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


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.