We know that God’s grace is abundant and that we are completely forgiven. We trust that our salvation is eternally secure. So what keeps us from sinning? Can we now just do whatever we please and use God’s forgiveness as an excuse?
Paul answers this question in Romans 6:1-2: “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” We are no longer bound to sin (Romans 6:6-7). In fact, we are now bound to Christ. Romans 6:16-18 explains, “Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.” As believers we have been made new in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17). While we still struggle with sin and temptation in this life, we also carry a status of righteousness in the eyes of God (2 Corinthians 5:21). We do not belong to sin but to righteousness.
The most frequent objection to the doctrine of eternal security is that it supposedly allows people to live any way that they want and still be saved. While this may be “technically” true, it is not true in reality. A person who has truly been redeemed by Jesus Christ will not live a life characterized by continuous, willful sin. We must draw a distinction between how a Christian should live and what a person must do in order to receive salvation.
Any denial of eternal security is, in its essence, a belief that we must maintain our own salvation by our own good works and efforts. This is completely antithetical to salvation by grace. We are saved because of Christ’s merits, not our own (Romans 4:3-8). To claim that we must obey God’s Word or live a godly life to maintain our salvation is saying that Jesus’ death was not sufficient to pay the penalty for our sins. Jesus’ death was absolutely sufficient to pay for all of our sins—past, present, and future, pre-salvation and post-salvation (Romans 5:8; 1 Corinthians 15:3; 2 Corinthians 5:21).
Does this mean that a Christian can live any way he wants to and still be saved? This is essentially a hypothetical question, because the Bible makes it clear that a true Christian will not live “any way he wants to.” Christians are new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17). Christians demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), not the acts of the flesh (Galatians 5:19-21). First John 3:6-9 clearly states that a true Christian will not live in continual sin. In response to the accusation that grace promotes sin, the apostle Paul declared, “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” (Romans 6:1-2).
Not only does sin go against the grain of who we are in Christ, sin results in death (Romans 6:16, 23). While sin will not result in the eternal death of believers, it still has negative consequences. For believers, sin leads to distance in our relationship with God. Our eternal security is not threatened when we sin, nor is God’s love for us. However, our intimacy with God is threatened. When we sin against Him, we experience the symptoms of spiritual death (such as discouragement, confusion, loneliness, and the like).
The Bible is clear that salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone (John 3:16; Ephesians 2:8-9; John 14:6). The moment a person truly believes in Jesus Christ, he or she is saved and secure in that salvation. It is unbiblical to say that salvation is received by faith, but then has to be maintained by works. The apostle Paul addresses this issue in Galatians 3:3 when he asks, “Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?” If we are saved by faith, our salvation is also maintained and secured by faith. We cannot earn our own salvation. Therefore, neither can we earn the maintenance of our salvation. It is God who maintains our salvation (Jude 24). It is God’s hand that holds us firmly in His grasp (John 10:28-29). It is God’s love that nothing can separate us from (Romans 8:38-39).
This is the most compelling reason to avoid sin; God’s love for us. John tells us that we love God as a result of God’s love for us (1 John 4:19). Jesus said that if we love Him, we will obey Him (John 14:15). It is because we trust in God’s love for us and trust that He is for our good that we also trust His commands. We know that in obeying Christ we find life. He does not ask us to do things or to refrain from doing things to boost His ego. His commands are for our benefit. Knowing that these come from God’s love, and motivated by the love we feel in return, we desire to obey.
Eternal security is not a license to sin. Rather, it is the security of knowing that God’s love is guaranteed for those who trust in Christ. Knowing and understanding God’s tremendous gift of salvation accomplishes the opposite of giving a license to sin. How could anyone, knowing the price Jesus Christ paid for us, go on to live a life of sin (Romans 6:15-23)? How could anyone who understands God’s unconditional and guaranteed love for those who believe, take that love and throw it back in God’s face? Such a person is demonstrating not that eternal security has given him a license to sin, but rather that he or she has not truly experienced salvation through Jesus Christ. “No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him” (1 John 3:6).
To use eternal security as a license to sin would be to deny who we are in Christ.