ONCE SAVED - ALWAYS SAVED?
Our Topic is ETERNAL SECURITY:
Can One Be GENUINELY 'Born Again' Yet Finally Not Inherit Eternal Life?
What Do the Scriptures Say?
Avoiding Both Being a Theological Exposition and a 'Cheap Shot' Attack on Opposing Views, This Article Seeks to Chart a Biblical Course Through the Theological Arguments
It is very disappointing that so many articles on the 'net' which consider this topic continue to contribute to the terrible polarity which has developed on this subject! Many such articles immediately launch into a tirade against the other 'side' instead of taking a step back and considering this topic in a purely cool, logical and fully biblical way!
The first thing to point out is that the question carries a confusion, or a contradiction; If one could 'lose' one's salvation, one is attributing 'humaness' to God in a sense which the Scriptures do not allow! For God grants salvation and where is the scriptural justification for saying that our God 'loses' things? To suggest that one might be genuinely saved today but might get into an unsaved state in a few months or so seems to indicate that we are attributing capriciousness and whimsicality to God! In short, we are seeing God as human, rather than as God. Of course, one could protest, 'I know that God does not lose things but once He gives something to me, is it not possible that I should lose it?' But this paints a picture of God as an irresponsible parent who cannot look after His own children, it also reveals a view of God as being careless - but God is not careless with the gifts which He grants.
The first thing one needs to do, therefore, is to not necessarily answer or discuss this question according to the logic of the questioner!
Obviously people have tended to fall into two camps on this question and this is highly regrettable, because both camps are often partly correct and partly wrong, so we must attempt to apply a purely scriptural approach in our consideration of this subject; let us attempt to do that.
A few insist that God does not know whether you or I will finally inherit Eternal Life because the final outcome to that question is in the future - I am afraid that we could never have confidence in such a God who is just hanging around in Heaven waiting to see how we will 'turn out' because such things are beyond His sphere of influence!! We should at least all be able to agree that that concept of God finds no support in the Scriptures; countless Scriptures (many of which we are going to look at) uphold quite a different picture.
But this does not mean that God is not 'open' to certain things which you and I might decide to do, but He is aware of all the great and major outcomes on this planet because He is God and not a man. So here is how I answer this:
According to Scriptures such as Isaiah 45:4-13, Isaiah 46:3-5,9-10, Ephesians 1: 3-14, Ephesians 2:8-10 and 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14 (to quote just a few), it is God who is in charge of these things, at least in an ultimate sense. Whether or not one is more inclined toward Arminius or Calvin, I think that one has to accept God as supremely sovereign.
Then, if one considers Revelation 20: 12-15, we see that the Lamb has a Book of Life and that those finally saved are entered in there. Since God knows 'the end from the beginning' - Isaiah 46:9-10 - I think we must accept that those names are already written there. In fact Revelation 13:8 confirms that those names were written in this Book '...From the foundation of the world.'
Now if we consider the parable of the Sower and the Seed in Luke 8: 5-15, we see that we ourselves have a responsibility to CONTINUE to respond to the truth of the Gospel. The fact that God is certainly in charge does not negate our personal responsibility to 'remain on track' as Christians. The Bible also shows that it is those who 'endure to the end' who shall be saved. There is personal responsibility in this. If we do that, this parable seems to say that we are going to be in the Lamb's Book of Life, we are going to be of the Elect of God - however one wants to describe it.
But this does not mean that God is not sure how we will turn out, after all, He knows the end from the beginning. Rather, in some way which we cannot fully humanly explain, both our personal decision (which remains completely meaningful), and God's election come together; that is to say: God really did choose us rather than we chose Him (John 6:44,65; John 15:16; Romans 8:30; 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14; Ephesians 1:3-6; Ephesians 2:8-10 ), and He did not choose us because He foresaw that we would be 'good people' - a plainly unscriptural position, yet we also really do have the power of choice (Deuteronomy 30:19; Joshua 24:15; 1 Kings 18:21; Acts 3:19). This is the picture which the Scriptures paint and we should not deviate from it just because it is difficult to explain.
Another point is that when we say that 'God knows the end from the beginning' that does not mean that God cannot put that aside in His everyday dealings with men and women in the historical present. Neither does it mean that certain people are "doomed" no matter what they might do. At every stage we must oppose the Fatalism (a pagan teaching) which has made serious inroads into 'Hyper- Calvinism.' The Bible certainly upholds grace - but never 'Fatalism.'
The bottom line is that Jesus rejects nobody who approaches Him in faith (John 6:37, 47; Acts 16:30-31), while those who become eternally separated from God were those people who never wanted God in this life (Luke 16:19-31), or who shamefully used His name for personal gain or prestige (Matthew 7:21-23); neither does God - in His mercy - expect full doctrinal comprehension for salvation (Matthew 5:5-12; Matthew 25:31-46). [Though Christians are certainly encouraged to move foward in biblical/doctrinal knowledge rather than place a 50-year 'reserved' sign on the first pew which they ever occupate! See Matthew 25:14-30; Acts 17:11; Hebrews 5:12-14; Hebrews 6:1-3; 2 Peter 3:18].
Now - as you and I know - some do walk away from the Gospel (although I don't think that many do). According to biblical teaching, these people never 'had' salvation in the first place; 1 John 2: 19. True believers certainly appear to be sealed - no one can 'pluck them,' or 'snatch them' out of God's hand ; John10:27-29. I'm afraid that it is no answer to say - as some do - that despite being 'sealed' we ourselves can still break that seal 'from the inside' and decide to walk away; No - that still presents an impotent God who is incapable of protecting His own children! We must remember that God is sovereign (supreme in power and dominion): Ephesians presents a picture of a God who is in control and is sole Elector and Decider. The fact that certain doctrines are tricky to explain gives us no right to change them! The problem exists for us as human beings since we cannot tell by looking at other professing believers, just how deep their Christianity goes! If a person attended church for a month - or even 5 years - but then finally and decisively walks away from their apparent calling, they probably did not have salvation in the first place; 1 John 2:19 (though we must be very careful not to equate "church-going" with membership of God's Eternal Church as written in Heaven). What one should never do is to claim - right at the beginning of ones Christian life - that since one is now "saved" it does not matter what one does, since the saved cannot fall. This is a somewhat arrogant approach, since only time can test this claim!
1 Corinthians 10: 12 says:
"Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall."
Paul was also well aware of the need for continuing self-discipline,
"...lest when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified." (1 Corinthians 9: 27).
Elect of God or not, there is a very real sense in which we have to work out our own salvation with 'fear and trembling' (Philippians 2: 12).
As I say, the 'once saved, always saved' approach cannot be upheld without very careful explanation. In a real sense, it is perfectly correct that the Body of Christ are not going to fail since they are under God's grace. That is looking at the subject from God's eternal perspective, but we have to form an understanding and respond to what we know within the 'here and now.' Many believe that 'eternal security' is not biblical because (rather like 'predestination'), it has been so inadequately explained, but if I inadequately explained electricity, especially in warning of its dangers, should that mean that one should reject the belief that - wrongly used - electricity can be dangerous?
Ultimately, we - as believers - are expected to endure and to 'grow in grace and knowledge'; that is OUR responsibility. Of course, even there, we could do nothing without God. Yet Scripture seems clear that God alone is Elector, Caller and Justifier. See Romans 8 - the entire chapter.
This is the only way that one can answer this question.
But first of all it is usually necessary to address the basic contradiction in the form which this question usually takes.
If a person says, 'If we are saved now - today - are we saved forever?' there is an obvious contradiction there, indeed the term could be called an 'oxymoron' (that is: a contradiction within a term). If God has really saved us, then, He HAS saved us! Are we seriously suggesting that God might only be interested in "saving" people for a few weeks or years, depending on what they might decide to do? That is a God who is NOT in control and a God we could have no confidence in! Where is the understanding of the grace of God in that? Rather, if one is truly saved, NOBODY and NOTHING can ever snatch us out of His hand and WE WILL go on to produce fruit! The confusion enters in because - simply by looking at other believers -we do not finally know who is in that group.
Scriptures such as Luke 9:62 and 2 Peter 2:20-22 show us that it is spiritually perilous for one to learn of the truth of the gospel but then reject it, but a very careful comparison with John 10:1-29 shows that those verses are not speaking about those who are genuinely born again (as John 10:27-29 makes clear).
Possible Scriptural Objections
But what of Hebrews 6:4-6? Does this Scripture show that the genuinely born again can lose out on Eternal Life as some claim? This is where we have to understand that all relevant Scriptures on any doctrine need to be taken into account before we can understand that doctrine! Certainly - at first glance - Hebrews 6:4-6 seems to present us with a problem, but we have to understand that - in many places - the Word of God establishes that those truly standing under God's grace cannot fail; just consider John 3:5-6; John 6:35-39,44, 54-56; John 8:42-47; John 10:27-29; John 16:9-11 and Romans 8:1,30-39 for 'starters.' So we must take these (and many other) Scriptures into account before we can accrue evidence of what the writer of Hebrews had in mind in chapter 6.
It is odd that the writer of Hebrews says that something is impossible (for Christians to completely fall away but then return to a point of repentance a second time) yet some believers think it a possibility! In fact, the writer is clearly writing philosophically. Does he say that this has happened to certain people? On the contrary he says, 'But, beloved, we are confident of better things concerning you...' (verse 9). But does the writer infer that it could happen? Yes, he does, but here he is apparently writing philosophically and as an encouragement to Christian zeal. Also, please note: those referred to in Hebrews 6:4-6 only "tasted" of the truth of the Gospel. Note Hebrews 6, verses 4 and 5; these people were 'tasters,' but not true followers and disciples of the truth! It is one thing to taste, but quite another thing to swallow! So the writer of Hebrews was being very careful with his choice of words here.
I think I can give an illustration which might help: when our children were small I would sometimes warn them of the apparent eventual consequences of their misbehaviour, ie., stern, ongoing punishment, even when I fully knew that there was a strict limit on this because of our love for them which was not negotiable; ultimately no parent would reject their own children, how much more is it impossible for God to reject His very own children (Isaiah 41:8-10; John 15:16; Romans 8:29-30, 38-39; 2 Corinthians 1:20-22; Ephesians 4:30; Philippians 1:6; 1 Peter1:2-9).
How about Revelation 22:19? Doesn't this verse say that God is able to erase names from the Book of Life? It does indeed say so in the KJV but this is one of the KJV's famous mistranslations, now corrected in most newer versions. The NIV translates this accurately:
'And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.' (Revelation 22:19, NIV).
So this verse, when correctly translated, never talks about taking names out of the Book of Life!
Two Final Powerful Biblical Confirmations of Eternal Security!
1. The apostle Paul obviously penned the entire 8th chapter of Romans in response to some at Rome who had denied that the salvation of the true believer is truly secure. The reader of this article is encouraged to read this entire chapter carefully and painstakingly: Do not Paul's words here make it entirely clear that he believed that the true Christian believer could not fall? Paul obviously took out a huge chunk of Romans (39 consecutive verses), to counter the claims of a few who believed that, after suffering so much, Christians might still not inherit Eternal Life.
2. The biblical teaching that the Holy Spirit is 'the earnest of our inheritance' - which means the 'deposit' or 'down-payment' on our Eternal Life completely rules out the possibility of the Christian believer entirely falling away. The Scriptures to consider here are Ephesians 1:13-14, 2 Corinthians 1:21-22 and 2 Corinthians 5:5. The reader is encouraged to look up those Scriptures and also to carefully read This Article which outlines the precise meaning of 'arrabon.'
Of course, all Christians may go through spiritually weaker 'backsliding' phases and the biblical evidence is that God will punish for this yet never remove His grace; just stop and consider that the Lord never removed His grace even from Samson and David. He punished them when they fell short but both men died still under God's bounteous grace!
I am very pleased that several people who had been confused by this tricky subject or who had fallen into one or other of the two entrenched camps, have found the explanation which you have just read, to be very helpful, illuminating and, hopefully, biblical.
Robin A. Brace
2002, slightly revised 2004 and 2007.
(© This article is Copyright Robin A. Brace 2002, 2004, 2007. If you want it on your own website please do the honourable thing and come to us for permission first. It is forbidden to excerpt this article without our permission)
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(In short, this article reveals that this doctrine - when swept free of unbiblical errors - is one of the most encouraging doctrines of all!)
ETERNAL SECURITY AND THE SAVING LOVE OF GOD
(This article amounts to a lengthy essay on Romans 8 which leaves one in no doubt as to the veracity of this teaching)
ETERNAL SECURITY - NOT A VAIN PROMISE
WHAT IS THE UNPARDONABLE SIN?
(Set your mind at rest right now).
MUSELTOF COUNTERCULT AND APOLOGETICS
WITNESS TO THE WORD