ONCE SAVED, ARE WE ALWAYS SAVED? —If we are Saved by Grace, do our works keep us saved?
“I have a question about the doctrine of ‘Once Saved Always Saved.’ Several of my friends believe in this teaching, but I have a hard time believing that a person who gets saved and willfully continues to practice sin is still saved. Do you think that it is possible for a person like this to lose his salvation if he continues in a pattern of sin?”
Your questions are good and we can appreciate how hard it is to embrace the doctrine of “Once Saved Always Saved,” because it goes against everything our flesh wants to believe about performing to earn God’s favor. However, this doctrine of “Eternal Security” or “Once Saved Always Saved” seems to be consistent with the overall message of the Scripture that claims that we are saved by grace apart from any works we can do to make ourselves acceptable to God.
Ephesians 2:8-9: “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” 1.
If nothing we can do can get us saved, how can anything we do keep us saved?
Ephesians makes it clear that our salvation is not based upon what we do, but upon the free gift of God. So if nothing we can do can get us saved, how can anything we do keep us saved? The answer is obviously nothing because even our “faith” which saves us is a “gift of God” so that “no one may boast.” But what about the person who claims to have saving faith while willfully continuing to practice sin? Your question is a good one because the Bible makes it clear that a dead faith cannot save.
James 1:14, 17-19, 26: “What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? … Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself. But someone may well say, ‘You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.’ You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. …For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.”
James plainly states that a dead faith cannot save anymore than a body can be alive without the spirit. Mere intellectual faith in the existence of God is no different than the demons who acknowledge the truth about God, but are not saved. Thus, the only way we can know whether a person possess true saving faith is by observing the fruits of his works of repentance. For without repentance and a change in his behavior, we must question the legitimacy of his faith (see Matthew 7:16). Thus, James claims that the only way to “show” or prove that we have true living faith is by our works. Consider also these Scriptures below:
1 John 3:9: “No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God.”
Hebrews 10:26: “For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins.”
Romans 6:1-2, 4-8, 14: “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? …For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin…. For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace.”
God’s grace for salvation does not give us a license to continue in “deliberate” and “willful” sin. Rather, Christian freedom and grace means that we are no longer “slaves” to sin, but are empowered by the Holy Spirit to live a life in harmony with the law of Christ, written in our hearts (see 2 Corinthians 3:3 and 1 Corinthians 9:21).
Does this mean that a Christian can never sin? No, 1 John 1:8 reminds us that, “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.” A true Christian can and will fail at living the law of Christ from time to time, but as Paul explained in the following verses of Romans chapter 7 and 8, the difference between a true believer and a fake one is that he will continually strive to submit himself to the power of the Spirit of God so that he can overcome the fleshly law of sin in his body, whereas a fake believer will merely profess faith with no power of the Spirit of God to change his behavior.
Romans 7:22-25: “For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.”
Romans 8:1-2; 6-10: “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. … For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him. If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness.”
Therefore, if a person claims to be a believer but doesn’t strive to live in harmony with the Spirit of Christ by demonstrating a change in his behavior, we need to question the validity of his faith and whether he is truly saved.
If “Eternal Life” is “Eternal,” how can Jesus give it to us if we can lose it?
The Bible states that we can “know” if we have “eternal life” right here and now. It is not something that we have to wait for the future to obtain, but it is a free gift that is given immediately upon acceptance of Christ.
1 John 5:11-13: “And the testimony is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life. These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.”
John 5:24: “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.”
How can the Scripture promise that we can have “eternal life” right now if we can do something in the future that would cause us to lose it? If God says that He has already “given us eternal life” in His Son, how can that life be “eternal” if it may be taken away by our failure to perform tomorrow? Obviously, the gift of “eternal life” can only be “eternal” if we are standing in Christ’s eternal righteousness and not our own.
Did our Salvation begin with Us or God? If He began a good work in us, will He not complete it?
The next fact we must consider in evaluating the “Once saved always saved” doctrine is whether our salvation begins with our actions or God’s actions? Is it our profession of faith that starts the salvation process, or is it God’s active work of regenerating our hearts that creates true saving faith within us? We have already seen how true saving faith is a “gift of God” apart from our works so that no one can boast (Ephesians 2:8-9). Other verses indicate that our sinful flesh is not even able to “seek after God” or “please” Him.
Psalm 53:2-3: “God has looked down from heaven upon the sons of men to see if there is anyone who understands, Who seeks after God. Every one of them has turned aside; together they have become corrupt; There is no one who does good, not even one.”
Romans 3:10-11: “As it is written, “THERE IS NONE RIGHTEOUS, NOT EVEN ONE; THERE IS NONE WHO UNDERSTANDS, THERE IS NONE WHO SEEKS FOR GOD.”
Romans 8:7: “…the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”
So, apart from God’s Spirit regenerating our hearts, we can’t even express the faith we need for salvation. Thus, our salvation is based completely upon the regenerating work of Christ that first starts in our hearts before any profession of faith is made.
1 John 4:19: “We love him, because he first loved us.”
John 15:16: “You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit…”
Ephesians 1:4: “…just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him.”
Ephesians 2:1, 4-5: “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, …But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved).”
Titus 3:5: “He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit.”
Since Jesus “made us alive” “even when we were dead” in our sins, we can have confidence that He will never discard us for not measuring up to His standards. Because He started the work within us, He will be faithful to complete our salvation and sanctification process.
Hebrews 12:2: “…fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith…”
Philippians 1:6: “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.”
Galatians 3:1, 3: “You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, …Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?”
The Spirit of Christ who begins the work of faith in our hearts is the same Spirit who completes our faith and that is why Scripture calls Him the “author” and “perfecter” of our faith.
If We are Born Again by the Spirit of God, how can we become un-born by our flesh?
The next aspect we need to look at is the fact that our salvation is based upon God’s “adoption” of us into His spiritual family so that we are “born again” by His Spirit (see Galatians 4:4-7; John 3:3-7). Just as a child in a human family can do nothing to break the fleshly connection he has with his birth family, even so, no actions on the part of an adopted child of God can break his or her connection with God’s spiritual family. And just as a child does not get to decide who his birth parents are, even so, we cannot take credit for our spiritual birth into God’s eternal family because it too is a result of God’s will, not man’s “will.”
John 1:12-13: “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”
Ephesians 1:11: “Also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will.”
This is why Scripture says that our “born again” experience is “not… of the will of man, but of God”. Just as our “faith” and our “seeking after God” is a “gift” from God so that we cannot boast, even so the “born again” experience of being spiritual adopted out of sinful death into God’s eternal family is a gift from God. Therefore, if our spiritual adoption is a gift from God “who works all things after the counsel of His will,” how can we undo what God has already done in our hearts and lives?
2 Corinthians 5:17: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”
If the “old has gone” by being “born again” as a “new creation,” in Christ, how would it be possible for us to go back to the “old” life and become “un-born” again? Is there any place in the Bible that indicates that a person who was once “born again” actually became un-born through living a sinful life and went through a “re-saving” process to get “re-born again” until the person finally got it right? Or do we see Scripture proclaiming that salvation is one-time process where the person is “born again” and “adopted” by the Spirit of God, never to go back to his old sinful lifestyle? Nowhere in the Bible does it say that a person can be “re-saved” after loosing his salvation. In fact, it says quite the opposite. Consider the following Scripture:
Hebrews 6:4-6: “For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame.”
Why do you think this Scripture is so clear that once people have been made “partakers of the Holy Spirit,” it is “impossible to renew them again to repentance” for salvation since they would “again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame”? Since it is impossible to “re-save” these believers who have slipped into sin (fallen away), if we attempt to do so, we would be saying that Jesus’ blood the first time wasn’t good enough. This is also why it is “impossible” to bring a person who is already saved to repentance for salvation again, for to attempt to do so would be to invalidate Christ’s words that He would not lose anyone who comes to Him for salvation.
John 6:37, 39: “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out. …And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day.”
John 10:28-30: “And I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”
So, the question in the case of a person who makes a profession of faith and later recants that faith by continuing to live a life of willful disobedience to God, is not whether he was saved and later lost his salvation, but rather, whether he had a genuine saving faith and spiritual regeneration that took place in his heart in the first place. Because Jesus is the author and finisher of our faith, either that person was saved by Christ, or he merely made a profession of faith but was never truly one of His sheep.
Matthew 7:21-23 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”
When Jesus said he never “knew” these false converts, He was not talking about whether he had informational knowledge of them, but rather, that they were never in a relational knowledge with Him in the first place. Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old And New Testament Words notes that the Greek word translated “know” (ginōskō) in this passage: “frequently indicates a relation between the person ‘knowing’ and the object known; in this respect, what is ‘known’ is of value or importance to the one who knows, and hence the establishment of the relationship.…such ‘knowledge’ is obtained, not by mere intellectual activity, but by operation of the Holy Spirit consequent upon acceptance of Christ.” 2. Therefore, the true guarantee of salvation occurs only after the new believer is “sealed” with the “Holy Spirit of promise” who becomes the assurance of that person’s eternal salvation now and forevermore.
Ephesians 1:13-14: “In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory.”
1. All Scripture quotations are taken from the New American Standard Bible.
2. W.E. Vine, Merrill F. Unger, William White, Jr., Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old And New Testament Words, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1985), 346