Could you kindly explain in brief whether the widely accepted precept “Once saved is always saved” is consistent with Biblical teaching?
The once saved always saved teaching is false doctrine. It originated as a result of the type of theology most commonly known as Calvinism, having been named after the 16th century theologian and Protestant reformer John Calvin. The theological basis for this false doctrine is a false understanding of predestination.
Please forgive me for a little history lesson. As early as the fourth century Christian leaders were teaching that we should baptize babies. By the fifth century this teaching was common and by the sixth it was a nearly fully accepted practice. The existence of infant baptism caused believers to question why we should baptize a person who has not yet even sinned. The answer came from Church fathers such as Cyprian, who began to speculate that even children were guilty of the sin of Adam. This doctrine is called Original Sin. Some incorrectly apply Romans 5:12-21 to support this bogus idea that God would hold us accountable for a sin that we never committed. Ezekiel 18, especially 18:3-4 and many other passages, as well as a common sense definition of justice dictates that we will not be accountable to God for anyone’s sins except our own.
Anyway, the very influential fifth century theologian Augustine developed the idea of Original Sin into an entire theology of predestination in which we are born in sin and there is absolutely nothing we can do about it. Our only hope is to be chosen by God’s grace for salvation. According to this distorted theology, if God does not choose us, we are goners. Only those chosen by God are saved and those God does not choose will go to hell.
Arguably, this is a slight exaggeration of the views of Augustine, but it is NOT an exaggeration of the theology of John Calvin who, along with many theologians in the time of the Reformation, such as Ulrich Zwingly, taught a strict double predestination. Zwingli said: “Those individuals who end up damned forever in hell are also eternally determined by God for that fate.” Clearly we are diverging very far from biblical teaching at this point.
What does this have to do with “Once saved, always saved.”? This doctrine came about as a direct result of Calvinism/Predestination. The basic shorthand outline of this doctrine is explained by using the acronym TULIP.
T = total depravity. We are totally lost and nothing we can do can help us to come toward God. U = unconditional election. If God chooses you for salvation, you will be saved, whether you seek it or not. L = limited atonement. The death of Jesus was not for everyone, but only for those predestined by God for salvation. I = Irresistable grace. Similar to U. If God chooses to give us grace, then we will respond and have no choice about that response. P = perseverance of the Saints. This means that if we are saved by God’s grace, then there is absolutely no possibility that we will later lose that salvation. THIS is the doctrine more commonly known as “Once saved, always saved.” It is the last of a fairly long line of reasoning which goes back to the idea of original sin.
The entire structure of Calvinism is based on a false premise. For this reason, “Once saved, always saved” goes down with the entire ship of Calvinism. However, this will be difficult to explain to the average person you bump into. For this reason, you need to be prepared to deal just with this doctrine, independent of its historical roots in Calvinism. Here is my suggestion. The best place to go to defeat this false doctrine is the book of Hebrews. In fact, the theme of Hebrews is warnings and encouragements against falling away. It is a treatise on how to avoid the very thing which “Once saved, always saved” says can never happen. Below is a brief outline of passages which unmistakably teach the possibility of a Christian losing his or her salvation:
Hebrews 3:7-11 They shall never enter my rest.
Hebrews 3:14 We… share in Christ IF we hold firmly till the end….
Hebrews 3:16-4:11 esp. 3:16-4:1
Foreshadow of the Jews in the wilderness.
Let us make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall short of it…
Hebrews 6:4-8 Who is he talking to?
- a. been enlightened (NT church “enlightened” = baptized)
- b. tasted the heavenly gift (salvation?)
- c. shared in the Holy Spirit
- d. tasted the goodness of the word
- e. tasted the coming age (saved)
That Hebrews commentary: Two audiences; Christians and Jewish believers who have not yet chosen to be baptized. (circular reasoning)
What happens to these people?
- It is impossible… if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance.
- They are crucifying the Son of God all over again.
- Land that produces thorns… will be burned.
- Crucifying the Son of God all over again.
- Subjecting Jesus to public disgrace
- Trampling the Son of God under foot. (Heb 10:29)
- Insulted the Holy Spirit (Heb 10:29)
- Blasphemed (spoken against) the Holy Spirit (Matt 12:32)
- Committed the unforgivable sin (1 John 5:16, Luke 12:10)
- What is the “unforgivable sin?” To willfully, deliberately continue in sin. (Hebrews 10:26
- See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. (ie. They were pure but
- become defiled)
- He could bring about no change of mind, though he sought the blessing with tears.
- Hebrews 12:25 If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth (Moses), how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven (Jesus).
I hope this helps.