WHAT WE MEAN WHEN WE PREACH “ONCE SAVED ALWAYS SAVED!”
Both Christians and unbelievers always ask, “Are you telling me that if someone just accepted Jesus as his Lord and savior and still lives in sin, that he is still eternally secure and on his way to heaven”?
No that is not what this doctrine teaches!
Then what does it mean?
To understand what it means, we need to understand how one becomes a Christian in the first place. This is vital for our understanding of all the other things pertaining to salvation.
Basically there are three types of Christians. Preacher-made, self-made, and God-made ones. In the former are included not only those who were “sprinkled” in infancy and thereby made members of a “church”, but those who have reached the age of accountability and are induced by some high-pressure “evangelist” to “make a profession .”
The “self-made” class is made up of those who have been warned against what has just been described above, and fearful of being deluded by such religious hucksters they determined to “settle the matter” directly with God in the privacy of their own room or some secluded spot. They had been given to understand that God loves everybody, that Christ died for the whole human race, and that nothing is required of them but faith in the gospel. By ‘saving faith’ they suppose that a mere intellectual assent to, or acceptance of, such statements as are found in John 3:16 and Romans 10:13 is all that is intended. It matters not that John 2:23, 24 declares that “many believed in his name but Jesus did not commit himself unto them,” that “many believed on him, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess him lest they be put out of the synagogue, for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God,” which shows how much their “believing” was worth. Imagining that the natural man is capable of “receiving Christ as personal Saviour” they make the attempt, doubt not their success, go on their way rejoicing, and none can shake their assurance that they are now real Christians!
God-made Christians on the other hand are a miracle of grace, the products of Divine workmanship [Ephesians 2:10]. They are a Divine creation, brought into existence by supernatural operations. The new birth is “not of blood (by natural descent), nor of the will of the flesh (his own ‘free-will’), nor of the will of man (the preacher’s persuasion), but OF GOD” (John 1:13),
Even these ‘God made’ Christians may initially be deluded into thinking that they became Christians because they ‘accepted Christ into their heart, by their own free-will etc’. But even as they begin to read the Word of God and are taught by the Holy Spirit they will begin to see that just as they had nothing to do with their natural birth, even so they contributed nothing to their spiritual birth! “Of His own will begat He us with the Word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures”! [James 1:18]. And they realize the truth of Jesus’ Words – “Ye have chosen not Me, but I have chosen you”! [John 15:16]
These ‘God made Christians’ the Bible calls ‘elect’ or ‘sheep’. [Matt 18:11]And the Lord Jesus came to seek and to save these lost sheep. Now notice carefully, it does not say that Jesus will try to save these sheep. But that He will save them! “and thou shalt call His name JESUS: for He shall save His people from their sins”! [Matt 1:21]
Another thing to bear in mind is that their repentance and the faith with which they believe are both gifts of God and a fruit of regeneration. A man does not believe the Gospel and get saved, but believes the gospel because he is saved. Now the Apostle says, that “the gifts and calling of God are without repentance”! [Romans 11:29] This just means that God did not give these gifts in the first place because of any merit which He saw in them and neither will He take back these gifts on account of any demerit.
But to return to the question – “What if they sin”?
The Scriptures declare that when God saves His elect, He creates within them a ‘new nature’. This is what the Apostle calls the ‘new man’. [Eph 4:22-24] This ‘new man’ has but one goal in life –To stop sinning and do righteousness. Paul said – “I delight in the law of God after the inward man”. [Rom 7:22]. He has been born of God, and therefore cannot practice sin! Please notice, that I did not say that he cannot sin, but that he cannot practice or habitually live a sinful life. And the reason he cannot practice sin is because God’s seed is in him. John said – “Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for His seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God”. [1John 3:9]
There is a big difference between falling into sin and practicing sin. The worldly people and the nominal Christians can and do practice sin without any conviction. But not so the true child of God!
Now when God creates the ‘new nature’ in his elect sheep, He does not remove or eradicate the old nature, but leaves the old nature in them until the resurrection. And in-spite of the introduction of the new nature, the old wicked nature in the Christian has not changed one bit. It is as wicked as it was before the Christian was regenerated. And it strives with all its power to make the Christian sin and rebel against God. So the Christian often groans – “O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?!” [Romans 7:24]
Whoever may get away with sin on this side of eternity, the Christian cannot! Since they are His children, God uses the rod, chastises them, brings them to their senses and grants them the power to forsake sin! [see Psalm 89:30-35]
A saved Christian is a member of God’s household, and God sets His own house in order before He goes after the heathen!
“For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God”? [1Peter 4:17] And again – “if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world”. [1Cor 11:31,32]
So to paraphrase all that is said above – “A true Christian will not and cannot continue in sin! But even if he should be taken in a sin (as some backsliders are) as David was, then God will go after them, chastise them and bring them to repentance! His promise is – “I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely”! [Hosea 14:4]
So, is the true Christian eternally secure? He sure is! A true believer can fall into error, even very serious doctrinal error. A true believer can fall into sin, even very serious sin. But a true believer will not totally abandon Christ and die in his sins or become a total apostate to the point where he “stops believing” the gospel or even teaches contrary to the gospel. On the ship of faith, believers can fall down on the deck and they can fall down very hard on the deck but they will not fall overboard!
How come? Because, the Lord who saved them, is not only the Author of their faith, but He is also the finisher of their faith! [Heb 12:2] And they are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time”! [1Pet 1:5]
“But we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead: Who delivered us (past) from so great a death, and doth deliver (present): in whom we trust that he will yet deliver us (future)”! [2Cor 1:9,10] Hallelujah!
One of the most comforting doctrines or truths revealed in the Word of God to the believer is his ‘Eternal Security’ in Christ. There is nothing more comforting to a soul troubled with sin, but to know that the Christ in whom he hath placed his trust, shall save him to the end, notwithstanding his own corrupt flesh, the temptations of the world and the devil who goes about as a roaring lion seeking to devour him!
As the Lord Himself assured – “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow Me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of My hand. My Father, which gave them Me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of My Father’s hand”. [John 10:27-29]
The nature of the change which occurs in regeneration, guarantees the eternal security of God’s elect.
Before one can understand or grasp the truth of the ‘eternal security’ of the believer, he must first grasp the nature of salvation!
Regeneration is a radical and supernatural change of the inner nature, through which the soul is made spiritually alive, and the new life which is implanted is immortal. And since it is a change in the inner nature, it is in a sphere in which man does not have control. No creature is at liberty to change the fundamental principles of its nature, for that is the prerogative of God as creator. Hence nothing short of another supernatural act of God could reverse this change and cause the new life to be lost. The born-again Christian can no more lose his sonship to the heavenly Father than an earthly son can lose his sonship to an earthly father. The idea that a Christian may fall away and perish arises from a wrong conception of the principle of spiritual life, which is imparted to the soul in regeneration.
If Christ had gone to the cross just to give us life, conceivably we could commit a sin and lose that life; but because He has given us eternal life, by the very nature of that which is eternal, it must be forever and ever. “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life” [Jn. 3:36]. Not will have or may have (if he behaves), but hath right now! [see also 1 Jn 5:13].
The ‘new birth’ is a spiritual resurrection, a passing from death unto life [Jn 5:24]. Writing to the saints in Ephesus the apostle Paul said, “But God, who is rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith He loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) and hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus; [Eph. 2:4-6; see also Col. 2:12]. This is the resurrection that Jesus spoke of to Martha before He raised Lazarus from the dead. He said, “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in Me shall never die [Jn. 11:25,26].
According to these verses, those whom God hath made alive, have experienced the resurrection of their souls. The Bible calls this the ‘First Resurrection’ [Rev. 20:5]. Upon those who have experienced the First Resurrection the ‘Second Death’ has no power [Rev. 20:6]. The second death being eternal damnation in Hell [Rev. 20:14].
The saints relationship to the law guarantees his eternal security.
Prior to their salvation the elect of God were under the ‘curse of the law’ [Gal. 3:13]. The curse of the law is its penal sanction. This is essentially the wrath or curse of God, the displeasure which rests upon every infraction of the law’s demand. “Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things written in the book of the law to do them” [Gal 3:10]. Without deliverance from this curse there could be no salvation. It is from this curse that Christ has purchased his people and the price of the purchase was that He himself became a curse. He became so identified with the curse resting upon His people that the whole of it in all its unrelieved intensity became His. That curse He bore and that curse He exhausted. That was the price paid for this redemption and the liberty secured for the beneficiaries is that there is no more curse.
Christ has redeemed us from the necessity of keeping the law as the condition of our justification and acceptance with God. Without such redemption there could be no justification and no salvation. It is the obedience of Christ Himself that has secured this release. For it is by His obedience that many will be constituted righteous [Rom 5:19]. In other words, it is the active and passive obedience of Christ that is the price of this redemption, active and passive obedience because He was made under law, fulfilled all the requirements of righteousness and met all the sanctions of justice.
Paul teaches that believers are not under law, but under grace, and that since they are not under the law they cannot be condemned for having violated the law. “Ye are not under law but under grace,” Rom. 6:14. “Not under law” here means that we are no longer under condemnation because of our failure to keep the law. Further sin cannot possibly cause their downfall, for they are under a system of grace and are not treated according to their deserts. “If it is by grace, it is no more of works; otherwise grace is no more grace,” Rom 11:6. “The law worketh wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there transgression,” Rom 4:15.
“Apart from the law sin is dead” (that is, where the law is abolished sin can no longer subject the person to punishment), Rom. 7:8. “Ye were made dead to the law through the body of Christ,” Rom. 7:4. The one who attempts to earn even the smallest part of his salvation by works becomes “a debtor to do the whole law” (that is, to render perfect obedience in his own strength and thus earn his salvation), Gal. 5:3. We are here dealing with two radically different systems of salvation, two systems which, in fact, are diametrically opposed to each other.
The infinite, mysterious, eternal love of God for His people is a guarantee that they can never be lost.
This love is not subject to fluctuations but is as unchangeable as His being. It is also gratuitous, and keeps faster hold of us than we of it. It is not founded on the attractiveness of its objects. “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins,” I John 4:10. “God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by His life,” Rom. 5:8-10. Here the very point stressed is that our standing with God is not based on our deserts. It was “while we were enemies” that we were brought into spiritual life through sovereign grace; and if He has done the greater, will He not do the lesser?
The writer of the book of Hebrews also teaches that it is impossible for one of God’s chosen to be lost when he says that Christ is both “the Author and Perfecter of our faith.” We are there taught that the whole course of our salvation is divinely planned and divinely guided. Neither the grace of God nor its continuance is given according to our merits. Hence if any Christian fell away, it would be because God had withdrawn His grace and changed His method of procedure—or, in other words, because He had put the person back under a system of law.
Robert L. Dabney has expressed this truth very ably in the following paragraph: “The sovereign and unmerited love is the cause of the believer’s effectual calling. Jer. 31:3; Rom 8:30. Now, as the cause is unchangeable, the effect is unchangeable. That effect is, the constant communication of grace to the believer in whom God hath begun a good work. God was not induced to bestow His renewing grace in the first instance, by anything which He saw, meritorious or attractive, in the repenting sinner; and therefore the subsequent absence of everything good in him would be no new motive to God for withdrawing His grace. When He first bestowed that grace, He knew that the sinner on whom He bestowed it was totally depraved, and wholly and only hateful in himself to the divine holiness; and therefore no new instance of ingratitude or unfaithfulness, of which the sinner may become guilty after his conversion, can be any provocation to God, to change His mind, and wholly withdraw His sustaining grace. God knew all this ingratitude before. He will chastise it, by temporarily withdrawing His Holy Spirit, or His providential mercies; but if He had not intended from the first to bear with it, and to forgive it in Christ, He would not have called the sinner by His grace at first. In a word, the causes for which God determined to bestow His electing love on the sinner are wholly in God, and not at all in the believer; and hence, nothing in the believer’s heart or conduct can finally change that purpose of love. Is. 54:10; Rom. 11:29. Compare carefully Rom. 5: 8-10; 8:32, with the whole scope of Rom. 8:28-end. This illustrious passage is but an argument for our proposition; ‘What shall separate us from the love of Christ?’”
The promises of Christ assures us of our eternal security in Him.
Jesus declared, “And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand” John 10:28. Here we find that our security and God’s omnipotence are equal; for the former is founded on the latter. God is mightier than the whole world, and neither men nor Devil can rob Him of one of His precious jewels. It would be as easy to pluck a star out of the heavens as to pluck a saint out of the Father’s hand. Their salvation stands in His invincible might and they are placed beyond the peril of destruction. We have Christ’s promise that the gates of hell shall not prevail against His Church; yet if the Devil could snatch one here and another there and large numbers in some congregations, the gates of hell would to a great extent prevail against it. In principle, if one could be lost, all might be lost, and thus Christ’s assurance would be reduced to idle words.
When we are told that “There shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, who shall show great signs and wonders; so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect,” Matt. 24:24, the unprejudiced believing mind readily understands that it is impossible to lead astray the elect.
The mystical union which exists between Christ and believers, is a guarantee that they shall continue steadfast.
“Because I live, ye shall live also,” [John 14:19]. The Lord says these words to His elect, His chosen, His sheep and not to “every man who ever lived”. The effect of this union is that believers participate in His life. Christ is in us, Romans 8:10. It is not we that live, but Christ that liveth in us, [Gal 2:20]. Christ and the believers have a common life such as that which exists in the vine and the branches. The Holy Spirit so dwells in the redeemed that every Christian is supplied with an inexhaustible reservoir of strength.
The intercession of Christ assures us of our eternal security.
Christ makes intercession for His people [Rom. 8:34; Heb. 7:25], and we are told that the Father hears Him always [John 11:42]. Hence the Arminian, holding that Christians may fall away, must deny either the passages which declare that Christ does make intercession for His people, or he must deny those which declare that His prayers are always heard. Let us consider here how well protected we are: Christ is at the right hand of God pleading for us, and in addition to that, the Holy Spirit makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. [Rom. 8:26].
In the wonderful promise of Jer. 32:40, God has promised to preserve believers from their own backslidings: “And I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from them, to do them good; but I will put my fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from me. And in Ezek. 11:19,20, He promises to take from them the “stony heart,” and to give them a “heart of flesh,” so that they shall walk in His statutes and keep His ordinances, and so that they shall be His people and He their God. Peter tells us that Christians cannot fall away, for they “are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time,” [I Pet. 1:5]. Paul says, “God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work” [II Cor. 9:8]. He declares that the Lord’s servant shall be made to stand; for “God is able to make him stand,” [Rom. 14:4].
Another strong argument is to be noticed concerning the Lamb’s book of life.
The disciples were told to rejoice, not so much over the fact that the demons were subject to them, but that their names were written in the Lamb’s book of life. This book is a catalogue of the elect, determined by the unalterable counsel of God, and can neither be increased nor diminished. The names of the righteous are found there; but the names of those who perish have never been written there from the foundation of the world. God does not make the mistake of writing in the Book of Life a name which he will later have to blot out. Hence none of the Lord’s own ever perish. Jesus told His disciples to find their chief joy in the fact that their names were written in heaven, Luke 10:20; yet there would have been small grounds for joy in this respect if their names written in heaven one day could have been blotted out the next. Paul wrote to the Philippians, “Our citizenship is in heaven,” Phil. 3:20; and to Timothy he wrote, “The Lord knoweth them that are His.” [2Tim. 2:19].
Here, then, are very simple and plain statements that the Christian shall continue in grace, the reason being that the Lord takes it upon Himself to preserve him in that state. In these promises the elect are secured on both sides. Not only will God not depart from them, but He will so put His fear into their hearts that they shall not depart from Him. Surely no Spirit-taught Christian can doubt that this doctrine is taught in the Bible.
It seems that man, poor, wretched and impotent as he is, would welcome a doctrine which secures for him the possessions of eternal happiness despite all attacks from without and all evil tendencies from within. But it is not so. He refuses it, and argues against it. And the causes are not far to seek. In the first place he has more confidence in himself than he has any right to have. Secondly, the scheme is so contrary to what he is used to in the natural world that he persuades himself that it cannot be true. Thirdly, he perceives that if this doctrine be admitted, the other doctrines of free grace will logically follow. Hence he twists and explains away the Scripture passages which teach it, and clings to some which appear on the surface to favor his preconceived views. In fact, a system of salvation by grace is so utterly at variance with his every-day experience, in which he sees every person treated according to works and merits, that he has great difficulty in bringing himself to believe that it can be true. He wishes to earn his own salvation, though certainly he expects very high wages for very sorry work.
Now for a final word. The meaning of this doctrine must be clearly understood. It does not mean that every churchgoer or even every church member is certain to persevere to the end in his or her faith, or that everyone who has made a public profession of faith is eternally secure, or that all who seem to us to be true believers will never fall away from the faith.
What the doctrine of the perseverance or ‘Eternal Security’ of true believers does mean is this: those who have true faith can neither totally nor finally lose that faith. The Bible makes it clear that God will never permit those to whom He has given true faith to fall away from that faith. True believers persevere not because of their strength but because of God’s unchangeable mercy. Believers persevere only because God in His unchangeable love enables them to persevere.