Once Saved, Always Saved?

“Don’t tell the kids that they can’t lose their salvation! They’ll live like the devil if you do.” Those words were spoken to me, by a venerable saint–one of my sweet, godly Sunday School teachers. He issued this warning after I had just finished teaching 3rd through 5th grade boys in our church Awana club. devilslittle.jpg

I had taught them about their security in God through Jesus. I had taught them a doctrine commonly known as ETERNAL SECURITY. It can be really unnerving when a man you respect calls into question your Bible teaching. Especially when you’re only 19 and he’s about 80.

I have thought about his comment over the years. Here’s where I’ve landed: I call this gentleman’s approach the SCARED STRAIGHT approach to Christian living and obedience. If the only way you can get people to follow Jesus is by scaring them with the threat of hell, then the whole gospel message is impotent.

scaredstraight.jpgI believe in Eternal Security. I believe in the idea, “Once Saved, Always Saved.” I also believe that it is this doctrine that really clarifies the true nature of the gospel as a gospel of grace. When people first hear about eternal security, their eye’s light up. It’s as if they really get the depths of the all-sufficiency of Christ’s death.

In this post I’ll define Eternal Security and distinguish it from related doctrines. In the next post I’ll defend it. I do want to say that there are godly Christians who sincerely seek to understand their Bibles on both sides of this issue, so I wouldn’t make this a prerequisite of friendship. But it is an amazing, life-changing teaching.

Here are some ways that other Bible teachers have defined Eternal Security:

  • Charles C. Ryrie. Eternal Security: The work of God which guarantees that the gift of God (salvation), once received, is possessed forever and cannot be lost.
  • Harry Ironside [for many years pastor at Moody Church]. When we speak of the eternal security of the believer, what do we mean? We mean that once a poor sinner has been regenerated by the Word and the Spirit of God, once he has received a new life and a new nature and has been made partaker of the divine nature, once he has been justified from every charge before the throne of God, it is absolutely impossible that that man should ever again be a lost soul.
  • R.T. Kendall [who succeeded Martyn Lloyd-Jones at Westminster Chapel, London]. We are not saying once saved, always obedient. We are not saying once saved, always perfect. We are not saying once saved always godly. It is once saved, always saved.

vault22.jpgOnce you cross the threshold into life with God, there’s no going back. You’re in God’s vault. Here’s my definition:

Eternal security means that God himself bears all the burden for you to be secure. Once you have, by faith, cast the burden of your salvation on the Lord, then God himself bears all the burden for you to stay secure forever. Your eternal destiny is forevemore out of your hands; it is in the hands of God. Bringing you safely home to heaven becomes his personal burden and responsibility.

That is Eternal Security. Here are a couple of supporting verses. DON’T go peppering me with opposing verses until after tomorrow’s blog, okay? I’m defining today, defending tomorrow. Thanks.

“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 created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38, 39, NKJV.

“Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.” Hebrews 7:25, NKJV.

““My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. “And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone 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 My Father’s hand.” John 10:27-29, NKJV.


Distinctions from Other Doctrines

There are other theological concepts related to Eternal Security that are not exactly the same.

ASSURANCE: Assurance refers to the level of your personal confidence in your salvation. It is you hearing and resting in the inner whisper of the Holy Spirit who tells you that you belong to God (“The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God,” Romans 8:16, NKJV.)

Sometimes you hear and respond to this inner witness, other times you don’t. Sometimes you feel confident, other times you don’t. Assurance comes and goes. Security does not–it is permanent. Assurance is subjective and experiential. Eternal Security is objective and a matter of faith and doctrine.

Assurance is God’s gift to his children when we live faithfully with him, and when we take him at his Word. Assurance grows stronger as you grow mature, and as you grow deeper in God’s word.

When a believer fails to grow, or fails to obey God, assurance can be lost (not salvation, not security, just assurance). You are forgiven, but you don’t feel forgiven: “For he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins.” 2 Peter 1:9, NKJV.

PERSEVERANCE: Perseverance is one of the central tenets of Calvinism. (It’s the P in TULIP). It teaches that once a person is saved, it is impossible for that person to abandon herself to sin, and to in a final, lasting way defect from the faith and turn her back on Jesus. This is different than what eternal security says.

  • Eternal security means that you are always saved no matter what.
  • Perseverance means that you will always stay and act and believe saved (apart from lapses into “grievous sins”) no matter what, and that it is your lifestyle that proves your salvation.

See the difference? John Murray describes it this way:

The doctrine of perseverance is the doctrine that believers persevere. . . . It is not at all that they will be saved irrespective of the their perseverance or their continuance, but that they will assuredly persevere. Consequently the security that is theirs is inseparable from their perseverance. Is this not what Jesus said? “He than endureth to the end, the same shall be saved.”

I am in sympathy with this doctrine when it is rightly formulated. The problem is when teachers imply that if you fall way from God, it proves that you were not or are not saved. Or when teachers imply that no one can be certain of his salvation–you’re always on edge until you die. These are mis-applications of the doctrine of perseverance.

The Westminster Catechism (Calvinistic) correctly affirms:

Nevertheless [believers] may, through the temptations of Satan and of the world, the prevalency of corruption remaining in them, and the neglect of the means of their preservation, fall into grievous sins; and for a time continue therein; 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, and bring temporal judgments upon themselves (sec. 3).

In other words, perseverance does not rule out the possibility that a Christian my fall into “grievous sins”. Understood this way, I’m on board.

I see Eternal Security as the larger doctrine, encompassing within it Perseverance. I know this contradicts the esteemed John Murray. But if you reverse it, you run the risk of legalism. Which comes first, security or perseverance? Answer: security. The logical sequence is:

  1. Eternal security (a gift from God, effective the moment of salvation)
  2. Perseverance (equally a gift of God, throughout the Christian life)
  3. Assurance (also a gift of God, though reserved for those who walk with God)

It is only because you are secure, that you can persevere (continue) living with Jesus until the end of your life. This does not rule out your ability to sin, or disobey, or do evil. It simply affirms that the indwelling life and power of Christ will be operative in you 24/7, and that if you resist him continually, you’ll crack up and break down. God will not let you be satisfied in a life of sin.

The moment that the burden of perseverance is conceptually shifted from the shoulders of God to the shoulders of the follower of God, it becomes legalism. It becomes a SCARED STRAIGHT approach to Christian behavior modification. The correct approach would be an appeal to follow Jesus NOT based on fear, but on grace:heavyload.jpg

“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.” Romans 12:1, NKJV.

The Bottom Line

The Bottom Line is Calvary! How much of the burden of salvation did Jesus bear on the cross–SOME OF IT? or ALL OF IT? (check one).

All of it! All of it! All of it! And I rest on him entirely. It’s not I’m holding onto him. He’s holding onto me, and he’ll never let me go.

Once saved, always saved. Thank God.

I’ll keep telling anybody who cares to listen.  Including the kids.  Even my kids.


10 thoughts on “Once Saved, Always Saved?

  1. Wow, thanks for blogging on the topic. I couple weekends ago we were going on this topic in the green room at church. I’ll share this post with those guys. Can’t wait to read the defending post.

  2. One of the most pithy descriptions I’ve heard was “how could you lose something you didn’t earn in the first place?”

  3. In particular, I appreciate the Judean Benediction in 24 and 25 as you probably do as well, which reads, “and to the one who is able to keep (or guard) you from stumbling and to place you with gladness as blameless before his glory, to the only God our Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord be glory, majesty, power and authority before all eternity, now, and for all eternity, amen” (my translation). Jesus Christ is on the look-out for us in order that he might present us as blameless in the end.

  4. It’s probably been said endlessly, well, maybe not, so here I go…I walked the fence line dividing the saved and unsaved of this world for many years because I’m hard to sell anything to! I attended church on and off and did so with a number of denominations. Some of the most religeous commited people were the one that kept me from joining in fully. Why? They had the walk and talk down but there was a lack of a practical and fulfilling relationship between them and the Lord. Between them and most anyone for that matter, anyone that didn’t see it all their way. When disaster struck my life ( death of my wife ), I found myself on my knees before a graceous God. A relationship formed that help dramatically with my understanding of Him and what He has for me to know. All the threats about hell I had heard did nothing to help me find relationship in my walk with the Lord. What threat ever does further a positive relationship? Grace is where it is ALL at, from the CROSS to you (and me! ). Blessings!! Somehow I just know ( scripture reassures it) that I’m secure in this arms! I KNOW WHAT JOY IS!

  5. I am squarely in the Once Saved Always Saved camp. As a former Roman Catholic, I struggled for years with the haunting fear that I wasn’t good enough, that there was somewhere I failed once-too-often, that there was something always hanging over my head evaluating whether I would make it to Heaven.

    What needless worry! What needless fear! As Lois Peterson used to say, “Did you ever notice that it’s only Christians who worry and fret over whether they’re saved? After all, unbelievers don’t give a hoot!”

    Of course I’m unworthy. Of course I’m not good enough. Of course I’ve failed. Etc Etc.

    But that is not the question. At the heart of the problem is that I’m putting emphasis on me and my performance, and not on the One Who did it all. It’s all about the question, “Did Jesus pay for ALL my sins?” The answer is YES! It’s all about Him, not me.

    When I run into those who think you can lose your salvation, I think of the following verses:

    Galatians 3:1 O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you?
    2This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?
    3Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?

    Yep, when we think we can lose our salvation, we are fallen into the error for which Paul rebuked the Galatians. “Having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect in the flesh?”

    No, no, a thousand times No! I am saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

    One last thought. Jesus said:

    John 10:27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me:
    28 And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.
    29 My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand.

    In verse 28, it says they shall NEVER perish. If you think you can lose your salvation, then what part of “NEVER” don’t you understand? LOL. Praise the Lord!

  6. Yea Bill! Yea God! I don’t think you’ll remember me, Bill – but I knew you through Lois et al back in the 70’s. I LOVE your blog! And Once Saved is a “hill I would die on” as Lois would say. I had the privilege of doing a funeral last week for a man who got saved shortly before he died. It was wonderful to be able to share that “God is not a cosmic sadist playing ‘hide and seek’ with you!” You’re not “in” today and “out” tomorrow, “good enough” today and “not good enough” tomorrow, “did enough today” but “didn’t do enough” tomorrow. And asking the congregation – “How will you ever know when “good enough” IS enough?” But John says, “These things I have written unto you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may KNOW that you have eternal life.” 1 John 5:13 “And this life is in His Son…” 1 Jn. 5:11 What is more thrilling?? “know” Strongs #1492 – “be aware, know, be sure, consider, look on, perceive” Know for sure the answer to this question – what can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus. amen

  7. Thanks, Bill, for such a clearly worded description of the doctrine of Eternal Security. I am curious: do you know the origin of the doctrine, insofar as it has been carefully formulated as you have done? The writers you quoted were all in the 20th century. Are you aware of any earlier writers who carefully laid out this doctrine?

  8. Hi there!

    I have really enjoyed this blog and used many of the comments in a debate on FaceBook. The only thing I have a problem with is your use of the NKJV. It actually supports the view you are opposing (works salvation)!!
    The NKJV says:
    1. we must have “faithfulness” instead of “faith”,
    2. difficult is the way
    3. we should “imitate” Christ ……..instead of following Him
    4. we are “being saved” ……instead of “are saved”
    5. demotes Jesus Christ and the Trinity
    6. promotes self-esteem / pride
    7. says to “boast” instead of “rejoice”
    8. totally changes meanings in God’s Word
    9. Copies Jehovah Witness’s bible
    10. promotes religious tolerance / one world religion
    11. their logo is the ancient symbol for the pagan trinity ….not the Christian
    trinity ….and is a number symbol (666) which can be seen on rock group
    albums and New Age Bestsellers.
    12. omits the word “Lord” 66 times
    13. omits the word “God” 51 times
    14. omits the word “heaven” 50 times
    15. omits the word “repent” 44 times
    16. omits the word “blood” 23 times
    17. omits the word “hell” 22 times
    18. omits the word “JEHOVAH”, “New Testament”, and “devils” entirely
    19. ….and much more!

    If you want something to go by, go to [deleted by the webmaster] and click on RESOURCES.

    God bless you and your stand for Him! I pray this will help you further!!!

    In His arms always……
    shelia moore
    Carthage, TX

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