Jesus makes it clear we must receive Him in faith to be saved. He is also clear we must continue in faith to remain saved. This is the mark of a true Christian. Anyone can make a false start in the faith. But as He tells the disciples, “The one who stands firm to the end will be saved” (Matthew 24:13).
This raises the question, how do we stand firm? In other words, how do we stay saved? Once God saves us, how do we keep our salvation?
Many Christians believe we maintain our salvation by our own effort. We stay saved by our attempts to keep ourselves saved. As long as we obey God’s commands, we remain in His grace. But if we sin too frequently or too severely, we forfeit His grace.
This is nothing but a legitimized form of legalism. “Legalism” is the heresy that we are saved by what we do. We strongly oppose it on the front end of salvation. We are adamant that we are saved by grace, not works.
But we unwittingly endorse legalism on the back end of salvation. While we deny our works can save us, we believe they keep us saved. Although we deny we can earn our salvation, we believe we can un-earn it.
We must maintain that salvation is by grace through and through. If we are saved by grace, we are kept by grace. We could do nothing to save ourselves, and we can do nothing to keep ourselves saved. The grace that saves us is the grace that keeps us.
Paul explains this to Titus. He says, “The grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for…the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:11-13).
Paul gives a complete view of God’s grace. Not only does it offer us salvation; it teaches us to live righteously while we await Jesus’ return. In other words, it keeps us saved. Our obedience doesn’t keep us in God’s grace. Rather, His grace keeps us in obedience.
When God saves you, He puts His Spirit in you to steward your salvation. Just as the Holy Spirit brings us to life in Christ, so He keeps us alive in Christ. He is the guarantee that we will continue in our salvation.
Paul says, “When you believed, you were marked in Christ with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession” (Ephesians 1:13-14).
Paul uses dual imagery. He calls the Spirit a “seal” and a “deposit.” These images suggest our salvation is fixed and permanent. The Spirit is only God’s first investment in us. By His sustaining power, our salvation will be brought to completion.
Paul uses this imagery again: “Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set His seal of ownership on us, and put His Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come” (2 Corinthians 1:21-22).
Paul is explicit that God makes us stand firm. We cannot do anything to remain in His grace. He keeps us by the sustaining power of His Spirit.
Keep Yourselves in God’s Love?
Jude seems to diverge on this point. He exhorts, “Keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life” (Jude 1:21). We do so by “building ourselves up in our most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit” (1:20).
He seems to be telling us to keep ourselves saved. But this raises a contradiction – how can we keep ourselves in God’s love if it is Jesus’ mercy that brings us to eternal life?
The context of the entire letter makes his meaning clear. He has already acknowledged us as those who are “kept by Jesus Christ” (1:1). And He goes on to acknowledge God as the One “who is able to keep us from stumbling and to present us before His glorious presence without fault” (1:24).
Jude is not telling us to keep ourselves saved. He is telling us to do everything in our power to avoid being drawn away from God. We can only keep ourselves in His love because He is already keeping us in Christ.
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