A gracEmail subscriber in Australia asks, with reference to Paul’s remarks in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, “How can Paul, understanding so well the lavish grace of God, speak in such almost legalistic terms as to suggest that some lack of self-discipline would disqualify him from eternal life? Would not living under grace rather than Law) give him confidence that even such a lack of discipline would be forgiven by his God?”
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The overall teaching of the New Testament unavoidably leads me to conclude that in God’s sovereign purpose, power and grace every true believer — everyone born from above, everyone the Father gave to Jesus before the world began — will surely and finally be saved eternally. However, while God knows with certainty the identities of these individuals, we know concerning others only what we see worked out on the earth. Even that might be misleading because we cannot infallibly know anyone’s heart. Some people make false professions of faith. Some who appear to serve God outwardly do so in pretense and not truly. Others who seem far from God on the outside privately weep bitterly for their sins and genuinely throw themselves on the grace of God in Christ. Our insight is so limited that we must even test ourselves to see if we are people of faith.
For these reasons, the apostolic writings abound in warnings and admonitions such as this one that you mention. Redemption is no trivial matter. We dare not be presumptuous about divine grace: it cost the life of Jesus Christ the Son of God. Salvation is to be taken most seriously. We “work out” what God “works in.” God’s salvation involves his completing what he started. What looks like perseverance on the outside is the manifestation of God’s energizing on the inside.
Until then, our assurance rests in God who has taken hold of us to rescue us for himself. Every moment that we are sorry for sin, every time we look to Jesus in faith as our Lamb of God who takes away our sin, every day that we repent with true heart, every occasion that we draw near to God, we may know that we are securely kept by God’s power and that he will not lose any who belong to him. These indicators (and a host of others) are manifestations of God’s Spirit working in us — for the fallen fleshly nature generates none of these things. We can remember with thanksgiving that Romans 8, the great chapter about the Holy Spirit’s work in us, begins with “no condemnation” and concludes with “no separation.” God is faithful to those who put their trust in him. He keeps them by his own power through faith until the very end.