Security in Christ (the S in FACTS) [Cf. Article 5 of the 5 Articles of the Remonstrance]
At base, “Security in Christ” means that a person’s salvation is secure as long as he is in Christ, that is, as long as he believes/trusts in Christ and therefore remains in faith-union with Christ. The security of salvation should be grounded in Christ, the promises of his word, and our faith-relationship with him rather than in some unknowable divine decree by which God is said to have chosen certain people for salvation unconditionally. An unconditional divine decree that cannot be known until the end of life or time does not provide for assurance of salvation and makes the security of salvation of no value for the confidence of believers.
Arminians differ among themselves on the more specific nature of the security of salvation. There is some question of whether Arminius himself believed in the possibility of apostasy (a word meaning forsaking the faith) for true believers or whether he was undecided about the issue. But most scholars agree that Arminius did believe that true believers can fall away from faith in Christ and therefore salvation. On the other hand, the early Arminians, who were known as the Remonstrants and sided with Arminius in the theological debates of 17th century Holland, were originally undecided about whether true believers could commit apostasy. But they ultimately came to the conclusion that they can.
Traditionally, Arminians have believed that true believers can forsake faith in Christ and so perish as unbelievers, forfeiting their salvation, and the Arminian theological label has normally included this doctrinal position. However, the fact that there is some question of Arminius’ own position, and the early Arminians, along with the first confessional statement of Arminian theology, which they penned, known as “The Five Articles of Remonstrance,” explicitly indicated uncertainty about whether apostasy is possible for true believers suggests that the doctrine is not an essential element of Arminian theology conceptually. Therefore, it seems best to classify as Arminians those who agree with Arminianism on every other point of dispute regarding the doctrine of salvation. More precisely, they may be considered “4 point Arminians” or “moderate Arminians,” yet Arminians nonetheless. Moderate Arminians could use the “S” in FACTS to articulate their belief that security in Christ means in part that God will make sure that believers do not forsake their faith and therefore perish as unbelievers. But this description of the Arminian doctrine of security/perseverance will focus on the traditional Arminian position of belief in the possibility of apostasy since this is a historic and distinctive even if not essential Arminian position.
All Arminians (not to mention traditional Calvinists) agree that persevering in faith is necessary for final salvation. Indeed, the position that it is unnecessary (held by what are sometimes called “Moderate Calvinists”) was virtually non-existent until the twentieth century. Perhaps just as shocking is that the position that agrees that persevering in faith is necessary for final salvation but holds that it is impossible for true believers to turn away from their faith is not advocated in any extant Christian writings until some 1500 years into church history! While such historical considerations cannot be decisive in theological matters, they do offer a strong caution to those holding these more novel positions and weigh in favor of the traditional Arminian position.
The fact that salvation is conditional on faith (see “Atonement for All” and “Conditional Election” above) and that condemnation is partly conditional on unbelief (John 3:16-18, 36) implies that continuing in faith is necessary for final salvation. To put it simply, believers will be saved, but unbelievers will perish. If someone goes from being an unbeliever to being a believer, then he will be saved, and if someone goes from being a believer to an unbeliever, then he will be lost. We see this sort of idea quite clearly in Ezekiel 33:13-19,
13 Though I say to the righteous that he shall surely live, yet if he trusts in his righteousness and does injustice, none of his righteous deeds shall be remembered, but in his injustice that he has done he shall die. . . 14 Again, though I say to the wicked, “You shall surely die,” yet if he turns from his sin and does what is just and right . . . and walks in the statutes of life, not doing injustice, he shall surely live; he shall not die. 16 None of the sins that he has committed shall be remembered against him. He has done what is just and right; he shall surely live. . . 18 When the righteous turns from his righteousness and does injustice, he shall die for it. 19 And when the wicked turns from his wickedness and does what is just and right, he shall live by this. (Compare the similar principle with regard to nations in Jer 18:7-11.)
Or as Deut 29:18-20 states,
Make sure there is no man or woman, clan or tribe among you today whose heart turns away from the LORD our God to go and worship the gods of those nations; make sure there is no root among you that produces such bitter poison. 19 When such a person hears the words of this oath, he invokes a blessing on himself and therefore thinks, “I will be safe, even though I persist in going my own way” . . . 20The LORD will never be willing to forgive him; his wrath and zeal will burn against that man. All the curses written in this book will fall upon him, and the LORD will blot out his name from under heaven. (NIV)
The prophetic word recorded in 2 Chron 15:2 states the principle in yet another way: “Listen to me, Asa, and all Judah and Benjamin: the LORD is with you when you are with Him. And if you seek Him, He will let you find Him; but if you forsake Him, He will forsake you.”
In the New Testament, a similar sort of principle applies to faith in Christ and salvation. Second Timothy 2:12 states quite plainly, “if we endure, we will also reign with him [Christ].If we disown him, he will also disown us” (NIV). And in contrast to persecution and spiritual deception, Jesus declares, “the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Matt 24:13). Indeed, one of the main concerns of the Lord’s Olivet Discourse is to warn his followers to be watchful and vigilant to persevere in loyalty to Jesus despite various pressures or temptations to go astray lest they be shut out from his kingdom and salvation (Matt 24:4, 13, 23-24, 26, 42-51; 25:1-13, 26-30). There are many such warnings in the New Testament, testifying to the possibility of apostasy since it is pointless to warn against impossibilities. (The position that apostasy is impossible and the warnings guarantee that true believers will obey the warnings is untenable because the believer is supposed to know that he is being warned against doing something he cannot do and consequences he can never experience, which nullifies the motivation to obey the warnings.) There are biblical passages that might sound like they unconditionally guarantee believers salvation so that it is to be assumed that God will make sure believers do not turn from faith. But the thought that believers can forsake their faith and forfeit salvation is a pervasive concern in the New Testament, seen in numerous passages whether directly or indirectly. Hence, passages that might seem unconditional because they do not explicitly state a condition are better understood to assume the condition of perseverance in faith and the ability to forsake faith rather than to assume that God will not allow the believer to stop believing. Passages that refer directly to apostasy, those that indicate conditionality or uncertainty concerning present believers’ attainment of final salvation, and those that warn believers against turning from Christ and so perishing all manifest the possibility of true believers making shipwreck of their faith.
In Mark 8:38, Jesus warned his disciples, “For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” Elsewhere he warned them, “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet” (Matt 5:13). In Matt 6:15, Jesus warns, “if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” The significance of that warning is illustrated vividly in the parable of the unforgiving servant, in which a king forgives his servant but then withdraws that forgiveness because the servant does not forgive his fellow servant. The conclusion of the parable is striking: “32 Then his master summoned him and said to him, “You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?” 34 And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. 35 So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart” (Matt 18:32-35). The message is clear: even if a person’s sins have been forgiven and, therefore, that person is saved, God will cancel that person’s forgiveness if he does not forgive fellow believers, revoking his salvation.
However, since salvation and justification are by faith and not works, and faith yields obedience (Rom 1:5; 14:23; 16:26; Gal 5:6; 1 Thes 1:3; 2 The 1:11; Heb 11; James 2:14-26), these types of passages should not be taken to indicate that sinning in itself results in the forfeiture of salvation (though some Arminians believe this), whether by any sin whatsoever or certain egregious sins. Rather, ongoing refusal to repent of sin by one who has been a believer and continues to profess to be a believer reflects that the person is no longer truly trusting in Christ as Lord and Savior, and it is the forsaking of genuine faith that actually leads to practical rejection of Christ’s lordship and the loss of salvation, even if the person still professes faith in Christ. As Paul mentions in Titus 1:16, there are some who “profess to know God, but they deny him by their works.” Indeed, Jesus stated that the Father cuts off every person in him who does not bear fruit and urged his disciples to remain in him, which would bring them to bear fruit (John 15:1-6). Here we have a picture of someone being in Christ, a state of salvation, and then taken out of Christ, i.e., taken out of that state of salvation (union with Christ) to an unsaved state. As Jesus declares in John 15:6, “If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned,” an image of final judgment. Since union with Christ and obedience are by faith (see “Conditional Election” above and the references at the beginning of this paragraph), failure to produce fruit reveals that faith has been abandoned and the Father removes the practical apostate from union with Christ. This is partly why Jesus urges his disciples to remain in him, which most basically means to continue trusting in him, which would be a senseless exhortation if it were impossible for them to leave him.
In his explanation of the parable of the sower in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus indicates that believing brings salvation (Luke 8:12), but speaks of some “who receive the word with joy when they hear it . . . They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away” (Luke 8:13; NIV). He also speaks of some who produce fruit that does not last (literally, it does not mature) because it is “choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life” (Luke 8:7, 14 [quote from the NIV]). All of the unfaithful responses to God’s word in the parable are contrasted to a faithful response that perseveres in adherence to the word (Luke 8:15). Clearly, holding fast to the word is implicitly commended by the parable and turning away from the word is implicitly condemned. However, if those who fall away merely fall away from some sort of false faith, then that could not be presented as a particularly bad thing. Rather, the parable warns against falling away from true faith and urges perseverance in the same. As Jesus said to a man who promised to follow him after saying goodbye to his family, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62).
In Rom 8:13 the Apostle Paul warned believers, “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” More pointedly, in Romans 11, addressing Gentile believers and contrasting them with unbelieving Jews, Paul warns them that God will cut them off from his people if they do not continue in faith:
They [the unbelieving Jews] were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. 21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. 22 Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off. 23And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again (Rom 11:20-23).
Only belief in the possibility of apostasy can do justice to this text. The doctrine known as “eternal security” or “once saved, always saved,” whether in the form of inevitable perseverance or of unnecessary perseverance, aims to convince the believer not to fear that he could be cut off from God’s people and their salvation for some reason. But this is the very opposite of Paul’s intention here, where he expressly calls upon believers to fear being cut off from God’s people for unbelief.
Paul himself feared that believers might forsake Christ and perish. He was concerned that the actions of some believers might lead other believers astray and destroy them (Rom 14:15, 20-21; 1 Cor 8:9-13; cf. 3:16-17). More strikingly, he warned the Corinthians against perishing through unfaithfulness, using the example of Israel (1 Cor 10:1-13) and eventually declaring, “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall (1Cor 10:12). He had already warned, “9 Or do you not know that the unrighteouswill not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God (1Cor 6:9-10). He further told the Corinthians, “Now I would remind you, brothers,of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you – unless you believed in vain” (1 Cor 15:1-2). Later, when they had fallen under the influence of false teachers (referred to, for example, in 2 Cor 11:1-6, 12-15), he told them,
2 For I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ. 3 But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. 4 For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough (2 Cor 11:2-4).
He also urged them “not to receive the grace of God in vain” (2 Cor 6:1), exhorted them, “5 Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?– unless indeed you fail to meet the test! 6 I hope you will find out that we have not failed the test” (2 Cor 13:5-6). He further prayed for their restoration (2 Cor 13:9).
One of the main purposes of Paul’s epistle to the believers in Galatia was to persuade them not to turn from Christ to a false gospel. It appears that they were in the process of doing this very thing, and so Paul’s epistle argues with urgency and passion to rescue them from that disastrous path. Early in the epistle, he exclaims, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel” (Gal 1:6), such a serious matter that Paul further exclaims, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed” (Gal 1:8-9). Paul was deeply concerned for the souls of the Galatian Christians, crying out, “O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you?” (Gal 3:1a-b). Their folly lay in turning from faith to works for possession of the Spirit and membership in God’s people (Gal 3:2-6), which would make their suffering for their faith vain (Gal 3:4) since it would forfeit their salvation if held on to. Therefore, he reminded them that “all who rely on works of the law are under a curse” (Gal 3:10) and asked them, “But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more?” (Gal 4:9). He referred to these believers as “my little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you” (Gal 4:19) and stated plainly that he was perplexed about them (Gal 4:20). Some of them desired to be under the law (Gal 4:21).
In Gal 5:1-4, Paul makes it absolutely clear that true believers (to whom his words were addressed) can turn from faith and grace, and end up not benefitting from Christ (i.e., not saved):
1 For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. 2 Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. 3 I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. 4 You are severed from Christ, you who would be justifiedby the law; you have fallen away from grace (Gal 5:1-4).
In 5:1, there would be no reason for Paul to exhort the Galatian Christians not to submitagain to a yoke of slavery if it were not possible for them to do so. Nor would it make sense in 5:2 for him to warn them that accepting circumcision would make Christ to be of no advantage to them, which would mean no salvation. Strikingly, in 5:4 Paul states that some of the Galatian Christians were severed from Christ, which he describes as having fallen away from grace. It would be hard to imagine a clearer succinct expression of the forfeiture of saving relationship with Christ, though Paul was seeking to win those in view back to saving faith as well as warn others not to follow that same doomed path. The situation of the Galatian church heading toward embracing a false gospel and some of them even having done so left Paul saying, “You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion is not from him who calls you” (Gal 5:7-8).
After listing the works of the flesh (Gal 5:19-21a), Paul warns the Galatian believers once again: “I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Gal 5:21b). And then yet again: “7 Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. 8 For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. 9 And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (Gal 6:7-9). He issued a similar type of warning in Eph 5:5-7: “5 For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. 6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.7 Therefore do not become partners with them.” Note that in these last two places there is a warning not to be deceived about this matter, as if Paul was already countering teaching that believers cannot actually turn from their faith and live in sin or that believers can live in sin and still be saved. The very fact that Paul warns believers against these things implies that they can fall into them and experience the threatened consequences.
The Epistle to the Colossians is also addressed to believers who were facing false teaching and were in danger of forsaking the true gospel. Therefore, Paul prayed for their perseverance (Col 1:11) and underscored that their present reconciliation to God would issue forth in final acceptance “if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting away from the hope of the gospel that you heard” (Col 1:23; cf. 1 Tim 2:15). Moreover, he urged them to continue walking with Christ as their Lord (Col 2:6) and warned them: “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spiritsof the world, and not according to Christ” (Col 2:8).
As for the Church of the Thessalonians, Paul was greatly concerned that they might forsake their faith because of persecution, which makes little sense if he thought that God would not let them forsake their faith. As Paul recounted to them,
1 Therefore when we could bear it no longer, we were willing to be left behind at Athens alone, 2 and we sent Timothy, our brother and God’s coworkerin the gospel of Christ, to establish and exhort you in your faith, 3 that no one be moved by these afflictions. For you yourselves know that we are destined for this. 4 For when we were with you, we kept telling you beforehand that we were to suffer affliction, just as it has come to pass, and just as you know. 5 For this reason, when I could bear it no longer, I sent to learn about your faith, for fear that somehow the tempter had tempted you and our labor would be in vain. (1 Thes 3:1-5).
At a later time, he exhorted them, “So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter (2 Thes 2:15), which would be unnecessary if they could not fail to stand firm (cf. Eph 6:10-18).
Paul warned Timothy against false teachers who had swerved from “love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Tim 1:5-6) and by doing so “wandered away into vain discussions” (1 Tim 1:6), apparently men who had been true believers but went astray. Indeed, Paul mentions to Timothy that by rejecting a good conscience, “some have made shipwreck of their faith, among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme” (1 Tim 1:19-20). But one cannot make shipwreck of one’s faith if one never had faith to shipwreck. Hymenaeus and Alexander are probably examples of what Paul relates in 1 Tim 4:1-2, “Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, 2 through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared.” Even one of Paul’s co-workers, Demas, turned away from the Lord for love of the World (2 Tim 4:10; cf. Col 4:14; Philem 23). One of the things that leads believers to turn from their faith is the love of money: “9 But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs (1Tim 6:9-10). Another cause of apostasy Paul mentioned to Timothy is false knowledge (1 Tim 6:20-21). He even needed to warn Timothy to guard himself against it: 20 O Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you, avoiding worldly and empty chatter and the opposing arguments of what is falsely called ‘knowledge’— 21 which some have professed and thus gone astray from the faith. (1Tim 6:20-21 NASB; italics removed). Indeed, Timothy was to, “Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called” (1 Tim 6:12) and he was also to instruct rich believers to be generous with their money “so that they may take hold of that which is truly life” (1 Tim 6:18-19). Even Timothy needed to be exhorted to “continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed” (2 Tim 3:14) and to, “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1Tim 4:16). For that matter, Paul not only counseled the Corinthians to exercise total focus and great self-discipline in pursuing eternal life, but he also spoke of his need for the same in order that he himself would not be disqualified from eternal life:
24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. 25 Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26 So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. 27 But I discipline my body and keep it under control,lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified (1 Cor 9:24-27).
The main purpose of the Book of Hebrews is to encourage its audience of believers not to forsake their faith in Christ but to persevere in him. Warnings against apostasy pervade the book (2:1-4; 3:7-4:13; 5:11-6:12; 10:19-39; 12:1-29). Here are some representative verses:
- “1 Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. 2 For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, 3how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?” (Heb 2:1-3a)
- “And we are his [God’s] house if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope.” (Heb 3:6b)
- “12 Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. 14 For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. 15 As it is said, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.” (Heb 3:12-15)
- “Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.” (Heb 4:11; falling here refers in context to falling under God’s fatal judgment because of unbelief; see 3:16-4:3).
- “Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.” (Heb 4:14)
- “4 For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5 and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.” (Heb 6:4-6)
- 11 And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, 12 so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises. (Heb 6:11-12)
- “17 So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, 18 so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us.” (Heb 6:17-18)
- “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.” (Heb 10:23)
- “29 How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know him who said, ‘Vengeance is mine; I will repay.’ And again, ‘The Lord will judge his people.’ 31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. 32 But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, 33 sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. 34For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. 35 Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. 36 For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. 37 For, ‘Yet a little while, and the coming one will come and will not delay; 38 but my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him.’ 39 But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.” (Heb 10:29-39; note that v. 38 speaks of a believer, who is righteous by faith, shrinking back from faith and drawing God’s displeasure, and that this consequence is equated with destruction in contrast to persevering in faith yielding salvation of the soul.)
- “1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. 3Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.” (Heb 12:1-3)
- “Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, 13 and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. (Heb 12:12-13)
- “15 See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no ‘root of bitterness’ springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; 16 that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. 17 For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears. (Heb 12:15-17)
- “See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For aif they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven.” (Heb 12:25)
The Epistle of James also testifies to the possibility and danger of apostasy in 5:19-20, “19My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back,20 let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins” (Jam 5:19-20). This statement is aimed at believers (“brothers”), and considers it possible that some of them could wander from the truth, which would result in spiritual death for the wanderer unless he comes to repentance.
First Peter 1:5 gives insight into the nature of Christian security of salvation—it is conditional on faith. For it speaks of us “who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” Hence, the biblical doctrine of salvation security is best described as conditional rather than unconditional or inevitable. As the believer trusts in God, the Lord guards his salvation. But as we have seen, if the believer stops trusting in the Lord, then the Lord will revoke his salvation. Thus, Peter exhorted his believing audience, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 9 Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world” (1 Pet 5:8-9).
In 2 Pet 1:5-11, the Apostle exhorted his audience of believers to grow in godly virtues because doing so would keep them from falling and so failing to enter the eternal kingdom of Christ. It is in this context that Peter gives the remarkable exhortation, “Therefore, brothers, be all the more eager to make your callingand election sure” (2 Pet 1:10; NIV). The wording of this exhortation is not to make ourselves sure about our calling and election, but to make our calling and election themselves sure/firm, which is then tied to not falling and indicated as being accomplished by practicing the Christian virtues that were already said to be what would keep Peter’s readers secure: “for if you practice these qualities you will never fall” (2 Pet 1:10b).
Peter goes on to spend a good deal of his second epistle warning his believing audience of false teachers and their spiritually destructive teaching (2 Pet 2-3), who had forsaken “the right way” and had “gone astray” (2 Pet 2:15). “[T]hey entice by sensual passions of the flesh those who are barely escaping from those who live in error” (2 Pet 2:18b). That implies the enticement of genuine believers since they are escaping—even if barely—from those who live in error. Sadly, Peter warned “many will follow their sensuality” (2 Pet 2:2a). Peter’s warning is grave indeed:
20 For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. 21 For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them.22 What the true proverb says has happened to them: The dog returns to its own vomit, and the sow, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire. (2 Pet 2:20-22)
This warning refers to believers who go astray, since they had “escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet 2:20; cf. 1:4, 8).
The Epistle of Jude is also dedicated to warning believers against false teaching and encouraging them to resist it and persevere in the truth. After describing the false teachers and the divine judgment set upon them, Jude exhorts his believing audience, “20But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, 21 keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life” (Jude 1:20-21). There would be no reason to warn and exhort genuine believers to keep themselves in the love of God and wait for Christ’s mercy of eternal life in the face of false teaching if they could not forsake God’s love and give up on Christ’s mercy.
The Book of Revelation is yet another New Testament book that has exhorting its readers to persevere in the faith as one of its primary purposes. The seven churches addressed by the book were under pressure to give up or compromise their faith from various temptations. While the whole book carries this concern (see e.g., Rev 13:10; 14:12), it comes out most clearly in the letters to the seven churches in chapters 2-3. Each of the churches is exhorted to be faithful to Christ and promised eternal life (described in various ways) if they are faithful to the end. The clear implication is that they will not be saved if they are not faithful to Christ and it is possible for them to be unfaithful and perish.
For example, the church of Ephesus is promised: “To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God” (Rev 2:7b). The obvious implication is that the one who does not conquer (i.e., is not faithful to Jesus; cf. Rev 12:11; 15:2; 1 John 5:4-5) will not be allowed to eat of the tree of life (i.e., will not be given eternal life). The church of Smyrna is promised: “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life . . . The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death” (Rev 2:10c, 2:11b). The obvious implication is that the one who is not faithful unto death will not be given the crown of life and the one who does not conquer will be hurt by the second death. Similarly, the church of Sardis is promised: “The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels” (Rev 3:5). The obvious implication is that the one who does not conquer will not be clothed in white garments and will be blotted out of the book of life and will not be confessed before the Father and the angels. The reference to blotting out of the book of life is especially instructive on the question of salvation security. For blotting a name out of the book of life implies that the name was in the book and that the person identified by the name was saved. But blotting out of the book indicates the removal of salvation and eternal life.
Most of the churches are also explicitly threatened with judgment if they are not faithful to Christ. For example, Christ told the church of Ephesus, “I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent” (Rev 2:5). Removing a church’s lampstand is a figure for removing its identity as God’s people, a transfer into an unsaved state. More vividly, Christ threatened the church of Laodicea, “because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth” (Rev 3:16), a threat to those who are in Christ of ejecting them out of Christ into an unsaved state.
Near the very end of Revelation, Jesus issues a grave warning: “if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book” (Rev 22:19). This warning seems to be addressed mainly to believers, since the original audience of the book was indeed believers. It probably includes unbelievers in a secondary way, which supports conditional election, resistible grace, and unlimited atonement, because for people to have a share in Heaven that is taken away from them must at the very least mean Heaven was genuinely available to them through genuine opportunity to believe and be saved. But the warning was originally for believers mainly, and this supports conditional security, for it warns those who are destined for Heaven against the forfeiture of that destiny through taking “away from the words of the book of this prophecy.”
Despite all of this concern and warning in the New Testament with respect to apostasy and forfeiting salvation, believers have good grounds for strong assurance of salvation. Before explaining why, it would be helpful to attend to the fact that the New Testament speaks of salvation in three tenses—past, present, and future. Believers were saved in the past when they first placed their trust in Christ and came to share in the salvation he accomplished on the cross (it can also be said that we were saved when Jesus died and rose again in the same way that a winning score in a sports game can be said to have won the game even before the game is actually finished). So Scripture speaks of believers as having been saved in the past (Rom 8:24; Eph 2:5, 8; 2 Tim 1:8-9; Titus 3:4-7). But it also speaks of believers as being saved in the present (1 Cor 1:18; 15:2; 2 Cor 2:15) or enjoying a present state of salvation (Eph 2:5, 8; the Greek construction in these verses indicates a present state of salvation resulting from past salvation) since we enjoy numerous spiritual blessings of God in the present, such as those discussed under “Conditional Election” above and sanctification, a present continual process of growth in Christ and increasing conformity to his image (Rom 6:12-23; 12:1-2; 2 Cor 3:18; Eph 4:21-24; Phil 3:12-14). However, we do not yet have these salvation blessings in their fullness. This is the well-known concept of “the already and the not yet,” that is, that we have the salvation blessings of God now only partially, but that we will receive them in their fullness when Christ returns and brings the culmination of the kingdom of God and our eternal state. Thus, the New Testament speaks of future salvation (Rom 5:9-10; 6:22; 8:11, 13, 16-19, 23-25; 13:11; Gal 5:5; Phil 3:10-11, 20-21; 1 Thes 1:10; 5:9; Heb 9:28; 1 Pet 1:5); believers will be fully and finally saved in the future when Jesus returns.
The fact that full and final salvation is to come in the future helps explain why perseverance in faith is necessary. The fact that there is also a substantial albeit partial experience of salvation in the past and present helps to explain why it is that believers can have strong assurance of salvation. First, we can have full assurance of past and present salvation (1 John 5:13). If a person believes, then he can know that he has been saved and is saved according to the many promises in Scripture that God saves those who believe (see the many references under “Conditional Election”). (This presents a serious problem for the position of inevitable perseverance, which holds that true believers cannot forsake Christ, and therefore, that professing believers who fall away never were true believers or saved in the first place. For if someone can appear to be a true believer to himself and the believers around him, but then fall away and show himself to have never been a true believer, how could we ever know that we are genuine believers and not simply exhibiting a false faith and are actually unsaved and will one day show it?) Moreover, our salvation in the present brings all sorts of divine blessings in the present that are set to be fulfilled when Christ returns and will in fact be fulfilled as long as the believer perseveres in faith. These greatly encourage and empower perseverance in faith. Indeed, God protects our faith relationship with him from any outside force irresistibly snatching us away from Christ or our faith (John 10:27-29; Romans 8:31-39; 1 Cor 10:13), and he preserves us in salvation as long as we trust in Christ (1 Pet 1:3-5 and the many passages we have referenced in this article about salvation being conditional on faith). Just as the Holy Spirit empowered us to believe in Christ (see “Freed to Believe” above), so he empowers us to continue believing in Christ (Gal 5:16-25; Eph 3:14-21; cf. 1 Cor 10:13). Furthermore, since Christ died for all (see “Atonement for All” above), we can know that Christ died for us and that God is for us and our salvation (unlike a theology that holds unconditional election, irresistible grace, and limited atonement, which logically allows one to know that one is elect and that Christ died for one only after one has persevered to the end).
Thus, believers can have solid, robust assurance of salvation though not absolute or unconditional assurance. While some might find this troubling, false security is far more troubling and dangerous, potentially leading believers to ignore attending to what is necessary for perseverance, and so to falling away and perishing. It is when a person thinks that fire cannot burn him that he is much more likely to play with fire and get burned. Moreover, there is rarely unconditional assurance of anything in life, and yet people frequently have great assurance despite the absence of an unconditional guarantee. In everyday life, people frequently have substantial assurance of future benefit which is nonetheless conditional on their continuing to meet the condition for that future benefit, such as continuing to consent to receive it. Likewise, believers can have full assurance of past and present salvation, and substantial assurance of future final salvation, which is contingent on them continuing to meet the condition for that final salvation, namely, faith. And wonderfully, God promises true believers the ability to persevere in faith and that nothing can tear them away from him. With present salvation we have the absolute assurance that God will enable us to persevere unto final salvation and that God is for us. He simply does not guarantee that he will irresistibly make us persevere. Just as God’s grace is resistible before we believe (see “Free to Believe” above), so it continues to be resistible after we believe—and always amazing!
“Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen” (Jude 1:24-25).
See Dr. Brian Abasciano’s full write-up of the whole FACTS acronym here: http://evangelicalarminians.org/the-facts-of-salvation-a-summary-of-arminian-theologythe-biblical-doctrines-of-grace/