I believe in what is called “perseverance of the saints.” I am less inclined toward the designation “eternal security of the believer,” but it will do. I can even accept “once-saved always-saved,” so long as it is properly qualified. However, I also believe there is a type of faith that does not save. What a statement of insecurity this may be to you! But I really don’t know what to do with some of the language of Scripture. Some have labeled me an enemy of the so-called “Lordship Salvation” position (look it up). While I do have some issues with certain articulations of the Lordship position, I am in agreement that as believers, we should be continually testing our faith to see if it is of the Lord (2 Cor. 3:5). Why? Because it may not be.

Let’s talk to Jesus just a bit:

“”I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away.” (John 16:1)

(“Why this passage?” you ask.  Because it was in my daily Bible reading today.)

What a fascinating passage this is. Here, in the middle of the great “Upper Room Discourse,” Christ is comforting his disciples and preparing them for his imminent departure. This passage follows on the heels of Christ’s warning that his disciples are going to suffer persecution for bearing his name. “If they hated me, they are going to hate you,” he tells them (John 15:18). “But don’t worry . . . this is your life now . . . a life filled with suffering and persecution.” Why is he telling them this? Well, that is where our current passage comes in: to keep them from “falling away.”

“But I thought a believer could never fall away? I thought you said that we were eternally secure.” Well, we are. But we are not. Forgive me for the apparent double-speak but, best as I can tell, I am just following in the footsteps of our Lord. You see, Christ has already said, in a previous John passage, that we are (eternally) secure in the hands of God:

John 10:27-29
“My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; 28 and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. 29 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.”

(What a comforting passage)

Yet here in John 16:1, he seems to suggest that his disciples could fall away from the faith. The word here for “fall away” is skandalizo. It is the word we get “scandal” from. It means “to be brought to a sinful downfall” (BAGD), or “to stumble or fall,” or “to fall away.” Louw-Nida (my favorite Lexicon so long as I am using Bibleworks) has it as “to cause to give up believing, to make someone no longer believe.” It is the word used in the parable of the soils for the soil which experiences persecution: “But he has no root and lasts only for a time. When some tribulation or persecution comes because of the word, he immediately falls away [skandalizo]” (Matt 13:21). This is appropriate to Christ’s usage in John 16:1, since it parallels the thought. There is a type of faith that can be “scandalized” and fall away, never experiencing the benefit of true faith: the salvation of the believer’s soul.

Now, in response, my Calvinist friends would simply say that this is not true faith born of the Holy Spirit. My Arminian friends would say it was true faith that was lost. Neither view impacts our exposition here. The point is that Christ was calling, even pleading with, his disciples to keep the faith.

And we cannot miss the fact that these were his disciples with whom he was talking. His disciples! We call them Apostles. They were the heroes of the early church. They were the ones who would go on to establish the church and, indeed, die for their faith (well, most of them). Why would Christ feel the need to encourage his disciples not to leave the faith? After all, he knew those who were his and those who were not. He knew that Judas was the only one who would betray him and leave the faith. Why warn them of the persecution and hardship? Because, no matter what the security of their faith was from the vantage point of heaven, they needed to know that their perseverance in faith was necessary on earth.

If this was true of the disciples, how much more is it true for us? If it is true that, according to the parable of the soils, there is a type of faith that gains some ground and then “falls away,” doesn’t that mean that our faith can fall away too, and that we should take the encouragement of Christ seriously? I think so. But while I believe we are to always to be fully prepared not to fall away, I also believe that there is a great security we can have in our faith.  However, this security is gained through time. This security is gained through suffering. Christ warned the disciples against the hardships that they had coming. He wanted them to know that their lives on this earth were not, by any means, going to be cake-walks.  If they took to heart this teaching, their faith would be made strong because there would be no false expectations causing them to rethink their mission.

Again, if this was true for the disciples, how much more so is it true for us? I don’t necessarily think we are to preach the “insecurity of our faith.” Nevertheless, I do believe that the discipleship process must be accompanied with continual and stern warnings of the impending and certain troubles that will characterize our Christian life – a life filled with hardship, pain, and rejection. (Ahem…) Take courage in this!

Yet, how often do we exhort and teach, as Christ did, in our evangelism and discipleship?  Instead, we assert ideas such as, “Your best life now,” “How to have a fulfilled, happy life,” and “God has a wonderful plan for your life.” Yes, God does have a wonderful plan for your life . . . trials and hardships. In fact, I am increasingly convinced that this hardship is more severe for Christians! How is that for your best life now? However, it is a hardship that we face with the Creator of time, space, and eternity. It is a wonderful hardship. And yes, properly qualified, it is “your best life now.” Unfortunately, one of the most diseased and hideous teachings I have ever heard is being preached out there from pulpits all over the world: “God wants you to be healthy, happy, and safe from all harm.” God forbid such a message supplant the message that Christ preached. God forbid that safety is our good news. God forbid this monstrous creation of the insecurity in the faith of many. God forbid that we fail to follow Christ by preaching a Gospel of suffering early in the discipleship of the believer. God forbid we preach a “theology of the glory” rather than a “theology of the Cross” (On Being a Theologian of the Cross).

Be secure in your suffering and be secure in your faith. Be surprised by suffering and be insecure in your faith.

(Photograph by Mike Oblinski)

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C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger.

Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminar (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I’m a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. He can be contacted at [email protected]


C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminar (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. He can be contacted at [email protected]

    24 replies to "The Insecurity of our Faith"

    • Mike O

      “God forbid that safety is our good news.” EXCELLENT QUOTE!!

      “Be secure in your suffering and be secure in your faith. Be surprised by suffering and be insecure in your faith.” EXCELLENT QUOTE!!

    • cherylu

      Thanks for this post, Michael.

      Some of us grew up in Christian circles where it seemed there was an implicit understanding that when you once came to Christ all of your troubles were over and everything would be wonderful. No loneliness, unhappiness, or any more such things would come our way!

      What a rude awakening it was to find out that was NOT the way the Christian life really is. Neither experience nor the Bible line up with that philosophy at all. People do need to know right from the start that that idea is just plain wrong and to be prepared for the realities of life as a Christian.

    • Mike O

      I’ve heard that the best place for a new, or prospective Christian to start in scripture is with Ecclesiastes. Because they’ll understand that – that’s their life. It may actually be what they’re trying to fix by coming to Christ.

      But it doesn’t work like that. Ecclesiastes is true for the saint as well as the sinner. The difference is, the Christian goes through life’s struggles and unfairnesses WITH GOD’S favor than without it.

      I would much rather suffer and be under His favor, that suffer and be on my own.

    • Steve Martin

      We never want to take our faith or salvation for granted.

      The Bible speaks of the ability to be lost, to fall away, but it also speaks of Jesus not losing any that were given to Him.

      While I do not take any of it for granted, I do take comfort in the Lord’s ability to keep me, in spite of myself.

    • John Bailey

      Michael,

      Are you saying that if we do not suffer that we may not have saving faith? I have been blessed abundantly by God and do not suffer save my insufferable struggle with the sins of my flesh. All I have is my trust in Christ that he will not forsake me at the day of judgement so do I qualify; do I have saving faith?

    • @John Bailey: YES! “Now to him who is able to keep you from falling and present you without blemish before the presence of his glory with rejoicing, to the only God, our Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and for ever.” (Jude 24-25)

      Our saving faith is in God In Christ!

    • Paul Coleman

      Well said and at the proper time for me. 🙂

    • John Bailey

      @Fr. Robert: Thank you for your kind words of encouragement and the wonderful verse you quoted.

    • C Michael Patton

      John, definitely not. Our security does not come from our suffering (whatever kind we put in the place of that which this context speaks about—i.e. persecution), our security comes from Christ alone. However, often, the ASSURANCE of our faith comes through suffering (though, this is not the only place it comes from).

      But my main point is that we don’t prepare people enough for suffering in the discipleship process. When we do warn them, as Christ did his disciples, it gives us more hope that the faith we are discipling them too is going to be true. Hope that makes sense.

    • stevez

      What about Demas? It seems to me to make sense that he is the same fellow Paul mentions as a fellow worker in both Colossians and Philemon, but in 2 Timothy Paul says 2 Timothy 4:10 For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica.

      Did he fail to persevere? Or was Paul haveing a “Mark” moment?

    • Leslie

      @CMP: Forgive me, Michael, I may have not had enough coffee yet, but is this sentence worded exactly the way you meant it?

      “If it is true that, according to the parable of the soils, there is a type of faith that gains some ground, “falls away” doesn’t mean that our faith can fall away too, or that we should not take the encouragement of Christ seriously? ”

      I am having a little trouble understanding exactly what you mean here…even though I am pretty sure that I agree with you!

      Great post, however.

    • Pete again

      “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me;”

      The important part of that sentence in that they cannot be snatched out of His hand because THEY ARE STILL FOLLOWING Jesus.

      I don’t know how anyone who has studied Hebrews can still believe in “once saved always saved”.

       Hebrews 2:1-3: Therefore we must give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest we drift away. For if the word spoken through angels proved steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just reward, how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?

       Hebrews 3:6: but Christ as a Son over His own house, whose house we are if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm to the end.

       Hebrews 3:14: For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end

       Hebrews 10:36:For you have need of endurance, so that AFTER you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise.

    • teleologist

      I don’t know if anyone is ever prepared for suffering. But if there is ever a time to prepare for suffering it is before it happens. The time to look at the map is before you are lost not when you get caught in the bad part of town in the middle of the night. No amount of preparation will ease the pain in the midst of suffering when death is a welcomed relieve but it just might keep you from falling as you’ve said. In the end, we must be humble. When all is done after the fire we are creatures and He is the Creator, He is the potter we are jars of clay. What can we possibly say? Ask Job. Be humble, be secure. “And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way?” Luke 13:2, Proverbs 30:8–9

    • C Barton

      Suffering is a result of something not right in the world. As many others say, it is better to suffer for Christ than enjoy the peace that the world gives, which results in spiritual estrangement and death! In fact, the antichrist leader will ruin the nations with “peace”. But we , as God’s family, would rather tough it out when and if necessary and stand with Him.
      As for falling away, there are those who participate in an “anti-baptism”, which is a mockery of Christian baptism: they are walking away from devotion to the Gospel, but I hope that they will eventually be called back to a living faith. And this is an important point: I can never tell someone he is going to Hell, but I can warn him that rejection of Christ will prevent him from going anywhere else!

    • @Pete” The verses you quote in Hebrews only show the great doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saint! And btw, the Book or Letter of Hebrews (“word of exhortation”, Heb. 13:22); is first a doctrinal statement about the coming to an end and fulfilment of certain aspects of Judaism, i.e. thru Christ (the Law of God, etc.) It is a Letter of Covenant contrast, and covenant resposibility, (Heb. 10:29). But also, for all Christians, especially Gentile Christians, a time to “go forth therefore unto Him without the camp (Mosaic Judaism), bearing His reproach.” (Heb. 13:13)

      “But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition: but of them that believe to the saving of the soul.” (Heb. 10: 39)

    • Pete again

      @Fr. Robert, OK, since I can’t seem to use anything from Hebrews, how about James?

      James 1:12: Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.

      There are many, many more passages that call “once saved always saved” into question. Are you going to call them examples of “perserverance of the saints” also? At what point do we say that, like Judas, people can turn away and be lost? Several of Paul’s followers surely did, and were.

    • @Pete: Myself at least, I don’t care for the term: ‘Once saved always saved’, for it seems to diminish the reality of “perserverance” in the life of the “Saint”! And Judas is a great example of the “reprobate”… noting John 17:12! How do we know that we are “Saints”, unless we are seeking to perserve? Not sinless, but sinners “in the hands of God”, seeking God’s grace & glory..unto the end! And WE have Christ the Mediator! (1 John 2: 1-2)

      Indeed: “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” (Rom. 3:23)

    • C Barton

      Peter and Paul both allude to those who apparently were losing confidence in the Gospel and returning to the traditions of Judaism; it was necessary for them to warn about abandoning faith in Christ for faith in an obsolete covenant.
      In contrast, if someone grows cold or is a “closet” Christian because of personal issues, that alone, I believe, does not nullify grace. Where weakness is, God’s strength will grow; where sin is, grace will abound – as long as one does not reject or deny Christ, the rest might just be a matter of growth and maturity.

    • Indeed “Demas” is an interesting fellow, (2 Tim. 4:10 / Col. 4:14 / Philem 24). He was once a faithful companion! Judging Paul’s situation with Barnabas over “John Mark”, (Acts 15:37-41), there was no place for abandoning what Paul considered the Lord’s work! Personally, and we don’t really know? I think Paul saw Demas as taking his ‘hand off the plow’! For the Apostle Paul it was always all or nothing!

    • And of course here we are speaking of human but divine service in the Lord. Note, 1 Cor. 3: 5-15, etc.

    • sandra

      hey, is the word for fall away “skandalizo” in these passages the same word used in Hebrews 6:4, when it talks about falling away?

    • […] the other, ultimately, leads to despair!  That said, here are some good, challenging thoughts from a popular evangelical blog: (all the bold are mine – this does not indicate my agreement!) I believe in what is called […]

    • Nate Rinne

      This is a very fine post that hits on many important issues minimized in the Church today. It inspired a post of my own.

      http://infanttheology.wordpress.com/2012/05/30/safe-in-christ-but-be-surprised-by-suffering-and-be-insecure-in-your-faith/

      Title: Safe in Christ – but “be surprised by suffering and be insecure in your faith.”

      +Nathan

    • maggie

      I’m sorry if I’m ignorant … but doesn’t Calvinism teach that if one is truly elect and born again, that he CANNOT fall away? Wouldn’t that make you always secure in your faith? If God make you as an elect, will He not follow through on His decree?

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