If We Are Once Saved, Are We Always Saved?
There is a teaching that was popularized by John Calvin that teaches that once a person becomes a Christian, or is "saved," and is given eternal life, it is impossible for him or her to lose that salvation, or “fall from grace.” The “Five points of Calvinism” are usually displayed as T.U.L.I.P. The P stands for, “Perseverance of the Saints.” It is also called, “The Security of the Believer,” and “Once Saved, Always Saved.” If we are once saved, are we always saved? That is the question we will let the Bible answer in this article.
I have recently heard this definition of once saved, always saved (OSAS): “Once a believer’s name is written in the Book of Life, his name can never be taken out of it.” Advocates of this belief use John 10:27-29 most frequently to back up their ideas. In this passage, Jesus claims, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand.” OSAS emphasizes the fact that Jesus’ disciples cannot be “snatched” out of Jesus’ hands; therefore, when Christians are in His hands, they are there forever.
Matthew 13 contains Jesus’ parable of the soils (verses 3-8) and His explanation of the parable (verses 18-23). When Jesus takes the time to explain the rocky soil, He says, “The one on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, this is the man who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no firm root in himself, but is only temporary, and when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he falls away” (Mt. 13:20-21). Notice that these individuals received and responded to the word of God, but since they did not root themselves deep enough in the faith, they fell away because of persecution and affliction.
Jesus promises, “You will be hated by all because of My name, but the one who endures to the end, he will be saved” (Mk. 13:13). After reading this promise, I ask, “What happens to the one who does not endure to the end? What about the one who becomes a Christian, but then lets the world of sin leak into his life again?” He sounds like rocky soil to me.
The apostle Paul claims, “I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified” (1 Cor. 9:27). Why is Paul being so careful? He doesn’t want to be disqualified from the race of salvation that he teaches about just a few verses prior to this claim (1 Cor. 9:24-26). Paul, an Apostle chosen by Jesus Christ, was being careful not to be disqualified from salvation! The same apostle, in the same letter, writes, “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall. No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it” (1 Cor. 10:12-13). When Paul wrote to the Corinthians, he was writing to Christians (1 Cor. 1:2). So, he is writing to saved people, and he says, “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall.” Is it possible to fall from salvation? According to John Calvin, no. According to Scripture, yes. Be encouraged that we are always given a way out of temptation. Take heed, look for that way out, so that you do not fall into sin and fall out of salvation.
When Paul wrote the letter to the Galatians, the Holy Spirit was dealing with Christians that were trying to mingle the Law of Moses in with the new covenant of Christ. We read of the fate of those people: "You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace” (Gal. 5:4). Again, Paul was writing to Christians (Gal. 1:2). There were those who evidently had been cut off from Christ and had fallen from grace. To be “severed” from something, you must have been, by definition, joined to it at one point. In this case, the Christian was severed from Christ, which led to falling from grace. What a sad fate! OSAS claims you cannot fall from grace. I would encourage those who hold to such a belief to be careful and to read that verse again in its context.
There Is a Warning to Heed!
Imagine a news reporter saying, “The local wildlife association warns everyone to be very careful when jogging on the local trails. They have heard reports of dangerous black bears in the area.” Anyone who currently uses those trails would take caution, right? Why? Because it is a real danger! Likewise, if there is some real, spiritual danger for those who are saved, do you think God would take them time to warn His children of the danger? The young preacher, Timothy, was warned, “But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons” (1 Tim. 4:1). The Scriptures warn us to be careful, because “paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons” will cause one to “fall away from the faith.” Later in that same letter, we read, “For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs” (1 Tim. 6:10). Another possible way to fall away from the faith is to long for money instead of God’s kingdom and His righteousness (Mt. 6:33).
The author of Hebrews warns that the justice of God has demanded, “every transgression and disobedience received a just penalty” (Heb. 2:2). “For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it” (Heb. 2:1). We must accept God’s grace and stay in it, so that we do not drift away from it (Heb. 2:3)! Pay attention to God’s word, so when affliction and persecution come, you will not be like the seed that fell on rocky soil. “Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God” (Heb. 3:12). When you are saved from your sins, you are reconciled with God (praise God!) (Rom. 5:10). According to Hebrews 3:12, we must remain a believer so we do not fall away from God and lose that reconciliation.
Peter writes, “You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness” (2 Pet. 3:17). The warning is clear! Christians ought to “be on the alert!” Why? “Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Pet. 5:8).
Advocates of OSAS have read these passages, and cannot ignore them. To twist the Scriptures to mean what they want them to mean, these individuals claim that the verses in the Bible that warn people about losing their salvation are not really talking about Christians. They say the verses are talking about those who were “never really saved.” They that argue this way are reading their own will into the Bible rather than reading God’s will out of the Bible. How can you “fall away” from God if you were never with God? Again, note that all the passages from the epistles we are reading were, in fact, written to Christians. The evidence is clear, especially when the author includes himself in the warning, such as Hebrews 4:11: “Therefore let us be diligent to enter that rest, so that no one will fall, through following the same example of disobedience” (emphasis added).
The warning is very clear. “For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame” (Heb. 6:4-6). Who are those who have “tasted the gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit”? They are the saved! Forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit are coupled together at salvation (Acts 2:38-41). But, after they tasted the goodness of the Lord, the people in view in Hebrews 6, sadly fall away. Now that they have fallen away, they have given up their salvation through lack of repentance (Lk. 13:3), and they reject heavenly gift.
James instructs his audience about Christians “among them” that fall away: “My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins” (Jas. 5:19-20).
When Christ was exhorting the Christians in Smyrna, he warned them, “Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, so that you will be tested, and you will have tribulation for ten days” (Rev. 2:10a). However, He also gave them hope: “Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Rev. 2:10b). The only way to receive this crown of life is to persevere and not fall away during tribulation.
Another strong warning in the same book is found in Revelation 22:18-19: “I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book.” OSAS says it is impossible for God to erase a name that is written in the book of life. Take a closer look at verse 19: “God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city.” I would urge them to reconsider before telling God what He can and cannot do.
It is obvious that the New Testament is loaded with warnings to Christians to be careful not to fall. We must listen to those warnings! I have heard someone say, “Yes, a Christian can sin, but he can never sin enough for him to lose his salvation.” To that person, I would ask him or her to consider the lesson from the Garden. How many sins did Adam and Eve commit before being punished by God? Just one. Isaiah 59:1-2 tells us that our sin separates us from God. We must be careful not to allow sin to seep into our lives and separate us from God. And if it does, we must repent (Acts 8:21-24), as Simon, who was a saved Christian, was told to do after he sinned.
Some would say, “But a Christian would never willfully sin!” I agree that it is unimaginable that someone who has received grace and understands the value of forgiveness would never willfully sin against the Savior. Peter warns Christians to “Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Pet. 5:8). God forbid that I forsake Him, but God did not take away my free will when He fulfilled His promise of salvation. Nor did He disable Satan's ability to tempt me. That is why Peter, and so many other New Testament writers, warn us to be on our guard! “If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn. 1:6-9).
John 10 Revisited
We began this lesson by stating that teachers of OSAS use John 10:27-29 to back up their teaching. Obviously, this passage cannot mean that it is impossible for a saved individual to lose his or her salvation. But what does it mean? Read it again. “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand” (Jn. 10:27-29). The main focus in this passage is eternal life. God has given each person an eternal soul when He created him or her. If I obey Jesus, I can receive eternal life (Heb. 5:8-9; praise God!). The alternative lasts just as long as eternity, but it is a far cry from anything called life. It can only be described as eternal destruction (2 Thess. 1:9). Can anyone snatch the saved out of Jesus’ hand? Jesus powerfully promises, no! If it were possible, it would imply someone is stronger than God! Can the saved choose to jump out of Jesus’ hand? Yes. God has blessed us with the free will to love/obey Jesus or to hate/disobey Jesus (Jn. 14:15).
The above list and discussion of verses that warn us about falling back into the world of sin and falling out of salvation once we have received eternal life is not exhaustive. There are many more verses exhorting us to stay faithful. Don’t let Satan fool you into a false sense of security. We must know that Satan is out there prowling around “like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Pet. 5:8)! If you are a Christian, stay in the Shepherd’s hand. If you are not a Christian, seek the Shepherd’s salvation before it is everlastingly too late!