“Once saved, always saved!” I have been exposed to this expression most of my life, and struggled with it most of my adult life. It is comforting to folks whose loved ones have made a profession of faith in Christ, and then later gone astray. But just how accurate is it?
It really depends on what a person means when they use this expression. All too often they seem to be of the opinion that making a heart felt confession of faith in Jesus is all that is required to be saved, and nothing after that matters; at least as far as one’s salvation is concerned. In some respects this is like running a race. So long as I have a legal start, it doesn’t matter how I run or finish. And I have some serious issues with that mindset.
Too many passages in scriptures express the importance of enduring to the end, or running the race (see references at the bottom). How you run the race, and how you finish it are important, and your salvation appears to depend on it. I like much better this statement from the Baptist Faith & Message on Election:
“All true believers endure to the end. Those whom God has accepted in Christ, and sanctified by His Spirit, will never fall away from the state of grace, but shall persevere to the end.”
In this, only those who endure to the end are true believers. Those who do not endure to the end were never saved in the first place. But that raises another question, at least for me. At what point am I saved? When I profess faith in Christ, or when I cross the finish line? Was I saved in August of 1971, or will I be saved at whatever final date is printed on my obituary?
For a long time now I have said that I am saved when I cross the finish line, and that I currently have a promise of salvation, the “hope of salvation”. But I have recently had one of those little light bulb moments and realized that neither point in time is completely correct.
Ephesians 1:4 says that God chose me before the creation of the world. This is not a new verse to me, but it has taken on new meaning. The points below attempt to lay out the unveiling of this mystery to me.
- God is omniscient, he knows all things; not just in our current time or past, but also in our future. My future is his now.
- Before creation, God already knew me. He knew all there was to know about me, even before I was.
- Also before creation, God had already chosen me to be holy and blameless in his sight.
- Is there any essential difference between being chosen by God and being saved? Do they not both describe entering into an eternal relationship with my creator? It seems like the primary difference is one of perspective. Choosing, or election, is God’s perspective; while salvation, although still the work of God, is more from my perspective.
- If that is true, then before creation, I was saved. My salvation did not occur when I professed faith in Christ. It does not occur when I have ended a faithful life. Instead, it has been a done deal all along.
There are many passages in the Bible that essentially say that salvation comes with belief. But there are a number of other passages that describe salvation as a future event, or with some form of conditionality. Among these are:
- Matthew 10:22 – You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.
- Matthew 24:12-13 – Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.
- Luke 9:62 – Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”
- Acts 16:31 – “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.”
- Acts 27:31 – Then Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, “Unless these men stay with the ship, you cannot be saved.”
- Romans 8:23-25 – Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.
- Romans 13:11 – And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.
- 1 Corinthians 1:18 – For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
- 1 Corinthians 15:2 – By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.
- Ephesians 1:4 – For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.
- Philippians 1:28 – without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God.
- Philippians 2:12 – Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling.
- 1 Thessalonians 5:8-9 – But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.
- Hebrews 3:14 – We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end.
- Hebrews 6:11 – We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, so that what you hope for may be fully realized.
- Hebrews 9:28 – So Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.
- Hebrews 10:39 – But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved.
- Hebrews 11:6 – And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.
- 1 Peter 1:9 – For you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.