“Once Saved, Always Saved” - Fact or Fiction?
Part V of V
The evaluation of the “Once Saved – Always Saved” theory will be concluded with this final part of the series. Herein, we will examine three of the most common proof texts for supporting the hypothesis. Having previously reviewed many passages that teach contrary to the conjecture, it is only fair to consider the supporting texts wherein it is believed the New Testament affirms “Once Saved – Always Saved.”
1 John 5:13
It is frequently alleged that 1 John 5:13 teaches the impossibility of a believer ever being lost. The apostle writes, “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.”
It is disingenuous to attempt to excise this verse from the overall context of the letter and insinuate John is teaching that a child of God cannot be lost, regardless of what may be said, done, or believed, either presently by the Christian or in the future. John says no such thing. In fact, John includes at least eighteen statements prescribing conditions that must be met in order for “you to know that you have eternal life.” Note some examples:
a) “if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light” (1:7).
b) “If we confess our sins” (1:9).
c) “if we keep His commandments” (2:3).
d) “if anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (2:15).
e) “If what you have heard from the beginning abides in you” (2:24).
f) “abide in Him…and not shrink away from Him” (2:28).
g) “And everyone who has this hope…purifies himself, just as He is pure” (3:3).
h) “We [apostles] are from God; he who knows God listens to us” (4:6).
i) “Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him” (4:15).
j) “the one who loves God should love his brother also” (4:21).
Which of these conditions may be set aside and the child of God still be assured that he has eternal life? Can a Christian decline to “walk in the light” and still inherit eternal life? Can a Christian refuse to “confess” his sins, but still receive eternal life? Is it possible for a Christian not to “keep His commandments” yet enjoy eternal life? Exactly which of the conditions bound by the Lord’s apostle may remain unsatisfied or rejected and the child of God remain assured that he has eternal life? Meeting the specified conditions detailed in John’s letter is how the Christian can know he has eternal life.
It is vital to keep in mind that John is not instructing an alien sinner on how to become a child of God, but he is writing to help Christians more fully comprehend what it means to be in fellowship with God and what is required to maintain that fellowship. In passing the test of true fellowship outlined in the epistle, the Christian may be absolutely certain of eternal life. Only a doctrine of demons (cf. 1 Timothy 4:1) would purport that one may begin blaspheming Christ and shaking his fist in the face of God, yet remain in fellowship with Christ, confident of his eternal security.
In 1 John 5:13, the phrase “These things I have written to you” refers to the entire letter. Each Christian must compare the conditions bound by John with their own situation, determining whether they have maintained fellowship or have discontinued fellowship. From a study of John’s letter, we recognize that the Christian life is more than just a profession of facts. Fellowship with God is not derived from mere mental assent to certain truths about Christ, but involves a way of life and worship patterned after the expressed will of God. Christianity involves a transformation of life.
Suppose after carefully reading John’s letter, a Christian recognizes that he has not been listening to the apostles of Christ in all matters regarding Christianity. Should such a one continue in determined noncompliance to apostolic authority, simply trusting Christ to save him in spite of his disobedience? Or should he repent of his error and submit to the apostles’ doctrine so he can know that he has eternal life?
What about the Christian who has let what he heard in the beginning (i.e. the inspired testimony of the gospel bound by the apostles) depart from him? After reading John’s letter, should he “remember what you have received and heard; and keep it, and repent” (Revelation 3:3)? Or should he shrug his shoulders, trusting Christ to save Him apart from any obedience whatsoever as prescribed by the uninspired local “Pastor”?
Based upon all the conditions covered by John in this short letter, it is impossible to maintain that he is merely comforting Christians by asserting that they have eternal life regardless of their allegiance, doctrinal purity, submissive obedience, and moral conduct. Each of these parameters is specifically addressed in the 10 examples cited above. John provided Christians with explicit points of examination so they could know whether they were continuing in the faith or not (cf. 2 Corinthians 13:5).
It is preposterous to claim 1 John 5:13 teaches the impossibility of apostasy. The verse itself includes an inspired tense which affirms eternal life remains conditional. In the phrase “you who believe in the name of the Son of God,” the word “believe” is a present active participle – not a past tense, completed action. Under consideration is not a previous mental assent of subjective belief in Jesus as the Son of God as advocated by many sectarians, but a continuing process of devotion which faithfully embraces all the conditions mentioned by John (as well as others included elsewhere; cf. 2 Peter 1:5-11).
John characterizes the present active believer as the one who can know he has eternal life – not the former believer who has abandoned fellowship with God by not maintaining faithful adherence to the conditions discussed in the letter. The past, completed actions of the Christian are not the focus of John’s statement in 5:13. He is not stating that all those who once accepted Christ into their hearts can know they have eternal life, but it is those who remain presently active in their belief of Christ, with no future termination, that may know they have eternal life. The present tense denotes “an action in process or a state of being with no assessment of the action’s completion” (Heiser, 2013).
Contrary to sectarian assertions, an examination of the biblical import of the word “belief” and all equivalents involves submission to requisite acts of obedience, both for attaining salvation (cf. Acts 16:33-34) and for maintaining salvation (1 John 5:13). When a Christian ceases to be obedient, he is evincing that he has stopped believing. Faith, apart from obedience to Christ, will not save anyone (James 2:14-26; cf. Hebrews 5:9).
In the verse under consideration, the negative implication is that the Christian who does not continue or keep on believing in the name of the Son of God (by satisfying the conditions highlighted by the apostle) will not inherit eternal life. John’s letter teaches that Christians must give diligence to adhere to the testimony proclaimed by the apostles concerning fellowship with God – both in doctrine and in daily living.
In setting forth Himself as the Good Shepherd, Jesus makes the following statement: “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand.”
Charles Stanley cites this verse, saying, “If our salvation is not secure, how could Jesus say about those to whom He gives eternal life, ‘and they shall never perish’ (John 10:28)? If even one man or woman receives eternal life and then forfeits it through sin or apostasy, will they not perish? And by doing so, do they not make Jesus’ words a lie?” (1990, p. 18). Although compelling on first reading, it must be pointed out that Stanley dismisses the condition stated by Christ pertaining to those who “shall never perish.”
Calvinists like Stanley contend the phrases “will never perish” and “no one will snatch them out of My hand” are proof of the impossibility of a child of God ever being lost. However, both phrases are predicated upon the present active verbs “hear” and “follow” (v. 27). These verbs denote continuous, ongoing activity; not a one time subjective belief of certain facts that is rewarded with eternal life, after which Christ may be abandoned and walking in the light may be departed from in favor of walking in darkness again.
Stanley hinges salvation on “faith alone” (1990, p. 10), absent any obedience whatsoever. But Jesus uses language that indicates His sheep must keep on listening to and following the Good Shepherd. This implies “keep[ing] His commandments” (1 John 2:3).
It is only those who “remain faithful until death” who ultimately receive the crown of life (Revelation 2:10). Jesus says the same in John 10:27-28, promising eternal life to those who continually hear and follow the things commanded by Christ. Calvinists cannot perceive how the grace of Christ can be initially extended for forgiveness, remaining active for forgiveness even when a Christian sins, but is afterward withdrawn by Christ when time granted for repentance is refused by the willfully rebellious (cf. Revelation 2:21). Calvinist argue for an “all” or “nothing” grace, yet Jesus taught the reality of 1God’s grace being conditional (Matthew 18:23-35).
The grace of Christ is not a blanket thrown over the sinner from which he cannot escape. Stanley disagrees, saying, “Even those who walk away from the faith have not the slightest chance of slipping from His hand” (1990, p. 74). Although quite comforting to the itching ear, here is evidence in black and white that some have turned “away their ears from the truth” and have turned “aside to myths” (2 Timothy 4:4). It is astonishing that anyone who reads the Bible could ever reach such a conclusion as that stated by Stanley; yet the doctrine he has embraced demands it be so.
The grace of Christ is accessed initially at the point of primary gospel obedience. Calvinists see grace and obedience as enemies, but Paul affirmed that grace is accessed by faith (Romans 5:1-2). Since “faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17), it should be evident that access to God’s grace is by means of an objective body of inspired revelation, i.e., the New Testament Scriptures. Paul affirmed, “For the grace of God hath appeared . . . instructing us . . .” (Titus 2:11-12).
The New Testament contains instructions which teach one how to enter a saved relationship with Christ as well as how to remain in that saved relationship. Grace and obedience are handmaidens to salvation. As noted by Wayne Jackson, “God’s grace is not dispensed apart from an instruction that requires both understanding and obedience. In these days when there is a tendency to “stampede” folks into the church, with minimal comprehension of what they are doing, this is a crucial matter to emphasize” (The True Meaning of Grace, Christian Courier).
If a Christian cannot depart from the grace of Christ by walking “away from the faith,” then why did Paul urge believers “to continue [present tense–indicating sustained action] in the grace of God” (Acts 13:43)? Paul also urged the Christians in Corinth “not to receive the grace of God in vain” (2 Corinthians 6:1). The grace of Christ must be embraced continuously by satisfying the conditions bound by the apostles, or else one will have received it “in vain.” We have formerly examined Paul’s declaration that certain Christians “have fallen from grace” (Galatians 5:4).
John 10:27-28 does not teach the impossibility of apostasy, but that those who remain faithful in hearing and following Christ throughout life will not perish. What will become of those who “walk away from the faith”? Jesus does not address those in the immediate context, but He does address apostates in numerous other passages previously examined (cf. Revelation 2-3). Although a child of God cannot be “snatched” away from Christ contrary to his/her own determination, they can depart voluntarily, choosing to “walk away from the faith.” Judas is a clear example.
In teaching the impossibility of apostasy, Charles Stanley writes, “As a believer, you will never be judged for your sins” (1990, p. 39). The proof-text he cites is John 3:18: “He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”
It is a truthful statement to assert that the faithful child of God will not be “judged” for sins, because the blood of Christ cleanses the child of God from all sin (cf. 1 John 1:7, 9). However, the point of fact denied by Stanley is the force of the verbal tenses employed by Jesus. The word “believes” in the opening clause of John 3:18 is again a present active participle, meaning, “He who keeps on believing in Him is not judged.” As noted previously, Stanley asserts, “Even those who walk away from the faith have not the slightest chance of slipping from His hand” (1990, p. 74).
Here is an incredible position that conflicts directly with the statement of Jesus. The present active participle used in both John 3:18 and 10:27 contradicts the unbelievable argument produced by Stanley. In defense of his absurd position, Stanley alleges, “The normal use of the present tense does not denote continuous, uninterrupted action” (1990, p. 85). Greek grammarians disagree, however, defining the present tense as “The verb tense where the writer portrays an action in process or a state of being with no assessment of the action’s completion” (Heiser, 2013).
Charles Stanley is a Baptist, but his evaluation of the present tense is not supported even by his fellow Baptist grammarians. Dana & Mantey (two Baptist scholars) convey: “There are, therefore, three fundamental tenses in Greek: the present, representing continuous action…” (1967, p. 194). Additionally, under the subtitle, “Action as Continuous,” the scholars note, “Here the principle tense is the present” (p. 194). A. T. Robertson, the greatest Baptist grammarian ever, wrote: “the present tense expresses incompleted action” (1908, p. 140); in other words, continuous action.
To support his assertion that “the present tense does not denote continuous, uninterrupted action,” Stanley appeals to John 4:13 where Jesus says, “Everyone who drinks [present active participle] of this water [at Jacob’s well] will thirst again.” Stanley declares it is ridiculous to suggest the reference is to “continuously drinking from Jacob’s well” (1990, p. 86). Despite his protest, he is again unsupported even by his Baptist grammarians.
Robertson explained the present active “drinks” as “keep on drinking” (1933, John 4:13). And fellow Baptist scholar, Kenneth Wuest, translates the verse, “Whosoever keeps on drinking of this water shall thirst again” (italics in orig.), commenting afterwards, “Continual drinking at the wells of the world never quenches the soul’s thirst for heart satisfaction” (1946, p. 43).
It is Stanley’s use of “uninterrupted” that prevents recognition of the truth. The Samaritans were not drinking in an “uninterrupted” manner, but they were drinking from Jacob’s well on a consistent, sustained basis. The equivalent is seen in each Christian’s life, sometimes interrupted by lapses of weakness in faith, but never departing entirely from the source of eternal life. The Christian who keeps on believing on a sustained basis will not be judged. The Christian who walks away from the faith in unbelief “falls away from the Living God” (Hebrews 3:12).
The twisting of facts is always indicative of one who is trapped in a theory inconsistent with the truth. Because Stanley advocates the fantastic notion that a Christian can completely abandon faith in Christ and the gospel, becoming even an outspoken atheist, yet remain in possession of eternal life, he must attempt to prove that one does not have to keep on believing in order to enjoy eternal security. The problem is the syntax of the original Greek language does not support his view. Neither Christ nor the apostles ever taught what Stanley is selling in his book.
A Christian will not come under judgment if he continues his active faith in the Lord. Even though lapses of faith may occur, time is allotted for repentance, whereby a return to sustained faith is rejoined. The Lord’s promise is obviously conditional. In fact, Jesus addresses the negative implication, saying, “he who does not believe has been judged already.” The word “believe” is the same word used in the opening clause, but this time with the negative adverb “not.” The sense is easy to discern. The one who “does not continue believing [present active participle] has been judged [perfect passive – descriptive of the present state of affairs] already.”
The reason for the present state of condemnation is reiterated, “because he has not believed [negative adverb joined with perfect active verb – indicating a failure to produce abiding or continuing results] in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” Stanley reads the relevant verbs in these passages as if they are written in past tense, advocating a one time completed action with no continuation required. He could not be more wrong.
Jesus says the one who keeps on believing in the name of the only begotten Son of God will not be judged. Not a one time “faith alone” believer who discontinues believing. The chasm between the teachings of Stanley and Christ could not be greater.
Before closing, let it be reiterated that the New Testament believer is always an obedient believer. Jesus taught, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes [present active participle – indicating sustained activity] in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16). John the Baptist defined “believes” by stating, “He who believes [present active participle – indicating sustained activity] in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him” (John 3:36; NASB).
The Greek verb apeithon is defined “to disobey” (Lexham, 2011); “to be disobedient” (Liddell, 1996); “to refuse belief and obedience” (Strong, 2001). Comparable to the NASB, other versions read: “he that obeyeth not the Son shall not see life” (ASV 1901); “whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life” (ESV).
“Believes” and “disobeys” are contrasted as opposites in John 3:36; thus “believes” and “obeys” are equivalents. To believe in Christ is to obey Christ (cf. Hebrews 5:9). Mental assent alone to certain facts is not biblical faith (cf. Hebrews 11). As demonstrated in the life of Christ, an obedient faith is the only faith that is acceptable to God.
Saving faith comprises active belief and obedience, and God has devised a system of salvation whereby a sinner may constantly access His grace through the obedience of faith (cf. Romans 1:5; 16:26). The idea of salvation by “faith alone” is fallacious, and not one verse can be cited wherein the most popular expression of sectarian philosophy is so stated in the New Testament. As Peter asked in the long ago, “what will be the outcome of those who do not obey the gospel of God?” (1 Peter 4:17; emp. added).
Having examined three of the textual pillars supporting the dogma of “Once Saved – Always Saved,” it is clear that the theory is not fact, but is fiction; being purported by unscrupulous teachers who reject the inspired tenses of the original language, exchanging the significance of present active participles with erroneous past tense, completed actions, that need not be continued in order to receive the promised blessing of eternal life.
A man can, supposedly, ask Christ to save him in one solitary moment of time, and then forevermore reject Christ and His church, living a life of unbridled sinful indulgence with no regrets, no repentance, and no worries; because his eternal security, predicated upon a single instance of “faith alone,” overrides and counters the remainder of life spent blaspheming the name of Christ, refusing to deny self any of the passing pleasures of sin (cf. Luke 9:23; Hebrews 11:24-26).
Indubitably, this is a most comforting doctrine to the willfully rebellious. Unfortunately, neither Christ, Paul, Peter, John, or any other apostle or prophet ever taught the things claimed by Calvinists. There is simply no portion of Scripture which indicates a man is saved by “faith alone,” or that it is impossible for a child of God to be lost by apostasy.
Dire warnings concerning apostasy abound on the pages of the New Testament, and in the closing paragraph of the final book, John writes, “I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book” (Revelation 22:18-19).
The book of prophecy written by John was sent to the seven churches of Asia Minor. Those reading the book were Christians; therefore the warning by John is applicable to Christians. That it is indeed Christians who are meant is discernable by the statement, “God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city.” Alien sinners have no part in the tree of life or in the holy city. The language identifies Christians who were in jeopardy of losing eternal life due to malicious or deceitful handling of the book of prophecy. Let every Christian reader beware: Apostasy is a clear and present danger!
Dana, H. E. and Julius R. Mantey (1967), A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament, fifteenth
printing (New York: Macmillan).
Heiser, Michael S. and Vincent M. Setterholm (2013), Glossary of Morpho-Syntactic Database
Terminology (Lexham Press).
Jackson, Wayne (n. d.), The True Meaning of Grace
Liddell, H.G. (1996), A Lexicon: Abridged from Liddell and Scott’s Greek-English Lexicon (Oak Harbor,
WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.).
Robertson, A. T. (1908), A Short Grammar of the Greek New Testament (New York: Hodder &
Robertson, A. T. (1933), Word Pictures in the New Testament, Vol. V (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press).
Stanley, Charles F. (1990), Eternal Security — Can You Be Sure? (Nashville, TN: Oliver Nelson).
Strong, James (2001), Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software).
The Lexham Analytical Lexicon to the Greek New Testament (2011) (Logos Bible Software).
Wuest, Kenneth (1946), The Practical Use of the Greek New Testament (Chicago, IL: Moody Press).