Why Your Faith Is Secure, Part 1:
Salvation is of God, Not of Us

February 24, 2012

by Steve Lemke, Provost, Professor of Philosophy and Ethics, McFarland Chair of Theology, and Director of the Baptist Center for Theology and Ministry at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.


From time to time, many Christians struggle with the issue of the assurance of their salvation.  Often these doubts arise out of a sense of unworthiness when the believer becomes aware of stubborn sins in their own lives that hinder their fellowship with God.  Some other denominations teach that even true believers can lose their salvation.  Does the Bible teach that once we are genuinely saved, that we are saved forever?  Or can we lose our salvation?

Southern Baptists have always believed in what is known variously as the security of the believer, the perseverance of the saints, or “once saved, always saved.”  Each of these three names brings out a different aspect of the doctrine.  Article V of the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 words our Baptist belief in assurance of salvation in this way:

All true believers endure to the end. Those whom God has accepted in Christ, and sanctified by His Spirit, will never fall away from the state of grace, but shall persevere to the end. Believers may fall into sin through neglect and temptation, whereby they grieve the Spirit, impair their graces and comforts, and bring reproach on the cause of Christ and temporal judgments on themselves; yet they shall be kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation.

 

Why do Baptists believe in the security of the believer?  What biblical reasons do you have to feel a firm assurance in your salvation?  This is the first in a series of articles that will examine biblical reasons for affirming the doctrine of security of the believer.  The first argument I will make is that the Bible teaches we cannot lose our salvation because it is not ours to lose.

The first step in understanding security of the believer is to ask ourselves how we were saved in the first place.  Is salvation something that we did or accomplished, or is it something that God did in and through us?  The Bible consistently teaches that although there is some role for personal response and affirmation on the part of the believer, it is God who takes the initiative in salvation and it is God alone who accomplishes our salvation.  God was seeking us long before we became aware of Him.  Jesus said, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you” (John 15:16, NKJV), and the Bible teaches that “We love Him because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19, NKJV).

Before we were ever born, God had already designed His plan of salvation, foreknew and predestined those who would be saved, and sent His Son Jesus to purchase our salvation on the cross.  Some people feel uncomfortable with the idea of God’s election and predestination of believers, but these are doctrines that no Bible-believing Christian can deny.  Election and predestination are clearly taught biblical doctrines.  Consider, for example, the affirmations of the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 1:

“He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will” (Eph. 1:4-5, NKJV).

“In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will” (Eph. 1:11, NKJV).

 

Now, if you were expecting me to explain all the depths of election and predestination in
this brief article, I’m afraid you’ll be disappointed!  First of all, I do not pretend to comprehend the depths of these doctrines (though as a believer and a theologian I must at times attempt my best to do so), and secondly, a discussion of these complex issues would take more space than is available.  However, I will provide a brief explanation of what I understand the Bible to teach.  In trying to understand the roles of divine initiative and human response in Scripture, I take very seriously the order outlined in Romans 8 about the order of salvation:

“For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.  Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified” (Rom. 8:29-30, NKJV).

 

So, in other words, God in His exhaustive foreknowledge foreknew those who would respond in faith to Christ (which was the criteria He had established for salvation – Rom. 10:9-10).  Therefore, based on that foreknowledge, He predestined, called, and justified us, and at the end we will be glorified.

I think that perhaps most Baptists share the perspective I have.  However, other good believers who share a Calvinist or Reformed theology see these issues differently, believing that God predestined those who would be saved prior to and independent of any human choice to respond to God.  However, for the purposes of the doctrine of perseverance, it really doesn’t matter which of these two approaches you have.  Both views share these key beliefs:  salvation comes at the initiative of God, and is brought about by God alone.  Salvation is at the initiative of God (and not of us) because not only did God the Father initiate the plan of salvation before the foundation of the world, and did Christ on the cross pay the price for our sin before we were born, but the Holy Spirit convicted us of sin and convinced us of Christ before we ever responded to God in faith.

The clearest scriptural teaching about salvation being provided by God alone is in Ephesians 2:  “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Eph. 2:8-9, NKJV).  Salvation is not of us.  We did not initiate it.  We did not earn it.  We did not deserve it.  There is nothing we could do that would accomplish our salvation apart from the gracious intervention of God.

So how does this relate to the security of the believer?  Our salvation is secure because salvation is not of us; salvation is of God.  If salvation were in our hands, we would inevitably lose it because we are fallen and sinful.  But since we didn’t earn or deserve our salvation in the first place, but instead it was provided by God, we cannot lose it.  It is God who provides our salvation, and not we ourselves, so we cannot lose what we never earned or deserved.  Salvation is God’s provision, and it is He who secures it.

So, when you begin to question your salvation, remember Who provided it.  You did not.  God did.  And you can trust God “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, NKJV).


This series was published previously in the Louisiana Baptist Message and in the SBC Tomorrow blog in summer of 2010. It is reposted here for our SBC Today readers.

Next article:  Reason Two that you cannot lose your salvation – because genuine salvation is based upon a life-changing experience with God.

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John Metz

Thank you, Dr. Lemke, for addressing this issue.

I have always been comforted and strengthened by two phrase from 1 Corinthians 6: 19-20 — You are not your own…You have been bought with a price. In my Christian life, this fact, which points to salvation being initiated by God, has provided a solid basis for the assurance of salvation.

Thanks again. I will look forward to your following posts.

Joshua Bennett

I think this is a great overview of why a Christian cannot get unsaved. However, in my experience, most people are not troubled about losing their salvation – they wonder if they ever had it in the first place? Will you eventually address that? ( I realize this is part 1 of a series).

    Steve Lemke

    Joshua, yes, I’ll be dealing with that issue in some of the later articles. I find that many people struggle with both issues, or in experience that they seem to flow together. Both deal with the issue of assurance.
    swl

Nelson Banuchi

Dr. Lemke,

Although, I am not a Christian scholar, I must concede I may not meet the Biblically educational requirements that would place me in the proper intellectual and experiential position to post a satisfactory disagreement re: notions of “eternal security”. In any case, I pray you will patiently read over my objections although they may appear frivolous.

From what appears to be concluding remarks, you said, “Our salvation is secure because salvation is not of us; salvation is of God. If salvation were in our hands, we would inevitably lose it because we are fallen and sinful. But since we didn’t earn or deserve our salvation in the first place, but instead it was provided by God, we cannot lose it. ”

1. I agree, “Salvation is of God”, but it does not seem to me that you have made it clear just how that fact logically and necessarily enjoins notions of eternal security. Also,if salvation is all of God (in the absolute sense?), could not all men have been saved and saved eternally?

2. Could not the opposite also be argued, that for the very reason we are “fallen and sinful”, salvation is not irrevocably assured?

3. That salvation is unmerited and provided by God, it does not logically follow that the believer is eternally secure. What/where is the connection from one to the other?

4. It seems that you are under the impression that is a believer (by returning to his previous state of unbelief) forfeits his salvation, somehow God is to be blamed, or his possession of omnipotence questioned and, if so, why? Is God to blame when an unbeliever refuses the grace offered? Has the “word of God failed” because those who had a true faith in Christ have, by their own free will, chosen to go back and reject Biblical truths and Jesus’ saving work on their behalf?

5. The emphasis that only genuine believers are eternally saved does not necessarily preclude genuine believers falling away from what they had once believed. (a) If an emphasis is made that only “genuine” believers are eternally secure, what prevents a deluded “believer” into thinking they are a “genuine” believer? (b) How does one make a proper and fool-proof self-examination to test whether or not they are a “genuine” believer and, therefore, eternally secure?

6. I believe one can absolutely know by faith that they are now in possession of salvation in the present; however, he cannot know absolutely with respect to the future. Why not? For the same reason you stated “eternal security” must be enjoined with salvation, because we are “fallen and sinful”. The reality of one’s faith will be absolutely confirmed and known only at the time of their departure from this life or the Parousia (whichever comes first).

7. A reading of Paul’s letters, at least as far as I understand them, show that he believed he was writing to true believers. Of course, just because he may have thought all to which he wrote were true believers does not necessarily make it so, but it is instructive. It shows that if there is one among those to whom he had personally known and/or written who had fallen away from the faith, he regards them as just that – those who had “fallen away”. He does not refer them as those who were never genuine believers, but as those who have “fallen from grace” (Gal 5:4; 2 Tim 2:18; Heb 6:4-6), that is, that have fallen away from a position they once held (see NIDNTT, Brown, p.611.c).

8. One last remark regarding foreknowledge. If it is argued that God foreknows all whom will finally be saved and, therefore, if one falls away from the faith they were never really saved, can it not also be argued that God foreknows all true believers who persevere to the end and all who at one time had genuine faith, nevertheless, turned away it and, in consequence, fell away from God’s gracious saving work on executed on their behalf?

I think it may be that the wrong question is being asked. If the question is can a genuine believer lose their salvation, I would have to agree that a genuine believer cannot lose their salvation and that mainly because are believing. However, can a genuine believer cease to believe and, thereby, forfeit (not “lose”) their salvation?

I must concur that the latter scenario is possible as I reflect upon the Scriptures.

I invite your response. If you so choose to do so but would rather not take it up on your website, you may send it via my Email address.

Thank you for your time and patience.

at the Cross, Nelson.

    Steve Lemke

    Nelson,
    You ask some profound questions. These questions do not admit of easy answers, although I do believe there are answers for them. In fact, answering some of your eight (actually eleven) questions might take longer than the article itself. However, if you are serious about seeking the answers to these questions, email me at my NOBTS address, I would be glad to share a response to each of them.
    swl

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