The Importance of Distinguishing Eternal Security from Personal Assurance

Praise the Lord that there has been a resurgence back to biblical evangelism. Thanks to the influence of men like Ray Comfort, Todd Friel, and Paul Washer, evangelicalism is bringing back the heartbeat of ministry. The evangelical movement has been suffering for years against liberalism, the social gospel, the prosperity gospel, and the continuing fight against Pelagianism. This is not to say that the movement in its entirety has forgotten evangelism, but many would admit that the Great Commission was pushed aside – at least in America.

Fundamentalism, however, has boldly stood on the other side of the theological landscape, shouting against evangelicalism about its “lack of zeal” and raised sky-high the flags of Soul Winning. I found that even among more mature pastors who are just as disenchanted with hyper-fundamentalism as I, there’s a desire to stay within the movement because, after all, “that’s where the zeal is.” That may be true, but at what price? At the price of filling our churches with the unregenerate.

There are many flaws in the typical shallow evangelism model of today which is so prevalent in fundamentalism. I’d like to point out one theological issue that underlies much of what we do, and that’s the distinction between eternal security and personal assurance.

Simply stated, the doctrine of eternal security is not the same as the doctrine of personal assurance. One may think, “Well they’re very similar, so what’s so wrong with confusing them?”

The problem is that it results in false converts. What’s worse, the confusion usually tells false converts that they’re saved, and that’s a big problem. For example, you run into someone who you haven’t seen in a while. You remember him from church – he came on and off for several months. When he disappeared, you heard he got into some trouble. It seems he’s never gotten over his addictions. In fact, when you run into him, he pretends he doesn’t know you. He never showed interest in the things of God and now is no different. As an actively engaged Christian, you know his testimony: last year he was saved on visitation. Everyone welcomed him into the church. Everyone has been praying for him to be strong, and recently the prayers were simply that he’d come to church. Now that you have the chance to confront him, what would you say?

Is it not typical to believe that the average fundamentalist would remind him of his salvation experience? After all, “once saved, always saved!” Right? If he expressed doubts about his salvation, you’d remind him that a year ago, he prayed to ask Christ into his heart. Of course he’s saved! What he’s going through is just a lack of…well, you’ll think of something, but the point is he surely is saved. To deny that is to deny the doctrine of eternal security!

Or is it?

You see now how eternal security can be so easily confused with personal assurance? Sure, if that man was saved, he certainly would be eternally secure. But by no means does that signify that he has personal assurance! There really is a difference!

Both doctrines ask two different questions.

Eternal security asks, “Can a saved person ever be lost?”
Personal assurance asks, “Am I saved?”
Those, my friend, are two different things.

Eternal Security

Eternal security is often called, “Once Saved, Always Saved” (OSAS). It is a point on which the vast majority of Bible believers agree. To deny this doctrine is to deny important teachings of the Bible. You don’t have to be a Calvinist to believe it. The Bible boldly declares that anyone who comes to Christ can never be lost. You’ve done nothing to earn salvation, you can do nothing to lose it. Consider just a few of many verses of scripture that deal with this doctrine:

In John 3, we learn of the necessity of being born again. Obviously, we cannot be unborn. Also, eternal life is promised as a present possession in that Jesus says we “have” eternal life.

In John 10:28, Jesus reminds us that we cannot be plucked out of His hand.

Romans 8:35-38 tell us that nothing can separate us from the love of God.

Hebrews 10 reminds us of the once-for-all sacrifice.

It is evident by these and a plethora of other scriptural principles that a child of God cannot be lost. He is eternally secure. He can never lose his salvation. It is impossible for him to go to hell – unless, of course, he’s not saved.

Personal Assurance

While eternal security takes the promises of God’s Word and rests in the knowledge that a saved person cannot be lost, personal assurance is asking yourself if you really are saved. Why would anyone do that? Isn’t that “questioning one’s salvation?” Well, here’s what the Bible says…

II Corinthians 13:5 Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates

We are told to examine ourselves. We are told that we’d bear fruit. We’d have a change (II Corinthians 5:17). We are to keep the faith (I Corinthians 15:1-4). Again, I could provide tons of more scriptures proving that we need to have evidence of our faith. James says we ought to show our faith by our works. If I approach that supposedly backslidden man and say, “sir, maybe you’re not saved,” who is questioning his salvation, me or him? He is, by lack of evidence!

One verse that has been taken out of context by so many in soul-winning efforts is I John 5:13. It says,

I John 5:13 These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.

Then the “soul-winner” looks at the unregenerate man on his porch and says, “see, God says you can know you have eternal life!” Now, I can almost see that as a secondary application, in that, since the Bible says you can know then it is possible to know which is totally different than any other religion which says you can’t know. So there. But, to whom is the verse written? “Ye that believe” – believers! Christians! It’s not for the lost, it’s for us! So that we can know! Well, then, how? Simple – “these things.” John closes this book like he did his gospel (John 21:24), which he wrote that you might believe. But now he writes that Christians can have personal assurance. Some of “these things” written in I John include:

Walking in the light
Keeping His commandments
Loving the brethren
Loving not the world
Showing love with our deeds
Answered prayer
Confessing Jesus in the flesh
Having no fear

I John was written as a test by which we can examine ourselves. For the one who has none of the above in his life, whether or not he is saved is between him and God, but rest assured – he has no personal assurance. And because of that, it is sinful for us to provide that for him by saying he’s saved if he shows no evidence that he is. If he is saved and we question his salvation, God will restore him with conviction to live better. So what if we’re wrong? But if he is not saved, which is more likely, and we tell him that he is, he will go to hell, and we will be responsible for it. I hope that sheds light on why, as James White says, “theology matters.” Believe in God’s promises of both Eternal Security and Personal Assurance, but do not confuse the two!

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15 comments so far

  1. Travis James on

    This is definitely an issue which needs to be addressed more often. If what you just explained was more prominently understood, it would take care of so many problems in today’s evangelism: pragmatism, carnality, sincerity, urgency, and so on.

  2. Carl Halling on

    This is reassuring, but many Christians, preachers and otherwise according to online evidence, insist that a true saved believer in Christ can indeed lose their Salvation.

  3. Alex Sheridan on

    Eternal security is a false doctrine.

    “When I say to the righteous that he shall surely live, but he trusts in his own righteousness and commits iniquity, none of his righteous works shall be remembered; but because of the iniquity that he has committed, he shall die. Again, when I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ if he turns from his sin and does what is lawful and right, if the wicked restores the pledge, gives back what he has stolen, and walks in the statutes of life without committing iniquity, he shall surely live; he shall not die.” Ezekiel 33:13-15

    That Scripture proves that a righteous man can die spiritually if he sins. It also proves that a wicked man can live spiritually if he repents. Don’t try to say that die and live in the passage mean die or live physically. Everyone’s going to die regardless! Don’t say the Old Testament doesn’t count because Jesus quoted alot of the Old Testament. I prayed that God would open your eyes to the truth on this matter. God bless!

  4. DT on

    So then how many sins does it take to lose one’s salvation?

    • Arminius1560 on

      Only one refusing to here Gods voice and follow Him John 10;27
      Also keep in mind 1 Timmothy 5;12 “having damnation because they left there first faith.”
      You cannot leave the faith if you never had faith.

    • Arminius1560 on

      DT,
      Are you saying its ok to sin,or do I not understand you correctly?

    • Arminius1560 on

      DT
      Is there a reason why you have not answered my reply s ?

      • Damien T Garofalo on

        sorry – been very busy and I haven’t updated this blog in a long time.

        Hopefully I can get back to you soon.

      • Arminius1560 on

        I was hoping to have some meaningfull disscusion with you on this subject.
        Ephessians 4;15
        Arminius 1560

      • Arminius1560 on

        I was hoping to have some meaningfull discussion with you on this subject.
        Eph.4;15

  5. Angela Arnett on

    By the way, I am a woman and am not sure if the people above are men or women. However, I am not going to bring up any Scripture for fear I may be guilty of attempting to teach men. Therefore, I am merely expressing my opinion.

    In today’s world of easy “Christianity” many take eternal security out of context. Some Pastor’s even go as far to state that drug addicts currently addicted to drugs are saved! I am not stating drug addicts can not be saved. I am saying if a drug addict is saved they will no longer be bound up with drugs anymore. It is called transformation by the Holy Spirit enabled by the grace of God.

    I think the problem stems from the fact that we soft pedal Christianity in an attempt to fill the pews. Instead, of laying in on the line and making clear boundaries stating: If you are saved you will be changed! We do not want to call sin “sin.” And heaven forbid if we make any judgments based on a persons fruit. The thing is we live in a Christian culture that wishes to be coddled and not held accountable. Thus eternal security is thrown around so readily that it often times confuses the lost into believing they are saved!

    I am a believer in what the Bible says about Eternal Security however not with what most modern churches say about it!

  6. Damien T Garofalo on

    Arminius,

    As I said I don’t update this blog. In fact, this post is from 2008. But I’d love to have a discussion with you. You just have to wait, because I’m swamped with so much. The hurricane has afforded me some time, however. Thanks for your patience.

    So, you asked whether I think it’s ok to sin – and the answer is no, absolutely not. We have freedom, but that freedom, according to Paul in Galatians, ought never be used as license to sin.

    • Arminius1560 on

      Damien,
      I am very sorry it took me this long to respond.My dad has cancer,and is in bad shape.Please do not feel that I was ingnoring you or being rude.
      On 10/7/12 I posted a comment for you.On 10/25/12 I posted the same comment.The reason i did it at the time was,because on the comment listed on 10/7/12 above it read waiting moderation.So I thought the comment wasnot being posted.
      Now as for the subject of Eternal Security.I was raised independent Baptist.My problem with the doctrine is this.The statement I herd as a child reaptely was this “every thing is permissible and not all things are profitable.” There are I am shure a number of bible verses we can both can quote,And in a duscussion like this I think it would be best to define our terms as we use them.
      How do you interrupt 1 Timothy 5;12
      Ephesians 4;15
      Arminius1560

  7. Damien T Garofalo on

    May God comfort you and provide strength during this difficult time; may He work mightily in your father’s life.

    Arminius, do you mind if we switch our conversation over to another format, like Facebook or email? I hardly check this blog and I don’t want to keep having these lapses in time.

    If you have a Facebook, just look me up there. If not, you can email me at apologetic(at)minister(dot)com. This way, I can reply more quickly.

    • Arminius1560 on

      Damien.
      I do not have a facebook account,and my computer skill is very basic.For me it would be best to keep it on this website.
      Arminius1560


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