Clearly Safe: What the Bible Says About “Once Saved Always Saved”

One frustration many people have about the game of baseball is the lack of instant replay to verify the calls of the umpires (except in the case of home runs).  The calls are subject to human error and can have huge consequences, such as the recent case of a pitcher being denied a no hitter by the errant call of an umpire at first base.  The often ambiguous nature of an umpire’s call can be a frustration to both player and fan alike.  Was the runner really out?  Or was he safe?  Fortunately, in terms of salvation, we don’t have to deal with ambiguity on the part of our Heavenly Judge.  Our salvation in Christ is secure and clearly “safe.”

Two weeks ago I wrote a post on the doctrine of eternal security and attempted to positively defend the doctrine on the basis of the larger theological construct of justification by grace through faith.  In this post, I want to explore some specific biblical passages that teach the salvation of all genuine believers is secure.  First, a little background on eternal security:

In general, the initial articulation of the doctrine of eternal security, or perseverance of the saints, is credited to Calvinism.  The “P” in the Calvinist acronym “TULIP” stands for perseverance of the saints (although it should be noted John Calvin did not create the “TULIP” acronym, adherents to his teachings did).  Eternal security is a necessary part of the paradigm of Calvinism, as the doctrines of election and efficacious grace logically demand the necessity of it.  Incidentally, in reference to eternal security, I am always intrigued at the number of people who are opponents of Calvinism that label themselves as Arminians.  I gently ask, “Do you believe you can lose your salvation?” “Of course not!” is always the reply. “Then you are not Arminian!”  Arminians believe that one can lose their salvation on the basis of biblical texts that supposedly teach apostasy and the historical evidence of the many who have abandoned the faith (more about this in next week’s post).

Despite the connection of eternal security to Calvinism, there is clear warrant for belief in eternal security based on biblical texts that emphatically and independently support the doctrine. I could list pages worth of passages, but here are just a few:

John 10:27-29– “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.

There could not be a more emphatic and definite rejection of the notion that a believer could lose their salvation than this passage.  The clause, “they will never perish,” employs the use of the double negative combined with the aorist subjunctive in Greek.  This is the most definitive literary option John had at his disposal to state that there is no possibility of something happening in the future. There is absolutely no chance that a believer will be removed from the hand of Jesus- a metaphorical description of salvation.  Furthermore, this passage reinforces the idea I shared in the previous post that a biblical understanding of salvation sees God holding on to us, not us holding on to God.  The basis of salvation is all about what God has done, is doing, and will do for us- not what we do for ourselves (see 2 Tim. 1:12).

1 Peter 1:3-5– “According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”

Peter uses three adjectives that powerfully describe the secure nature of one’s salvation.  A Christian’s salvation cannot “perish”– a word that was used of something destroyed by an army in battle. Neither can it be “undefiled”– nothing impure can be introduced to salvation to corrupt or spoil it.  And salvation cannot “fade”– nothing brought to bear on salvation can cause it to lose its efficacious nature.

There are a number of texts in the Bible that speak of God’s continued work in the life of a believer that brings salvation to its final completion:

Philippians 1:6– “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.

Romans 8:38-39– “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Eternal security is also embedded in other biblical doctrines. Millard Erickson in Christian Theology lists a few of these doctrines that seem to demand the need for eternal security:

  • Union with Christ (John 15:1-11). Believers have been made one with Christ with His life flowing through them.  It seems inconceivable that the connection could be broken, thus frustrating the divine ideal.
  • The impartation of the Holy Spirit and new life. 1 John 3:9- “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God.”  If you could lose you salvation, could you be un-born again?  Can spiritual death occur in someone who has already received the Holy Spirit?  The answer to these questions is clearly “no.”
  • Assurance of salvation (1 John 5:13).  In this verse John says the purpose for his letter is to assure his readers they can have assurance of their salvation.  How could you really be sure of your salvation if it were possible to lose it?  In addition, there is nothing in the Bible that clearly describes or defines how and when a person has lost their salvation.  With so much left to speculation about how a person has forfeited their salvation, one could never have full assurance of when they have, or do not have, their salvation intact.

Let me close this post by addressing a common criticism of eternal security: the issue of disobedience.  If salvation cannot be lost and is secure, how do we account for the misdeeds of believers- especially ongoing, even defiant acts of sin?  Surely sin of this degree, it is argued, is evidence that salvation has been lost.

First, the Bible clearly affirms that no Christian will be perfect after coming to Christ for salvation.  As inhabitants of this earth, believers still struggle under the curse of sin and the lingering effects of a sin nature (see Rom. 7:15-25).  Christians will sin.  The difference is that the great passion of their life is no longer focused on sin and self, but rather Christ and His kingdom.  Even though Christians will make mistakes, their lives are “tracking” toward the things of God, not the world.  The Bible is replete with examples of true followers of God asking for and receiving God’s forgiveness (Psalm 51) and being commanded to seek forgiveness (1 John 1:19)

Second, there is plenty of biblical evidence that the sin of believers does not lead to the loss of their salvation. Ken Keathley writes about this in A Theology for the Church where he recalls believers that have committed terrible acts of sin, such as Lot, Samson, David, and Peter, yet their faith in the end remained.  A true believer is compelled to eventual repentance and restoration (see Matt 26:74-75).  Keathley lists other evidence in the Scripture on the relationship of sin and eternal security:

  • The Bible never presents eternal security as an excuse for sin (Rom. 6:1-2).  This is a common complaint of those who oppose eternal security.  The possibility of losing one’s salvation, they argue, is the motivation for holding Christian’s accountable.  However, that construct cannot work in the paradigm of freedom (Gal. 5:1, etc.) that Christians enjoy.
  • Sin does have consequences (Gal. 6:7-9) that can result in divine chastening (Heb. 12:5-7); being rendered unfit for service (1 Cor. 9:27), the loss of reward (1 Cor. 3:13-15), and even possibly premature death (1 Cor. 11:30).
  • The Hoy Spirit guarantees that no backslider will be happy (Psalm 32:3-5).
  • An indifference to spiritual matters and a lifestyle of sin can indicate that no true conversion ever took place (Heb. 12:7-8; 2 Pet. 2:22).
  • God purges His own from whatever detracts them from His purpose and glory (John 15:1-3).

As you see from this list, believers are capable of committing sin and consequences do result.  However, despite the failures of true believers, they will never fail finally.  God will bring them to repentance and their salvation is secure

Next week we will examine some of the key biblical passages used by those who oppose eternal security and explore how they fit in to the larger framework of salvation and perseverance.  Thanks for reading!

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2 Responses to “Clearly Safe: What the Bible Says About “Once Saved Always Saved””

  1. I am enjoying Tough to Tackle Tuesdays. I have found this one and the other on secure salvation very helpful as I can never remember all the scriptures that support this.
    Thanks for all the time you spend writing these.

  2. I believe that the doctrine on the eternal security of the believer is clearly taught throughout scripture, as you have so effectively demonstrated in this post. Having the assurance that nothing can separate us from His Love as indicated in Romans 8:38-39 that you quoted, gives the believer the confidence to face every challenge that we face in the fallen world that we live in.