Once Saved Always Saved? The Concepts of Grace and Salvation
A young woman recently wrote to us asking what our ministry believed. Specifically, she wanted to know if we believe in the concept of "once saved, always saved." When we told her that this statement is contrary to the Bible, she kindly replied that eternal security is something that she is sure of; that salvation is not by works and that it is a gift of God that can never be take away, especially not by the Enemy (who is far lesser).
Unfortunately, such false doctrines are in abundance in today's churches, especially amongst our generation. I get it. We want to hear that our salvation is guaranteed. It gives us the freedom to blend in with this world and makes the sting of sin easier to bear. Walking in the comfort of the idea that we'll be saved regardless of how we live makes life easier. But that is not how we're called to live. We're called to walk the narrow path, to die to ourselves, and to have no part with the world. But, if these instructions from God have no real impact on our salvation, then why should we obey? If I can choose not to obey and still be saved, why would I live like the Bible?
"For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then he will reward each according to His works." -Matthew 16:26-27
Revelations 21:27 says that anyone who does anything that is an abomination to the Lord cannot enter heaven (see also Matthew 7:21-27 where Jesus said that not everyone who calls themselves believers will be saved). Yes, God forgives us and covers us with grace when we sin. But that doesn't mean we get a "get out of jail free" card to live as we please. You don't just check in and then go on your own way. It's not like God stops keeping track of our works once He writes our names down in the "saved" column of His book of life. In fact, if we sin after we're saved, the consequences are extremely harsh: see Hebrews 10:26-27; 2 Corinthians 5:10 and Revelations 2:23.
For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and a fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries. -Hebrews 10:26-27
Because once saved, we must strive to live holy lives lest we be caught in the midst of a sin when Jesus comes to take us home. Maybe in that moment you'll have a chance to repent and still be saved. But maybe you won't, and you'll lose your salvation. That's a risk you can choose to take, but that is not what God called us to do. If you read passages in the Bible like the first chapter of 1 Peter, which yes, speaks of grace and salvation, but it also says that our God judges without partiality according to each one's work (Matthew 16:27 and Matthew 25:31-46, Romans 13:4).
Grace alone doesn't save us. Nor do works. Faith in God saves us (John 3:36). Acknowledging His sacrifice on the cross is but the beginning. By accepting Him as our savior, we must live accordingly (not conformed to our former ignorance), but wholly transformed and sanctified (paid for by the blood of Jesus!).
This discussion is as old as time itself and is addressed quite clearly multiple times in the Bible. For example, James 2:14-26 says that faith by itself, if it doesn't have works is dead. We show our faith by our works. And if we are truly saved, sin cannot live in us (1 John 3:9). So faith and works are indeed intertwined. Because as 1 Peter 1:9 says, you shall receive "the END of your faith - the salvation of your souls."
For we through the Spirit eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness by faith. -Galatians 5:5
...that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. This is a faithful saying, and these things I want you to affirm constantly, that those who have believed in God would be careful to maintain good works. These hints are good and profitable to men. -Titus 3:7-8
Yes, grace is a gift and is not dependent on works (Ephesians 2:8-9). But not everyone who has this gift will make it into heaven. It's not a golden ticket. Nor will good works be sufficient either. If you're Mother Teresa all your life, but you don't acknowledge Jesus as your savior - if you don't have faith, that also won't get you in. It's about living in Christ, covered in grace, but walking in good works that Jesus Christ prepared for us to fulfill on this earth (Ephesians 2:10).
Grace is the vehicle that gets us to faith (Titus 2:11). We are saved through faith (Romans 10:9). And our faith is lived out through works (Luke 6:46-49). They're not mutually exclusive. It's all intertwined.
Jesus himself even said that if something is hindering you from your salvation - like if your arm is causing you to sin - cut it off (Matthew 5:30). That's how seriously sin can impact your salvation, that even your own body may derail you from seeing Heaven. Apostle Paul often wrote about disciplining his body and running the race in such a way that he will reach the goal: heaven. Which must mean there is something more than just once saved always saved.
Jesus said, "And behold, I am coming quickly, and my reward is with Me, to give to every one according to his WORK." (Revelations 22:12). Then, verse 14 says that those who do the Lord's commandments will have the right to the tree of life and may enter into Heaven.
Jesus also said: "Behold, I am coming quickly! Hold fast to what you have, that no one may take your crown. He who overcomes...I will write on him My new name." (Revelations 3:11-12). So this implies that (1) someone or something can actually steal our crown of eternal life/salvation and (2) there is something to overcome on this earth while we're awaiting Christ's coming. Revelations 2:26 adds that not only must we overcome the evil one, but we must also keep His WORKS until the end in order to make it into heaven. Only by being faithful until death will we receive the crown of eternal life (Revelations 2:10).
God even gives the church an ultimatum: repent AND do the first WORKS or else He will remove your salvation from you (Revelations 2:5).
Saying that salvation comes with no strings attached because of grace cheapens and demeans the fact that Jesus had to die to give us this gift. The sinful things we do that are contrary to God's law are worthy of death. Yes, grace covers that because of the Cross. But every time it does, those nails might as well be beaten into Christ all over again. Because the forgiveness of our sins comes at a price - not in gold but in blood. And it wasn't purchased in bulk - like forgive one sin, get two free. The gift may be "free" to us, but someone had to pay for it in the first place, and so Jesus did...with His own life.
For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame. -Hebrews 6:4-6
For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries...Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know Him who said, 'Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,' says the Lord. And again, 'The Lord will judge His people.' It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." -Hebrews 10:26-27;29-31
Finally, what would be the purpose of Satan if he couldn't steal our salvation? If he were truly powerless, why does the Bible warn us that the devil walks around like a roaring lion, seeking to destroy believers (1 Peter 5:8)? How could have the devil tempted Jesus with promises of giving Jesus the whole world to reign over (Matthew 4) if he didn't have the capability? Maybe he was bluffing? But Jesus took him seriously, giving merit to Satan's offers.
You ran well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion does not come from Him who calls you. A little leaven leavens the whole lump. -Galatians 5:7-9
In fact, Satan does have the power to steal your salvation (2 Corinthians 11:3, Ephesians 6:11; Revelations 12:12 and Revelations 20:3, 2 Thessalonians 2:9-10; in Jesus's words: Matthew 13:19 and John 17:15). Even when we pray the Lord's Prayer, we ask God to keep us from the evil one (Matthew 6:13). Yes, Jesus protects us (1 John 5:18) but only when we are in Him. God can't live where there is sin. So if our works are of evil and contrary to the Bible, we give access to Satan to our hearts and, ultimately, our salvation (2 Peter 2:1-3 and Galatians 5:9).
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure. Do all things without complaining and disputing, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life, so that I may rejoice in the day of Christ that I have not run in vain or labored in vain. -Philippians 2:12-16
Christ forgave us and set us free with His sacrifice. Where sin was, grace prevailed. But, as Apostle Paul so wisely put: "Do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage" (Galatians 5:1). Because it is possible to lose that freedom - that salvation given to us by Jesus.
It is up to you individually to run the race and live this life in such a way that protects the crown of eternal life waiting for you at the finish line.
Don't run in vain because none of us wants to be in the number of people whom God says He never knew, even after a life spent calling ourselves believers.