Is Eternal Life Always Eternal?

by John MacArthur

eternalI remember exactly where I was when I discovered some Christians believe eternal life may not always be eternal. The moment is still etched in my memory.

Shortly after I was saved, a friend invited me to a midweek Bible study at a local church. During the course of our study, one fellow asked, “How can someone know if he has lost his salvation?” As discussion ensued, it became clear he was talking about himself. This poor man thought he was in danger of losing his salvation.

That was the first time in my Christian life I had personally encountered someone who was sincerely afraid of losing his salvation. And even as a young believer, I believed once you were saved, that was it—your hope of eternal life is secure and certain. I mean, it is eternal life, isn’t it?

Over the years I’ve been repeatedly confronted with the sad fact that the biblical teaching of an eternally secure salvation is not a common doctrine. In fact, many groups claiming to be Christian have codified in their doctrinal statements the fear of losing your salvation. Roman Catholicism, Wesleyan Methodists, Free Will Baptists, Church of Christ, and many Pentecostal denominations are just a few of those that teach a Christian can lose his salvation.

A more formal name for the belief that a Christian can lose his salvation is conditional security. That may sound academic and austere, but it reveals the fundamental issues at stake. The doctrine of conditional security teaches that as a Christian, your salvation is secure, but only if you are consistently obedient to Jesus Christ.

Think about that for a moment. If your hope of eternal life is tied to the consistency of your earthly obedience, what hope is that? When you compare your obedience to the divine standard, when you compare yourself with the holiness of God, how do you measure up? A thousand lifetimes wouldn’t enable me to perfect holiness before an absolutely holy God; a thousand lifetimes would only reveal how utterly corrupt I truly am.

There’s no hope in the doctrine of conditional security. None at all. In fact, ever since that first encounter with someone who believed he could lose his salvation, I’ve met a number of people with the same fear. They constantly fret over the possibility they’ve unwittingly forfeited their salvation, having committed a sin so bad that God has disowned them.

So, is that possible? Can a true Christian really forfeit his salvation? Is that what the Bible teaches? On the other hand, if you think a Christian can’t lose his salvation, does that mean he can sin and not worry at all about what God thinks?

I’ll have more to say in answer to those questions in upcoming articles, but for now, consider just a couple of doctrinal ramifications. First of all, if you are a true Christian, and you can lose the salvation God gave you, then what does that say about the saving work of Christ? If you can lose your salvation, then Christ’s “saving work” didn’t really save you at all; it may have made you savable in some sense, but it didn’t actually save you…


Is Eternal Life Always Eternal?

The Poached Egg

Recommended Resources: ESV MacArthur Study Bible / Four Views on Eternal Security / How Can I Be Sure I’m A Christian?: What the Bible Says About Assurance of Salvation / More suggestions…