For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39).
And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand (John 10:28-29).
These verses are often quoted by Christians who believe and teach that once a person chooses to believe in Christ they can never be lost. The doctrine is sometimes referred to as “eternal security.” It is the assurance of salvation to all who once accepted Christ as their Saviour, regardless of what they might believe or do from that moment onward. Is this what the Bible teaches?
The idea that a person can never lose their salvation once they’ve accepted the gift of salvation is akin to the doctrine of predestination, which is the belief that God alone chooses who will be lost and who will be saved and human beings have no real say in the matter. These doctrines of “eternal security” and predestination rule out freedom of choice. But freedom of choice is a fundamental principle of Bible teachings and the fairness of God depends upon it. Therefore, the above Scriptures must be interpreted in light of this overarching principle of freedom of choice.
Does Salvation Take Away Your Freedom of Choice?
The Bible clearly teaches that people have the freedom to choose whether they will be saved or lost and whether they will serve God or Satan. Does God take away a person’s right to freely choose or change his mind once he becomes a Christian? Or can someone turn away from following Christ once they’ve been saved and defect to the enemy?
Is it possible to be lost once you’ve been saved? Let’s see what Jesus and the disciples teach about freedom of choice and eternal security.
Many of Jesus’ parables illustrate that God never takes away our freedom to choose. Although “no man is able to pluck” a saved person from God’s hand, by our own choices we can allow salvation to slip away from us--as we are warned in Hebrews 2: 1, “Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip.” Following are examples of what Jesus taught about the conditionality of salvation.
The Vine and the Branches
I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit (John 15:1-2).
Throughout the Scriptures it is clear that a right relationship with Christ, the Source of life, is what is necessary for salvation. Apart from Him, there is no life.
In John 15, Jesus describes that ongoing relationship that ensures a believer’s status with God. Addressing His disciples, who were in a saved condition, Jesus warned that unless they remained connected to Him, they would be unfruitful and His Father would take them away, just as unfruitful branches are pruned from the main vine.
A branch connected to its life source naturally bears fruit, showing that it is alive. In the same way, a Christian in a living relationship with Christ will naturally bear the fruits of righteousness.
In verse 6 Jesus cautioned, “If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.” This is a clear statement from Jesus Himself about the necessity of maintaining a saving relationship with Him.
In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus clearly explained the necessity of abiding in a saving relationship with Him. Consider His words carefully:
Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity (Matthew 7:17-23, emphases added).
Notice that Jesus again referred to the importance of fruit-bearing and added that only those who do God’s will are fit for heaven. Hebrews 13 tells us that it is God Himself who empowers us to do His will by the indwelling of Jesus:
Now the God of peace…Make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is wellpleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen (Hebrews 13:20-21).
Philippians 2:13 tells us, “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.”
Notice, too, that those who do good things—like prophesy in the name of Jesus, cast out devils in His name, and even do miracles—can be rejected by Him because He doesn’t know them. In other words, it’s possible to look like you know Jesus when you don’t. You can look like a Christian and profess to be Christ’s follower but still be rejected by Christ at His judgment. Why? Because Jesus recognizes as His children those who allow Him to dwell within and live through them. It is only by dying to self and allowing Christ to abide within that we are able to produce the fruits of righteousness, because Jesus said, “For without me ye can do nothing” (John 15:5). Again, Jesus confirms that the guarantee of eternal salvation is only for those who have an intimate relationship with Him, the natural consequences of which are the production of fruit and doing God’s will.
Over and over, the Scriptures confirm the necessity of having this life-giving relationship with Christ. No profession of faith outside of that ongoing relationship supplies eternal security. It is not a one-time decision, but a continual process of deciding to abide in Christ. Without a living connection to Christ, we are lost. Our hope of eternal glory is only secure when we have Christ living within. Paul expressed it clearly in these words:
To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27).
Consider Jesus’ parable of the sower in Luke 8:5-15. Jesus told His disciples that it was indeed possible to believe but then turn away from salvation. Notice that, among those who heard the Word of God, Jesus described four classes of people:
Hear the Word but reject it (verse 12);
Believe for a while, but fall away when temptation comes (verse 13);
Believe but bear no fruit because by their lifestyle they show that they value riches and the pleasures of this world more than eternal life (verse 14);
Hear the Word, keep it, and bear abundant fruit.
Again, Jesus makes it clear that only those who bear fruit will be saved. Understand, Jesus was not teaching salvation by bearing fruit. He was simply restating the truth He declared in John 15: that just as the life of a branch is in the vine, a Christian’s only assurance for eternal life was to retain a living connection with Him, the natural result being the production of fruit.
The Ungrateful Servant
Matthew 18 records a parable Jesus told about a servant who owed a king an enormous sum of money. In mercy, the king forgave the servant his debt, but later had him “delivered to the tormentors” because he was unmerciful to a fellow-servant. Jesus warned, “So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses” (Matthew 18:35).
In this parable, the servant was first guilty, then forgiven. Later, however, due to his own actions, the servant was rejected by the king and his guilty condition was reinstated. Jesus applied this lesson to His hearers. Notice Jesus’ “if” statement, clearly showing that salvation from the guilt of sin is conditional upon our response to that gift. If we do not produce the fruits of righteousness by staying connected to our Source of life and power, we will bear our own guilt and be condemned just as the ungrateful servant was.
Matthew 24 and 25 contain Jesus’ words of warning to His disciples about the fall of Jerusalem and the end of time. Verse 3 reads, “And as he sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?” Take note that Jesus was addressing His disciples, those closest to Him, who were in a saving relationship with Him. Continuing in Matthew 24, Christ says this:
Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name's sake. And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another. And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many. And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold. But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved (Matthew 24:9-13).
Notice that Jesus was warning His disciples that many of them would be “offended” and would “betray one another” and “hate one another.” Notice that He promised that only those who would “endure unto the end” would be saved. Would Jesus have felt it necessary to warn His hearers about losing their connection to Him and not bearing fruit if it didn’t matter, since everyone who had ever believed in Him was protected through eternal security?
In Jesus’ parables and in His teachings He taught that the consequences of not heeding His warnings were not eternal salvation, unconditionally. The consequences were dire: spiritual death and loss of salvation. Jesus explicitly acknowledged the possibility of apostasy and warned against it.
The disciples, too, warned believers against apostasy, showing that they also believed that salvation once accepted could be lost. Paul understood that to remain connected to Christ meant that he must die to self, that Christ might live in Him. Paul declared, “I die daily” (1 Corinthians 15:31).
In the same chapter, Paul also acknowledges the possibility of apostasy for those who were once saved by using “if” statements to arouse Corinthian believers to their necessity of action to make their profession of faith sure and their salvation secure.
Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain (1 Corinthians 15:1-2; emphasis added).
It’s obvious Paul is speaking to those who were in a saving relationship with Christ when he wrote this letter. He uses the phrases “gospel…ye have received,” “wherein ye stand” and “ye are saved” to acknowledge that, at the time, those Corinthians were in a saved state. But then follows that little game-changing conditional word: if. He warns them not to forget what he taught them about staying saved.
And notice Paul’s concluding statement at the end of this chapter: “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 15:58). Would he have needed to warn them if they already had eternal security?
John issues the same kinds of warnings. Consider these verses:
1 John 1:7: "If that which ye have heard from the beginning shall remain in you, ye also shall continue in the Son, and in the Father."
1 John 2:24: "If any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him."
“He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life…” (Revelation 3:5). Will we heed these words of warning from Jesus?
If the doctrine of eternal security were from Christ, would He have given such a warning? If eternal security were a fact, then wouldn’t Christ simply write in indelible ink the names of everyone who ever accepted His salvation? Why would He need to warn them that He might “blot out” their names from the book of life?
Obviously, Christ never takes away our freedom of choice, and that includes the option of changing our minds about the gift of salvation. In fact, the Bible contains countless admonitions against apostasy which would never have been needed if eternal security was ever a Biblical doctrine.
The main problem in believing the once-saved-always-saved doctrine is that it leads to complacency toward personal spiritual growth and the state of fellow-believers and leads to a false sense of security that can actually result in eternal loss.
If one believes that once they’ve accepted salvation there is nothing they can do to ever lose their salvation, they can become complacent about their relationship with Christ, because regardless of whether they spend time nurturing that relationship or not, they believe they will always be saved. This is an extremely dangerous attitude. The Bible clearly teaches otherwise.
Lack of Growth
Consider also the effect of the doctrine of eternal salvation on spiritual growth in believers. A relationship with Christ is dynamic. Jesus expects us to learn and grow because sanctification is a process. Remember that Jesus compared believers to branches on a vine. As a Christian studies the Bible, he learns new truth, applies it to his life and grows. Jesus called Himself the bread of life because He knew that everyone understood that eating is a continual necessity throughout life and that physical maintenance and growth are the result of taking food daily. Christians must grow.
Peter applied this principle of Christian growth to the necessity of ongoing assimilation of spiritual food from the Word of God and encouraged new believers to study the Scriptures: “As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby” (1 Peter 2:2). Paul also described new believers as being like milk-fed infants who need to grow and mature before they can handle more solid food (1 Corinthians 3:2). The author of Acts points to Apollos as a real-life case study of the kind of spiritual growth that must exemplify the life of every believer. Read his story in Acts 18: 24-28.
Lack of Response
Significantly, James warned that once a Christian understands God’s will he must act upon it. Not acting upon truth as it is discovered during our study of God’s Word is sinning, James warned.
Therefore to him that knoweth how to do good and doeth it not, to him it is sin (James 4:17).
Sadly, some evangelists have discovered that the doctrine of eternal salvation is a hindrance to spiritual growth in those who believe it, because they feel no necessity in assimilating new spiritual truths when they discover them, since there is nothing they can do to lose their salvation, regardless of James’ warning to the contrary.
In addition to disregarding sin in their own lives, believers in the doctrine of eternal security must also become complacent to the sin of other Christians, since it matters not whether a “saved” Christian falls into sin. The doctrines of eternal security and predestination make exhortation against sin unnecessary, since by predestination God saves some and damns others apart from their free choice, and the once-saved-always-saved doctrine may excuse sin in those who consider themselves to be safely secure for all eternity.
The doctrine of “eternal security” is not supported by Scripture as a whole. It is based on a shallow reading of some verses and requires rejection of the Biblically solid doctrine of freedom of choice. Since freedom of choice is God-given and absolute, it is possible for a person to change his or her mind at any time and reject salvation.