My take on once saved always saved: It's a dangerous false doctrine
Hebrews 3:12-14 "Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. 14 For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end."
Why do we cling to error, even when the truth is so clear? Perhaps it is because we prefer a certain formula that we find comforting. We prefer to believe that it's just "one and done." But is that really an honest interpretation of the scripture? Shouldn't we be impartial and interpret the scripture without bias? That would be wise. The Spirit of God leads us in these things.
Today we consider the issue of salvation and continuance, or in other words: "Are we once saved always saved?"
According to the scriptures, this is not a reasonable exegesis based on key scriptures like John 15, Hebrews 3:12-14, Revelation 3, and many others.
The simple theme of John 15 is that of continuance, or "abiding" in Christ. To abide means to remain. Jesus urges us to "remain in me." And then he says in response "then I will remain in you." It's a fairly simple formula, we receive Jesus Christ as savior, through faith, and then we must continue in the faith, remaining and walking with Jesus throughout our whole lives, overcoming sin, living in victory, and living out holiness in all we do. This is the teaching of the new testament.
But unfortunately some today teach a dangerous false doctrine of "once saved always saved." This is the idea that once you get saved you can never lose it no matter what you do. You can leave church, you can never come back, never read your Bible, never do anything related to Jesus, and then you're still saved. Interesting isn't it?
We often see so many come to Christ, but then they never follow through. They don't continue in the faith. They don't dive into discipleship, and study of the word, and prayer. Because often they've been left with a false impression, much like what has sometimes been inferred by child baptism, or even adult baptism, that it's "one and done." And thus someone would say, "well I was baptized when I was 28, or 2, so I'm good." And we've left people who are now in danger of eternal hellfire and darkness, with the impression that they are really eternally saved. What a terrible danger! What a terrible thing to teach followers of Jesus. Who will hold us accountable if we teach such a false way?
I imagine God himself will hold us accountable, on the day of judgment. Please if you're out there today, teach continuance, that we must continue in the faith. Otherwise we leave no motivation for people to grow in Christ. We send them flying out the door with such a false doctrine of "once saved always saved."
Now it is 100% true that we may have an assurance of salvation, that we can know that we are saved by Jesus Christ. It's not about works, it's about walking with Jesus, in repentance, and holiness. Don't give up your assurance of salvation. But don't get too comfortable either.
We have to live this thing out, week in and week out, attending Bible study, praying, practicing the deeper spiritual disciplines, tithing, and sharing the gospel with the unsaved. Imagine if more of us did that! The church would spread across the whole world!
Continuance is vital. We must keep walking with Jesus. Now, what happens if you get saved by Jesus, and then you die right after that? Would you go to hell because you didn't have a chance to engage in the process of sanctification (growth in holiness)? The answer to that question is no. Just like the thief on the cross who repented (changed his mind) and gave Jesus glory, he was then that day with Jesus in paradise. It's very simple, how we get saved, but should we live a long time after our day of salvation, we must of course continue in the faith, obeying God's commands and living for Jesus with our whole hearts. It's simple, and a great blessing.
Let's address some of the common criticisms of continuance. One thing people will say is that God is our Father and He has adopted us, a father wouldn't unadopt us. We've been grafted in, so we can't be grafted out. We're now in Christ, held in his power and nothing can pluck us from his hand, nothing at all.
First of all, we address the metaphor in the scriptures of God as Father. And he certainly is our heavenly Father. But there have been many beings who were once children of God, who are now outside the family of God. Angelic beings for example, Lucifer and those part of the rebellion. We can also consider Judas, who was part of the inner circle of Jesus, but ended up betraying him. So the metaphor of God as Father is a beautiful metaphor, but it's not a perfect metaphor. It's the same with the idea of us being branches grafted in. In fact, it says that Israel was grafted out so that we could be grafted in (Romans 11:11-31). In fact, in this very scripture we're warned to fear God because just as some branches were grafted in, others were cut off. So once again the critics of continuance have taken a metaphor to an improper conclusion.
Now it is certainly true that God "preserves" us in a state of salvation. He is our shepherd, we're the flock. Nothing can pluck us from His hand! That is certainly truth. Nothing can pull us out, not sadness, not grief, not death, not angels or demons, not Satan himself, but if we go on in sin and unbelief, we can step out of His hand. Falling away is a well documented reality of the scriptures. We should remember that.
So that is the consideration I'd make for you today. Remember to continue in the faith. It's not a popular viewpoint today. But I would dare say it is a scriptural one. It might be better for our mental health to assume we're once saved always saved, but the reality of the truth is quite different. I'll take truth over mental health any day.
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3 Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. 9 As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. 11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. -John 15:1-11
Justin Steckbauer is the founder of Lifestyleofpeace.com. He is a graduate magna cum laude from Liberty University, currently holding an associates degree in Interdisciplinary Studies and a bachelors degree in the study of Religion. He is currently a graduate student at Olivet Nazarene University working on a masters degree in the study of Ministry. He is a minister (officer) with the rank of Lieutenant in The Salvation Army Central Territory.