Many sincere religious people believe that once a sinner has been redeemed by Christ, it is impossible for him to so sin as to fall from the grace of God and be eternally lost. Anyone who accepts Calvinism can understand why “once saved, always saved” is a necessary conclusion to the doctrines of Total Depravity. Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, and Irresistible Grace. If salvation comes solely by God’s election, then it is necessary to conclude that the same individual who is helpless to save himself would also be helpless to refuse God’s election and so live as to be lost. However, many religionists who espouse the doctrine of “once saved, always saved” do not believe the basic premise of Calvinism which claims man does not have the ability to choose good or evil. These religionists agree that God is no respecter of persons and has given man a free will, yet they hold to the doctrine of perseverance which has roots in a system of theology that denies the truth of God’s plan of election. At least the purist Calvinist is more consistent than they!
“The elect are not only redeemed by Christ and renewed by the Spirit: they are also KEPT in faith by the almighty power of God. All those who are spiritually united to Christ through regeneration are eternally secure in Him. Nothing can separate them from the eternal and unchangeable love of God. They have been predestined unto eternal glory and are therefore assured of heaven. “(THE FIVE POINTS OF CALVINISM, by Steele & Thomas, Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., p. 56>
“The doctrine of the perseverance of the saints does not maintain that all who PROFESS the Christian faith are certain of heaven. It is SAINTS those who are set apart by the Spirit who PERSEVERE to the end. It is BELIEVERS those who are given true, living faith in Christ who are SECURE and safe in Him. Many who profess to believe fall away, but they do not fall from grace for they were never in grace. True believers do fall into temptations. and they do commit grievous sins, but these sins do not cause them to lose their salvation or separate them from Christ.” (IBID.)
II. The Bible Does Teach Security Of The Believer
A. Our Disagreement Is Not Over Whether God Is Able To Do What He Promised.
1. Rom. 8:35-39 Apostasy would not be due to any failure on God’s part.
2. 1 Peter 1:5 Apostasy would not be caused by a lack of God’s power
3. John 10:27-29 No one can pluck the saved out of God’s hand.
B. The Question Of Disagreement Is, “Can A Believer Choose To Quit Obeying God And Thereby Cease Believing?”
1. The Calvinist denies man’s ability to make such a choice, but his conclusions make God a respecter of persons and denigrates man’s will to the level of a robot, Rom. 2:11; Acts 10:34-35.
2. Man is a free moral agent who can choose to believe or to reject, and so long as he lives in the flesh man can change his spiritual condition and eternal destiny, cf. Ezekiel 18:20-24.
I II. Saving Faith Is Not The Act Of A Moment But The Attitude Of A Life
A. It Is Possible For One To Believe Only Temporarily.
1. Jesus illustrated this fact in the parable of the sower, Luke 8:11-15
2. He warned about branches which would be cut off, John 15:1-6
3. The scriptures exhort “brethren” to guard against “departing” with a heart of “unbelief,” Heb. 3:12-14
a. A parallel is made with the Israelites who perished in the wilderness because of “unbelief,” Heb. 3:15-19. (They were not atheists, but they chose to quit obeying God!)
b. We too can have the “promise” and still “come short of it,” Heb. 4:1.
c. We must continue in obedient faith lest we fall like the Israelites, Heb. 4:11.
B. One Must Keep On Believing To Continue In Grace And Eternal Life.
1. Saving faith is the kind which will “keep” the word and “bring forth fruit with patience” (i.e. steadfastness, endurance, perseverance), Luke 8:15. This is in contrast to those who “for a while believe” (v. 13).
2. Those who “continue” (i.e. retain and observe His word) shall be saved, 1 Tim. 4:16. This is in contrast to those who “depart from the faith” (v. 1).
3. There are two possible courses open to the disciple:
a. He can “continue in the faith,” Col 1:21-23; 2 Tim 3:13-15.
b. Or he can “draw back,” Heb. 10:38; Luke 12:37-40.
4. One born of God cannot keep on practicing sin; instead, he will live a life of practicing righteousness, 1 John 3:7-10. (See NASV)
a. “Doth not commit sin” (KJV}, v. 9, certainly does not mean “cannot commit a sin” for this would contradict John’s own statements, 1 John 1:8-2:2
b. “The present active infinitive “hamartanein” can only mean ‘and he cannot go on sinning.’” (A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures In The New Testament, Vol. Vl, p. 223)
c. He will no longer “serve sin” (v. 6) or let sin “reign in his mortal body” (v. 12), but he “liveth unto God” (v. 10), cf. Rom. 6:1-14.
IV. Examples And Warnings Of Falling From Grace
A. N.T. Examples Of Believers Who Fell Away
1. Simon, Acts 8:5-24
a. Simon “believed” and was baptized, v. 13. (How could one deny he was in a saved condition?)
b. He sought to purchase the gift of imparting the Holy Spirit, vv. 18-20.
c. He was in the “gall of bitterness” and “bond of iniquity,” v. 23. (Who would deny he was then in a lost condition?)
d. He was told to “repent” and “pray” for forgiveness v. 22. (He was not told to be baptized again because he was already a child of God. However, he was as a child who had lost his inheritance, and therefore he needed to seek forgiveness of his heavenly Father, cf. 1 John 1:7-10; James 5:16)
2. Those who are justified by the Law of Moses, Gal. 5:3-4
3. Hymenaeus and Alexander, I Tim. 1:19-20
4. Ananias and Sapphira, Acts 5:1-10
5. Those whose faith is “overthrown,” 2 Tim. 2:16-18
IMPORTANT OBSERVATION: It is true that some may fall away who were never sincerely committed as believers. They may have followed for family or social reasons instead of conviction, cf. 1 John 2:19. But the examples listed above do not fall into this category. It is quite a sobering and serious indictment to say that all who have fallen away were “pretenders.” The advocates of once saved, always saved need to find a better quibble than this!
B. N.T. Warnings Against Falling Away
1. 1 Cor. 9:27 Paul buffeted his body lest he become a “castaway.”
2. 1 Cor. 10:12 “Take heed lest ye fall.”
3. Heb. 6:4-6 Some develop such hardened consciences that it becomes impossible to renew them to repentance! Notice:
THEY WERE ONCE SAVED THEY FELL AWAY
Tasted of the heavenly gift Made partakers of the Holy Ghost
Tasted the powers of the world to come
4. Heb. 10:26-31 Sorer punishment than physical death awaits those who turn away from the truth. Notice:
THEY WERE ONCE SAVED
Received the knowledge of the truth
Sanctified by the blood }
Can sin willfully
can’tread underfoot the Son of God
Can count Christ’s blood unholy
Can do despite unto the Spirit
5. 2 Peter 2:20-22 The latter end is worse than the first. Notice:
THEY WERE ONCE SAVED
Escaped pollutions of world Have known way of righteousness }
Again entangled therein
Turned from holy commandment
6. James 5:19-20 Faithful Christians should seek to restore a brother who has erred from the truth because when he is converted, his soul is saved from spiritual death.
V. If A Believer “Hath Everlasting Life,” How Can It Be Taken Away?
A. Eternal Life Is Possessed Only In The form Of A Promise For The Future.
1. 1 John 2:24-25 “This is the promise that He hath promised us....”
2. Titus 1:2 “In hope of eternal life which God ... promised....”
3. Romans 8:24 “Hope that is seen is not hope....”
4. Mark 10:29-30 “... in the world to come, eternal life.”
B. Like Any Promise With Conditions, Our Destiny Can Be Changed.
l. Unbelievers have the promise of being lost.
a. “He that believeth not is condemned already,” John 3:18.
b. The “wrath of God abideth on him,” John 3:36.
2. can’those who have the promise of being “condemned already change their destiny? Certainly! (cf. Ezek. 18:20-24)
a. Unbelievers have the free moral agency to choose to believe!
b. Consistency forces us to conclude that believers likewise have the free moral agency to quit obeying God and thereby become unbelievers!
3. The conditions governing the promise of everlasting life is a continuation of hearing and believing (present tense), John 5:24; 1 John 5:11-13.
a. If one remains a believer, he has passed out of death into life (as of this moment of speaking).
b. The Greek tense used in John 5:24 does not affirm a state of irrevocable permanency. One can cease hearing and believing and thereby pass back from life into condemnation (cf. Heb. 3:12).
4. Eternal life is not the consequence of a moment’s act of faith sometime in the past, but it is our promised possession based on the condition of a present living faith.
As we conclude our studies in Calvinism, consider this illustration to help understand bow man can act with a free will of choice and still serve under the reign of our sovereign God. A famous department store advertises its plan for giving away $1,000. A certificate appears in the newspaper stating that on the following Monday they would sound a trumpet at a particular moment of the management’s choosing, and all who were in the store who also possessed a copy of the certificate would be given $1,000. The certificate would serve as the store’s assurance (earnest) this plan would be fulfilled.
What Would You do?
1. Having “heard” their offer, would you go? Having “believed”
would you take the certificate with you and obey all the instructions? (cf. Eph. 1:13)
2. Would the $1,000 be earned by meritorious “works”? Or be given by “grace”? (cf. Eph. 2:8-10)
3. Was the plan chosen? Or were specific individuals “elected,” “predestinated,” or “chosen” by the management? In other words, did the individuals who collected the money receive it because they were specifically chosen before the conditions were advertised, or were they “the elect” who received the reward because they complied with the conditions (plan) which had been “chosen”? (cf., Eph. 1:3-14)
4. Would you have any right to claim the $1,000 if you did not follow the instructions? Even if you believed (mentally agreed with) the advertisement? (cf. Mark 16:16: John 12:42-43)
5. What if you went to the store with the certificate in hand but left before the trumpet sounded? Could you still claim the $1,000? (cf. Heb. 3:12-14)
The obvious answers to these questions should help us in understanding God’s scheme of redemption. He is sovereign. By grace He extends salvation to all men. Just as the store’s conditions of reward were predetermined and could not be altered by the public; likewise God has chosen the plan of salvation through Christ. However, God allows man to be a free moral agent, and whether we are saved or lost will be determined by our response of faith.