Pearl of Great Value - Matt. 13:45-46

Bible Studies, By Richard Kirby


Why Once-Saved-Always-Saved is False

I have no desire in this study to cast doubt on the blessed security that we believers enjoy in Christ. I gladly allow, with deep gratitude, that God acts effectively in saving us and keeping us. What has distressed me is the large number of ex-Baptists, and ex-evangelical Christians, who think they are saved even though they are living ungodly, disobedient lives. Surely something is wrong with the way they have been taught if they think the Bible gives them reason to hope in Christ when by their lives they openly flaunt His teaching and insult His “Spirit of grace” (Heb. 10:29). 

They have been told, over and over, that once a person is in grace he is always in grace, that one cannot lose or forfeit salvation, that once saved always saved. Their teachers base this false teaching on the slimmest possible scripture evidence and in opposition to abundant, even overwhelming, evidence to the contrary. 

They have been told that, if a professing Christian forsakes Christ, loses his faith, and returns to the  world, that means that he never was truly born again. When a born-again believer, a real Christian, forsakes Christ, loses his faith, and returns to the world, the worst thing that can happen to him is that God will shorten his life and take him on to heaven early. But in no way will he lose his salvation if he really was saved. God may punish him, or his loved ones, for his disobedience, but before he dies he will return to Christ and go to heaven. 

I could almost tolerate the doctrine, false as it is, if it were preached in such a way as to deny false hope to people in open disobedience to Christ. If preachers insisted that anyone who walks away from Christ and turn back to sin has no hope in Christ because he is not really saved, I would not have much of a quarrel with them. But apparently that's not the way it is taught. Or at least that's not the way the doctrine percolates down to the pews. For I know many, many people who say they are saved, yet they carelessly, knowingly disobey God and break His commandments. I know they are not saved. I know that they have nothing to look forward to, unless they repent, but a certain fearful looking for judgment and a fiery indignation which shall devour the adversaries” (Heb. 10:27). I do not know whether they were “once saved” or not. They think they were saved, years ago perhaps. And because of the lie they have been taught, they think they are therefore “always saved” though they give not a thought to serving God and obeying His word. 

I venture to say that this doctrine was spawned in hell and is the cause of more damnation than nearly any other error I can imagine. For a real Christian this error is not deadly. A truly regenerated believer will serve God out of love, and the belief that he is eternally secure is no danger to him. But for those who fall and might be restored, for those who are slack and might truly be converted, this false doctrine is positively lethal. For it allows them to continue on their fatal course in the false confidence that they are “eternally secure.” 

I know many evangelical Christians for whom eternal security is a comforting backdrop to a life of sanctity and righteous living. But I know almost as many for whom it is an excuse to indulge in willful sinning for which, God says, “no sacrifice for sins is left” (Heb. 10:26).  Once-saved-always-saved offers a false security for the slack, a vain hope for the ungodly, and an unnecessary support to the righteous. The doctrine has very flimsy scriptural support. The golden text, the text that weighs enough among Baptists to counterbalance enormous evidence to the contrary, is John 10:28, which says: “And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.”  I will say more about this verse later, but for now I will say this: 1) That other scriptures clearly qualify the words, “they shall never perish” since other scriptures strongly declare that they will perish unless they remain faithful to the end of their lives. 2) It is one thing to say that no faithful, humble disciple, clinging to Christ in faith, will ever be snatched away from Christ; it is altogether another things to affirm, on the basis of this text, that no one can possibly walk away from Christ, or (having grown lax and cold) can be seduced back into the world.   

This scripture in no way weakens the powerful warnings in the book of Hebrews, especially Hebrews 10:26, 27: “For if we sin willfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remains no more sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries.” The writer of Hebrew uses the pronoun ‘we,’ meaning himself and his correspondents. The writer is obviously a regenerated man writing to “holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling” (3:1).  In the strongest possible words the writer implies that Christians can sin willfully; and that if they continue in willful sin, there is no sacrifice for their sin; and that they need not expect to be taken to heaven, but rather to be burned up with God’s other enemies.

This doctrine, as it is currently taught, seems to suggest that a person is free to accept or reject the Gospel before he is saved, but that he is not free to reject Christ after his salvation. Actually this doctrine has no logical place in Bible teaching unless it is tied to the theology of Calvinism. Common sense suggests that if the willing cooperation of the individual is necessary for salvation, then it is also essential to his perseverance. We are saved by faith, and we are kept by faith. And though faith is a free gift, it is not given arbitrarily apart from human cooperation or volition. 

Calvinism teaches that perseverance is inevitable for the elect, and that they can do nothing to forfeit their salvation. But this doctrine is logically linked to four other tenets of Calvinist faith and is the logical consequence of those tenets.   

The five points of Calvinism are often explained using the acronym TULIP.  They are as follows:  The entire human race is so desperately crippled by sin that no individual can respond to the offer of grace (Total Inability); therefore God must accomplish man’s salvation Himself, choosing arbitrarily beforehand who will be saved and who will be lost (Unconditional Predestination); He then sends Jesus to die for those whom He has chosen to be saved, not for all of mankind (Limited Atonement); God then applies effective and irresistible pressure on His chosen ones (“the Elect”) so that they must unfailingly turn to Him and be saved (Irresistible Grace); and finally, to climax this entirely divine work, God keeps the elect infallibly in grace until they pass into glory (Perseverance of the Saints). Thus we see that the “TULIP” of hyper-Calvinism outlines a logical progression from one false premise to another leading inevitably to the error of Once-Saved-Always-Saved. Taken as a whole the Calvinist TULIP forms a self-contained, consistent (though false) system. But one petal without the other five is forlorn and meaningless.

In my experience most Evangelicals and Baptists do not accept the first four tenets of Calvinism. They believe that Christ died for “all men,” not just the elect. They do not believe that grace is “irresistible.” They do not believe that God arbitrarily predetermined that some men would be inevitably lost. They believe that we have sufficient free will to choose or reject salvation. Yet they believe and espouse the last tenet of Calvinism—Perseverance of the Saints—with a near fanatical tenacity. They might be called, I suppose, one-petal Calvinists. 

Another key text used to support the Eternal Security of the believer is John 5:34:  “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned [will not come into judgment, KJV]; he has crossed over from death to life.” This is a precious text indeed, highlighting as it does our present possession of, and our future hope of, eternal life. But does it say what proponents of Once-Saved-Always-Saved claim for it?  Surely it comes short of saying that our present possession of eternal life infallibly insures against our losing it. 

The case for their interpretation of this verse would be plausible if there were not strong scriptural evidence against it. For example, Hebrews 6:4-8. 

“It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit,  who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age,  if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because [Or repentance while] to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace. Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God. But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned.” 

Not only is this text clearly speaking of saved people, it is referring to Christians who have had a deep and powerful experience of salvation. They have known the indwelling Holy Spirit, experienced the heavenly gift of salvation, been illumined by inward grace, tasted the goodness of God’s word, and had a taste of the miraculous powers of the coming age.  These are people who are deeply and thoroughly saved. The terrible warning of this scripture is not for the barely saved, or for those with a shallow, or incomplete conversion.  It refers to people who have known the full-orbed, manifold grace of God in complete salvation.

If these fall away, their condition is tragic and hopeless. If this text alone does not prove the possibility of apostasy and loss of salvation, what words could we find that would? Do the advocates of eternal security believe that someone who cannot repent, who is crucifying Jesus Christ all over again, and by his actions is subjecting Him to open shame—do they really believe such a person will by carried off to heaven without repentance? 

What do they say of this text? That these are not truly regenerate people? But if they are not regenerate, surely a burden is on the expositor who says they are not to give just reason for his opinion. It is not enough to go back to their golden proof-texts and claim that they make the apparent meaning of the text impossible. For we have seen that the proof-texts for eternal security come short of proving the doctrine, and they are surely not strong enough to counteract this powerful text. Thank God that no man can snatch us out of Christ’s hands. Thank God that faithful Christians have eternal life and will not come under condemnation. But this scripture says as plainly as words can that a thoroughly-saved, fully-converted Christian can “fall away,” and that his fall is terrible and final. 

Is it not hermeneutical hybris to set aside a score of texts that strongly suggest conditional salvation for one or two doubtful scriptures?  The proponents of unconditional salvation suffer from a dearth of scripture evidence. Their opponents enjoy and embarrassment of riches. Here are just a few of the many, many Scripture texts that emply that salvation is contingent on continuing faithfulness. 

“He who endures to the end shall be saved” (Matt. 10:22). 

“If a man abide not in Me, he is cast forth as a branch and is withered; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned” (John 15:6-7). 

“To them that by patience in well-doing, seek for glory, and honor, and incorruption, eternal life” (Romans 2:7). 

“Be not high-minded, but fear; for if God spared not the natural branches, neither will He spare you.  Behold the goodness and severity of God; toward them that fell severity; but toward thee God’s goodness, if thou continue in His goodness; otherwise, thou also shalt be cut off” (Romans 11:20-22). 

“...To present you holy and without blemish and unreproveable before Him; if so be that you continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the Gospel (|Colossians 1:22b-23). 

“...Whose house are we, if we hold fast our boldness, and glorying of our hope firm unto the end” (Hebrews 3:6). 

“For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our confidence firm unto the end (Hebrews 3:14). 

To him who overcomes, to him will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God” (Revelation 2:7). “He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death” (2:11). “To him who overcomes, to him will I give to eat of the hidden manna. I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it...” (2:19. “He who overcomes, and he that keeps my works unto the end, to him will I give authority over the nations" (2: 26). “He who overcomes shall thus be arrayed in white garments; and I will in no wise blot his name out of the book of life" (3:5). And so on. 

I close with a remarkable quotation from John Wesley, with which I wholeheartedly agree:

Calvinists, who deny that salvation can ever be lost, reason on the subject in a marvelous way. They tell us, that no virgin's lamp can go out; no promising harvest be choked with thorns; no branch in Christ can ever be cut off from unfruitfulness; no pardon can ever be forfeited, and no name blotted out of God's book! They insist that no salt can ever lose its savor; nobody can ever "receive the grace of God in vain"; "bury his talents"; "neglect such great salvation"; trifle away "a day of grace"; "look back" after putting his hand to the gospel plow. Nobody can "grieve the Spirit" till He is "quenched," and strives no more, nor "deny the Lord that bought them"; nor "bring upon themselves swift destruction." Nobody, or body of believers, can ever get so lukewarm that Jesus will spew them out of His mouth. They use reams of paper to argue that if one ever got lost he was never found. John 17:12; that if one falls, he never stood. Rom. 11:16-22 and Heb. 6:4-6; if one was ever "cast forth," he was never in, and "if one ever withered," he was never green. John 15:1-6; and that "if any man draws back," it proves that he never had anything to draw back from. Heb. 10:38,39; that if one ever "falls away into spiritual darkness," he was never enlightened. Heb 6:4-6; that if you "again get entangled in the pollutions of the world," it shows that you never escaped. 2 Pet 2:20; that if you "put salvation away" you never had it to put away, and if you make shipwreck of faith, there was no ship of faith there!! In short they say: If you get it, you can't lose it; and if you lose it you never had it. May God save us from accepting a doctrine, that must be defended by such fallacious reasoning!”

May God rid the Body of Christ of this devilish doctrine, which offers false hope to the ungodly.