Apologeet.nlCritical About the Idea of ‘Once Saved, Always Saved’
Today, I would like to take a look at this doctrine of ‘once saved, always saved.’ Actually, I don’t think it is an official church doctrine today. The doctrine has been around for a long time already. This time, I think I am not going to give you just one answer. To be honest, I have a difficult time to decide what theology around this topic is most waterproof. So, instead I would like to look at this topic from two sides.
I also want to assure you that I do not intend to make you doubt your salvation. I am fully convinced that the grace of God is much greater than our limited capacity to explain how and why He does things. So even when I say I am critical about a certain teaching, I am still convinced that the Bible speaks truth when it says that
Romans 10:13; Joel 2:32
whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.
No human-being will ever be able to fully explain God’s amazing works. All we can do is thinking of nice theories and hope that our theory somehow manages to explain, at least, a bit of that what we believe. Some of our theories have become doctrines, and it has stood the test of time. Mostly the established and confirmed protestant doctrines are there to stay as they explain best what we believe. Other ideas are still being debated, but having a different opinion on them doesn’t affect your position in Christ. For example, in one church women are allowed to preach, while somewhere else this is not okay. In neither case we will lose our salvation, because we think differently on that topic.
I think it is the same with the idea of ‘once saved, always saved.’ In both cases we can be assured that Christ’s work was enough to get us saved in the first place. The biggest difference is that one group says that you can lose your salvation when you willingly turn your back on Jesus (when they openly become atheist for example). While the other group says that even then you won’t lose it. Both groups teach that it is unwise to turn you back on Christ and both groups teach that we should always stay close to Him.
If you are struggling with your faith and if you think God doesn’t want you in, then I suggest reading the Bible and don’t trust your feeling. Repent of your sin and call upon the Lord Jesus, and He will save you. That is His promise! How we, humans, try to explain this work doesn’t really matter. What matters is that it works!
Early Christians, in the 1st and 2nd centuries, already knew about this idea of ‘once saved, always saved.’ The early church fathers were quite busy determining what teachings were biblical and which were not. In the old works of these churchfathers we see a group called gnostics popping up regularly. The Gnostics were divided in many sects. One sect of Gnosticism taught the doctrine of ‘once saved, always saved.’ Irenaeus (A.D. 130-202) bowed his head over this idea. He wrote a book titled, ‘Against Heresies’ in which he is discussing this.
Before I continue, I think it would be helpful to quote from his work.i
But as to themselves, they hold that they shall be entirely and undoubtedly saved, not by means of conduct, but because they are spiritual by nature. For, just as it is impossible that material substance should partake of salvation (since, indeed, they maintain that it is incapable of receiving it), so again it is impossible that spiritual substance (by which they mean themselves) should ever come under the power of corruption, whatever the sort of actions in which they indulged. For even as gold, when submersed in filth, loses not on that account its beauty, but retains its own native qualities, the filth having no power to injure the gold, so they affirm that they cannot in any measure suffer hurt, or lose their spiritual substance, whatever the material actions in which they may be involved.
Wherefore also it comes to pass, that the ‘most perfect’ among them addict themselves without fear to all those kinds of forbidden deeds of which the Scriptures assure us that ‘they who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.’
And committing many other abominations and impieties, they run us down (who from the fear of God guard against sinning even in thought or word) as utterly contemptible and ignorant persons, while they highly exalt themselves, and claim to be perfect, and the elect seed. For they declare that we simply receive grace for use, wherefore also it will again be taken away from us; but that they themselves have grace as their own special possession, which has descended from above by means of an unspeakable and indescribable conjunction; and on this account more will be given them.
Okay, I admit, the language can be a bit difficult to understand. So, I’ll quote someone most of us know, Billy Graham.ii
When we do sin, God does not reject us or disown us. Our fellowship with Him may be broken, but our relationship is not; we are still members of His family if we have truly committed our lives to Christ.
Gnosticism and Calvinism
Basically, the idea of ‘once saved, always saved,’ seems to be mostly popular in Calvinistic circles. If we look at the quote as given by brother Graham, we see quite some similarities between that what the Gnostics said and that what Calvinists teach.
Both seem to explain that when a person is saved, it is not by means of his own effort, but on account of his or her nature. While Gnostics and Calvinists differ in the origin of that nature, the doctrine is still the same. Gnostics say that it is due to a special spiritual nature. Calvinists say that they are infused by the nature of Christ.
Let’s see whether we can find more agreements between the two groups:
- In Calvinism someone is only saved when he or she is elected. The Gnostics said that they were of the ‘elect seed.’ Both teach that once you’ve been elected you can do nothing to undo that state of being saved.
- The third part of the Westminster Confession of Faithiii says that Christians will not lose their salvation, even if they live in such a way ‘whereby they incur God’s displeasure, and grieve his Holy Spirit; come to be deprived of some measure of their graces and comforts; have their hearts hardened, and their consciences wounded; hurt and scandalize others.’
While a Christian might say that a real Christian doesn’t want to sin, the Gnostics made sinning their preferred lifestyle.
- No sin can come in between grace. It does not matter how the person personally relates to that sin.
Calvinists say nobody can resist that grace, and the chosen person will be bound by that grace. Gnostics basically said that it didn’t matter whether they freely sinned because grace would automatically cover every sin they commit.
- Both Calvinists and Gnostics believe that someone who is saved can never ever lose their salvation, whatever they do.
Like I said, the Gnostics accept the ultimate conclusion and indulge in their own lusts and passions. Calvinists say that the Christian who is saved generally does not want to live like an unbeliever, but even though if they do, they cannot lose their salvation.
Why This Comparison
Let me be really clear! I have many good friends who hold a more Calvinistic view on salvation than I do. They are my brothers and sisters, and we love each other. However, I still wanted to make this comparison between the teaching on salvation simply because many aspects seem to be very similar. In other words, the similarities between the teachings of the Gnostics and the idea of ‘once saved, always saved’ are so many that I think we can’t ignore it.
Now, I do want to stretch that most, who hold this teaching as true, will not agree on the gnostic approach of just sin as much as possible. My Calvinistic friends, like I, are disgusted by this idea which comes very close to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Jesus Himself turned against this group in Revelation 2. The Nicolaitans basically taught that, to fully experience the grace of God, you first have to fall as deep as possible in order for you to understand how big His salvation is. The Nicolaitans taught their new followers, who just accepted Christ as their Saviour, to go and sin as hard as possible. Only then, they could appreciate the gift they were given by God.
The Calvinists do not accept this teaching of the Nicolaitans, and they will go as far as to say that they cannot be real Christians. I agree! When one becomes a Christian, that person wants to serve the Lord and turns away from sin.
How About the Bible?
I am sure that none of my friends will agree that this teaching comes close to that of the Gnostics. Mostly they come up with some good biblical arguments for this teaching. And here it becomes a little more complicated. Because these biblical arguments seem to be pretty strong.
There are many texts that seem to defend the ‘once saved, always saved’ doctrine. I’ll quote two of them.
For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
And this is the Father’s will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day. And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day.
In theology we mostly use a simple principle. When we have several Bible texts on a topic like salvation for example, and we find that some of these texts can be explained only one way and some other texts can be explained in both directions, then we normally read the text that can have two explanations in a way which is coherent with the verses that can only have one.
The two examples I gave earlier, Romans and John, are considered, by the proponents, as texts that can have only one meaning. In other words, whenever we find a text that seems to give the possibility to explain in both ways, we should choose to explain them in line with these texts I just mentioned.
But honestly, when I look at John 6:39-40 for example, I have no difficulty seeing both explanations. Yes, Jesus clearly says that He will raise those up who have been given to Him by the Father. But likewise, in verse 40 He says “that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day.” It is not hard to explain that we need to keep our eyes on Him, and that we need to continue to believe in Him. And by doing so, Jesus will do what He says: He will raise you up at the last day!
See what I mean? It is pretty easy to doubt the ‘once saved, always saved’ doctrine. But does this mean we have to worry all the time?
No, of course not! Both the proponents and opponents firmly believe that salvation comes from Jesus and Jesus alone! Both parties believe we should live godly lives to honour God our Father.
However, the opponents are mostly a little more worried about their friends who turned their backs on the Lord. They will try to win them back for Christ. As for those who believe this doctrine, they, not all, mostly say that this person was never a real Christian in the first place, else he would not have turned his back on God. A real Christian can never fall away, they say. My difficulty with this idea is that I have seen several people turn away. Some of them seem to have been fully
… enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come…
Were they fake-Christians? Were the things we’ve seen in their lives not real? Have we all been fooled in thinking it was the Holy Spirit Who gave them these remarkable dreams and gifts? And now Hebrews says, because they have been fallen away,
it is impossible […] to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.
We are not talking about people who just have a bit of a crisis in their lives. I am not worried about those who struggle to keep their prayer-life vigilant. I am not even worried when you go through a dry season concerning your faith. God knows us and He loves us. He will not drop you at the first doubtful thought.
I strongly believe that we can only get saved by faith alone and not by our works.
For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast.
But, I do fear God enough not to purposely walk away from Him and purposely deny Him. This is just common sense. You see, when you struggle to keep your prayer-life alive, it is because you have the desire to do so. That is healthy for a Christian. It is also healthy to have the desire to be close with God the Father, and it feels uncomfortable to stray away. I would say that this is the work of His Holy Spirit.
But, if one believes this doctrine of ‘once saved, always saved,’ and does not regard sin to be something terrible, because he thinks he’s safe, I would urge that person to reconsider his position. I have seen this attitude among Christians. Really! There are really people who think this to be a good idea. I clearly remember a guy who just told me that he wasn’t planning to tell people about the Gospel simply because it was up to God whether they would be saved or not. Also, he said that he didn’t have to stop his sinful lifestyle because he, one time in the past, gave himself to Christ to be saved. God is good and will forgive when people genuinely repent and confess their sins to Him. But I would not bet on the idea He is doing the same when one actively pursuits a life of sin.
In either situation, a true Christian is regenerated in Christ and this should motivate him to stop sinning, and to war against his sin, and to honour God in all of his ways.
If you are saved but haven’t been living like an Christian should, then I would like to encourage you to get yourself back in relationship with God. The Gospel, with its message of salvation, is not different in Turkey or Australia. The content has been the same for centuries and throughout the whole world, it never changed. If you are saved and say you follow Jesus, you’ll have to be obedient to that same message, the Gospel, which has been taught by Jesus Himself and later His first disciples. God is being glorified and honoured by His children who obey the Gospel wholeheartedly.
Tell me What you Think
So, I guess this topic will stir up some feelings. Maybe it did raise some eyebrows. Tell me what you think about this idea of ‘once saved, always saved.’ Maybe you can post some other Bible verses in the comments below? That would be cool! I am looking forward to hearing from you, but please keep it brotherly.
Check out the description of this video. There you’ll find a link to my Odysee channel. You can also check out my channels on GabTV, Flote, and Bitchute… Not that these channels differ too much from eachother. In the end they mostly have the same content. But this way I am sure that there is not just one party who can delete my videos.
Anyways, thank you very much for your prayers and support! You can look in the description of this video or on my website to find out how you can help me. Also, you’ll find a link there to both the Dutch and English transcripts of this video.
God bless you, thank you for watching, and Lord willing we’ll see each other in my next video!
i Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 1. Chapter 6., Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, Translated by Alexander Roberts and William Rambaut, (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1885.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. [internet] <http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0103106.htm> accessed 08-12-2022.
ii Billy Graham, I’m a Christian. Will I lose my salvation if I sin?, Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, [internet] <https://billygraham.org/answer/im-a-christian-will-i-lose-my-salvation-if-i-sin/> accessed 08-12-2022.
iii The Westminster Confession of Faith, XVII : 3 Of the Perseverance of the Saints, [internet] <https://westminsterstandards.org/westminster-confession-of-faith/> accessed 08-12-2022.