Once Saved, Always Saved? Part 1
by Karl Kemp 10/29/2011 / Bible Studies
"Scripture Quotations taken from the New American Standard Bible,
Copyright 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977 by the Lockman Foundation. Used by permission." (www.Lockman.org)
INTRODUCTION. Essentially every Christian I knew when I became a born-again Christian (in the spring of 1964, at the age of 26) believed once saved, necessarily always saved (eternal security). I was attending an evangelical Presbyterian church and started taking classes at a local evangelical Presbyterian seminary. I also had some association with IVCF and a local Bible church. The first three were Calvinistic, and the Bible church was at least Calvinistic when it came to the doctrine that it is impossible to lose your salvation. Because of what I had been taught, and especially by those who helped me find Christ (actually it would be more accurate to say He found me), I believed this doctrine was an important part of the gospel. If you had given me three sentences to present the gospel, I would have included once saved, always saved, and I could have given a few standard verses and arguments to support this doctrine. The last section of this paper discusses the origin of this doctrine and the primary passages of Scripture used to support it. Before closing this paragraph, I want to mention how thankful I am for all the good input I received from all the Christians I was associated with, first as one that did not know salvation, then as a needy young Christian. I very sincerely mean that.
Within a year of becoming a born-again Christian, I became friends with an Assembly of God pastor. This Pentecostal denomination is Arminian in doctrine. Arminians do not believe once saved, necessarily always saved. (Most Pentecostal churches, most Holiness churches, the Methodists, and others, are Arminian.) We talked some about this doctrine, and he gave me a book to read. The book, "Life in the Son," by Robert Shank, was written to refute eternal security. This input began something of a serious struggle for me. Could this doctrine possibly be wrong? (It's often very difficult for Christians to accept the idea that some things they believe could be wrong; but we all need to humble ourselves before God and seek Him for the balanced truth and full salvation.) It took a couple years for me to come to a firm conviction that the Bible (that is, taking the balance of all that the Bible says related to this topic) does not teach once saved, necessarily always saved.
One primary reason for writing this paper is my concern with the abuse of this doctrine that is widespread in our day. This doctrine is often abused in a way that dampens any motivation for a healthy, necessary (Biblical) fear of God and the urgent need for repentance and holiness. Because of their understanding of eternal security, many can't hear much that the Bible clearly says, including the intense warnings of eternal judgment for those not ready to stand before God. This is not surprising, since many pastors etc., in an effort to defend the doctrine of eternal security, explain away the powerful warnings contained in many Bible passages, including those discussed in this paper.
I believe we have a great need for a revival of righteousness and holiness in our day. An abuse of the doctrine of eternal security is part of the problem, but a greater part of the problem is the common tendency to put most of the emphasis on forgiveness and positional (legal) righteousness while subordinating the need for righteous living and holiness. There is no denying the importance of forgiveness, but I don't believe this is more than ten percent of the gospel message. The ninety percent of the message is the transformation to righteous living and holiness, by grace through faith. Holiness comes by grace, through the blood of the cross, as much as forgiveness does. God hates sin, and He sent His Son to remove sin from the lives of His people, not just to bring forgiveness. I trust that this paper will stir up some Christians to the topic of holiness. I recommend my book, "Holiness and Victory Over Sin: Full Salvation Through the Atoning Death of the Lord Jesus Christ," for further study. The book is available at my website (Google to Karl Kemp Teaching) and at amazon.com.
Another reason for writing this paper is that the more we Christians come to the balanced truth of what the Scriptures teach, the more we can unite around the truth. I believe that's important. Even when we still don't agree on topics like the one discussed in this paper, we must do everything we can to promote unity in the Body of Christ, including treating one another with respect.
It is possible to believe in eternal security and still make righteousness and holiness a top priority item, and there are many such believers. Also, I should say that once saved, always saved is exactly what should happen, and will happen, if we do our part. We need to emphasize God's part (His love, plan of salvation, atoning sacrifice, grace, mercy, convicting, drawing, teaching, forgiveness, sanctifying power, Spirit, etc.) and give Him all the glory. But at the same time, it is mandatory that we know, and do, our part (as outlined in the Scriptures). Our part is pretty well covered by the word faith; that is, if we use the word in the full-orbed sense often used in the New Testament. (We could say repentance and faith.) But God doesn't just give us saving faith, and He doesn't force us to continue in faith. (See my "A Paper on Faith.") His grace is, however, sufficient for those who will appropriate it by faith, faith that is based on His Word. We desperately need the balanced truth of what the Bible teaches. Eternal security is closer to the balanced truth than the idea that Christians immediately lose their salvation if they commit a sin.
As far as I'm concerned, the passages of the Bible quoted (and discussed) below, are more than sufficient to demonstrate that the doctrine of eternal security is wrong. All of the passages speak rather loudly to me, but especially the passages from Revelation chapters 2 and 3, where the Lord Jesus Christ, in His resurrection glory, speaks to His churches (about AD 95). All quotations are from the NASB, 1977 edition. Sometimes I will make comments in the middle of quotations using brackets [ ] or [[ ]] to make them more obvious.
In concluding this Introduction, let me say that I consider the message of this paper to be good news. The gospel, by definition, is good news. God is good, and His will is good. It's good news to know that the gospel provides everything we need to become, and to remain, holy and blameless. God is not out to get us, but to bless us. To the extent that we walk in His will, He can bless us. Let's put Him first to the maximum so that He can bless us to the maximum, and be glorified to the maximum.
Matthew 25:1-13. "Then the kingdom of heaven will be comparable to ten virgins, who took their lamps, and went out to meet the bridegroom. (2) And five of them were foolish, and five were prudent. (3) For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, (4) but the prudent took oil in flasks along with their lamps. (5) Now while the bridegroom was delaying, they all got drowsy and began to sleep. (6) But at midnight there vas a shout, 'Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.' (7) Then all those virgins rose, and trimmed their lamps. [Trimming their lamps means putting them in order, including adding oil to them.] (8) And the foolish said to the prudent, 'Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.' (9) But the prudent answered, saying, 'No, there will not be enough for us and you too; go instead to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.' [There is a limit to how much one person can do for another. We must all be prepared to stand before God.] (10) And while they were going away to make the purchase, the bridegroom came, and THOSE WHO WERE READY WENT IN WITH HIM TO THE WEDDING FEAST; AND THE DOOR WAS SHUT. (11) And later the other virgins also came, saying, 'Lord, lord open up for us.' (12) But He answered and said, 'Truly I say to you, I do not know you.' (13) Be on the alert then, for you do not know the day nor the hour [Since we don't know the day nor the hour, we must always be alert and ready for His coming]."
The main point of this parable is that all Christians are required to always be prepared and ready for the return of Christ, including being prepared for a delay in His return. This is a common scriptural theme. If we wait until the last minute to get ready, we'll probably be too late. To be ready for Christ's return includes believing the truth of the gospel and living in the righteousness and holiness of the gospel through the atoning death of Christ and by the enablement of the Holy Spirit. The "oil" in this parable symbolizes the Holy Spirit, or something similar, like the enabling grace of God. Those running out of oil are, of course, responsible for their situation.
This parable warns of the all-too-real possibility that many who start out as true Christians will not be ready for the return of Christ and will be denied access to God's eternal kingdom. It seems clear enough that initially all ten virgins are considered to be true Christians and members of the Body of Christ. They are all called virgins, and, more significantly, they all have lamps that have been burning (see verse 8). Some other verses from the same discourse by the Lord Jesus Christ (Matthew chapters 24 and 25, spoken a few days before the cross) that also warn that some Christians will not be ready for His return and will miss heaven are Matt. 24:9-13, 42-51; and 25:14-30.
John 15:1-6. "I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. (2) Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit [Bearing fruit includes living in the truth, righteousness, and holiness of God, and faithfully serving Him.], He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it, that it may bear more fruit. (3) You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. (4) Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in Me. (5) I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me, and I in him, he bears much fruit; for apart from Me you can do nothing. (6) If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch, and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned."
All of the branches are pictured as being in Christ, the true vine. But we are warned that unless we continue to abide in Christ, we will be cut off from the vine and suffer eternal judgment (see verse 6). We abide in Christ by continuing to make Him and His Word top priority. Abiding in Christ is not automatic. It requires continuing on by grace through faith.
Romans 11:17-24. "But if some of the branches [Jews that rejected the Messiah] were broken off, and you [It is clear in this passage that the apostle was speaking to Gentiles who had become part of God's true Israel by faith.], being a wild olive, were grafted in among them and became partaker with them of the rich root of the olive tree, (18) do not be arrogant toward the branches; but if you are arrogant, remember that it is not you who supports the root, but the root supports you. (19) You will say then, 'Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.' (20) Quite right, they were broken off for their unbelief, but you stand by your faith. Do not be conceited, but fear; (21) for if God did not spare the natural branches [the Jews who rejected Christ], neither will He spare you. (22) Behold then the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you, God's kindness, IF YOU CONTINUE IN HIS KINDNESS [by continuing to hold (and live) the gospel by faith]; OTHERWISE YOU ALSO WILL BE CUT OFF. (23) And they also, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in; for God is able to graft them in again. (24) For if you were cut off from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more shall these who are the natural branches be grafted into their own olive tree?"
1 Corinthians 15:1, 2. "Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, (2) by which also you are saved, IFYOU HOLD FAST THE WORD WHICH I PREACHED TO YOU...." The recipients of this epistle had received the gospel in faith, at least most of them had. But they (like all Christians) must continue to "hold fast the word" of the gospel in faith, which isn't just automatically accomplished. For one thing, they must continue to believe the same gospel that Paul proclaimed. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul was dealing with the fact that some were beginning to deny the bodily resurrection. We must continue to believe the true gospel if we want to be saved by it. We must also continue to live the gospel by grace through faith.
Galatians 5:2, 4. "Behold I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you. (4) YOU HAVE BEEN SEVERED FROM CHRIST, you who are seeking to be justified by law; YOU HAVE FALLEN FROM GRACE."
The apostle Paul had preached the gospel to the Galatians, and many of these Gentiles had become born-again Christians. Verses like Gal. 3:2, 3 and the awesome words of 5:4, "You have been severed from Christ...you have fallen from grace" confirm that they had become born-again Christians. To fall from grace is to fall from (to lose) the saving grace of God in Christ (to lose your salvation).
The problem was, as this epistle shows, that some time after Paul left Galatia the Judaizers came and preached a "different gospel" (Gal. 1:6) to them. And some of the Galatian Christians were, at a minimum, seriously considering their "gospel." Their "gospel" required ceremonial works of the Mosaic Law, like circumcision (see, e.g., Gal. 5:3; 6:12, 13). But as the apostle strongly warns in this epistle, there is no other gospel than the one Paul had given them (e.g., Gal. 1:6-9), and to abandon it is to abandon salvation in Christ.
1 Thessalonians 3:5. "For this reason, when I could endure it no longer, I also sent to find out about your faith, for fear that the tempter might have tempted you, and our labor should be in vain."
1 Thessalonians 2:10-3:10 with Acts 17:1-15 gives the background to understand 1 Thess. 3:5. The apostle Paul was forced to leave Thessalonica before he wanted to, and before the church was adequately grounded. Not long after being forced to leave Thessalonica, Paul sent Timothy back to Thessalonica from Athens "to find out about [their] faith," etc. These Christians at Thessalonica had known opposition and affliction from the time of their conversion. There is no basis to doubt that they, at least most of them, had become born-again Christians (cf., e.g., 1 Thess. 1:5-2:14). But as 1 Thess. 3:5 shows, there was some basis for Paul to be concerned that, in the worst-case scenario, their "labor should be in vain." The labor of Paul and his companions (Silas and Timothy) would have been in vain if the Christians at Thessalonica had turned their backs on the Lord Jesus Christ in the midst of all their tribulation. But, thank God, Timothy brought back good news: Although he found their faith lacking in certain areas (e.g., 1 Thess. 3:10), he was able to bring back news of a genuine faith.
Hebrews 3:5-4:3, especially 3:6, 12-14, 18, 19; 4:1-3. "(3:6) but Christ was faithful as a Son over His house whose house we are, IF WE HOLD FAST OUR CONFIDENCE AND THE BOAST OF OUR HOPE UNTIL THE END. ... (12) TAKE CARE BRETHREN, LEST THERE SHOULD BE IN ANY ONE OF YOU AN EVIL, UNBELIEVING HEART, IN FALLING AWAY FROM THE LIVING GOD. [The writer of Hebrews clearly views his readers as true Christians, but he is concerned that some are in very real danger of "falling away from the living God." This strong warning permeates the entire epistle.] (13) But encourage one another day after day...lest any one of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. (14) For we have become partakers of Christ [that is, we will partake of all the glorious blessings of God's salvation in Christ], IF WE HOLD FAST THE BEGINNING OF OUR ASSURANCE FIRM UNTIL THE END [cf. Heb. 3:6] ... (18) And to whom did He swear that they should not enter His rest [[God's "rest" here, understood in the higher sense, refers to the rest of His eternal glory. This is the meaning of "rest" in Heb. 4:1 and 3. His rest, understood in the lower sense, refers to the land of Canaan. I wouldn't say that all of those who failed to enter Canaan will fail to enter the rest of God's eternal glory.]], but to those who were DISOBEDIENT? (19) And so we see that they were not able to enter because of UNBELIEF. [Note that unbelief and disobedience go together.] (4:1) THEREFORE, LET US FEAR LEST, WHILE A PROMISE REMAINS OF ENTERING HIS REST, ANY ONE OF YOU SHOULD SEEM TO HAVE COME SHORT OF IT. [He is speaking of failing to enter heavenly rest.] (2) For indeed we have had good news preached to us, just as they also ["they" refers to the sons of Israel at the time of the Exodus]; but the word they heard did not profit them, because it was not united by faith in [or, with] those who heard. [For God's word to be effective in our lives, we must take it into our hearts, and keep it in our hearts, by faith. This includes obeying the word by grace through faith.] (3) For we who have believed enter that rest." [I agree with those commentators who translate "ARE ENTERING" instead of "enter."] The whole emphasis of Hebrews is that we must keep running the race set before us until it is finished. Then, and only then, is the time for rest. But it is true that, in another sense, there is a rest for us as we run the race by faith. See, e.g., Matt. 11:28-30. God's grace is sufficient.
Hebrews 6:4-12. "For in the case of those who have once been enlightened [[At a minimum, these words mean that the ones spoken of had come to understand the basic truths of the gospel. (In Heb. 10:32 "enlightened" is used of those who had become Christians.) I believe it is clear that the Christians being spoken to here (and in Heb. 6:1-3, 9-12; and in the verses quoted above from Heb. 3:5-4:3, and in the verses quoted below from Heb. 10:26-31, for example) had become born-again Christians (cf., e.g., Heb. 3:1, 6, 12-14; 4:14-16; 6:9-12, 19, 20; 8:1; 10:19-39; 12:1-13:25). The words of Heb. 6:4, 5 clearly speak of those who had become born-again Christians. I'm belaboring this point because so many try to evade the strong warning contained in these verses (and in many other verses) by arguing that those spoken of in 6:4-8 had not become born-again Christians.]] and have tasted of the heavenly gift [The "heavenly gift" is salvation in Christ, or the equivalent.] and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit [These words further confirm that the recipients had truly become born-again Christians (cf., e.g., John 7:37-39; Rom. 8:9; Acts 2:33, 38, 39).], (5) and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come [[To "taste" includes experiencing. In one (very real) sense, all true Christians already live in "the age to come." We have, in one sense, already had our final judgment and been resurrected into the eternal life of the age to come (see, e.g., John 5:24; Rom. 6:1-11; Col. 3:1-11). I believe the writer of Hebrews is speaking from this point of view in 6:2 when he mentions "the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment." Speaking from this point of view, he is very concerned lest his readers violate such a glorious salvation by falling away from the gospel of the new covenant. As the next verse, and much other scripture shows, there is a limit to how far God's people can go with sinning against His covenants. (In the ideal case we won't have any sin. God knows our hearts; He knows rebellion. We know from this epistle that some of the readers were being tempted to draw back from new covenant salvation.]], (6) and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God, and put Him to open shame. [[The writer is speaking of willful rebellion by those who were not babes in Christ, but were established in the faith. In Heb. 10:29 he speaks of one "who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which HE WAS SANCTIFIED." These verses were written to strongly warn the Christians who were being tempted to turn from their faith commitment to God and His Son and His gospel that they must stop their wavering and renew their commitment. These verses were not written to tell Christians who had a desire to repent that God would not accept their repentance. The recipients of this epistle were being encouraged to repent (where repentance was required) throughout this epistle. The devil and his hosts frequently tell Christians that God will not accept their repentance. Jesus said the devil is a liar.]] (7) For ground that drinks the rain which often falls upon it and brings forth vegetation useful to those for whose sake it is also tilled, receives a blessing from God; (8) but if it yields thorns and thistles, it is worthless and close to being cursed, and it ends up being burned. (9) But, beloved, we are convinced of better things concerning you, and things that accompany salvation, though we are speaking in this way. (10) For God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward His name, in having ministered and in still ministering to the saints. (11) And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence so as to realize the full assurance of hope until the end ["To realize the full assurance of hope until the end" means to continue to the end with the full assurance that the things hoped for (especially the promise of heavenly glory), based on the promises of God (note "promises" in v.12), will all come to pass. The only way that a Christian can "realize the full assurance of hope until the end" is by continuing to hold to, and walk in, the basics of the gospel by grace through faith.], (12) that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises." The word translated "patience" could be translated "endurance" or "steadfastness." The basic idea behind patience here is of continuing to press on by grace through faith, no matter what happens. To "inherit the promises" means to inherit the things promised in the Word of God, especially eternal glory.
Hebrews 10:26-31. "For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins [[In context, he is speaking of a willful rebellion against the new covenant by Christians grounded in the faith. We know from verses like 1 John 2:1, 2 that forgiveness is provided for Christians through the atoning death of the Lord Jesus Christ. All sin is serious business, but most sin does not fall in the category discussed in 6:4-8 and 10:26-31. I believe we can safely say that any repentant Christian who asks for forgiveness will be forgiven. Satan has convinced many Christians that they have committed an unpardonable sin when they haven't. He will even accuse Christians of sinning when they haven't even sinned; his lies must be rejected.]], (27) but a certain terrifying expectation of judgment, and THE FURY OF A FIRE WHICH WILL CONSUME THE ADVERSARIES. (28) Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. (29) HOW MUCH SEVERER PUNISHMENT DO YOU THINK HE WILL DESERVE WHO HAS TRAMPLED UNDER FOOT THE SON OF GOD, AND HAS REGARDED AS UNCLEAN [common; NIV has "an unholy thing"] THE BLOOD OF THE COVENANT BY WHICH HE WAS SANCTIFIED [These words confirm that the writer is speaking of those who had become true Christians. They also confirm that he is dealing with the sin of willful rebellion against (which includes turning away from) the new covenant.], AND HAS INSULTED THE SPIRIT OF GRACE? (30) For we know Him who said, 'VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY.' And again, 'THE LORD WILL JUDGE HIS PEOPLE.' (31) It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God."
We will continue this study in Part 2. God bless you!
Copyright by Karl Kemp
http://www.karlkempteachingministries.com Karl Kemp worked as an engineer in the space field throughout the 60s. He became a born-again Christian in 1964. He received an MA in Biblical Studies in 1972. He has been a Bible teacher for 45 years. See the website for more info on his books, papers, etc.