The Bible’s View
“Once Saved, Always Saved”—How Certain?
THE “Son of Sam” killer terrorized New York city residents for more than a year, killing six random victims and wounding several others. Yet the person accused of the crime reportedly had been “saved” at a church meeting about four years before his reign of terror began.
A former army friend of the suspect who had invited him to the church meeting relates that the new convert “came up to me grinning and laughing and saying, ‘Man, I’m saved.’ Then we came back that same day for the evening service and he went forward again at the invitation [to accept Christ]. He told me afterward that he just wanted to make sure it [being “saved”] took.”
Upon hearing the charges against this former member of her church, another member told the Associated Press: “I’m just thankful he was saved.” Why? She declared: “The Bible says, once saved, always saved.”—New York Post, August 25, 1977, p. 2.
Does the Bible actually say, “Once saved, always saved”? No, it does not use those words in any specific text, but many sincere people believe that this is what the Bible teaches. And it is true that a number of Bible texts indicate that the basis for salvation is not one’s works, but, rather, faith in Jesus Christ, together with God’s “grace” and mercy. (Eph. 2:8, 9; 2 Tim. 1:9; Titus 3:4, 5) Additionally, Jesus himself said that “he that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life.”—John 3:36, Authorized Version (AV); 1 John 5:13.
From such references it is often reasoned that if one ‘has everlasting life,’ he actually possesses it permanently; it cannot be lost, or, as many would have it: “Once saved, always saved.” However, does this understanding fully express the Scriptural view of gaining everlasting life?
Well, Christians concerned about their salvation may also wish to consider Jesus’ declaration that “he that endureth to the end shall be saved.” (Matt. 10:22; 24:12, 13; Mark 13:13, AV) And the apostle Paul comments similarly: “For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence stedfast unto the end.”—Heb. 3:14, AV.
How are we to reconcile these seeming disparities? Surely these servants of God were not contradicting themselves. Rather, were they not merely expressing the same understanding from different viewpoints? The apostle Paul provides the key to harmonizing these viewpoints.
Time and again Paul likens the Christian’s course to a “race” that must be run to the finish. “Let us run with patience the race that is set before us,” he urged the Hebrews. (12:1, AV) To enter the race, sinners must take the steps necessary for salvation: hearing and accepting the Word of God, believing in Jesus Christ and his ransom sacrifice, repenting of their sins and being baptized. In this way, they get saved “from this crooked generation,” as Peter exhorted those gathered at Pentecost. Unbelievers are outside the race, having failed to enter by getting “saved.”—Acts 2:37-40, Revised Standard Version (RSV); Acts 16:31-33; Rom. 10:13, 14.
Once entered in the race by being “saved,” a Christian takes “hold of the life which is life indeed.” But is it possible to lose that grip on life? Paul answers with this question: “Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize?” In the Christian race, Paul indicates the “one” who receives the prize is anyone who finishes the race. Therefore, Paul urges, “So run that you may obtain it.” Then, using himself as an example to make the point of his illustration, he continues: “I pommel my body and subdue it, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”—1 Tim. 6:19; 1 Cor. 9:24-27, RSV.
Evidently the apostle, who surely was a “saved” Christian, believed that even he could be “disqualified” from the race. Yet as long as he continued to ‘run that he might obtain’ the prize, thus remaining in the race, salvation was assured. This is why Christians who remain in the race can be said to ‘have everlasting life.’ But if they should ever quit the race, they are “disqualified,” losing their hold on everlasting life.
Hence, Paul follows up his remarks on the Christian’s race by cautioning about the danger of overconfidence. Using the example of the Israelites who were saved through the Red Sea, yet fell to wrongdoing in the wilderness, he warned: “We [“saved” Christians] must not put the Lord to the test.” Then, driving his point home, he declared: “Let any one who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” Yes, it could happen, even to “saved” ones!—1 Cor. 10:1-12, RSV.
This is why, throughout his writings, Paul consistently emphasized his own need to stay in the race. For example, of his hoped-for reward of the resurrection, he said: “I do not consider that I have made it my own; but one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” It was only after Paul neared the end of his life that he wrote: “I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” At this point in his life, he could finally say with confidence: “Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award me on that Day.”—Phil. 3:11-14; 2 Tim. 4:6-8, RSV.
The foregoing helps us to see why Paul repeatedly entreated “saved” Christians to be on guard. Their everlasting salvation was still at stake. Addressing the obviously “saved” Hebrew Christians who had been “illuminated” and who had “endured a great fight of afflictions,” he warns: “If we sin willfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins.” The sacrificial benefits that “saved” such persons, then, can be lost. Why? Because such a person “hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto [outraged, RSV] the Spirit of grace.”—Heb. 10:26-32, AV.
Yes, Christians who truly appreciate the salvation provided through Christ and God’s grace will not be overconfident. They will strive to remain in the race like Paul and the other early Christians, whom he encouraged to “work out [their] own salvation with fear and trembling.”—Phil. 2:12, AV.