When Jesus Christ died on the cross “he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey Him.” (He 5:9) He does not offer a temporary salvation, but an eternal one.
By definition, salvation from Hell must be eternal, for if one ever ends up in Hell there can be no real sense in which one has ever been saved from it. In other words, a salvation that can be lost is no salvation at all.
Yet many complain that eternal salvation – the once saved always saved kind – means we can “get saved” and then live like the devil. But this is not salvation; God saves from the dominion of sin as well as from its penalty (Ro 6:14), such that the saved obey Christ as new creatures, with a new nature. This renewing of our hearts is not by the will of Man (Jn 1:12-13); it is the work and gift of God. (Ep 2:8-10)
If salvation can be lost, the question to ask is, “How good do I have to be to keep it?” The question has only one safe answer: “Be perfect.” (Mt 19:20-21) We dare not presume a lower standard, and there is no higher one … yet it implies we can never know we have salvation.
But those who trust in Christ know they have eternal life (1Jn 5:13), and that it is not dependent on their works in any way. (Ro 4:5) They know God is able to keep them from falling and to present them faultless before Him. (Jud 1:24)
Those who don’t have an eternal salvation have not yet grasped the significance of the cross; Christ’s work is an efficacious, limited atonement for all — He did not merely make salvation a possibility for all, He has infallibly saved all who believe (He 7:25); their eternal end is already certain (Ro 8:30) because Christ is ever living to make intersession for us. (He 7:25) His sacrifice is ever new, fresh, up-to-date (Ga 3:1), covering all of our sin in a timeless, once-for-all atonement. (He 10:10)
“Give diligence to make your calling and election sure.” (2Pe 1:10) Once Jesus Christ pays your sin debt, you will never be condemned … ever. (Ro 4:6-8) Once we see the power of His cross we cannot doubt its efficacy, and we come to understand the only salvation there is … an eternal one. (He 7:25)
13 thoughts on “Eternal Salvation”
In refuting OSAS (Once Saved Always Saved), one might site verses like, “But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.” (Mt 24:13), claiming that we must be faithful unto death in order to be finally saved.
Scripture does state a relationship between salvation and works, but it never says we have to be good in order to be saved, only that the saved actually will be good. If our goodness doesn’t depend upon our works (Ep 2:10), and if the cause of our goodness is our salvation, which is ultimately sourced in God, not Man (Jn 1:13), these type of texts are perfectly consistent with OSAS.
However, the Scripture does explicitly say, in many places, that our salvation does not depend upon our works. (e.g. “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.” Ro 3:28; “But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.” Ro 4:5; “And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith.” Php 3:9) The righteousness of justification is not earned in any fashion: it is imputed, given freely, attributed to us on behalf of Christ. (“For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.” Ro 4:3)
Again, this does not imply that the saved can live unholy lives; they can’t because their new nature precludes this; their design is to be obedient and to pursue good works. This goodness is not a prerequisite of salvation, it is a necessary consequence of salvation. Good works do not maintain salvation, they accompany salvation. (“But, beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation, though we thus speak.” He 6:9)
In refuting OSAS, one might site the passage, “For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.” (He 6:4-6) and claim that such texts prove we can lose our salvation.
What the text says is that if we ever do lose our salvation we can never get it back, since this would shame Yeshua by compelling Him to return to die for us again. If He came to save us once, it stands to reason that He would come as often as necessary to secure our salvation. Since this is an absurdity, the text actually proves OSAS by contradiction: He is able to save to the uttermost, secure eternally and forever, all who come to God by Him because He ever lives to intercede for them. (He 7:25) This only required that He come once.
The context of this passage continues to affirm OSAS in verse 9: “But, beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation, though we thus speak.” There are things that accompany salvation, good things like obedience and holiness. These good things are not required in order to maintain salvation, they naturally accompany salvation, being produced in us by God in His process of transforming and sanctifying us.
In refuting OSAS, one might claim that OSAS gives people an excuse to lead sinful lives.
The fact that sinful people believe in OSAS doesn’t justify their sin, nor is this an indictment of the doctrine of itself; sin is sin regardless what sinners believe, and truth is truth regardless who promotes it. Claiming to be a Christian isn’t the same as actually believing on Christ; those who profess Christ but do not follow Him are deceived. (“He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” 1Jn 2:4; “In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother.” 1Jn 3:10)
In rejecting OSAS, one might claim that free will is obviously taught throughout scripture, implying that as long we have freedom we can always turn from Christ and lose our salvation.
I’m reminded: “Obviousness is the enemy of correctness.” We certainly have a will and are responsible for our choices, but we search in vain for any biblical text supporting the claim that we’re able to be good, or even to want to be good, without God’s help. In that sense our will is enslaved: though it is not constrained by any external force, it is not free to act contrary to its own evil nature — to be what it is not.
Yet, even if we did have “free” will in the sense that we could be good all on our own, this would only contradict OSAS if salvation ultimately depended on maintaining good works. However:
— (1) if God will never impute sin to those who have believed on Him (Ro 4:8), and
— (2) if God imputes perfect righteousness as a free gift (Ro 5:18) to all who have believed on Him (Ro 4:6), and
— (3) if God works in us both to will and to do according to His good pleasure (Php 2:13), and
— (4) if God is both the author of our faith as well as its finisher (He 12:2),
then once we experience the salvation of God it is impossible for us to lose or forfeit it.
My article, “Free Will,” may be helpful here.
In rejecting OSAS, one might site the passage, “For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries. He that despised Moses’ law died without mercy under two or three witnesses: of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace? For we know him that hath said, Vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense, saith the Lord. And again, The Lord shall judge his people. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (He 10:26-31)
This particular text does not actually say we can lose our salvation. What it says is that if a believer sins on purpose, willfully, willingly and knowingly, there is no sacrifice he can bring to cause God to dismiss it. Rather, he can expect a severe response from God that is worse than the stonings imposed under Torah, more like a scourging. (He 12:6) God can and will engineer circumstances for any child of His that rebels against His way that are much worse than being stoned to death. David’s suffering at the hands of Absalom for his sin with Bathsheba against Uriah is perhaps an example; David never lost his salvation, even though he did not repent for quite a while, perhaps over a year, and even then not until he was publicly rebuked by Nathan the prophet. But God arranged for devastation in his family that lasted for years and ripped David apart emotionally; it tore his family and kingdom apart as well. (2Sa 19:4) It will never turn out well in the end for any child of God to presumptuously and persistently turn from God’s way. God is not mocked (Ga 6:7); He will see to it that we deeply and profoundly regret ever sinning deliberately.
In rejecting OSAS, one might site the verse, “Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.” (Re 2:5)
A candlestick isn’t a person, or salvation; it’s a church. (Re 1:20) Yeshua is warning a body of believers to restore biblical priorities in their community, or He will remove His life from their assembly. They might still continue to meet, but it will be dry and fruitless, and therefore relatively pointless.
A similar verse is, “But Christ as a son over his own house; whose house are we, if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end.” (He 3:6) The church of Jesus Christ is the temple of God when she is aligned with Him (1Co 3:16, 6:16), but not otherwise. She must be on the foundation.
These types of texts have no relevance to OSAS.
In refuting OSAS, one might site the passage, “For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning. For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them. But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire.” (2Pe 2:20-22)
If we look at the full context (the entire chapter, but esp. vs 8-9) we can see that it’s not referring to people who were once following God and have now fallen away, but to the unjust, people who’ve never known God who He is reserving for punishment.
They’ve known enough truth to perceive how deceitful and damaging the lusts of the flesh can be, motivated enough to withstand them for a season, and in this sense have temporarily escaped them, but they’re content to leverage knowledge of Christ for personal gain rather than obeying the truth and seeking to know and walk with God Himself. Their inner nature has never been converted or quickened, they’ve just cleaned up a bit on the outside, so they still love the world (1Jn 2:15-17) rather than God; the old (pig and dog) nature has remained undisturbed all along, so they eventually revert back to their original, natural ways. This ends up being worse for them than if they’d never heard the truth at all.
In refuting OSAS, one might claim they know people who used to follow Christ but have fallen away.
We can’t ever know another’s heart, whether they really know Christ or not; we only know appearances. Yet when Christ condemns those who claimed to be following Him, He says, “I never knew you.” (Mt 7:23) Those He rejects have never known Him, not once known Him and then walked away.
In refuting OSAS, one might site the verse, “But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul.” (He 10:39).
This verse mentions the possibility of one “drawing back unto perdition,” which is evidently a reference to those who go to Hell in unbelief. However, the text does not state that such a one who “draws back” has ever actually believed, and might as easily apply to those who hear and draw back from the truth while never believing it. In this sense one does not lose salvation, one just never obtains it.
On more careful inspection, the author indicates a knowledge that he himself, and others who company with him, are not like this; they “believe to the saving of the soul.” It is a known certainty that such souls do not draw back, they will not; their destiny is certain since they have already believed to the point that they have obtained eternal life. If OSAS were not true, no one could ever claim this as a fact about themselves or anyone else. Thus, this text actually proves OSAS by contradiction.
In refuting OSAS, one might site the verses, “And we desire that every one of you do shew the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end: that ye be not slothful, but followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises.” (Heb 6:11-12)
Desiring that believers diligently maintain their hope in Christ, and that they through faith and patience realize and enjoy the promises of God, does not imply a cause-and-effect relationship between salvation and this manner of life.
Similar verses include: “For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence stedfast unto the end.” (He 3:14) and “If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven; whereof I Paul am made a minister.” (Co 1:23)
These verses establish a relationship between salvation and works such that they cannot be decoupled, but they do not teach that the works are necessary in order to obtain or maintain salvation. Salvation produces this manner of life; the manner of life does not maintain salvation.
In refuting OSAS, one might site the verses, “Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him; let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins.” (Ja 5:19-20)
“Save a soul from death” seems to indicate bringing that soul to a knowledge of eternal life such that they are alive spiritually and will never die eternally. This implies helping them come to a knowledge of the gospel and to faith in Christ such they are quickened (e.g. no longer dead). (Ep 2:1) If OSAS were not true one could not actually do this; if a soul can at any time turn away from Christ and experience eternal death, one can never actually save them from it, for no living soul could ever actually be safe, secure, beyond eternal risk.
In refuting OSAS, one might site the passage, “Well; because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not highminded, but fear: for if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee. Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off.” (Ro 11:20)
The text might be read as one of many which define a relationship between salvation and works, but even if this is the correct way to read the text, it does not specify a cause-and-effect relationship: it does not teach that salvation is maintained by good works, only that the absence of good works implies a lack of salvation. However, this is not likely the correct way to interpret the text.
The illustration of being grafted into or cut off from an olive tree isn’t necessarily a reference to personal justification or salvation. The context is a national or cultural scope: Israel as a nation is compared with gentile nations, people groups, cultures or communities.
The olive tree is evidently a symbol of the global community of people who are generally following God’s principles and as a result generally experiencing more of His goodness and blessing (root and fatness, vs 17). Historically this global community has largely comprised Israel, even though most of the earthly members of Israel have not known God personally (Ro 9:8), or been justified or saved. (De 29:4, Ro 10:1-3)
In order to be in godly community prior to the Cross, one generally needed to migrate to Israel, which does not comprise the entire olive tree but just most of its branches (vs 17, 24, 32). As Israel disobeyed God she was broken off from the olive tree and dispersed among the nations. Through the spread of Christianity among the nations, the basic principles of Torah were taught and accepted more commonly and the olive tree began to contain more gentile branches than it did before; communities of gentiles sprang up outside of both Israel and Jewish culture which generally acknowledged godly patterns of living.
As cultures come into obedience to God’s ways, which is generally through either Judaism or Christianity, they are joined into, grafted into this olive tree, and experience the temporal blessings of being part of such communities. As nations/communities stop following God’s principles they receive less favor from God and are progressively cut off from His blessing.
In refuting OSAS, one might site the verses, “For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: and if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.” (Re 22:18-19)
This passage shows a that person’s part in the Book of Life, as well as all kingdom privileges, can be taken away from them in connection with their behavior: something can only be taken away from a person if they at some point in time actually had it. So a person can indeed have a portion in the Book of Life and then lose it because of their works. This certainly appears to be a cause-and-effect relationship.
What is unclear is whether we are all born with a portion in the Book of Life, where every name has a place for it to be written in, and actually is written into the Book at some point, or whether this is only given to us when we believe on Christ: scripture is silent on these details. We know that the elect were written into the Book from the foundation of the world and that the rest were not (Re 17:8), but it is possible that the rest are penciled in at birth and blotted out just prior to the judgement as they persist in refusing to believe on Christ.
Note that in Revelation 17:8 (“The beast that thou sawest was, and is not; and shall ascend out of the bottomless pit, and go into perdition: and they that dwell on the earth shall wonder, whose names were not written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, when they behold the beast that was, and is not, and yet is.”), a similar text, no one written in the Book of Life from the foundation of the world goes after the beast; yet all do who were not so written. This provides every indication that the power of God is the defining factor between the righteous and the wicked, not merely the human will; the direction and nature of the human will is determined by God’s election, not vice versa.
The proposal, where the lost are penciled into the Book of Life at birth and then blotted out by Judgement Day, is not inconsistent with this particular text, nor with any other (e.g. Lk 10:20, Php 4:3, Re 3:5), and allows the text to be consistent with OSAS. It is also consistent with the idea that salvation is available to all while being a certainty for only a few (God’s elect). The article, Limited Atonement for All may be helpful here.