One of the features of the BibleTalk.tv website is that people can make comments, ask questions, or send emails directly to me about the content or they send emails to Hal Gatewood concerning technical matters. Most comments are kind and encouraging coming from people who are members of the church, but most comments are from people from the United States and other countries who watch and use BibleTalk materials but who are members of other religious groups.
They have many questions, which I try to answer personally, however one question or challenge to my teaching is often repeated and that is, "why do I teach that it is possible for a Christian to lose his or her salvation?" This question or challenge is expressed in different ways, for example:
- You're just preaching a "works" type of gospel. This is because I insist that baptism, along with faith and repentance is a necessary response to the gospel. The point of the objection here being that baptism is a work and we're saved by faith only.
- Another charge is that I'm preaching a salvation by discipleship gospel. The accusation based on my insistence that Christians must grow spiritually or they'll die spiritually. The argument here being that once we are saved, nothing we do or fail to do (like grow spiritually) can cause to lose our salvation nothing.
Of course these arguments and pushback are based on the notion described by the title of this sermon here: "Once Saved, Always Saved?" I put a question mark but normally there's no question mark.
This debate reached a critical point recently when one of the BibleTalk viewers challenged me to name a single person in the Bible that was saved and then according to the Bible was lost. This challenge made me realize that I had not talked specifically on the topic of "once saved, always saved" before and it was time to bring some biblical clarity to this important subject.
Once Saved, Always Saved – History
Perseverance of the saints, also referred to as eternal security as well as the doctrine known as Once Saved, Always Saved is a teaching that essentially says that:
- Once a person is born of God regenerated by the Holy Spirit nothing in heaven or on earth will be able to separate that person from God (Romans 8:39).
- In other words once you are saved this is how you will always be no matter what.
Of course, no doctrine exists in a vacuum. Teachings are based or formulated to complement or to support other teachings. This idea (Once Saved, Always Saved) is no exception being a doctrine originally formulated by Augustine of Hippo who was a fourth century Catholic monk and theologian who taught that:
Those whom God chooses to save are given, in addition to the gift of faith, a gift of perseverance which enables them to continue to believe, and precludes the possibility of falling away.
That's where it started. Then John Calvin incorporated this idea as part of his five points of Calvinism defined and confirmed at the Synod of Dort in 1618 and they were:
- Total depravity – Mankind is dead spiritually and cannot want or understand the gospel or salvation unless he is unable to do so by God's Spirit.
- Unconditional Election – God chooses who He will give eternal life to, without considering anything good or bad about them.
- Limited Atonement – The death and payment for sins is limited to only those chosen by God for salvation.
- Irresistible Grace – God's grace to save a person cannot be resisted, you cannot say no to God. If He decides to save you that's it you're done, you have to accept it.
- Perseverance of the Saved – Once saved always saved.
This is the TULIP acrostic of how to remember the five points of Calvinism.
Now when someone says what's the difference between us and our Baptist friends across the street or what's the difference between ourselves and our evangelical or Pentecostal or Protestant friends what's the difference between us? The answer is not simply well they use instruments in their worship and we don't or the difference is they have women preachers and we don't or they don't think baptism is necessary and we do.
These are important differences yes but the core differences that produce these outward are twofold:
- They don't accept the fact that what the Bible specifically teaches about a matter is the binding and final authority and we do. This is why they permit and encourage non biblical practices such as women pastors or instrumental music being used in worship or acceptance of openly and practicing gay members and ministers and we reject these things and other non biblical practices because they cannot be supported with Scripture. It's not being narrow-minded or legalistic to say that something cannot be supported by Scripture.
- Their doctrines and practices concerning salvation are to a lesser or greater degree based on Calvin's five-point teaching on salvation while our teaching on salvation openly rejects these relying solely on the New Testament's plain teaching about salvation. This is not being "self-righteous" or "holier-than-thou" – that's just staking out a position.
Thomas Campbell, one of the early preachers and teachers responsible for the restoration movement from which come the Churches of Christ began to reject and declare as unbiblical these teachings by Calvin that form the basic theology for most Baptist, evangelical and Protestant churches. One of the reasons why the Churches of Christ grew so quickly in the 19th and 20th centuries was the rejection of these Calvinist principles in favor of the simple message of salvation from the New Testament preached and taught by Church of Christ evangelists and teachers. For example, in the case of:
1. Total Depravity
We said man is a sinner yes but not so depraved that he can't hear and respond to the good news of Jesus Christ. Where did we get that idea?
18And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age."
- Matthew 28:18-20
2. Unconditional Election
You don't need to wait and wonder if God will choose you for salvation salvations for everybody who believes and is baptized in Jesus' name, where did we get that idea?
He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned.
- Mark 16:16
Seems to me that it puts the focus on the person who believes and is baptized. And "he who has disbelieved" which one will be condemned, the one that God doesn't choose? Well it seems to me that the Bible says no, the one who doesn't believe that's the one who will be condemned.
3. Limited Atonement
Jesus' sacrifice is not only for a precious view but as Paul says in I Timothy 2:6, "Who gave Himself as a ransom," for who? Some of the people the ones that were chosen? No, His sacrifice is a ransom for everybody. Everybody who does what? Everybody who believes and is baptized.
4. Irresistible grace
The believer had a part to play in his own salvation by the exercise of his will in expressing his faith through obedience. Those who believed, there's the act of will, on Pentecost Sunday expressed their belief according to Peter's command to repent and be baptized.
37Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, "Brethren, what shall we do?" 38Peter said to them, "Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself." 40And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, "Be saved from this perverse generation!" 41So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls.
- Acts 2:37-41
The Bible doesn't say that those who were arbitrarily chosen by God came forward and were saved. Luke says that salvation (the promise) was for everyone that God called to Himself, not everyone that God randomly chose. That's simple grammar, not theology. The preceding verses demonstrate how God does this calling through the preaching of the gospel to all the nations and there's a demonstration on Pentecost Sunday.
Then in verse 41, Luke writes that those who received the word were baptized. There's no arbitrariness here. There's no irresistible grace here. The Bible says that those who believed (an act of the will) in other words accepted as true that Jesus was the Son of God and those who repented were baptized in His name, those people would actually receive forgiveness and the gift of the Holy Spirit.
These people acted on their belief or express their faith according to Peter's instructions and therein lies the difference between ourselves and our Catholic, Protestant, Evangelical and Pentacostal friends and neighbors. Their view of salvation and baptism is more highly influenced by Augustin and Calvin's teaching than they are by the New Testaments teaching on the subject. For example:
Roman Catholicism – Catholics baptize babies because they believe in total depravity, they call it original sin. A baby is born, they believe, a baby is born with sin and based on the vicarious faith of the parents or the godparents that sin is removed at baptism. Never mind that a baby cannot repent or give an assent of will according to the New Testament, Catholic dogma and tradition trump basic Bible teaching, that's what's happening.
Most Protestant, evangelical, Pentecostal – Calvinistic teaching has crystallized into traditions and practices where people do things not even aware of why they do them. When I had talked to some Baptist people that I know and we happen to get to talk about religion they can't explain why they believe what they believe they don't know the background of it. The teaching on baptism being a prime example. These groups don't see the necessity of baptism because it represents man's conscious participation in his own salvation and they reject that idea. The problem is baptism then becomes that pesky thing and you have to figure out what to do with it. The Bible says over and over that you have to do it but they don't know what to do with the it. If as Calvin teaches God chooses you and you can't resist His choosing, then baptism has no real purpose since it represents your response to God's offer of salvation.
This is why evangelical and Baptists accept Jesus into their hearts, now that term "accept Jesus into your heart" that's not a biblical term. You won't find that anywhere in the New Testament as a response in faith. They say that because they have no say in the matter other than to accept what God has done. This is why they come up with so many tortured explanations for the role of baptism, none of which are supported by any Scripture (i.e. "an outward sign of an inward grace" or "it's a symbol of your salvation" or it's a "witness that we are already saved"). You won't find these in Scripture. It seems to me that when Peter the Apostle is preaching, he's saying repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of sin. Grammatically, textually and historically the repentance and the baptism come first and then the salvation comes afterward not before.
So if baptism is essential, as we believe the Bible teaches, then this undermines the theological framework that supports their practices and public teaching.
5. Perseverance of the Saved
Those chosen by God can never lose their salvation. Restorationists taught that man's continued salvation is based on his continued faith and those who remain faithful until death or Christ's return (whichever comes first) these will be saved. Jesus Himself said:
But the one who endures to the end, will be saved.
- Matthew 24:13
The back and forth that I had with a lot of people says "oh well, that scripture is only talking about the millennial reign" or "it's only talking about the end time." So what? You either have to be saved to the end or when Jesus comes or during the millennial reign or whenever it is, it still says what it says. You have to be faithful to the end of whatever era you're in to maintain your salvation.
In answer to the statement, "show me one person in the Bible who was saved and then lost" here are some examples of this transformation:
He was called Morningstar and was created and anointed as a guardian cherub. Isaiah and Ezekiel write of his change and fall from that position because of his own actions.
14"You were the anointed cherub who covers,
And I placed you there.
You were on the holy mountain of God;
You walked in the midst of the stones of fire.
15"You were blameless in your ways
From the day you were created
Until unrighteousness was found in you.
- Ezekiel 28:14-15
12"How you have fallen from heaven,
O star of the morning, son of the dawn!
You have been cut down to the earth,
You who have weakened the nations!
13"But you said in your heart,
'I will ascend to heaven;
I will raise my throne above the stars of God,
And I will sit on the mount of assembly
In the recesses of the north.
14'I will ascend above the heights of the clouds;
I will make myself like the Most High.'
- Isaiah 14:12-14
Here we see that he fell from this position because of his own actions and pride and then lost forever in:
And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are also; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.
- Revelation 20:10
Don't pray for the devil, he's done. The answer to the question "can someone who is saved someone (with God) be lost?" was answered with Lucifer's fall from perfection before the world was even created.
Cain was not a lost person, he even consciously worshiped God as did his brother Abel. God even warned him of his potential fall:
If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.
- Genesis 4:7
That was a warning, be careful you're going to fall. So there was a moment there where he had to make a choice and what happened? Cain made the wrong choice, he became an unrepentant murderer and unrepentant murderers are not in heaven (Galatians 5:21)
Judas was a Jew, among God's people, and chosen as an Apostle. He, like the other Apostles, went out to preach and heal and cast out spirits.
5These 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; 6but rather go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 7And as you go, preach, saying, 'The kingdom of heaven is at hand.'
- Matthew 10:5-7
Judas was among that group, but there was a precise spiritual tipping point where Judas rejected the faith he had and gave in to his disbelief, dishonesty and greed.
26Jesus then answered, "That is the one for whom I shall dip the morsel and give it to him." So when He had dipped the morsel, He took and gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. 27After the morsel, Satan then entered into him. Therefore Jesus *said to him, "What you do, do quickly."
- John 13:26-27
God did not force Judas to believe or disbelief, He merely knew in advance what Judas would choose and folded that knowledge into His plan and to His purpose. Peter pronounces the obvious end to the unrepentant traitor.
to occupy this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place."
- Acts 1:25
When he talks about replacing Judas and he talks about Judas who would occupy this ministry and Apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place, again Peter is saying that Judas, what did he do? He turned aside, he chose to go the other way, to go to his own place, what place is that? The place of condemnation for having disbelieved and rejected the faith.
4. The seven churches and the seven angels
One of the most dramatic examples of the possibility of losing salvation is found in the book of Revelation. John explains his vision of the seven lampstands and the seven stars.
As for the mystery of the seven stars which you saw in My right hand, and the seven golden lampstands: the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.
- Revelation 1:20
In this vision John receives a message from Jesus for the seven churches at that time located in Asia Minor. Each message contains an encouragement as well as a warning for each of these churches. The encouragements are positive comments on these church's faithfulness and perseverance and their service and their love. The warnings, however, are all the same:
The churches must endure and overcome and remain faithful until death or Jesus' return if they are to receive the reward which is described in different ways. John writes either you must endure to the end in order to eat of the Tree of Life or not be hurt by the second death or receive the hidden manna or the white stone or the new name. These are all different ways of saying eternal life or the eternal reward and all refer to the reward of those who endure until the end.
The second part, which is understood, is that those who don't do this will not receive this reward.
Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place—unless you repent.
- Revelation 2:5
These passages teach that the saved by their conscious faithfulness, maintain their salvation. If individuals were chosen in advance by God for salvation and could never be lost once they were saved, there would be no need for these verses.
If there is no possibility that once saved the Christian could never lose that salvation, why would the Holy Spirit through the inspired writers give us the following verses?
1It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery. 2Behold I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you. 3And I testify again to every man who receives circumcision, that he is under obligation to keep the whole Law. 4You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.
- Galatians 5:1-4
Paul is warning the Galatian Christians that if they forsake the gospel (which is what saves them) and they succumb to the false teachers who were preaching a salvation based on the law (primarily being circumcised and keeping food laws). He said if you do that you're cut off from Christ.
17These are springs without water and mists driven by a storm, for whom the black darkness has been reserved. 18For speaking out arrogant words of vanity they entice by fleshly desires, by sensuality, those who barely escape from the ones who live in error, 19promising them freedom while they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by what a man is overcome, by this he is enslaved. 20For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world by the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and are overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. 21For it would be better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn away from the holy commandment handed on to them. 22It has happened to them according to the true proverb, "A dog returns to its own vomit," and, "A sow, after washing, returns to wallowing in the mire."
- II Peter 2:17-22
Again a warning against false teachers this time promoting teachings that enable believers to sin without any spiritual consequences, labeling their heresies as a type of liberation theology or religious freedom, that's what was going on here that Peter was writing about. Note that Peter traces the dangerous consequences for believers who fall into this trap: they're freed from the trap of sin by Jesus the gospel but then because of false teaching which they choose to believe they returned to the trap.
Peter says that the last state being trapped in sin and lost but knowing Christ is worse than the first state being trapped in sin and lost but at least ignorant of Christ. If one was saved without the possibility of being lost why would Peter write this? There'd be no point to this unless Peter was confused.
And then of course there's Hebrews 6:1-6. This passage was written to Jewish Christians who were struggling with their faith and they were tempted to quit and return to Judaism or just returned to the world as unbelievers. Now in most of the letter the writer to the Hebrews explains how Christianity is superior and the fulfillment of the Jewish religion and to return to Judaism would be a forfeiture of all the blessings they had in Christ including eternal salvation. If one could not be lost again I asked the question why would there be a need for this warning in this letter? In chapter 6 the writer graphically describes what happens to one who abandons Christ for another religion or for the world, he says in verse 1,
1Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, 2of instruction about washings and laying on of hands, and the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment. 3And this we will do, if God permits. 4For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, 5and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come,
- Hebrews 6:1-5
Here the writer establishes the identity of the person he's writing about:
- Enlightened – the knowledge that Jesus is the Son of God. They understand that God's method of salvation is through the atoning work of Jesus. They have been revealed, the future that they will have, the resurrection that is to come, they have that enlightenment.
- Tasted Heavenly Gifts – Peace and joy that comes from forgiveness,
- Partakers of the Holy Spirit – The indwelling in Acts 2:38 says the Spirit comes within you that the Spirit indwells you at the moment of baptism, and in Romans 8:13 the influence of the Holy Spirit in our prayer life and in our conduct in our study and so on and so forth this is how Christians partake of the Holy Spirit.
- Tasted the Good Word – The powers of the age to come. Christians are witnesses of the transforming power of God's word in their own lives and in the lives of other people, at that time many of them had spiritual gifts of healing and speaking in tongues and so on and so forth and so it is clear that he is talking about Christians here he's not talking about lost people. I mean lost people are not enlightened, they haven't tasted the gift of the Spirit they don't have hope of resurrection does it though he's talking to saved people here okay.
It's clear that he is talking about Christians here.
6and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame. 7For ground that drinks the rain which often falls on it and brings forth vegetation useful to those for whose sake it is also tilled, receives a blessing from God; 8but if it yields thorns and thistles, it is worthless and close to being cursed, and it ends up being burned.
- Hebrews 6:6-8
I don't know about you but that's not good news. That doesn't say you'll always be saved it doesn't matter if you fall away you'll never be separated from God, I don't I don't get that from that passage. He clearly states what happens the believer falls away and does so by rejecting and abandoning the things that he's just described. The author then describes what happens to the one who has done this:
- Produces sinfulness and disbelief (thorns and thistles)
- Considered worthless
- Close to being cursed (while alive)
- Being burned (lost) at judgment
Now Calvinists say that the reason this person fell and was lost is because they were never really chosen by God in the first place. They were insincere or they were just pretending to be Christians or give some other reason when I bring up this passage here this is what they say to me; however the author of Hebrews doesn't say this, he doesn't even suggest it. The person he is describing is a genuine Christian who because of weakening faith and the draw of the world eventually rejected Christ and renounced his faith through worldly living as opposed to spiritual living and as a result stands condemned and will bear the punishment due a judgment, that's what he's saying, that's not what I'm saying. Don't be mad at me.
Because of the free will we have, it enables us to go in either direction. It's the highway to heaven but it's also the highway to hell. It's what makes us human. It's what makes our love for God meaningful. It's what makes it worth something.
I hope that this study which is difficult to hear is nevertheless clear about what the Bible teaches concerning the possibility of one losing their salvation. This is not meant to be an encouraging or uplifting sermon, it's meant to be sobering one. There's a time for everything under the sun and so as you read this, it's a time for sober consideration as a mature Christian.
Let me close with an admonition to sober mindedness and the reason that this is necessary.
8Be 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. 10After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you. 11To Him be dominion forever and ever. Amen.
- I Peter 5:8-11
I repeat once again, if it were impossible to be lost, once saved, why would Peter warn Christians to be sober minded and aware of Satan's efforts to destroy us? However sober mindedness doesn't mean being afraid:
- I'm not afraid of the devil
- I'm not afraid of falling away
- I'm not afraid that I might lose my salvation
Being sober minded means that I am aware:
- That He who is in me is greater than he who is in the world.
- That God cares for me and does not want any believer to be lost (Matthew 18:14)
- That God Himself through the Holy Spirit within me has promised to create and perfect the image of Christ's character upon me (I Peter 5:10-11)
- That God has given me everything I need to remain faithful to the end:
- He's given me the words of Christ to save me and guide me.
- The Church of Christ to minister to me to train me to minister to others and to help me remain faithful (the work of the shepherds).
- The Holy Spirit sent by Christ to comfort me and strengthen me and at the end of time raise me up from the dead to be with the Lord forever.
Let us therefore be sober minded and consider these things.