Once Saved, Always Saved?
by Jason Young

NOTE: This is an unfinished article.

There's nothing new, exciting or late-breaking surrounding the debate about eternal security, or the related teaching called "perseverance of the saints," or, "preservation of the saints." For many, the debate is old-hat and most that have taken sides are unlikely to change sides.

The debate can be traced back hundreds of years, and is basically rooted in the two major theologies that sprung from the Reformation - Calvinism and Arminianism. Those Protestant churches that have historically been influenced by Calvinism (Presbyterians, Baptists, and others) generally affirm perseverance of the saints or the similar doctrine of eternal security. Those Protestant churches that are more rooted in the Arminian tradition, such as Churches of Christ, Methodists, Pentecostals and others, generally deny such teachings.

Is eternal security an important issue for Christians today? I think so. It's an important because it influences the way we view God, ourselves, the Bible and our salvation and it impacts our day-to-day walk with God.

This will be the first installment in a series on why I believe all true Christians are eternally secure/preserved and address some of the challenges to this doctrine. If you are a Christian that does not believe you are eternally secure, I encourage you to hang around and consider what I have to say. I too once rejected this teaching, but then found myself quite surprised at how much biblical support there is for it.

Most who oppose eternal security do so based on one or more of the following objections:

- The belief in eternal security leads Christians to take their walk with God less seriously, feeling they can freely sin and still be saved.
- Eternal security violates the concept of "free will." If eternal security were true, God would, in effect, cause people to remain saved, even if they later decided to reject their faith and/or choose to return to a life of sin.
- Certain passages in the Bible indicate that people can lose their faith/salvation (e.g. 1 Cor 9:25-27; Heb 3:12-14, 6:1-6; 2 Pet 2:20; Rev 3:3-5).

There are typically three main objections to eternal security. The first objection is that the belief in eternal security leads Christians to take their walk with God less seriously, feeling they can freely sin and still be saved.

There's some truth to that. There are Christians who use their belief in eternal security as an excuse to sin. But there are also Christians who don't believe in eternal security that also sin willingly and repeatedly, believing they can simply ask God for forgiveness afterwards. Unfortunately, there are those on both sides of the camp that try to take advantage of God's grace and mercy and the problem with some Christians believing they can freely sin is not new (see Rom 6:1-8). However, any truly saved Christian with even a basic level of spiritual maturity will seek to live a life pleasing to God, whether he or she believes in eternal security or not. Any Christian that believes he or she can freely sin is either unsaved or terribly immature. The saved, mature Christian will be driven to please God out of love and gratitude towards him.

The second common objection is that eternal security violates "free will." Those that raise this objection argue that God will not "force" people to stay saved if they decide to deny their faith and/or choose to return to a life of sin. However, there are two things to consider here. The first is that if one is truly saved, that person will never truly deny Christ and the faith. I John 2:19 says, "They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us." This passage clearly teaches that those who abandon the faith and deny Christ were never truly Christians, and therefore never truly saved to begin with. It's important to understand that this passage isn't talking about those that simply fall back into a life of disobedience or quit going to church, but those who renounce their faith and deny Christ (e.g. Jews who later decide Jesus is not the Son of God). Simply put, if one truly renounces the faith, he or she was never truly saved to start with.

But what of those who don't actually renounce their faith, but perhaps quit going to church or fall back into a sinful lifestyle? Those that have truly been saved will feel the sting of guilt and remorse for the way they are living. The Holy Spirit never leaves and will continue to convict the fallen believer of sin and push him or her back to Christ. The Bible provides a number of examples of those who have fallen into a pattern of disobedience, but which God never leaves. The nation of Israel is one of those examples. Israel continually fell into disobedience, yet God never left her and she remained the chosen nation, even in her rebellion. Also, there a numerous times in which the Bible describes the Christian's relationship with God as a Father/son relationship. A son is always the son of a loving father, even though the son might rebel and disobey.

I could continue describing a number of other examples, but admittedly, while I think they are helpful in understanding eternal security, they are mostly anecdotal. What matters most is what the Bible has to say on these matters.

I'd like to point out a few things in regard to this article. First, I have no illusions of solving the debate regarding eternal security. It's raged for centuries and will continue to, I am sure. Secondly, the verses used by those that support and those that reject eternal security are admittedly difficult to reconcile. However, the scriptures do not contradict themselves, so there is a way for them to be reconciled. Thirdly, how one interprets those scriptures that are "for" eternal security or "against" eternal security is largely based on one's preconceived notions. Notice I put "for" and "against" in quotation marks. The Bible either supports or does not support eternal security, so my wording is merely a figure of speech.

Let's begin with the passages that seem to teach against eternal security. Again, I ask you to keep reading this entire thread through its conclusion so that you can make an informed, rather than a hasty judgment.

"Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified." (1 Cor 9:25-27, ESV).

Here, Paul seems to be saying that we must continue in the race, lest we become "disqualified" from receiving the imperishable "wreath." This could be teaching that we can lose our salvation. However, there are other possibilities. He could be saying that the athlete does what he does to receive something that in eternity is meaningless, but that Christians continue in the race because we are looking forward to eternal life – not that we may earn it, but because we have already been promised it. Secondly, those opposed to eternal security assume that "disqualified" here means a loss of salvation. However, it could very well be that Paul is saying that after preaching to others, if he falls, he would lose his credibility with others and therefore not be qualified to preach the gospel and not that he would lose salvation. Thirdly, the scriptures teach that some will receive greater rewards than others in heaven (Matt 16:27). The "wreath" in this passage could refer to eternal and imperishable rewards in heaven, rather than salvation.

"Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called today, that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end." (Heb. 3:12-14)

Similar situation here. The one opposed to eternal security assumes that to "fall away" means to lose one's salvation. Could be. However, the author of Hebrews could be cautioning against falling back under the entrapment of sin and not necessarily mean that one loses his or her salvation when that happens. Paul then says, "...if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end." What will soon be seen is that the scriptures teach that those who are truly saved, will hold fast until the end.

"For it is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they then fall away, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt." (Heb 6:4-6)

A study of the book Hebrews will reveal that, as even the name tells us, it was written specifically to Jewish Christians. These are the very Christians targeted by a group call the Judaizers, who tried to get Jewish converts to return to obedience of Old Testament law. The Judaizers also rejected the divinity of Jesus Christ. The attempt of the Judaizers to lead some back to the old ways was apparently successful in some cases. The author was warning Christians not to be seduced, for returning to the law denies the sufficiency of the final sacrifice, Jesus Christ, not to mention that it would mean the denial of the fact that Jesus is God. It is these same thoughts that caused Jesus to be crucified in the first place. However, it's important to understand that the author here does not necessarily mean that those that "and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come" are those that have been saved. These could very well be those that merely "go to church" so to speak, have heard the truth, and even turned from their old ways, but not surrendered in faith to Jesus. In other words, it is likely that the people being discussed here are those that were never truly saved to begin with. The author warns that those who turn back to the old ways will never have a chance at salvation in the future.

"For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first." (2 Pet 2:20)

Similar to the example of Hebrews 6, these could be those that appear to have professed faith, but haven't really. These, when they return to sin, are worse off than before because they have come to a knowledge of the salvation they could have, and yet have rejected it. Jesus Himself, in his parable of the sower (Matt 13), speaks of those seeds that even bloom into a young plant, but then die, because they were planted on unsuitable ground. In other words, they at first appeared to receive the Word (the seed) and be saved, but then it was later revealed that they really were not, a concept the scriptures clearly support elsewhere (more about that later).

"Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you. Yet you have still a few names in Sardis, people who have not soiled their garments, and they will walk with me in white, for they are worthy. The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels." (Rev. 3:3-5)

The scriptures teach that the one who is truly saved, will conquer, and here Jesus promises that his name will not be blotted out of the book of life.

It's also important to remember that all through out the Bible, things are often explained in allegorical terms and/or from a human perspective, such as passages that refer to the hands, ears and eyes of God. God, of course, is a spirit and does not have human body parts. The purpose of such passages is to aid in human understanding and such passages are not to be taken from a strict, literal perspective. Some of these passages could very well be intended to remind those that are saved to not take their salvation for granted. Our salvation is a gift from our sovereign God and not based on anything that we have done or even desired (Rom 9:14-24).

This writing is the copyright of Jason Young and is posted with his permission. View all of his available articles here.

Page added July 28, 2015


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