They Shall Never Perish

The Lord Jesus Christ affirms that he gives to his sheep “eternal life; and they shall never perish.” Nothing could be clearer.

By Simon Padbury 9 September 2019 7 minutes read

Our Lord Jesus Christ himself proclaimed, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3.16).

This promise is exceedingly great and precious to the Christian. All our hope hangs here.

Can a Christian lose his or her salvation? Some Arminians say “yes” and some say “no.”

Those who say “yes” argue as follows: “Your salvation is dependent upon your faith (i.e. upon your believing in Christ). Therefore, if you stop believing that the Lord Jesus Christ has saved you, then you lose your salvation. You must keep the faith in order to remain saved.”

Other Arminians sincerely believe in what they call eternal security, by which they mean essentially the same thing as Calvinists mean when we speak of the preservation of the saints. Same as we do, they rest all their hope upon God’s gospel promises of the Bible, that say Christians shall not perish but have everlasting life, because the Saviour has saved them.

Those who are saved cannot lose their salvation. This doctrine has been summarised as, “Once saved, always saved.” We affirm that this keeping of Christians in the state of salvation is God’s work, and so we speak of God’s preservation of his saints.

Any belief system that teaches that a person’s own faith is (at least partly) their own work, and that their salvation depends upon their faith, has the tendency to weaken people’s faith in Christ, to remove their assurance of salvation, and to prevent them trusting and hoping in Christ alone.

The Lord Jesus Christ affirms that he gives to his sheep “eternal life; and they shall never perish” (John 10.28). Nothing could be clearer.

In Jesus’s illustration, those people who are his “sheep” are those who hear his voice and follow him (v.27). Yes we know, sadly, how many times we, Christ’s sheep, stray from those “paths of righteousness” (Psalm 23.3) which he leads us in; and so our Lord must “turn us again” (Psalm 80.3,7,19) until we have returned to following him; and he must lift us out of all manner of snares, thickets, miry clay and pits (wherever our sins have carried us), in order to keep us safe. But with such a Good Shepherd as our Saviour is, not one of his sheep will perish!

Christ immediately adds this double promise: “neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand” (John 10.28-29). Again, nothing could be clearer. Once a person has been saved by the Saviour, he or she will always remain saved—or salvation is not salvation!

Those who are truly converted cannot be lost again. They have eternal life, and they shall never perish. We know this is true, especially because the Saviour immediately assures us, “I and my Father are one” (v.30).

This is what Christ said. This is what we should believe.

But eternal-security deniers argue, “It is only those of Christ’s sheep who continue to listen to his voice (in the Bible), and who continue to follow him, who will never perish. But if they fail to do this, then they cease to be Christ’s sheep, and they will perish.”

In other words, they assert that you, Christian, cannot entirely trust upon Christ’s promises that you have been given eternal life, and that you shall never perish, and that you are kept secure, saved, safe in both Christ’s and the Father’s hand. They are saying, “While it is true that no-one can pluck you out of Christ’s and the Father’s hands, yet you can let go, or you can pluck yourself out of their hands, and so you may perish in the end.”

But the Lord Jesus has proclaimed: “For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me. And this is the Father’s will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day. And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6.38-40).

Immediately here, the deniers interject, “Ah, but what if we later fail to continue believing? Christ may not lose any who believe in him, but whoever stops believing in him will be lost.”

No. Christ says that he loses none of those whom the Father gives to him in the covenant of redemption: “…of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing” (John 6.39).

Genuine Christians can and do go through times of doubt, down-heartedness and lack of assurance. For some of us, these seasons may be very deep and very long—all the while we are looking at our own sinful unworthiness, so that Christ becomes eclipsed for a dark season.

“There is no hope for me,” we may be telling ourselves, and telling anyone else we dare to let into our heart. We may fall into the dreadful state of not daring to hope that Christ died “for me.” We may be tormented by many false doctrines and ideas.

While going through these times of despondency we crave assurance of salvation, fearing for our own souls because we know that we deserve Hell. But—we should not fear, because the Father has given us to his Son, who is now our Good Shepherd, and he will never lose us. The Holy Spirit will bring us again to know that we have everlasting life, and that our Triune God will never leave us (see Hebrews 13.5).

The apostle Peter teaches us that those for people who are the “Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ:”

  • They are truly “begotten…again” Christians;
  • They already possess “an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven” for them;
  • They themselves are “kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation;” and
  • The fullest manifestation of their salvation waiting to be revealed in their future—“ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1.2-5).

This is precisely what Calvinists believe. Whereas deniers of this doctrine think that they are only “kept by the power of God” so long as they, of themselves, continue to believe in Christ. They argue, “Can’t you see that you are missing Peter’s point in this passage? He says ‘kept by the power of God through faith…’ So, if we lose our faith, we are lost.”

Deniers of God’s preservation of his saints have no hope to hold out to Christians who are struggling with lack of assurance. They distort this gloriously encouraging doctrine about being kept by the power of the Almighty God, into their false doctrine that we have to keep ourselves saved, so long as we can, through our continuing to have faith. It is they, not we, who have missed Peter’s point.

Besides, we read elsewhere in the Bible that God gave us our faith. For the true Christian, faith in the gospel is not somehow self-generated; it is an integral part of “the gift of God” to us (Ephesians 2.8). And such a God-given faith, although we may neglect to remind ourselves of it, or we may be distracted from it, or we may lack assurance many times—such a God-given faith cannot be lost or destroyed, same as the Christian’s salvation cannot be lost or destroyed.

Of course, it is we who believe. And of course, we must endeavour to “continue in faith” (Acts 14.22; Colossians 1.23). But this faith is not self-generated, and this continuation is not self-maintained.

To assert that, “If you lose your faith, you lose your salvation” is to fail to understand that true, Triune God-wrought salvation can never be broken or undone—and to fail to understand that God never takes back the faith in Christ that he gives those whom he saves.

All thanks be to God—for every part of our salvation comes from our Triune God alone. Salvation is soli Deo gloria—to the glory of God alone.