What is once saved always saved?
by Matt Slick
"Once saved always saved" is the position that when a person becomes a Christian he can never lose his salvation. The debate on this teaching has been raging within Christian circles for centuries. Many believe it is possible to lose one's salvation, while others believe it is not. Both use the Bible to support their beliefs.
CARM's position is that salvation cannot be lost. We believe we are secure in Christ, not because of our ability and faithfulness, but because of God's. We believe that Christ paid for all of our sins: past, present, and future. Otherwise we could not be redeemed. It would make no sense to say that Christ paid for "all" of a person's sins (past, present, and future) so he could be saved, if ultimately the person is going to end up in hell. Were all of this is paid for or not? If so, how can you go to hell? And, if he loses salvation, do all of his past sins return turned to him? Or, are all the previous sins wiped away and only the sins associated with unbelief and rejection of God retained so that the person ends up damned? Would his damnation be less than before since various sins have been removed and only a few remained? It makes no sense.
Furthermore, Colossians 2:14 says, "[Jesus] having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us and which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross." The "certificate of debt" is a single Greek word, keirogaphon, which means a handwritten IOU of legal indebtedness. But notice that the certificate of debt is canceled on the cross, not when a person believes. This is critically important in this topic because if the sin debt (some people say it is the Mosaic law) is canceled on the cross, then the sin debt's cancelling does not depend upon the person's accepting or rejecting it and then it become cancelled; otherwise, it would not be canceled on the cross. So, if it's canceled on the cross then it's canceled by the work of God, and God will infallibly apply to the redeemed that debt cancellation - when they have faith. If it means that a person ultimately will go to hell by losing his salvation, then how has the sin debt actually been canceled at the cross?
What about those verses that suggest you can lose your salvation?
We see the verses that appear to imply that a saved person can be lost as being generic warnings to groups of people. We find no place in Scripture where an individual is said to have lost his salvation. But we do find warnings about enduring, being cut-off, falling from grace, etc., that are spoken to groups of people where believers and unbelievers are included. This is exactly what you would expect to find if the apostles were speaking to a mixture of people who were both believers and unbelievers. When they would speak to groups, not individuals, they would give general warnings. So, we find no Scripture that says any individual ever loses his or her salvation.
While we could examine verses like Hebrews 6:4-6; 10:26 or Matthew 24:13, it is beyond the scope of this article to analyze them in detail. Instead, there is a simple principle that we apply when discussing this issue. When we have a set of verses on a particular topic like salvation, and some of the verses can be interpreted only one way and other verses can be interpreted two ways, then it is necessary to interpret the verses that can have two interpretations in a manner consistent with the verses that can only have one. With that having been said, let's look at some verses that, in our opinion, can only be understood in one way: that we cannot lose our salvation.
- John 6:39, "And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day."
- Does Jesus always do the will of the Father? Of course he does. Jesus always does that which is pleasing to the Father (John 8:29). He said it is the will of the Father that Jesus lose none. So, if Jesus always does the will of the Father, then it is necessary to conclude that Jesus will not lose anyone. This demonstrates once saved, always saved.
- If someone were to say that the will of the Father is not always done because not all people are saved, then he has misread the text. It does not say that the will of the Father is that all be saved, but that all who have been given to Jesus would not be lost.
- John 10:27-28, "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; 28 and I give eternal life to them, and they shall never perish; and no one shall snatch them out of My hand."
- As we can see in this verse, as well as John 6:39 above, no one removes us from God's hand because Jesus will lose none.
- However, some people say we can snatch ourselves out of Jesus' hand. But this is impossible, because that would mean Jesus lost some - which we know cannot happen because Jesus always accomplishes the will of the Father (John 6:39; 8:29).
- Hebrews 13:5, "Let your character be free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, 'I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you.'”
- If it is possible to lose one's salvation, then it is also necessary that God desert and forsake people in order for them to be lost. But, since God says he will never leave us or forsake us, then how is it possible for a person to be forsaken of God and thus lose his salvation?
- 1 John 2:19, "They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, in order that it might be shown that they all are not of us."
- John the apostle is speaking of antichrists, false teachers in the church. His generic statement that those who are of God will stay is compelling. Antichrists will never stay in the church because they are false, and because they were never saved to begin with. After all, it says those who are of him will remain. Antichrists are not of God, and that is why they do not remain.
I believe that the above Scriptures, and others like them, demonstrate that all who are truly believers can never lose thier salvation. However, I need to make it clear that "once saved always saved" does not mean that all who profess to be Christians are actually Christians. It means that all who are actually regenerated, who are actually saved, will never lose their salvation.
Is Once Saved, Always Saved a license to sin?
No, once saved always saved is not a license to sin. Just because a person is secure in the work of Christ does not mean he will desire to go live sinfully. Anyone who would do that is a liar.
1 John 2:4, "The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him."
The apostle clearly tells us that anyone who says he has come to know Christ, and yet goes out and willingly sins, is a liar. This means he is saying one thing and doing another. He says he believes in and follows Christ, but he does not act like it. Obviously, such a person is not really a Christian. Why? Because along with salvation there is regeneration. Regeneration is the change in the person from being enslaved to sin to serving God, from being dead in his sins to alive in Christ. This is what it means to be born again (John 3:3) and to be made a new creature (2 Corinthians 5:17). It means we were crucified with Christ (Romans 6:6), and in so doing have also died to sin.
Romans 6:1-2, "What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace might increase? 2 May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?"
So, when people accuse Christians who affirm that salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, as a license to go out and sin, they are misrepresenting the position and bearing false witness against it. Furthermore, they are ignoring the fact that true Christians are also regenerate which motivates them to stop sinning, to war against their sin, and to honor God.
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