The doctrine of once saved, always saved, also referred to as eternal security, has been the subject of much debate. But what do the scriptures say about salvation?
Once saved, always saved?
The scripture that is most commonly quoted to support this doctrine is John 10:28: “They shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.” On the surface this can seem like it is true that once saved, we are always saved.
Indeed, no one can snatch them out of Jesus’ hand, but they can put themselves outside of Jesus’ hand. In chapter John 15:4 Jesus exhorts His disciples, “Abide in Me, and I in you.” And further in John 15:6 He says, “If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned.”
Salvation is not unconditional
Every promise of salvation in the scripture has a condition. If we fulfil the conditions the promises are ours. For example, we read in Colossians 1:21-23: “And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight if indeed you continue in the faith …” Do you see the condition? “If indeed you continue in the faith.” In 1 Timothy 1:19 Paul refers to some, who by rejecting a good conscience, had made a shipwreck of their faith—clearly not once saved, always saved.
In Hebrews 3:12-14 we are warned: “Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; but exhort one another daily, while it is called ‘Today’, lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end.” Do you see the condition again? “If we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end.”
We know that if we sin we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. Yes, if we are genuinely sorry and repentant there is an abundance of forgiveness in Jesus. But the danger is that by repeatedly yielding to the same temptation a hardening sets in. We are not as sorry as when we first fell in this sin, become more and more hardened and finally end up with “an evil heart of unbelief” and lose our confidence. We depart from the living God. We put ourselves outside of His hand.
We don’t need to fall in temptation
So how can we prevent such a hardening taking place, when our experience is that we repeatedly fall in temptation? The good news of the gospel is that we don’t need to repeatedly fall in temptation. “For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Hebrews 4:15-16. It is clear from these verses that our time of need is when we are tempted.
Jesus overcame and now He can help us to overcome. “For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted.” Hebrews 2:18. “Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin.” 1 Peter 4:1.
So let us not allow ourselves to be lulled into a false sense of security that we are once saved, always saved, and put our salvation in jeopardy, but rather do as Paul exhorts in Philippians 2:12: “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” Let us make our calling and election sure! (2 Peter 1:10)
For more reading, visit our topic page on sin and overcoming sin.