One of the most troubling realities in the church is the sheer number of people who are plagued with doubts regarding their eternal destiny. Many people are crippled by the idea that they have sinned in some way that could potentially lead to the loss of their salvation. Is it really possible to fall from grace? What would a Christian need to do in order to lose their salvation?
The Root of the Confusion
There is much confusion regarding the doctrine of eternal security. The confusion often flows from deficient doctrine and such teaching plagues the minds of people keeping them in constant torment and fear. This is the teaching that flows out of the Roman Catholic Church and the Charismatic circles throughout evangelicalism.
According to official teaching of the Roman Catholic religion, in order for a person to be saved, it’s quite a tedious task. It involves steps such as actual grace, faith, good works, baptism, participation in the sacraments, penance, indulgences, and keeping the commandments. In short, the doctrine of soteriology taught by the Roman Catholic Church is a works based system where a person must work their way to God.
Council of Trent was a response to the Protestant Reformation. The key doctrine emphasized during the early part of the Reformation was justification by faith alone in Christ alone as clearly taught in Scripture. At the Council of Trent, the Roman Catholic Church anathematizes everyone who embraces the doctrine of Sola Fide—that God saves sinners by faith alone, apart from works. There are 33 canons on the doctrine of justification that were adopted at Trent. Cannon 9 of the Council of Trent reads as follows:
If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema.
How does this relate to losing one’s salvation? It’s connected to the idea of cooperating with God for our salvation. If your view of salvation is God doing his part and us doing our part, it’s possible for us to fail in doing our part and to fall from grace. In short the Roman Catholic Church teaches that there are two main categories of sin—mortal and venial. If a person commits a mortal sin and dies in that condition, they lose their salvation and are sent to hell. The Catechism of the Catholic Church reads as follows:
The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, “eternal fire.” The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs.11035 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church
Not only has this error been embraced by the Roman Catholic Church, but it has been likewise been spread through the charismatic movement. Many churches that are connected to Pentecostalism have officially embraced the doctrinal distinctive that it’s possible to fall from grace. This has confused the minds of many—even those who have come out of Roman Catholicism and the Pentecostal movement.
The Teaching of Scripture
Apostasy is a real category taught in the Scripture. The teaching that a person walks away from the faith is visible in Old Testament and the New Testament alike. The nation of Israel in the wilderness is a prime example. Not all of Israel was true Israel. Many were destroyed in the wilderness before the true children of God reached the Promised Land. Jude provides a great commentary on that by saying in verse 5 of his New Testament letter, “Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe.”
In other words, those who did not believe God and walk by faith demonstrated the reality that they were not all the true people of God. We likewise see this in the New Testament. Judas was one of Jesus’ inner circle and he walked away from Christ in a nasty betrayal. According to Luke 6:16, he was a traitor. In the New Testament we see key language that indicates some people will walk away from the faith. In Hebrews 6, the classic text on the matter, we see the language of “falling from grace.” In 1 Timothy 4, the text says “some will depart from the faith.” In 2 Timothy 4, Paul warns Timothy that some “people will not endure sound doctrine!”
A clear reading of Scripture points to the fact that those who fall from grace or depart from the faith were never true disciples of Jesus. They might have claimed to be a follower of Jesus (see John 6 as an example) and been baptized, but as they depart they prove they are not true believers. This is clearly explained in 1 John 2:19 that reads, “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.”
With this in mind, see that the promises of Scripture point to the fact that all of those who are in Christ are secure. The writer to the Hebrews points out that God swore an oath to Abraham to go beyond his promise and covenant in order to make it plain that God will fulfill his promise of the covenant. The outcome was not based on the performance of Abraham. It was a covenant established by God and it was dependent upon God for the outcome. Hebrews 6:17-18 reads:
So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us.
Furthermore, Jesus said in John 10:28-29 that every last one of those who have been given to him by the Father have been given eternal life (not temporal life) and nobody is capable of snatching them out of the Father’s hand. A clear reading of Romans 8 on the doctrine of salvation spanning from eternity past to eternity future demonstrates that every single person who was foreknown (foreloved) by God, predestined by God, called by God, and justified by God will be glorified (a future reality). In other words, there is not one single dropout along the way.
If you are in Christ, you must look to his work on your behalf. Christ has indeed paid for our sins on the cross, gone behind the curtain to offer up his blood as the Great High Priest (see Hebrews 6:19-20), was buried in a tomb, resurrected from the dead on the third day, preached and appeared to many over 40 days (see 1 Cor 15), and then ascended to the throne of glory and sat down to signify his work has been completed. Consider this reality, to lose your salvation someone will have to dethrone Christ who currently now is our Mediator and is interceding on our behalf at this very moment.
The work of saving grace is not dependent upon our performance. The security of our salvation is dependent upon the stability of Christ’s throne. Is Jesus seated upon the throne today? Does Christ rule even now from the throne? With his work complete and his throne secure, we must come to see that our salvation in Christ is likewise secure. As the hymn writer Horatio G. Spafford described the totality of the atonement in his hymn “It Is Well” that we sing frequently in our worship services:
My sin—oh, the bliss of this glorious thought—
My sin, not in part, but the whole,
Is nailed to His Cross, and I bear it no more;
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!
Jesus didn’t die for some of your sins, he died for every one of them. What sin did Christ leave outside of his atoning death? Was his sacrifice partial or full? Did Jesus misspeak when in his dying moment he cried out, “It is finished” (John 19:30)? John Murray in his excellent book, Redemption Accomplished and Applied on page 78 concludes the first half of the book with this statement regarding the atonement:
This is the security which a perfect atonement secures and it is the perfection of the atonement that secures it.2John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2015), 78.)
Never forget that the doctrine of limited atonement (otherwise stated as particular redemption) is not merely a doctrine central to the debate of Calvinism v. Arminianism, but instead it’s a beautiful doctrine that points to the perfection of the atonement—one that secures our salvation in Christ for all of time and eternity. Find your hope in Christ. When you doubt, look away from yourself and keep your eyes fixed upon King Jesus who himself is not a partial Savior. He will complete his mission. He will save every last one of his people.