Recently, I had an extended though pleasant discussion about theology with a new friend from a Pentecostal background. Actually, she did very little talking while graciously listening to me as I rambled on. I mentioned to her that when I spoke critically of the local church, I had to justify that I could only speak so about the Baptist church, since that is the denomination where I was raised and about which I know the most.
After I had mentioned Baptists several times, she asked me if I believed in “once saved, always saved.” As is usually the case, my answer contained much more than a simple yes or no. In fact, I became quite effusive, loquacious, garrulous, and protracted with my answer, which is normally the case for me. (For some reason, she hasn’t asked me anything lately!?)
From that conversation, I will attempt in the next few entries to expand on the subject of eternal security.
My answer to this question begins with the doctrine of God. As I have stated on several occasions in my blog, if we get the doctrine of God wrong, then all of our other doctrines will be in error to some degree. Every other doctrine is dependent on a clear and precise concept of God as revealed in Scripture.
That is especially true in regards to the doctrine of eternal security.
God is eternal and infinite, not limited by anything, either time, space, matter, energy or knowledge. He has always been and always will be. (Of course, the word “always” is inappropriate when referring to God because it is a time-related word.)
In Ephesians, Paul speaks of God’s “eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Eph. 3:11) All that God does is in accordance with a plan that He created in eternity before there was a creation. All that we are now experiencing in the creation, including salvation, is the fulfillment of that eternal plan.
God is sovereign in all things in heaven and on earth. His sovereignty is absolute, meaning that God owes nothing to anyone, and that He has not yielded any of His sovereignty to any other individual or group of individuals.
There is nothing – including the will of man – that can thwart or defer or prevent the will and the purpose of God from being fulfilled exactly as He planned it before the foundation of the world.
Here are only a few verses that, I believe, clearly express this concept. [i]
Psalm 135:6 Whatever the LORD pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps.
Psalm 33:11 The counsel of the LORD stands forever, the plans of his heart to all generations.
Isaiah 14:27 For the LORD of hosts has purposed, and who will annul it? His hand is stretched out, and who will turn it back?
Isaiah 46:9 …I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, 10 declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, “My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose 11 …I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it.
Daniel 4:35 All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?”
Proverbs 19:21 Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand.
Isaiah 43:13 Even from eternity I am He, and there is none who can deliver out of My hand; I act and who can reverse it? (This is a rhetorical question to which the answer is not given, but understood. The answer is no one. Remember this.)
Romans 11:29 …the gifts and calling of God are without repentance.
This last point is critical in understanding the concept of preservation of the saints. The Amplified version expands on the verse: He (God) never withdraws them (His gifts) when once they are given, and He does not change His mind about those to whom He gives His grace or to whom He sends His call.
The point is that what God does or purposes or plans or wills cannot be undone. There is no power in either the spiritual or the physical world that can overcome the omnipotence of God. He is both the irresistible force as well as the immovable object.
Admittedly, this is not an exhaustive study of the sovereignty of God. Whole libraries have been written on the subject throughout the history of theological studies. Nevertheless, the truth of God’s sovereign rule and His immutable nature are critical in understanding the doctrine of eternal security.
Before moving on to the subject of man and sin, I want to point out from the Bible the answer to a question asked (but never answered) by Stephen Hawking: What was God doing before He created the heavens and the earth?
- He established wisdom (Prov. 8:23).
- He loved the Son (John 17:24).
- He “deliberately and freely chose and ordained” [ii] that, through the death and resurrection of the Son, people would become believers (1 Peter 1:20-21).
- He prepared to reveal Himself and His plan of redemption to those who would become part of the kingdom after the Creation (Romans 16:25; 1 Cor. 2:7).
- He chose us (saints; those who believe; those who make up the church) in Christ (Eph. 1:4) for obedience to Christ (1 Peter 1:2).
- He prepared some “vessels,” chosen from all people groups, to be vessels of mercy and prepared for glory (Rom. 9:23).
- He gave the promise of eternal life before the ages began (Titus 1:2).
- He gave grace to us (saints, believers, saved people) in Christ Jesus (2 Tim. 1:9).
- He prepared a kingdom for those whom He would bless (Matt. 25:34).
- He wrote down in a book the names of those who would be delivered from wrath and who would inhabit the new heaven, the new earth, the new Jerusalem (Rev. 13:8; 21:27).
- He ordained or prepared the good works for those who would be saved (Eph. 2:9).
These verses and their exact meanings have been debated throughout the ages, especially since the days of the Reformation. The variant interpretations that have arisen will probably never be reconciled until the end of the world. Yet there is one thing that all of them have in common.
All of these things have to do with salvation, sanctification, and glorification: the death and resurrection of Christ, eternal life, grace, the kingdom, revelation, obedience, and blessing. The Bible may not tell us everything that God was doing before (another time word) the Creation, but it does tell us that He was busy about the plan of redemption.
The whole scheme of man’s redemption was in the mind of God from all eternity. The fall of man and his restoration, the wondrous fact of salvation through Christ, were decreed in the counsels of the Most High before the world was. [iii]
The plan of redemption originated in the mind of God and according to the purpose of God; therefore, the plan itself is eternal and infinite. It is the very soul of God revealed in the lives of those He created according to His own will and purpose, and therefore cannot be thwarted by the will or the works of any power in heaven or on earth, including both Satan and man.
[i] I realize that I am at risk here for “proof-texting,” defined by theopedia.com as “the method by which a person appeals to a biblical text to prove or justify a theological position without regard for the context of the passage they are citing.” I admit that all of these references are taken out of context, yet to include the context would require the entire Bible at most or a quotation of entire chapters at least. I encourage you not to trust me in this. Look these verses up yourself and study them in context. If you find I have misapplied any reference, please comment and challenge their use. I welcome the edification that will accompany such discussion.
[ii] Zhodiates, Complete Word Study Bible.