My alma mater, Texas Tech, has a wonderful tradition at the kickoff of every home football game. Fans will throw tortillas (Frisbee style) onto the field to go along with the gun shots that signal the beginning of the game. It’s an awesome sight to see hundreds and hundreds of tortillas go airborne and then watching the field crew spend the next few minutes sweeping them off the playing surface. I have no earthly idea when or where this tradition began, but it is something that most Tech fans are quite proud of. We have traditions and ideas like this in the church; things we cling to and parade proudly, yet, if we are honest, have little idea of their origins. One such idea is contained in the phrase, “once saved, always saved”. Did you know that this phrase is not found in the bible? Yet it is a phrase that has been used in churches for many years now. As with everything else, we must make sure that the things we say and believe are consistent with sound doctrine (Titus 2:1). So, is this idea biblical? The definitive answer; it depends.
You may have heard this idea by a different name; eternal security and/or perseverance of the saints. For the sake of ease and clarity we will summarize them this way. Eternal security refers to the security that the true believer has to never be forsaken by the Father because the salvation given to them by grace alone through faith alone. Passages like Romans 8:31-39 that we heard sang and read on Sunday make this truth abundantly clear. For those that are in Christ there is nothing that can separate them from God and this is meant to bring much peace and comfort. We are thereby emboldened in our obedience and faithfulness to the Lord because we know that he has secured our eternal state. But how can the bible speak about eternal security and then have passages like Hebrews 3:6, “And we are his house if indeed we hold fast our confidence.”? That’s where perseverance comes into play.
Perseverance refers to the process by which God preserves his people; by their perseverance in obedience to his commands. “And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments.” 1 John 2:3. There is a conditional aspect to our salvation. Meaning, there is a reality in which if we are not obedient to Jesus, then we will not have eternal life with Jesus. Now, before you crumple this paper while saying, “That’s works based salvation!” Let me make my case. When I wake up each morning, where should I find my assurance? My assurance is not only found in a past decision to follow Christ, but also and even more so, in a present faith in Jesus that manifests itself in works of obedience (James 2:20-26). Therefore, when I wake up in the morning, I am reminded that I am still in need of God’s grace as much as the day before. And by God’s gracious care, he uses this ongoing faith, shown by obedience, to preserve us until we die or he returns.
At this point, you still may not be convinced this is all of grace. Yet, the New Testament makes abundantly clear that even our perseverance in obedience is the Lord’s work in our lives. “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6) “Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.” (Jude 24-25)
So, is “once saved, always saved” biblical? Yes, as long as we understand that the individual who is saved has expressed faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, this phrase has been used to justify an individual who says a prayer and then makes a practice of sinning. This type of “conversion” is foreign to the New Testament and should therefore be foreign in our churches. Let us then celebrate the eternal security of believers that is evidenced by their perseverance in the faith that leads to eternal life.