Once saved, always saved or shaky salvation: is that the question we should be asking?
2nd Corinthians 11:3
But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ.
The simplicity and purity of our devotion to Christ is beautifully and masterfully preserved only upon the foundation that has been laid (which is in Christ and the apostles).
Even as much as I understand how necessary it is in our time to teach on this subject, I still believe that the above question is a bad question to be asking; the perils of these doctrines are apathy and arrogance towards sin on the one side and legalism and personal pride on the other. The path that cuts through the middle of these two arguments and leads us into the Truth and mind of Christ is what we are all seeking.
So I will tell you from the beginning that I disagree with both these doctrines as they are commonly held, though in certain forms, I can agree with both.
Still more, even before I begin this I want to point out that I have met strong Christians who profess belief in both sides of these Christians and they remain strong, not because of these theologies, but because of the maturity of their faith and the Spiritual insight and wisdom that God has granted them. These doctrines are serious doctrines, and I’ve seen the ramifications of them become devastating to many people, but they are not core-essentials (unless they are abused, misused, and used to lead into other things that affect our core essentials of faith).
I want people to understand the damages that these (sometimes) dogmatic doctrines can cause and see the faulty premises of human logic they both often resort to, and to do this I would like to look at a few examples on each side.
This first example comes from a link found at CARM.org; two pastors, who are supposed to be busying themselves shepherding their flocks, got into an online argument over IM. Eventually, one of these pastors just had enough and quit responding. I suppose his opponent took that to mean a victory and he ended up posting it on CARM to demonstrate the supposed superiority of his argument.
I hope that we can see how damaging their attitudes were: they stood in unrighteous judgment, not over each other, but over the Word of God by pitting His word against itself without mercy. Furthermore, they showed no deference towards each other (something that is very easy to forget to do when talking online), and engaged in a cut-throat, winner-take-all style debate that had no hope of building each other up at all from the outset.
I point this out because I think it’s critical that we understand he heart of our intentions before we set out to engage in this kind of discussion that has so thoroughly divided the church in our times. Are we seeking blood, or are we seeking reconciliation in The Blood?
This next argument comes from Bible-knowledge.com and takes the affirmative towards losing your salvation. His argument is rooted and motivated primarily in human logic. The author starts out with, “I do believe that you really have to get into some of the heavier-type sins before this actually will happen”. I think those who take the negative to this debate would rightly and quickly point out that the Bible does not list any “heavier” sins except the sin of blasphemy. However, he made “sin” plural by saying “sins”, so he is clearly not referring exclusively to Jesus’ teaching about blasphemy. This quickly evolves into a merit-based salvation that gives rise to legalism, doubt (the real danger) and personal pride.
In no way am I faulting him personally of this sin; rather, I am seeking to draw our own attention to how important it is that we carefully consider the premises of our beliefs before we teach them and that we understand what we are actually teaching (which sometimes/often-times is different then what we think we are teaching).
Even in our weakness, however, the Spirit perseveres as this man did also open with an exhortation to use the Bible passages he provided to seek God’s wisdom on this highly divided topic (something I also want to encourage you to do).
To look at an affirmative argument of once-saved, always-saved, we can look at this article from COMEREASON.org. Certainly there are articles that better reveal the many Bible passages that demonstrate the power of our salvation, however I wanted to draw our attention to the tendency to rely on extrapolated human logic based solely on one part of the Bible.
You can see that this author is trying to console a doubting sister. And to be sure, there are times when we are being overcome by ungodly guilt in which we need to be consoled regarding the all-sufficient nature of God’s grace and kindness. We all need that revelation that Christ is our understanding High Priest. There are also many times when we place a dagger in someone’s conscience by trying to continually sooth the conviction of the Holy Spirit regarding a perpetual sin that is endangering someone’s faith/salvation.
Here we can see that our motivations in these arguments greatly affect the faithfulness of our teaching. I think we do need to stop and ask why we are teaching what we are teaching. Is it because you’re trying to comfort someone, or because the Holy Spirit is guiding you? Is there an evidence of the Spirit’s testimony in the word present in our teaching, or are we extrapolating based on human logic from a biased starting point?
The nature of this teaching illustrated above is the nature of the teaching that I disagree with on this subject.
Now, my first point regarding the doctrine that we should understand to get a firm grasp on this teaching comes from the testimony of our salvation: the Holy Spirit.
Romans 8:16 “The Spirit Himself testifies that we are the Children of God”
It is by the witness of the Spirit that we know we are saved, is it not?
Why, then, do we try to calm those once brothers and sisters worries when they are no longer receiving that witness by introducing theologies that are heavily refined and extrapolated based on logic that is not necessarily in the Bible?
It’s my belief that we should not argue with the witness of the Spirit in the life of the person we are ministering too.
Even though I do not believe a Christian can be possessed by a demon, if I see someone who was once accepted as my brother demonstrating demon possession, I’m not going to try to intellectually argue that he’s not possessed. I’m going to come against the possession according to how the Bible tells me to come against it.
Likewise, if someone comes to us, heavy laden with guilt, and worried that their salvation is lost because of continual and perpetual sin, and we begin to minister to them and see that the Spirit is no longer witnessing of their salvation- we have to take immediate measures to help that person before it is too late.
Remember, it is the Spirit who convicts of sin, righteousness, and judgment: this person may not have fallen away yet, but they are not receiving the testimony of the Spirit or seeing its fruit because they are dangling off the edge and the Spirit is convicting them of righteous judgment to come: we should not stand in the Spirit’s work, rather, we should do what we can do lead our brethren into repentance, which we are promised will result in forgiveness!
This is why the Bible always tells us to test ourselves: 2nd Corinthians 13:5, 1st Corinthians 9:27 & 1st Corinthians 11:28, etc.
If we could not fall away (ever), then why would we test ourselves? It would not be necessary except for one initial test, which, once passed, we would no longer need to be discerning about our personal lives. How devastating to the church would it be if we felt like we did not need to discern the character of our personal lives every day? The church might look like… what it looks today!
God is not mute towards His children, nor is His arm insufficient for salvation:
Isaiah 59:1-2 “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not so short that it cannot save; nor is His ear so dull that it cannot hear. But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear.”
Just as Jesus said, “Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold” (Matthew 24:12). We must realize that our sins do deeply affect our hearts and they dull our hearing.
What is very important is that we understand it is not that a sin will separate us from God, nor that any specific number of sins that will separate us from God. After-all, what can separate us from the love of God? Rather, it is the result of continually seeding our heart with the things of the flesh that will rise up and choke out our faith and cause our faith to dwindle and grow cold, eventually fading away.
Our hearts are led into rebellion against God by our acceptance of, and continual walking in, sin.
And this is why I believe that this question does more harm than good; because people begin to get so fixated upon the status of their salvation and they lose sight of the power in the gospel of Christ to conquer their sins and restore them to a righteous walk with Christ in every way.
The first and foremost doctrine in this is that we are to be seeking the things that the Holy Spirit testifies to us that we need: and any doctrine, whether it causes you to be apathetic or legalistic, is a misunderstanding of the Word of God if it gets in the way of that.
How do you know that you have eternal life?
The epistle written expressly to answer this question is the epistle of 1st John.
One of our key focuses as Christians and disciples of Christ should be on exhorting and encouraging our brethren to “know that they have eternal life”, and we’re told how to do that. To get a full picture, you must read the entire epistle.
1st John 1:9, 2:1-6, & 5:13
“1:9If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 2:1-6 I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins… by this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. The one who says “I Have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him: the one who says he abides in Him ought also to walk in the same manner as He walked. 5:13 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.”
The Holy Spirit did answered the question “Am I saved?” His test is “whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him: the one who says he abides in Him ought also to walk in the same manner as He walked”.
The Holy Spirit never answers to excuse sin, He always answers to overcome it.
Is there grace in the Holy Spirit’s teaching from 1st John? Absolutely! Grace in God’s forgiveness and the ministry of Jesus Christ our High Priest! In fact, God’s grace is powerful because it makes way for the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit upon our lives (1st Peter 1:2-3).
Therefore, didn’t He instruct us in the power of Christ to overcome and cleanse them from sin if they confess their sins? Wasn’t it His admonition to walk according to the way that Jesus Christ walked?
Romans 8:1 “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…”
For those who remain in Christ Jesus, there is no condemnation. He does not condemn His own: and He knows those that are His!
That is why the Spirit spoke through Paul saying, “He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach— if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard,” (Colossians 1:22-23).
You have been reconciled to Christ if indeed you continue in faith and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard!
One final concluding point is regarding “how we fall away“.
This cannot be answered apart from the Word of God- to do so is to place people into bondage to man-made laws.
1 Timothy 4:1-2
1 But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, 2 by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron,
We are told, expressly, by the Spirit that there will be some who fall away from their faith by paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons by hypocrisy and the searing of their own consciences.
That is why we must pay careful attention to the doctrines we hold and protect our consciences by not allowing them to be seared and dulled in any way!
Together, I believe that this forms a doctrine that teaches us of the power of God’s grace and of salvation by faith. If you have not one, you have not salvation. God’s grace has been shown, once and for all, in Christ Jesus- but I believe most all of us would accept that you must have faith and accept Christ to receive the benefit of God’s grace.
Therefore, I want to bring one final exhortation in all of this: “Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 9But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world” (1st Peter 5:8-9).