Once saved always saved

Once Saved Always Saved… Maybe

In Christian RealTalk, Tough Questions by Antwuan Malone

Some of the most lively conversations I’ve had with Christians come from the question, once saved always saved?

It’s a subject, like many here at Candid Christianity, that’s hard to cover in a little blog. Truly giving it the consideration it needs leads us into fundamental conversation about God and his motives, grace and it’s purpose, and the definition of salvation.

The popular Bible verses used to support the once saved, not always saved view are:

  • “For if we sin willfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remains no more sacrifice for sins.”  Hebrews 10:26
  • For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them. But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire. 2 Peter 2:21,22.
  • “Those by the way side are they that hear; then cometh the devil, and taketh away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved. They on the rock are they, which, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, which for a while believe, and in time of temptation fall away.” Luke 8:12, 13.

Strong passages. They certainly seem to support the idea that salvation can be lost. Now, we  could address each of these verses, but we don’t have the time to do it. However, a different passage, Hebrews 6:4-6 presents the most convincing argument. Let’s look at that one for a second.

For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.

That one’s a doozy.

False Start

The issue is how to deal with sin after salvation. Which, to me, means we must begin by defining salvation. I’ll admit to my disenchantment with verbiage like “salvation” and “saved” because I think it caters to our sinful survivor nature. The emphasis of salvation from Hell, while certainly true, has created a generation of Christians who see salvation as survival rather than surrender. In other words, many (so-called) Christians have decided following Jesus simply helps keep them from Hell.

I don’t believe salvation is meant to be received that way.

The gospel of grace, while good news to us because of  Jesus’ payment of our sin, is only good news because of the opportunity it affords us to choose to be near God. And as the scriptures indicate, in order to draw nearest to God, we must be ready to surrender all. If Jesus showed us nothing else on the cross, he showed us that salvation is the result of sacrificing our lives to God — picking up our crosses to lead a life driven by Him. Salvation is not simply a decision we make to escape Hell. That’s a selfish decision. God calls us to be selfless.

This is important because I believe many Christians, should they interrogate themselves about their “salvation,” might find they are driven by selfish motives (surviving/escaping Hell) rather than selfless motives. And if that is the case, there is no reason to believe such selflessness will cease now that you think you are on the other side of eternity. Said more simply, many who profess Christianity may not be Christians after all. So maybe the real question is not can you lose your salvation, but rather were you ever really “saved” to begin with.

Survival is not the only misapplied motive to so-called salvation. Works (doing what we think will make God happy) is perhaps an equally shared motivation of many so-called Christians. Saying the prayer, coming to church, singing in the choir, giving to the poor — these are all actions some Christians think makes God happy. And they are right. But doing such works will never qualify us to be “saved.” Again, the reason Romans 10:9 says “if you confess with your mouth,” is because doing so in Roman society at that time was  risky. A public profession could very well mean your life, and thus, making a public confession revealed faith in, trust in, and surrender to God. It was not a good to-do item in God’s How-To-Be-Born-Again handbook.

Perhaps then it is true that most inquiries about once-saved-always-saved can be best challenged by investigating the integrity of one’s own salvation.

Amazing Grace

The Hebrews 6:4-6 passage, however, could be read as presenting true believers as backsliding. Dr. Constable’s notes read…

“The writer could describe Christians fairly as those who were once ‘enlightened’. The ‘heavenly gift’ of which they have ‘tasted’ at conversion seems to refer to salvation. Any attempt to interpret tasting as only partial appropriation (i.e., the idea that they tasted it but did not swallow it) is not credible.”

The good Dr. seems to believe the folks represented in this passage are true believers. Me, I’m not so sure. Enlightened in the passage could simply mean they understand (mentally) the gospel, and the heavenly gift may simply be making reference to their understanding of grace. Partaking of the Holy Spirit presents a challenge, but the Bible has shown how the Holy Spirit can move in those who do not claim him… and so on.

A much more significant case against the ideas some think this verse propagates is the very doctrine of grace. True salvation is not something you worked your way into, so it does not stand to reason you can work your way out of it. If the presence of sin, maybe even the same sins one struggled with prior to salvation, removes your salvation (as Hebrews and 2Peter suggest) then I don’t suppose anyone’s salvation has lasting power. We are all struggling with the same sins. Even the great trailblazer Paul expresses his disdain with his own actions (Romans 7,8). Paul knows he should do one thing, and yet finds himself doing the opposite. Is there no repentance then for Paul?

Sure there is.

Because we are pure spirits living in sinful bodies. And the natural tension between these two natures battling it out in us often result in the very sin we are delivered from. Repeatedly. Does this mean God has forgotten us? That He does not forgive us those sins? If so, where do you draw the line for sins that are not forgiven.

I am under the influence that once one has truly surrendered his life to God, there is no going back. Yes, we will fail. But God’s grace is sufficient. If it were not, then we would never have been saved in the first place.

So what are you thoughts? Do you think you can lose your salvation?

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Antwuan Malone is a Ministry Director at ELEVATE Young Adult Ministry (elevateministry.net) where empowers young adults toward Christian leadership. He is passionate about seeing young adults take their place in church history by drawing near enough to God to hear his call on their life, and courageously living in obedience to that call.