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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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.