Assurance does not mean that our salvation is guaranteed to us against our free will. It is possible to cease to obey Christ and so forfeit our hope of eternal life. This is consistent with our understanding of the grace of God, who always leaves us open to respond freely to him. Freedom to live by grace includes freedom to turn away.
This doctrine reminds us that the Christian life requires a combined commitment of faith and obedience (Jude 20-21) and a willingness to be led by the Spirit of God (Romans 8:14). The Gospel of John uses the image of the vine and the branches to signify the deep and sustained connection that is necessary between Jesus and his disciples.
“Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself;it must ram in in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.” (John 15:4)
When this relationship is broken, backsliding is possible even for true Christians. It can be described as an expression of human unresponsiveness or opposition to the will of God, and can occur through the deliberate rejection of Christ, or more insidiously, when we drift away from the way of discipleship or neglect our spiritual life (Hebrews 2:1-3). It may happen when we fail to do what we know to be right, or when we deliberately and continuously chose what we know to be wrong (Hebrews 10:19-39). This does not mean that every time we sin we slide away from the grace of God. A wrong action is not backsliding. What is important is the attitude which follows the act. Our many failures will not deprive us of the Holy Spirit’s presence if we turn to him for forgiveness and restoration. Yet this does not mean that we can be careless or complacent in our attitude to sin (Romans 6:1-4).
Ultimately, consistent backsliding results in loss of connection with Christ; this brings lasting consequences (Matthew 5:13; John 15:6; Hebrews 10:26-31; Revelation 2:4-5; Revelation 3:1-6; Revelation 3:14-22).
To develop and nurture a life secured by a total trust in God’s grace, we should not be daunted by the possibility of being tempted beyond our powers (1 Corinthians 10:6-13). Our obedient faith, which enabled us to know Christ as Savior, will not be sustained by over-anxiety about staying saved or by limiting our involvement with life for fear of backsliding. Our faith will be assured as in obedience to Christ’s call to serve we keep close to him: to risk our lives wherever there is human need, challenge sin and dare to live the Christian life in all its fullness.