Today’s popular evangelical maxim “once saved, always saved” has transformed into a virtual “cheap and easy” salvation for millions. The gospel call to repent and believe – to diligently make a personal effort to persevere in the faith – has been overshadowed by the new doctrine that Christians can live just like anyone else in the world. Gone are warnings to watch and pray, endure to the end, and to make your calling and election sure.
In their place are cool Christian clubs called churchianity, public shows of prayer, Christian rock bands, and young disciples in jeans and t-shirts spouting tender assurances of eternal salvation as a gift which God cannot take back. Never mind the ten commandments – everybody makes mistakes, so don’t don’t sweat it, we’re all under grace, right?
Is this the message of the Bible though? Is it really true that once a person has truly believed and put their faith in the atoning work of the Lord Jesus Christ, they are eternally saved? In other words, there is absolutely nothing that this person, can do which could nullify or forfeit that salvation. It doesn’t matter if that person kicks a dog, punches an elderly lady or robs a bank. No matter what his spiritual outlook – NOTHING, absolutely NOTHING will prevent him from a loss of salvation. Almighty God supposedly takes over his life to hold him, keep him, and sanctify him regardless of what point of the law has been broken.
What does “saved” mean?
A favourite OSAS phrase comes from the Book of Ephesians 2:8-9, to wit:
“For by grace you are saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.”
But what does it really mean to be “saved?” Not one single individual in the history of this world (besides Jesus Christ), has ever been saved—YET. Not Noah, Abraham, David, Peter, James, John or Paul. Not Ruth or Esther or Mary. These people are dead and in their graves – a pile of dust.
II Corinthians 2:15 speaks of those that “are being saved” — present tense. The verb, here, as inspired originally in the Greek language, is a present participle and should be translated, as in the RSV, “are being saved,” and not “are saved,” as in the King James version. The Moffatt, and other translations render this as “are being saved.”
To make it plain, notice the whole sense of the passage: “For we are unto God a sweet savour (fragrance) of Christ, in them that are saved (being saved), and in them that perish.” In other words, Christians are like sweet perfume or fragrance to certain others. If to those that are (already — past tense) saved, then also to those who are, already (past tense) perished. Now those already perished are not smelling anything. This is speaking of LIVING people. If those that “perish” are merely ON THE WAY toward perishing — but not yet perished — then, also those “saved” are BEING saved — on the way to the final salvation.
Then many, many scriptures speak of the salvation to come — of those who “shall be” (future) saved. Most passages referring to the TIME of salvation refer to it as taking place at Christ’s coming — as Revelation 12:10 and elsewhere.
In spiritual salvation, the blood of Christ — the death of Christ — paid the penalty we have incurred in our stead. And it saves us from this destruction (which is the second death) — that is, prevents us from having to pay it — if and when we repent, and accept Jesus as personal Saviour in faith believing (read Romans 5:8-10).
But, God’s gift of eternal life comes to us through Christ’s life (verse 10), through His resurrection and life — not by His death. His death paid our penalty of past sins in our stead. These sins had cut us off from contact with God. When Jesus’ sacrifice is accepted by repentance and faith, we are no longer cut off from God, but reconciled to Him — the connection or contact established, so that, through His Son’s life, He now can give us His Holy Spirit, and, at Christ’s coming and time of resurrection, eternal life. This, finally, preserves our life for eternity.
That is why God’s Word says, “he that shall endure unto the end shall be saved” (Matt. 24:13 and elsewhere). One is already saved from the death penalty — eternal punishment — for sins that are past, upon repentance and faith in Christ — as long as he does not sin again! And he will! But, if and when he slips and sins again, then, upon repentance, he is again forgiven. Yes, again, and again and again! That is, as long as his attitude of heart is submissive to God, he has faith in Christ, and God’s Spirit continues to dwell in him.
So we have:
- “Justification,” which is forgiveness of sins that are past (Romans 3:24-25) — because Jesus paid our penalty, thus justifying — or vindicating — us.
- “Sanctification” (Greek, “hagiasmos”), meaning separation, a setting apart for holy use or purpose. This is a continual process — once so set apart — and leads to ultimate salvation — the change from mortal to immortal — from material composition to spiritual — from human to divine. Thus: “God hath … chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit …” (II Thes. 2:13), and “unto obedience …” (I Peter 1:2).
- Salvation by resurrection — eternal life.
The Crux of the Truth
OSAS says once we receive “God’s Spirit, we will be led to obey and please God. Is that really how it works? In Rom. 8:14, Paul comes to the crux of the whole truth, so far as the Christian life is concerned.
“For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.”
God’s Spirit dwelling in the Christian is God’s own divine love, which can fulfill God’s Law. Thus what God has given him by grace – His righteousness within the Christian – may actually make him righteous! But notice, I said God’s Spirit in you can, or may put His righteousness within you!
Here is the all important point — God’s Spirit in the Christian will not force him to live righteously. He remains a free moral agent. He only has the spiritual equipment to live God’s way – his mind is open to spiritual understanding — that is, to live by the whole teachings of the Bible.
Notice Acts 5:32: “And we are his witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy [Spirit], whom God hath given to them that obey him.” God says He doesn’t even give us his Spirit unless we obey!
A maturing process
Where the Bible does talk of Christians being “perfect,” it merely means “those matured in Christian experience and knowledge (Jamieson, Fausset, Brown Commentary). We are to be growing every day of our spiritual lives. And with God’s help we can obey His commandments.
God says: “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matt. 5:48). This verse should be translated, “Become ye therefore perfect….” It’s a process. Christ referred to this way of life as going through a narrow gate. “Because strait [difficult] is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it” (Matt. 7:14). None of us have received salvation yet. Salvation is something we don’t have now.
In Matthew 25, Christ spoke the parable of the talents. He gave one of the individuals five talents, one he gave two, and the other only one. The individual who received one talent ended up burying it. Notice Christ’s answer to that in verse 26: “His lord answered and said unto him, Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strawed.”
This wicked person not only failed to grow, but he lost what God gave him! “And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (v. 30). It’s not a matter of how much you get, it’s what you do with it. God gives true Christians a wealth of spiritual knowledge. And to whom much is given, much is required (Luke 12:48).
Sin leads to loss of salvation
So how can one lose salvation? The OSAS crowd claims that if a person is not continuing or persevering in their faith, and growing in holiness, they could not have been saved to begin with. Thus, only those who have rightly been saved, are those who “are born again.”
But obviously all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23), even those of the OSAS crowd. Sin is defined as the transgression of God’s law (I John 3:4). We are commanded to keep this perfect law, otherwise we cannot even know God. Neglect merely makes us out to be liars (I John 2:3-4).
Convoluted reasoning which says “law keeping” is a doctrine of works needs to be checked according to truths and provable facts in the Bible. True, Christ came so that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. But belief is not the only condition to salvation. James 2:19 says “the devils also believe and tremble.” The mere belief of the devils (fallen angels) does not save them. Neither is repentance a do-it-once thing and then we just sort of cruise through God’s calling any way we like.
This does not mean the fight against sin is a perpetual game of Russian Roulette where we never know if we’re saved or not. The effort (through repentance) is guided by the scriptural “yardstick” of God’s law, which tells us how many or what kind of sins void our salvation. Yes, you read that right. Every transgression and disobedience receives a just recompense of reward (Heb. 2:2), just like it did with the angels. So the Christian must decide, and must exert will, to follow that way.
Jesus Christ said to follow in His footsteps and he kept God’s law perfectly. The Bible is also replete, from beginning to end, with proof of this, as well as those denouncing people who do NOT keep the law.
- Exodus 32:33 (Old Testament) says: “And the Lord said to Moses, ‘Whoever has sinned against Me, I will blot him out of My book’”.
- Rev. 3:5,6 (New Testament) says: “He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels…. Clearly this means that God can take the eternal life, which they now think they have.
What this means is not just “….the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified” (Rom. 2:13). They must actively decide whether to walk down that road — to be led by the Spirit of God — or to be led by the pulls of human nature. There is no “floating” Christian doctrine.
So all of this means “Once Saved, Always Saved” IS WRONG. God’s love of giving us eternal life is CONDITIONAL upon keeping His law. Getting saved is not a one time deal and it’s over with. It’s a lifelong project – sorry Pentecostals, you’re wrong.
If we think we stand, we may fall (I Cor. 10:12). An important aspect of conquering is preserving to the end – not as though we had already attained it or were made perfect (Phil. 3:12). We are to work out our own salvation (Phil. 2:12), and not sin deliberately for fear of the prospect of a fiery judgment (Heb. 10:26-29).