Is Once Saved, Always Saved Biblical?
When a person is saved are they always saved? Can that person ever lose his/her salvation? Is there evidence for the doctrine of eternal security? Does the concept of once saved, always saved give people the license to sin and live as they please?
How should we address these questions or issues and what does the Bible say?
The Scriptures reveal to us that when a person genuinely believes and receives Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour, he/she is brought into a relationship with God where that person becomes a child of God (John 1:12). Therefore genuinely receiving Christ guarantees eternal security or eternal salvation and this salvation cannot be lost or revoked.
It is important to emphasize the word “genuine” because the Bible does tell us that there are genuine believers and there are also false believers (Matthew 7:21-23). And so a genuine believer cannot lose his/her salvation because by genuinely / sincerely receiving Jesus Christ the believer is guaranteed eternal life (John 3:16).
Why Do We Receive Eternal Security?
How Do We Receive Salvation?
To understand why we have eternal security in Christ, we must understand how we get saved in the first place. According to Ephesians 2:8-9 our salvation is not by our own effort or works. Instead, salvation is a free gift received by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.
Ephesians 2:8-9 says: For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
If salvation could be lost or revoked, it would imply that we have to work for our salvation or that salvation is not received by grace alone and through faith alone.
Grace in Biblical terminology is when God gives us what we don’t deserve. Since we are sinners deserving God’s eternal punishment (Romans 3:23, Romans 6:23) we do not deserve the free gift of salvation. However, God in His mercy and love for mankind offers salvation as a free gift because of the sacrifice that Jesus made on the cross for our sins (Romans 5:8).
Therefore if salvation could be lost or revoked, it would also imply that our salvation is not a free gift because we would have to work for it or earn our salvation through our own righteousness.
Titus 3:5-7 says: He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to His own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom He poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by His grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
Eternal Life Cannot Be Lost or Revoked
There are many Scripture references to the fact that every true believer will receive eternal life. But what does eternal life mean? It means that whatever is eternal cannot be lost otherwise it would not be eternal at all.
The eternal life of the believer begins from the moment we genuinely receive Jesus Christ. When we are in relationship with God through Christ we have the guarantee of eternal life or eternal security.
For example in John 5:24, Jesus says: Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears My word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.
Romans 6:23 says: For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
If eternal life is a “free gift of God” according to Romans 6:23 then it cannot be earned because it is a gift. A gift is not earned but it is freely given and freely received. Eternal life can only be received through faith in Jesus Christ. There is nothing we can do by our own effort to earn it.
Therefore if salvation can be lost, it would imply that the eternal life which has been freely given to a believer is not eternal at all – but that it can become “temporary”.
The Lord Knows Those Who Belong To Him
Ultimately it is God alone who knows the genuine Christians from the false ones. God alone knows those who truly and genuinely belong to Him (2 Timothy 2:19; Matthew 13:24-30)
In John 10:27-29, Jesus says: My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of My hand. 29 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.
From John 10:27-29 we learn a few lessons:
• Only the true sheep of Christ are known by Him and they will hear His voice and follow Him.
• Jesus gives His sheep eternal life, therefore He gives them eternal security
• His sheep have eternal security in Christ because they cannot be snatched away or snatched out of the hand of Christ. Therefore true believers cannot lose their salvation if Christ holds them in His hands
Romans 8:38-39 says: For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 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.
Therefore once we are genuinely saved there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God. We eternally become part of God’s family.
It Is Christ Who Maintains Our Salvation
The concept that we can lose our salvation would automatically bring up the question of who maintains our salvation. Is it God or is it us? Hypothetically, if it is us who have to maintain our salvation – then to what extent do we have to maintain our salvation so that we do not lose it?
The scriptures however give evidence that it is God who maintains our salvation.
First, it is important for Christians to shine as lights in the world. The Bible encourages us to do good works with the purpose of glorifying God (Matthew 5:15-16). The Bible says that we were created for good works through Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:10). Bearing good fruit is evidence of our sincere conviction and faith in Jesus Christ. Therefore without a genuine conversion to Christ, we are incapable of doing good works for the glory of God alone. For the believer we must be conscious that our inner motivation for our good works are not for our own personal glory or for the glory of our religious groupings. Nor do we do good works to receive praise from men. God does not share His glory with anyone. Instead as Colossians 3:17,23-24 says – that in whatever we do in word or deed, we must do it all to the glory of God and not to men.
This ability to do these good works that are for the glory of God are rooted in our genuine relationship with God. The motivation to do these good works does not come from our own natural effort or strength or desires. Instead the motivation comes from the Holy Spirit and from Christ who is working in us to do such good works for the glory of God alone. Everyday it is Christ who works in our hearts and life so that we conform to become more like Him.
The Holy Spirit is our Helper, our Comforter. He was sent by God to give us strength and to work in us so that we are equipped to know God’s truth and to serve and glorify God alone.
In John 16:14, Jesus says the following about one of the functions of the Holy Spirit in our life: He will glorify Me, for He will take what is Mine and declare it to you.
According to Christ, the work of the Holy Spirit is to glorify Jesus Christ alone. Therefore whatever work the Holy Spirit does in our lives is targeted at giving Christ the glory. Therefore we cannot do any good works or bear any good fruit which is meant to glorify God alone without the Holy Spirit working inside us.
Philippians 1:6 says: 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.
According to Philippians 1:6 it is not the believer who maintains his/her salvation. Instead it is Christ Himself who began a good work in us from the time we got saved. So it is Christ who will continually work in us till we are completely finished and perfected before His presence.
Furthermore, whenever we sin as Christians, we are convicted of our sin because of the work of the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit who is able to bring conviction in our hearts when we sin against God. Our genuine relationship with God will always allow the Holy Spirit to remind us of the need to have contrition and to desire humility and forgiveness when we sin against God. Also whenever we are lost or deceived it is only through the grace and work of the Holy Spirit working in us that He is able to bring us back to the truth of His word.
Therefore the work of sanctification in our life is the work of God who is at work in us daily.
All genuinely born again believers have eternal security. A sincerely born again Christian cannot lose salvation.
Romans 8:29-30 says: For those whom He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, in order that He might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom He predestined He also called, and those whom He called He also justified, and those whom He justified He also glorified.
According to Romans 8:29-30 whatever God has purposed in Heaven cannot be changed. Once a person is justified, his/her salvation or eternal security is guaranteed.