Iron sharpens iron
Recently during a Bible study with friends, the subject of “once saved, always saved” arose. I expressed that I believed that once you were saved you could not “lose” your salvation. One of the other members did not agree. She was fully convinced that you could, indeed, lose your salvation and pointed out several verses of scripture that were difficult passages to argue with.
My constant prayer is that the Holy Spirit will enlighten my understanding, give me the mind of Christ, and direct my thoughts, words, and actions. I told my friend that I would go do some soul-searching and Bible reading to see if I had simply believed what I had been taught, if my understanding of scripture was inaccurate, or if my belief was well-founded.
Define that, please
I did a lot of praying and reading. Why did I believe that I couldn’t lose my salvation? I decided I needed to understand the Biblical definitions of some key words.
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
“Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting G166 life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.” (John 5:24)
Both times, and in fact 17 times in the book of John alone, the word eternal means “without end.”
So then I needed to understand what it meant to believe. There are a lot of meanings for the Greek word pisteuō g4100, and unfortunately, many think that someone who adheres to “once saved, always saved” includes the meaning of the word which is translated “mere acknowledgment of some fact or event: intellectual faith.” Of course—and quite honestly—I do not believe that someone who says “magic words” is saved. Instead, and I think more biblically, this definition is more appropriate. “Used especially of the faith by which a man embraces Jesus, i.e. a conviction, full of joyful trust, that Jesus is the Messiah — the divinely appointed author of eternal salvation in the kingdom of God, conjoined with obedience to Christ.”
What does it mean to be conjoined? For this one, we need a regular dictionary, since the word is not in the Bible, though the concept is. The Dictionary.com defines conjoined as “joined together, united, or linked.” Not just acquaintances, but deeply associated like brothers.
“Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed;” (John 8:31)
Believers—true followers of Jesus—continue g3306 in His word. Jesus said His disciples indeed continued. They did not depart (except Judas). The Greek word menō is defined as “a primary verb; to stay (in a given place, state, relation or expectancy):—abide, continue, dwell, endure, be present, remain, stand.”
So now I have a better understanding of what Jesus meant when He told Nicodemus that those who believed in Him would have eternal life. Those who joined themselves to Jesus in unity and continued in His word were His disciples.
So what about those hard passages?
My friend was fully convinced because there are passages that seem to say if you start down the path with Jesus and then fall away, you can’t be redeemed again. And she’s right—kind of.
“For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.” (Hebrews 6:4-6)
What does “to fall away” actually mean? Another word for it is apostasy. John MacArthur defines apostasy this way. “Apostasy can be defined as someone who, with full knowledge of the gospel, full knowledge of the message of Scripture, turns against it in a final act of rejection” (emphasis mine).
Two people in the New Testament who immediately come to mind are Judas and Demas. Judas spent three years in the company of followers of Christ, seeing all the evidence of His messiahship, with all His teaching and miracles. Yet Jesus called Judas a devil! Judas hadn’t yet betrayed Christ, but Jesus knew that he wasn’t a true believer, despite having been enlightened, having tasted of the heavenly gift, and having partaken of everything the other disciples had. He ministered with them, ate with them, fellowshipped with Jesus, yet was not of them.
Demas was ministering with Paul until he (Demas) quit. He didn’t continue, though he had followed Paul and heard his teaching and saw the miracles Paul performed. He heard, saw, tasted… but didn’t continue. He didn’t fall away, he simply walked away.
So the impossibility of being renewed again unto repentance is because all that can be said has been said and all that can be done has been done and yet it was all eventually rejected. There is nothing else left for that person. Jesus cannot be sacrificed again for them; His sacrifice was once for all.
“They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.” (1 John 2:19)
This scripture shows that continuing with them was what would confirm their discipleship. How long to continue? Until the end.
“While I was with them in the world, I kept them in thy name: those that thou gavest me I have kept, and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition; that the scripture might be fulfilled.” (John 17:12)
Perdition is the Greek word apōleia, meaning the destruction which consists of eternal misery in hell. Judas’ very nature was perdition. He was never a true believer, as demonstrated when Mary poured the expensive perfume on Jesus’ feet.
“This he said, not that he cared for the poor; but because he was a thief, and had the bag, and bare what was put therein.” (John 12:6)
Now let’s look at another hard scripture.
“And Jesus said unto him, No man, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:62)
If you take this scripture alone, it appears to say that once you start walking with Jesus, if you reconsider, you have fallen away. But does it?
Let’s look at the scriptures immediately before it.
“And it came to pass, that, as they went in the way, a certain man said unto him, Lord, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest. And Jesus said unto him, Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head. And he said unto another, Follow me. But he said, Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father. Jesus said unto him, Let the dead bury their dead: but go thou and preach the kingdom of God. And another also said, Lord, I will follow thee; but let me first go bid them farewell, which are at home at my house.” (Luke 9:57-61)
Each one of these men called Jesus Lord. Each one of them said they would follow Him. Note that these men made “professions of faith” and yet did not follow Jesus, though they said it was their intention. Did they really fall away? From what? How can you “fall away from the faith” if you never truly even had it?
In the parable of the wheat and the tares, the servants couldn’t tell the difference between them. The Master told them not to tear them out lest they also tear out the wheat. They grew up together until the harvest, and then the tares were burned. Only the Master knew which were tares and which were wheat. We, as servants, are not called to make that distinction.
One last thought
“Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” (Matthew 7:22-23)
I believe there are many who call themselves Christians but do not “continue in His word.” They perform many good deeds and preach as though they are truly His followers. But they do not continue! At some point they deny the faith that they have earlier espoused, thinking that all the good deeds they’ve done will allow them to depart from His word. This final denial cuts a person off from salvation. That is the “falling away” of which the Bible speaks, in my opinion. Constantly being fearful of losing your salvation cannot be what Jesus had in mind. How many times did He say “fear not”?
Perhaps you still don’t believe in eternal security. But please, don’t live in eternal insecurity!
If you are saved, you will continue to the end, even if you have doubts. Your inheritance is guaranteed by the Holy Spirit who has put His seal on you. Once He bestows on you eternal life, it is for eternity.