Security of the Believer (Backsliding)
This document reflects commonly held beliefs based on scripture which have been endorsed by the church's Commission on Doctrinal Purity and the Executive Presbytery.
What is the Assemblies of God position on the security of the believer's salvation?
The Assemblies of God has taken a strong stand against the teaching that Gods sovereign will completely overrides mans free will to accept and serve Him. In view of this we believe it is possible for a person once saved to turn from God and be lost again. However, we do not go to the other extreme of teaching that mankinds choice of receiving or rejecting Christ makes a person totally responsible for his own salvation apart from Christs atonement. Article VIII of the Assemblies of God Bylaws opposes unconditional security with the following statement:
In view of the biblical teaching that the security of the believer depends on a living relationship with Christ (John 15:6); in view of the Bible's call to a life of holiness (1 Peter 1:16; Hebrews 12:14); in view of the clear teaching that a man may have his part taken out of the Book of Life (Revelation 22:19); and in view of the fact that one who believes for a while can fall away (Luke 8:13); The General Council of the Assemblies of God disapproves of the unconditional security position which holds that it is impossible for a person once saved to be lost.
The Christian religious world divides basically into two schools of thought concerning the spiritual destiny of people. One is Calvinism, named after John Calvin (early 16th century); the other is Arminianism, traced back to James Arminius (late 16th century). The theological debate is thus centuries old.
Calvinism teaches (1) the total depravity of man, (2) God's unconditional election (or predestination) of those who will be saved, (3) that Christ died only for the elect, not for every person, (4) that God's saving grace toward the elect cannot be resisted, and (5) that once a person is saved, he can never lose his salvation.
Arminianism teaches something different on each of these points: (1) Though born a sinner, mankind is given a spark of divine grace that enables him to respond positively to God. (2) God does not arbitrarily consign some people to eternal damnation; their willful rejection of Gods salvation makes them responsible. (3) Christ died for every person, even though some refuse to accept the provision for their salvation (4) No person is forced against his or her will to become a Christian. (5) Ones salvation can be lost through willful disobedience. Rather than the unconditional predestination of Calvinism, Arminianism teaches conditional predestination. We are predestined to eternal life if we accept Gods provision of salvation.
The Assemblies of God leans toward Arminianism, though it accepts scriptural truth found in both positions. We agree with the Calvinist emphasis on God's sovereignty or supreme power and authority. But we also firmly believe the Arminian emphasis on mankind's free will and responsibility for his actions and choices. We believe the Bible teaches both truths.
"Eternal security," according to Calvinists, means "once saved, always saved." The key passage for this position is John 10:28,29 "No one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand." There is great assurance in this passage and in Romans 8:35,39"Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? . . . Neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." The Assemblies of God also stands on these wonderful truths knowing we need not fear that something external will overpower us and take away our salvation. Only our willful choices can do that.
But because we are creatures with free wills, we must be vigilantly on guard because the enemy of our soul, the devil, "prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith" (1 Peter 5:8,9). In our Fellowship we believe carelessness can lead to apathy, apathy to neglect, and neglect to a conscious decision to sin. We often refer to this spiritual decline as backsliding. We believe one who backslides is in danger of losing his salvation if the individual persists in rejecting the Spirit's call to repentance and restoration.
Luke 8:13 makes clear the fact that believers can lose their salvation. It says some "believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away." Revelation 22:19 says "If anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life, and in the holy city."
Certainly there are true Christians who believe and teach Calvinism; there are also true Christians who believe and teach that men and women have free will. Unfortunately, both sides have spent more time arguing doctrinal terminology and interpretations of theology than reaching out to a lost world. The irony of the disagreement is that Calvinists, who believe in predestination, are sometimes more active in witnessing and evangelism than Arminians who believe that man has a free will and should be encouraged to accept Christ as Savior. God, of course, looks on the heart and the actions rather than on the eloquence with which one defends a position.
Although the Assemblies of God adheres basically to the Arminian position on the spiritual security of the believer, there are extremes and potential abuses which must be avoided. The Christian life is not a roller coaster of Sunday salvation and Monday through Saturday backsliding. On the other hand, no Christian, no matter how spiritual, can claim perfection and sinlessness (1 John 1:8-10; 2:1). Therefore as Christians we must continually come to God sincerely asking His forgiveness for living below the potential He makes possible through the gift of His Holy Spirit.
The truth of God's marvelous and free grace has sadly led some to imagine and indulge in a cheap grace, a grace that covers all sins with no need to live a holy life. Such an attitude is an insult to the great price Christ paid to purchase our salvation. Though we may fail and fall, and sometimes sin, the heart of the true believer always regrets, repents, asks forgiveness, and seeks never to sin that way again. To carelessly participate in sin, expecting to gain forgiveness later, is itself an act of backsliding that will lead ultimately to losing one's salvation. We therefore reject any "once saved, always saved" doctrine that excuses sinful lifestyles.
Once saved can mean forever savedif one continues in faith, growing in sanctification and holiness day by day. But God will not arbitrarily usurp mankind's free will. Our sovereign God does not overrule free will just to prove He is sovereign.
The above statement is based upon our common understanding of scriptural teaching. The official delineation of this position is found in the General Council Bylaws, Article VIII: Doctrines and Practices Disapproved, and Position Paper: The Security of the Believer.
All Scripture quotations are from the New International Version (NIV) unless otherwise specified.