The doctrine of eternal security, also referred to as “once saved, always saved,” is a debated topic among Christians. This doctrine states that once a person has truly become a born-again believer in Jesus Christ, they can never lose their salvation or backslide to the point where they are no longer saved. There are Bible verses that seem to support both sides of this doctrine, so it is an issue where faithful Christians can reasonably disagree.
There are several key Bible passages that supporters of the “once saved, always saved” doctrine point to. One is John 10:27-29, where Jesus says that his sheep hear his voice, he knows them, they follow him, and “no one will snatch them out of my hand.” This implies that salvation is securely in Christ’s hands, and no outside force can take it away. Ephesians 1:13-14 also speaks of believers being “sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it.” This seal and guarantee by the Holy Spirit are taken to mean salvation cannot be lost. Romans 8:35-39 emphasizes that nothing can separate believers from the love of Christ. Similarly, 1 John 5:13 says that followers of Christ can know they have eternal life. These and other verses are taken to confirm that if someone is truly saved, they are secure in Christ forever.
However, there are also verses that give caution to believers and warn against falling away. Passages like Hebrews 6:4-6 warn against falling away after tasting the heavenly gift and the goodness of the word of God. It says it is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have fallen away. James 5:19-20 also speaks of wandering from the truth and being brought back. 2 Peter 2:20-22 warns against returning to the world after escaping the corruption of sin, saying it would have been better not to know the way of righteousness at all. Other verses speak of being cut off from Christ (John 15:1-6), warnings about falling away (Hebrews 10:26-31), and the need to continue in the faith (Colossians 1:21-23). Some take these passages to mean that it is possible for true believers to fall away from salvation.
There are good biblical cases to be made on both sides of this issue. Those who believe in eternal security emphasize the strength of Christ’s saving work and his hold on believers. Those who believe you can lose your salvation emphasize the need for continued obedience, faithfulness, and endurance. There are difficult verses for both positions.
One key distinction that can help understand these two viewpoints is the concept of nominal vs genuine believers. Both sides would likely agree that nominal believers – those who profess faith but do not have sincere saving faith – can fall away when tested. The disagreement centers on what happens to genuine believers – those truly born again through faith in Christ. Can they lose their salvation or not? This distinction helps explain how both sets of verses can be true at the same time.
Regarding the “once saved always saved” position, verses warning against falling away are understood as either hypothetical warnings or warnings aimed at nominal believers, not genuine Christians. Supporters of this view point to verses stating that God will complete and perfect the salvation of true believers (Philippians 1:6) and that Jesus loses none who were given to him (John 6:39). They emphasize that salvation is by grace, through faith, and not by works (Ephesians 2:8-9).
Those who believe you can lose your salvation interpret the verses about security in Christ as being conditioned on continued faith and obedience. They point out Bible examples of people who fell away, like King Solomon turning from God later in life (1 Kings 11:1-13). They emphasize the need for perseverance and say that while good works don’t earn salvation, they provide evidence of genuine saving faith (James 2:14-26).
When it comes to the “once saved, always saved” doctrine, several factors are important for understanding the biblical perspective:
- Salvation is completely by God’s grace, not human effort.
- Genuine salvation results in a transformed life and good works.
- Warnings against falling away are directed at both nominal and genuine believers.
- God gives assurance of salvation to genuine believers who are presently walking with him.
- None can snatch true believers from Christ’s hand, but they can choose to leave.
- God completes and perfects the salvation of genuine believers who endure to the end.
In summary, the Bible contains verses that warn believers about falling away as well as verses that emphasize the security of salvation for those who are truly in Christ. Both viewpoints believe nominal Christians can fall away. The key question is whether those who are truly born again can lose their salvation or are eternally secure. God knows the heart and true spiritual state of each professing believer. He counsels all followers of Jesus to continue in faith and obedience throughout their lives.
The doctrine of “once saved, always saved” is based on the biblical truth that salvation is completely by God’s grace and not by human effort. Verses such as Ephesians 2:8-9 and Romans 3:28 emphasize this. When one places their faith in Christ for salvation, they are born again by the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5). Their name is recorded in the Lamb’s Book of Life (Revelation 13:8), and they are sealed with the Holy Spirit as a guarantee of their inheritance (Ephesians 1:13-14). God promises to complete the work he began in bringing someone to salvation (Philippians 1:6). Because it is fully God’s work and not the person’s own effort, once someone is saved their salvation cannot be lost.
However, those who hold to “once saved, always saved” also emphasize that genuine salvation will result in a changed life, good works, and perseverance. Verses such as James 2 make it clear that faith without works is dead and useless. True saving faith will be accompanied by the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). While good works don’t earn salvation, they provide evidence of new life in Christ. Those who show no change in lifestyle and continue living in sin must be questioned as to whether they ever were genuinely saved to begin with (1 John 2:3-6).
The warnings against falling away in Hebrews 6 and 10 are sobering. But some see them as hypothetical warnings to prompt self-examination, not statements that true believers can lose salvation. Others see them as evidence that genuine Christians can fall away if they persist in willful sin. God knows who are his (2 Timothy 2:19) and will perfect true believers who endure to the end (Matthew 24:13). Yet even true believers have freedom to resist God’s transforming work in their lives. God warns about the serious consequences if they continue down that path.
Ultimately, the Bible emphasizes salvation by grace, eternal security for genuine believers, and warnings against falling away. The precise nature of the salvation of backsliders is debated. But God knows the heart and will judge correctly. The warnings serve to exhort all believers to faithfulness, while the assurances give hope to those who are truly Christ’s sheep.
There are several key factors to consider regarding this doctrine:
- Salvation is by God’s grace through faith, not by human effort (Ephesians 2:8-9). True believers are born again by the Spirit (John 3:3-8).
- Genuine salvation yields lasting spiritual fruit – good works, obedience, bearing fruit for God’s kingdom (Matthew 3:8, 7:20; Romans 6:22; Galatians 5:22-23). This fruit gives evidence of true saving faith.
- God initiated salvation and will complete the work in each person he has called (Philippians 1:6, Hebrews 12:2). His power protects believers.
- Yet the Bible also gives strong warnings not to fall away (Hebrews 6:4-6; 10:26-31). Some see these warnings as hypothetical, while others see them as evidence that genuine believers can in fact depart from the faith.
- Nowhere does the Bible state explicitly that genuine believers can lose their salvation. Some verses imply eternal security (John 10:28-29; Romans 8:35-39). But the issue is debated, and Scripture alone may be inconclusive.
- True believers endure to the end in faith and obedience by God’s enabling grace (Matthew 10:22, 24:13; Mark 13:13). God secures the salvation of those who continue trusting in him (1 Peter 1:3-5).
In summary, Scripture emphasizes salvation by God’s grace through faith. Genuine faith produces fruit. Warnings against falling away prompt self-examination and holy fear. Assurance is given to those presently walking with God. The precise nature of the salvation of backsliders is debated. But God knows each person’s heart and will judge with wisdom, justice, and mercy.
Several key points help summarize the biblical teaching on this topic:
- Salvation is completely by God’s grace, received by faith alone in Christ alone (John 3:16; Ephesians 2:8-9). True believers are born again by the Spirit (John 1:12-13).
- Genuine salvation produces spiritual fruit in one’s life (Matthew 3:8; 7:20; Galatians 5:22-23). This fruit provides evidence of true saving faith. Dead faith does not save.
- God promises to complete the salvation of genuine believers who endure in faith to the end (Matthew 10:22; 24:13; Philippians 1:6; 1 Peter 1:3-5). His power keeps believers secure.
- The Bible gives strong warnings not to fall away (Hebrews 6:4-6; 10:26-31). Debate centers on whether these warnings apply to genuine believers.
- Scripture does not explicitly state that genuine believers can lose their salvation or are unconditionally eternally secure. Bible scholars differ on this point.
- True believers heed the warnings by continuing to trust in Christ, while resting in God’s grace to complete their salvation with persevering faith.
In conclusion, the biblical teaching emphasizes salvation by God’s grace alone through faith alone, producing spiritual fruit in the believer’s life. Warnings against falling away prompt self-examination and holy fear. Assurance of salvation is given to those presently walking with the Lord in faith and obedience. The Bible does not definitively answer whether genuine believers can lose their salvation, so interpretive wisdom is needed.