Once Saved Always Saved?
Many Protestants believe that one can have certainty of salvation. Perhaps you’ve been given a pamphlet asking, “Are you saved?” The pamphlet has some select scripture verses, asking you to accept Jesus into your heart, inviting you to believe that He died for your sins. They believe that is all that is needed to be saved, and once you have done so that your salvation is guaranteed and cannot be lost. Scripture makes clear that salvation can be lost, and that salvation is to be worked out with fear and trembling. (Philippians 2:12) Let’s look at a some of the verses these pamphlets frequently make use of in their proper context.
“For if thou confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and believe in thy heart that God hath raised him up from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For, with the heart, we believe unto justice; but, with the mouth, confession is made unto salvation.” (Romans 10:9-10)
“For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord, shall be saved.” (Romans 10:13)
Out of context, these verses make it look like Paul is telling the Romans that all they need to do to be saved is to believe in Jesus, and that their salvation is guaranteed. If one reads through the very next chapter of Romans, it becomes clear that Paul is not assuring the Romans of a guaranteed salvation. He warns them:
“Thou wilt say then: The branches were broken off, that I might be grafted in. Well: because of unbelief they were broken off. But thou standest by faith: be not highminded, but fear. For if God hath not spared the natural branches, fear lest perhaps he also spare not thee. See then the goodness and the severity of God: towards them indeed that are fallen, the severity; but towards thee, the goodness of God, if thou abide in goodness, otherwise thou also shalt be cut off.” (Romans 11:19-23)
We see here that he who stands by faith can fall from it. Paul does not endorse presumption of salvation. If we are not faithful to Christ, we can be cut off from His mystical body, like dead branches cut off from the tree of life. Paul is borrowing this analogy of branches from Christ Himself. (John 15:1-10) In these verses Christ makes clear what is necessary to abide in Him, to keep His commandments.
“If you keep my commandments, you shall abide in my love; as I also have kept my Father’s commandments, and do abide in his love.” (John 15:10)
When we are baptized we receive the divine life into our souls and are grafted into Christ and His mystical body, but we must continue to abide in Christ and His divine life by obeying His commandments. We can be cut off from Christ through disobedience and sin. That is why Christ gave us the sacrament of Confession, to restore the fallen to grace.
Those who read Paul to mean that a confession of faith is all that is required for salvation ought to remember the words of Our Lord,
“Not every one that saith to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven: but he that doth the will of my Father who is in heaven, he shall enter into the kingdom of heaven.” Matthe 7:21
“That whosoever believeth in him, may not perish; but may have life everlasting. For God so loved the world, as to give his only begotten Son; that whosoever believeth in him, may not perish, but may have life everlasting.” (John 3:15-16)
This is perhaps the most famous verse in scripture. It is a beautiful summary of the gospel, but does it mean that mere belief is all that is required for salvation?
The Greek word translated as “believe”, is “pisteuvw,” which transliterated into English is “pisteuo.” It can imply more than merely assent to a belief, but rather a deep and abiding trust in a person. This deeper meaning must be present for salvation, for scripture says that even the devils believe.
“Thou believest that there is one God. Thou dost well: the devils also believe and tremble.” (James 2:19).
Perseverance and Salvation
The scriptures tell us that only he who perseveres to the end will be saved. Scripture warns us to be vigilant in the practice of our faith, so that we do not fall away.
“And you shall be hated by all men for my name’s sake: but he that shall persevere unto the end, he shall be saved.” Matthew 10:22
“And because iniquity hath abounded, the charity of many shall grow cold. But he that shall persevere to the end, he shall be saved.”Matthew 24:12-13
These verses from Matthew show that those who do not preserve their faith, or who do not preserve the virtue of charity will not be saved.
“But I chastise my body, and bring it into subjection: lest perhaps, when I have preached to others, I myself should become a castaway.” (I Corinthians 9:27)
Here Paul shows that he does not even hold his own salvation as secure.
“Wherefore, my dearly beloved, (as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but much more now in my absence,) with fear and trembling work out your salvation.” (Philippians 2:12)
These words of Paul cannot be squared with the idea of “once saved always saved.” Our salvation is not secure, and we must take pains to preserve it, by God’s grace.
“And account the longsuffering of our Lord, salvation; as also our most dear brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, hath written to you: As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are certain things hard to be understood, which the unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, to their own destruction. You therefore, brethren, knowing these things before, take heed, lest being led aside by the error of the unwise, you fall from your own steadfastness.” (2 Peter 3:15-17)
Here Peter explains that Paul’s writings are difficult to understand, and that many people misinterpret Paul, “as they do the other scriptures, to their own destruction.” Peter like Paul warns us to take heed, lest we fall. He urges us to perseverance and steadfastness.