Once Saved…Always Saved…?

You have probably heard of the saying that goes, “Once saved, always saved.” in reference to one’s condition after receiving Christ as their Savior, but have ceased to walk with Him. We believe in the doctrine of eternal security, or what is called the “perseverance of the saints.” The Bible is clear that once a person is saved, they cannot lose their salvation. This is a settled fact to one who has been born again, adopted, forgiven, justified, redeemed and united with Christ. Once someone has been born again, they cannot be un-born again. Once they have been adopted into God’s family, they will never be un-adopted. That is the doctrine of eternal security. But there is another focus in the book of Hebrews 5:11-6:12 that is related to eternal security which is a different doctrine called the assurance of salvation.

Eternal security holds that if you are a Christian (from God’s point of view), you cannot lose your salvation. Assurance of salvation is concerned with whether you or I can know for sure that we are Christians (from our point of view). Being a Christian and knowing that you are a Christian are two different things, although they are usually connected. The doctrine of assurance of salvation fits better with the journey, sports, agricultural and maturity metaphors. It is viewing salvation not from God’s point of view but from ours. From our point of view, someone who does not continue to the end of their journey with Jesus will not make it to the final destination of heaven; not because they lost their salvation but because they never truly had it in the first place.

1 John 2:19 makes this point. John Calvin formulated it this way: how do you know if someone is a Christian? Answer…if they persevere to the end. If you abandon Jesus and the journey of faith and live a life separate from the commands of Scripture you are demonstrating that you are not genuinely born again. The question arises; don’t genuine believers sometimes wander away from Jesus for a season? Absolutely. But, you know that a person is a genuine believer if he or she comes back. If a person does not come back, you cannot know whether they were a genuine Christian in the first place.

Consequently, if you have loved ones that have walked away from God, I would not want to give you false hope, nor should anyone else. No one should ever tell you that if you’re loved one has made a profession of faith when they were younger that everything is okay with their souls as a matter of fact. Here is where time and truth go hand in hand. If one is genuinely saved, (believers by faith alone), they will end up in heaven, even though they may have walked away for a season. If they were never believers, they will not. If someone is not currently journeying with Jesus, then neither you nor I can know whether that person is a true Christian or not. And so our job is not to give false assurance but to warn them – if they do not keep going with Jesus in a consistent God focused walk of faith, they will not get to their destination (not because they lost their salvation, but because they are giving evidence that they are not actually saved).

But here’s the additional point to be made from Hebrews. If you read Hebrews 2:1-3, 3:12-14, 10:26-31, 12:25 and 5:11-6:12 you will not find any discussion there about eternal security. You will not even find a discussion like what is found in 1 John 2:19 about how people who turn away from Jesus were not believers in the first place. What you will find are warnings not to walk away from Jesus. These verses are meant to frighten people or awaken those who call themselves Christians (also see Matt 7:21-23; John 15; Romans 11:17-22; 1 Cor. 9:27-10:12; James 2:14-26). If we preach these passages in such a way that they don’t frighten us, then we have not preached them correctly. The author of Hebrews believes in eternal security. But he understands that people who are constantly fed a diet of “once-saved…always saved” can draw from it an incorrect inference, namely if I pray to receive Christ it doesn’t matter what I do from that point on. I realize that it is a difficult tension, but we have to let the Word of God speak in all its complexities without using one passage to silence another.

Scripture both affirms that “even if we are faithless, He is still faithful because He cannot deny Himself” (2 Timothy 2:13) and “See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end.” (Hebrews 3:12-14).

It is difficult to see loved ones walk away from the Lord after a profession of faith was made in the past. However…to give an assurance of something that is not there is cruel and misleading when it come to their final point of death. We never want to have blood on our hands for giving an assurance that is not warranted. I know that we want to hear just the eternity security passages, especially if we have a loved one who once professed faith but now no longer does so. But we should not silence the truth of Hebrews. While I have seen God use 2 Timothy 2:13 to bring comfort to believers, I have also seen the Holy Spirit use the real, bona fide warnings of Hebrews to bring people who were wandering from the faith back to Jesus Christ.