What is Eternal Salvation?
We need salvation when we're unable to help ourselves. The Bible speaks of salvation in many ways. For example, the book of Exodus records God saving His people from slavery. In the book of Daniel, God even saved men from lions (Daniel 6:20-23). Yet our greatest need is salvation from sin. All of us do evil, but God is too pure to accept it (Habakkuk 1:13). Therefore, none will experience the joy of God's presence unless they are saved from their sin. Humans need to be made pure like God is.
A hopeless man in prison once asked how to be saved. The Apostle Paul answered, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household" (Acts 16:31). The man and his family had a great celebration after believing this amazing news (Acts 16:33-34). He didn't ask, "What must I do to stay saved?" But this is the topic at hand. Is there anything a person can do to lose their eternal salvation? The Christian church has disagreed about this profound question throughout history.
The teaching that eternal salvation can never be lost is known as eternal security. Some Christian believers call it once saved, always saved. According to this view, God will not fail to bring all Christians into His loving presence. All believers will enjoy unending spiritual blessings.
What is God's Purpose for Eternal Salvation?
We are convinced that God has a certain purpose for eternal salvation. Romans 8:28 tells us that God the Father makes sure all things work out to benefit those who love Him and are "called according to His purpose." According to Ephesians 1:4, God's goal is to make sinners into people who are "holy and blameless before him." However, Jesus teaches we must be "born again" first (Jn. 3:7). In other words, a sinner's heart must be made new in order to know God (John 17:3). We are also told in John 1:12-13 that reborn believers become children of God. These children reach their full maturity when they are given new perfect bodies to live with God forever (Rom. 8:23). Jesus says in John 14:2, "In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?" Let's see how God does this.
How Does God Accomplish Eternal Salvation?
Romans 8:28-30 says,
"28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified."
In verse 29, "foreknow" does not mean that God looked into the future to see what people would do. God can't learn about people's actions. Why? He knows everything from all eternity. Instead, this verse suggests God always "knew" them as His people before they were born.
Verse 30 lays out the chain of events of God's saving acts. All of God's foreknown people are predestined to become more like Jesus. To 'predestine' means to preplan a destiny. When God calls the predestined people at a specific time in their life, He draws them to belong to Christ (cf. Romans 1:7; John. 6:44). At this moment, a person now believes God's message of salvation. God counts their faith as righteousness, so they do not have to pay the eternal penalty for sin (Romans 4:5). Another explanation of this can be found in 2 Corinthians 5:21. It says, "For our sake he [God] made him [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we [Christians] might become the righteousness of God." With this said, we know Jesus, the Son of God, was not a sinner. Yet Matthew 27:46 records God treating Jesus as a sinner. How? The Father sends the Son to suffer the penalty of sin on the cross. On the other hand, while all true believers in Christ are still sinners, the Father now treats them as sons (1 Jn. 3:1). What an amazing exchange for sinners! The conclusion of verse 30 is that all those who are justified (i.e., declared righteous) by God are also glorified. This is so certain that it is written in the past tense! Glorification is the point when the foreknown, predestined, called, and justified people receive their new bodies to dwell with God forever (Phil. 30:20-21). There are none who are foreknown, predestined, called, and justified who are also not glorified!
What are God's Promises of Eternal Salvation?
Not only did God tell us about His purpose in salvation, but He also leaves us with many promises about it. Our confidence in God's promises is based on His unchanging nature. God proclaims in Malachi 3:6, "For I the LORD do not change." The Apostle Paul says in Titus 1:2 that the hope of eternal life is something "God, who never lies, promised before the ages began." Ephesians 1:13-14 tells reborn believers they are "sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is our guarantee of our inheritance. . . ." Jesus' disciple Peter tells Christians that this inheritance is "imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time" (1 Pet. 1:4-5). Here is another way to put it:
(1) Romans 11:29 says "the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable."
(2) Ephesians 2:8 says salvation is "the gift of God."
From these verses, we can conclude:
(3) God's gift of salvation is irrevocable. He will never take it back.
Jesus also insists in John 5:24 that anyone who believes in him already crossed from death to life. He promises in John 6:40 that "everyone who looks to the Son and believes in Him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day." His promise in John 10:28 goes like this: "I give them eternal life, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of my hand." The next verse declares no one can snatch them out of Father's hand either. Still, some Christians insist they have the free choice to fall out of God's hand.
How Do We Answer Objections to Eternal Salvation?
Some argue that salvation is received freely, so it can be renounced freely. However, Norman Geisler notes in the third volume of his Systematic Theology that certain human free acts are also one-way actions. An example is the decision to commit suicide. A person doesn't have the power to reverse their situation in that case. In the same way, a Christian can't undo the work that God has already done in their life. The Gospel of John reminds us that salvation originates with God rather than human decision (1:13). Philippians 1:6 also states that God completes the work of salvation that He began. It's God's power that keeps Christians in relationship with Him on earth and in heaven.
Others say eternal security is dangerous, because it gives Christians an excuse to live in sin. The Bible speaks to this in Romans 6:1-2: "What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?" Also, Titus 2:10-12 tells us that God's grace teaches us to deny our sin and live upright lives. The fear of losing salvation doesn't need to be the motivation for avoiding sin. Loving God is the motivatation for avoiding sin as 1 John 4:18 says, "There is no fear in love, but perfect love drived out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love." Believers are not supposed to fear death or hell. Indeed Jesus came to "free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives" (Hebrews 2:15).
We acknowledge that the Bible is clear in Hebrews 12:5-8 that the heavenly Father disciplines His children. 1 John 5:15 says Christians can sin leading to physical death. Jesus tells us in John 15:4 that Christians need to trust him in order to grow. Without growth, we will be ashamed when Christ returns for us (1 Jn. 2:28). We can also lose heavenly rewards (1 Corinthians 3:15; 2 Corinthians 5:10). Though fellowship with God may be temporarily harmed (1 Jn. 1:6-7), our relationship with Him stays secure based on what Christ has done on our behalf (Rom. 5:1). "For by one offering He has perfected all time those who are sanctified" (Hebrews 10:14).
God's Eternal Love is the Basis for Eternal Salvation
We believe a Christian can't lose their eternal life. If you lose something eternal, then it wasn't eternal to begin with. It's God's purpose to adopt believers into His family, and God will never un-adopt them. God's eternal love for His children should help us "grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God" (Eph. 3:18-19).