Home > Chapter 7

Safely saved

It was Sunday after the evening service, Michael Lim, biology teacher and his wife Linda, and friends Teck Whatt and Tina were having supper at a hamburger restaurant. The crowd composed mostly of church friends and families; the atmosphere was warm and friendly.

Nibbling on her fish fillet Tina opened the subject, "In his sermon, Pastor Woon said that a Christian ought to be certain he is saved. How can anyone be a hundred per cent sure of his or her salvation?"

"You were not paying attention, Tina," declared Teck with mock seriousness.

"I was," retorted Tina, "but it’s like saying a Christian ought to be certain she will succeed in business or will live x number of years and so on. Isn’t it a bit presumptuous of us to think so?"

"Pastor Woon touched on an important aspect of the Christian life," Linda said. "I wish he had time to expand on the subject of assurance of salvation. He gave a Bible verse though."

Teck obligingly turned to the passage referred.

"Here it is. ‘These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, in order that you may know that you have eternal life.’" (1 John 5:13)

Tina sighed. "I wish I could be sure."

"Look," Michael suggested, "let’s finish our meal and talk this over at home." Everyone agreed.

Half an hour later they were in the living room of the Lims’ flat perched on the eighth floor of the building overlooking the Pan Island Expressway lined by angsana trees. The lights of an MRT train could be seen in the distance appearing between blocks of flats as it raced into the night.

Picking up the subject Tina began, "Since I came to Christ two years ago I have thought about this question of whether once saved one is always saved. In ten years time, will I still love and serve Jesus as I do today? Some Christian friends told me ‘Yes’, others said, ‘Maybe, it depends on you.’ They gave me Bible verses and told me to have faith. Is it wrong to ask questions about such matters?"

"I certainly don’t think so," announced Linda, entering from the kitchen with a tray of drinks. They gathered around the low coffee table. "There is nothing wrong with faith wanting to understand. We are to love God with our heart, soul, mind and strength." (Mark 12:30)

Michael took a hymnal from the shelf as he spoke, "Linda and I hold as an important truth that Christians should be certain they are Christians, saved and secure in Christ Jesus. Without this assurance our Christian walk is shaky. We believe the Bible teaches clearly that salvation is God’s from beginning to end. We believe God actively shaped our lives and moved us in many ways to seek Him even before Linda and I were able to respond He took the initiative to give us life. The words of this hymn say it well:

‘Lord ‘tis not that I did choose Thee;
That, I know, could never be;
For this heart would still refuse Thee
Had Thy grace not chosen me.’

[Josiah Conder (1789-1855) "Christian Hymns" no. 504]

Tina took the hymnal to read the words for herself.

Teck asked, "There are passages in the Bible which speak for both positions, are there not? I mean, some verses speak of the eternal safety of Christians, some speak of the possibility that they can be lost."

"Indeed there are verses which appear to speak for one view or the other. The more reason we should understand what the whole Bible says and not choose verses that suit our own ideas, however nice those ideas seem."

"Let us begin from the beginning," Michael said, leaning across to get his Bible. "Unless a person understands what grace is, that person is not going to understand why a Christian continues to be a Christian. Salvation by grace is a gift of God by faith in Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 2:1-9) We are talking about whether God will give us the gift of eternal life and then take it back."

"Will God do that? I don’t think so," Tina ventured.

"You don’t sound as if you are sure," Michael said, "let is look at a verse in Ephesians. ‘He predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will - to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.’ (Ephesians 1:5-6) A question now. How did you become a Christian, Tina?"

"I accepted Christ as Saviour," replied Tina. "Of course, I felt the need, and all that."

"Could you have rejected the Saviour?"

She hesitated. "I could have, I suppose."

Teck chipped in, "Sometimes I have wondered and worried over what might have been if I had turned away by rejecting Christ."

"The important thing is you didn’t. Why didn’t you, Teck?" Michael pressed.

"I suppose God moved me to accept Christ," he mused.

"Why does God not move all men to accept Christ?"

"Because God knows who will respond," Tina volunteered, "so he moves only those whom he knows will respond."

Michael replaced his cup and asked pointedly.

"Then where does grace come in?"

Noting their puzzled looks he resumed. "It seems to me that you are saying that our desire to respond is the reason why God enables us to do so. To put it another way, if I don’t have this desire to respond, God will not enable me to do so. God’s part is that he foresees whether I will or will not cooperate with him. Am I getting the right picture?"

Tina and Teck nodded.

Michael continued, "I don’t think that is the Bible’s picture of why God chose to save us. We have read in Ephesians, ‘He predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will.’ That’s quite plain. It is purely due to God’s good pleasure and will, not some contributory factor on our part. Why God does it this way I cannot explain. It is among the secret things belonging to God which has not been revealed to the church. (Deuteronomy 29:29) However, we need only read the Bible with our eyes open to see that it is taught.

In John’s gospel Jesus said, ‘You did not choose me, but I chose you.’ (John 15:16) Again it is God’s choice of the person not the person’s choice of God. If we are really keen that God should get all the glory, the Bible provides us the reasons. It informs us that saving grace is given with no preconditions on our part. It has everything to do with the Father’s sovereign free choice, which He, as our Creator and King, has every right to exercise. You will be surprised to learn that this is not an easy thing for even Christians to accept. We tend to look for some reason why God should pardon our sins and save us. We discover to our joy or dismay, as the case may be, that God is under no obligation to save any!"

Teck murmured thoughtfully, "I have never looked at God’s grace from this viewpoint before."

Michael smiled. "Now we are ready to answer Tina’s question, ‘How can I be sure I am saved, and saved forever?’ The right answer is obviously important as it forms the basis of our Christian joy and confidence. In the first place it is the Holy Spirit who assures us that we are God’s children. (Romans 8:16) The Spirit’s witness to our spirit is greatly helped if we knew what God’s Word says. Here is one passage out of many. ‘Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In His great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade - kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed at the last time.’ " (1 Peter 1:3-5)

"Let me see that please," Tina said, eagerly reaching for Michael’s Bible.

Michael showed her several other verses. (Romans 8:31-39; John 10:27-30; Acts 13:48; 2 Timothy 2:19) One in particular caused her to laugh with joy. It was the Philippian passage, ‘Being confident of this, that He (God) who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.’ (Philippians 1:6)

"I think these verses must be interpreted in the light of the total Biblical picture. If you find a passage warning you not to fall away it is no indication that you will or you must. The most solemn warning, given in Hebrews, is capable of several interpretations. (Hebrews 6:4-8) Don’t miss reading verse nine where, immediately after the warning the writer goes on to say, ‘Even though we speak like this, dear friends, we are confident of better things in your case - things that accompany salvation.’ If that isn’t enough to convince you, you should turn to Jesus’ words in John’s gospel: ‘This is the will of Him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that He has given me, but raise them up at the last day.’ " (John 6:39)

"Michael, what about active Christians who later deny their faith? Have they lost their salvation?"

"You cannot lose what you do not have in the first place. In any group of people, including the Church of Christ, there are those who truly belong and those who do not. There are false converts, that is to say, people who think they are converted but have never genuinely trusted in Christ. There are others who are in the visible church with wrong motives as Peter tells us. (2 Peter 2:12-22)

Did not the Lord Jesus tell us that weeds and wheat grow, and goats and sheep live side by side? (Matthew 7:22-23, 13:24-30, 25:31-46) When such people leave it is because they have never been part of the body of Christ. John says, ‘They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us.’ (1 John 2:19) Judas Iscariot was never part of the apostolic team in spirit although he appeared to be an active member and moved around with them. Read Jesus’ words about him. (John 6:70)

On the other hand, Peter fell rather badly in denying his Lord three times. Because he was truly God’s own, Jesus comforted him with these words, ‘I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.’ (Luke 22:32) You can see here an illustration of the truth that whom God saves, God is able to keep.

Now you may think that this teaching fosters careless living. Some say presumptuously that you can sin as much as you like, even betray your faith, because finally you will be saved. The true child of God will never take the precious teaching of the eternal safety of the believer in this sense. Anyone who does so opens himself to the suspicion that he is either deluded or is not a Christian. (Romans 6:1-7) The true Christian understands that this teaching is to encourage him or her to persevere in serving the Lord faithfully. If you occasionally slip up, don’t worry. God will help you to get on your feet once more."

"How marvelous is our God!" Tina beamed.

"I have one more question," Teck said. "Someone will surely argue that we need not preach the gospel when God will save all whom He will save."

Michael laughed. "I was wondering when someone would bring that up!" He went to his bookshelf to extract a book. "We evangelise first because the Lord told us to. Mark’s gospel writes:

And He said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. He who has believed and has been baptised shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned." (Mark 16:15-16); see also Matthew 28:18-20; Luke 24:46-49)

J.I. Packer puts the matter rather well. He says:

‘So far from making evangelism pointless, the sovereignty of God in grace is the one thing that prevents evangelism from being pointless. For it creates the possibility - indeed, the certainty - that evangelism will be fruitful. Were it not for the sovereign grace of God evangelism would be the most futile and useless enterprise that the world has ever seen… Regarded as a human enterprise, evangelism is a hopeless task.’ [J.I. Packer "Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God" pp. 106-109.]

What Packer means is that God took the initiative. If it were not for God who sovereignly bestows spiritual life we would be preaching in vain to an unresponsive world of people who are dead in their sins." (Ephesians 2:1-7)

"Good," Teck exclaimed, "that answers my question!"

"Mine, too," Tina added, "thanks, Michael. You, too, Linda. It has been a great help talking things through. I now know the Lord loved me even before I loved Him. Surely He will complete His good work in me."

As they walked home Teck could not help but notice a lilt in Tina’s voice and a lightness in her steps.


Next chapter: Looking for meaning in life