For those of us who are students of the Bible, one of the greatest difficulties we encounter is those passages which seem to say that a Christian may lose their salvation.
One of those passages is John 15:6.
If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.
Does this mean some who have a saving relationship or connection with Jesus, through some unfortunate event may lose that connection and their salvation? Can those who are united with Christ become separated from Christ?
Some say “yes, how can you be a branch unless you are united with the vine? That is the plain meaning of the verse.”
But we know that the plain meaning of any sentence in Scripture is not plain unless it is seen in the light of its context. When we zoom out to look at the broader context, we will see a problem with the simple interpretation in verse 6. We first see that problem in John 10.
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”
Jesus explicitly develops a very clear and very strong point about his sheep in verse 28.
- I give them eternal life.
- They will never perish.
- No one will snatch them out of my hand.
In Verse 29 he rephrases his point for emphasis: My father is greater than all, his grip is stronger than all others, my strength is his strength.
What is the point? Absolutely no one has the power to separate my sheep from their shepherd. The sheep of the good shepherd rest in total security.
Maybe what this means is that no one can be separated from Christ against their will. What if someone chooses that separation on their own accord? No enemy of God can separate me from him, but could I be tempted to leave on my own accord?
Lets look at John 6.
All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”
All that the Father gives me will come to me.
Whoever comes to me I will never cast out.
We see three aspects of the will of God which Jesus came to accomplish regarding the salvation of his people:
- that I should lose none of those he gives me. (verse 39)
- that I will raise them up on the last and final day.
- That everyone who look to the Son and believes in him should have eternal life on the last day.
Why is it that no one can separate Jesus from his sheep? Because it is God’s will. The supreme, unchanging will of God is that all who he draws out from the world into the arms of Christ will remain in those arms until the last day when he returns.
This is what we call the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints.
One way you can explain that doctrine is that those who are saved by Christ will be kept and preserved for His eternal kingdom. Period.
The doctrine of the perseverance of the saints is a source of limitless comfort and courage for the people of God. We see it in
And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.
He will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.
1 Corinthians 1:8
Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy . . .
who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
1 Peter 1:5
Isn’t that good? If you are in Christ you are being guarded and kept by the one who will finish what he started in your eternal salvation.
I want us to learn for a moment about this doctrine from one of the old confessions of faith. This is the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith
Paragraph 1. Those whom God has accepted in the beloved, effectually called and sanctified by his Spirit, and given the precious faith of his elect unto, can neither totally nor finally fall from the state of grace, but shall certainly persevere therein to the end, and be eternally saved, seeing the gifts and callings of God are without repentance, from which source he still begets and nourishes in them faith, repentance, love, joy, hope, and all the graces of the Spirit unto immortality; and though many storms and floods arise and beat against them, yet they shall never be able to take them off that foundation and rock which by faith they are fastened upon; notwithstanding, through unbelief and the temptations of Satan, the sensible sight of the light and love of God may for a time be clouded and obscured from them, yet he is still the same, and they shall be sure to be kept by the power of God unto salvation, where they shall enjoy their purchased possession, they being engraved upon the palm of his hands, and their names having been written in the book of life from all eternity.
Those who are united with Christ can never fall from the state of grace, but shall certainly persevere therein to the end.
Isn’t that good? Why is it that those who are in Christ shall certainly persevere?
The confession goes on to explain why in paragraph 2.
Paragraph 2. This perseverance of the saints depends not upon their own free will, but upon the immutability of the decree of election, flowing from the free and unchangeable love of God the Father, upon the efficacy of the merit and intercession of Jesus Christ and union with him, the oath of God, the abiding of his Spirit, and the seed of God within them, and the nature of the covenant of grace; from all which ariseth also the certainty and infallibility thereof.
Did you catch the reasons? Let’s break them down for a minute. Those who are in Christ can never fall because their salvation begins with
- The immutability of God’s decree of election.
Another way to say this is that salvation starts with the unchanging decision of God to choose his people.
Where do we see that in Scripture?
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ,according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he lavished on us in the Beloved One.
In Him we were also chosen as God’s own, having been predestined according to the plan of Him who works out everything by the counsel of His will,
You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.
The second reason those who are in Christ can never fall is because their salvation is guarded by
- The efficacy of the intercession of Christ.
In 2019 we might say the effective power of Christ’s prayer over his people.
I am praying for them.
I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.
Who then will condemn us? No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us.
The salvation of God’s people begins with his unchanging will and is prayed into reality by Christ’s powerfully effective prayers.
The third reason that those in Christ can never fall from their place is that their salvation is guaranteed by
- The abiding seal of the Holy Spirit.
In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise
of his glory.
Now it is God who establishes both us and you in Christ. He anointed us, and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.
2 Corinthians 1:21-22
And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
The whole context of the Scripture is indisputably clear. Salvation begins with the unchanging will of God, it is preserved by the ongoing prayer of Christ and is guaranteed forever by the indwelling Spirit. Can you violate any one of those three powers? Can you imagine having the power to violate all three working together?
So what do we do with our verse?
If it does not say that some who have a saving relationship or connection with Jesus, through some unfortunate event may lose that connection and their salvation – what does it say?
There is a clear alternative:
There are some who appear to have a saving relationship with Jesus yet in reality do not have a saving connection with him who will inevitably fall reveal themselves by falling away.
Didn’t the disciple just witness that reality in the form of their supposed brother Judas? He shared in the friendship of Christ and the community of believers. He came to church and had a role in the church, he was the money keeper. Yet he never had a saving connection with Christ.
How do we know that?
They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.
1 John 2:19
There is a twin doctrine to the preservation of the saints – the perseverance of the saints.
Perseverance of the Saints.
Only those who persevere in faith, love and obedience have grounds to believe they are saved.
So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.
1 Corinthians 15:2
he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard,
At any given moment, in any given church there are most likely two types of people among those who use the name Christian. There are those who are united in true, saving fellowship with Christ who are being preserved until the last day. There are those who only have the appearance of that true, saving fellowship with Christ. In reality they have a cultural connection to Christ, or a traditional or philosophical or moral connection to Christ.
This is a terrible position to be in. Such a person needs to hear the warning of John 15:6. False branches will inevitably be revealed and will whither and be cast out forever.
So what should we do when we read warnings like John 15:6? Are you struggling with faith, love and obedience? Do you feel that you are letting Christ down? Do you fear above all else that your sin will separate you from his love?
First you should remember the war against your soul. You are carrying the idol factory of the fallen human soul within you. You are constantly under the pressure of the collective idolatry of human society shaping and molding you in its images. You are daily under the scheming attacks of spiritual forces waging war against your soul. Of course it’s hard. The very fact that you find it hard and fear the loss of your connection with Christ is a sign that you are truly Christ’s.
Then you should remember the preservation of your soul that is rooted in the unchanging will of God, kept by the praying power of Christ who is today interceding for you at God’s right hand and is guaranteed by the permanent seal of the Holy Spirit inside you.
But if. If you are content. If you don’t feel a fight. If you don’t feel the need to pray, if you find the Bible uninspiring and unimportant. If you are content that you are a good Christian and have put in your time. You will find no comfort in the Scriptures – only this warning. Not all who claim the name of Christ will be claimed by Christ on the last day.
Tom Brown is the planting pastor of Vintage Faith Church in Wichita. Tom and his wife, Mandy, have worked together in ministry for 18 years and have four children. More about Pastor Tom Brown