Today I’d like to look at another doctrine that is out there in the Christian world. It is usually called either the doctrine of “Eternal Security” or “Once Saved, Always Saved” (“OSAS”).
In case you haven’t heard of it, this doctrine basically says that once you have been “saved” (however one understands that to happen) you can never lose your salvation – it’s absolutely impossible. No amount of sin can change that. Your card has been stamped, the credit card paid off and your name added to the guest list….
Eternal Security Origins
The doctrine of “Once Saved, Always Saved” has its roots in “Sola Fide”, the 16th Century doctrine that we are saved by “faith alone“ (something which Scripture itself flatly denies in James 2:24). I will briefly look at the doctrine of “Faith Alone” in an upcoming blog entry.
Like “Faith Alone”, “Eternal Security” made its first appearance at the Reformation, being introduced by leaders such as Bucer and Calvin. Interestingly though, it was never taught by Luther:
“Through baptism these people threw out unbelief, had their unclean way of life washed away, and entered into a pure life of faith and love. Now they fall away into unbelief” – Martin Luther, Commentary on 2 Peter 2:22
“Once Saved, Always Saved” also has its roots in the Reformed understanding of justification. The majority of Protestant theology says that our justification is a mere declaration of righteousness (“legal imputation”), in contrast to Catholic theology which says that we have grace poured into our soul (“infusion of grace”), returning to us the divine life lost by Adam in The Fall. This, however, is a topic too large for this blog entry, so let’s move on..
The Logic & Oversight
The central thrust of OSAS logic is that, since salvation is a free gift of grace, nobody can take it away from you. Supporters of this doctrine usually quote passages such as:
“I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand” – John 10:28
Proponents of this doctrine are absolutely correct when they state that salvation is a free gift, but they miss the fact that a gift, even if it is initially accepted, can ultimately be scorned, sullied and rejected. Although no one can snatch you from Christ’s hand, you can wriggle yourself free if you so choose.
In the parable of the Prodigal Son, the Son chose to renounce his sonship, leave his home and go his own way. As a consequence of this he became “lost” and “dead” (Luke 15:32). The same spiritual death is open to us if we choose to reject our Father and walk away from our family home.
But what does the Bible say?
Rather than provide any more argumentation, I’ll simply let the Bible speak for itself:
“If anyone sees his brother commit a sin that does not lead to death, he should pray and God will give him life. I refer to those whose sin does not lead to death. There is a sin that leads to death. I am not saying that he should pray about that. All wrongdoing is sin, and there is sin that does not lead to death” – 1 John 5:16-17
“But if some of the branches were broken off [the Jews], and you, a wild olive shoot [the Gentiles], were grafted in their place to share the richness of the olive tree [Jesus Christ], do not boast over the branches…For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will He spare you…Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in His kindness; otherwise you too will be cut off” – Romans 11:1-23
“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery…You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace” – Galatians 5:1, 4
“And you, who once were estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him, provided that you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel” – Colossians 1:21-23
“Take care, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day . . . that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we share in Christ, if only we hold our first confidence firm to the end” – Hebrews 3:12-14
“If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning. It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them. Of them the proverbs are true: ‘A dog returns to its vomit,” and, “A sow that is washed goes back to her wallowing in the mud’” – 2 Peter 2:20-22
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.” – John 15:1-6
…and many, many more…
If it is possible to die, be cut off, yoked back into slavery, turn away, fall away from grace, thrown away and burned then it is possible to lose your salvation. For Paul and John, once saved clearly doesn’t mean always saved.
When I’ve spoken with non-Catholics about this topic and presented to them what Sacred Scripture says on the matter, the passages are usually ignored. Instead, verses about God’s faithfulness are usually quoted at me. However, it’s not God’s faithfulness that’s in question – it’s ours!
When I eventually get them to comment on the passages I’ve presented I’m often told that Scripture isn’t saying what it looks like it’s saying. Here is a snippet of an email I received from one person with whom I’ve been corresponding:
One can be in Christ, but yet cut off from fellowship. Fellowship and salvation are two different things. When one sins, and refuses to repent, God will not comune with us, until we make it right by Him. This is cut off from fellowship. God does this to bring us back into fellowship with Him.”
Unfortunately, this argument has no real scriptural grounding and really just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. If Christ didn’t come to restore our fellowship with God then what did He come to do? In what way do the passages I presented suggest that they are talking about “communion”, separate from “salvation”? In what way can one be a member of a vine or an olive tree, then be cut off and burned and yet still be joined to the original plant?
I don’t see how Scripture could use language any more dramatic than “turn away…cut off…yoked back into slavery…fall away from grace…be alienated from Christ…burdened again…entangled…return to vomit…and wallow in mud”. Do these sound like people who are assured of their salvation? How could Scripture use language any more serious?
I asked these questions in my last email three months ago. I have yet to receive an answer.
The alternative to OSAS? Remain in Christ and hope in Him who is faithful.
“Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him” – Psalm 62:5