I don’t really like the phrase “eternal security” or its popular counterpart “once saved always saved” because both tend to come with a huge amount of unscriptural theological baggage. For many people, “eternal security” means that if a person makes some sort of profession of faith and then lives a lifestyle totally at odds with that profession, even renouncing Christianity altogether, they are still “saved” because “once saved, always saved.” I don’t believe that to be a scriptural concept in any way at all.
While it is true that a genuinely regenerated Christian can be secure in their salvation for all eternity, this is not because of a one time profession of faith so much as the possession of faith. All those who possess true faith will of course profess it, but a mere claim to faith is not enough. As James chapter 2 makes clear, faith without works is dead and a dead faith never saves anyone.
The Bible makes it clear that there is a false faith that is in no way the genuine article. Faith of the real kind will produce fruit – evidence of the Holy Spirit’s abiding presence in the person’s life. That is why we are told to examine ourselves to see whether we are in the faith (2 Cor 13:5). Rather than simply being told to recall a time in our past when we made a profession we are exhorted instead to examine ourselves to see if there is present day evidence that we are truly His. As J. C. Ryle once remarked, “A tree will always be known by its fruit, and a true Christian will always be discovered by their habits, tastes and affections.”
While I certainly do believe in the eternal security of the believer, I tend to avoid the two phrases mentioned above, preferring the theological term “perseverance of the saints” or even better “the preservation of the saints.” Those who are justified will be glorified (Romans 8:30). True believers will continue in the faith because their faith is a supernatural gift from God and by its very nature, is something that endures. The Apostle John recognized this when he wrote: “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.” (1 John 2:19). The true saint perseveres because God preserves him! The One who started the work will bring it to completion until the day of Jesus Christ (Phil. 1:6).
Yet there is a big picture concept that we need to see involving the work of the Trinity in salvation. From the archives at http://www.aomin.org, in an article entitled “Eternal Security: Based on the Tri-Unity of God” Dr. James White writes:
I remember passing notes with a friend of mine in high school. We were debating that age old doctrine of eternal security. He didn’t believe in it, and I did. A few months ago, while cleaning out one of those old drawers that you haven’t opened in about ten years, I found one of those notes. I had to chuckle some as I read it. From a hopefully more mature position I could see that my friend was not realty talking about eternal security – he was pushing works-salvation. And I could also see that I was doing little more than quoting a verse here and a verse there – I never got into the basis for the belief. Maybe that’s why we never got anywhere in the discussion? And, probably, that’s why so many Christians today who engage in the same debate feel that they, too, never get anywhere.During the summer I translated the Gospel of John. While translating the sixth chapter of that wonderful book, I ran across Jesus’ clear presentation of the doctrines of election and eternal security in verses 37 through 46. My Greek professor has many times said that the best commentary on the New- Testament is the New-Testament in Greek – and he is right. One of the reasons is that you see things that you would not otherwise notice when reading an English translation. From this work of translation, I came to set how the eternal security of the believer is based upon the very nature of God. In John chapter six, this is represented by the functions of the Father and the Son in salvation. And in Ephesians 1:13-14, the Holy Spirit’s role is presented. We will look at both of these passages to see how our salvation is based upon the Tri-Une nature of God.
Secure in the Father and the Son
Jesus said, “Everyone whom the Father gives to Me shall come to Me, and the one coming to Me I will never cast out; because I have come from heaven not in order to do My will but the will of Him who sent Me; and this is the will of the one who sent Me: that of all which He has given Me from Him, I lose nothing but raise it up at the last day.” (John 6:37-39). Jesus presents the complete sovereignty of God in salvation. All that the Father gives to Jesus – everyone – will come to Him. The operative factor in answering the question of why some come and others, presented with the same opportunity, do not, is simply the nature of the Father’s choice. The Father “gives” persons to the Son – a gift of love, to be sure. When the Father gives to the Son a person, that person will come to Christ (as the one avenue to the Father). There is no question that if a person is so given to Christ (or, to use the terminology of verse 44, is so “drawn” by the Father) that he/she will come to Christ. This is the “Godward” side of salvation – absolute certainty and security. Yet, He says that they will “come to Me” which speaks of the human response – not that the human can change the decision of God – but that the response is there all the same. Man is not pictured simply as a “thing” that is bounced around like a ball, but rather a vastly important person who comes to Christ for salvation, all as the result of the gracious working of God in his/her life.
Jesus continues by stating that when one is so given to Him by the Father, and comes to Him, that one is secure in their relationship with Him – He will never cast them out. The aorist subjunctive of strong denial makes it clear that rejection of one who seeks refuge in Christ is a complete and total impossibility. What words to a sinners heart! Those who come to Christ will find Him a loving Lord who will never cast out those who trust in Him!
Why will the Lord never cast out those who come to Him? Verse 38 continues the thought with the explanation – the Son has come to do the will of the Father. And what is the will of the Father? That “of all which He has given Me from Him I lose nothing hut raise it up at the last day.” Can we doubt that Christ will do what He promises? Will the Lord Jesus ever fail to do the Father’s will? Here is eternal security beyond dispute. But note that again all is pre-eminently balanced – the security of the person is based on two things – the will of the Father that none he lost, and secondly, the fact that those who are not lost are those who are given to the Son by the Father Himself. So, in reality, there is security in the Father (He gives us to Christ) and security in the Son (He always does the Father’s will).
The realization of the co-operation and interaction of the Father and the Son in the salvation of each individual Christian is an awesome thing! It is self-evident why so many soteriological systems cannot deal with eternal security – it is based on the understanding that salvation is completely the work of God! Man is the object of salvation, the object of God’s sovereign grace. The gospel is the message of grace, and grace is something given totally on the basis of God’s desire to give it. Such is terribly damaging to man’s “self-esteem” and to any concept of our being able to save ourselves or even to “help God along” in our being made righteous. We must realize that we come to God wholly unworthy of His love and grace, totally incapable of effecting even the beginning of His work in our hearts.
Once we rest ourselves in God’s provision of salvation, however, we see that our position in Him is one that is based upon the sovereign act of the Father in giving us to the Son, and in the eternal obedience of the Son to the Father in effecting our salvation! Can we possibly picture a more secure situation than this? I think not! But wait, there is more…
Sealed by the Spirit
Paul wrote, “…by whom also, having believed, you were sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the down-payment of our inheritance, unto the redemption of His possession, unto the praise of His glory.” (Ephesians 1:13-14). In this signal passage that is found, rather significantly I think, on the heels of some of the loftiest teaching on the eternal predestination of God in verses 3 through 12, we find the fact that the Holy Spirit is described in two important ways relevant to our eternal security. First, we are said to he “sealed” by the Holy Spirit of promise. This term was used in secular documents to refer to the act of placing a seal upon one’s possessions to mark them as one’s own. In this case, the presence of the Holy Spirit in a person’s life is God’s way of sealing that person as His own. The believer is shown to he God’s “own property” – His possession.
Paralleled with this is the phrase “who is the down-payment of our inheritance..” Both phrases speak of the same fact. Here the Spirit is described by the Greek term arrabon – a term used in secular documents to refer to guarantee money. The giving of an arrabon contracted the giver to finish the process of payment. In our context, this would refer to the fact that the Holy Spirit in a believer’s life is the guarantee on the part of God the Father of completing the work which He has begun in that life (Philippians 1:6). Both phrases are then tied together by the paralleling of “promise” and “inheritance.” These terms are used by Paul of the completion of God’s work of salvation in our lives in the end time.
Hence, we see that the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives is God’s way of “this person is mine – I have begun of salvation in his/her life, and by placing My Spirit in this life. I am telling all that this person belongs to Me, and I will finish the work I have begun!”
We learn from other discussions of the role of the Spirit in the believer’s life [e.g., Romans 8] that the Spirit empowers and sanctifies the believer as well. So it is clear that each of the Divine Persons is vitally involved in the work of salvation. The Father sovereignly and unilaterally chooses us for salvation. He gives us to the Son, who, in obedience to the Father’s will, saves those who are joined to Him by the Father, and raises us up to eternal life. The Spirit of God is placed in our lives to empower and seal us as God’s own possession. Salvation, then, is of God – God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Since salvation is of God, and is God’s work, its eternal character is simply the reflection of the nature of its author – God Himself. Each of the three Persons is intimately involved in bringing about the salvation of the elect, and that salvation is eternal and secure.