Edited By: Leslyn Kim
To be honest, it’s not a subject that’s ever really seemed high priority to me. Maybe it’s because I’m not thoroughly convinced on this topic. Instead of attempting to find firm footing in these topics I often find more pleasure in researching them. I guess that’s the heart of the scientist in me. In that case, I left plenty of wiggle room in the title, because who knows who’s right on the topic? Not me. However, I can say that I take comfort in knowing scripture that seem to support my conclusions.
This will be a two/three part series where I attempt to even-handedly present both viewpoints of Eternal Security – commonly referred to as “Once Saved Always Saved” versus “Conditional Salvation/Security”.
Once Saved Always Saved
Once Saved Always Saved (OSAS), A.K.A. – Eternal Security, Unconditional Salvation, are all roughly synonymous and historically rooted in the Calvinist doctrine of Perseverance of the Saints. Defined in it’s simplest form, it means that once someone receives salvation they remained saved. A more detailed definition actually requires splitting the doctrine into two overlapping yet different branches.
Perseverance of the Saints
The doctrine of OSAS originates in Calvinism, and rests in the philosophy that God’s sovereignty is always active and dominate in all things. God, for the most part does all of the heavy lifting when it comes to salvation, and believers play a somewhat reduced role in their own saving faith. Reformed Calvinism teaches that salvation is purely a work of God, and that men are incapable of initiating their response to Him due to their sinful and depraved nature. Another distinction of Calvinism is the belief that salvation is a free gift from God, as well as the initial and ongoing faith of individuals (“Sovereign Grace”). Therefore, post-salvation sanctification is the necessary work of God by his Holy Spirit, and has little to do with the merit or obedience of the receiver. The thinking is that any notion that rewards the individual for his own works not only robs God of his sovereignty and glory, but also leads to legalism and human effort to pursue right-standing with God through the law. In a nutshell, God leads the believer through all of life due to his inate inability to properly respond. If a person responds to the call of salvation, believes in their heart and confesses with their mouth according to Romans 10:9-10, then they are saved. While sin (not practicing) is ever present in the believer due to his fallen nature, a genuine believer is redeemed and always experiencing the sanctifying work of God that leads to righteousness. Another distinctive of OSAS, from a Reformed perspective, is that the life a person lives (his or her fruit) is a direct indicator of whether or not their response to the call was/is genuine. In that sense, salvation is somewhat binary. One is elected and saved or not elect and unsaved, and little middle ground, other than occasional sin, is left to ride the fence. Perhaps the best and most often quoted scripture to explain this unique perspective is from 1 John 2:19. The chapter is mostly about how to decipher who genuine believers are. Verse nineteen in particular is a warning about those who depart from the faith to follow the antichrist or the spirit of the antichrist:
“They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.” – 1 John 2:19
In that regard, 1 John 2:19 is used as an example to show that there are those who may identify as Christian, but are never authentically regenerated. Regeneration is a Calvinist precursor to being “born-again”. I outlined all of the above distinctions for a very specific reason. Charismatics, Free-Will Baptists and others who adopted the idea of OSAS into their teachings, do not generally believe that salvation and sanctification happen in the same way that Reformed believers do. Their combined belief of human free will in salvation and “new birth” upon conversion lead to different conclusions regarding how the believer perseveres to the end of life, and the implications of sin.
Although the term Eternal Security can be used synonymously with OSAS, I specifically chose to use it here to distinguish it from Perseverance of the Saints. My reason for doing so is that the term itself in some ways better describes the simplicity of the free-grace version of OSAS. “Free-Grace” theology teaches that the moment a believer professes their faith in Jesus Christ they are saved eternally. Justification is based purely on faith in Christ and his finished work. Salvation is not merited based on one’s deeds or works. Therefore, no one can lose their salvation as a result of sinning. As a result, a strong distinction is drawn between salvation and sanctification. Here’s a quote from Manfred E Kober that makes the distinction clear:
“Being a Christian means following an invitation. Being a disciple means forsaking all. To confuse these two aspects of the Christian life is to confound the grace of God and the works of man, to ignore the difference between salvation and sanctification. The gospel of grace is Scriptural. The Gospel that adds the works of man to salvation is a counterfeit Gospel.”
—Manfred E. Kober, Lordship Salvation: Forgotten Truth or a False Doctrine?
Here then lies the significant difference between the two OSAS beliefs that on the surface often appear to be one in the same. Free-Grace, not only holds fast to OSAS, but that once someone receives salvation, hypothetically they could live in sin (making a practice of sin) and still receive the gift of eternal life. The promised gifts of salvation, faith, and sanctification in Calvinism are not promised in Free Grace. In free grace OSAS the ultimate penalty of sin is not placed upon salvation, but a loss in fullness of life now, and of potential rewards that would have otherwise been received in eternity. In other words, by being saved yet living a life of sin a believer can remain secure in their salvation yet forfeit the blessings of life on earth and in the hereafter.
Translation? Someone can get saved today and immediately experience a change in their life, or someone can get saved today and experience little change as a born-again believer for the first ten years, 20 years, or never.
Popular modern preachers who hold to this view are Charles Stanley and Tony Evans. I can’t confirm exactly where Tony Evans lands within the spectrum, but I do believe that Charles Stanley makes his views very clear in the following video:
There are variations in belief as one would expect amongst those who believe in Free Grace OSAS. One in particular holds to a Calvinist possibility of false conversion versus genuine conversion. Meaning, if someone doesn’t experience authentic change after confessing their faith in Christ, never truly believed in the first place.
For the record, I like both Charles Stanley and Tony Evans, so in no way did I post this video to call them out or attack their personal views on Free Grace theology. I’m simply reporting here.
Of course, I do have an opinion though. Hey, why else have a blog 😉
New International Version (NIV)
27 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all[a]; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.
This is probably one of my personal favorites when it comes to God’s promise of eternal security. There are many more, so I didn’t see the need to post all of the scriptures used to support OSAS. But, I’ve listed some of many below that I felt present a strong defense: John 10:27-29, Romans 8:35, Romans 8:38-39, Romans 11:29, 1 John 2:19, 1 Corinthians 15:10, Ephesians 2:4-6, Philippians 1:6, 2 Timothy 1:12, Hebrews 13:20-21, 1 John 5:4-5, Ephesians 1:13-14, 1 Corinthians 1:6-8, 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24, 1 John 5:11-13, Jeremiah 32:39-40…….. and more
If you read the above verses you’ll be thoroughly convinced that there is no way that someone who is truly saved can be lost. It becomes immediately obvious why John Calvin and so many others have reached this conclusion. I agree with them in general, and feel that the bible is clear on the fact that genuine Christians persevere to the end. However, I see the faith issue as a duality. While Christ wills us toward his purposes (Philippians 2:13) we have a free-will and must choose to follow him. Where it becomes incredibly tough to justify OSAS alone, are other scriptures, parables, biblical characters and their stories, and the very words of Christ. All of these begin to make often oversimplified phrases like “Once Saved Always Saved”, “Eternal Security”, and “Perseverance of the Saints”, seem not wrong, but incomplete.
I have some personal theories on why issues like OSAS and a few others in the faith cause so much contention and heated discussion. First off, people often argue disparate points. Take OSAS for instance. How many people honestly know that there are different camps amongst Protestants who believe in OSAS? I wasn’t surprised by it, but didn’t know until I did a little research. Knowing the differences makes a difference, because they are not identical. So, when someone states – “I believe in Once Saved Always Saved”, the most pertinent question should be – “Which version?” While someone at Charles Stanley’s church (Free Grace, Arminian Southern Baptist) and Al Mohler’s church (Calvinist, Reformed Southern Baptist) may agree that someone can’t lose their salvation, the implications of what they believe about it follow completely different trajectories.
Second, and I believe most obvious, is FEAR. Nobody is quite clear on how God really works in this respect of eternal security, conditional salvation or the like. Sure, all of the different viewpoints have scripture that they use to bolster their opinions, but in the end everybody simply wants to know that they are one of the elect, saved, called, redeemed, and getting into the pearly gates. The zealousness with which people attack the issue is most often firmly planted in their/our own insecurities. How do I know I that am saved? How can I know that my belief is genuine? How can I be sure that I’m not one of the poor souls from Matthew 7:23? Everybody wants the answer to these questions, and we often squabble over the answers because nobody wants to be wrong on issues that seem so important.
Stay tuned for Part 2 on Conditional Salvation……… 😉