Debunking “Once-Saved, Always Saved”
This doctrine teaches that salvation can never be lost, despite the lifestyle you lead or the actions you take–even if it means denying Jesus and turning your back on Him. This view is based on Romans 8 and John 10 which in summary state that nothing can separate us from the love of God, and that Jesus’ sheep have eternal life and no one can pluck them out of His hand.
For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified…neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.Romans 8:29-30,39
I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.John 10:28-29
This belief also affirms the emphasis on the perseverance of the saints, which means that any true believer will not choose to turn away from the Lord. Therefore, if anyone chooses to walk away from the Lord, it signifies they were never truly saved. The basis for that teaching is found in 1 John 2, which states that those who left the church were never really a part of it.
They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.1 John 2:19
This theological stance is very controversial amongst Christians. There are well-respected theologians and pastors on both sides of this issue. I also have dear friends who differ from me on this topic.
What The Bible Teaches
1. The Bible teaches that salvation is by grace, not by works.
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.Ephesians 2:8
We are not saved by doing good works and we don’t maintain our salvation by doing good works. God’s divine grace saves and sustains us. The grace of God saves but it also teaches us to deny sin.
For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people.Titus 2:11,12
Paul, the grace teacher, writes that while we are not saved by good works we are saved to do good works.
For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.Ephesians 2:10
You are not saved by good works. You are saved for good works.
2. Born-again believers have an assurance of their salvation.
Having an assurance of salvation is different from having evidence of salvation. The evidence of salvation is manifested through changes in a person’s conduct and character. The new birth produces a new nature which results in a new lifestyle. We are confident that we are saved based on the promises of God, not on our subjective experience, feelings, or moods at any given time. We shouldn’t live in fear and doubt about the certainty of our salvation! We see in 1 John 5, that those who have the Son have eternal life. Believing in Jesus guarantees us eternal life.
And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.1 John 5:11-13
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.John 3:16
The evidence of salvation is a changed life, but the assurance of salvation is the unchanging Word of God.
3. There is plenty of evidence that suggests that it’s possible for believers to willfully turn away from their faith in Jesus Christ.
God gives us the choice to accept Him or reject Him. It’s evident in the words: “whoever believes” found in John 3:16. But, we don’t lose our free will once we surrender to the preaching of the Gospel and to the Holy Spirit who leads us to repent and turn to Christ. Salvation is not an irreversible decision! Giving your life to Christ is not like joining a Colombian cartel with no chance of getting out. You can renounce your citizenship if you live in the USA. If you’re married you can break the covenant of marriage with your spouse. I am not saying that you would want to renounce your salvation, but you can. You’re not trapped.
We need to remember that the New Testament letters were written to Christians who trusted in God’s grace and salvation through Christ Jesus. Here are a few verses that suggest that genuine believers can willfully turn away from their faith and forfeit their salvation.
“It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, if they FALL AWAY, to be brought back to repentance, because to THEIR LOSS they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.”Hebrews 6:4-6
The epistle of Hebrews was written to Jewish believers who had put their faith in Jesus Christ as their Messiah and Savior. They came under pressure and persecution to return to the synagogue and the Jewish religion. During this, some capitulated and turned away from Christ. They returned to Judaism which refutes the Gospel’s message of salvation–redemption exclusively through faith in Christ’s sacrifice of blood on the cross. This passage especially speaks to them.
• Once been enlightened by the gospel.
• Tasted the heavenly gift of eternal life.
• Tasted the good Word of God about New Covenant truths.
• Tasted the powers of the age to come–the future kingdom age when Christ returns.
• Been partakers of the Holy Spirit.
But now, they had fallen away, having been pressured to return to Judaism by denying Christ Jesus. They had fallen away by apostasy, renouncing their faith in Christ. They put Him to open shame. It was a recantation or desertion, and once they did that, it was impossible to renew themselves again to repentance. No matter how much you try to bend these verses, it’s pretty clear here that it’s talking about believers.
“Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will DEPART from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons.”1 Timothy 4:1
You can’t depart from the faith if you were never in the faith. And, we know that some will depart in the last days. If you don’t believe this to be true, look up how many notable Christians have left the Christian faith, renounced their belief in Jesus Christ, and became atheists just in the last 10 years. To say that they were never believers would be a huge stretch and to say that they are still saved after disclaiming their faith would be a greater stretch.
“Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will TURN AWAY from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.”Matthew 24:9-13
It was Jesus who said that when times get hard people will turn away from their faith. This was evident during the persecution in the communist Soviet Union. The Soviet police would offer to spare your life if you would openly deny Christianity and report your Christian brothers to the communist party. Even to this day, the Chinese and other communist governments persecute Christian believers in the same way.
If you can remain saved after denying Jesus, then why did Jesus ask us to stand firm until the end?
“Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now He has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation– IF indeed you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.”Colossians 1:21-23
Did you see the word if in Paul’s statement? According to this verse, we are to continue in our faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel. Some, however, decide willingly to depart from the faith, which is why Paul addressed the conditional phrase if, following the truth about our reconciliation by Christ’s physical body.
“…But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but be afraid. For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either. Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in His kindness. Otherwise, you also will be CUT OFF.”Romans 11:20-22
Using the example of the Israelite nation and how they were cut off due to unbelief, Paul argues that we, non-Jews, are saved by faith and we should continue in His kindness or else we will be cut off as well. Why warn about the possibility if it’s not possible for believers to be cut off?
“See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that TURNS AWAY from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first.”Hebrews 3:12-14
The writer of Hebrews addresses brothers who might harbor sinful, unbelieving hearts that may turn away from the living God. Once again, he affirms that we share and enjoy security in Christ if we hold firmly until the end.
“Timothy, my son, I give you this instruction in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by following them you may fight the good fight, HOLDING ON to faith and a good conscience. Some have rejected these and so have shipwrecked their faith. Among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme.”1 Timothy 1:18-20
Paul is talking about two believers who have shipwrecked their faith. Faith is like a ship that gets us from point A to point B, but that ship can be wrecked. Do you remember the Titanic? You can choose to jump off the ship if you want to, but it’s better to stay in the lifeboat.
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. IF a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is THROWN AWAY and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into THE FIRE and burned.”John 15:1-6
An alternate translation of the second verse (the Passion translation) is that He lifts up every branch that is barren. The branches He throws away in verse 6 are those that don’t abide in the vine. Someone can try to use logic with this illustration and say: well branches can’t possibly choose to not abide, but according to Jesus, it is possible. Verse 5 says that we, human beings with free will, are the branches. We can’t use human logic to try and explain spiritual truths. We have to let the Word of God educate our understanding, not let our understanding try to educate God’s Word.
“You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.”Galatians 5:4
The word “estranged” means “separated” and “alienated.” This verse teaches that the one who attempts to justify himself by the law of Moses has become separated from Christ and has lost the benefits of Christ’s grace, which includes salvation.
“Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins.”James 5:19-20
This starts with the word “brethren,” so we can know that this was written to saved Christians. James then continues, “If anyone among you,” signifying that this statement is regarding other Christians. He stated that a Christian can wander from the truth! He also said that if a faithful, Christian servant were to turn a backslidden Christian back to God, he would be bringing back a child of God who was classified as a lost sinner. And what does the text say that this faithful believer would do? He would SAVE A SOUL FROM DEATH! James was not referring to physical death here; rather, he was referring to spiritual death! So, here’s a good question for those who subscribe to the “Once Saved, Always Saved” theory:
How can we save another Christian’s soul from death (eternal separation from God), if at one point that person was considered saved and assumed to always be saved?
4. John Wesley who summarized the “once saved, always saved” teaching infers or presumes that somehow:
- No virgin’s lamp can go out…(Matthew 25:8)
- No promising harvest can be choked with thorns…(Matthew 13:7)
- No branch in Christ can ever be cut off for not abiding…(John 15:6)
- No forgiveness can ever be forfeited… (Matthew 18:32)
- No name can be blotted out of God’s book…(Revelation 3:5; Exodus 32:33)
- No salt can ever lose its flavor…(Matthew 5:13)
“Once Saved, Always Saved,” says that nobody can ever:
- “Receive the grace of God in vain”… (2 Corinthians 6:1)
- “Bury [their] talents”…(Matthew 25:18)
- “Neglect such great salvation”… (Hebrews 2:3)
- “Look back” after putting [their] hand to the plow… (Luke 9:62)
- Nor “deny the Lord that bought them” and “brings upon themselves swift destruction” (2 Peter 2:1)
- Nobody, or body of believers, can ever get so lukewarm that Jesus will spew them out of His mouth… (Revelation 3:16)
“Once Saved, Always Saved” will argue that:
- If you are lost, you were never found (John 17:12)
- If one falls, he was never standing (Romans 11:16-22; Hebrews 6:4-6)
- If one was ever “cast forth,” he was never in, and “if one ever withered,” he was never attached to the vine and once green (John 15:1-6)
- “If any man draws back,” proves that he never had anything to draw back from (Hebrews 10:38,39)
- If one ever “falls away into spiritual darkness,” he was never enlightened (Hebrews 6:4-6)
- If you “again get entangled in the pollution of the world,” it shows that you never escaped (2 Peter 2:20)
- If you “put salvation away” you never truly had it (Hebrews 10:35; Psalms 51:11)
- If you make a shipwreck of your faith, there was no ship of faith there, to begin with!! (1 Timothy 1:19)
5. 1 John 2 which deals with antichrists, not backsliders, is used to argue that if you “lost” your salvation, it means you never had it.
“Little children, it is the last hour; and as you have heard that the Antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come, by which we know that it is the last hour. They 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 John 2:18-19
It’s true that there are false conversions of people who are carrying the spirit of the antichrist. It is also true that when the sower sowed a seed only 1 out of 4 types of soils produced a good harvest.
Not everyone who comes to the front of the church or raises their hand to pray the sinner’s prayer is born again. But to say that every person who walks away from Christ is an antichrist and was never saved is a huge stretch. Plenty of verses we covered already prove otherwise.
6. The logic of “once saved, always saved” is very flawed at best.
For example, they say, “once you are born again, you can’t be unborn” and therefore you can’t lose your salvation. But there are many spirit beings who were once children of God. For instance, there were angelic beings like Lucifer and the others who took part in his rebellion and are now outside of God’s family. The Bible often uses the picture of a family and marriage to illustrate the spiritual reality of belonging to God. But, everyone knows that you can disown your own family, and even divorce your spouse.
Another logical reasoning is that salvation is eternal, but if you can lose it then it means salvation is only temporary. As I mentioned before, nowhere does the Bible hint that it is impossible to renounce or forfeit our salvation once we have received it. The Scriptures are clear–a believer can backslide, a coin can get lost, sheep can go astray, and a son can become prodigal. A backslider is on dangerous ground and needs to be challenged to repentance, lest his backsliding leads to apostasy. We can also consider Judas Iscariot, who was a part of the inner circle of Jesus but ended up betraying Him and committing suicide.
7. Christians can’t lose their salvation but they can willfully choose to forfeit their salvation by walking away from the Lord.
We are convinced that true believers will enjoy the assurance of their salvation. We need not be afraid of losing our salvation like a wallet dropping from a pocket in a careless moment. The Scriptures assure us as believers of God’s provision and of the sustaining power of His Holy Spirit. Acknowledging that there is a real danger in backsliding and that we are able to abandon our salvation, does not mean that we should live in continual fear of doing the unthinkable.
For instance, a passenger flying on a plane is guaranteed to reach his destination. They will arrive at their destination safely unless they choose to do something crazy like open the cabin door and jump out. Forfeiting salvation is like jumping out of an airplane.
“My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. They shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.”John 10:27
The very promise that is argued in favor of “eternal security” is not unconditional but conditional! Those who are given the promise of eternal life are those who “hear His voice and follow.” Indeed, no one can snatch them out of Jesus’ hand, but they themselves can place themselves outside of His hand.
Christians can’t lose their salvation, but they can willfully choose to forfeit their salvation.
8. Christians don’t lose their salvation by struggling with temptation and sin but by practicing lawlessness.
There is a huge difference here between struggling with sin and living in sin.
“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I NEVER knew you; depart from Me, you who PRACTICE lawlessness!’“Matthew 7:21-23
Here, Jesus refers to evildoers whom He never knew; they are not among those who got saved and then walked away from Him. They were never saved. Look at their state: they practice lawlessness. Practice is what our church’s worship team does to get better at singing. When you practice something, you desire to get better at doing it.
Christians don’t practice sin, they struggle with sin.
“If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are AGAIN entangled in it and overcome, they are WORSE off at the end than they were at the beginning. It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them.”2 Peter 2:20-21
If a believer continually, deliberately, willfully, and knowingly practices living a sinful lifestyle, they place themselves on ‘dangerous ground’.
“If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of JUDGMENT and of raging FIRE that will consume the enemies of God. Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?”Hebrews 10:26-31
9. If a Christian can lose their salvation, that means that the Holy Spirit can be taken away.
God took His Spirit away from king Saul, even though Saul, in the beginning, was counted among the prophets, prophesied, and spoke in tongues (see 1 Kings 10:9-13 & 16:14). Another Scripture points out that King David, in repentance, cried out to God to not take His Spirit from him.
Do not banish me from your presence, and don’t take your Holy Spirit from me.Psalms 51:11
Paul writes in Ephesians 1 that after we believed in Christ, God sealed us “with that Holy Spirit of promise.”
In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise. The Spirit is God’s guarantee that He will give us the inheritance He promised and that He has purchased us to be His own people. He did this so we would praise and glorify him.Ephesians 1:13,14
The word “sealed” does not mean to be stuck in or sealed inside. It means to be “marked” or stamped with a private signet indicating ownership. But Paul also writes in Ephesians,
“Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.”Ephesians 4:30
The Scriptures consistently teach us that man has the power of freely choosing between life and death, and God will never violate that power. A true believer can willfully choose to apostatize, reject God’s grace, and forfeit their salvation. We are safe and secure in Jesus but, if we ultimately reject Him, we forfeit our secure standing in Him. Nonetheless, we can rest assured that God’s grace, which saved us in the first place, is ever-present to warn, check, encourage, and sustain us.
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