There definitely was an accusing tone in Jane’s voice as she posed her questions on the radio program. “Do you believe in ‘once saved, always saved’?”
“Why do you ask?” I replied.
“Because it doesn’t make sense to me,” Jane answered. “I don’t see how a person can go to heaven just because he once walked down an aisle or prayed a prayer, no matter what he goes out and does afterward. Suppose a man says he received Christ, then goes out, gets a machine gun, and kills twenty people. Are you telling me he’s still going to heaven?”
“First of all, Jane, I don’t teach ‘once saved, always saved’ because that phrase is not in the Bible.What I believe, and teach, is justification by faith. Do you believe that?
“Um...well,” she responded. Apparently, Jane’s problem was that she did not understand “justification by faith”. The central issue of our discussion was whether or not a Christian can have assurance of salvation. According to the Bible, the answer is “yes.” Many Christians do not understand this vital truth. Therefore, discussing assurance of one’s salvation often results in confusion. Far-fetched hypothetical scenarios are often introduced, such as Jane’s example, which carry an emotional impact. Such an illustration makes the idea of “once saved, always saved” seem not only ridiculous, but also impossible.Rather than judging God’s Word, we must subject our opinion to the reliability of the Scriptures.
“Are you saved?” I asked Jane. She said she was. I then asked, “How would you define salvation? What does it mean to you to be saved?”
“It means that Jesus died for the forgiveness of my sins, so I can go to heaven when I die,” she replied. Her response indicated that her understanding of salvation was incomplete.
Jane believed that salvation consisted simply of forgiveness for her sins. If that was the case, then she would only be a“forgiven sinner.” While it is true that her past guilt would be wiped out, she, herself, would remain unchanged.
Salvation is much more than that! Scriptures teach “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation” (2Corinthians 5:17).
To understand the security of our salvation in Christ, we must see what it means to become “a new creation”. Jesus did not just come to get men out of hell and into heaven; He came to get Himself out of heaven and into men! Why? Because the problem of mankind, from God’s viewpoint, goes beyond the fact that we are sinners in need of forgiveness. From Genesis to Revelation, Scriptures teach “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Therefore, men not only need forgiveness, they also need the only cure for death, which is life. As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. Ephesians 2:1-3
Those verses are graphic in their description of man’s condition apart from God. Not only did we need forgiveness, we needed life! That is exactly what the Lord gave us through His resurrection power: But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions ― it is by grace you have been saved. Ephesians 2:4,5 Who needs life? Only the dead. That is why Jesus said: I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life. John 5:24 When I shared this with Jane, she responded,
“Okay, I see what you mean. But what about the future? I know Jesus died for my past sins, but what about my future sins?”
That’s a good question. If “the wages of sin is death”, what assurance do Christians have that they won’t die again spiritually when they sin? How can they know the life they received is eternal? The answer is found in the finality of the cross. Jesus Died for Sins Once & For All. My reply was, “When Jesus died on the cross for your sins two thousand years ago, how many of your sins were in the future? In laughter she said, “All of them.” “Of course they were, unless you’re over two thousand years old. God is not limited by time. He looked down the corridor of history, from Creation to the end of the world, and bundled up every sin that would ever be committed and laid them all upon Christ.”
“Jane,” I continued, “do you remember what John the Baptist said when he saw Jesus? ‘Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!’”(John 1:29).
I then read the following scripture:
Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy. Hebrews 10:11,12,14
Sacrifices offered under the Old Covenant could only atone for, or cover, sins; they could never take them away. But Christ could and did! According to these passages, what has God done for you?”
Jane hesitated a moment. “It says He has made me perfect forever, but...” “Don’t say, ‘but,’ and move on. Examine what the Scriptures say. According to that verse, how many times is God going to deal with sin?”
“It says one sacrifice for all time,” she replied.
“Right. And by that one sacrifice He made perfect forever anyone who puts his faith in Christ. However, this doesn’t mean we always act perfect. These verses simply mean that in the eyes of a holy God, we have been given the perfection of Jesus Christ. We stand in His perfection, not our own.
I then read the following: When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. Colossians 2:13,14
“ Here we see the essence of the gospel. God’s ultimate purpose was to make us ‘alive with Christ.’ In order to do that and ensure our life would be eternally secure, He provided total forgiveness of our sins and nailed the law, which condemned us, to the cross. We now have complete assurance that the resurrected life of Christ we received can never be lost. The only thing that could cause us to die again spiritually ― sin ― has been dealt with once and for all!”
Assurance of Eternal Life
Jane was silent and she thought about what I had said. I could tell she still had some questions. I wanted her to think it through once more, so I asked her, “What was it that caused the first man, Adam, to die spiritually?”
“Sin,” she replied. “Right. The next question is a little trickier: What caused Jesus, who had no sin of His own, to die?”
“I guess it was because of our sin,” Jane answered.“Correct. The Bible says, ‘God made him who had no sin to be sin for us’ (2 Corinthians 5:21). Adam died because of his sin; Jesus died because He became sin.
Why will Christians not die again spiritually even though they sin?”
“Because all of our sins are forgiven”, Jane responded.
“Now you’ve got it. Sin caused spiritual death. At the cross, however, all our sins were placed upon Christ. That is why scriptures declare that ‘there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus’” (Romans 8:1).
New Creatures in Christ
Although Jane was beginning to understand her security in Christ, she raised a prior objection. “Okay,I see what you mean. But if it is true that I am totally forgiven no matter what I do, why shouldn’t I just go out and sin?”
“There are many practical reasons why you shouldn’t give yourself over to sin,” I replied. “Sin always leads to bondage. Christ, on the other hand, went t o a cross to set us free from the power of sin. “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm , then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1).
That in itself is a good enough reason. In addition to completely forgiving us, however, God did not leave us as we were. He took up residence in us, giving us His life. Thus the gospel, in essence, is: Jesus gave His life for you, so that He could give His life to you, so that He could live His life through you.
That’s why Paul wrote, ‘I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me’” (Galatians 2:20).
“Jane, the Bible says, ‘if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation’ (2 Corinthians 5:17). This is not referring to behavior, such as ‘I used to drink, smoke and chew, but I don’t do those things any more. It is referring to our identity. It’s like a caterpillar, crawling on the lowest plane of existence. One day it weaves itself into a cocoon and later emerges as a butterfly, a totally new creature. I’ve never heard anyone say, ‘Look at this gorgeous converted worm!’ Have you? No. What do we call it? A butterfly. Why? Because that’s what it is, regardless of it’s behavior. It may land on things it shouldn’t, or forget it’s a butterfly and crawl around with its old worm buddies, but it will never be a worm again. “Jane, when you heard the gospel and put your trust in Christ, He transformed you into a new creature. The Bible says you are a saint, which means ‘holy one’. You are not a saint due to your behavior, but because that is your identity. Just like the butterfly, you may forget who you are and get into things you shouldn’t. However, you will never again be who you were as a lost person. Christ now lives in you. He not only will remind you of who you are, but will also fulfill His promise of an abundant life (John 10:10).
A New Identity
The question of “motivation” is commonly raised when discussing our security in Christ. I like to respond with the following illustration:
Let’s suppose you lived in poverty and you survived through prostitution. The kingdom has severe laws and harsh penalties for those involved in that practice, so you live in constant fear. One day, the king declares general amnesty. All criminal behavior, including prostitution, is forgiven. Would that be good news? Of course! Would it be sufficient motivation to change your life? No. Why? Because you still need to survive, and prostitution is all you know. However, not only has the king forgiven all crimes, he also has asked you to become his bride. Now who would you be? The queen! Because of your behavior? No. Because of your identification with the king. Is there now motivation to change? Of course! No one in her right mind would resume her old life-style when she had all the riches, rights, and resources of a queen.
Compare this illustration to what Christ accomplished for us. We were lost, alienated sinners. Yet “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
While that in itself is good news, it is not sufficient motivation to change when you consider that Jesus said, “Apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). God not only took away our sins and gave us new life, He also provided us a new identity through our identification with the living Christ (1Corinthians 1:30). We are children of God. We are forgiven through the cross, we have new motivation through His love,and we have new life and power because He lives in us! No wonder Peter said: His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called
us by his own glory and goodness. 2 Peter 1:3
This is what “justification by faith” means. I am in Christ and He is in me. My acceptance is not based on my performance. I am clothed with the righteousness of Jesus Christ (Galatians 3:17). Now God accepts me perfectly and unconditionally! This wonderful inheritance belongs to every child of God. His Faithfulness, Not Ours. The Lord Jesus was very explicit regarding our security. In the Gospel of John He said: My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can 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. I and the Father are one. John 10:27-30
Unfortunately, Jane was still struggling. Upon hearing this wonderful promise, she responded, “No one can snatch us out of Christ’s hand, but what about ourselves? What happens when we walk away from God?”
“That depends upon where God is, Jane,” I answered. “How can you ‘walk away’ from someone who lives in you and who promised, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you’ (Hebrews 13:5)? You may think you are ‘walking away from God’, but He is in you always.”
Praise God that our salvation does not rest on our ability to hang onto Him! He has committed Himself to holding onto us! We have the promise “that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6). When Jane finally understood, she testified to the relief that comes as a result of resting in what God has done on our behalf, rather than on what we do.
God promised eternal life to those who trust in Jesus Christ; He does not want us to live in insecurity. Perhaps the apostle John said it best:
And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.
He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life
. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the
Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. 1 John 5:11-13