Within modern American Christianity, the idea of Eternal Security seems to be quite common. It is known among many evangelicals, with Calvinistic leanings, as “Perseverance of the Saints,” or it can also be referred to as “Once saved, always saved.” Simply put, it is the idea that once you have accepted Christ into your life, generally through a “Sinner’s Prayer,” you can never lose your salvation.
Salvation is a Process
The first immediate issue I have with this system of understanding is that their whole idea of salvation is incorrect. You aren’t “saved” the second you say a “sinner’s prayer.” Salvation is the end result of a whole life process known as sanctification. When you say a “sinner’s prayer” (if that is the way you choose to go about it), or when you simply choose to accept Christ as your Lord and Savior, you are justified. Not saved. In Romans, Paul says, “Being therefore justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we also have our access by faith into this grace in which we stand.” (5:1) Justification is the beginning of the process.
When we are justified before God, we then follow in baptism at which point all our past sins are forgiven. “And so, we were buried with him through baptism to death, so that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, [likewise] we might also walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:4) We have become a new creation in Christ: “Therefore, anyone who is in Christ is a new creation! The old things have passed away. Behold, all things have become new!” (2 Corinthians 5:17)
At this point, we begin our life in Christ, working with Him to achieve His will for our lives. This is known as synergy. We completely submit our will to that of the Father’s, following Christ’s perfect example: “I can do nothing of myself. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is righteous because I do not seek my own will, but the will of the Father who sent me.” (John 5:30)
By submitting our full lives to Christ, it is only then that we will obtain salvation upon death.
John 15 and Eternal Security
I would now like to focus on chapter 15 of the book of John. This particular chapter, along with many others, makes it very clear that it is possible to fall away from God, and that we are not eternally secure.
I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit, he takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, he prunes, so that it may bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it remains in the vine, neither can you, unless you remain in me. I am the vine, you [are] the branches! Whoever remains in me and I in him bears much fruit, for apart from me, you can do nothing. Anyone who does not remain in me is thrown out as a branch and is withered. Such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned! If you remain in me and if my words remain in you, ask whatever you desire and it will be done for you. (John 15:1-7)
This passage is quite simple to understand. Jesus is the vine, we are the branches. And when I say “we,” I mean those who claim to be Christians. Notice throughout this whole section, Christ repeatedly says “remain in me.” Those “branches” Christ is speaking of are the people who have chosen to follow Him. In this case, specifically, He is speaking directly to His disciples. We can see they have been justified as Christ says, “you have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you,” but it applies to all who put their faith in Christ.
So then the question has to be asked, if even the disciples can fall away from Christ, and be thrown into the fire, then how is any Christian eternally secure? The disciples knew He was the Messiah, the Son of God: “Jesus then said to them, ‘But [you], who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!’ And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon Bar Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 16:15-17)
Christ makes it very clear that if we don’t remain in Him, then we will be thrown into the fire. And “remain in Him” goes well beyond faith alone. As we can see from the passage in John that the production of fruit is just as important as faith.
Eternal Security doesn’t Demand Fruit
The final issue I have with eternal security is that it produces “lukewarm” Christians. If a Christian is eternally secure, and there is nothing that can separate them from salvation, what pushes them to lead a fruitful lifestyle? Think about it. Under the idea of eternal security, once a Christian places their faith in Christ, they can do anything and still be saved. This goes completely against everything the New Testament teaches us about being Christian. For simplicity’s sake, however, we’ll just look at John 15 again:
Every branch in me that does not bear fruit, he takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, he prunes, so that it may bear more fruit … Whoever remains in me and I in him bears much fruit, for apart from me, you can do nothing … In this is my Father glorified: that you bear much fruit; and [this is how] you will be my disciples … If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, even as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love … This is my commandment: that you love one another, even as I have loved you.” (2, 5, 8, 10, 12)
According to Christ, if we aren’t producing fruit, we will be cut off and tossed in the fire (i.e. hell). As I said above, our Christian life is a process of sanctification. We conform our minds to do the will of Christ. This means that we produce fruit for Him. And it’s really quite simple. It all comes back to love.
Christ’s commandment is to love one another. When Christ was teaching He gave us two commands: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” and “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22: 37, 39) If we follow those two commands, we will bear fruit.
I’ll leave you with this…
Are you under the impression that once you have accepted Christ there is nothing you can do that will prevent you from going to Heaven? Does this understanding also prevent you from producing the fruit God requires of us? If so, maybe you should step back and reevaluate your understanding of being Christian.