is Once Saved, Always Saved?

Perseverance (or preservation) of the saints is also known as “eternal security.” The word saints is used in the Biblical sense to refer to all who are set apart by God, not in the technical sense of one who is exceptionally holy, canonized, or in heaven (see Saint). The doctrine asserts that, since God is sovereign and his will cannot be frustrated by humans or anything else, those whom God has called into communion with himself will continue in faith until the end. Those who apparently fall away either never had true faith to begin with or will return.

This doctrine is slightly different from the Free Grace or “once saved, always saved” view advocated by some evangelicals in which, despite apostasy or unrepentant and habitual sin, the individual is truly saved if they accepted Christ at any point in the past; in traditional Calvinist teaching, apostasy by such a person may prove that they were never saved.

Perseverance of the saints is a controversial Christian teaching that none who are truly saved can be condemned for their sins or finally fall away from the faith. The doctrine appears in two different forms: (1) the traditional Calvinist doctrine found in the Reformed Christian confessions of faith, and (2) the Free Grace or non-traditional Calvinist doctrine found in some Baptist and other evangelical churches. In a sense, both can describe Christian believers as “once saved, always saved”, but the two forms attach a different meaning to the word saved — namely, whether or not it necessarily involves sanctification, the process of becoming holy by rejecting sin and obeying God’s commands. Because of this difference, traditional Calvinist Christians tend to prefer the historical term “perseverance of the saints”, which is one of the five points of Calvinism, and advocates of the Free Grace doctrine usually prefer the less technical terms “eternal security”, “unconditional assurance”, and “once saved, always saved” to characterize their teaching.

The two views are similar and sometimes confused, and though they reach the same end (namely, eternal security in salvation), they reach it by different paths. Free Grace advocates seek to moderate the perceived harshness of Calvinism as it is found in the Reformed confessions and to emphasize that salvation is not conditioned on performing good works. Traditional Calvinists maintain that the Free Grace doctrine ignores certain key Bible passages and would be rejected by Calvin and the Reformed churches, which have both firmly advocated the necessity of good works and with which Free Grace has sought to align itself historically to some degree. Other Christians such as Catholics, Orthodox and Arminian Protestants reject both versions of the doctrine.

Reformed doctrine

The Reformed tradition has consistently seen the doctrine of perseverance as a natural consequence to its general scheme of predestination in which God has chosen some men and women unto salvation and has cleared them of their guilty status by atoning for their sins through Jesus’s sacrifice. According to these Calvinists, God has irresistibly drawn the elect to put their faith in himself for salvation by regenerating their hearts and convincing them of their need. Therefore, they continue, since God has made satisfaction for the sins of the elect, they can no longer be condemned for them, and through the help of the Holy Spirit, they must necessarily persevere as Christians and in the end be saved.

Calvinists also believe that all who are born again and justified before God necessarily and inexorably proceed to sanctification. Indeed, failure to proceed to sanctification in their view is evidence that the person in question was not truly saved to begin with (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, p. 788). Proponents of this doctrine distinguish between an action and the consequences of an action, and suggest that after God has regenerated someone, the person’s will cannot reverse its course. It is argued that God has changed that person in ways that are outside of his or her own ability to alter fundamentally, and he or she will therefore persevere in the faith.

Theologian Charles Hodge summarizes the thrust of the Calvinist doctrine (Systematic Theology, 3.16.8):

Perseverance…is due to the purpose of God [in saving men and thereby bringing glory to his name], to the work of Christ [in cancelling men’s debt and earning their righteousness ], to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit [in sealing men in salvation and leading them in God’s ways], and to the primal source of all, the infinite, mysterious, and immutable love of God.

On a practical level, Calvinists do not claim to know who is elect and who is not, and the only guide they have are the verbal testimony and good works (or “fruit”) of each individual. Any who “fall away” (that is, do not persevere unto death) must not have been truly converted to begin with, though Calvinists don’t claim to know with certainty who did and who did not persevere.

Free Grace doctrine

The Free Grace or non-traditional Calvinist doctrine has been espoused by Charles Stanley, Norman Geisler, Zane C. Hodges, Bill Bright, and others. This view, like the traditional Calvinist view, emphasizes that people are saved purely by an act of divine grace that does not depend at all on the deeds of the individual, and for that reason, advocates insist that nothing the person can do can affect his or her salvation. The Free Grace doctrine views the person’s character and life after receiving the gift of salvation as independent from the gift itself, which is the main point of differentiation from the traditional view, or, in other words, it asserts that justification (that is, being declared righteous before God on account of Christ) does not necessarily result in sanctification (that is, a progressively more righteous life).

The doctrine sees the work of salvation as wholly monergistic, which is to say that God alone performs it and man has no part in the process beyond receiving it, and therefore, proponents argue that man cannot undo what they believe God has done. By comparison, in traditional Calvinism, people, who are otherwise unable to follow God, are enabled by regeneration to cooperate with him, and so the Reformed tradition sees itself as mediating between the total monergism of the non-traditional view and the synergism of the Wesleyan, Arminian, and Roman Catholic views in which even unregenerate man can choose to cooperate with God in salvation.

The traditional doctrine teaches that a person is secure in salvation because he or she was predestined by God, whereas in the non-traditional view, a person is secure because he or she has believed the Gospel message (Dave Hunt, What Love is This, p. 481).

Evangelical criticism

Proponents of the Free Grace view sometimes label themselves as moderate Calvinists, by which they usually mean they drop at least one of the five points of Calvinism (most often, the third and most controversial point of limited atonement) and make some other modifications to the Calvinistic system. In this context, the modification they advocate is that a person’s status before God does not necessarily influence his or her life, a belief which is sometimes referred to as carnal Christianity.

Traditional Calvinism has uniformly asserted that “no man is a Christian who does not feel some special love for righteousness” (Institutes 3.6) and has rejected carnal Christianity as a form of antinomianism. Thus, these Calvinists claim that moderates deviate too widely from Calvin’s own theology and the accepted Reformed tradition to rightly be called “Calvinists.” Arminianism has rejected the Free Grace view for the opposite reason: namely, that the view denies the classical Arminian doctrine that true Christians can lose their salvation by denouncing their faith (see conditional preservation of the saints).

6 comments for “is Once Saved, Always Saved?

  1. October 6, 2008 at 10:33 am

    In a recent conversation, I was trying to discuss “the preservation of the saints” but later realized the difficulty of explaining this was not in the idea of grace is a gift, but in the concept of “once saved, always saved” (a slightly different perspective). So if they fall away, can they come back?

    My thinking is that if they were/are saved – and they fall away, this is part of the sanctification process. As one person put it, “God loves a broken man”. Sometimes, falling away is a step towards brokenness, isn’t it?

    Of course, sometimes it’s just false claims of belief.

  2. November 2, 2008 at 8:09 pm

    What confuses some people is the idea that just because a person professes faith means they are saved. We focus on a “decision”.
    Regeneration will produce faith (Reformed Arminians- once saved always saved- reverse this), which will produce good works as fruit and evidence of regeneration & justification. Those truly saved, who are regenerate, will persevere. Those who aren’t, won’t. The parable of the sower helps us to see people make specious professions of faith.
    Can truly regenerate/converted people sin grievously or wander due to spiritual declension? Yes. Will they reject the faith?
    The Reformed Arminian position- espoused by Ryrie among others- isolates justification from the overall plan of God. Doctrines are connected, part of a whole. We distinguish them, but mustn’t separate them lest we end up corrupting the truth.
    My 2 cents anyway.

  3. November 3, 2008 at 8:48 am

    Well said. Its difficult for any of us to understand that we don’t actually contribute to our salvation. We either see it as unfair (I worked harder at it than that guy) or we don’t like the idea of being a puppet. But the truth of it is, we are always someone’s puppet (figuratively) We either serve the Lord or we serve “our father the Devil” (John 8:42-46)

    This is the lie we have come to believe, that we have a free will, but if its free, what is it free from?

  4. December 17, 2009 at 4:11 am

    Hi.
    I found your Web Site by Google
    And I wish you the best you can get,
    the peace of God through Jesus Christ.

    Welcome to visit my Site.
    Allan Svensson, Sweden
    http://www.algonet.se/~allan-sv/INDEX.HTM

    Once saved – always saved?
    The doctrine of election, which William M. Branham preached,
    that the elected cannot fall away from the Lord, it can entice
    people into a false safety, which can be their fall. Branham’s
    doctrine of the election does not agree with Ezekiel 33:12-19
    or Rom. 11:17-22.

    If the elected ones cannot become lost, why then are there so
    many warnings in the Bible? Why did Jesus warn us about
    false teachers and false prophets, if it is impossible that the
    elected ones become lost?

    If it is no risk to lose our salvation, then we do not need to
    hold us awake or be careful against false teachers. Why then
    are Israel’s sins and punishments under their wandering through
    the desert, written down as warnings for us? Why then did Paul
    write, “Now all these things happened unto them for examples:
    and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of
    the world are coming. Wherefore let him that thinketh he
    standeth take heed lest he falls.” 1 Cor. 10:1-12.

    A usual reason that Christians fall away from the Lord, is that
    they follow false doctrines, which lead away from the sincere
    faithfulness to the Lord. They believe more on preachers and
    priests than on the Bible.

    A remarkable phenomenon is, that the most resistance against
    revival comes from those Christians who have been praying for
    revival during many years. They have prayed for revival, but
    when the answer to prayers comes, then they become angry.
    They do not like to hear the truth of the Assembly of God, the
    Body of Christ. Instead to praise Jesus, they are irritated and
    afraid. Why? They are spiritually blinded of Satans false
    assembly doctrine. They do not have the knowledge of the
    Assembly of God. This truth has never been preached in the
    churches.

    Churches and denominations are Satan’s tools to hold control
    over the Christians. The purpose of the churches is that with
    false doctrine defend churches and denominations, and to hold
    their members in religious slavery, and hinder them to
    understand God’s word.

    In the time of the apostles any church did not exist, and
    therefore the word “church” does not occur in the Bible.
    Everywhere in your English Bible where you see the word
    “church” it is a grave translation error. It ought to be
    “assembly”.

    As you can see in my Web site, I am no member in any
    church. In the year 1965 I left Babylon the great, and since
    then I have been outside of all churches and denominations,
    according to the command of the Lord. Rev. 18:4.

    This command of the Lord is the most powerful revival
    message we can find in the Bible. Yet, this truth of the Bible
    has not been preached among God’s people, and therefore the
    Christians are entirely unprepared for Jesus’ coming. Only
    few Christians have obeyed this command of the Lord to
    come out of the great Babylon.

    Just this is revival, that all God’s people become free from
    all churches and denominations, the great Babylon. Many
    preachers are speaking that Jesus shall come, but they do
    nothing to prepare themselves.

    On my Homepage I have written very much about the
    Assembly of God and about churches and denominations.
    It is very urgent that all God’s people get the knowledge
    of this.

    None be saved by works of the law, Gal. 2:16,
    and none be saved without works of faith. Matt. 7:21-23.

    Prepare you to meet Jesus!
    http://www.algonet.se/~allan-sv/PREPARE.HTM

    Evil spirits in the churches
    http://www.algonet.se/~allan-sv/SPIRITS.HTM

    Why did the Pentecostal Revival take an end?
    http://www.algonet.se/~allan-sv/CRISIS.HTM#end

    What does hinder the Antichrist to appear?
    What is the Restrainer?
    http://www.algonet.se/~allan-sv/MESSAGE.HTM#Antichrist

  5. TS
    November 17, 2010 at 7:55 am

    Search the scriptures You think you have eternal life they are the testimony of Jesus. If no danger exists there’s no need for a sign.
    No need to warn anyone if there is harm. Man is a free will agent.
    One of Gods greatest gifts to man. Only God could create something like free will.

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