ONCE SAVED ALWAYS SAVED? or
ONCE SAVE BARELY SAVED?
By John Telgren
The Doctrine of Eternal Security
Although it may be an oversimplification, this doctrine of "eternal security" or "perseverance of the saints" states in a nutshell that once saved, it is impossible for a Christian to fall from grace. Simply put, a Christian cannot be lost once he is saved.
While the scriptures do teach security of the Christian, this doctrine has at times been pushed to the point of absurdity. Is it possible that a person can genuinely be saved, then later in life turn to a life of raping, pillaging, and murdering and still not be lost? Is it enough to simply respond that they were never saved in the first place?
- "For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain terrifying expectation of judgment, and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries." (Heb 10:26-27)
- "But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons" (1 Tim 4:1)
- "My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth, and one turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death, and will cover a multitude of sins." (Jas 5:19-20)
- "You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace." (Gal 5:4)
This last passage is perhaps the most explicit. Paul in rebuking the Galatians tells them that they have fallen from grace. They had to have been saved at one point in order to have "fallen from grace". They were running well at first, but now false teachers were drawing them away (Gal. 5:7).
On the other hand, there are passages like this one:
- "The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance." (2 Peter 3:9)
If some can be lost after they are saved, what does this say about God's sovereignty? If some are lost, does this mean God is not all-powerful? If someone is lost, does it mean God was not able to save them? Or is it, as some believe, that God wills some to be saved and others to be lost?
You run into problems when you begin with a doctrine and try to make scripture come in line with it. Like it or not, there are areas of scripture that are gray simply by virtue of the fact that we serve a holy, holy, holy God. In a rationalistic, logical, scientific society, we have a tendency to either forget or overlook some of the mystery of our wonderful God.
Does the Bible teach that God gives humans the ability to make choices? Did God give Adam and Eve the ability to choose to obey or disobey him? Does God inbreed "instinct" into a human in the way he inbreeds this into animals? Are humans robotic slaves of a biological mechanism?
If humans are free to make their own choices, you have to deal with the almost inconceivable notion that humans can and do cause God to suffer! What!? God is vulnerable at the hands of humans?
God was grieved that he had made mankind because their thoughts were consistently wicked (Gen 6:6). God's pain from Israel's unfaithfulness to him is compared to the pain that can be inflicted by an unfaithful spouse (Hos 1-2). At times, God almost seems to be hopelessly in love with a faithless people. How many times has God initiated a "plan B" because of something humans have done? The sin, which began in the garden, led him to purify the earth by flood, and that didn't work (Gen 6-11). God makes a covenant with Abraham, redeems his descendants from Egypt, only for them to turn and worship a golden calf (Exod 32). He was ready to initiate a "plan C" by destroying them and starting all over again with Moses, but Moses manages to change God's mind. In the land of Canaan, Israel becomes so unfaithful that God not only threatens them with bondage in exile, he also states that he will make a "new covenant" with them (Jer 31:31).
Thinking of God in these terms may seem strange, yet this is how he acts when it concerns us. Can a man be satisfied with a wife who loved him, but only because she was brainwashed into it? Or would a man want to have a genuine relationship with a wife who chooses to love him? Why would we think God wants anything less from us? When God "married" his people, he took the risk that they might cheat on him and reject him, which they did. God could have just completely destroyed the earth and started over again. But he doesn't. This is why David remarks in Psalm 8, "what is man, that you are mindful of him?"
So is it possible that God gave humans a free will? Is it possible that in doing this, God makes himself vulnerable? It is possible that this vulnerability led him to do the unthinkable - become a human and be crucified so he could save mankind? Is it possible that even though God went to unfathomable lengths to save mankind that many will still refuse him and be lost anyway? Is it possible that God would go so far as to take a risk by giving humans a free will, knowing that some would refuse him even after initially accepting him, and be lost? Our Bible sure seems to indicate an affirmative.
The Doctrine of Doubt
If once saved always saved, the doctrine that it is impossible for a person to ever be lost again once he is saved is one extreme, there is also another extreme which stems from a misunderstanding of Christian "hope".
Speaking of "hope", when the election fiasco was finally over, I spent some time thinking about some of the themes of Bill Clintonís campaign when he initially ran for office. One of the words he continually used was the word, "hope", which seem to strike a chord with many Americans. People wanted someone to give them "hope" for a better future. Christians hope in something that goes far beyond this life. The word translated "hope" in the New Testament is "elpis". I will talk about the doctrine of the Christian "hope", because it is a common New Testament word with a distinct doctrine.
- I Peter 1:3 says that we have been born again to a "living" hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Ours is a living hope! We donít hope the way worldly people do.
- Romans 15:13 says we have a super abundance of hope! Hope, properly understood, is not just wishful thinking. Hope is the confident expectation of Godís promise.
Notice the following statements concerning hope:
- Titus 2:13 - "we wait for the blessed hope--the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ" Hope is not wishful thinking, it is something we "wait" for.
- 2 Thessalonians 2:16 says that God has given us "eternal comfort and good hope by grace". We donít have to go through life worried about being with God.
- 1 Thessalonians 5:8 refers to our hope as a "helmet" in the Armor of God.
- Hebrews 6:19 says that our hope is an "anchor of the soul", it is "sure and steadfast" which "enters the veil", which is where God is, in Heaven.
So Biblical hope cannot be equated with the same sort of hope Mr. Clinton talked about during his campaign. It is not the type of hope that we have at Christmas, "I hope I get a bicycle for Christmas." The Christian hope is much more stronger than that. It is so strong, that faith is sometimes paired with hope in the New Testament.
- Hebrews 11:1 says that "faith is the substance of things hoped for". Faith and hope are intimately related. One gives substance to the other. If our hope is wishy-washy, then our faith will be wishy-washy, and vice-versa.
- Galatians 5:5 says "For we through the Spirit, by faith, are waiting for the hope of righteousness."
- 1 Peter 1:21 says that through Jesus we "are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.
Faith and hope are nearly synonymous at times. One gives strength to the other. Hope, properly understood, is a sister of joy in the Christian life. If Christians truly understand faith and hope, it will affect the way they live their life.
- Romans 12:12 says we are to be rejoicing in hope". How in the world can you have any kind of joy if you donít know if you are saved or not?
- Romans 5:5 says "hope does not disappoint". If you truly understand this, then you truly can rejoice.
This will not be a life of indifference. On the contrary, the Bible instructs just the opposite:
- The grace that has given us "good hope" (2 Thess 2:16) also instructs us to "deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously, and godly in the present age..." according to Titus 2:11.
- This is why we are given the exhortation to "realize the full assurance of hope until the end." in Hebrews 6:11.
So the Bible teaches that true hope breeds holiness and endurance, not license and indifference. As a matter in fact, the one who believes hope is not an expectation of the fulfillment of Godís promises ought to consider what James says in James 1. Here the Bible describes the person who doubts as unstable, doubleminded, and tossed about by waves. If hope is wishy-washy, the Christian life be wishy-washy.
So there are two theological extremes which are both unbiblical. One is the "once-saved, always-saved" doctrine. The other unbiblical extreme is the "once-saved, barely-saved" doctrine. Why are there extreme doctrines? Usually they come about as a "reaction" to another extreme or false doctrine.
We have seen that it is not absolutely impossible to fall away after being saved. At the same time, we have also seen that a Christian can live in confident expectation that he or she is going to be with God in Heaven. So it is imperative that Christians understand true biblical hope so they can live with boldness and confidence and not fall away in despair.