Shawn Lazar, Ken Yates, and I received the following question via email:
I read the affirmations of faith on the website (https://faithalone.org/beliefs) and saw a line that seems out of sort with what I have heard from GES teaching:
“That is, as long as a person believes in Jesus for everlasting life, he knows he has everlasting life (John 5:24; 6:35, 47; 11:27; 1 John 5:9-13).”
This seems to imply that a person who has believed but does not any longer, cannot have assurance of salvation. It is a short leap from this to saying that one must continue to believe to be saved, which I know you do not believe since I have heard many messages and read articles against this view.
Yes, that’s right. Assurance for the rest of your life is not guaranteed. Eternal salvation is guaranteed, but not psychological certainty. If you stop believing Jesus’ promise, then you’ll obviously no longer be assured of that promise. If you want continual assurance, you must continue to believe Jesus’ promise.
However, to be born again only takes a moment of faith. From that moment on, you are eternally secure, whether you continue in the faith and in assurance or not.
Yes. And I would add. The majority of Christians have moments of doubts from time to time, even if only for a very brief moment of time. But when they reflect on the promise of Christ, they regain that assurance. Many Christians who “backslide” often do so at the expense of assurance as well. But in every case, eternal life is not lost even when assurance is.
This led to a follow-up question:
Is the basis of assurance the fact that I am now believing or the fact that at a certain date and time I believed? An apostate could be told that he is saved because he believed at a certain time regardless of whether he believes now, I would think.
Here is my response:
I’ve found that many people, even many Free Grace people, base their assurance on the fact that they had some experience at “a certain date and time” in the past. They may not realize it, but the basis for their assurance is not the promise of everlasting life that Jesus makes. Instead, it is some change that occurred in their life.
The problem is that the Lord Jesus taught that assurance is based on believing His promise of life, not on some experience which we had.
Let’s say that a Mormon had a very powerful experience with the Lord Jesus that has convinced him he is born again. If you had a chance to talk to him, you’d say that assurance of everlasting life is not found in some experience we’ve had, but in believing in the Lord Jesus Christ for your salvation.
Yet shouldn’t we also base our own assurance on believing in the Lord Jesus Christ for our salvation, and not on some changes that occurred in our life starting years ago?
One Free Grace pastor told me he knew he was born again on a certain date because of two things which occurred: his bad language immediately changed, and he gained a love for the Bible that he has never lost. It wasn’t until five years after that time that he came to believe that all who believe in Jesus are secure forever.
But whether you base your assurance on your current lifestyle, the overall pattern of your life, or some experience you had years ago, you are not basing your assurance of everlasting life on faith in Christ.
John 3:16 bases assurance on faith in Christ, not experience or feelings.
John 4:10-26 also bases assurance on believing in Jesus, not on some encounter or feeling.
The same is true all through John’s Gospel, Acts, and the epistles. See, for example, John 11:25-27; 20:30-31; Acts 16:30-31; Rom 4:4-5; Gal 2:16; Eph 2:8-9; 1 Tim 1:16; Jas 1:18; 1 Pet 1:23; Rev 22:17.
Assurance of everlasting life is only valid if it is based on a current belief in the promise of everlasting life.
Finally, what about the question concerning people who once professed to believe in Christ for everlasting life, but who have since fallen away and become atheists or agnostics? Do we give these apostates assurance?
No. We cannot give them assurance, because an apostate does not believe. Let’s say you tell your adult son, “You know that you once believed in Christ as your Savior who saved you once and for all. So, you are still born again, even though you no longer believe in Him.” Your son would rightly say, “Well, if the Bible and the message about Jesus were true, then I would be saved. But the Bible and the gospel are not true. Therefore, I am not saved. And neither are you, Dad. There is no salvation and no life after death. All that business about the cross and the resurrection is a fairy tale people concocted to give their lives some eternal significance.”
I have a friend whose son, whom we will call George, is like that. George tells his Dad and his Christian friends that if they are right, then he will be with them forever in the kingdom because the Bible clearly teaches once saved, always saved. But since he is now convinced that the Bible is not true, he does not believe he or they will be in any kingdom.
George is very intelligent. A few years ago, he was talking with a friend from the Orthodox faith. This friend was trying to evangelize George. As part of the conversation he had said that once George believed in Christ and was baptized, he’d have to follow Christ to stay saved. George’s father told me that George reported he responded in this way, “You don’t even believe the Bible, and you are lecturing me? The Bible clearly says that all who believe in Jesus have everlasting life and will never perish. That’s what John 3:16 says, along with many other verses. The Bible teaches eternal security. Now I don’t believe that, because I no longer believe the Bible. But if the Bible is true, then I know I have everlasting life that can never be lost. I can’t say the same about you, because you do not believe what the Bible says about salvation by faith alone.”
If George starts believing the promise of life again, then George will regain assurance and, of course, he will no longer be an agnostic.