Reading Systematic Theology with Wayne Grudem – Can true Christians lose their salvation? How can we know if we are truly born again?

This post is part of a 50+ post series from the classic work by Wayne Grudem (PhD, Cambridge), Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. The aim of each post is to provide an overview of each chapter in the book and related resources for each topic.

Synopsis of Chapter

In this chapter, Wayne Grudem covers perseverance of the saints, the next step in the Order of Salvation (ordo salutis). The perseverance of the saints can be defined as “all those who are truly born again will be kept by God’s power and will persevere as Christians until the end of their lives, and that only those who persevere until the end have been truly born again.” 

There are four sections of the chapter beginning with the first section which covers all who are truly born again will persevere to the end. The second section identifies those who persevere to the end have been truly born again. The third section covers those who finally fall away give many external signs of conversion. And the final section shows what biblical signs a believer shows to get genuine assurance of salvation.

All Who Are Truly Born Again Will Persevere to the End

To begin, true believers will persevere to the end of their lives. Many passages teach this including these verses with added emphasis

  • “For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:38-40)
  • “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.” (John 10:27-29)
  • “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1)
  • “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.” (Ephesians 1:13-14)

In all of these passages, we can see how God gives eternal life to his people and holds them so that nobody can take them away from God. Everyone who truly has eternal life will keep it until the end. 

Only Those Who Persevere to the End Have Been Truly Born Again

While it’s true that those who have eternal life will persevere to the end, one of the proofs of salvation is perseverance. To not persevere is a sign of condemnation, not salvation. We can see this in several passages, with emphasis added:

  • “So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32)
  • “he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.” (Colossians 1:12-13)
  • “For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.” (Hebrews 3:14)

Perhaps the best illustration of this principle can be found in 1 John 2:19. In this passage, the aged Apostle tells us, “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.” This means false believers left the church to make it clear to everyone they were not born again. If they were true Christians, they would have remained.

Those Who Finally Fall Away May Give Many External Signs of Conversion

Those who are not genuinely converted may look like Christians to everyone else, but they are not. Scripture is clear false believers live among true believers. Consider the following verses with emphasis added:

  • ““Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” (Matthew 7:22-23)
  • “And they have no root in themselves, but endure for a while; then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away.” (Mark 4:17)
  • “Yet because of false brothers secretly brought in—who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery—” (Galatians 2:4)
  • “For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.” (Hebrews 10:26-27)

So it is possible for a person to be a member of a church, give generously to Christian causes, pray elaborate prayers, and even do miracles while being a false believer. That person looks and sounds like a Christian, but they are not.  

Application: What Can Give a Believer Genuine Assurance 

If it’s true some appear to be Christians and are not, how can a person know whether they are truly born again? Thankfully, the Bible has given us several signs that we are in Christ… 

  • The Holy Spirit testifies to our spirit we are God’s children (Romans 8:15-16).
  • We demonstrate our faith by our good works (James 2:17-18). 
  • We continue to accept sound doctrine (1 John 2:23-24).
  • We have present trust in Christ (Colossians 1:23).
  • We add virtues to our faith (2 Peter 1:5-10).

If we see these Scriptural signs at work in our lives, we can be assured we are God’s children and truly regenerated by the Holy Spirit. In other words, we can know we are actually born again.

“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:27-28).

Special Terms

  • assurance of salvation
  • eternal security
  • perseverance of the saints

Resources: Wayne Grudem

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