In a world of so much change and instability, the uncertainties of this life can be overwhelming and completely debilitating. Sometimes it seems nothing is a sure thing. Our bodies fail us, friends forsake us, family members pass away, we lose our jobs, our hearts are broken and our endurance is tested over and over again. We can never be certain that tomorrow will be anything like today. When our world is falling apart all around us, what can we hold on to? What can we trust to never change and never fail us?
Our only hope is in the Lord and his abundant grace. Jesus Christ himself makes this promise in Revelation 2:10: “Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer… Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.” When every comfort and commodity of this life is taken away, our confidence in the Lord’s salvation can always remain with this one condition – be faithful until death. Our Lord assures us that God’s salvation is ours to keep, so long as we never let go of it.
As the Scriptures often convey, God offers his grace with both a promise and warning. The Apostle Paul explains in Colossians 1:21-23: “And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight – if indeed you continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel.” Like Jesus, Paul reminds the Church that our salvation depends on our faithfulness. His admonition is that for the sake of our salvation we must remain steadfast and grounded, not going astray from the gospel which saves us from our sins. Paul reiterates this message in 1 Corinthians 15:1-2: “Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you–unless you believed in vain.” Hebrews 3:14 also emphasizes the necessity of obedience to the end: “For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end.” This must be why the writer says later in the book, “For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise…” (Hebrews 10:36).
In each of these passages, the Lord’s caution to the Church is the same: God has extended to us the precious gift us his grace, yet we must be careful to keep it through diligence, obedience, and faithfulness to the end of our lives. God promises his salvation, if we remain faithful. While this is the message found consistently in the Word of God, too often this is not the message preached in many denominations and congregations around the world. This dangerous misconception has come to be known by a number of names through the ages. First called Perseverance of the Saints, today most pastors and preachers refer to the teaching as Eternal Security or Once Saved Always Saved. Through a series of misinterpretations, advocates of this doctrine have effectively diluted God’s command for obedience and entirely dismissed the Lord’s calling to persevere unto the end. Their message is plain: if you are saved, you can never fall away. This teaching is very appealing to individuals seeking some measure of stability in their life; however, the Scriptures are emphatic that such is not the case.
While we might find this teaching of Eternal Security in many churches, we won’t find it in the Bible. In fact, just the opposite is true. Many times the New Testament describes situations in which Christians are lost after having once been saved. The church in Galatia, for example, after their original conversion, was subjected to a barrage of false teaching. They were being taught, and many believed, that obedience to the Mosaic Law was still necessary for their salvation. Evidently, this doctrine was so fundamentally against the gospel of Christ that Paul remarks in Galatians 5:4: “You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.” Their confidence in the Law of Moses had removed them from the saving grace of their Lord Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul even speaks of himself in this way, explaining that not even he is insulated from the consequences of sin. He says, “I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:27). The Apostle Peter may explain it best, though. After speaking at length about false teaching within the church he says this about those that taint the Lord’s body with such doctrines: “For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning. For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them. But it has happened to them according to the true proverb: ‘A dog returns to his own vomit,’ and, ‘a sow, having washed, to her wallowing in the mire’” (2 Peter 2:20-22).
In each of these cases there is no denying the implication – the promise of eternal salvation is reserved for those that remain true to the Lord. God’s salvation requires a lifetime of commitment. This is not to say, though, that once an individual wanders from the truth all hope is lost. No, even after rejecting the Lord’s salvation through a life of debauchery God also promises that his arms are ever open to receive us again into his grace. James 5:19-20 explains: “Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins.” This passage reaffirms the real potential for any Christian to fall away, but also reminds us of the Lord’s mercy. Through repentance and renewed commitment to the truth, our sins are covered and our souls are restored to the safety of God’s salvation!
This is our hope and confidence in our God – at all times and in every situation the promise of his salvation remains! “Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.” When we have answered his call through obedience to the gospel and received his salvation, we should never, ever let go!
I am a member of the Riverside Road Church of Christ in Ozark, MO, where I share the responsibility of teaching and preaching with several other men. In my secular work, I am a professor at Cox College in Springfield, MO, in the department of radiologic sciences and imaging.