A common question often asked among Christians is, “Do believe that once a person is saved they are always saved?” The question is in essence asking, “Is the state of being justified before God something that a person can have and then lose?” We’ll unpack the answer in the paragraphs that follow but, for an immediate response, and to help frame the discussion, let me say that from God’s perspective salvation is a concrete plan from all of eternity and executed in time; while, from man’s perspective, it can look as though a person once ‘had saving faith’ and then ‘lost saving faith.’ I think the key to understanding the answer to the question lies in first deciding which perspective will help you interpret the other. If you say, ‘I know brother so-in-so was saved and filled with the Holy Spirit’ you will probably come to the Scriptures with a presupposition geared towards that belief; however, if you look at the Scriptural teaching regarding predestination, election, salvation, and eternal security, your view of ‘brother so-in-so’ will most likely change and become less resolute.
What follows is an outline of some of the major points involved in coming to a Biblical conclusion to the aforementioned question.
1. Romans 8:30, Ephesians 1:4-6, and the Doctrine of Predestination.
Romans 8:30 reads, “Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.” From God’s perspective there is a ‘golden chain of salvation’ that is seen as complete and decided in eternity past. All whom God predestines end up being called, justified, and glorified.
Ephesians 1:4-6 is also helpful in this regard. There Paul wrote,
4 just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, 5 having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, 6 to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved.
God chose the redeemed before the foundation of the world (vs.4a) and predestined His own to the adoption as sons by Jesus Christ (vs.5a) to the praise of the glory of His grace (vs.6a). So again, for reasons found in the good pleasure of God’s will (vs.5b), we see God has planned the salvation of the redeemed from eternity past to be definitely completed in time.
2. Connecting Point One with the New Birth.
If it is agreed that salvation is the plan of God from eternity past (Eph. 1:4), executed in time (Rom 8:30a), and that the inevitable end of predestination is glorification (Rom 8:30b), then it would not make sense that God would grant someone new birth from above if He knew that someone was going to be ‘un-regenerated’ at a future time. Remember, according to John 1:13 the new birth is not according to the will of the flesh, nor the will of man, but of God. Furthermore, and this is important, when the Scripture speaks of a person being ‘born of God’ the clear implication is that they will overcome and cross the finish line in faith. As it is written, “For whatever is born of God overcomes the world” (1 Jn 5:4a); and again, “We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning”, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him” (1 Jn 5:18 ESV); and again, “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God” (1 Jn 3:9 ESV).
3. Understanding the Nature of Saving Faith.
One reason why many people hear the phrase ‘once saved always saved’ and shudder is because they have heard it referenced as an excuse, or license, for sin. That characterization is not an accurate one. Saving faith is of such a nature that the Christian begins to produce fruit (Gal 5:22-23; Mt 7:16), walks in the good deeds that accompany salvation (Jas 2:18; Eph 2:10), and does not live in a lifestyle of habitual sin (1 Jn 3:9; 5:18). The one who says, “I know Him” but does not do what God commands is a liar and the truth is not in him (1 Jn 2:4). Therefore, to say ‘once saved always saved means a person can live however they want and still be saved’ is a mischaracterization; a truly saved person is expected to walk in the light and bring forth evidence of salvation through a life of faith and obedience.
4. The Numerous Scriptures that Testify to the Believer’s Security.
Besides the previously mentioned points there are a number of Scriptures that unambiguously teach that a person who has been justified by faith in the person and work of Christ will be saved and not unjustified at a later point in time.
37 All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out. 38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. 39 This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day. 40 And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day. (Jn. 6:37-40)
27 My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. 28 And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. 29 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. (Jn. 10:27-29)
13 In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory. (Eph. 1:13-14)
6 being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ; (Phil. 1:6)
5 who [speaking of the elect, cf. 1 Pet. 1:2] are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. (Pet. 1:5)
19 They [speaking of former professing Christians] 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 they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us. (1 Jn. 2:19)
18 And the Lord will deliver me from every evil work and preserve me for His heavenly kingdom. To Him be glory forever and ever. Amen! (2 Tim. 4:18)
5. The Lack of Scriptural Evidence to the Contrary.
As you can see from the previous four points there is a tremendous amount of Biblical evidence, spread across various Christian doctrines, which support the reality of God keeping those whom He saves. Additionally, the texts that are often used to argue against eternal security either: (a) endorse eternal security (i.e. Hebrews 6:4-6, 6), or (b) do not contradict what the doctrine of eternal security teaches about the Christian life (see Point 3 again).
With that being said, the exhortation to conclude this teaching is two-fold: (1) may you be exhorted to grow in your ability to articulate why you believe what you believe. Many people have misconceptions about Christian doctrines because they have heard them explained erroneously or inaccurately. Lord willing, as we grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior we’ll become increasingly able to show how the doctrines of Scripture exist within a coherent system of God’s revelation. And (2), since many Christians struggle with this doctrine, may you be exhorted to lovingly and gently defend the doctrine of eternal security, pursuing love and peace among brethren to the glory of God. This doctrine is an important one; it glorifies God as the beginner and sustainer of salvation; but in contending for sound doctrine it is essential to, at the same time, pursue love among those brethren who are justified by faith alone in the person and work of Christ but struggle understanding a doctrine like this.