There is no subject in Scripture that has more doctrinal and practical importance than that of “salvation.” It is a matter of life and death, both literally and figuratively, because both the quality of our life now and everlasting life are at stake. Unfortunately, Christendom is divided over many aspects of the salvation offered in Christ, most notably whether or not it can be lost because a Christian failed to continue to have faith, or sinned. What follows are the main reasons why we have concluded that salvation is permanent for Christians, and that once acquired by faith in Christ it cannot be lost, forfeited or nullified by subsequent behaviors, attitudes or events.
The following is 25 reasons why salvation is permanent for Christians:
1. The Greek word translated “salvation” (soteria) denotes “deliverance and preservation”; “Safety, preservation from danger or destruction. It is contrasted with death (2 Cor. 7:10) and destruction (Phil. 1:28)”. It also means “wholeness” or “health.” Fundamentally, we are saved from two things: sin and death. We are saved from sin and death by justification and the corresponding gift of everlasting life.
Therefore we define “salvation” as a state of being saved, rescued or delivered from something that threatens death or destruction, that is, being brought to a place of safety. The Hebrew word for “salvation” also means a place of safety (yasha). Logically, if we are still in jeopardy of somehow losing this salvation, we are not in a very “safe” place.
2. “Justification” is the judicial act of God whereby the sinner is declared free from the penalty of sin by his faith in the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ. This act is done “freely” (i.e., “without a cause”) by His grace (Rom. 3:24). Therefore our faith does not cause God to grant us salvation, but provides a condition upon which He can do His work. Without some condition for us to meet, we could not choose to receive it. In His grace and mercy, God chose faith (trust), the simplest act of the human mind.
It is therefore by His work, not ours, that we are made righteous, which is the state of being justified. We receive this status by grace through faith in His work on our behalf. Since our works did not earn for us this status, our works or lack of works cannot negate it either, once we have received it. It is not logical to argue that what is acquired exclusively by the gracious work of another and deposited to our account can be negated by our subsequent works or lack of works.
3. Faith is not works. Works are not faith. “Faith” is distinguishable from “faithfulness.” To continue to have faith is “faithfulness,” and this is different than one-time faith (trust). Faithfulness consists of works, and is itself a work. If justification requires continued faith, then there is work involved in maintaining a state of justification. This negates the fact that justification comes to us simply by trusting in Christ’s work on our behalf.
4. Salvation has both present and future aspects, and its various usages must be determined from each context. It is present in that we receive the “earnest,” or guarantee, of this future wholeness in the gift of holy spirit when we were born again. This spirit is the proof that we are presently God’s purchased possession, for the downpayment on our behalf has already been made. That salvation occurs as a present reality is proven by the following scriptures: (Acts 2:47; Eph. 2:5 and 8).
Salvation is future in two ways. First, our “salvation” is in a process of becoming, in that we are being made whole as we are transformed by the renewing of our minds and the working of the holy spirit within us, making us more Christ-like. This is the sense in which we are continually being delivered from our situations and circumstances (Phil. 1:20). In its ultimate future aspect, “salvation” is our future complete deliverance from the effects of sin in our bodies and our environments by our acquisition of new immortal bodies. This future salvation is set in opposition to “wrath” (1 Thess. 5:8-9).
5. It is not logical to argue that we are able to pay any of the debt demanded for our salvation. It must be paid for by another or we are not able to acquire it. As the downpayment was made by another, so must the remaining “payment” be made by another. This “payment in full” is called “propitiation,” referring to the completed work of Jesus Christ. To argue that Christ did not make the payment in full, but requires us to make the remaining payments to ensure our salvation, is to be what the Scripture calls “an enemy of the cross of Christ” (Phil. 3:18).
6. Ephesians 1:5 says that God has predestined us to be “adopted” as His sons through Jesus Christ. What adoption means must be determined by the cultural norms of the First Century. Adoption was a very binding legal contract in the Roman Empire, more binding even than natural birth. An adopted son was a full heir, and could never be disinherited after adoption. A natural-born son, however, could be disinherited. The difference is choice. A father could have a son by accident as the by-product of sexual intercourse with a woman, but a child could be adopted only by deliberate action on the part of the adopting parent.
Thus, the metaphor of “adoption” emphasizes the deliberate choice exercised by God in choosing us to be His sons. This is also borne out by the language of the immediate context of Ephesians 1:5: “in accordance with His pleasure and will,” “to the praise of His glorious grace, which He has freely given us,” “in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that He lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding,” and “He made known unto us the mystery [secret] of His will according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Christ.” Clearly this was a decision entered into by God with complete understanding and commitment. To argue that man’s sin can negate the express determination and accomplishment of God is ridiculous.
7. Once a person accepts the relationship of adoption granted by God’s grace on his behalf, such a “contract” is binding upon God to fulfill, despite the contractee’s faithlessness. The emphasis of the word “adoption” is upon God’s unilateral decision to make the believer “His son.” Adoption is generally a unilateral, contractual relationship, and permission need not be acquired by the person being adopted. Therefore, the relationship created by God’s contractual bond cannot be disannulled by the behavior of the adoptee.
8. In Scripture, salvation is compared to a birthing by seed (“born again,” “incorruptible seed,” etc.). As a father remains the father of his child by virtue of the permanent effect of his seed upon the egg, so God’s fatherhood remains permanent by the effect of His grace upon the believer who once believes in Christ as his Savior. Therefore, the conversion experience, like conception, is an irreversible process.
9. Salvation comes by way of one confessing with his mouth Jesus as Lord and believing in his heart the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Romans 10:9 says to the person who does this: “Thou shalt be saved,” which grammatically is referring to a present state of being, not future. The bedrock of this salvation is a historical fact verified by eye-witnesses, the highest form of legal testimony, even more compelling than a confession. God grounds salvation in belief of an historical fact. This indicates that He desires to provide man a basis for rational conviction that can withstand the challenges of blasphemers, atheists, and historical revisionists. Salvation depends upon written testimony by witnesses. On top of that is the presence of holy spirit, the witness within, which provides an even greater testimony than if we were eyewitnesses ourselves.
10. Scripture says that, “with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” (Rom. 10:10). Our belief in and confession of Jesus as Lord is not the cause of our salvation, but rather the condition we meet that enables God to save us. Since the believer does not save himself, neither can he “unsave” himself.
11. Salvation is the guarantee of life in the age to come. This life is a gift (Rom. 6:23), as opposed to death, which is the “wages” paid for the work of sin. If this life is a gift, there is no merit required on the part of the recipient. He is simply the object of another’s love and desire to bless him. If some merit were required, the fallen human heart would boast about it (Eph. 2:8 and 9). If the gift can be kept only by faithfulness, then it is not truly a gift. A gift, by definition, becomes the property of the recipient, once he has received it. He can then appreciate it and use it for good, or ignore it or even step on it.
12. To be “saved” (sozo) also means “to be made whole,” and this is what is being referred to in 1 Corinthians 15:2, a verse sometimes used in an attempt to prove that a person can lose his salvation. The verse begins with the affirmation that the Corinthians had received the Gospel and taken a stand upon it. Therefore the salvation being referred to— “you are saved if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you”—must mean the opposite of “in vain,” or to no purpose. How could one be saved to “no purpose” if the meaning of salvation as “rescuing from death or destruction is employed”? That is surely purpose aplenty, but if salvation here means “wholeness” or “soundness,” then the meaning of the verse is that their salvation would not be in evidence, not that it wouldn’t be really in their possession.
This is the same usage of salvation as in Philippians 2:12, in which we are exhorted to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling.” There is no guarantee that, once having been saved by grace through faith in the Gospel, we can enjoy the fruits of this salvation without continued faith in the efficacy of this Gospel. The same truth is found in Hebrews 4:2: “The message [Gospel] they heard was of no value to them because those who heard did not combine it with faith.” We must value our salvation and walk in it to enjoy the fruits of it, as the parable of the sower makes plain (Matt. 13:3-9).
13. “Thou shalt be saved” (Rom. 10:9) means that the whole of man (spirit, soul, body) is saved, and not a part only. 1 Peter 1:9 refers to “the salvation of the soul,” but this is clearly the usage of the figure of speech Synecdoche, in which a part of a person stands for the whole person. The salvation referred to in 1 Peter 1:9 is that salvation unique to our present administration, which could not be seen in Old Testament Scripture (verses 10-12). Salvation by faithfulness to perform the works of the Law was well known, so this salvation must be referring to something qualitatively different.
1 Corinthians 5:5 is the only verse of Scripture referring to the saving of the “spirit,” and we agree with E .W. Bullinger that this usage of pneuma is equivalent to “soul” and refers to the whole person rather than a part of him. The point in the context is that the man’s flesh must be “reckoned dead” (cp. Rom. 6:11-13) and his fleshly deed righteously condemned.
14. God has from the beginning chosen us to salvation through sanctification of the spirit and belief of the truth (1 Thess. 2:13). If God has chosen us to it, then our choice is limited to either accepting or rejecting it, not making it happen by our good behavior or negating it by our perverse behavior once we have accepted it.
15. Because some Christians do return to their sinful ways after once being “saved,” some argue that they were not really “saved” in the first place. By this argument they try to answer the difficulty presented by those often termed as “backsliders.” But many “backsliders” report that they have still been able to hear God’s voice, speak in tongues and manifest other evidences of salvation even while behaviorally outside of God’s will. It is taught that “backsliders,” like the prodigal son, need to be reconciled to God once again. If the permanence of salvation were understood, it would be unnecessary to teach either that they had to be saved again or that they were never actually saved in the first place.
The doctrine that they were not really saved is as specious as stating that you can lose your salvation, and results in the same uncertainty, despair, and confusion. It is noteworthy that the word “backslider” is found only in Jeremiah (3:6,8,11,12,22, et al) and is never used regarding anyone in the Church Administration.
16. Just because some abuse their gracious salvation and treat it as a license to sin, causing God’s grace to be blasphemed, that ought not to argue against the reality of His grace. It only means that such people do not understand what constitutes real grace. Romans 6:1ff presents the argument against such thinking: We who are dead to sin ought no longer to live that way. The grace of God establishes a moral ground and obligation for holy behavior. However, God does not enforce this by reneging on His promise of salvation. Rather, those who willfully sin suffer the loss of rewards, and thus will be ashamed at Christ’s coming. Apparently God believes that this admonition is sufficient to motivate believers to pursue holy living.
17. The Adversary, Satan, is more concerned about distorting the glorious Gospel of Christ than he is about our personal holiness or lack of it (2 Cor. 4:4). He is therefore going to try to water down and undermine God’s gracious offer of salvation so that it is not so compelling or persuasive to sinners. He adulterates the Gospel, the “good news,” to become “good news and bad news.” It is to his advantage that the doctrine of the loss of salvation be promulgated because he can thereby compromise the Word of God and diminish the awesomeness of God’s grace. He promotes this doctrine in a cloak of religiosity that values the holiness of our walk above the graciousness of our God.
18. 1 Corinthians 3:10ff argues powerfully for the permanence of salvation, as well as the separation of salvation (birth that guarantees life) from rewards (growth to maturity). First, the truth of Jesus Christ as the only source of gracious salvation is established (verse 11). Then, what the believer builds upon this foundation is considered. The quality of his work is tested by fire, and what remains is the basis of his reward. If nothing is left, he is still saved, “but only as one escaping through the flames” (i.e., “by the skin of his teeth”). If one could lose his salvation after having established the foundation of his life in Jesus Christ, then the metaphor would be misapplied here. The believer would be preoccupied with establishing his own foundation, or basis, for salvation. Yet, having established his foundation on the substitutionary sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the believer goes about to build by his works things that are worthy of Christ and his sacrifice.
19. Salvation comes by means of the Gospel, which is the power of God unto salvation. (“The word of truth, the gospel of your salvation”—Eph. 1:13; “Chosen you to salvation through…belief of the truth”—2 Thess. 2:13). If salvation comes as a result of believing a message of good news, then subsequent rejection of this message cannot disannul what has already been believed and produced by the belief. The emphasis is on the effect of the truth once believed, not the continuity of the belief itself. To argue for the latter is to put the cart before the horse.
20. Scripture speaks of “the earnest of” (KJV) / the “deposit guaranteeing” (NIV) the gift of holy spirit (2 Cor. 1:22; 5:5; Eph.1:14). This is the “witness” within each Christian (1 John 5:9-12). The usage of this word indicates that it is a guarantee of what will absolutely be consummated in the future, when each Christian receives the fullness of his salvation, a new body.
21. Scripture makes it clear that speaking in tongues is, for each believer today, the indisputable evidence that the divine nature of Christ dwells within him. No matter what his behavior, if a believer can still speak in tongues, he is obviously still filled with holy spirit.
22. God says in His Word that He is looking for obedience from the heart, and not conformity to outward rules. The gracious gift of salvation is consistent with this desire, encouraging us to open our hearts to Him in gratitude for His kindness and grace and energizing us to work for Him more lovingly, consistently, and faithfully than if we were required to do so for our salvation.
23. God’s love energizes both love and faith in us. We love because He first loved us. Romans 2:4 says that His gentleness leads to repentance. Why would He, on the one hand, graciously give us the promised holy spirit, which is the guarantee of life in the coming age (salvation), and then on the other hand, contrary to His gracious offer, demand that we keep working to maintain that salvation? It would be like a father giving a new bicycle to his son for Christmas, and then requiring him to appreciate it, do errands with it or have it taken away. The purehearted love of the giver is sullied by such subsequent conditions.
24. Continuity of faith is a condition of salvation in other administrations (Matt. 24: 13, etc.), but Scripture makes it very evident that we are in a unique and different administration at present, called in Ephesians 3:2 “the administration of the grace of God.” Since “grace” means “divine favour” it is logical, therefore, that God would have a more favorable program for salvation for those living in this age.
25. Romans 6:1-23 addresses the issue of continuing to sin after being united with Christ through salvation. Never in the entire passage is there any suggestion that continuing to sin will cause the believer to forfeit his salvation and eternal life. What is supposed to restrain the believer from continuing to sin after salvation is not fear of losing his salvation but moral arguments designed to educate the believer’s conscience. These arguments are based on two things: the believer’s identification with Christ and the tendency of sin to enslave. If salvation could be lost because of continued sin, this section of Scripture would have been the perfect place to say so. The fact that the issue is addressed head on in Scripture without a word about the loss of salvation is persuasive proof that the apostle’s doctrine did not include the idea that the Christian could lose his or her salvation by sin.