You’re in a perfectly happy marriage and spend years enjoying confident fellowship with your chosen mate. Never once do you fret about the possibility of your love evaporating or your spouse abandoning you. Yet your assurance never erases the continuing reality that you are a free moral being who could leave at any time.
This scenario perhaps sums up the hard question of OSAS, “once saved, always saved,” which stirs up many honest and heartfelt arguments! Some denominations and evangelical leaders feel that once a person comes to Christ and accepts salvation, that gift can never be revoked. They suggest that God’s command to us is to abide all things and forgive one another with unlimited compassion – and that God himself will do no less. Other Christian bodies disagree, feeling that the Bible’s position is this: He that endures to the END shall be saved (Matt. 10:22). This teaching that salvation may be later lost is sometimes called “Arminian” theology. And most of us can, unfortunately, think of friends who once walked with the Lord – and now are obviously not in fellowship with Jesus as a personal Savior.
There are a number of challenging verses on both sides of this matter; let’s consider several of them.
Plainly the Bible encourages the Christian with the promise that we can be sure of our salvation today. I John 5:13 declares: I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may KNOW that you have eternal life. One verse earlier the disciple flatly declares: He who has the Son has life. In his gospel, John again asserts that the Christian gospel is a religion of assurance: I [Jesus] tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me HAS eternal life and WILL NOT be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.
Paul also preaches a gospel of quiet confidence, telling Christians: Do not be anxious about anything (Phil. 4:6). In Romans 8, he provides the guarantee that [Nothing] will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
However, on the other side of the matter, we find Jesus himself, in Matthew 7, saying to some people who think they are saved, because they performed miracles and prophesied in his name: I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers! So it’s possible for a person to have misplaced confidence, thinking they will be saved when they won’t! Hebrews 6:4-6 also suggests that a person can embrace the Christian message, then fall away from it – and find it impossible to return. (It’s been noted that this tough passage was written to would-be converts who were coming out of a Jewish Old Testament thicket of legalism, and were purposely turning away from the gospel of grace.)
We have to accept, then, that the Bible presents a number of intertwined realities. Assurance is possible; indeed, it’s the hallmark of successful Christian living. At the same time, self-deception is possible too. And it is equally true that throughout our lifetimes we continue to be free moral agents! I John 5;12 does say: He who has the Son has life. But the very next line concedes: He who does NOT have the Son of God does not have life. Is it possible for us to have relationships . . . and then later not have them? We knew the answer all too well.
The great Reformer, Martin Luther, is one who firmly believed in fiducia, assurance of salvation. He sternly rebuked the religious system of the Middle Ages for its edifice of penance, indulgences, and on-again, off-again salvation which robbed people of their confidence in Jesus Christ. However, Luther did not believe in “once saved, always saved.”
“Although Luther agreed that the merits of Christ were the sole basis of a man’s justification, and that it did not depend in any way on a man’s deeds, Luther still thought that a man could lose his justification if he totally and finally turned away from Christ. Since God’s gift of forgiveness of sins and eternal life was appropriated by faith, if a man decided not to rest his eternal destiny in Christ, and totally turned against Him, Luther believed that only then would a man lose his salvation. In other words, the only sin that Luther thought would cause a man to lose his salvation was the sin of unrepentant apostasy” (Catholics and Protestants: Do They Now Agree?, John Ankerberg and John Weldon).
So this issue can’t be fully settled this side of eternity. The good news is that for all believers, the pathway to assurance is plainly marked out: we cling joyfully to our faith relationship with the mighty Savior who has redeemed us with his blood.