Once Saved Always Saved?
Once it is understood what the new birth actually means, and what the "incorruptible seed" in I Peter 1:23 is, the question arises as to whether one can lose that seed. Since the seed is the Word, it is incorruptible, but there is no guarantee that the Word will always remain in oneís heart, if he turns away from God and stops believing. We are saved by faith, but one must continue in faith until the end.
Another passage that many use to prove that a person is still saved no matter what he does afterward, is I Corinthians 3:15, which says that "If any manís work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire." I was taught that this verse meant that as long as a person is saved, whatever works he does after that are "building on the foundation" and if he does bad works, they are "wood, hay, and stubble" and are burnt, but he himself is saved. But that is not what the context of this section is talking about.
In this chapter, Paul is talking about planting the Word and building on the foundation of the Gospel that others may have started. If a manís work (of planting the Gospel) is destroyed, he shall suffer loss, but he himself shall be saved. It is talking about the work of building a Church body. Itís not about the works a person does in his life after he is saved, and whether or not they affect his salvation.
As pointed out elsewhere on this site, in order to get the whole truth about a subject, we have to consider all the Scriptures that deal with that subject. There are many Scriptural references to being secure in Godís love and power as one continues to believe in and trust God. But what of those who turn away? As long as we continue in the faith, we will not come under Godís wrath, we will not be separated from the love of God, we are anointed and sealed with Godís spirit, our life is hidden with Christ in God, etc. But we must also consider the verses which refer to the possibility of not completing the course.
I Corinthians 10:1-14 tells about how the children of Israel turned to idolatry so soon after being delivered out of Egypt. Just as they could turn away, we are warned of the same possibility. The whole purpose for Paul bringing up their example is given in verses 11 & 12, "Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come. Wherefore [for this reason] let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall."
Chapter 15 of I Corinthians also uses conditional language in verses 1 & 2. "Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved [literally "you are being saved"], if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain." In one sense we are already saved, because of Christís completed work. But in another sense we are "being saved" - an ongoing process. It will be completed when Christ returns and we are granted immortality. But it is not unconditional; it says "if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you..." The NASB words it, "...if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain." There is nothing in the Bible that says that one could never reject salvation once it has been given. We must continue to hold fast to our faith.
Paul uses similar language in other passages as well. I Thessalonians 3:8 says, "For now we live, if ye stand fast in the Lord," implying that he will be unhappy if they do not stand fast. II Timothy 2:12-13 says, "if we suffer ["endure," according to most other English versions], we shall also reign with him: if we deny him, he also will deny us: If we believe not, yet he abideth faithful: he cannot deny himself."
Peter also speaks of the possibility of falling. "Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall" (II Peter 1:10). If we are exhorted to give diligence to make it sure, so that we donít fall, then it must be possible for our calling and election to be unsure. God is sure, of course, but if we turn away from Him by our free will, He doesnít force us. Hebrews 6:11 says, "And we desire that every one of you do shew the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end." The fact that the writer desires this shows that it is possible not to show the same diligence, and therefore not remain faithful till the end.
Keeping the faith is not salvation by works, though. It is always by grace through faith. However, we must be diligent to maintain that faith in the face of the adversities around us which are constantly tempting us to forsake our faith. The Christian life is like a race ("Let us run with patience the race that is set before us" - Hebrews 12:1; "Now is our salvation nearer than when we believed" - Romans 13:11). We must continue and not faint, looking unto the goal. It is not how we begin the race, but how we end it that counts.
It is often argued that those who truly turn away from Christ were not a part of the family of God to begin with. Those who hold this view refer to I John 2 as proof.
Of the "antichrists" mentioned in this passage, John said "They went out from us, but they were not of us..." This was evidently true of those people to whom John was referring, but this is not the only mention of people who turn away. There are other scriptures to be considered as well. Truly Godís will is for all who profess faith in Christ to continue until the end. But there are some passages that indicate that this will not always be the case.
The parable of the sower refers to two kinds of soil in which growth began but was interrupted. Notice they are not the same as the wayside where the seed never took root.
Those that received the seed in the stony ground and the thorny ground both received the Word. They believed for a while, but then fell away, one because of tribulation, the other because of the deceitful cares of the world. But it does not say that they never really believed.
Hebrews 7:25 says, "Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them." And in Romans 8:38-39 Paul wrote of how nothing can separate us from Godís love which is in Christ Jesus. But Paul also wrote in I Corinthians 15:2 that by the Gospel we are being saved, with the condition, "if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain." Notice it doesnít say that if you donít keep the Gospel in memory, then you never really believed. It says, "unless ye have believed in vain." He wrote to Timothy that "...if we deny him, he also will deny us" (II Timothy 2:12). Notice he says "we" and "us." This is not just addressed to those who never really believed.
In Philippians 1:6 Paul said he was confident "that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ." He said that it was only right to think this of them, because they were in his heart, and he went on (in verses 7-10) to describe how greatly he longed after them and prayed for them that they would "approve things that are excellent" and that they "may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ." He was confident that in the case of these believers God would keep them till the end, since he knew their heart of faithfulness. This does not say, however, that "He which hath begun a good work in anybody will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ." Not everyone who believes the Gospel will continue to hold fast to it, as Paul wrote about in I Corinthians and II Timothy (above).
It is true that God continues to work with and in a person to make sure he does not fall away. It is also true that genuine believers persevere in the faith, not by their own strength but by the power of God. In his prayer in John 17, Christ prayed that we might be kept and none be lost. Jesus prayed that prayer because that is his will, as well as the Fatherís will, as he states in John 6:39. Why would he pray that God would "keep them" unless it were possible that some could be lost? There are exhortations in the Scripture to continue in the faith, which is part of how God helps us to continue. Why would such exhortations be needed unless there was a possibility that one might not continue in the faith? There is a possibility, and God does everything short of overstepping oneís free will to prevent it.
Christians can "backslide" and even fall into grievous sin. When they do this they grieve the holy Spirit by which they are sealed. (Notice that the Bible says that we are sealed with the holy spirit. It doesnít say the holy spirit is sealed in us, as I have seen incorrectly quoted.) When they fall into sin and grieve Godís spirit, the Word and the Spirit of God will convict them, and urge them to repent and live a life that pleases God. In most cases a believer will respond and repent. But we are warned that there will be some who get to the point where they are no longer receptive to the spirit.
Notice it does not say that they never truly believed. It says that they will "depart from the faith." They do so when they give heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of demons. We are warned about this because it is a possibility, and we must be wary of giving heed to such doctrines and ideas. This is why we are exhorted to "give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall" (II Peter 1:10).
Jesusí sheep hear his voice, and he knows them and they follow him. If they choose to follow him he will raise them up on the last day and give them eternal life so that they shall never perish. No man can pluck them out of His hand, but that does not say that they cannot be deceived into choosing to leave His hand. We are warned about such deception throughout the Bible, and we must hold fast to the truth to avoid it. As long as we continue to hold fast to the Gospel (of the Kingdom of God), and consent to the wholesome words of Jesus Christ, we will persevere and be given eternal life when the Lord returns. But until that time we are to "shew the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end" (Hebrews 6:11).
People who believe in "Once Saved, Always Saved" take offence at the notion that a Christian could "lose their salvation." However, the Bible doesnít refer to losing oneís salvation, because although we are being saved through the Gospel now, the ultimate end of salvation is described as something that will come with the return of Christ.
I Peter 1:3-9 refers to the past reality of Christís resurrection, the hope reserved in heaven of a future inheritance, and the present state of being kept by Godís power through faith, unto the future salvation. There are past, present, and future aspects of our salvation. †In I Corinthians 1:18 and II Corinthians 2:15, where it says we "are saved" it is actually a participle in Greek and better translated, we "are being saved," as it is rendered in more modern versions, including the NASB.
So when someone turns away, he is not said to "lose" his salvation, since salvation is not something that he fully has yet. When we believe the Gospel, we receive the Word in our hearts, and the spirit begins a regenerating process. This process, when complete, will result in eternal life in the Age to Come. We have the incorruptible seed, which is the Word (I Peter 1:23), but it doesnít say that we are incorruptible.
We hold that Word, the Gospel, in our hearts, and it is the seed (as Jesus spoke of in the parable of the sower) which grows and bears fruit in us. Ultimately we will be given eternal life at the resurrection, but until then, there is no unconditional guarantee that a person will enter the Kingdom just because he had one moment of faith. Like the parable of the sower's seed, he could get distracted by pleasures or pressures, and he could even get deceived by false teachers. This is why the New Testament exhorts believers to continue in the faith, and hold it steadfast till the end.
In the same chapter in which John spoke of the "antichrists" who "went out from us, but were not of us" he gave the exhortation, "Let that therefore abide in you, which ye have heard from the beginning. If that which ye have heard from the beginning shall remain in you, ye also shall continue in the Son, and in the Father. And this is the promise that he hath promised us, even eternal life" (I John 2:24-25). Again, we see the condition, if the Gospel remains in you, you shall continue, and the promise (which we have not yet received) is eternal life.
The writer of Hebrews also uses conditional language in chapter 3.
The next verse begins with "wherefore," or "for this reason." It goes on to remind the reader of the children of Israel who hardened their hearts in the wilderness, for which reason it says they did not enter into His rest.
The "wherefore" in verse 7 is followed by the parenthesis of verses 7-11. †The parenthesis is specifically referring to the Old Testament, and the writer then (verse 12) picks up the thought of the "wherefore" (which referred back to the conditional phrase in verse 6), i.e., ďWhereforeÖ take heed.Ē This warning is addressed to "brethren." He compares the Israelites' failure with the possibility of our failure, and exhorts them to take heed, as Paul did in I Corinthians 10:11-12, above. †Verses 12-14 warn Christian brethren of the possibility of departing from God, not just having never really been His to begin with. And again, conditional language is used.
This is an important warning that we should express to our brethren so they donít get deceived, or become complacent and think that steadfast faith until the end is not required as long as they believed once. We are saved by grace through faith, but not a one-time moment of faith. We must continue in the faith until the end when our salvation will be complete.