Monday, July 27, 2015

Paul Would NEVER Have Said, "Once Saved, Always Saved"

"Once saved, always saved" is a phrase that I associate with Baptists. That is how they say that a Christian can never lose his salvation.

The funny thing is that this doctrine originated as one of the five points of Calvinism, but it is held by people who deny, sometimes vehemently, the other four points. By removing the doctrine from its necessary connections, not only has it become confused, but it is actually destructive.

While holders of "once saved, always saved" (hereafter, "OSAS") would deny that it is, the doctrine has become an excuse for sinful living, the so-called "carnal Christian." Without its biblical connections, OSAS takes on the meaning in the mind of such a person, "I raised my hand, or responded to an altar call, so I have spiritual fire insurance for the rest of my life, no matter what." That person then feels free to ignore Christ's church and to live like a reprobate. He is the person described in the Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13) as a person who hears the Gospel and "immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself" (Matt. 13:20-21).

When I get asked whether I believe in OSAS, I always hesitate, because it isn't really a yes-or-no question to me. Usually I respond, "I do, but I don't use that phrase." That often opens an opportunity for discussion, because the questioner will then usually ask what I mean. 

For one thing, in churches that teach OSAS, it is contrary to the rest of their theology, which is rigidly Arminian, or even Pelagian. It is irrational to claim that entry to faith is by human will and ability, but that exiting is forbidden by the will of God. Which is it? Are men spiritually sovereign or aren't they? Further, OSAS is inherently antinomian, i. e., it tends to encourage people to accept sin in their lives. 

Instead, I hold to the Reformed formulation, "perseverance of the saints." That is, I believe that the Holy Spirit works in the heart of a true believer, such that he perseveres in faith, sanctification, church involvement, and love of the brethren, until the final day, when he either dies and enters Christ's presence, or the Lord returns, and the believer is transformed into his sinless eternal state. Paul refers to this in Romans 8:30: "those whom He predestined He also called, and those whom He called He also justified, and those whom He justified He also glorified." When God regenerates and converts a soul, He doesn't then abandon it to its own frailty. With Paul, "I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ" (Phil. 1:6, compare Psalm 145:20).

I think of Adam. In his pre-Fall state, he was without sin and in unhindered communion with his God. Yet, what happened at his first temptation? He gave it all up and brought spiritual death upon himself and all his posterity. And I am convinced that, if left to my own good intentions to remain faithful, I would also fall in the first second. That would make the Christian life a constant terror. I need, I depend on, I rejoice in, God's sovereign grace, which saved me, keeps me in the faith, and will glorify me, spiritually and bodily, someday. As the Westminster Confession of Faith III:6 says, believers "are justified, adopted, sanctified, and kept by His power through faith unto salvation." It correctly gives faith as the instrument of perseverance, not its basis. That is the error I see in "once saved, always saved," that it fails to make that distinction. God's faithfulness is the only basis (II Timothy 2:13).

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