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PFRS Home > Doctrinal Studies > Eternal Security > Introduction

Eternal Security?
Copyright © Tim Warner - 03/2003

Many Christians today insist that once you are truly born again, you can never be lost, no matter what. There are three common terms used to describe this view. Probably the best known is "OSAS" ("once saved always saved"). Another term is "eternal security." But, the term best liked by Calvinists is "perseverance of the saints."

Few Evangelical and Fundamental Christians realize that OSAS is the minority view in Christianity today. It is held almost exclusively by Presbyterians, Baptists, and some non-denominational groups with roots in one of these two denominations. OSAS is rejected by the majority of Christians. But, what may come as a bigger shock is that OSAS is a new doctrine unheard of prior to John Calvin. For the first 1500 years of Christianity, Christians believed it was possible for true believers to fall away and be lost forever if they did not persevere in their faith unto the end. In the words of John Wesley: "whatever is true is not new; whatever is new is not true."

The Orthodox View from the Early Church to Luther
The earliest Christians taught that perseverance was not guarenteed, and that many true Christians would not finish the race, and would be lost. Intense persecution in the early Church brought this issue to the fore. Some were faithful even to martyrdom, and others forsook the Faith when faced with death or torture. The following quote from Irenaeus (early 2nd cent.) illustrates the early Christian view immediately following the time of the Apostles.

"And to as many as continue in their love towards God, does He grant communion with Him. But communion with God is life and light, and the enjoyment of all the benefits which He has in store. But on as many as, according to their own choice, depart from God. He inflicts that separation from Himself which they have chosen of their own accord. But separation from God is death, and separation from light is darkness; and separation from God consists in the loss of all the benefits which He has in store. Those, therefore, who cast away by apostasy these forementioned things, being in fact destitute of all good, do experience every kind of punishment. God, however, does not punish them immediately of Himself, but that punishment falls upon them because they are destitute of all that is good. Now, good things are eternal and without end with God, and therefore the loss of these is also eternal and never-ending. It is in this matter just as occurs in the case of a flood of light: those who have blinded themselves, or have been blinded by others, are for ever deprived of the enjoyment of light. It is not, [however], that the light has inflicted upon them the penalty of blindness, but it is that the blindness itself has brought calamity upon them: and therefore the Lord declared, “He that believeth in Me is not condemned,” that is, is not separated from God, for he is united to God through faith. On the other hand, He says, “He that believeth not is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only-begotten Son of God;” that is, he separated himself from God of his own accord. “For this is the condemnation, that light is come into this world, and men have loved darkness rather than light. For every one who doeth evil hateth the light, and cometh not to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that he has wrought them in God.”" (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book V, XXVII, 2)

While predestination was taught beginning with St. Augustine in the 5th century, even Augustine believed that perseverance was not guarenteed to all believers. He taught that one could not know for sure whether he had the "gift of perseverance" until his death. Augustine taught that true Christians should pray continually that God would grant them the grace to persevere unto the end, and that some true Christians would NOT persevere and would be lost. Here are two excerpts from St. Augustine's treatise "On the Gift of Perseverance."

"I have now to consider the subject of perseverance with greater care; for in the former book also I said some things on this subject when I was discussing the beginning of faith. I assert, therefore, that the perseverance by which we persevere in Christ even to the end is the gift of God; and I call that the end by which is finished that life wherein alone there is peril of falling. Therefore it is uncertain whether any one has received this gift so long as he is still alive. For if he fall before he dies, he is, of course, said not to have persevered; and most truly is it said. How, then, should he be said to have received or to have had perseverance who has not persevered? For if any one have continence, and fall away from that virtue and become incontinent, - or, in like manner, if he have righteousness, if patience, if even faith, and fall away, he is rightly said to have had these virtues and to have them no longer; for he was continent, or he was righteous, or he was patient, or he was believing, as long as he was so; but when he ceased to be so, he no longer is what he was. But how should he who Has not persevered have ever been persevering, since it is only by persevering that any one shows himself persevering, - and this he has not done? But lest any one should object to this, and say, If from the time at which any one became a believer he has lived - for the sake of argument - ten years, and in the midst of them has fallen from the faith, has he not persevered for five years? I am not contending about words. If it be thought that this also should be called perseverance, as it were for so long as it lasts, assuredly he is not to be said to have had in any degree that perseverance of which we are now discoursing, by which one perseveres in Christ even to the end. And the believer of one year, or of a period as much shorter as may be conceived of, if he has lived faithfully until he died, has rather had this perseverance than the believer of many years’ standing, if a little time before his death he has fallen away from the steadfastness of his faith."

"But, on the other hand, “of his own will a man forsakes God, so as to be deservedly forsaken by God.” Who would deny this? But it is for that reason we ask not to be led into temptation, so that this may not happen. And if we are heard, certainly it does not happen, because God does not allow it to happen. For nothing comes to pass except what either He Himself does, or Himself allows to be done. Therefore He is powerful both to turn wills from evil to good, and to convert those that are inclined to fall, or to direct them into a way pleasing to Himself. For to Him it is not said in vain, “O God, Thou shalt turn again and quicken us;” it is not vainly said, “Give not my foot to be moved;” it is not vainly said, “Give me not over, O Lord, from my desire to the sinner;” finally, not to mention many passages, since probably more may occur to you, it is not vainly said, “Lead us not into temptation.” For whoever is not led into temptation, certainly is not led into the temptation of his own evil will; and he who is not led into the temptation of his own evil will, is absolutely led into no temptation. For “every one is tempted,” as it is written, “when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed;” “but God tempteth no man,” - that is to say, with a hurtful temptation. For temptation is moreover beneficial by which we are not deceived or overwhelmed, but proved, according to that which is said, “Prove me, O Lord, and try me.” Therefore, with that hurtful temptation which the apostle signifies when he says, “Lost by some means the tempter have tempted you, and our labor be in vain,” “God tempteth no man,” as I have said, - that is, He brings or leads no one into temptation. For to be tempted and not to be led into temptation is not evil, - nay, it is even good; for this it is to be proved. When, therefore, we say to God, “Lead us not into temptation,” what do we say but, “Permit us not to be led”? Whence some pray in this manner, and it is read in many codices, and the most blessed Cyprian thus uses it: “Do not suffer us to be led into temptation.” In the Greek gospel, however, I have never found it otherwise than, “Lead us not into temptation.” We live, therefore, more securely if we give up the whole to God, and do not entrust ourselves partly to Him and partly to ourselves, as that venerable martyr saw. For when he would expound the same clause of the prayer, he says among other things, “But when we ask that we may not come into temptation, we are reminded of our infirmity and weakness while we thus ask, lest any should insolently vaunt himself, - lest any should proudly and arrogantly assume anything to himself, - lest any should take to himself the glory either of confession or suffering as his own; since the Lord Himself, teaching humility, said, ‘Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation; the Spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.’ So that when a humble and submissive confession comes first and all is attributed to God, whatever is sought for suppliantly, with the fear of God, may be granted by His own loving-kindness.”" (Augustine, On the Gift of Perseverance, Ch. I, XII)

In essence, Augustine taught that true Christians ought to pray always for the grace to persevere, and that only when he finished his life, having been faithful unto death, could it be known that he would persevere. Perseverance was something entirely separate from true regeneration by the Spirit. Even truely born-again Christians might not persevere, and could be lost, in Augustine's theology. Consequently, not all born-again Christians will ultimately make up the "elect." That true Christians could fall away and be eternally lost was the universal view of Christian writers prior to Calvin.

Even Martin Luther, who is claimed by Calvinists as one of their own, acknowledged the possibility of a Christian falling away into unbelief. Here are a few quotes, beginning with Luther's comment on the statement of the Lord's prayer, "lead us not into temptation."

"We have now heard enough what toil and labor is required to retain all that for which we pray, and to persevere therein, which, however, is not achieved without infirmities and stumbling. Besides, although we have received forgiveness and a good conscience and are entirely acquitted, yet is our life of such a nature that one stands to-day and to-morrow falls. Therefore, even though we be godly now and stand before God with a good conscience, we must pray again that He would not suffer us to relapse and yield to trials and temptations. ... Then comes the devil, inciting and provoking in all directions, but especially agitating matters that concern the conscience and spiritual affairs, namely, to induce us to despise and disregard both the Word and works of God to tear us away from faith, hope, and love and bring us into misbelief, false security, and obduracy, or, on the other hand, to despair, denial of God, blasphemy, and innumerable other shocking things. These are indeed snares and nets, yea, real fiery darts which are shot most venomously into the heart, not by flesh and blood, but by the devil. Great and grievous, indeed, are these dangers and temptations which every Christian must bear, even though each one were alone by himself, so that every hour that we are in this vile life where we are attacked on all sides, chased and hunted down, we are moved to cry out and to pray that God would not suffer us to become weary and faint and to relapse into sin, shame, and unbelief. For otherwise it is impossible to overcome even the least temptation. This, then, is leading us not into temptation, to wit, when He gives us power and strength to resist, the temptation, however, not being taken away or removed. For while we live in the flesh and have the devil about us, no one can escape temptation and allurements; and it cannot be otherwise than that we must endure trials, yea, be engulfed in them; but we pray for this, that we may not fall and be drowned in them." (Martin Luther, Large Catechism XII, On the Lord's Prayer, 6th Petition).

"Through baptism these people threw out unbelief, had their unclean way of life washed away, and entered into a pure life of faith and love. Now they fall away into unbelief" (Martin Luther, Commentary on 2 Peter 2:22). 

"Verse 4, "Ye are fallen from grace." That means you are no longer in the kingdom or condition of grace. When a person on board ship falls into the sea and is drowned it makes no difference from which end or side of the ship he falls into the water. Those who fall from grace perish no matter how they go about it. ... The words, "Ye are fallen from grace," must not be taken lightly. They are important. To fall from grace means to lose the atonement, the forgiveness of sins, the righteousness, liberty, and life which Jesus has merited for us by His death and resurrection. To lose the grace of God means to gain the wrath and judgment of God, death, the bondage of the devil, and everlasting condemnation." (Martin Luther, Commentary on Galatians, 5:4). 

After the Reformation, John Calvin further developed Augustine's theology of predestination, and added "perseverance of the saints" as one of his five pillars of "Calvinism." In Calvinism, all those who are drawn of the Spirit will be saved, and will persevere unto the end. Man simply has no choice in the matter. In Calvinist thinking, God determines who will be saved and who will be lost. Ultimately, man's choice or "free will" is just an illusion. He really has no independant choice in the matter at all. If God elects certain people to be saved, and pre-determines their eternal destiny, the thought of someone "falling away" from the faith is preposterous. They simply have no choice in the matter.

Baptists & Eternal Security
Baptists and some non-denominational churches, who are not Calvinistic in general, hold to the fifth point of Calvinism, which they call "eternal security." In essence, they teach that man has a "free will" UNTIL he accepts Christ and becomes a Christian. From that point on he has no choice in the matter.

The Roman Catholic Church strongly opposes OSAS, both the Calvinistic form and the Baptist form. In fact, the RCC teaches that you are not fully "saved" until you get to heaven. They believe that salvation is a lifelong process, and that in this life, Christians can never really be sure they are saved. Integral in this line of thinking, is that one must perform good works and lead a holy life to help ensure their salvation. Also, certain sins are said to be serious enough to forfeit one's salvation.

Because of the apparent connection between "works" and maintaining one's salvation in RCC thinking, Baptists and Calvinists have assumed that anyone who believes a Christian can depart from God and be lost is teaching a works-based salvation message. However, this assumption is wrong as we shall see in the following articles.

The Biblical View
Let me say at the outset, that I believe the RCC doctrine of salvation by faith plus works is a false gospel that cannot save anyone. I am convinced the Scriptures teach salvation is by God's grace, not by our own merits. It is a free gift offered to all who believe. Salvation is gained by faith alone, and works have no part whatever in our being saved, or in maintaining our salvation.

Now, some might assume this means one can never depart from God. But this is not true. Many passages indicate true Christians can be lost. How? Through UNBELIEF. One must believe the gospel in order to be saved, and one must continue to believe the gospel to continue "in Christ." It is as simple as that. Works don't play any part in initial "believing," nor do they play a part in your continued "believing." It is initially by faith, and it continues to be by faith throughout the Christian life.

All of this is taught explicitly in Scripture. In the following series of articles, we will display the evidence for you to judge. OSAS may have some Scriptures that seem to support it. But, there are many Scriptures for which it simply cannot account. Likewise, the RCC might have a couple of verses from James that seem to support their teaching, but there are several Scriptures that flatly contradict their teaching regarding salvation. The truth can be found only by harmonising all of the Scriptures on this topic. The view presented in these articles fully preserves the idea of salvation by grace through faith, not by works. It also integrates the many warnings in Scripture against departing from God.

Salvation by grace through faith alone is at the heart of the Gospel message. While eternal life is a free gift of God's grace, it is applied to the individual by faith. Man cannot in any way save himself, but he can access the grace of God by simply choosing to accept the offer of salvation through the blood of Christ, when he is drawn by the Holy Spirit. It is through the exercise of the will that he responds to God by faith. Faith is simply believing what God has said, and resting in that promise. A person who is saved by God's grace through exercising faith continues to believe the Gospel throughout his Christian life. It takes no effort on our part to believe. We simply respond and surrender to the drawing of the Spirit. In fact, true faith is resting in God's promise, not clinging to it by works of our own merit. It is obvious then, that continuing to maintain one's faith throughout life requires no effort, but a continued resting in the finished work of Christ. Make no mistake. The warnings in God's Word are real. For example, in John 15:1-7, Jesus repeatedly warned the disciples to continue "in Christ." For those who do not heed the warnings, the result is to be "burned." Many other passages include similar warnings. The early Church held this view. "For when the soul that is united with Christ forsakes its faith, it is given over to perpetual death, viz., eternal punishment." (Hippolytus, On Daniel, vi). We come to God by faith, but it is through unbelief that one departs from God. By maintaining faith we persevere to the end. But, through unbelief we can depart from God and be eternally damned. Jesus taught that in the last days many would abandon the faith. Paul called this the "falling away." We need to be aware of the Scriptural teaching regarding our security in Christ, because the danger of apostasy is real.

Matt 24:9-13
9 "Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations on account of My name.
10 "And at that time many will fall away and will deliver up one another and hate one another.
11 "And many false prophets will arise, and will mislead many.
12 "And because lawlessness is increased, most people's love (agape) will grow cold.
13 "But the one who endures to the end, he shall be saved.

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