In this series of articles about the Biblical reasons supporting the security of the believer, we have already seen four that we cannot lose our salvation: (1) because salvation is not ours to lose since God provides it, not we ourselves, (2) because it is based upon a life-changing salvation experience with God, (3) because eternal salvation is a Scriptural promise, and (4) because eternal salvation is a logical necessity. This week we look at a fifth reason from Ephesians 1 and other Scriptures that we can have confidence that we cannot lose our salvation – because it is based on an unchanging status of relationship.
One of the most fundamental confusions about the security of the believer is that it is earned by good works. Some teach that if we “keep persevering” with good works that we will eventually be saved. Yes, if we are truly saved we will demonstrate “bear fruit consistent with repentance” (Matt. 3:8, HCSB; see also Acts 26:20). But we are not saved by our continuing in good works. We continue in good works because we are genuinely saved.
Salvation is not earned by good works, and neither is it kept by good works. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus addressed those who listed all the good works they had done for Him, and Jesus gave them a surprisingly strong rebuke: “I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS” (Matt. 7:23, NASB). Note that although these would-be believers had done many good works for Jesus, that was not sufficient for salvation. The basis for salvation was whether or not they had ever entered into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. Obviously, they had not done so, for Jesus said, “I never knew you.” Salvation, then, is based on a relationship with God, not on our performance.
The word “inheritance” appears three times in Ephesians 1 (vv. 11, 14, and 18). What kind of people receive an inheritance? Children do! And indeed Eph. 1:4 speaks of us as being adopted into the family of God. Salvation is the inheritance that God gives to His adopted children. This idea of becoming children of God is repeated throughout the New Testament. Here are two key affirmations:
“For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs--heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together (Rom. 8:14-17, NKJV).
As adopted children of God, we have entered into a new status or relationship that is unchanging. You are always the parent to your children. That relationship can never change. We are always their parent and they are always our children. Of course, we may fall out of fellowship with our children. Regrettable events might take place which lead us to avoid each other’s company, or even to avoid speaking to each other. The family may go through the division of divorce or remarriage. But even through these catastrophic events, nothing has fundamentally changed about your relationship with your children. You are still the parent and they are still your children.
So it is when we enter into the family of God. God is our heavenly Father. Sin may hinder our fellowship with God. We may feel like there is a cloud between us and God. But we are still His children. When we realize that sin is hindering our fellowship with God, we should confess our sin and start living for God (1 John 1:9), but that does not mean we have lost our salvation. We just need to rededicate our life to God.
As a pastor, the persons I have counseled who doubted their salvation have fallen into one of three categories. The first category is people similar to those I just described. They clearly remember their salvation experience and know it was a genuine experience. But sin has come into their lives and has clouded their fellowship with God. They no longer have the zeal or joy that they had earlier in their Christian lives. They have become lukewarm in their service for Him (Rev. 15-20). There is no question in my mind that these persons are genuine believers assured of their salvation by God. My advice to them is to repent of the sins that are hindering their fellowship, get back to their “first love” for God (Rev. 2:4), and restore the joy of their salvation (Ps. 51:12).
A second category of persons is those who know clearly that they are not saved. They may have come forward in a church service, gotten baptized, and have their name on a church roll, but they know it was never real. They may have come forward in church to make a public profession in Christ because they felt pressured to do so or because other youth were doing so, but they knew it was never genuine. Or they may have felt an interest in salvation but it was never clearly explained to them about how to be saved. Obviously, these persons need to come forward to make a clear decision for Christ and be baptized. They can then know that they have a reservation in heaven.
A third category of persons simply cannot remember their initial salvation experience clearly. Usually, they grew up in Christian families and made a decision for Christ at an early age. They have been fairly faithful in church, but at times they have drifted away, and this causes them to doubt that they were ever genuinely saved. Although I personally believe that many of these persons are actually saved, it is important for them to have the assurance of salvation. I therefore often recommend that they go forward again and cement their commitment to Christ once for all as an adult. That way, they can have full assurance of their salvation and never have to doubt their salvation again.
Do you have assurance of eternal life? Scripture says that we can “now that we know Him” (1 John 2:3, NKJV). If you have trusted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, you can have full assurance of your salvation.
Dr. Steve Lemke is Provost and Professor of Philosophy and Ethics at the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. This is the fifth of six articles in the "Theological Thought" column in the [Louisiana] Baptist Message on this subject [vol. 125, no. 14 (July 8, 2010), 5].
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