Question: I am confused by an ongoing debate between two brothers in my Bible study. The issue is the “eternal security” of the believer vs. the possibility that one could “fall away.” What is your perspective?
Response: Those who believe in “falling away” accuse those who believe in “eternal security” of promoting “cheap grace.” The latter in itself is an unbiblical expression. To call it “cheap” is really a denial of grace, since it implies that too small a price has been paid. Grace, however, must be absolutely free and without any price at all on man’s part; while on God’s part the price He paid was infinite. Thus for man to think that his works can play any part in either earning or keeping his salvation is what cheapens grace, devaluing this infinite gift to the level of human effort.
To speak of “falling from grace” involves the same error. Since our works had nothing to do with meriting grace in the first place, there is nothing we could do that would cause us to no longer merit it and thus “fall” from it. Works determine reward or punishment—not one’s salvation, which comes by God’s grace. The crux of the problem is a confusion about grace and works.
First of all, we must be absolutely clear that these two can never mix. Paul declares, “…if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work” (Rom:11:6). Salvation cannot be partly by works and partly by grace.
Secondly, we must be absolutely certain that works have nothing to do with salvation. Period. The Bible clearly states, “For by grace are ye saved…not of works: (Eph:2:8-10). True to such scriptures, evangelicals firmly declare that we cannot earn or merit salvation in any way. Eternal life must be received as a free gift of God’s grace, or we cannot have it.
Thirdly, salvation cannot be purchased even in part by us, because it requires payment of the penalty for sin—a payment we can’t make. If one receives a speeding ticket, it won’t help to say to the judge, “I’ve driven many times within the 55 mph limit. Surely my many good deeds will make up for the one bad deed.” Nor will it do to say, “If you let me off this time, I promise never to break the law again.” The judge would reply, “To never break the law again is only to do what the law demands. You get no extra credit for that. The penalty for breaking the law is a separate matter and must be paid.” Thus Paul writes, “…by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight…” (Rom:3:20).
Fifthly, salvation can only be given to us as a free gift if the penalty has been fully paid. We have violated infinite Justice, requiring an infinite penalty. We are finite beings and could not pay it: we would be separated from God for eternity. God is infinite and could pay an infinite penalty, but it wouldn’t be just, because He is not a member of our race. Therefore God, in love and grace, through the virgin birth, became a man so that He could pay the debt of sin for the entire human race!
In the Greek, Christ’s cry from the cross, “It is finished!” is an accounting term, meaning that the debt had been paid in full. Justice had been satisfied by full payment of its penalty, and thus God could “be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus” (Rom:3:26). On that basis, God offers pardon and eternal life as a free gift. He cannot force it upon anyone or it would not be a gift. Nor would it be just to pardon a person who rejects the righteous basis for pardon and offers a hopelessly inadequate payment instead—or offers his works even as “partial payment.”