God Has The Power
To Save Us
And Keep Us Saved
Just to be clear “Eternal Security” is a teaching that says:
Once a person is saved they can never lose their salvation. Or in other words, there is no sin they can commit that will cancel out God’s saving grace.
Or to say it more succinctly: Once saved, always saved.
Some people believe eternal security and some people don’t. I am one that does.
But when you promote this idea one of the first objections involves “what-if” questions. “What if a person does this or that terrible thing?” The assumption is there must be a point beyond which either God’s ability or willingness to save ends. For example:
- What if a person commits serial murder, e.g., Ted Bundy?
- What if a person commits genocide, mass murder – e.g., Hitler?
- What if a person traffics in slavery?
It’s hard to argue against such emotionally charged questions. A salvation that can endure such egregious sins sounds too good to be true. Makes one indignant. Not only that, it runs counter to human experience, seems a bit too “pie in the sky-ish” to accept and those who disagree, or have serious insecurities about it, struggle to find a place to fit in.
No Pat Answers
Admittedly, the questions are good ones and there are no pat answers. I nor anyone else can give you a quick hit that resolves the issue just like that.
To be clear, though, we’re only trying to answer one question here but that one question can easily get confused with another question. The question we’re NOT answering is: can God save a horrible person in the first place? That is a good question too but we’ll leave it for another time.
The question we’re trying to answer is: If God saves a horrible person can He keep that person saved even if said person reverts to some of their old horrible ways?
Well, there are many reasons to believe He can.
Again, to be clear, it is generally agreed that Christians are capable of doing sinful things. It happens all the time, so that’s not the question either. The question being posed is can these wayward Christians commit the worst kinds of sins and, if so, can they do this over an extended period of time?
Don’t worry. I’m not going to argue that if a person is genuinely born again they would never commit extremely horrible sins. Saying that would confuse the issue even more for reasons I won’t get into here.
The simple answer is “Yes, Christians can do horrible things and do them for extended periods” but it is not the same in their post-salvation state as it was in their pre-salvation state.
Let me explain why.
Theologically, everyone agrees that no person is capable of earning their own salvation.
That is a given.
Those who believe you can lose your salvation, however, think it is possible for us to be good enough to keep it after God graciously gives it to us. The thinking is:
I can’t be good enough to earn salvation before hand but I can be good enough to keep it afterward.
Or another way to say it is:
Although I can’t save myself, I AM able to KEEP myself saved.
Or an even more pointed way of saying it is . . .
Only God has the power to save me. Only I have the power to keep myself saved.
Can you see the huge fallacy in that? There’s nothing logical about it. Now let me stretch your patience with one more philosophical short.
Human desire and ability isn’t sufficient to save initially but it is sufficient to keep one saved afterward.
Can we really say this? If personal desire and power aren’t sufficient to save our souls in the first place, do we really believe we have the power it takes to keep saved afterward? Shouldn’t we just accept that the power that saved us initially is sufficient to keep us saved afterward?
The idea that we must do something after salvation to keep from losing salvation really smacks of and is motivated more by self righteousness than logic. It doesn’t make sense.
Mechanics And The Old Nature
To prove that, however, we need to take a look at the mechanics of the situation. Salvation is mystical in one sense but mechanical in another.
To understand the mechanics you need to keep in mind a foundational truth, which is:
The need for salvation is based on the fact that we are born with an irreversibly sinful nature.
The key word being “irreversible.”
I’m not saying we are always obviously, apparently, visibly sinful. Some people are noticeably sinful and others not. While Hitler was committing genocide – obviously sinful – there were some very brave and wonderful people risking their lives to save those targeted by Hitler. But those very nice people, while not obviously sinful, were still sinners.
Another important distinction is this. Those who are obviously sinful are not as radically sinful as others. Some people might only wish someone dead while others might actually commit murder.
Both are obviously sinful. One radically so and the other not.
Before you argue that one is worse than the other remember that Jesus made it clear that entertaining the idea was just as damning as the follow through (Matthew 5:22).
The point, of course, is that all of us are sinful and that sinfulness, however moderate it seems, is irreversible.
We inherited this state from our forefathers and it cannot be: reversed, eradicated, medicated or disciplined out of existence by human abilities.
I’m not saying that sinners don’t have any discipline or they can never change. That’s nonsense. People change for the better all the time.
I’m saying that after all the good changes have been made the foundational problem, sin, is still there.
The first mechanical truth is this. You and I and every other warm bodied human are born with a nature that is sinful. A good person admits to that fact. A bad person denies it.
Before I go further, let me say that this is not something to be discouraged about. I’m not venturing on the dark side, getting negative or preaching condemnation. I’m only making an observation that is true for everyone. I know it sounds negative but there is hope. Stay with me.
It is important that we admit this truth honestly because any hope you entertain, if it is based on denial, is nothing more than delusion.
John Confirms An Irreversible Sin Nature
On one occasion John spoke very clearly about the limitations of a sin nature. He said:
As many as received Him (Jesus) to them gave He power to become the sons of God even as many as believed on His name; which were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:12-13)
He was talking about salvation and according to Him, the power required to become a child of God can only come from God. Human power (lineage, discipline and community), which is very powerful, can’t save a soul.
But here is the point.
It doesn’t really make sense to say God is going to save us from an irreversible sin nature only to leave us vulnerable to the failings of that nature afterward. Whatever was impossible to us before salvation is impossible to us afterward.
Salvation Doesn’t Eradicate The Sin Nature
A good question to ask at this point is:
What happens to that irreversible sin nature once we get saved?
And the answer is quite simple: nothing.
Paul was plagued with a sin nature his entire ministry and lamented what he referred to as:
Sin living in me. (Romans 7:17)
What we learn from Paul is that the sin nature:
- Doesn’t get any better.
- Doesn’t get any worse.
- Doesn’t go away.
- Doesn’t become less of a reality.
- Doesn’t fade or dwarf.
- Doesn’t quietly or sheepishly hide in the background.
- Doesn’t twitch as if only the nerves are still active.
- And it never leaves you alone. Not in this life anyway.
After you get saved, your sinful nature is still right where it was and just as bad as it was, before you got saved. It doesn’t go any where.
Enter The New Nature
But the next question is “What difference, then, does salvation make? What has changed?” Again, the answer is simple.
A saved person is given a completely new and separate nature, aka, a new heart. It’s a new you. Not a changed you but a new you.
The old nature isn’t replaced or incapacitated. Instead, the new nature is added. And the two natures sit side by side and vie for the upper hand.
This new nature gives us the ability to do better than we did before but because the old nature is still there we aren’t beyond sinning. The new nature makes us more aware of our sins and more sorry for it when it happens but we still have the capacity to sin and sin badly.
Your old sinful nature doesn’t change or go away. It is still there and operates by the same rule it always has. In that regard nothing has changed!
The difference is you now have a new nature that thinks and acts differently and separately to the old you and, like the old you, will also never change.
It won’t get any better because it is already perfect. It won’t get any worse because it is incapable of corruption. In that regard everything has changed!
Perfect Moments Are Possible, Perfection Is Not
The Apostle Paul actually celebrated this fact:
I delight in the law of God after the inward man. (Romans 7:22)
He also said:
The good that I would do, I do not and the wrong I wish to void, that I do. (Rom. 7:19, my paraphrase)
He is describing a duality that is true of every believer. We have two natures not one. One is perfectly sinful. The other is perfectly righteous. Neither can change. Neither is inactive.
- Both natures assert influence but neither takes control.
- Only one responds at any given time, the sinful nature or the righteous one. They don’t negotiate a response.
In one way we desire to do the right things and in another we get caught up in the wrong things. That’s why a Christian can on one moment seem like a saint and on another like a devil.
One last question.
How Long Will The Sin Nature Stick Around?
The answer is until we die.
It’s a long discussion but suffice it to say that in eternity we will receive new bodies. I can’t tell you what it will be like, exactly, because I’ve never had one but we can be sure that it won’t be sinful. Peter referred to it as:
. . . An inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that doesn’t fade away, it is reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Pet. 1:4-5)
The new nature will one day be all that is left and there is nothing your old nature can do to change that.