Once Saved, Always Saved?

Many Protestant churches teach that once a person is saved they can never lose their salvation. Sometimes this position is held in conjunction with a theology known as Calvinism, which argues that man does not have free will and that God selected certain individuals before the world began to give the gift of faith. Since man does not choose to believe, according to Calvinism, neither can he choose to give up his faith.

On the other hand, there are many non-Calvinists who also maintain that once a person is saved they can never be lost. For instance, popular Baptist TV evangelist Charles Stanley has written: “The Bible clearly teaches that God’s love for His people is of such magnitude that even those who walk away from the faith have not the slightest chance of slipping from His hand.”

In contrast to these views of eternal security, the Bible teaches that a person saved by grave and through faith may tragically choose to reject the Lord and fall away.

The Book of Hebrews was written to a community of Jewish Christians on the verge of renouncing the Lord. Apparently they were facing persecution (Heb. 10:32–35), though not “to the point of shedding blood” (12:4). The inspired writer of this book penned this letter as a “word of exhortation” (13:22) to encourage them to remain faithful and to warn them of the consequences of losing their faith. Throughout this book there are warnings that make absolutely no sense if the “once saved, always saved” position is correct.

For example, Hebrews 3:12 says, “Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God.” Notice first of all that this is a warning—“take care.” Second, it is addressed to “brethren.” Third, these brethren ware warned that they could have an “evil, unbelieving heart.” Finally, the writer says such a condition would result in “falling away from the living God.”

In Hebrews 6:4–6 there is this chilling warning: “For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame.” First, can anyone seriously deny that the person described in this passage was at one time saved? Second, this text speaks of those who “have fallen away.” And third, it warns that those who reject Christ have no hope of renewal, for in rejecting Christ they are rejecting the only source of forgiveness.

Finally, in Hebrews 10:28–29 says, “Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace?” Again, notice first of all that this text concerns one who was saved, “sanctified.” Second, it addresses the very real possibility of this person rejecting the Lord who saved them. And third, it warns of a punishment even “severer” than that administered to those who were unfaithful under the Old Covenant.

Take a look at the statement by Charles Stanley once more and then read these three passages. If his view is correct, would these passages make any sense at all? Why warn Christians about the dire consequences of losing their faith when “even those who walk away from the faith have not the slightest chance of slipping from His hand”?

The Bible does teach that there is security and assurance for those who are in Christ. Jesus promised, “And I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand” (John 10:28). No one, not even the Devil himself, can remove us against our will from the care of the Lord. But the issue is, is it possible for a Christian to choose to turn away from the Lord and leave His protection? And as the Book of Hebrews demonstrates, the answer to that question is tragically yes.