The concept of eternal security, also known as “once saved, always saved,” is a debated topic among Christians. Those who affirm eternal security believe that once a person has truly placed their faith in Jesus Christ for salvation, they are eternally secure in their salvation and can never lose it, no matter what. Those against this view believe salvation can be lost through unrepentant sin or falling away from the faith.
There are verses in Scripture that can be interpreted to support both views. Verses like John 10:28-29, Romans 8:38-39, and Ephesians 1:13-14 emphasize the permanence and security of salvation. However, other verses like Hebrews 6:4-6, Hebrews 10:26-27, and 2 Peter 2:20-22 warn against falling away and losing salvation. There are also examples in the Bible of people who appeared to be believers but later departed from the faith (John 6:66, 1 John 2:19).
Those who affirm eternal security emphasize God’s sovereignty in salvation. They argue that since it is God who saves us, our salvation depends on His faithfulness, not ours. Nothing can separate us from God’s love (Romans 8:38-39). Salvation is a gift of grace, not based on our works (Ephesians 2:8-9). Our assurance of salvation is based on Christ’s finished work, not our own effort. Supporters of this view say the warnings against falling away are about people who never truly believed in the first place.
Those against eternal security argue that while God preserves believers, He does not force them to remain faithful. They believe that salvation requires our ongoing repentance, faith and obedience. They say that the warnings against falling away are directed at genuine believers, and that real believers can choose to turn away from Christ through unbelief or disobedience. They also point to examples like King Saul in the Old Testament, who had the Holy Spirit but later fell away.
There are good biblical cases to be made on both sides of this issue. God clearly promises to complete the work He begins in believers (Philippians 1:6) and His gift of salvation is irrevocable (Romans 11:29). However, the Bible also shows that genuine believers can fall into grievous sin or unbelief (David, Solomon, Peter). In the end, the debate centers around the complex relationship between God’s sovereignty and human responsibility in salvation.
Here are some key biblical passages that provide insight into this topic:
Verses supporting eternal security
John 10:28-29 – “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.” This passage emphasizes the security of Jesus’ sheep in His hands and the Father’s hands.
Romans 8:38-39 – “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Nothing in creation can separate believers from God’s love.
Ephesians 1:13-14 – “And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession.” Believers are sealed with the Holy Spirit as a deposit guaranteeing their salvation.
John 6:37 – “All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away.” Jesus will not drive away any who come to Him.
Romans 8:1 – “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Believers in Christ have no condemnation before God.
Verses warning against falling away
Hebrews 6:4-6 – “It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance.” This passage warns that those who have fallen away cannot return.
Hebrews 10:26-27 – “If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.” This verse warns about continuing to sin deliberately after knowing the truth.
2 Peter 2:20-22 – “If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and are overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning. It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them. Of them the proverbs are true: ‘A dog returns to its vomit,’ and, ‘A sow that is washed returns to her wallowing in the mud.'” Peter warns that those who return to sin are worse off than before believing.
Revelation 3:5 – “The one who is victorious will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out the name of that person from the book of life, but will acknowledge that name before my Father and his angels.” This implies names can be removed from the book of life.
When evaluating this issue biblically, some key things to consider include:
- The nature of salvation – Is it based on God’s grace alone, or does it require our effort to maintain it?
- The meaning of warnings against falling away – Are they hypothetical or addressed to genuine believers who can lose salvation?
- Whether salvation can be forfeited through disobedience or unbelief – Does God preserve true believers, or can they turn away?
- The example of biblical characters – Do Solomon, David, Saul, etc. prove believers can lose salvation, or were they never truly saved?
- How to reconcile God’s sovereignty and human responsibility – To what extent does God keep believers vs. them keeping themselves?
Jesus assures us that He will not cast out any who come to Him (John 6:37) and that He gives eternal life to His sheep (John 10:28). However, the Bible also contains warnings not to fall away. While God preserves those who are His, this does not necessarily mean humanity has no role to play through abiding in Christ.
Major views on eternal security
Here are some of the major views that Christians hold on this topic:
- Unconditional eternal security (once saved, always saved) – God preserves true believers, who can never lose their salvation no matter what.
- Conditional eternal security – Believers are secure as long as they continue in faith and obedience to Christ. God remains faithful to preserve those who abide in Him.
- Partial eternal security – Genuine believers can lose their salvation by willful, unrepentant sin or rejection of Christ.
- Opposing eternal security – True believers can lose their salvation and must maintain it by their effort, repentance, obedience and endurance.
The strongest case can be made for either unconditional or conditional eternal security from a biblical perspective. The unconditional view emphasizes God’s sovereignty while the conditional view highlights human responsibility. In the end, God is the one who sanctifies us and keeps us secure in salvation, yet as believers we also have a responsibility to persevere in faith by abiding in Christ and guarding against unbelief or disobedience through the help of the Holy Spirit.
This theological debate has important practical implications for how we view and approach the Christian life. Here are some key applications to consider:
- Assurance – Can believers have firm assurance of salvation, or is it possible to lose? How does this impact our sense of security and confidence?
- Holiness – Is there greater motivation for obedience and perseverance if believers can lose salvation, or does unconditional security better highlight grace?
- Evangelism – How might we communicate the gospel and call for faith/repentance differently based on our view?
- Discipleship – Should warnings against falling away be stressed, downplayed or balanced biblically?
- Accountability – How do we encourage one another to continue following Christ and avoid drifting from the faith?
Our view of eternal security impacts how we live as Christians. We want to have a healthy biblical balance of trusting God’s grace to keep us while also taking sin seriously and striving to abide in Christ through continual dependence on the Spirit. As the debate continues, maintaining humble love for those with different perspectives is essential.
In conclusion, the topic of eternal security intersects with many aspects of salvation theology. While Scripture can be interpreted to support different views, God clearly promises to complete the work He begins in believers and also warns against unbelief leading to falling away. As we seek to apply this biblically, we can rest in God’s sovereignty while also taking our responsibility seriously. Our eternal security ultimately depends on God’s faithfulness to His promises in Christ – promises we receive by faith alone.