There are few topics debated as fiercely in the theological world as the subject of eternal security. It is a fair topic to address as whether Christians can lose their salvation or not should be very important to the way every Christian lives their life. A back and forth discussion format of this debate is also presented on this site as was done for a school project several years ago. Neither this article nor the discussion should be considered exhaustive on the subject but should provide an adequate overview on eternal security.
Eternal security goes by many other terms such as Once Saved Always Saved (OSAS is a common abbreviation) perseverance of the saints, or preservation of the saints. Perseverance of the saints is probably the most proper term as used by Calvinists in their five points.
In short, eternal security means that once a Christian has become a Christian, there is absolutely nothing they can do to lose their salvation. Scripture would indicate that we are sealed with the Holy Spirit at the time of salvation. 2 Corinthians 1:22 states, “He has also sealed us and given us the Spirit as a down payment in our hearts.” Likewise, Ephesians 4:30 states “And don’t grieve God’s Holy Spirit, who sealed you for the day of redemption.”
Romans 8:35-39 instructs us that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: ‘For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
The perseverance of the saints is a key tenant of Calvinistic beliefs. However, there are others who do not consider themselves to be Calvinists who also hold to this belief. For the Calvinist, it is almost impossible to believe anything else.
Because Calvinists believe in election by God, each and every Christian has been chosen to receive salvation. The “who”, “what”, and “how” of election varies within those who hold to Calvinistic doctrines but is immaterial to our argument. The importance is that God is the one who does the calling and election and He is the one who is sovereignly in control. Because of this, it would be foolish (if not impossible) for God to choose someone He would know would later lose their salvation. For such a situation to occur, either God would not be able to know those who would later reject Him, or he would know and choose them regardless of that knowledge.
While there is Biblical evidence in support of eternal security, one cannot overlook evidence against it as well. The book of Hebrews offers stark warnings against those who would backslide in their faith. In the letters to the churches in Revelation 2-3 Jesus offers rewards “to those who overcome.” Those who argue against eternal security will say that these passages open up the possibility for a believer to backslide and to not overcome.
Although undoubtedly many explanations have been given for these verses, the most common is that such passages are merely hypothetical and not meant as a warning but as motivation for the believer. All Christians will overcome because God will strengthen them supernaturally with the help of the Holy Spirit.
Still to be addressed are Christians who appear to have fallen from faith. The stories are numerous and hard to ignore. They include pastors caught in affairs to a number of adults who made a profession of faith as a child or teen but now want nothing to do with church. Those who do not believe in eternal security will point to such cases as proof positive that one can lose their salvation.
James Kennedy, founder of Evangelism Explosion and staunch Calvinist writes about such a case in one of his books. It has been some years since I read the book and I no longer remember the title or all the exact details, nevertheless, I remember Kennedy’s point well. While at the funeral of a gang member in his early twenties he happened upon the mother of the gunned down young man. The mother was comforted by the fact that the young man was a Christian because he made a profession of faith when he was twelve. Kennedy goes on to write that despite the young man’s earlier confession, he did not wish to spend eternity chained alongside him.
Kennedy’s conclusion is that the young man was never a true believer and thus it was not possible for him to have lost his salvation. This would be a logical conclusion and probably reached by 95% of the evangelical community regardless of their stance on eternal security.
Still, the question persists of those who appear to be true believers who get caught in a life of sin and walk away from God and the church. Can it be said that a supposedly faithful Christian of twenty years was never really saved? Those in the eternal security camp split on the issue. Some will say that indeed the person never was truly saved and that if they had been, they would never be able to walk away from the faith. Others will say that although the person is living a sinful life and has walked away from God, they are still a Christian, albeit a carnal one. Carnal Christians is a term that is often used to describe such people who once appeared to be Christians but now do not.
God does not turn a blind eye to carnal Christians but they do not lose their salvation. An example of carnal Christians, according to those who believe in eternal security, is that of Ananias and Saphira. Peter catches them in a lie and claims that they have lied to the Holy Spirit. They are then struck dead. They lost their life, but not their salvation. God acted and prevented them from continuing in their life of sin.
The issue of eternal security is an issue of salvation. Regardless of whether one believes in eternal security or not, they should have assurance of their salvation. The Holy Spirit is proof of one’s salvation. While charismatics and Pentecostals may require proof of the Holy Spirit by speaking in tongues, other groups may look for proof of the Spirit in the fruit of the Spirit. Jesus makes it clear that God is looking for fruit and fruit should be evident in the life of a Christian.
On the other hand, regardless of one’s stance on eternal security, when we see a person who claims to be a Christian but doesn’t live a life in accordance with this, we need to do all that we can to get that person back to walking with the Lord. Regardless whether there is a true danger of losing one’s salvation or if this is evidence they never were truly saved, this person is in need of Christian help.
Although this issue is a divisive one, we should remember that we are all in the business of saving souls. In the end, it should not matter whether our salvation is secure or not, we should be doing all we can to walk in accordance with God’s Word and helping others to do so as well. If we do so, we have absolutely nothing to fear, regardless of which side is correct.