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Is "Once Saved -- Always Saved?" a Bible Doctrine?

by Jefferson David Tant

One of the more popular doctrines of certain denominations is that of “once saved—always saved.” The idea is that once you have accepted Christ and had your sins taken away, you can never be lost, no matter what you do. The Standard Manual for Baptist Churches states, “We believe the Scriptures teach that such as are truly regenerate, being born of the Spirit, will not utterly fall away and perish, but will endure unto the end” [p. 67, XI. Perseverence of the Saints].

“All true believers endure to the end. Those whom God has accepted in Christ, and sanctified by His Spirit, will never fall away from the State of grace, but shall persevere to the end. Believers may fall into sin through neglect and temptation, whereby they grieve the Spirit, impair their graces and comforts, bring reproach on the cause of Christ, and temporal judgments on themselves, yet they shall be kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation” [V. God’s Power of Grace—from a statement adopted by the Southern Baptist Convention May 9, 1963].

Sam Morris, a Baptist preacher in Stamford, Texas wrote a little tract explaining that all the sins one may commit cannot harm the soul or cause the person to be lost. Look at the quote: “We take the position that a Christian's sins do not damn his soul. The way a Christian lives, what he says, his character, his conduct, or his attitude toward other people have nothing whatever to do with the salvation of his soul... All the prayers a man may pray, all the Bibles he may read, all the churches he may belong to, all the services he may attend, all the sermons he may practice, all the debts he may pay, all the or-dinances he may observe, all the laws he may keep, all the benevolent acts he may per-form will not make his soul one whit safer; and all the sins he may commit from idolatry to murder will not make his soul in any more danger... The way a man lives has nothing whatever to do with the salvation of his soul... The way I live has nothing whatsoever to do with the salvation of my soul" [Do a Christian’s Sins Damn His Soul?].

This doctrine was borrowed from John Calvin, Presbyterian Church founder in 1538. The Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter XIX, “ Of The Perseverance of the Saints,” claims: “They whom God hath accepted in his Beloved, effectually called and sanctified by his Spirit, can neither totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace; but shall certainly persevere therein to the end, and be eternally saved” [pgs. 102, 103]. 

But Calvin is not the originator of this doctrine. It was first taught by Satan thousands of years before in the Garden of Eden. Do you remember the discussion Mother Eve had with Satan? “Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, ‘Indeed, has God said, 'You shall not eat from any tree of the garden'? The woman said to the serpent, ‘From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, 'You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die.' The serpent said to the woman, ‘You surely will not die!’” (Genesis 3:1-4). 

Did you catch what Satan said? “You surely will not die!” As we say, he told her a bald-faced lie! We know that Adam and Eve experienced two deaths. They died spiritually, as they were driven out of the garden, and away from the presence of God, and they eventually died physically, for they were denied access to the tree of life. Thus Satan convinced Eve that since she was in a right relationship with God, that relationship could never be lost.  

This doctrine has given much comfort to individuals through the centuries. I have known of those who have chosen to live a life that is totally in violation of the will of God, but they place faith in the belief that they cannot be lost, because “once saved, always saved.” 

An example of this is seen in a Newsweek magazine article (11/2/98) titled, “Sex, Sin and Salvation.” The sub-caption read: “To understand Clinton the president, you have to meet Bill the Baptist, a believer whose faith leaves plenty of license.” The writer was explaining how the president of our nation could appear so “religious” on one hand (often seen attending church on Sundays, Bible in hand), and yet so immoral at other times. There is considerable evidence that Clinton has had adulterous affairs with numerous women. Consider this statement:

“Clinton’s troubled personal life — and his repeated verbal evasions — also bears a distinctive Baptist stamp. Like most Baptists, Clinton was taught that because he had been born again, his salvation is ensured. Sinning even repeatedly — would not bar his soul from heaven. . . As a born-again Baptist, however, the president believes that what he does in private is nobody’s business but the Lord’s.”

Hoyt Chastain was a Missionary Baptist preacher who defended, in public debate, the idea that a child of God cannot fall from grace. In one debate Chastain affirmed that he could abandon his wife and children, move in with a sixteen-year-old girl, and the Lord would take the situation and “work it out for his good.” Unbelievable!

Case in point. Another Baptist preacher, 54-year-old J. L. Pettit, seduced a fourteen-year-old girl. He was arrested and brought to trial. The girl swore on the witness stand that the minister told her their sexual activity was merely a “matter of the flesh,” and it would not “bother the soul.”

Bill Foster, Baptist preacher in Louisville, KY commented: "If I killed my wife and mother and debauched a thousand women, I couldn't go to hell -- in fact, I couldn't go to hell if I wanted to. If on the judgment day, I should find that my loved ones are lost and should lose all desire to be saved, and should beg God to send me to hell with them, He couldn't do it" (The Weekly Worker, March 12, 1959).

Question: At what point do we lose our free will and become robots? The logical conclusion of this doctrine is that once a person is saved, free will is lost. There is no other conclusion to be drawn from what Mr. Foster stated in the previous paragraph. Now, could someone please show me the Scripture that states that at any stage in life we lose the ability to make our own choices, either good or bad?

Well, what about such passages as John 10:29? "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.” This presents no problem. No one has power over me except by my permission. No one, not even Satan, can take me away from the Lord. But I have the right to walk away if that is my choice. As stated above, God grants us free will to choose either right or wrong. As Joshua told Israel many centuries ago, “…choose for yourselves today whom you will serve…” (Joshua 24:15). They were free to choose to serve God, or serve the idols of the nation from which they had escaped. They were God’s people, God’s chosen people, but that fact did not remove from them the ability to make choices.

The foregoing quotes well illustrate the position of Baptist, Presbyterian and other churches that accept Calvinism. Now, let us consider the other side.

What Does the Bible Teach?

Galatians 5:4: “You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.” Paul is writing to Christians who were seeking to bind parts of the old law, the Law of Moses, and warning them of the consequences. Note that you cannot be “severed” from something that you were not once connected to. Furthermore, you cannot “fall” from something that you were not “in.” Therefore, the contention that one “cannot fall from grace” is directly contradicted by this passage.

John 15:5-6: “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned.” Here Christ admonishes his followers to be fruitful and stay faithful to him. Otherwise, the unfruitful branch is “thrown away and dries up.” If it is “thrown away” is it obvious that once it was a part of the vine, which is Christ. Furthermore, this cut off branch is “cast into the fire and…burned.” That describes hell, not heaven. Several years ago I heard a debate between Clinton Hamilton and a Baptist preacher. Hamilton took a vine before the audience, and broke a branch off the vine. That was certainly a vivid illustration of the spiritual truth which was spoken by Christ. It was hard to miss the point!

Jude 5: “Now I desire to remind you, though you know all things once for all, that the Lord, after saving a people out of the land of Egypt, subsequently destroyed those who did not believe.” Note there were people who were “saved” when they escaped Egyptian slavery, but that some were “destroyed…who did not believe.” Is it possible for a “believer” to become an “unbeliever?” Obviously so.

Hebrews 3:8-12: “Harden not your hearts, as in the provocation, Like as in the day of the trial in the wilderness, Where your fathers tried me by proving me, And saw my works forty years. Wherefore I was displeased with this generation, And said, They do always err in their heart: But they did not know my ways; As I sware in my wrath, They shall not enter into my rest. Take heed, brethren, lest haply there shall be in any one of you an evil heart of unbelief, in falling away from the living God.” Again, referring to the Israelites who were delivered from Egyptian slavery, the author of Hebrews refers to those who were disobedient as having “fallen away from the living God.” Some claim that those that are lost were never truly saved in the first place, but as stated earlier, you cannot “fall away” from something that you were never “in.”

John 17:12: "While I was with them, I was keeping them in Your name which You have given Me; and I guarded them and not one of them perished but the son of perdition, so that the Scripture would be fulfilled.” Here Christ speaks of the twelve apostles, and refers to Judas as the one who “perished.” Judas could not have “perished” if first he had not been “alive,” that is, an accepted member of the select twelve that Christ had chosen. Therefore, Judas “fell away.”

A further consideration about Judas affirms that he was once in a right relationship with God. He was an apostle, chosen by Christ, and endued with all the miraculous powers that the other apostles possessed. In Matthew 10:5-8, Christ is giving instructions to the twelve: “These twelve Jesus sent out after instructing them: "Do not go in the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter any city of the Samaritans; but rather go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And as you go, preach, saying, 'The kingdom of heaven is at hand.' Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. Freely you received, freely give.” A lost person does not have these powers. Note that among the powers Judas had was “cast out demons.”

If Judas was able to cast our demons at that time, that establishes the fact that he was in a right relationship with God. Note what Christ said to the scribes when they were seeking to demonize him on the matter of casting out demons. “The scribes who came down from Jerusalem were saying, ‘He is possessed by Beelzebul,’ and ‘He casts out the demons by the ruler of the demons.’ And He called them to Himself and began speaking to them in parables, ‘How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. If Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but he is finished!’” (Mark 3:22-26).

This record of Judas completely refutes the claim that those who are lost were never saved in the first place. When faced with believers who have turned to a life of sin, those who believe in Calvinism then claim the person was never truly saved in the first place. The story of Judas destroys that argument!

There was another apostle whose sin was recorded -- Peter (also known as Cephas). When Peter went to Antioch, he mingled freely among the Gentile Christians, but the problem arose when some Jewish Christians came to town. “But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For prior to the coming of certain men from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the party of the circumcision. The rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy” (Galatians 2:11-13). Please note that Paul said Peter “stood condemned,” and that he practiced “hypocrisy.” Question: can a “condemned” man go to heaven?

So what is the difference between Judas and Peter? Judas never repented and asked forgiveness, while the subsequent record of Peter’s life is evidence that he repented and was forgiven.

It was that same Peter who had an encounter with Simon the sorcerer in Acts 8. Simon had been baptized, along with many others (Acts 8:13). Later, Peter and John came, and began laying hands on the disciples and imparting spiritual gifts. Simon was amazed when he saw genuine miracles, and reverted to his old life. “Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was bestowed through the laying on of the apostles' hands, he offered them money, saying, ‘Give this authority to me as well, so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.’ But Peter said to him, ‘May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! You have no part or portion in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. Therefore repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray the Lord that, if possible, the intention of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bondage of iniquity.’ But Simon answered and said, ‘Pray to the Lord for me yourselves, so that nothing of what you have said may come upon me’” (Acts 8:18-24).

Please note carefully the events: (1) Simon was baptized and thus had the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38); (2) Simon later sought to buy the gift of God with money; (3) Simon was told his heart was not right with God; (4) Simon was told to repent and pray; (5) Simon did repent, and asked Peter and John to pray for him.

To What Does the "Once Saved ..." Doctrine Lead?

Jude 4: For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ." As seen in the statements and practices of those who believe this doctrine, even preachers, the results can be the practice of sin. This is what Jude has said about those “ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness…” Licentiousness is defined as “filthy, lasciviousness, wantonness.” How does one do this to the grace of God? This is done by those who teach that sin does not count, that one can live in sin and not be condemned, that one can rape and murder and not be held accountable. Who can believe it?

While many who believe “once saved, always saved,” would not approve such evil practices, they cannot deny that their doctrine leads to this end. And if they are members of a church that is teaching false doctrine, then they are endorsing false doctrine.

I cannot believe it, and the Word of God does not teach it. Gentle reader, if you are a part of a church that teaches this doctrine, then please understand that you are not a part of the church that Christ established, the church we read about in the New Testament.

If, as the “once saved, always saved” doctrine teaches, one cannot absolutely be lost after receiving salvation, why are there so many passages warning against apostasy? Seems like it would be wasted effort. Why would God repeatedly warn us against something that cannot happen?

May God help us to understand and follow the word of Christ, for, as Peter said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life” (John 6:68).