ONCE SAVED, ARE WE ALWAYS SAVED?
By Rev. Ted Pike
9 Oct 13
Editor's Note: This article is an edited version of my Bible study "The Bible Teaches Only Conditional Salvation" which you can listen here with discussion at Truthtellers.org.
Fundamental to pleasing God is following His requirement that we obey Him. God’s conditional terms underline both the issue of our personal salvation as well as God’s standard for allowing Jews as a nation to occupy Palestine.
Overlooking these Biblical conditions for salvation throws Christian doctrine and practice into confusion. There are a number of very powerful verses, primarily New Testament, which state unequivocally that we have to daily trust and obey God until death. Without faith and obedience, there can be no security in this life or the life to come.
Consider II Peter 2:
20 If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and are overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning. 21 It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them. 22 Of them the proverbs are true: “A dog returns to its vomit,” and, “A sow that is washed returns to her wallowing in the mud.
Peter here describes escaping through the blood of Jesus Christ into a new experience of being filled with the Holy Spirit. If we choose sin after that, backsliding, what is our fate? Peter says it’s worse than if we had never known Christ (been saved) in the first place.
This does not square with the popular doctrine of eternal security which says once you have escaped sin and known the Lord, you are in forever. You can never be lost. Peter is talking about something 180 degrees opposite of what is popularly taught in most evangelical churches.
Revelation 3:5 restates the conditional nature of salvation.
The one who is victorious will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out the name of that person from the book of life, but will acknowledge that name before my Father and his angels. 6 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
Overcoming means prevailing in faith and obedience to Christ right up to the moment of death. If you don’t overcome, a very disturbing thing will happen: God can erase your name from His book of salvation. This is contrary to what Calvinists teach. They say once your name is engraved in the book of life, it can never be removed. If God pronounces you to be a son, you cannot become an "un-son." You cannot be disinherited. But here Revelation candidly says your name can be erased.
Revelation repeats this in verse 11.
Behold, I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown. 12 The one who is victorious I will make a pillar in the temple of my God.
Our “crown” means that we have been made God’s children, His representatives on earth. We gain this crown by sincere repentance. God doesn’t play games.This has nothing to do with posturing or good works done to be seen by men. Christ gives a crown to those who sincerely trust in Him, surrendering their identity, life, future, and salvation entirely to Him.
Generations of Calvinistic dogma make these words of none effect. Yet the Scriptures could not be more clear about the need for ongoing moral choices on our part.
Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. 20. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.
21. To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne (Rev. 3:19-21).
Christ sets the pattern of what it means to overcome. This is simple language.
Such simple statements also exist in I Corinthians 6.
Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men. 10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
Is it really that straightforward? Calvinism says the righteous are those who follow and occasionally sin; Christ imputes righteousness which is not connected to our obedience. Even though we sin daily in thought, word, and deed, we are still righteous because of what Christ did.
But what is righteousness according to God? He says the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God. If you are sexually immoral, you are not saved. If you are an idolater—if you are putting anything above God, including physical success—you are not saved. If you ignore these categories of unrighteousness, you are in danger.
The doctrine of eternal security stimulates abuse especially in the young. Many Calvinists will doubtless be saved. Despite the error of their mind, as long as they are not abusing this doctrine to excuse sin, they are saved because they are trusting Jesus.
But we see many people increasingly, actively using Calvinist doctrine to indulge in sin—living with their boyfriend or girlfriend, drinking alcohol to excess, etc. 1 Corinthians 15 is clear about their future.
Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.
Scripture is declaring that it is possible to have a sincere experience of belief in Christ which is life transforming—and yet fall away. We must trust Jesus every day of life.
Hebrews 10 is also abundantly clear. It describes Christians so sincere they endured violent persecution, but they must still remain loyal to Christ, or risk hell.
If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, 27 but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. 28 Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29 How much more severely do you think someone deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know him who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge his people.” 31 It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
32 Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you endured in a great conflict full of suffering. 33 Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. 34 You suffered along with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions. 35 So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded.
36 You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.
It is foolish to think God is going to follow us around like a puppy. If we despise His sacrifice, He will respect that free-will decision. People can fully receive the knowledge of the truth and then turn away from the truth, sinning willfully. They face great jeopardy and incipient judgment.
The love of Jesus has come out of eternity to offer us the sensational opportunity to live with Him forever. When we walk away from Christ, we despise such incredible love.
I remember sitting in a small church in Oregon where we were visited by a president of Multnomah Bible College. He was a strong Calvinist. A young man asked him flat out, “Can I sin and be a Christian at this same time?” Incredibly, this Calvinist authority in the Northwest said, "Yes. You can sin. Just don’t do it continuously." This is antinomianism! That means anti-law. I couldn’t believe my ears. This man quoted 1 John to state that sin should be point action, not continuous action. He opened the door for this young man to "occasionally" have sex with his girlfriend and still consider himself a child of God!
How can God's conditional terms get much clearer than Hebrews 6:4-8?
It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5 who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age 6 and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance. To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace. 7 Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God. 8 But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned.
This is a very powerful statement. The author of Hebrews describes people who have literally tasted the heavenly gift and been filled with the Holy Ghost through total consecration! He holds up a possibility that they can fall away. We have all had the tragic experience of having relatives, family members, and acquaintances who have abandoned faith in Christ. The potential of falling away is very real. It is not theoretical.
Some people come very late in life to Christ. Extreme suffering is often necessary to bring them to that state of humility. But no one becomes a partaker of the Holy Ghost without going through the narrow gate of simple childlike trust in Christ. It is thus impossible that a person can become the bride of Christ, the intimate spiritual wife of Almighty God, and then commit spiritual whoredom and still remain in His grace. God gave the murderous and adulterous David a second chance. But that’s entirely up to God. We can’t make a formula predicting God's mercy. David was given a second chance but only in the misery of losing his son with Bathsheba. Far from providing assurance of emergency absolution, the Scripture offers strong statements that turning away from Christ and His cross is the equivalent to crucifying Him again.
Christianity is not tailored to our desires or needs. We can't indulge in any of the following activities and be saved at the same time:
The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God (Gal. 5:19-21).
We must trust in Jesus, bearing good fruit in Him, in order to be confident of salvation.
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other. (Gal. 5:11-26)
But it’s not only these high-profile sins that endanger us. We should be avoiding profanity, sex scenes in movies, all alcohol, and all other things that lead into sin. Paul says we can drift into thinking these unclean things are normal. We must remain pure. I remember a Nazarene church Sunday school class where I heard a Christian leader state that it is normal for Christian couples to fight; the only question is fighting constructively. Class members were undisturbed by this advice. I was the only one to speak up and say, "No, the blood of Christ can purify and bring peace to our marriages. Marriage is to be bound together in mutual self-sacrificing love between partners, as exists between Christ and His bride."
But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people.4 Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. 5 For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. 6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. 7 Therefore do not be partners with them. (Eph. 5:3-7)
People believe in eternal security because it seems to allow them to have the best of both worlds. They can have heaven and at the same time make allowance for their own worst instincts. But God’s truth is not designed to placate and indulge us. Christ comes to regenerate us.
Paul describes to Timothy people who were regenerated by Christ but abandoned that faith.
Timothy, my son, I am giving you this command in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by recalling them you may fight the battle well, 19 holding on to faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and so have suffered shipwreck with regard to the faith (I Tim. 1:18-20).
Jesus says, "He who comes to me, I will not cast out" (John 6:37). But not one statement in Scripture endorses the idea that we cannot lose our salvation through sin. In contrast, dozens and dozens of verses warn everyone—believers and unbelievers—that death is the result of sin for everyone.
Paul, speaking to Roman Gentiles, describes how Jews were cut off from salvation because of sin and how Gentile Christians only receive salvation through continued obedience. The privilege of living with God forever is not the result of divine favor alone. It is the result of our cooperation with Him to the moment of death.
You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.” 20 Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but tremble. 21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either.
22 Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off. 23 And if they do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again (Rom. 11:19-23).
Tragically, although the doctrine of "once saved, always saved" might seem to give inner peace, millions do not find true peace and victory over sin through believing it. Only the fullness of the Holy Spirit, comforting our spirits, gives such peace. It comes from personally crucifying the "old man" all of us are born with. Only upon our total surrender to Jesus and death to self-will does the Holy Spirit in His fullness dwell within, bringing with Him the peace of God which passes all understanding that keeps our "hearts and minds through Christ Jesus" (Phil. 4:7).