The following article is an excerpt from "A Book of Bible Study"
by Joseph F. Harwood.
The book may be downloaded in PDF format by clicking on the “Download” button below.
Previously, we considered passages from Hebrews 6, Hebrews 10, and 2 Peter 2 which some have used to say that the Bible teaches that a believer can lose their salvation. However, when we examined each of these Scriptures in the light of the context in which they appear in the Bible, and in the light of the rest of the Scriptures as a whole, we saw that these passages refer to those individuals among professing Christians who will claim to be believers, but who in fact have never been saved.
In Matthew 7 Jesus described these individuals as false prophets. They are those whose profession or claim that they are believers is false. In this same passage Jesus also described them as ravenous wolves among His sheep, and as bad trees that cannot bear good fruit. In Matthew 13 He described them again as tares among the wheat, which can bear no good fruit.
There is another passage of Scripture that some have used to say that a believer could lose their salvation for failing to diligently maintain good works after they are saved. This passage is found in 2 Peter 1:10-11. Let us now look carefully at this passage, and let us consider it in the context of both 2 Peter and 1 Peter, and let us also consider it in the light of the rest of the Scripture as a whole, so that we can understand what Peter intended to communicate to God’s people.
The Meaning of 2 Peter 1:10-11
Peter wrote: “Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble; for in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you.” (2 Peter 1:10-11).
In verse 10, “these things”, which the believer is exhorted to practice in order “to make certain about His calling and choosing you”, are the things discussed in verses 5-8. Peter urged believers to be diligent in cultivating in their lives, in ever increasing measure: goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love. Some would say this is evidence that diligent effort in cultivating these qualities is required, if a believer is to not “stumble” or fall away from the faith.
Let us recall what Paul taught clearly in Ephesians 2: “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9, emphasis added). If we were saved by grace but kept in this state of grace by our diligent pursuit of good works, then we would be able to boast that our works were good enough to keep us saved. However, Paul taught that our salvation is not the result of any works of our own, so no one may boast that he had anything to do with his salvation.
Therefore, when Peter spoke of “making certain” about God’s calling and choosing of us, he was not speaking of ensuring our own salvation by way of our diligence in the pursuit of the good works mentioned in verses 5-8. What Peter spoke of in this passage of 2 Peter 1:10-11 is “making certain” in our own hearts and minds that we are indeed among those whom God has chosen and called; he was speaking about our personal confidence or assurance concerning our own salvation.
As we have mentioned previously, the Scriptures teach us that a genuine believer will always bear good fruit as a result of his conversion to faith in Christ (Matthew 7:17-20, 13:1-23, John 15:8). Therefore, the qualities mentioned in 2 Peter 1:5-8 will be manifested in the life of every believer to some degree (Matthew 13:23, Galatians 5:22-23). This bearing of good fruit is evidence of our genuine faith.
However, as a result of our own disobedience at times, we will find ourselves building upon the foundation of our faith not with the “gold, silver, and precious stones” of obedience to God’s word, but with “wood, hay, and straw”, which will not stand the test of fire that is to try all of our works, as Paul taught in 1 Corinthians 3:12-15. This disobedience will not result in the loss of our salvation as we see from verse fifteen, but it will result in the loss of rewards, both now and in eternity.
As a result of some particularly grievous sins, we might lose our confidence or assurance about our own salvation. This loss of confidence in our salvation can manifest itself at other times as well, especially in the lives of young believers who may not yet be grounded in the truth of the word of God as taught in the Scriptures.
If we have been involved in very grievous sin, Satan, the “accuser” of God’s people (Revelation 12:10, Zechariah 3:1-2), will do the accusing in our own minds, suggesting to us that surely we could not be saved in view of the sins we have committed. And he may be allowed to accuse us forcefully enough for us to wonder if in fact this could be the case. But even the accusation of Satan will be made to serve God, in that the fears that will come upon us as a result of having fallen from our once secure position of assurance will send every genuine believer running back to His Savior for forgiveness and restoration.
In order to better understand the exhortation given to us in 2 Peter 1:10-11, let us consider the life and experience of the one who wrote this exhortation, the Apostle Peter. Jesus predicted that Peter would deny Him, and this prediction is recorded in all four Gospels. Also recorded in all four Gospels is an account of Peter’s denial following Jesus’ prediction.
Peter’s assurance about his own salvation must have been shaken severely after his grievous sin of having denied that he even knew Jesus, not once, but on three occasions. After all, he was with Jesus and heard His teaching when He said that whoever denied Him before men, He would deny before His Father in Heaven (Matthew 10:32-33).
Given his own dreadful failure during a time of testing in his life, Peter surely understood better than most of us the torment that goes with one believing they may have fallen from grace. And this is why he exhorted us to be diligent in the pursuit of the qualities he mentioned in 2 Peter 1:5-8, always striving to move forward living our lives in love and in obedience to God’s word. If we do these things, then we will not experience the torment of believing that we might not be saved in view of our own failures.
In John 21, we see a lesson given to us through the failure and the subsequent restoration of Peter, even after he had denied His Lord and Savior three times. In this passage, Jesus appeared to His disciples after He had been resurrected.
The disciples had been fishing all night but had caught nothing. Jesus was standing on the shore, and at first the disciples did not recognize Him. He called out to them asking if they had any fish. They replied saying that they did not. Then Jesus told them to cast the net on the right side of the boat, and they would find some fish there. When they did so, they caught so many fish that they were not able to haul the net into the boat.
At this point John recognized that it was the Lord who had called to them, and he told Peter. As soon as Peter heard that it was Jesus, he could not wait to get to Him, and he jumped into the water and swam toward Jesus ahead of the others, who followed behind in the boat, dragging the net full of fish.
Paul taught us that no one will seek God if left to themselves (Romans 3:10-11). However, God had determined before the world began that He would bring Peter to faith in Christ (Ephesians 1:4-5). God Himself had caused Peter to follow hard after His Lord and Savior (Psalm 63:1, 8). Just as it happened in the life of Peter, when we experience the accusation of the devil that we have lost our salvation because of some grievous sin in our lives, every true believer will run toward their Savior for forgiveness and restoration, so that they may once again experience the joy of their salvation that comes from fellowship with their Lord.
In John 21, we read of Jesus’ restoration of Peter, even after he had failed Him so miserably. And just as Jesus restored Peter, so also will He restore every one of us as His sheep if we should fail Him.
Through his own experience of a grievous and severe failure in his walk with the Lord, and his subsequent restoration, Peter came to understand the unchanging, irrevocable decision of God to preserve everyone whom He has called to faith in His Son Jesus Christ, regardless of how badly we may fail Him. This is why he wrote in his first letter that every one of God’s elect has been given an inheritance in Heaven “which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away”, and that we are “protected by the power of God”, through the faith in Christ which we have been given (1 Peter 1:1-6). Our powers may fail; God does not fail.
In summary, 2 Peter 1:10-11 speaks of our assurance and certainty about our own salvation, and not the issue of losing our salvation as a result of our own failings after we are saved. Later in 2 Peter, he warned believers to be on their guard, so they would not be led astray by the “error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness” (2 Peter 3:17). Once again, Peter was not referring to the possibility of a believer losing their salvation. Rather, he was warning of the deception and error that can be planted in the minds of believers (especially those who are young in the faith) by false teachers.
Though the false teacher may lead a believer astray for a time, perhaps causing them to sin and to fall from the once steadfast position of assurance they held regarding their own salvation, only their assurance will be shaken. Their salvation itself, on the authority of the word of God, is eternally secure. Even if only one is straying and all the rest are safe, Jesus is coming for His straying sheep. God our Father is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost (Matthew 18:10-14).
Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ Himself told us in clear language that all of those whom the Father has given to Him (His sheep, or the elect) will come to Him. And then He also said that whoever comes to Him He will never drive away. Jesus said that He did come not to do His own will, but His Father’s will. And He said it was His Father’s will that He should lose none of those who had been given to Him, but that they would all be raised up at the last day (John 6:37-40).
Jesus also taught us that as His sheep, we are known by Him. He said that He gives us eternal life, and we will never perish. Jesus said further that no one can snatch us out of His hand or His Father’s hand (John 10:27-30). And no one means that not even we are able to snatch ourselves out of God’s hand through any transgression of our own.
Paul taught us that there is no power in all of creation that is able to separate believers from the love of God, which is ours in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:31-39). And Paul taught us again in Romans 8 that our salvation is God’s own doing from beginning to end (Romans 8:29-30). He also taught us clearly that the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable (Romans 11:29).
We also see from the Scriptures that we are not kept safe by our own power and ability to obey God, but we are kept safe by the power of God, and He is the One who will preserve us in our faith to the end (1 Peter 1:4-5, 1 Corinthians 1:8-9, 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24). Let us therefore be fully and completely confident, as Paul was when he assured us: “He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6).
God Himself began the work of salvation within us, and God Himself will carry our salvation through to its completion. Let us rejoice and give thanks to God the Father of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, because He has guaranteed our salvation from beginning to end, and He has left none of it in our own hands.