Another Look at the Believer’s Assurance of Salvation

In case you are wondering what I mean by ‘another’ look, I’ll tell you. Quite some time ago, we published a post discussing what might be THE definitive passage concerning the believer’s assurance of salvation:

“I give them (my sheep) eternal life, and they will never perish; no one will snatch them from my hand.” – John 10:28

Whenever I am asked If I a believer can lose his/her salvation, this passage is both the first and final answer, no matter where the conversation takes us. If we are granted ‘eternal’ life at the moment at the moment we believe in Jesus for forgiveness and salvation (and we are), if ‘never’ means NEVER (and it does), and if ‘perish’ means wake up in Hell (and it does), as far as I’m concerned, it’s game over; end of discussion. No matter how many ‘warning’ passages are trotted out to ‘prove’ salvation can be forfeited, that which is abundantly clear must be used to interpret that which is not as clear in scripture. It’s a tried and true hermeneutical principle. You can read the entire post here.

This time I would like to take a look at another set of verses used as arguments from both sides of the aisle; from those who believe you can lose/forfeit your salvation and from those who believe that God always ‘keeps’ whom he ‘saves’.

You already know where I stand on this issue, so let’s get to it!

The passage to which I refer is Romans 8:1-6:

1There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. 3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6 For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. (Rom 8:1-6 ESV)(Emphasis mine)

First, let’s consider verse 1:

1There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Those who hold to the position that salvation once granted can be lost will base their argument on the two emphasized phrases. If there is now no condemnation (judgment) there could exist a possibility of later condemnation if one were to move from being in Christ Jesus to a position outside of Christ. On its face, that sounds quite logical, but if we put it back in the larger context, is it?. Let’s do that.

First note the ‘therefore’ in verse 1. As we all know, when we see a ‘therefore’ we need to find out what the ‘therefore’ is there for. In this case we look back to Chapter 7, in which the Apostle Paul is discussing having been released from bondage to the Law. Old Testament Jewish law did carry condemnation for all those living under its principles, as Paul once did before he was saved on the road to Damascus and was placed in Christ. Condemnation ceased the moment Paul was placed in Christ on that dusty road.

That brings us to the in Christ issue in verse 1. Is it possible for anyone who is in Christ today to end up outside of Christ at a later date/time? Well, to be outside of Christ is to perish, or face condemnation. If those who are in Christ are those to whom has been granted eternal life, and if Jesus said that those to whom he gives eternal life shall never perish (John 10:28), those in Christ will never find themselves outside of Christ!

Now let’s take a look at the issue of ‘walking according to the flesh’ and ‘walking according to the Spirit. Some will say that a believer must first of all be in Christ and be walking according to the Spirit, or he/she might lose their salvation. They tell us that a believer can choose to walk according to the flesh or according to the Spirit at any given moment. While we would all agree that believers may decide to follow the flesh or the Spirit when facing temptation, is that what the term ‘walk’ means in these passages?

Let’s take a closer look.

If we again refer back to larger context of Chapter 7, walking after the flesh clearly means living by OT Law, a life principle rather than a momentary submitting to temptation. The grammatical construct demands that the phrase ‘walking after the Spirit’ shares the same lifestyle meaning. This parallel construct is seen more clearly in verse 2, “For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.” When anyone is bondage to OT law the natural course of life is under the law of sin and death. When a person is found in Christ he/she is living under the law of the Spirit of life, an entirely different course!

The Apostle seems to have spoken of this ‘tale of two natures’ in his 2nd Letter to the church at Corinth:

17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Cor 5:17 ESV)

As believers we battle with sin, just as Paul did (see Romans 7). At the same time, because of our new nature in Christ, we walk according to the Spirit as the natural pattern of our lives.

A freely admit that this little discussion is a small part of the discussion around the assurance of salvation, but for one old guy it’s been a profitable exercise in wrapping this old brain around the issue. I hope it has been useful for anyone who reads this post.

May God bless you all!

Can a Christian Lose His or Her Salvation?

What follows is an excerpt from an article that bears the same title as this post. You can read it here.

Scripture teaches that believers must persevere until the end, but also that believers will persevere until the end by God’s grace. As the Westminster Assembly concluded, Christians might temporarily yield to Satan’s temptations, even to excess, but like Peter when he denied Christ three times, God will still restore and preserve the faith of the Christian, a faith which God gave in the first place! Peter went on to be chief among the apostles! Two biblical principles must be held side-by-side:

1. You Must Persevere until the End: God’s Requirement of His People

God does not merely command us to begin to believe for a time, and then fall away. He requires us to continue to believe until the end, living lives of repentance and covenant faithfulness. Granted, He does not ask for a perfect faith, but He does ask for a real faith, one that produces real, lasting change.

• Colossians 1:21-23

• 1 John 1:5-10; 3:3-6

• Hebrews 10:26-31

• Hebrews 12:1

2. You Will Persevere Until the End: God’s Preservation of His People

We will persevere because God preserves us. God will keep us from falling—not one will be lost of all those who belong to the Son. True believers are not able to leave Christ, for Christ is at work within them.

• John 6:38-40

• John 10:28-29

• Romans 8:28-39

• Philippians 1:4-6

• Philippians 2:12-13

• 1 John 2:19

This first set of texts cannot be used to refute the second; nor can the second set of texts be used to refute the first (cheap grace). The point that makes the two compatible is the biblical teaching that faith (while commanded of everyone) is a gift from God to His elect. If faith is simply a human action of a free will, then it can be lost. But if saving faith is God’s gift, then it cannot be lost. Can professing Christians fall away? Yes, and they will perish. Can true Christians fall away? No, for they are kept by the invincible power of God in Christ. The Bible teaches us that professing Christians who leave the faith were never truly believers (1 John 2:19; and notice the qualification even in Hebrews 10:39).

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Dan’s question: If we agree that we are saved by faith alone in the finished work of Christ on the cross, but also assert that if we commit sin(s), or fail to repent of every single one, are we not saying that our works contribute, at least in part, to our ultimate salvation?

As the above article excerpt states, if one is saved by an act of human free will, then one must necessarily be able to leave the faith by another act of human free will to be logically consistent. Also, to believe that God alone saves AND preserves in faith those who have trusted in Christ for their salvation is also logically consistent. However to say that God alone saves initially (grants eternal life) but by human effort one must remain saved, is theological schizophrenia.

Have a great day, everyone!

The Double Fisted Hand of God

”Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 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. I and the Father are one.” – John 10:25 – 30 (ESV)

There are two major themes in the above short passage; sheep and eternal life. We are told that the sheep know the shepherd’s voice and instinctively follow him. We are also told that the Good Shepherd (Jesus) gives his sheep eternal life and that they shall never perish. Major discussions have taken place over both themes, some of which have resulted in questionable behavior (for believers that is) on both sides of centuries old debates. We could frame the two major debates with a few questions.

1. Who are the ‘sheep’?

2. What is meant by ‘eternal life’ and ‘never perish’?

3. When does ‘eternal life’ begin?

Here is where I wax hypothetically and use a lot of “IFs”. That’s so actual opinions of real people are extracted from the dialogue and objective discussion based on ‘words on a page’ might be possible. Note that I said ‘possible’

As to the first question “Who are the sheep?”, we can know  a few things based on the text. The sheep belong to the shepherd, know his voice and when they hear it, they instinctively follow him. So the sheep are Christ followers. If we say that the sheep represent believers (and we do), we can say that they belong to Jesus, know his voice and instinctively follow him. We also know from the text that Jesus gives his sheep (believers) eternal life and that they will never perish, bringing us to the second question.

What did Jesus mean when he said “I give them eternal life and they shall never perish”? Assume for a minute that ‘eternal life’ means ‘eternal life’ and ‘never perish” means ‘never perish’ (read wake up in Hell). IF the words mean what they say, once a person has eternal life, there is not a chance in the universe of ever NOT having eternal life. Once you have eternal life you have it forever. That leaves us with one more question.

When does ‘eternal life’ begin? That is not answered specifically in the text, but Jesus does provide us an answer, in the same book, just several chapters earlier during his encounter with Nicodemus. It’s the same encounter where the most loved and most often quoted verse in scripture was spoken, and by Jesus (John 3:16…”For God so loved the world……”). Just two verses later we find this passage: “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” John 3:18 (Emphasis mine). If those words mean what they say, if ‘not condemned’ means ‘never perish’, eternal life begins at the moment of belief in the Son.

To reinforce his point about eternal life and never perishing, Jesus  then tells us that no one can snatch us out of his hand, nor can we be snatched out of the Father’s hand. Imagine being first enclosed in the had of Christ which is enclosed in the Hand of the Father. That’s where the double fisted hand of God comes in. Just as the Father is never separated from the Son, we will never be separated from Christ.

Yes, there was a time when I thought that although no one else could snatch me from the double fisted hand of God, I could somehow ‘jump out’ of those strong hands myself. But then I bump heads with the simple phrase “I give them eternal life and they shall never perish.” If those words mean exactly what they say, there ain’t gonna be no snatchin’ and there ain’t gonna be no jumpin’ out of the double fisted hand of God!

There’s a lot more that can be said about this, Everyone in this room has probably had numerous discussions/debates about eternal security and whether or not salvation once attained could ever be lost. I’ve had a few myself and trotted out a lot of scripture to make the case for what I believe. I don’t debate it much any more because it’s too painful in more ways than one. Most times the discussion does get to the whole ‘snatch’ v. ‘jump’ thing, but I just merely repeat Jesus’ words:

”I give them eternal life, and they will never perish.”

Man of Sorrows! what a name
For the Son of God, who came
Ruined sinners to reclaim.
Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Bearing shame and scoffing rude,
In my place condemned He stood;
Sealed my pardon with His blood.
Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Guilty, vile, and helpless we;
Spotless Lamb of God was He;
“Full atonement!” can it be?
Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Lifted up was He to die;
“It is finished!” was His cry;
Now in Heav’n exalted high.
Hallelujah! What a Savior!

When He comes, our glorious King,
All His ransomed home to bring,
Then anew His song we’ll sing:
Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Words & Music: Phil­ip P. Bliss, 1875

“They Will Go In and Out and Find Pasture.”

That is a portion of John 10:9 which reads:

“I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.”

Very recently I was told that the ‘going in and out’ in the passage refers to the possibility of a believer (a sheep) losing salvation. Since I had never heard the argument for losing one’s salvation from that verse, I was puzzled. 

Here is what I think is the argument:

If the sheepfold represents the Kingdom of God, the “going and out” refers to going in and out of the Kingdom of God. If you choose to go in and out of the sheepfold, as sheep do in the normal course of being sheep, You are entering the Kingdom of God and leaving the Kingdom of God. in other words, The context of the passage has to do with sheep, sheepfolds, good shepherds, and wolves.

Does the sheepfold represent the Kingdom of God, and Jesus  the and only entrance into the Kingdom? Most certainly it does! That settled, what does it mean that the sheep who have entered through the proper door ‘going in and out’ mean?  Jesus’ immediate listeners would probably have known exactly what it means,, especially if they were shepherds.

One of the many commentaries I read concerning the ‘going in and out and finding pasture’ explained it this way:

“The fold will ever be open to him who enters by the Door. He will have perfect freedom to enter, whenever storm or danger or night approaches. He will lead out and find pasture for his flock. In the devotion of his service, and in communion with God, he will daily have an increasing knowledge of truths new and old, and the truths which he learns he will give as food for the souls of men.”

Another put it this way:

“and shall go in and out and find pasture—in, as to a place of safety and repose; out, as to "green pastures and still waters" (Ps 23:2) for nourishment and refreshing,”

I especially like the reference to the 23d Psalm. It’s perfect! Having read other commentaries, all of which confirmed my initial thoughts on the matter, I will be so bold to assert that whatever John 10:9 is about, it’s NOT about losing one’s salvation!

Have a great day and a great weekend!

How Can We Know That We Have Eternal Life?

This is an interesting exchange from a blog that my friend Ed hosts. The blog post was about the book of Hebrews and its overall theme of moving on from elementary things and toward Christian maturity, which I think is a sound argument. During the conversation Ed asked me a question:

Ed:

“On the same subject, however, how do you know that Jesus gave YOU eternal life?”

Dan (me):

“It’s not because I walked an aisle, prayed a special prayer, or ‘gave my heart to Jesus’. I did however recognize that I by nature deserve God’s wrath, but knowing that God sent his son to be a propitiation for my sin and having repented and believed the gospel, I have been given eternal life. I suppose those are the same reasons all who have genuine assurance would give.”

Ed:

“You see, that is exactly what non-Calvinists do NOT believe. We believe that it did take a prayer, to ASK Jesus to forgive us our sins. Our asking is not considered a work. Talking to God is prayer. I really do not like how the “religious” folk make fun of that “special prayer”, that special conversation with God that people do. Relationship (WIFE) with Jesus (HUSBAND) is giving your heart to Jesus, putting your trust in him. I am sure that you give your heart to your spouse, and that she does the same to you, and that she trusts that you will take care of her, and her you. That putting your trust is not a work, either. In Calvinism, you lack relationship. I recently debated a Lutheran, and he does not believe in “relationship”. He only believes in “obedience”. I see the same with Calvinists, in general. I really, truly, do not believe that Lutherans, or Calvinists really grasp the whole concept of what the gospel REALLY is.”

“On that same line, Born, the Bible states that Jesus knocks on the door, and that whoever answers that door…We have to answer. Opening the door is our responsibility, our part. Jesus does not say that he knocks the door down, but that our responsibility is to open the door. Is that opening of the door a work?”

Ed’s question is a good one. I chose to answer by first saying that my assurance of salvation comes not from man’s methods, but because of Christ’s command to ‘repent (of my sin) and believe the gospel” My assurance comes from Jesus’ promise that those who believe in Him are granted eternal life and that they would never perish (John 3 & John 10).

Ed then states that what I said is precisely what non-Calvinists do NOT believe. That is simply a useless and hasty generation about non-Calvinists (Ed doesn’t care for Calvinists). . I know a lot of non-Calvinists who agree with me wholeheartedly. He then makes the point that uttering a special prayer and giving our hearts to Jesus contribute to our ‘knowing’ we have been given eternal life. I have only a couple of things to say to that.

First of all, I would admit that ‘praying the special prayer’ and ‘giving our hearts to Jesus’ can help us ‘feel’ saved, especially since there are a lot of folks that will tell you that if you have done one of those, you are in fact saved! Also, there are a lot of folks these days who ask you to pray the prayer and give away your heart so you can have a better life down here, without ever getting to the issue of sin, which is the reason Christ came to Earth in the first place (See Matthew 18). All those folks are doing is helping the lost continue on the broad path to Hell.

And secondly, there is not a single instance in all of the NT of anyone ‘praying a special prayer’ or ‘giving their heart to Jesus’. Not one! On the other hand, there are instances of God opening hearts so that they could understand the message of the gospel followed by believing the gospel that was presented to open hearts.

Concerning Christ knocking on doors, Revelation 3:20 is about Christ knocking on the door of the lukewarm church at Laodicea, not the heart of one of the lost sheep.

And of course Ed states that praying special prayers, giving away our hearts and opening doors are not works. I’m not sure how he is trying to define a ‘work’, but any of the three puts the one who is praying, giving away his heart, or opening a door as ultimately having saved himself after God has merely made it possible by the death of His Son.

I refuse to even address Ed’s notion that in Calvinism you lack ‘relationship’. That’s just too silly for words.

If you would like to comment, please do so. I will also post my reply at Ed’s blog.

The Bottom Line – "They will never perish!"

“I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” – John 10:28 (ESV)

Why do I call ‘They will never perish’ a bottom line? I’m glad you asked. So here it is.

All ‘once saved, always saved’ arguments aside, no matter what form they take (including the ‘snatching v. jumping’ thing) Jesus said that those to whom he gives eternal life will never perish. (wake up in Hell).

The only question left is “When does Jesus give eternal life to us? Whenever that moment is, from that moment in time, whoever has ‘eternal’ life has absolutely no chance of dying on this earth and waking up in Hell.

So no matter what passages are trotted out to ‘prove’ a genuine believer (one who has been granted eternal life) might lose, forfeit, or somehow throw away their salvation (jump out of God’s hand), must mean something else.

So that’s another of the personal ‘bottom lines’ I keep tucked away. Not only is it extremely comforting, it can actually shorten discussions and end arguments! What a concept!

“I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” – Jesus

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Food for thought on a Tuesday morning/

The Bottom Line – ‘Boasting Not Allowed’!

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” – Eph 2:8-9 (Emphasis mine)

Why do I call ‘Boasting Not Allowed’ a bottom line? I’m glad you asked. So here it is:

If I contribute anything to my own salvation, I have ‘something’ to brag about. I mean anything. In other words, if something I do, all by my lonesome, with only the abilities I came into this world with, ‘determines’ whether or not I am saved. I have something to boast about, whether I do so or not.

Regardless of the ‘scenario’ you wrap around it, or what terms/labels we use to discuss the issues, that’s my personal bottom line.

While I still enjoy discussing the issues, including the ‘isms’ and the big words we like to use, this simple bottom line speaks volumes, for me at least.

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Food for thought early on a Sunday morning. May you be greatly blessed on this Lord’s Day!