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When it comes to the security of the believer, the New Testament speaks in stereo, to both our ears at once. One ear hears assurances of pardon, of God's keeping us, of the impossibility of anything or anyone separating us from God's love. The other ear hears warnings against apostasy, exhortations to continue in the faith, admonitions to examine ourselves whether our faith is genuine. We must take both messages seriously, and we cannot afford to explain either of them away. The key lies in observing the actual and theoretical audience to whom each message is addressed.
Every word of biblical assurance is intended for believers. The New Testament promises no security to those who are only "make-believers." James warns against so-called "faith" which is all talk and no substance (James 2:14-26). Hebrews exhorts us to hold our faith firmly (Heb. 2:1-3; 3:12; 6:4-6; 10:23, 26-27). Peter urges us to make our calling and election "sure" -- to ourselves, of course, for God is already as sure about it as he can possibly be (2 Pet. 1:10-11).
Biblical warnings and exhortations are intended for the professing Christian who is lazy or indifferent, self-sufficient, or barren of spiritual fruit and good works. There is not one single warning in the Bible addressed to the person who truly trusts Christ for salvation, who genuinely grieves over personal sin and repents of it, who yields to the Spirit and is being transformed, however slowly, into the likeness of Christ.
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The popular doctrine of "once-saved-always-saved" is sometimes presented in an unbiblical fashion. Not when it affirms that the believer is "protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time," for that affirmation comes on very good authority indeed (1 Pet. 1:5). It is unbiblical when it says that whoever once makes a profession of faith and prays the "sinner's prayer" can never be lost, no matter how ungodly or unbelieving that one may appear to become. That is a corrupted doctrine which ignores or forgets many biblical truths. Not all those belong to God who profess to be his people. Even miracles and great works do not guarantee a personal relationship with Jesus (Matt. 7:20-23). There is a difference between a believer and a make-believer!
However, no one who genuinely trusts in Jesus needs ever to wonder whether God loves and accepts him or her fully and unequivocally for Jesus' sake (John 3:16). Scripture is abundantly clear that those who rely on the redemption which Jesus accomplished may know that they are accepted by God and that God loves them as he loves his own Son (Heb. 6:18-20; 7:25).
God predestined that those he foreknew should also become conformed to the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29). The way we know we are among God's elect is that the gospel grips us and changes our lives (1 Thes. 1:4,5, 9-10). That is the evidence of our state but not the basis of it. Our confidence rests, always and only, in the historical accomplishments of Jesus our representative, and in God's appraisal of what Jesus has done (Rom. 4:25 - 5:1). It never rests in any event, occasion or performance within our own experience -- whether our baptism, our good works, or our praying the "sinner's prayer." Our confidence is always in Christ, from first to last. And he will never let us down.
A missionary in Africa asks for biblical insight regarding the security of the believer, sometimes referred to as "once saved, always saved." And a missionary in China inquires about the passages which warn Christians against falling away from Christ. How do we put all this together?
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True believers may know that they are securely in God's care and keeping, and that no person, circumstance or unforeseen set of events can ever snatch them away to destruction (John 10:27-30; 1 Pet. 1:3-5). This certainty is grounded in God's own faithfulness (1 Cor. 1:8-9; 1 Thess. 5:23-24; 2 Thes. 3:3-5), power (Jude 24-25) and love (Rom. 8:35-39). God's eternal purpose stands as its foundation, for those whom God foreknew he will eventually glorify as well (Rom. 8:28-30).
According to Jesus, all who truly believe in him have been given to him by the Father, and none of those given to him by the Father will finally be lost (John 6:37-40). The Apostle John assures believers that "God has given us eternal life and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son does not have the life. These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, in order that you may know that you have eternal life" (1 John 5:11-13).Our security is not in a doctrine, but in a Savior.
The question is ours each new day: "Do you acknowledge that you are a sinner, considered apart from Christ? Do you acknowledge him as your Savior and trust his atonement for peace and right standing with God? Are you sorry for sin and determined to turn from it? Do you cling to the cross of Jesus as your only hope of forgiveness? Do you give yourself to God in return, in gratitude for his unfathomable kindness and grace?" Whoever sincerely answers "Yes" to these questions may know that they belong to Christ, and that God will keep them to the end. Nothing can separate them from God's love. Nothing can defeat God's power. Nothing can thwart God's purpose. True believers are eternally secure in his hands.
For more on the believer's security, click here.