Holding on or Eternally Held–Many people are not sure whether a saved person can be lost again or whether once saved they are eternally saved. And as long as one is unsettled on this very important truth, doubts and fears are bound to hinder that soul’s peace and happiness.
In place of truth, man’s enemy, Satan, presents wrong teachings, doubts and reasonings. In the Garden of Eden he raised doubts, saying, “Has God indeed said?” (Gen. 3:1). The Holy Spirit encourages simple faith–a prayerful and simple belief in the Word of God.
Happiness comes by accepting a plain statement of Scripture which one can understand, and by not allowing it to be overshadowed by a passage that is difficult to understand.
The Lord gave Peter a lesson on security. “And when Peter had come down out of the boat, he walked on the water to go to Jesus. But when he saw that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink he cried out, saying, ‘Lord, save me!’ And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him, and said to him, ‘O you of little faith, why did you doubt?'” (Matt. 14:29-31).
The Lord of heaven and earth walked on the sea as on dry land (Matt. 14:25). Calmly, too, He slept in the ship with winds howling around and waves dashing over and filling the vessel, yet instantly at His word they sank to rest, and “there was a great calm” (Mark 4:37-41).
The overseeing of our lives and our eternal safety are in the hands of the Lord–our Savior and everlasting friend. He would impart confidence to the weakest and feeblest believer. We are with Him and He with us in the ship and storm (Gen. 28:15). His safety is ours. The One who controls winds and waves, armies of heaven and earth, is Jesus who died to make us His own, who lives to keep His own and who shall come to claim His own. What security! (Check also Romans 5:10; 8:34; 2 Corinthians 1:10.)
Peter “walked on the water to go to Jesus.” To reach his Master was his one object and goal. His eye on Christ, he walked on the rough waves, “but when he saw that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid.” Why did he look at boisterous winds while his Master was within sight? Fear instead of fearlessness is always the result of turning the eye from Christ. Although there are moments of danger and our hearts grow cold, yet His ever-watchful and never-failing eye is fixed on every real disciple and His grasp of power rescues from the peril. Peter’s terrified cry brought immediate and effectual help.
The Savior’s love and power are equal to every demand made upon Him. Helplessness and self-distrust are golden keys to unlock the treasures of grace. If the need is great, the resource is infinite, for we have a great God and Savior to count on. The sinking Peter did not secure his safety by “holding on,” but Jesus “stretched out His hand and caught him.”
Since we are so apt to turn our eyes from Jesus, we may have to learn His faithfulness by our fears and doubts. “If we are unfaithful, He abides faithful” (2 Tim. 2:13 JND, also Isa. 49:15-16; 1 Cor. 1:8-9).
If getting to heaven depended on our “holding on,” do you think one redeemed person would enter the mansions of glory? Certainly not. No flesh shall glory in its faithfulness. What presumption! “Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?” (Gal. 3:3). How much better is the language of faith: “Being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6). From start to finish, “Salvation is of the Lord” (Jon. 2:9).
“My Sheep. . .Shall Never Perish” As sheep, our security is the responsibility of our Shepherd (1 Pet. 2:25). Of each saved sheep it is written, “When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing” (Luke 15:5). The struggles of the sheep would not be to keep on, but to get off. We are not saved by our “holding on,” for sheep have no hands to hold on by. Now all the Lord’s sheep are borne along on the shoulders of the rejoicing Shepherd, and thus all are equally saved. The Shepherd will take care that not one shall slip off His shoulders. When danger is past, the journey ended and home reached (v. 6), the Shepherd’s note of joy is this: “I have found My sheep which was lost.” Thus the eternal safety of every sheep is the blessed Lord’s own personal responsibility and care.
“My sheep” (John 10). Whether they are white, black or brown, dirty or blemished, inclined at times to stray or to nibble at wrong food, yet they are His redeemed sheep having a nature which distinguishes them from goats, pigs and dogs.
“They follow Me.” Sometimes they follow “afar off” until He in His faithful grace restores them.
The Shepherd says, “I know them.” The weaknesses, fears and temptations of each one of the purchased flock are perfectly known to Him! Yes, “The Lord knows those who are His” (2 Tim. 2:19). He comprehends all perfectly, and in the absolute knowledge of each one’s name, character and ways, He declares, “I give them eternal life.”
“The gift of God is eternal life” (Rom. 6:23). How can eternal life be anything else but eternal? It cannot be lost, forfeited, or sinned away, for “the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable” (Rom. 11:29). Eternal life once given is an everlasting gift.
He who gave has pledged His word not to recall it. A Christian, when he sins, does not forfeit the life he has, but he mars the enjoyment of it. The life is God’s free gift; it is unfettered by conditions and never withdrawn.
“Have everlasting life” is the Lord’s repeated declaration to all who believe on His name (John 3:15-16,36; 5:24). And this “life is hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3:3). How then can it be lost? It is not in our hands to keep or to lose. Our “life is in His Son” (1 John 5:11). “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13).
“They shall never perish.” This brief statement of four words is a mine of gold. (The word “never” in the Greek language is the strongest, doubly-emphatic word possible. It’s stronger than saying “never, never” in English.) He declares the sheep shall never perish, knowing well their continual proneness to wander and their timidity and weakness to the slightest apparent danger. Nevertheless in John 5:24, He, who endured the judgment of God for them, assures them that they shall never come into judgment.
“Neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.” How safe the sheep are! No enemy can reach them there in His hand. Nor is it the good sheep alone which are grasped by and held in the secure hand of their omnipotent Savior–all the sheep are equally maintained by divine power; all are equally safe. He will hold me fast. “My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all” (John 10:29). Believers are the Father’s gift to the Son, and this very fact in itself insures the resurrection of every one given to the Son (John 6:37,39-40; 17:24).
“No one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand.” We are in the hand of the Son (John 10:28), and in the hand of the Father (v. 29). “Kept by the power of God” (1 Pet. 1:5). Our eternal security is in other and more powerful hands than our own. Then comes the climax to this marvelous statement about our present and eternal safety: “I and My Father are one” (v. 30): one in divine nature and one in purpose to keep the blood-bought sheep (Acts 20:28; Matt. 16:18).
Eternal Security According to the Apostle Paul
Paul was a firm believer in God’s everlasting salvation. “I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day” (2 Tim. 1:12, also Rom. 4:20-21). Chapter 8 of his epistle to the Romans is full of it. He opens that grand chapter with, “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus” (v. 1), and closes with the equally emphatic declaration of no separation “from the love of God” (v. 39).
In delivering an address on the eternal security of the believer, I quoted the closing verses of that chapter, in proof that creation above and beneath, past and future, was challenged to produce anything that could separate believers from God’s love. At the close of the happy service, a friend remarked, “I can tell you something not named in these verses, which will assuredly separate you from God’s love.” Surprised, I asked, “What is it?” The answer was promptly given, “Sin.” Once more we read the precious words: “For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:38-39). Sin is not named, but it is surely included in the expression “things present,” for, the apostle says in chapter 7:21: “Evil is present with me.” Thus we regard these verses as conclusively proving the ever abiding security of all in Christ Jesus.
Nothing can snatch you from the grasp of Christ, who has “all power” (Matt. 28:18), who is “the Almighty” (Rev. 1:8), who saves forever “those who come to God through Him, since He ever lives to make intercession for them” (Heb. 7:25; Rom. 5:10; 8:34). We are engraved upon the palms of His hands (Isa. 49:16), on His breastplate and on the stones upon His shoulders (Ex. 28:12,29). “Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love” (Jer. 31:3). His hold, His heart and His power will not lose one of His own (John 6:39).
In Romans. 8:30 we are furnished with a magnificent declaration on the security of God’s elect. “Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.” Here is a golden chain of four precious links stretching from eternity to eternity–each link in the divine chain dependent on the other. “Whom He predestined” in eternity, “these He also called” in time; and whom He called, “these He also justified”; and whom He justified, “these He also glorified” in eternity. Predestinated in the past, glorified in the future and in the meantime both called and justified. Here there is no uncertainty. The infallible salvation of all believers is divinely secured, and no power of man or Satan can break any one of those four links. So absolutely certain is the divine result of God’s eternal counsel respecting each one that it is spoken of as already accomplished–“these He also glorified.” Our imperfect state and weakness are not taken into account at all in this divine assertion of eternal “God for us” brushes aside every difficulty and is the weakest believer’s triumphant answer to every unbelieving doubt (Eph. 1:3-11; 2 Tim. 1:9; 1 Pet. 1:2-5).
Our Relationship is Permanent; Our Behavior is Variable
Every child of God should be well acquainted with these two distinct truths, for they are of the utmost importance for our spiritual understanding and happiness.
Our love is ofttimes low,
Our joy still ebbs and flows;
But peace with Him remains the same,
No change Jehovah knows.
We change-He changes not;
Our Christ can never die
His love, not ours, the resting-place,
We on His truth rely.
As to my relationship, having been born again and indwelt by the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:13), I am a child of God, I have eternal life, I am “in Christ” and a member of His body (1 Cor. 12:13). I am no longer in Adam, but a new creature in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17).
Yea in the fullness of His grace
God put me in the children’s place.
Safe in Christ the weakest child
Stands in all God’s favor.
Yet Lord, alas! what weakness within myself I find,
No infant’s changing pleasure is like my wandering mind.
As to my behavior, I should no longer live unto myself (2 Cor. 5:15) and in fleshly lusts (1 Pet. 4:2). Since I have become a child of light, I should walk as a child of light (Eph. 5:8). “This is a faithful saying, and these things I want you to affirm constantly, that those who have believed in God should be careful to maintain good works” (Titus 3:8). “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace,” and everything that magnifies Christ (Gal. 5:22; Isa. 26:12; Eph. 2:10; Phil. 2:13; Heb. 13:21).
Good behavior is never the means of keeping saved; it is the evidence that one has been saved.
Our relationship to God as His children is unchangeable. Natural birth constitutes you a child of your parents. The relationship is an eternal one. Good conduct cannot strengthen it, nor failure weaken it. That which is born of God abides forever (1 John 3:9). Once you are God’s child, you cannot cease to be His child: To “as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12; Gal. 3:26; 1 John 3:2).
Behavior unbecoming to such a blessed relationship as child of God, will certainly mar the feelings proper to the relationship, and one will forfeit for the time being the joy of salvation. But neither the relationship of child nor the salvation can be lost.
The advocacy of Christ with the Father (1 John 2:1), and the prayer of Christ for the self-confident disciple Peter, were not to restore a relationship, which was not broken, but to restore the state of soul from waywardness and loss of joy (Luke 22:31-32). David, after his sin, did not pray for the restoration of salvation, but for the “joy” of it (Ps. 51:12; 23:3). Your child may require correction because of his misbehavior, but he is still your child.
Satan is ever on the alert with his subtle temptations, entangling wiles, compromises and snares. So if we are not alert to judge ourselves and to depend on the Lord, we may have to learn some very bitter lessons (Ezra 4:2-6; Luke 22:31; 1 Cor. 5:5; 1 Tim. 1:20; 2 Tim. 2:26). Nevertheless, “all things work together for good to those who love God,” (Rom. 8:28) and in the end none of them will be lost (John 6:39).
The sins a child of God commits must come under God’s governmental chastening in this life, but he cannot come into God’s penal judgment when the world is condemned. The distinction between God’s chastening and God’s eternal judgment is clearly made in 1 Corinthians 11:32: “When we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world.” (See also Psalm 89:31-33 and Hebrews 12:5-11 which describe His governmental chastenings in disciplining His redeemed children.) But John 5:24, Romans 2:5 and Revelation 20:11-15 refer to God’s eternal judgment of wicked unbelievers.
Fear not, dear fellow-believer. Remember the Lord’s own hand shut Noah and his family in the ark (Gen. 7:16), which was made judgment-proof–without and within (Gen. 6:14). God Himself secured the door. None could enter, and none could get out. “The Lord shut him in.” God took charge of the door-safety-while Noah looked out of the window above-communion.
Noah and his family were just as safe as God could make them. The ark had three stories and Noah had his place in the third, the one nearest the heavens. Instead of Noah’s going down to the “lower” level and grumbling and fumbling at the door to get out, or to see that it was properly secured, he occupied himself at the window which was at the top and through which he could gaze up into heaven (Gen. 6:16; 8:6). His safety was founded on God who “shut him in.” Is not the application to us simple? Have we not entered the Door? (John 10:9). Are not we quickened, raised and seated in the heavenlies? The hand of God has set us there (Eph. 1:4,6,13; 2:4-6,18; 4:30; 5:30; Col. 1:12-14).
Backsliding and Apostasy, or, Peter and Judas
Carefully distinguish between the backsliding of real believers, such as Peter and Lot, and the real falling away of apparent believers, such as Judas and Simon Magus.
Peter, in self-confidence, yet real love to his Master, vowed that he would face prison and death for his beloved Lord, and yet at the voice of a servant-maid denied His Master with oaths and cursing! Peter sinned, but his faith did not fail (Luke 22:31-34,54-62). It is so with each one of us. Even in the darkest season of fiercest temptation, those who have the weakest faith always cling to Christ, the Son of the living God (1 Pet. 1:4-7), although the lips may cruelly deny that they know Him! “Peter followed Him afar off” (Luke 22:54). “My people have forgotten Me days without number” (Jer. 2:32). “Yet will I not forget you” (Isa. 49:15).
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it;
Prone to leave the God I love.
A believer may, alas, go down into terrible depths of evil, and, for the time being, wreck present happiness and usefulness, as Lot did in Sodom (but see 2 Pet. 2:7-8) and Jonah (Jon. 1:2-5; 2:9) and the fornicator of 1 Corinthians 5 (but see 2 Cor. 2:6-8). But there is one thing he cannot do. He cannot, like Judas, absolutely give up Christ. How many weak, yet true believers needlessly worry about the fear of being lost, citing the sin of Judas and his awful end. But reasonings as to Judas, Satan, angels and Adam falling, overlook the difference made by the “eternal redemption” that is in Christ Jesus for the believer (Heb. 9:12; 10:39; Rom. 8:34).
Many a believer has followed in the footsteps of Peter, the backslider, but no true child of God has ever gone, nor can go in the way of Judas, the apostate. Backsliding is not renouncing Christianity, but failing in that holy separateness of walk which God expects from His children. Peter was a backslider, and one for whom the Lord prayed, and on whom the Lord looked (Luke 22:32,61). That touching look of grieved and injured love broke the heart of the poor backslider. “Then Peter went out and wept bitterly” (Luke 22:62).
Provision is made in the advocacy of Christ with the Father for the restoration of backsliders (1 John 2:1). It is of apostates that the sacred writer says, “It is impossible. . .if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance” (Heb. 6:4-6).
An apostate is one who professes to believe and receives all the outward privileges of Christianity, yet with no divine work in his soul, and so later he gives up Christ. Thus Judas, an apostate, sold his Master, but Peter, a backslider, temporarily denied his Master.
An apostate has “tasted” of the heavenly gift and rejects it, having neither faith nor life. A true believer is one who has “tasted,” but more also–he goes on to “eat the flesh, and drink the blood of the Son of man” (John 6:34,53-54,58). One may “taste” and perish (Heb. 6), but to “eat” is to “live for ever.”
Judas sinned willfully by rejecting the only Savior and thus made it manifest that he would incur the awful judgment recorded in Hebrews 10:26-29, a judgment which cannot possibly overtake the weakest believer. He had shared in that external sanctification which includes all who outwardly separate from Judaism and Paganism to embrace Christianity, the only soul-saving system which reveals a Savior. (Outward sanctification is also seen in 1 Cor. 7:14.) To “sin willfully” is to deliberately, with heart and mind, give up Christ and Christianity completely. That, no child of God could or would do (1 John 2:19).
If an unredeemed professor deliberately renounces Christ for Muhammad, the Bible for the Qur’an or Christianity for Atheism, he embraces a system without a Savior, without a sacrifice and without a heaven. So there is nothing before him but a “certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation” (Heb. 10:27). The solemn warnings contained in Hebrews 6 and 10 refer to mere profession, to giving up Christianity to go back to Judaism and do not at all assume that the persons referred to were ever true children of God. See the contrast in chapter 6:9 and 10:39.
Beloved of God, heir of glory, rest your soul in unshaken confidence on the imperishable Word of God. God has pledged Himself in word and oath to secure your blessing and has anchored your soul in Christ. Your ship may be tossed on stormy seas, but fear not, you will ride out every storm successfully. The anchor cannot drag, nor can the divine chain which links the ship and anchor ever break. All, all is as solid and enduring as the throne of the Eternal! You cannot be more safe in the glory than you are now. You are as completely beyond judgment in this world, as Christ is at God’s right hand: “Because as He is, so are we in this world” (1 John 4:17). “When He is revealed, we shall be like Him,” bodily (1 John 3:2).
Of Believers it is Written:
“The beloved of the Lord shall dwell in safety by Him” (Deut. 33:12). “The Lord will not forsake His people, for His great name’s sake, because it has pleased the Lord to make you His people. . . . Consider what great things He has done for you” (1 Sam. 12:22-24).
“The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7) and makes us “whiter than snow” (Ps. 51:7). “Your sins are forgiven” (1 John 2:12), “blotted out” (Isa. 44:22), “put away” (Heb. 9:26), “as far as the east is from the west” (Ps. 103:12), “into the depths of the sea” (Mic. 7:19) and those sins He “will not remember” (Isa. 43:25).
“There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1). “Chose as in Him. . .accepted in the Beloved” (Eph. 1:4,6). “Complete in Him” (Col. 2:10), “bound in the bundle of the living with the Lord” (1 Sam. 25:29), “members of His body” (Eph. 5:30), “preserved in Jesus Christ” (Jude 1), “and shall not come into judgment” (John 5:24), “shall never hunger. . .shall never thirst” (John 6:35), “shall never perish” (John 10:28).
“Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed” (John 8:36).
“The. . . Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free” (Rom. 8:2).
“Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free” (Gal. 5:1).
“To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and has made us kings and priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen” (Rev. 1:5-6).
Helps on Difficult Passages
We learn the true sense of a verse by its context. If we ignore the context, we are apt to miss the mind of God.
1 Corinthians 9:27-A counterfeit coin is rejected because it is a counterfeit, not because it has become one. This verse does not teach that a real believer can become unsaved, but that a real believer like the apostle Paul (who was being “examined” by the carnal Corinthians, vv. 1-2) can so run by the Spirit (Rom. 8:13), “not with uncertainty” (1 Cor. 9:26) but certain that he himself would not be finally rejected! Judas had “preached to others” (v. 27) while he all the time was “the son of perdition” (John 17:12; Matt. 7:21-23; 2 Cor. 11:15; 13:5-7; 2 Tim. 1:12; John 6:37,39).
Matthew 12:43-45-“My house” is reformed Israel become apostate (2 Chron. 34:1-7; Matt. 23:29,36; 24:15,21). Luke and Peter refer to privileged professors of faith in Christ in a similar way (Titus 1:16; Luke 11:24-26; 2 Pet. 2:20-22).
Matthew 18:27,34-Here the unforgiving is governmentally punished as also the child of God now (1 Cor. 5:5; 11:32; Eph. 4:32); and the nation of Israel (Luke 23:34; 1 Thess. 2:15-16; Isa. 40:2). The mere professor is eternally punished (James 2:13).
Matthew 24:13-This is a physical deliverance to tribulation saints when Christ comes (vv. 3,6,14,22). It has nothing to do with the Christian of this age.
Romans 8:13-Our manner of life proves which road we travel (8:6; 2:6-11)!
Romans 11:22-For the present God has put aside Israel and His testimony is now toward the Gentiles (vv. 13,25), but soon, due to slighting their privileges, Laodicean Christendom in turn will be spewed out and God will take up Israel again (Rev. 3:16).
1 Corinthians 8:11-If we lead a brother to act contrary to his conscience, he will suffer in the flesh (1 Cor. 5:5; 11:30; Heb. 12:13; 2 Cor. 4:16). Romans 14 teaches us to respect such a believer’s weak and limited intelligence in the truth.
1 Corinthians 10:12-Paul warns lusting professors against trusting in privileges instead of Christ (vv. 1-12; Heb. 3:17-4:2). But it is not presumptuous for the believer to be certain of going to heaven (Phil. 1:6; 3:20-21; 2 Tim. 1:12; 1 John 3:2; 5:10-13).
2 Corinthians 5:10-This judgment is not judgment to determine the Christian’s eternal destiny (John 5:24; 1 Pet. 2:24), but it is a review of his works, and the giving of rewards (1 Cor. 3:11-15). Ponder and believe Revelation 20:6.
Galatians 5:4-The Galatians were giving up the principle of grace (which saved and kept them) by making their “keeping saved” depend upon their works. Paul condemned this bad teaching (Gal. 1:6; 3:3; 5:1; Acts 15:11,24; Rom. 11:16).
Hebrews 3:6-A warning to any who lacked faith in the “promised land” lest they give up the journey. Firm confidence of faith in His Word is strongly commended (Heb. 6:11-12; 10:35-36; 11:6; Rom. 9:3-4; Acts 13:38-42).
Hebrews 6:4-6-Privileged by Judaism (vv. 1-2) and by Christianity (vv. 4-5), those Hebrews who had been enlightened by “tasting” Christ and His word and were companions with the Holy Ghost in the assembly, yet who rejected it all and fell away, had no hope. They had turned from the best God had to offer–salvation through the death of His Son (v. 9; Matt. 26:15-16; 1 John 2:19).
1 John 1:7-John speaks of not how we walk, as does Ephesians 5:8, but where, as in Colossians 1:13 and 1 Peter 2:9. It is not a question of “applying” the blood, as in John 6:53, but its abiding efficacy for all Christians.
Jude 5-Mere professors, those who were “natural, not having the Spirit” (v. 19 JND) and who had been privileged by knowing the truth but who lived indifferently toward the Lord who bought them, would incur eternal judgment (Ex. 14:30; Heb. 3:12,17-4:2; Rev. 3:16)!
Revelation 2:10-All believers “have” eternal life (John 3:36; 5:24; 6:47;1 John 5:13). But here, in view of persecution unto death, vv. 8-11, the crown is promised as an encouraging reward (James 1:12; 1 Cor. 15:55,57; Acts 7:54-8:3; 2 Tim. 2:13).
Revelation 3:5-“You have a name that you are alive, but you are dead” (v. 1). Such a person may be written in the book of some denomination. But of a child of God (1 John 5:4-5), God says He “will not blot out his name from the Book of Life” (Rev. 13:8; 17:8; Eph. 1:3-6; Rom. 8:28-30,37).