Is it True for Christians That 'Once Saved, Always Saved'?
By Dr. Roger Barrier, Crosswalk.com
I have a question: If our salvation is eternally secure, why does the Bible warn so strongly against apostasy?
Let’s begin by defining the word, “apostasy.” In the original Greek, the word is apostasia, meaning “defection,” “departure,’ or “rebellion.” Christian theology refers to “apostasy” as the rejection of the Christian faith by an individual who at one time professed it.
Your question brings up a very difficult theological question—one that students of Scripture have long debated.
Some say that the Bible strongly warns against apostasy because falling away from Jesus (whether overtly rejecting Him or simply choosing not to believe any longer) means that you lose your salvation.
On the other hand, others say that it’s possible to fall away and still remain saved, with the reality of eternity in heaven with Jesus remaining unchanged. This interpretation is often called, “Once Saved, Always Saved.”
I hold to the “once saved, always saved” doctrine. Let me explain why.
Apostasy comes with serious spiritual consequences.
But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons. (1 Timothy 4:1)
Who wants to slide into a relationship with deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons? Can you imagine that would be the opposite of a commitment to following Jesus? This refers to a choice between those two relationships.
Timothy continues, “At that time many will fall away and will betray one another and hate one another” (1 Timothy 4:2).
Both of these passages describe events that will occur in the latter days. Apostasy will be rampant when the antichrist takes the stage.
But while many are falling away, true Christians—those who have committed their lives to Him fully—will stick to Jesus at any price.
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What the Bible says about committing apostasy and losing salvation in John 15.
In this passage, Jesus says that He is the vine and His followers are the branches. He says that every branch that “remains” attached to him produces fruit.
On the other hand, those who do not “remain” in him are cut off from the vine and thrown in the fire:
I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; if anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. (John 15:5-6)
Jesus taught that the branches that produce fruit “remain in him,” while others fall away and no longer are “in Christ.” They are “out of Christ.”
Who wants to be in a position where we no longer remain in Christ? It’s dangerous to be “thrown into the fire and burned!”
The following declaration is quite shocking! Don’t miss this.
The writer to the Hebrews declares that those who commit apostasy cannot repent and become Christians again. The reason is because, in a spiritual sense, they crucify Christ again and put Him to open shame by giving credence to the idea that Jesus is a fraud!
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. (Hebrews 6:4-6)
In other words, the author of Hebrews is saying, “Once lost, always lost.” Who wants to say that? Well, when we read this passage, it makes us want to stay as far from apostasy as we possibly can.
Reasons why people commit apostasy.
Demas was a close friend and companion of the apostle Paul. Sadly, he turned his back on Jesus.
Notice his downward regression into apostasy.
Our first picture of him is as a fellow worker of Christ. He was on fire for Jesus.
“Mark, Aristarchus, Demas and Luke, [are] my fellow workers.” (Philemon 1:24).
The next time we see him he is just Demas. There is no praising appellation. Something is happening, and he is not burning quite as brightly.
“Our dear friend Luke, the doctor, and Demas send greetings" (Colossians 4:14)
Finally, he took his eyes off Jesus and was attracted on the world.
For Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica." (2 Timothy 4:10)
Three simple mentions of Demas in the Scriptures show the apostasy of a man who started fast with Jesus and didn’t make it to the end.
People fall away from Jesus for numerous reasons.
Let me list for you a few: pride; arrogance; sexual involvement; deceit; disappointment or bitterness toward God; being hurt or disappointed in God’s people; turning to God for help and not receiving what was desired; not being able to figure out spiritual things with rational thinking; false teaching; worldly distractions; persecution; betrayal and a rampantly sinful culture—just to name a few.
“Once saved, always saved,” says that even if we sin, we are still saved.
The classic statement of “once saved, always saved” is John 3:16:
For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life.
The operative word here is “eternal.” Once we believe in Christ, we are given eternal life. It’s not eternal if Jesus can take it away.
Once our Heavenly Father gives us eternal life, nothing that we might do in the future will ever surprise Him to the point where he will take back our salvation.
When Jesus gives a future apostate eternal life, He knows everything about his or her coming apostasy—and He accepts him or her anyway. How can this be? Answer: this gift from the loving heart of God is completely undeserved grace.
We are born again (regenerated) when we believe in Christ as our Lord and Savior. At the moment of our salvation, the Holy Spirit comes into our dead and darkened human spirit and turns on the light.
That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, “you must be born again.” (John 3:3-5)
He saved us, not because of righteous things we’ve done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. (Titus 3:5)
Before we receive Christ, our human spirit is dark and dead. When we receive Christ, the Holy Spirit turns on the light.
For us to lose our salvation means that God would have to un-regenerate us.
In other words, for us to lose our salvation means that God would have to take a sledgehammer and slaughter the human spirit that He once lit up. He would have to turn off the spiritual light that he once turned on.
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Personal conclusion: “Once we are saved, we are always saved.”
This is pure, unadulterated grace.
I do not believe that a true Christian can commit apostasy. I believe that one who “falls away” from Christ was never a Christian in the first place.
Remember that Jesus said:
He that stands firm to the end will be saved. (Matthew 24:10-13)
Let’s return to the passage in Hebrews 6:4-6 that we examined earlier. It’s my opinion that these people who “fell away” were never Christian in the first place.
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.
On the surface, this passage seems to describe people who had a powerful experience with Jesus Christ, but then committed apostasy and “fell away” from Jesus.
However, upon further review, that is not the case at all.
Jesus said to them:
I am the living bread that comes down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh which I will also give for the life of the world. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. . . Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him.
From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. (John 6:51-66)
Of course, Jesus is using metaphors when he preached about eating his flesh and drinking his blood. He is referring to the cross and simultaneously to full commitment. If we only taste something, we can always spit it out if we so choose. However, if we swallow, it becomes part of us.
The people described in this passage tasted Christianity but fell away without swallowing.
They tasted the Word of God, tasted the heavenly gift, and tasted the powers of the age to come, but the fact is, they never swallowed.
It’s no wonder that they walked away!
They were never Christians in the first place.
Take a hard look at your own faith.
It is clear from the Bible that apostates are people who make professions of faith in Jesus Christ but never genuinely receive Him as Lord and Savior. These pretend believers never truly surrendered to Him.
Now engage with this thought. The passages warning against apostasy exhort everyone to be sure of their salvation. Our eternal destiny is not a trifling matter. We are to examine ourselves in order to be certain that we are “in the faith.”
Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Jesus Christ is in you—unless of course, you fail the test.” (2 Corinthians 13:5)
The apostle John shares one mark of false believers:
They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us. (1 John 2:19)
When I was young, I overheard my dad and our pastor discussing the salvation of a man in our church who recently turned away from Jesus, gave up on Christianity, and wanted nothing more to do with Christ or His church.
Brother Baker said, “He started so well, and ended so poorly. I’ll tell you what,” he continued, “I’d much rather face Jesus with a poor start and a great ending than with a great start and a poor ending.”
Well, Weldon, I hope this helps.
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