourselves, nor by our wisdom, or understanding, or piety, or the works which we have done in holiness of heart,’ but by faith by which God Almighty hath justified all from the beginning, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen
“whereas it is the will of God, that all whom he loves should partake of repentance, and so not perish with the unbelieving and impenitent, he has established it by his almighty will.’ But if any of those whom God wills should partake of the grace of repentance, should afterwards perish, where is his almighty will? And how is this matter settled and established by such a will of his?”– Clemens Romanus 69 a.d. Cor. p. 20
“They that are carnal,” says he, “cannot do the things that are spiritual, nor they that are spiritual do the things that are carnal, as neither faith the things of unbelief, nor unbelief the things of faith,” – Ignatius 110 a.d. Ep. ad Ephesians p. 22
“Mankind by Adam fell under death, and the deception of the serpent; that ‘we are born sinners;’ and that we are entirely flesh, and no good thing dwells in us; he asserts the weakness and disability of men either to understand or perform spiritual things, and denies that man, by the natural sharpness of his wit, can attain to the knowledge of divine things, or by any innate power in him save himself, and procure eternal life,” – Justin 150 a.d. Epist. ad Zenam, p. 506.
Having sometime before convinced us to of the impossibility of our nature to obtain life, hath now shown us the Savior, who is able to save that which otherwise were impossible to be saved,” – Justin 150 a.d. Epist. ad Diognet. p. 500
Do you think, O men, that we could ever have been able to have understood these things in the Scriptures, unless by the will of him that wills these things, we had received grace to understand them,” – Justin 150 a.d. Dialog. cum Tryph. p. 346.
Faith is not to be calumniated, as easy and vulgar, and what every one has. I say, therefore, that faith, whether it is founded on love or on fear, as the adversaries say, is something divine,” – Clements Alexandrius 190 a.d. Stromat, 1. 2, p. 372
“It remains, that by divine grace, and by the word alone, which is from God, we understand that which is unknown,” – Clements Alexandrius 190 a.d Stromat. 1.5, p. 588
Speaking of a devout and religious person, he says, that, “such a soul shall never at any time be separated from God,” – Clements Alexandrius 190 a.d Stromat. 1. 6, p. 670
“We shall not fall, into corruption, who pass through into incorruption, because he sustains us; for he hath said, and he will do it.” And a little after he says,“his, that is, Christ’s goodness towards them, who through hearing have believed, is immoveable, and turns neither one way nor another,” – Clements Alexandrius 190 a.d Paedagog. 1. 1, c. 9, p. 125-126
“Those who do not obey Him, but being disinherited by Him, have ceased to be His sons.” – Irenaus 202 a.d. Against Heresies 4.41.3
We should fear ourselves, least perchance after [we have come to] the knowledge of Christ, if we do things displeasing to God, we obtain no further forgiveness of sins, but are shut out from His Kingdom. And for that reason, Paul said, ‘For if [God] spared not the natural branches, [take heed] lest He also not spare you” (Romans 11:21). .” – Irenaus 202 a.d. Against Heresies 4.27.2
It is not to those who are on the outside that he said these things, but to us – LEST WE SHOULD BE CAST FORTH FROM THE KINGDOM OF GOD, by doing any such thing.” – Irenaus 202 a.d. Against Heresies 4.27.4
Only let not Christ be forsaken, so that THE LOSS OF SALVATION and of an eternal home would be feared.” – Cyprian 258 a.d. Treatise 3, Ch. 10
“Faith itself and the saving birth do not make alive by merely being received. Rather, they must be preserved…The Lord taught this in His instruction when He said…“Sin no more, lest a worst thing come upon you” (John 5:14)…SOLOMON, SAUL, and many others were able to keep the grace given to them so long as they walked in the Lord’s ways. However, when the discipline of the Lord was forsaken by them, grace also forsook them.” – Cyprian 258 a.d. Epistle 6.2
“Whoever that confessor is, he is not greater, better, or dearer to God than SOLOMON. Solomon retained the grace that he had received from the Lord, as long as he walked in God’s ways. However, AFTER HE FORSOOK THE LORD’S WAY, HE ALSO LOST THE LORD’S GRACE. For that reason it is written, ‘Hold fast that which you have, lest another take your crown’ (Revelation 3:11)…’He that endures to the end, the same shall be saved’ (Matthew 10:22).” – Cyprian 258 a.d. Treatise 1.20-21
“Even a baptized person LOSES THE GRACE that he has attained, unless he remains innocent.” – Cyprian 258 a.d. Treatise 12.3.27