Once Saved Always Saved?

We talk about security in many ways. We desire job security, emotional security, physical security, and material security. We desire things to be such that if we lose something we are able to replace it. So, we buy insurance for the things we can. We desire loyalty. Have you ever wondered why every person seems to inherently desire security? I don’t think it is by accident. These desires reveal our need for a greater security.

The Security of the Believer, or the Perseverance of the Saints, is one of the most debated doctrines throughout Christian history. Even in my own community, we are fighting against the idea that if people don’t do certain things, behave a certain way, or reject certain things, that God will reject them. As David really begins his flight from Saul, we are going to consider our own eternal security.

1 Samuel 21:1-15

Then David came to Nob to Ahimelech the priest; and Ahimelech came trembling to meet David and said to him, “Why are you alone and no one with you?”

David said to Ahimelech the priest, “The king has commissioned me with a matter and has said to me, ‘Let no one know anything about the matter on which I am sending you and with which I have commissioned you; and I have directed the young men to a certain place.’ Now therefore, what do you have on hand? Give me five loaves of bread, or whatever can be found.”

The priest answered David and said, “There is no ordinary bread on hand, but there is consecrated bread; if only the young men have kept themselves from women.”

David answered the priest and said to him, “Surely women have been kept from us as previously when I set out and the vessels of the young men were holy, though it was an ordinary journey; how much more then today will their vessels be holy?

So the priest gave him consecrated bread; for there was no bread there but the bread of the Presence which was removed from before the Lord, in order to put hot bread in its place when it was taken away. Now one of the servants of Saul was there that day, detained before the Lord; and his name was Doeg the Edomite, the chief of Saul’s shepherds.

David said to Ahimelech, “Now is there not a spear or a sword on hand? For I brought neither my sword nor my weapons with me, because the king’s matter was urgent.”

Then the priest said, “The sword of Goliath the Philistine, whom you killed in the valley of Elah, behold, it is wrapped in a cloth behind the ephod; if you would take it for yourself, take it. For there is no other except it here.” And David said, “There is none like it; give it to me.”

Then David arose and fled that day from Saul, and went to Achish king of Gath. 

But the servants of Achish said to him, “Is this not David the king of the land? Did they not sing of this one as they danced, saying,

‘Saul has slain his thousands,

And David his ten thousands’?”

David took these words to heart and greatly feared Achish king of Gath. So he disguised his sanity before them, and acted insanely in their hands, and scribbled on the doors of the gate, and let his saliva run down into his beard.

Then Achish said to his servants, “Behold, you see the man behaving as a madman. Why do you bring him to me? Do I lack madmen, that you have brought this one to act the madman in my presence? Shall this one come into my house?”

David dishonors God (v. 1-6)

Then David came to Nob to Ahimelech the priest; and Ahimelech came trembling to meet David and said to him, “Why are you alone and no one with you?”
David said to Ahimelech the priest, “The king has commissioned me with a matter and has said to me, ‘Let no one know anything about the matter on which I am sending you and with which I have commissioned you; and I have directed the young men to a certain place.’ Now therefore, what do you have on hand? Give me five loaves of bread, or whatever can be found.”
The priest answered David and said, “There is no ordinary bread on hand, but there is consecrated bread; if only the young men have kept themselves from women.”
David answered the priest and said to him, “Surely women have been kept from us as previously when I set out and the vessels of the young men were holy, though it was an ordinary journey; how much more then today will their vessels be holy?
So the priest gave him consecrated bread; for there was no bread there but the bread of the Presence which was removed from before the Lord, in order to put hot bread in its place when it was taken away.

In this part of the story, the priest sinned by offering the consecrated bread to David. David broke God’s Law by lying to the priest about having been sent by the king and by partaking of the consecrated bread. Not being with women was a condition the priest required, but it didn’t make the eating of the bread lawful. Even Jesus teaches that it was not lawful for David or his men to eat the bread reserved for the priest (Cf. Matthew 12:4). When we read Leviticus 24:8, we see that the consecrated bread is to be preserved by and for the priests and replaced every Sabbath. So, David was not only working but, also, breaking God’s explicit Law on the Sabbath. God neither punished David nor reprimanded him for breaking the Law.

According to Leviticus 24:8, The Bread was to sit as an offering before the Lord. It was the bread of life, an ever-present sustenance. It was symbolic of the fact that whoever came before the Lord would never go hungry. It was God’s sustaining power that was with David. The whole sacrificial system began with God. God provided the symbolic showbread as a symbol of His preserving work. The priests were sustained by the showbread. They offered sacrifices on behalf of Israel as substitutionary atonement for sin. Jesus is both the bread of life (John 6:35) and the great, perpetual high priest (Hebrews 4:14-16). Not only do we see God passing over David’s sins and the picture of God’s preserving work in the consecrated bread but also God’s work as His own high priest. The priest simply served as God’s representative to the people. When we consider the consecrated bread, two doctrines come into view: (1) the priesthood of the believer and (2) perseverance, or preservation, of the saints. 

1. We can go directly to Christ without need of a priest. That’s why we don’t have priests in biblical churches. It’s why we don’t have one man who is “God’s man” doing all the work of ministry on behalf of the congregation. Instead, we have a plurality of elders who make decisions and lead together and a congregation of priests to God (Cf. Exodus 19:6; Revelation 1:6; 5:10; 1 Peter 2:5, 9; . Israel’s priests were, and are, pictures of Christ, and Israel a picture of the church.

2. If God is our sustenance and Jesus the bread of life, our preservation depends only on Him and not on ourselves. We commonly hear this doctrine communicated, “Once saved, always saved.” Perhaps a less vague way to put it is: If we are chosen by Christ, He will not fail to deliver us and sanctify us (Cf. John 6:39).

David’s cowardice (v. 7-9)

Now one of the servants of Saul was there that day, detained before the Lord; and his name was Doeg the Edomite, the chief of Saul’s shepherds.

This detail in the story seems random. As I read through the text, I wondered why this detail is here. Why does it matter for the story that Doeg is detained before Yahweh? Detain, עצר, is the same root word David used to describe women being kept from him and his men in verse 5. This word could indicate many forms of detainment, including being detained in prison. In this context, it likely means that Saul’s man has taken a religious vow and is being kept from whatever he has vowed to abstain from at the current time. David sees Saul’s man and decides to ask for a weapon and leave. Remember, David is fleeing because he fears for his life. 

David said to Ahimelech, “Now is there not a spear or a sword on hand? For I brought neither my sword nor my weapons with me, because the king’s matter was urgent.”
Then the priest said, “The sword of Goliath the Philistine, whom you killed in the valley of Elah, behold, it is wrapped in a cloth behind the ephod; if you would take it for yourself, take it. For there is no other except it here.” And David said, “There is none like it; give it to me.”

As we read through the story, we are reminded of David’s battle with Goliath. Goliath’s sword was available and David takes it as he flees, but where is the David we saw stand up to the giant in the first place? He is gone. David is no longer the picture of bravery we saw in Chapter 17. The man who once stood with God in battle now flees because he is concerned only about his own life. David, the one with whom the Holy Spirit dwells (Cf. 16:13), is still a fallen, sinful, depraved, and wretched human being tossed to and fro by life’s many tribulations. I think, if we want to be sincere, we must admit that we all are. David is faithless at this point, but God is faithful. It’s by God’s faithfulness, not ours, that we are preserved. Consider Paul’s letter to Timothy:

For this reason I endure all things for the sake of those who are chosen, so that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus and with it eternal glory. It is a trustworthy statement: For if we died with Him, we will also live with Him; If we endure, we will also reign with Him; If we deny Him, He also will deny us; If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself (2 Timothy 2:10-13).

Paul will claim to endure all things for the sake of those who are chosen. Everything begins with God’s election. Since root produces fruit, those who died with Him will live with Him. Those who are given endurance will reign with Him. In contrast, those who deny Him will be denied by Him; They have not been granted particular grace in Christ Jesus (Cf. 2 Timothy 1:9-10). If we lack faith, God is still faithful to His work of election. He cannot deny Himself. So, you hear that you must have faith. No. God is faithful, and His salvific work depends only on Him. If we lack faith, God still holds us secure. What great news!

David’s fear (v. 10-15)

Then David arose and fled that day from Saul, and went to Achish king of Gath. 
But the servants of Achish said to him, “Is this not David the king of the land? Did they not sing of this one as they danced, saying,
‘Saul has slain his thousands,
And David his ten thousands’?”
David took these words to heart and greatly feared Achish king of Gath. So he disguised his sanity before them, and acted insanely in their hands, and scribbled on the doors of the gate, and let his saliva run down into his beard.
Then Achish said to his servants, “Behold, you see the man behaving as a madman. Why do you bring him to me? Do I lack madmen, that you have brought this one to act the madman in my presence? Shall this one come into my house?”

David flees to Gath, which was Goliath’s hometown. In Gath, he pretends to be a crazy person because he feared Achish. It doesn’t necessarily seem like he believes Achish will harm him; Achish’s demeanor is one of hospitality (v. 15). Achish recognizes David as king. David fears Saul’s envious anger, which is set against him. If anyone were to actually recognize David as king, how much fiercer would Saul’s envious anger burn? To keep from being recognized as king, David pretended to be incompetent because he feared the consequences if Achish would have treated him as king. Not only is David fearful and unfaithful, he is now actively denying the position God has for him in Israel and as God establishes Jesus Christ’s throne within creation.

Not only is God faithful to David despite David’s faithlessness. God is faithful to make David king even though David here rejects the throne and shows how incompetent he is to fulfill the execute the office of a king. At the beginning of my ministry, I was much like David. I feel that I still am in many ways. God called me to into pastoral ministry, and I responded by telling Him “No.” I would much rather go in to graphic design and make six-figures a year right out of college. I was unable to rightly divide the word of truth, and I proved that. I wanted to do what I was good at, and I hated talking to or being in front of groups of people. Even though I was faithless and incompetent, God is both faithful and competent. The same is true for each one. We are secure in our salvation because God is faithful. If we say that we can lose or reject the salvation that has been given to us, we insinuate that God is faithless, but He is not. The same is true for our positions in Christ’s kingdom. He does not depend on our competence. He is competent, and that is all that matters. Salvation, sanctification, and our positions in Christ’s kingdom are entirely by grace and not by our works. Praise God! We are not powerful enough to thrown off God’s hands or God’s plans.

If this is God’s attitude toward His elect, what should our attitude toward our brothers and sisters in Christ be? If someone is faithless, forsakes us, or proves to be incompetent, we ought to, as much as has been granted to us, remain faithful, not forsake him or her, and not count anyone’s incompetence against him or her. This attitude, as much as it has been made possible for us, separates the true church from worldly organizations. Our relationships are by grace, not works. Others don’t have to live up to our expectations to be accepted by us—that would either be legalism or some form of prosperity preaching.

To model God’s preservation of His people is the most difficult thing I have every tried to do, especially as a pastor. To love and care for others without placing conditions on them is a practice exactly opposed to our unrighteous, depraved nature. We desire to love those who show us plainly that they love us. The truth is, no one can be our all-in-all like that. That sort of expectation necessarily leads to bitterness and disappointment because people cannot be God to us. Letter Kills sang the lyric, “Don’t believe in me, ‘cause I will let you down.” Rag’n’Bone Man repeated the sentiment, “I’m only human after all.” As biblical Christians, we recognize that all people are unrighteous, depraved wretches by nature. I will always plead this way: Please don’t believe in me; I’m only human. Believe upon the perfect person and work of Jesus Christ alone, and please treat me with much grace. I will endeavor to do the same.

Praise the Lord that He delivers His people and holds them secure in His kingdom in every way imaginable. Let us rest in His amazing grace together; His yoke is easy and His burden is light for all of us.

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