Eternal Security: Once Saved, Always Saved?
The following is a paper I wrote in Bible college on the subject of eternal security. I think I could do a better job on it now, but it’s still pretty decent. The footnotes aren’t included in this version.
One of the most debated doctrines among Christians has been the permanency of salvation: can a Christian lose their salvation, or is their salvation secure? This debate goes all the way back to the early church, and shortly after takes its most intense and scholarly from in the infamous Arminian verses Calvinism feud. Rejection of eternal security “is an inseparable part of the Arminian system, flowing necessarily from their views of election, of the design and effect of Christ’s death, and of the sufficient grace and free will.”
This paper intends to reveal that eternal security is indeed a biblical doctrine and that it is also an integral part of Christian living.
Those who hold to an Arminian point of view tend to make two prominent arguments against eternal security. They are as follows:
- God will surely never leave you, but you can leave Him.
- The doctrine of eternal security means you can act any way you want to after you are saved because your salvation is secure no matter what.
There is also a plethora of scriptures that are used to “prove” that salvation can be lost. While we cannot deal with all of them here, we shall take a look at the above statements and a few key verses.
The first comment used says that one can willingly leave God and walk away from salvation. The verse used here is almost always John 10:28-29, which states “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand”. Note that Jesus only speaks of salvation in one-way terms: God is faithful. Arminian thinkers point out what was not said by Jesus, that people can choose to walk away from God.
The problem with this thinking is twofold: (1) assuming that salvation is a two-way street and (2) assuming that a Christian might walk away from God. Concerning the first problem, the Bible makes a strong case for salvation being much more one-way than two-way. Calvinists do not deny the free will of man. They hold to the truth that “whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life”. However, Calvinists also rightly uphold the doctrine of divine election – that is, God sovereignly chooses some for salvation. This “predestination” is revealed most clearly in the conversion of Saul. It seems obvious that Saul’s salvation was a direct result of blatant interference by God. While Calvinists sometimes falsely ignore free will, Arminians often falsely ignore predestination. Both doctrines are in the Bible and we must accept them both without diminishing the other. This is all to say that viewing salvation in solely two-way terms is not biblical.
Concerning the second problem, the Bible demonstrates that true Christians do not walk away from God. The key verse here is 1 John 2:19, which says “they went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us”. Contextually, this verse is speaking of a Christian community. John is saying that truly saved Christians will continue in their faith. Christians who walk away from the faith were never Christians at all. This truth is “plain” to see.
Moving to Arminian’s second objection to eternal security, we deal with the issue of holiness. It is often stated that eternal security is a license for Christians to behave however they choose. This, however, is a gross misunderstanding of both the eternal security position and the mirrored position of scripture. Concerning this very issue, the apostle Paul asks “what shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Romans 6:1-2) Essentially, Paul is saying that the possession of God’s grace is not license to sin, but rather just the opposite. Being Christians means we have put away our old nature and put on Christ. Eternal security, and salvation in general, carries with it the responsibility of Christ-like living and continual sanctification and repentance of sin.
Of note, the phrase “once saved always saved” is not preferable. Though it is accurate, the phraseology carries with it a negative connotation. The Calvinistic phrase “perseverance of the saints” is better suited because eternal security, at its very core, is the belief that all Christians will continue with Christ until their dying day. Salvation, though a one time event, is also continued through life. Thus, “once saved always saved” is a less complete and flattering message for the biblical truth that true Christians endure to the end.
The Arminian belief that salvation is not eternally secure also seems problematic when lined up with the doctrines of regeneration, new birth, and Holy Spirit possession. Regeneration is a work of the Holy Spirit at conversion whereby the believer is made to be a new spiritual creature. Scripture declares “if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the former things have passed away, and all things are made new” (2 Corinthians 5:17). If one can lose salvation, then this “new creature” would again have to die. And then, if one came back to the faith, the creature must be made new again. This is illogical, and the Bible nowhere indicates that regeneration is reversed or happens more than once.
Strongly linked to regeneration is new birth. Jesus said “truly, truly, I say to you, unless a man is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). In the following verse, Nicodemus asks skeptically if a man can climb back into his mother’s womb to be born again. Obviously, that would be absurd. A man is born once physically and once spiritually. To believe that spiritual birth can be reversed or repeated is as silly as saying a born man can climb back into his mother’s womb and be born a second time.
Lastly, the New Testament clearly demonstrates that the Holy Spirit is the possession of all believers. It is clearly states that there is “one baptism” of the Holy Spirit for each Christian (Ephesians 4:5). Again, this cannot be reversed or repeated. The Spirit is also called a “seal” until the day of redemption (Ephesians 1:13). Surely this seal (literally, down payment) secures salvation eternally.
To conclude, it is the overwhelming evidence of scripture that salvation for the Christian is eternal. May the church find this truth and hold to it, as it is a treasure to be enjoyed.