This article was previously titled "Is Eternal Security a License to Sin?" But, when I mention eternal security, I am just simply talking about eternal life, so that is why I decided to change the title. And the Bible clearly tells us, over and over again, that believers have present possession of eternal life. You can read my article titled The Believer's Position In Christ for many clear examples of this, but the following two verses are a couple of very clear examples....
John wrote, "These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know [that's present knowledge] that you have [that's present possession] eternal life" (1 John 5:13).
Simple logic tells us that this could not be called eternal life if we had it today and lost it later. That would not be eternal life at all, but it would be temporal life. Jesus also said that believers have eternal life many times, but I will just give one clear example....
In John 10:27-29, Jesus said "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and [that means that] they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one [Including Saten - See 1 John 5:18] is able to snatch them out of My Father's hand".
In that verse, Jesus not only said that He gives His sheep eternal life, but He also said that they will never perish. So it is as simple as this: If you are already one of His sheep then you can be sure that you will never perish, because Jesus said that you won’t. If someone does perish in the end, it can only be because they were never one of His sheep.
So, is the doctrine of eternal security (i.e., eternal life) a license to sin? The plain truth is that there are some who do use the doctrine of eternal security as a license to sin, and I cannot deny that. But I do not believe that the doctrine of eternal security in itself is a license to sin. On the contrary, it is this very security which keeps us from sin in the first place. Hopefully you will see what I mean by that through this article.
The idea that eternal security is a license to sin is based on a tragic failure to reckon our position in Christ, and I myself have failed to reckon this position for a long time during my Christian life. Does that mean that I was not saved? No, but I hope the reader of this article will understand that the Christian life is not a life that strives to die to sin...it is a life in which we are to reckon ourselves as dead to sin (See Romans 6:3-11). In other words, “sin shall not have dominion over you [if] you are not under law but under grace” (Romans 6:14). So if you are indeed under grace, then it would make no sense to die to the sin that already has no dominion over you. Instead, we are to reckon ourselves already dead, and walk in faith in what Jesus has already accomplished for us.
Just as we are saved by grace (See Ephesians 2:8-9), so we are also kept by grace: "He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ" (Philippians 1:6). Just as God has started a good work in the believer through His grace, so He will also complete that work through His grace...“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works” (Ephesians 2:10). In other words, it is our being “created in Christ Jesus” that enables us to do good works. Some may already understand that, but I hope the meaning of it will become all the more clear through this article, even to those who already understand it.
It seems that some of those who deny eternal security view faith as more of a struggle than a rest, as if we have to strive to overcome the world...even though 1 John 5:4-5 clearly states that the believer's faith has overcome the world. Those who do so are making faith into a work without even realizing it...but Jesus said “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30). Therefore, “we who have believed do enter that rest” (Hebrews 4:3).
If our faith is in God, then we do not need to strive to overcome the world, because His seed remains in us (See 1 John 3:9), and that is why the believer has already overcome the world, as well as sin and the wicked one (See 1 John 5:18). This is why sin no longer has dominion over the believer, as Paul mentioned in Romans 6:14. Sin shall not have dominion over the believer, not because he strives to overcome it, but because God's seed remains in him, and he has therefore already overcome it.
It is through the Holy Spirit that we learn this simple truth: “His commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3). Once we see this, we can no longer view the Christian life as a labor to keep our salvation, because we realize that it is through God’s Holy Spirit that we are “sealed for the day of redemption” (Ephesians 4:30). Those who are sealed with the Spirit of God will then view sin as God views it, and this is why His Spirit keeps us from sin. Unlike us in our natural carnal state, God sees sin for the ugliness and vanity that it truly is.
So it is God’s Spirit which will complete the work that He has started in the true Christian until the day of Jesus Christ (See Philippians 1:6 once again). Since the Holy Spirit does not delight in sin, and therefore those who have Him will not delight in sin, it makes no sense to suggest that eternal security is a license to sin. To help explain what I am getting at, here is an illustration that my dad once used:
‘"I suppose you think you can sin as much as you want now?" Most of us who have experienced God's grace and salvation have heard that question. We tell someone how Jesus has saved us, forgiven us of our sin and given us a new life, a life that we are excited about. Then someone says, "I suppose you think you can sin as much as you want now?". It is not a relevant question.
I hope you understand the point of this illustration: It really makes no sense to say that eternal security is a license to sin, because those who have that security (which is the Holy Spirit Himself) will see the vanity of sin through God’s eyes. They will then find John’s statement to be true: “His commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3), and it is through the Holy Spirit that they will find that statement to be true. So, to say that eternal security is a license to sin is like saying that the Holy Spirit is a license to sin, and that is simply not logical.
Our hearts are deceitful (See Jeremiah 17:9-10), and for that reason we cannot see sin for what it truly is when we are in our natural carnal state. But once we become one with God through His Spirit, it is then through His Spirit that we see sin the same way He sees it. The sin which was once pleasurable to us is then seen as loathsome and vain, and it is seen this way only through the Holy Spirit who alone can see it as such (this is also explained in the quote by Richard Baxter on my "Timely Words From Saints Of The Past" page). This is what I was intending people to understand when I said “I do not believe that the doctrine of eternal security in itself is a license to sin. On the contrary, it is this very security which keeps us from sin in the first place”.
God’s commandments will only seem burdensome if we try to keep them in our own strength. It is not possible for us to live the Christian life in our own strength, but it is only possible for Christ to live it through us. This is why Paul wrote “I through the law died to the law that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain” (Galatians 2:19-21).
Since we are to live by faith in the Son of God as Paul indicated in that verse, let us be sure that we are not just putting faith in our ability to have “faith”. We do not need to strive hard to somehow have enough faith, we just need to believe God: “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness” (Romans 4:3).
Although we may not realize it, we can sometimes become so carried away in our zeal that we end up putting faith in our ability to have “faith” rather then just having faith in God. In doing so, we are striving in the flesh to please God without even realizing it. Let us not get so carried away in the work of the Lord that we forget the Lord of the work! If we would only cease from striving to please God in our own strength, we would then find that true faith in Jesus is not really such a struggle…we would then find that His yoke is indeed easy, and His burden is light, exactly as He has said….we would then find that His commandments are not burdensome, exactly as the apostle John wrote.
Romans 6:23 says “the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord”. A gift, by it's very nature, is just simply received. If we work for a gift that someone is trying to give us so freely, or if we even do something to keep that gift which has already been given to us so freely, we have then insulted the giver. If someone gave you a birthday gift, would you have to do something for them in order to keep that gift? I don't think so. And likewise, we do not do anything for God to keep the gift of eternal life, but it is the Holy Spirit Himself who keeps us sealed to the day of redemption once we have already received it. We must simply trust in the finished work of Jesus Christ.
1 Corinthians 3:1-3 makes it very clear that there is such a thing as a carnal Christian, and it refers to them as babes in Christ. There are different stages to the Christian life, so we cannot expect people to be transformed into Bible scholars right after they have just gotten saved. But if someone remains carnal after many years of professing to be a Christian, it is then that I would question whether they were ever saved to begin with.
If someone seems to have fallen away, then maybe they were never saved to begin with (See 1 John 2:19). On the other hand, “Whoever has been born of God does not [practice] sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God" (1 John 3:9).
Today, many professing Christians all over the world have lost their so called “faith”, and I believe that this is a result of the gospel being watered down and compromised. As a result of this compromise, there are so many professing Christians who have never obtained a solid, rational, factual foundation. Many do not even know what they believe and why they believe it, and that is one of the reasons I wrote my article titled “Philosophy vs. Christ”. But if someone has really understood and believed the gospel, and been born anew – regenerated - by God’s Spirit, I don’t believe that it is possible for them to lose their salvation.
The following are some helpful links for anyone who is still hungry for more info on the subject of eternal security....
Eternal Security of the Believer, by H. A. Ironside
The Believer's Position in Christ
The Gift Of God
The Perseverance of God
An Urgent Call to a Serious Faith, by Dave Hunt (Excerpt)
I would also like to recommend doing a study on 1 John. It is a very simple epistle, which explains a great deal about the eternal life of the believer.