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On Eternal Security and Preservation by the Spirit of God

By Pastor Don Strand

The eternal security of the believer, called the “perseverance” of the saints, or the “preservation” of the saints is clearly taught in a broad range of Bible texts.  In addition to John 6:37 and Ephesians 1:3 there is also Paul’s great assurance of security for the believer in Romans 8:26-30.  Yet, there are people and Christian churches that teach salvation can be lost, often by the “quenching” of the Spirit through unrepentant sin.  Sampson and Saul are the two primary examples people use to make the argument and often throw in King David and Psalm 51 to support the position as well.  So, do these Old Testament events show that salvation can be lost?  The answer is no, and the reason has to do with understanding the role of the Spirit in Old Testament times.

The New Testament teaching on the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in all believers to preserve their eternal salvation is not what is typically in view when the work of the Spirit is discussed in the Old Testament.  Throughout scripture, the Spirit’s work is varied and often does not deal with salvation at all.  For example, when the Spirit of God hovered over the waters of the creation in Genesis 1:2, it was not to save the waters from sin.  So it is important to look closely at the context of the passages which describe the Holy Spirit’s work.  In the Sampson and Saul narratives, the New Testament believer assumes that the presence of the Holy Spirit in these men was an indication of salvation, but that is not necessarily the case.

To understand this, it is helpful to look an earlier incident where the Spirit is given for a purpose other than salvation.  In Numbers 11 we find the story of Israel’s continual grumbling that had so worn Moses down that he prayed that God would just kill him rather than make him go on leading these rebellious people.  In response, God tells him to select 70 men from the elders of the tribes to appear before God at the Tent of Meeting.  God explains: “And I will come down and talk with you there. And I will take some of the Spirit that is on you and put it on them, and they shall bear the burden of the people with you, so that you may not bear it yourself alone.” (Numbers 11:17, ESV).

What we see here is that Moses, uniquely and alone, had the Spirit of God, but now, God is giving that Spirit to these 70 elders.  But it is not because of their repentance and faith; instead, God gives them the Spirit so they can share the leadership responsibilities with Moses.  Note that in vs. 25, when the Spirit came upon them, they prophesied, but they did not continue to do so.

This shows us that there is a connection between God raising up someone to lead Israel and how He blesses that person with the Spirit to empower them for the task.  The reason the elders prophesied but did not continue was to show the people that God’s favor on them.  They were qualified to lead by the Spirit and the people must give them respect.  The 70 elders do share the responsibilities of leadership, but not the prophetic role reserved only for Moses.

This same idea is found in Deuteronomy 34:9 where the Spirit of Wisdom (Spirit of the Lord) passed from Moses to Joshua so that the people would listen to him and follow the Lord’s commands.  This model continues through the Book of Judges where God raises up judges to lead and deliver Israel as was the case with Sampson.  “And the woman bore a son and called his name Samson. And the young man grew, and the Lord blessed him. And the Spirit of the Lord began to stir him…” (Judges 13:24–25a, ESV).

Throughout Judges, when God raised up a leader it is said that the “Spirit of the Lord came upon him…” (Judges 3:10; 6:34; 11:29).  So it’s not unexpected that when God chooses a man to be king over Israel, He puts His Spirit upon that man, in this case, Saul.  But nothing is said about Saul’s redemption or the forgiveness of his sins.  Instead, Saul is given the Spirit because he has been chosen to lead.  Saul even prophesies once when the Spirit comes upon him, just like the 70 elders, but Saul did not continue to do so either.

Later, in 1 Samuel 15, Saul sins by disobeying God’s command to destroy Amalek completely.  For this disobedience, Samuel tells him: “The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you this day and has given it to a neighbor of yours, who is better than you.” (1 Samuel 15:28, ESV).  Samuel then goes to the house of Jesse to anoint David as king in Saul’s place and as 16:13 says, the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David, and, as the next verse says, the Spirit departed from Saul.  This was God’s way of showing that the throne was taken from Saul and given to David.  Although Saul tried to remain king, God was no longer blessing him.  The Spirit had been taken from him and given to David, the new leader.

When we understand that the work of the Spirit in the Old Testament was not always redemptive, but was given selectively to individuals for leading Israel through times of trial, then we gain the proper perspective on the stories of Sampson and Saul.  We also can understand the concern David had when He prayed that God would not withdraw the Spirit from him for his sin with Bathsheba.  These examples are here for our instruction, but they must not be confused with the New Testament teaching on the eternal security and the permanence of the Spirit’s redemptive work in Christ for those who are entrusted to Him.

The New Testament describes the work of the Spirit under the New Covenant inaugurated at Pentecost where the Spirit is now given for redemptive purposes.  The indwelling of the Spirit in all people is unique to the New Covenant believers to lead them into the truth and preserve them until Christ returns in glory.  As Jesus says. all whom the Father has given Him will be raised up in Him on the last day.  Because the salvation of every Christian was the decision of God in eternity past, that salvation was won by Christ in history and every believer will be secure in the Holy Spirit until Christ returns and calls His people to the eternal kingdom.

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