Who’s Holding On to Who? The Issue of “Once Saved Always Saved”

The other day I received an anonymous letter in the mail titled, “There Is No Once Saved Always Saved!” What followed was a list of Bible passages that, in reality, do not support the author’s position. My hunch is that I am not the only pastor who received this letter. I find it interesting that some people are so passionate about “disproving” the doctrine of eternal security. They go to great lengths and expense to make their voice heard.  The letter reminded me of the time I heard a preacher on TBN enthusiastically shout, “The greatest heresy in the church today is once saved always saved!”  So, I thought a post (or posts) on the doctrine of eternal security, a.k.a. “perseverance of the saints”; a.k.a. “once saved always saved” would be fitting for Tough to Tackle Tuesdays.

To begin, the doctrine of eternal security simply makes theological and logical sense.  In the larger framework of salvation on the basis of God’s grace, and not on the works of man (Eph. 2:8-9; Titus 3:5), the possibility of someone losing their salvation is not feasible.  The Bible clearly teaches that salvation is a gift from God given to a person on the basis of His grace and the merits of Christ at the cross and resurrection.  Salvation is something we absolutely cannot earn and do not deserve (Rom. 6:23).  The problem with the possibility of losing one’s salvation is that it leads to the question, “How do you get it back again?”  Herein lies the problem: the assumption on which every opponent of eternal security I have interacted with is that salvation can be received again (and again and again and so on).  But is that true?

Almost anything you read by someone who denies the doctrine of eternal security will include a reference to Heb. 6:1-8- the often misunderstood passage where a person “tastes the heavenly gift” (v.4) and becomes guilty of having “fallen away” (v.6).  What is especially interesting is that these proponents seldom discuss the rest of verse 6, which states that for any person who falls away “it is impossible to renew them again to repentance.”  If we are to interpret this passage as teaching the possibility of losing one’s salvation, it is emphatically stated that once salvation is lost, it can never be regained.  I have never heard any opponent of eternal security teach anything but the ability to be “saved again.”  Yet, Heb. 6:6 denies this possibility.

The notion of being able to lose one’s salvation belies the very principle of salvation by grace through faith.  In other words, if my bad deeds (or lack of good deeds) are enough to merit the forfeiture of my salvation, then the only possible conclusion is that I must be able to do something to earn it back again.  But if this were true, it stands against the linchpin of New Testament theology: salvation, not by human effort, but by God’s grace.

One of my favorite amusement park rides is the Batman ride at Six Flags Over Texas.  This inverted roller coaster features loops, corkscrews, and thrilling turns at high speeds in a train/car where your legs freely dangle below the seat.  I am relieved when I get on this ride that there is a safety bar and latch which securely affixes my body to the seat.  How grateful I am that the operator doesn’t shout out, in the absence of any restraining device, “Y’all hold on!”  Given the wild path of the ride, if it were up to me and my strength to hold on to my seat, I would certainly fall off.  But my safety is not up to me on the ride- it is in the engineering and strength of the restraints.  As a result, I can enjoy the ride and not be scared to death that I will fall.  This illustration, though possibly construed as trite or childish, seems to capture the essence of the Scripture’s teaching about salvation.  Salvation is not up to me: it is not earned by me, it is not maintained by me, and will not be consummated at the end of the age by me.  Salvation is completely the work of God.  Thus, salvation is depicted in the Bible, not by me holding on to God in whatever strength I can muster through deeds the Bible says are already tainted by sin (Isa. 64:6), but by Christ and His perfect work holding on to me.  If getting salvation and keeping it were up to me, I certainly would lose it.  But receiving and keeping salvation is up to God and He will never lose His grasp on me (John 10:28-29).

A final point to make in this post is the issue of the perceived expediency and necessity of denying the doctrine of eternal security. Simply put, opponents believe that eternal security doesn’t keep people on the straight and narrow.  A requirement of good deeds is necessary to “hold people’s feet to the fire,” so to speak, in living righteously.  Failure to do these deeds, so it is claimed, is the basis for losing salvation.  However, Paul gives eloquent defenses against this position in his letters to the Romans and Galatians.  Here, Paul argues that the basis of salvation is not works, but grace, and that grace is a sufficient motive for a life of holiness.  In Rom. 7 Paul describes that Christians are set free from obedience to the law as the necessary requirement for salvation.  This is good news since none of us can perfectly keep God’s law. Rom. 8 is then his treatise on life in the Spirit and the resulting freedom under grace.  Correspondingly, Paul makes the same argument to the Galatians in chapters 5 and 6 of that letter.  Again, he appeals to the imagery of freedom from bondage to the law- “for freedom, Christ has set us free… do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Gal. 5:1).  For the genuine believer, the grace and mercy of God is sufficient reason to live for Him.

In the next few posts for Tough to Tackle Tuesdays, I will address some of the key Bible passages that defend the doctrine of eternal security as well as look at those passages often used in its denial.

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2 Responses to “Who’s Holding On to Who? The Issue of “Once Saved Always Saved””

  1. Totally agree, Todd. If my salvation was up to me I would never be able to do anything for God due to the fact of having to be saved every day…I have the Faith that My God is quite suffecient and I know I am secure. Well said my friend.

  2. Great stuff, Todd! I sure do enjoy your site.