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Is faith in Jesus a one-time event or an ongoing commitment?
In my ministry as a pastor, I have seen people’s faith wax and wane. I know of one young man, for example, who gave his heart to Jesus, became actively involved in church, and even participated in summer-long missions projects, only to reject Christianity in his college years. I could multiply stories like his, but I think you get the point. You also probably know people who at one point in their lives professed faith in Christ but now do not. Their faith, which once waxed, has now waned to the point of nonexistence.
Are such people saved? Charles Stanley thinks they may be. In his book, Eternal Security, he writes, “The Bible clearly teaches that God’s love for His people is of such magnitude that even those who walk away from the faith have not the slightest chance of slipping from His hand.” Also, “Even if a believer for all purposes becomes an unbeliever, his salvation is not in jeopardy.” For Charles Stanley, faith in Christ for salvation is a one-time event: “Once saved, always saved”—even, evidently, if you renounce Christ.
In light of our studies of 1 John, I hope you see what is wrong with Charles Stanley’s reasoning. Remember the context of this letter. Former members of the church had embraced heresy and seceded from the church, attempting to drag others along with them. If Charles Stanley is right, those people—whom John refers to as “antichrists” in 2:18—are still saved, as long as they gave their hearts to Jesus sometime prior to their heresy and secessionism. Once saved, always saved, regardless of whether you currently have faith.
Notice how different from Charles Stanley’s position is John’s position as he states it in 1 John 2:24-25:
See that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father. And this is what he promised us—even eternal life.
Here faith is not a one-time event, it is an ongoing commitment to Jesus Christ. It is something that “remains in you,” and if it does, “you also will remain in the Son and in the Father.” The result of all this remaining is “eternal life.” Faith abides.
Now, before anyone sends me nasty emails because I have criticized Charles Stanley or the doctrine of eternal security, let me point something out. Abiding faith is consistent with both traditional Calvinism and traditional Arminianism. Like Charles Stanley, traditional Calvinism also teaches “Once saved, always saved.” Unlike Charles Stanley, however, traditional Calvinism teaches that backsliding or apostasy from the faith is proof that a person was never saved in the first place. Why? Because true faith abides. Unlike either Charles Stanley or traditional Calvinism, traditional Arminianism denies “Once saved, always saved.” Like traditional Calvinism, however, traditional Arminianism teaches that faith abides. If a person enters eternal life, it is because of an abiding faith in Jesus Christ, who graciously gives us eternal life.
So, either way, keep the faith!