1 John 2:18-19, “18 Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour. 19 They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us. “
Within Protestant theology, there are two significant points within the doctrine of salvation; the Reformed and Arminian views. Soteriology or the doctrine of salvation as taught by each system contains a variety of points, which we don’t have time to dig in depth into in this article. With that said, in this article, we will consider the the security of the Christian’s salvation, since 1 John 2:18-19 helps us understand that topic a bit better.
When speaking of the Christian’s security in Christ, we are endeavoring to answer to the following question, “Will the Christian with faith in Christ alone maintain this faith, or is it possible for a person to abandon Christ and thus lose their salvation?” Now, Arminian theology answers that question with it is possible to genuinely be converted then later fall away from the faith permanently. Reformed theology, following Scripture’s teaching, teaches all those with saving faith will persevere and never lose their salvation because they have had their hearts of stone sovereignly replaced with a new heart with new desires, and new affections for the Lord Jesus. Christians may waver, even for a season in their profession, but over their entire lives, will persist in good works that demonstrate justification and finally be glorified by the Lord Jesus.
It may seem at first that this is a simple issue, but it’s not as simple as it looks. Some under the Arminian view see people profess Christ then later fall away, thus persuading them of that particular view. 1 John 2:19 tells us that when a Christian falls away, they never possessed true saving faith. In 1 John 2:12-14, John is showing that his audience had true faith and it was they who believe in the incarnation of Christ, in personal holiness, and in loving other Christians. Now those who desire to be a part of the Body of Christ remain in that true confession I just described in the previous sentence. Instead what John is describing here are those who had a transitory faith and who did not hold to their confession of faith, which resulted in their membership and conversation being false. Every single one of those who abandon Christianity did not lose salvation; they never had salvation in the first place. John Calvin comments that “they who fall away had never been thoroughly imbued with the knowledge of Christ, but had only a light and a transient taste of it.”
Some who call Jesus “Lord” are not real Christians (Matt. 7:21). Faith-professors (the visible church) are not necessarily faith-possessers (the invisible church). Those who fall away never knew Jesus in the first place.
While 1 John 2:19 focuses on false teachers who left sound biblical doctrine, those who permanently abandon the biblical Christ demonstrate solidarity with false teaching and thus show they never had true saving faith in Christ alone. True Christians will not fall away, but it’s also important to say, they aren’t impervious to complacency. Christians are in the light and thus walk in that light (1 John 1:6-7) and do good works of faith to demonstrate they are walking in Christ.
One of the most significant issues to the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints is apostasy. After all, you and I may know at least one person who professed faith in Christ but then later fell away, and from our best guess, since we can’t read their hearts, never returned to Christ. Apostasy, namely, falling away from one’s profession of faith, is nothing new as it existed in the apostolic age. Paul named Hymenaeus and Exlander as two men who had shipwrecked their faith in 1 Timothy 1:18-20. It is possible for some professing Christians to fall away from the faith but it requires much work to determine if this is the case by asking two critical questions.
First, we must ask ourselves, “Is this particular fall away, permanent or temporary?” And this is important because someone may appear fallen but that doesn’t mean they will stay in that state. Every single one of us may know someone who falls away for a particular season of their lives but then is later restored to faith. The New Testament teaching about church discipline in Matthew 18:15-20 and 1 Corinthians 5:3-5 indicates that church discipline is to be undertaken with the goal of restoring the one fallen into sin. It took over a year for King David to repent over his sin with Bathsheba. A person who at first seems to have fallen away permanently may not have done so actually, which is why when we see someone falls, it is not necessarily a final and permanent fall.
Second, where a fall appears permanent, we need to ask, “Is this particular person someone who fell who possessed true faith in Christ alone or someone who only professed faith in Christ?” And this is also important because while we can’t know the heart, the heart manifests itself (Luke 6:45). In other words out of the abundance of the heart according to Jesus in Luke 6:45, our thoughts, words, and actions bubble up from our heart. We may be able to fake it for a season or even for longer, but at some point who we are will indeed reveal itself. And the point here is, just because someone claims to be saved, doesn’t mean they are. 1 John 2:19 is clear that those who are true Christians, members of God’s family are ones who will never fall away permanently.
While we can’t dive into every issue that these two questions raise, we need to raise another important point, namely only God can see the human heart. And thankfully He not only sees it but sees it as it is before Him. With that said, it may be the case that you say you’ve professed faith in Christ but do you possess Christ Himself? Can others see Christ being conformed in you? As J.C. Ryle says if their even the slightest sliver of evidence that your profession of faith is genuine then you can have confidence and assurance in your salvation. Is there the tiniest of a sliver of growth in grace each day, week, month, year, and decade after decade? If not, it may be that you do not possess faith in Christ alone and need to repent and be saved. There are also some who appear to have fallen away finally but yet will be restored. When we get to heaven, we may further, be surprised to see who was truly saved and who was not (Matthew 7:21-23).
These warnings are not only for our instruction. These warnings are meant to spur us to self-examination before the Lord. Apostasy from the New Covenant is a very present reality and also a serious possibility. Members of the New Covenant community of faith who do not have saving faith will receive a harsher punishment than those non-Christians who never joined a church (Luke 12:35-48). When a church confers membership on unrepentant people, those responsible are only adding to their punishment.
And even here at the conclusion of this article, there is hope. The reason John mentions, “they would have continued with us” is because of Christ alone. Or as John Piper once stated, we would not remain Christians one nanosecond without Christ. The security of the Christian is sure because of Christ alone. And yet with that said, we are given warnings to give us a chance to test to see if we are in the faith or not. And this is good, because an honest evaluation of where we are at, in light of Christ, will either demonstrate we are only professors and not actual possessors, or reveal in the light of God’s Word through the Holy Spirit, we are not only professors, we are possessors of saving faith. We persevere not because of ourselves; we persevere because of Christ. The true Christian hates sin and flees from it because they have a new heart with new desires and new affections for Christ. The one who doesn’t have new affections and new desires for Christ continues to go back into a life of habitual sin and finds no satisfaction in Christ alone, and never kills their sin.
Now that the difference is clear, dear brother or sister in Christ, keep on daily repenting of sin, daily delight in reading the Word of God, loving on your fellow church members, and serving God’s people. Continue growing in grace, delight in the treasure of Christ. Doing so shows you truly belong to Christ, not because of your performance, but that you, desire to persevere in grace, grow in it, and at the final day, when you breathe you’re last, inherit your inheritance in Christ and receive your reward therein by Him. And you do that not because of your faith or because of your sufficiency. You will do so because you saw the Christian life through the prism of your whole life, not a flicker in a moment. And at the end of your life, you will persevere, you will inherit Christ Himself the great treasure of your soul because Christ kept you, Christ secured you, in love, to the end, and you shall receive your heart’s desire, Christ Himself, the lover of your soul.