One of the most common views of salvation in evangelicalism is an Arminian view of the place of God in initiating salvation in a person coupled with a non-Arminian understanding of God’s place in retaining salvation in that same person. In other words, under this view, God is not seen as the first mover in an individual’s faith in Christ, but he is relied upon to keep a person “once saved, always saved.”
The view that a person who is saved will always be saved is a biblical one. Scripture is filled with promises of God’s perfect hold on those who are believers in Christ (John 10:28-29). But, though a true doctrine, it is inconsistent with Arminian theology.
One reason this is inconsistent with Arminian theology is that the security of the believer, even in Arminian systems, is inseparably tied to the current and future intercession of Christ in behalf of those who are his. This intercession is inconsistent with Arminian theology because it is said in Scripture to directly result from his substitutionary death (Heb. 7:25-27; Rom 8:32-34). Christ intercedes for, and only for, those for whom he died. Believers’ security as related to Christ’s intercession in Romans 8 is built upon the fact that he died for them. The Arminian who would be consistent is forced to say that Christ also therefore intercedes for all men in the way mentioned there – evidently to no effect, and to the ruin of believers’ confidence in the value of Christ’s intercession.
Another reason why the doctrine of eternal security is inconsistent with Arminian theology is because it is primarily taught in Scripture as a direct result, not of man’s decision, but of God’s election and effectual calling. Romans 8:31-39 comes right on the heels of Romans 8:28-30, which teach that man’s glorification is secure because of God’s initiating salvation in him from before time began. The believer’s security with Christ is based upon God having “given” him to Christ (John 6:37). The believer’s certainty that God will complete the work of salvation in him is that God is the very one who began it (Phil. 1:6). The believer’s inheritance is rooted in the predestinating purpose of God (Eph. 1:11). The preservation of the believer until the day of Christ is promised based upon God’s faithfulness and his calling of him (1 Thess 5:23-24). It is not man’s decision to follow Christ that kick-starts him into secure territory; rather, it is God’s purpose for that now-saved man from before time began.
But perhaps the most interesting reason that this view is inconsistent with an Arminian view of conversion is that it picks the opposite side of the divine-human spectrum than it normally would choose. Hyper-Calvinism errs in allowing only for the divine side of salvation, with man as essentially inactive. Pure Arminianism errs in allowing only for the human side, with God functionally as a spectator. Calvinism allows for both sides – divine and human – to operate in harmony as taught in Scripture.
The common evangelical view takes an Arminian perspective on depravity (able to decide before regeneration), election (God’s “choice” based on “foreseen faith”), atonement (Jesus simply died for everyone), and calling (God “forces” no one to come to Christ), but then switches to another view of the last point – one which is not just Calvinistic but actually hyper-Calvinistic. Rather than at least preserve some element of human involvement in the security of the believer, the man who is otherwise Arminian in his theology throws human action out the window once a person is saved and says that God will secure a person’s salvation forever – even if he lives like a demon. In doing so he flies all the way from Arminian theology to that of the hyper-Calvinism he would otherwise despise.
In other words, the Arminian who believes in a simplistic “once saved always saved” essentially turns man into a robot – God will make sure he enters heaven even if he doesn’t want to (over against such passages as 2 Timothy 4:8).
God uses means to preserve believers forever. He does not simply make people secure in their salvation. He secures their salvation forever in heaven but he also does so on earth by keeping them faithful. This is a message spoken by the Lord (Mt. 24:13; Mk. 13:13; Luke 21:19), by Paul (1 Cor 15:2), by James (James 2:14), by Peter (1 Peter 1:5), by John (1 John 2:19), by Jude (Jude 17), and especially the writer of Hebrews (3:14; 6:11; 10:23; 10:39). Peter’s message is especially clarifying on this point: believers are “protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:5) Yes, God secures a person for his eternal salvation. But he also does so through the means of a person’s continued faith in Christ (Colossians 1:22-23).
This is not to say that a person is not granted permanent forgiveness when he comes to initial faith in Christ. Of all people, those who believe the doctrines of grace refuse to allow works as a condition for justification! But a person who falls away from the faith proves himself to have never been saved at all.
Therefore, just as with every one of the doctrines of grace, it is important to see a believer’s security as two-sided in the sight of God. On the divine side, God protects a believer forever. On the human side, he is responsible to persevere so as to “make certain about his calling and choosing” them (2 Peter 1:10). In this sense and only this is the doctrine of eternal security compatible with otherwise Arminian theology: it does not allow for the overlap of divine sovereignty and human responsibility. The result is a view of security that is as incomplete as the Arminian view of conversion.