“We believe that those who abide in Christ have the assurance of salvation. The Christian, however, retains his freedom of choice. Therefore, he should watch and pray since it is possible for him to turn away from God and be eternally lost, which is called making shipwreck of faith.”
Currently, and for several years, this is how Article 10 is recorded in the OFWB Articles of Faith. We presently have a committee of denominational leaders that are working on revisions for all our articles. This one is essential to our beliefs, as they all are. The doctrine of the perseverance of the saints is a heavily contested belief across denominations with two primary schools of thought. We will not get into a theological discussion of those schools but will make mention, in passing, of ones that are opposing to our belief system.
You have probably heard terms such as “once saved, always saved” or about “eternal security,” and they do have their merit. Yet some underlying factors have some questionable propositions. We believe that a person has the free will to either accept or reject salvation through the Grace of Our Lord. Once one accepts that promise, it is believed or assumed that one would continue in the faith.
According to the first line of this doctrine, “those who abide in Christ have the assurance of salvation” gives us a clue that we must continue in our belief and do the things that we are called to do—sharing the Gospel and trying to become more like Christ. Abide is a solid term that tells us that we MUST continue and stay with Christ. “…He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.” John 15:5–6 (KJV). If we do not abide or remain in Him as He says it is possible to do, we can be cast out and thrown into the fire, and we all know what that fire is.
One of those other schools suggests that a person is chosen by God for salvation and does not have the freedom of choice to accept or reject Him; that it is predestined. We believe that we have “free will” to accept salvation or reject it because of that free will—that we “retains his freedom of choice.” Surely God’s desire is for all to receive this miracle of grace, yet He allows us to make that choice. I have a difficult time believing that the loving Creator would give life to a person with no chance of salvation because it was not in His original plan—that I would be created just to go to Hell. There are only two options. If we are one of those “elect” persons that God has chosen, how do we know beyond a shadow of a doubt?
It has been said that if a person falls away, that He really was not saved in the first place. I believe that I am not in a position to make that judgment. One knows their relationship with God and whether or not it was a true confession of Him as Savior. I have also known some people who were stalwart people of God and taught me many things about my walk with Him that did fall away and renounce their salvation. It is heartbreaking, and I do not know that they repented and came back. Some of those were Sunday School teachers, deacons, and pastors. I genuinely believe that at one point, they did have the assurance of salvation. Yes, we do need to watch our brothers and sisters in Christ and hold them accountable, but they retain that freedom of choice to “abide” in Christ—to persevere.
“Therefore, he should watch and pray since it is possible for him to turn away from God and be eternally lost, which is called making shipwreck of faith.” This last line of the article tells us that we must continue to be diligent in our walk with God because we may turn away and be eternally lost. That eliminates that “once saved, always saved” thought because we may have put ourselves in a position of never having salvation. It is as if we never truly accepted Christ. As before, I have seen people walk away from their salvation and make “shipwreck of (their) faith.”
As we look at a shipwreck, it gives the impression of total destruction. It is not just a little damage like perhaps “backsliding” with the possibility of some repair. Shipwreck is just what it says it is. The ship was in existence at one point, and through the free choice of lousy navigation, the ship no longer exists as a ship. Such could be the case for a person’s salvation if they do not “watch and pray” and lose their salvation.
There may be many questions, still, regarding this doctrine that remains unanswered. We do believe that as long as we abide and remain in Christ that we have the assurance of eternal salvation. Circumstances come along that may cause one, by their own free will choice, to turn away from God. As Jesus said in John 15:6, “IF” you do not remain in Him gives us that free will. Our omnipotent, all-loving God longs for us to accept Him and remain, but He is loving enough to let us make that choice, knowing the consequences. So, I pray that we will all continue to abide in Christ and have that assurance of eternal salvation without even considering the alternative.