Eternal security, also known as "once saved, always saved", is the belief that from the moment anyone becomes a Christian, they will be saved from hell, and will not lose salvation. Once a person is truly "born of God" or "regenerated" by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, nothing in heaven or earth "shall be able to separate (them) from the love of God" (Romans 8:39) and thus nothing can reverse the condition of having become a Christian.
Eternal security is a characteristic doctrine of the Southern Baptists, Old Regular Baptists, United Baptists, Landmark Baptists, Missionary Baptists and other historic Baptist traditions. It is also held by various Calvinist groups such as Reformed Christians (Continental Reformed, Congregationalists, Presbyterians, Reformed Anglicans, and Reformed Baptists) due to the doctrine of Perseverance of the saints. It is also affirmed by the Plymouth Brethren, as well as in Free Grace Theology, which is held by many independent fundamental Baptists (though the Reformed, Plymouth Brethren and Free Grace traditions teach different versions of eternal security). In contrast, conditional security is taught in Catholicism, Lutheranism, Orthodoxy, Pentecostalism and Methodism, as well as some Baptist groups such as the Freewill Baptists, General Baptists and Campbellites. The doctrine of the Anabaptists at the commencement of the Protestant Reformation was eternal security (as witnessed by the Lutheran diet of Augsburg in 1530), though most of the groups currently identified as Anabaptists, such as the Mennonites and Hutterites, embrace the insecurity doctrine.
The Reformed view of the perseverance of the saints has been foreshadowed by Augustine, Jovinian and Gottschalk, although not necessarily formulating their views identically. Augustine accepted the doctrine that the Holy Spirit is received at water baptism producing regeneration (salvation), he tried to explain why some regenerated babies continued in the faith while other baptized infants would fall away from the faith and even live immoral lives in debauchery. Both groups possessed the Holy Spirit, so how can one account for the difference? Augustine concluded that God must give a second gift of grace called perseverance. The gift of perseverance is only given to some baptized infants, although it cannot be lost once received. Augustine did not believe that his doctrine of perseverance was a new invention, thus Augustine also claimed that Cyprian taught a similar doctrine concerning perseverance.
Jovinian (died: 405 AD) was an early church theologian often seen as a proto-Reformer in the 4th century, he believed that a person who was once regenerate could never be subverted by the devil. Thus his teaching has similarities to what Augustine and John Calvin taught, as he limits the impossibility of relapse to the truly regenerate.
According to Ken Wilson, a view more similar to Free Grace theology was also in existence during the early church period. Augustine mentioned a group of Christians who held that salvation was achieved without any good deeds done by the individual, excluding repentance and perseverance in good works. These Christians believed that although Christians can experience God's temporal judgement, they would enter heaven regardless of their future actions. Augustine was heavily critical of their views.
Theology affirming the doctrine of eternal security
The traditional Calvinist doctrine teaches that a person is secure in salvation because he or she was predestined by God and therefore guaranteed to persevere, whereas in the Free Grace or non-traditional Calvinist views, a person is secure because at some point in time he or she has believed the Gospel message (Dave Hunt, What Love is This, p. 481).
In Reformed Christianity, eternal security is a logical consequence of the doctrine of perseverance of the saints, according to which true Christians will persevere in good works and faith. Because faith is God's perfect gift it will inevitably produce perseverance in faith and good works. Thus condemnation to hell because of sin, unbelief, or apostasy is not possible for true Christians. Reformed theology holds that one's continued belief in Christ and good works are evidence of one's saving faith and that if one does not bear this fruit, he/she was never truly regenerated.
The Plymouth Brethren affirm eternal security as long as a Christian believer continues to have faith in Jesus. In the Plymouth Brethren view "a true believer in Christ will continue in his faith." Those who do not bear good works, as with Judas, never experienced the New Birth. However, a few among the Plymouth Brethren have taught views more similar to Free Grace theology.
Free grace theology
Free grace theology says that anyone who believes in Jesus Christ will go to heaven regardless of any future actions—including future sin, unbelief, or apostasy—though Christians who sin or abandon the faith will face God's discipline.
Free Grace doctrine views the person's character and life after receiving the gift of salvation as independent from the gift itself, or in other words, it asserts that justification (that is, being declared righteous before God on account of Christ) does not necessarily result in sanctification (that is, a progressively more righteous life). Charles Stanley, pastor of Atlanta's megachurch First Baptist and a television evangelist, has written that the doctrine of eternal security of the believer persuaded him years ago to leave his familial Pentecostalism and become a Southern Baptist. He sums up his conviction that salvation is by faith alone in Christ alone when he claims, "Even if a believer for all practical purposes becomes an unbeliever, his salvation is not in jeopardy… believers who lose or abandon their faith will retain their salvation." For example, Stanley writes:
Look at that verse [John 3:18] and answer this question: According to Jesus, what must a person do to keep from being judged for sin? Must he stop doing something? Must he promise to stop doing something? Must he have never done something? The answer is so simple that many stumble all over it without ever seeing it. All Jesus requires is that the individual "believe in" Him.— Charles Stanley (p. 67).
In a chapter entitled "For Those Who Stop Believing", he says, "The Bible clearly teaches that God's love for His people is of such magnitude that even those who walk away from the faith have not the slightest chance of slipping from His hand (p. 74)." Later, Stanley also writes: "You and I are not saved because we have an enduring faith. We are saved because at a moment in time we expressed faith in our enduring Lord" (p. 80).
The doctrine sees the work of salvation as wholly monergistic, which is to say that God alone performs it and man has no part in the process beyond receiving it, and therefore, proponents argue that man cannot undo what they believe God has done. By comparison, in traditional Calvinism, people, who are otherwise unable to follow God, are enabled by regeneration to cooperate with him, and so the Reformed tradition sees itself as mediating between the total monergism of the non-traditional Calvinist view and the synergism of the Wesleyan, Arminian, and Roman Catholic views in which even unregenerate man can choose to cooperate with God in salvation.
One of the points of Molinism is "eternal life", Molinists believe that the only basis for assurance is the work of Christ and that saving faith always perseveres to the end, however persevarance is a promise instead of a requirement.
The term "Hyper-Grace" has been applied to a doctrine taught by some Charismatic Christians today, such as Joseph Prince. Hyper-Grace teaches a strong form of eternal security and denies the necessity of continual confession of sin in the life of a believer. The view is similar to Free Grace theology, although Free Grace theology is distinguished by allowing the Christian to experience major temporal judgements for their sins.
Theology rejecting the doctrine of Eternal Security
Catholic, Methodist, Anabaptist, Oriental Orthodox and Eastern Orthodox theology hold to synergism with respect to salvation and view the doctrine of eternal security as heretical, instead teaching that one's one's salvation is conditional on one's continued faith, good works, sanctification, and avoidance of sin.
In Catholicism, Christians do not have eternal security because they can commit a mortal sin. The Church teaches that Christians are subject to the cleansing torment of purgatory before entrance into heaven.
The Eastern Orthodox Churches and the Oriental Orthodox Churches teach "the conditional security of the believer". "According to ... all of the Church’s spiritual writers, a man must be humble in order to stay on the right path and attain that for which he seeks."
Anabaptists, such as Conservative Mennonites, teach that "Each member of the church has free will and can separate themselves from the body of Christ and live a sinful life, even if they once were bound to Christ."
Classical Arminianism and Wesleyan Arminianism
The Arminian view, inclusive of the Classical Arminian position and Wesleyan-Arminian (Methodist) position, opposes any concept of eternal security, holding that a true Christian can fall from grace and be condemned to hell.
- Davis, John Jefferson (1991). "The Perseverance of the Saints: A History of the Doctrine" (PDF). Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society. 34 (2): 213.
- "Gottschalk by Steven Lawson". Ligonier Ministries. Retrieved 2021-11-07.
- "Philip Schaff: History of the Christian Church, Volume III: Nicene and Post-Nicene Christianity. A.D. 311–600 – Christian Classics Ethereal Library". www.ccel.org. Retrieved 2021-12-21.
Jovinian's second point has an apparent affinity with the Augustinian and Calvinistic doctrine of the perseverantia sanctorum. It is not referred by him, however, to the eternal and unchangeable counsel of God, but simply based on 1 Jno. iii. 9, and v. 18, and is connected with his abstract conception of the opposite moral states. He limits the impossibility of relapse to the truly regenerate, who "plena fide in baptismate renati sunt," and makes a distinction between the mere baptism of water and the baptism of the Spirit, which involves also a distinction between the actual and the ideal church.
- Stapert, Calvin (2007). A New Song for an Old World: Musical Thought in the Early Church. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. ISBN 978-0802832191.
Jovinian taught the complete equality between marriage and celibacy and between eating and fasting. He also taught something like the Calvin- ist doctrine of the perseverance of the saints
- Burnell, Peter (2005). The Augustinian Person. Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press. pp. 85–86. ISBN 9780813214184.
- Komline, Han-luen Kantzer (2019). Augustine on the Will: A Theological Account. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0190948825.
- Komline, Han-luen Kantzer (2019). Augustine on the Will: A Theological Account. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0190948825.
- The Evangelical Guardian. J.M. Christy. 1846.
He was also charged with maintaining the perseverance of the saints
- Armitage, Thomas (1890). A History of the Baptists: Traced by Their Vital Principles and Practices : from the Time of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ to the Year 1886. Bryan, Taylor.
held the vital principle of regeneration by the Spirit of God , the perseverance of the saints
- The Critical Review of Theological and Philosophical Literature. Williams and Norsate. 1897.
results of this indwelling led Jovinian in the second place to state a doctrine of the perseverance of the saints
- "A Defense of Free Grace Theology". Grace Theology Press. Retrieved 2023-09-03.
There were Christians in good standing with the church c.AD 400 who held the doctrine that a person received salvation by faith alone without repentance or good works. Much to Augustine's ire, baptism was practiced immediately if one of them believed in Christ, without first entering prolonged education in Christian faith and morals as a catechumen. For those early Christians, God's future judgment consisted only of payment (reward) or punishment (temporary) for how those Christians lived their lives before God—heaven or hell was not in question.
- Pink, Arthur W. (2001). Eternal Security. Lafayette, IN: Sovereign Grace Publishers, Inc. pp. 39, 47, 58. ISBN 1589601955.
- Dunlap, David. "The Battle For Continuing Faith". Plymouth Brethren Christian Church. Retrieved 7 April 2022.
- Ironside, H. A. (24 April 1934). "Eternal Security of the Believer". Plymouth Brethren Writings. Retrieved 10 April 2022.
People say, "If you preach this doctrine of the eternal security of the believer, men will say, 'Well, then it doesn't make any difference what I do, I will get to heaven anyway.'" It makes a tremendous difference what you do. If you do not behave yourself, it shows that you are not a real Christian. I know that a real Christian may fail, but the difference can be seen in Peter and Judas. Peter failed, and failed terribly, but he was genuine, and one look from Jesus sent him out weeping bitterly; his heart was broken to think that he had so dishonored his Lord. But Judas companied with the Lord almost three-and-a-half years and was a devil all the time; he was a thief and was seeking his own interest. He was even made the treasurer of that company and he held the bag, but we read, "He bare [away] what was put therein" (John 12:6), as this has been literally translated. At last remorse overtook him, not genuine repentance, and what was the result? He went and hanged himself. He was never a child of God. There is a great difference, you see, between a Christian and a false professor.
- Hodges, Zane (March 2018). A Free Grace Primer. Grace Evangelical Society. ISBN 978-1-943399-24-6.
- Chay, Fred (2017). A Defense of Free Grace Theology: With Respect to Saving Faith, Perseverance, and Assurance. Grace Theology Press. ISBN 978-0-9981385-4-1.
- Stanley, Charles (1990). Eternal Security: Can You Be Sure?. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson. pp. 81, 116–118. ISBN 0840790953.
- Stanley, Charles. Eternal Security: Can You Be Sure? Nashville: Oliver Nelson, 1990. ISBN 978-0840790958 pp. 1–5
- Lemke, Steve (January 2010). "Salvation and Sovereignty, by Kenneth Keathley: A Review Essay". Journal for Baptist Theology and Ministry.
- Brown, Michael L. (2016-05-03). The Grace Controversy: Answers to 12 Common Questions. Charisma Media. ISBN 978-1-62998-920-4.
- Brown, Michael (2017-01-30). "Hyper-Grace: Setting the Record Straight With Pastor Joseph Prince". The Christian Post. Retrieved 2023-07-23.
- Lazar, Shawn (2017-10-18). "Wrath and Righteousness – Grace Evangelical Society". Retrieved 2023-07-23.
- Ellis, Paul (2014-04-02). The Hyper-Grace Gospel: A Response to Michael Brown and Those Opposed to the Modern Grace Message. KingsPress. ISBN 978-1-927230-40-4.
- Barker, Paul (2017-04-04). "The Hypergrace of Joseph Prince: A Review of 'Destined to Reign'". The Gospel Coalition | Australia. Retrieved 2023-07-23.
- Peters, Ted (2015). God--The World's Future: Systematic Theology for a New Era, Third Edition. Augsburg Fortress Publishers. p. 391. ISBN 978-1506400419.
Justification is not enough for the Methodists. The Christian life cannot get along without transformation as well. Transformation is accomplished through the process of sanctification. "The one [justification] implies what God does for us through his Son, the other [sanctification] he works in us by his Spirit." The spiritual life of the Methodist ends up reiterating what the Roman Catholics had deemed so important, namely transformation.
- Marshall, Taylor. "Can You Lose Your Salvation?". The Catholic Perspective on Paul. Archived from the original on 22 May 2019. Retrieved 3 January 2019.
- "Orthodox Church Affirms Conditional Security". Scribd. Retrieved 7 April 2022.
- Klotz, Joseph (29 June 2015). "Three Examples of How Lutherans Deny Justification by Faith Alone: A Response – Part Two of Two". Steadfast Lutherans. Retrieved 7 April 2022.
- "Eternal security". Third Way. Retrieved 7 April 2022.
- Shank, Robert (1989). Life in the Son. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers. pp. 31–48. ISBN 1556610912.