Q&A: "Once Saved, Always Saved"

"Once Saved, Always Saved"

Question

Do you believe in "once saved, always saved"?

Answer

We believe an elect person is eternally saved in God’s saving grace. Once a person is regenerated by the work of the Spirit, it can never and will never be undone or reversed. As Paul wrote, “For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable” (Rom. 11:29).

However, this phrase has been somewhat abused because it has been used to shelter purposeful sin or, in other words, "I’m saved so I can live any way I want too and the more I sin the more grace will abound to me." This thinking is basically what is known as antimonianism, asserting that the saved aren't bound to obey God's moral laws. (And like Judas Iscariot, not everyone who professes Christ possesses him.) However, Paul is clear about this: "What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!" (Rom. 6:14; cf. Rom. 6:2). Christians are made alive in Christ (Eph. 2:4-5). They belong to him. They don’t sin more and more, but consider themselves dead to sin and detest it (Rom. 6:11). So, as believers continue to grow in grace and truth they increasingly hate sin even more. They put off the old man more and more (Eph. 4:22) and are continually conformed to the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29; Eph. 4:23-24). True believers hate sin. They flee from it. They kill it.

This said, there is a larger problem with someone saying "once saved, always saved" in that it suggests they believe man can contribute to his own salvation by his own free will. This is called synergism, which means it is a combination of forces or a combined force (God man) that accomplishes salvation. Such a person would also normally embrace prevenient grace (see below). But these beliefs fail to understand that prior to regeneration (new life) a person is spiritually dead in trespasses and sin (Eph. 2:1-3). Dead is dead! Spiritually dead people can’t choose anything! No one can believe the gospel (Rom. 8:7-8) until they are regenerated, which is an act of God alone. Moreover, if man contributed to his own regeneration, he can also lose it. Therefore, synergism embraces total insecurity and is a complete distortion of the gospel message of Christ.

We believe the phrase “perseverance of the saints” is more accurate. Why? Eternal security is God’s continual work in us and begins the very day a person believes in Jesus (John 3:36). It’s a present tense possession (John 4:14; 5:24; 6:27, 40, 47) and is eternal, meaning forever and ever. God began it in us and will complete it in us — “For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13) so he may “equip [us] with everything good that [we] may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen” (Heb. 13:21).

Moreover, the phrase “perseverance of the saints” emphasizes God’s love and work in choosing and saving us (Eph. 1:4-6). It is by what God has done, is doing, and will do that the elect shall absolutely persevere. Paul is so sure of this fact that he uses the Greek word edoxasen in Romans 8:30. This word is an aorist indicative indicating something that has already been accomplished in the past. In other words, every single genuine believer, without exception, will be glorified. Paul tells us nothing shall separate us from the love of God (Rom. 8:35-39).

In the Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 17, “Of the Perseverance of the Saints,” we have a more complete definition:

They, whom God hath accepted in His Beloved, effectually called and sanctified by His Spirit, can neither totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace; but shall certainly persevere therein to the end, and be eternally saved.

This perseverance of the saints depends not upon their own free will, but upon the immutability of the decree of election, flowing from the free and unchangeable love of God the Father; upon the efficacy of the merit and intercession of Jesus Christ; the abiding of the Spirit, and of the seed of God within them; and the nature of the covenant of grace: from all which ariseth also the certainty and infallibility thereof.

Nevertheless, they 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.

Please see the notes below for further discussion.

Related Topics

How can I be seated with Christ in the heavenly places if I'm still sitting upon the earth?
Antinomianism: We are Not Set Free to Sin
Free sin?
What is Evanescent Grace?
Prevenient Grace

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill).