A gracEmail reader asks how to resolve the tension between two lines of biblical teaching. "Some passages offer words of assurance," he writes, "while others utter words of warning. How do we put these together?"
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The New Testament assures us in certain terms. Whoever believes has eternal life (John 3:15). No one can snatch the believer from God's own grasp (John 10:29). God guards the believer by his own divine power (1 Pet. 1:5). The New Testament also unequivocally warns and cautions us. Whoever thinks he stands should take heed lest he fall (1 Cor. 10:12). Christ will present you to God if you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast (Col. 1:22-23). The crown of life is for those who are faithful until death (Rev. 2:10). Some Christians emphasize the assurances. Other Christians emphasize the warnings. Too often, they simply toss Scripture grenades back and forth. Far better to find a window through which to view the entire scene together.
That window is God's eternal purpose, which he personally will carry through to completion (Phil. 1:6). Those whom God has chosen (who in return choose him, as the story unfolds) he will also guard and preserve until they reach the final goal (Rom. 8:28-30). God will not lose any of those whom he gave to Christ (John 6:37-39). God keeps them by his power, in his love, according to his own faithfulness. The Bible's assurances are for those to whom God gives saving faith, those who are truly born from above, those in whose lives God is at work. Those whom God guards do, in fact, persevere. Those who persevere do so because God is guarding and keeping them for himself. Divine keeping and human perseverance are the inside and outside of the same reality. We cannot select one and exclude the other.
The problem, from our earthly vantage-point, is that some people profess faith who do not truly believe. Some pretend to be regenerated who actually have no life from above. Some apparent believers are really only professing believers. They are not in God's saving purpose and they have no basis for assurance. God knows those who are his, but we can be deceived -- even about ourselves. The Bible's warnings and cautions remind us that spiritual security is always in Christ alone. They call us to trust continually in him and in nothing else -- whether religion, piety, knowledge, good deeds or special experiences. Let us all, therefore, be simultaneously assured (if we are truly trusting in Jesus Christ and in him alone) and warned (if we are not). The believer is eternally secure. The make-believer is not.