In our Update number 663, dated 21st November 2014, was an editorial by Mr. Michael Link, entitled “Once Saved, Always Saved?” We will continue with that presentation to provide additional information on this important subject.
There are a number of theological subjects that evoke much discussion and debate on both sides of the argument, and “once saved, always saved?” is one of those.
“Can true Christians lose their salvation?” is a very good question to ask and is one that arouses much debate back and forth about whether someone who believes they are saved will always be saved irrespective of their actions after “giving their heart to the Lord.” There are many who see the fallacy of the “once saved, always saved” concept whilst there are many others who share a diametrically opposite theological stance on this subject and who, no doubt, use many of the same Scriptures but interpret them differently.
So, what is the Truth of the matter?
In this series on the subject, we won’t be able, nor do we wish to try and emulate those who have spent a lot of time putting together so much material but to look at it by a sound review that comes to a conclusion that we believe to be entirely scriptural.
One very short tract about this matter spoke about “eternal security” and one telling phrase in their explanation is as follows: “You see, when you were saved, you died to sin and changed masters. Instead of serving sin, you now serve Christ. You are not free to do as you like; you are now free to do the Lord’s will. Any true believer who tries to ‘live as they like’ will be chastened by their Father and any professing Christian who ‘lives like the devil’ and gets away with it, is only proving they were never saved in the first place.”
That sounds good at face value but it means that everyone who, for whatever reason, falls away from the Truth must be regarded as someone who was never saved in the first place – they believe that every last one of them, however much they were once on fire for the Truth, was never converted.
The ”once saved, always saved” approach is a popular one and one that emotionally is very easy to accept! It conveys a message that little is required on our part beyond “accepting” the Sacrifice Christ made for us. However, such teachings are deceptive and misleading because they completely overlook clear and important biblical instructions regarding that which God holds us accountable for in the process of salvation. The Bible reveals that Jesus didn’t do everything for us. To enter the Kingdom of God, there are specific things we must do – and on a regular basis.
One example of how this “once saved, always saved” issue could not be correct is in the case of the apostle Paul. He was a giant of the New Testament Church and thoroughly converted but he said that even he could be lost. Paul says, “But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified (adikomos).” This word is translated “castaway” in the Authorized Version (1 Corinthians 9:27). Paul is clearly saying that he could lose out if he had strayed from the Way of Life that he had been called to. In Matthew 7:13-14, this Way of Life is referred to in this way: “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” A few verses later, in Matthew 7:21-23, we read “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’”
This passage might address those who were never converted but thought that they were, supposing to work for Christ, which they in fact never did. But it is also possible that they were converted at one time but lost their salvation, and Christ never knew them in the sense that He could never be sure how they would act. In any event, this is a stark warning that we must live the Way of Life to which we have been called.
In his valedictory, Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 4:6-8 that he was faithful until the end: “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.” Paul said that he had finished the race. He had been faithful to the end. He had made it, showing that it was necessary to do these things throughout his life.
In Hebrews 2:1 we read: “Therefore we must give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest we drift away.” Proponents of the “once saved, always saved” concept try to minimise what disqualified really means but in 2 Corinthians 13:5 we read: “Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Prove yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? — unless indeed you are disqualified (adikomos).” Therefore, if you are disqualified, Jesus Christ is not (any longer) in you which is something that must be, in order to be a true Christian.
There are three aspects of salvation, and these are:
- We are saved now. After we repent and are baptised, we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38). At that point, we are saved from the penalty of death from our past sins. However, it doesn’t mean that we are finally saved and that we could not lose the salvation which we did receive.
- We are being saved – it is a process of growing in grace and knowledge.
- To be finally saved, we must endure to the end.
Webster defines salvation as: “The saving of man from the spiritual consequences of sin; especially deliverance from sin and eternal damnation.” We read this: “Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness and sin is lawlessness” (1 John 3:4). In the Authorized Version, it states that “Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law.”
- We are saved now!
Let us look at some Scriptures which reflect this position.
1 Corinthians 15:2: “… you are saved IF you hold fast that word which I preached to you – unless you believed in vain.” Holding fast indicates that salvation can be lost. We are saved now but must remain saved by steadfast continuance in the Word of God.
Ephesians 2:5: “even when we were dead in trespasses, [He] made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved).” The Greek says here, “you are in a saved state.” Not merely, “you are being saved.” However, it doesn’t just stop there and it isn’t just a simple case of belief and faith. There are conditions which we will discuss later. As long as we are growing, overcoming and being faithful to God we are in a “saved state” but this state can be lost if we leave “the narrow way,” as Jesus pointed out in Matthew 7:13-14.
Ephesians 2:8: “For by grace you have been saved through faith and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.” Again, we are saved now, but that faith must be living faith because faith without works is dead (James 2:17; see also verses 14-26 which discuss this whole issue). This is not a once and for all scenario where salvation can’t be lost, as it would contradict ALL of the other Scriptures that clearly teach that salvation is a process.
In 2 Timothy 1:9 we read the phrase “who has saved us.” We are saved at the time, but can lose out if “we neglect so great a salvation” (please see Hebrews 2:3).
Titus 3:5: “not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Spirit.” Again, we are saved at the time, but can lose out if “we neglect so great a salvation” – as referenced previously. We are in a special category and our salvation is sure if we continue faithfully following God and His ways.
- We are being saved!
Acts 2:47: “… And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.” This is indicating a process. The Authorized Version says: “… such as should be saved.” This is a conditional tense – indicating conditions and not a fait accompli.
1 Corinthians 1:18: “… but to us who are being saved (indicating a process) it is the power of God.”
2 Corinthians 2:15: “For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved (again indicating a process) and among those who are perishing.”
- To be finally saved, we must endure to the end!
Matthew 10:22: “… But he who endures to the end will be saved.”
Matthew 24:13: “But he who endures to the end shall be saved.”
Mark 13:13: “… But he who endures to the end shall be saved.”
Mark 16:16: “He who believes and is baptized will be saved…”
In Colossians 1:21-23, we read about the apostle Paul reminding the brethren, both then and now, that we have to continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, not a lukewarm “Christian” who has strayed far from the course that God intends that we pursue earnestly. It reads: “And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight— if indeed you continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel which you heard, which was preached to every creature under heaven, of which I, Paul, became a minister.”
1 Timothy 1:19: “… having faith and a good conscience, which some having rejected, concerning the faith have suffered shipwreck.” If a ship is no longer seaworthy, it sinks.
Hebrews 3:6: “… but Christ as a Son over His own house, whose house we are if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm to the end.”
In Hebrews 3:12-14, it does talk about the possibility of church members departing from the living God but needing to be steadfast to the end: “Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; but exhort one another daily, while it is called ‘Today,’ lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end.”
Hebrews 6:15, when talking about Abraham, states: “And so, after he had patiently endured, he obtained the promise.” Had Abraham not patiently endured, he would not have obtained the promise. Endurance is vital.
Hebrews 10:36: “For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise.”
In Hebrews 12:1, 4, we read: “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us… You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin.”
God wants Christians to continually strive to put sin out of their lives. If we are to become Spirit-born members of God’s Family, we must prove that we will obey God here and now by striving with all of our heart, mind and strength, and together with God’s help, to put sin out of our lives and keep it out! It’s a full-time job that continues for the rest of our natural lives.
2 John 1:8: “ Look to yourselves, that we do not lose those things we worked for, but that we may receive a full reward.”
Revelation 2:26: “And he who overcomes, and keeps My works until the end, to him I will give power over the nations.” The very obvious indication here is that those who don’t overcome and don’t keep His works until the end will not be in the Kingdom of God and will not have power over the nations.
Revelation 3:10: “Because you have kept My command to persevere, I will also keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth.” It is a command of God to persevere as the Scripture here clearly reveals.
Let us look at an analogy that someone gave that may be helpful. Supposing that you were shipwrecked, along came another ship and you were saved. This wouldn’t mean that once saved, always saved, as you could be shipwrecked for the second time and would need to be rescued once again. You were originally saved and needed to make sure that you continued to avoid getting into a position where you could be shipwrecked again. Likewise, we are in the process of being saved but we can lose out. We must make sure that we continue in the faith. Our salvation is sure if we continue faithfully but is lost if we neglect it (Hebrews 2:3).
(To Be Continued)
Lead Writer: Brian Gale (United Kingdom)