Once Saved, Always Saved?
I preached a sermon recently where the bible passage seemed to imply that someone could lose their salvation. It made me think.
The passage was Colossians 1:21-23:
And you who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his fleshly body through death, so as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before – provided that you continue securely established and steadfast in the faith, without shifting from the hope promised by the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven.
Some translations use the word “if” instead of “provided that” but either way the implication is that a person is saved only so long as they remain established in the faith. The text looks to be very clear on the fact that the human will must always, continuously, be involved.
When someone hands you a gift you have to reach out and take it, and then you must hold onto it. If you don’t stretch out and take it, do you truly receive the gift? Of course not. And if you decide to drop the gift and break it, give it back, forget about it, neglect it, allow it grow old and dusty sitting on a bookcase in your office, do you really appreciate the gift? Certainly doesn’t seem like it.
So it is with salvation; the human will must respond in faith and acceptance.
I have heard the argument, “Well the people who allow the gift of salvation to grow old, to grow weary, to not remain steadfast in the faith, never truly received the gift of salvation in the first place.” I think this argument is somewhat naive. There are far too many warnings in the bible against becoming complacent, giving up on the faith, etc.
I have also heard the argument that eternal life means it’s eternal, therefore if we have eternal life it’ll last forever and thus cannot be partial. But this begs the question: what is eternal life? Jesus tells us what eternal life is in John 17:3 and there is no mention of time at all. Rather he says that eternal life is to know God. In other words eternal life is about having an intimate relationship with God the Father.
Is the word ‘eternal’ even a good translation? Probably not. The word aionios means pertaining to an age, aion meaning age. Aionios does not, therefore, mean immortality, or forever, or eternal. This is also why I do not believe hell is a permanent place of torture and punishment.
Hence, eternal life has nothing to do with living forever, but everything to do with an intimate relationship with God that we can experience right here, right now. Therefore, the argument that the eternal life Jesus gives lasts forever and thus cannot end, doesn’t stand up to scrutiny for it is an incorrect understanding of the relationship God offers.
Now let’s consider these two passages out of Hebrews:
For it is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have once been enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, since on their own they are crucifying again the Son of God and are holding him up to contempt. (6:4-6)
For if we willfully persist in sin after having received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful prospect of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has violated the law of Moses dies without mercy “on the testimony of two or three testimonies.” How much worse punishment do you think will be deserved by those who have spurned the Son of God, profaned the blood of the covenant by which they were sanctified, and outraged the Spirit of grace? (10:26-29)
These passages make it pretty clear to me. “Those who have once been enlightened…tasted the heavenly gift…shared in the Holy Spirit,” etc. and have been sanctified, can fall away and can profane “the blood of the covenant by which they were sanctified.” You can experience the Holy Spirit, you can be sanctified, you can be given a new life and can still fall away.
Those who were once hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, are now reconciled by the blood of Christ – IF they continue steadfast in the faith. This passage certainly is Paul warning the Colossians not to become like those mentioned in the above two Hebrew passages. Paul is warning us not to become complacent so that we don’t slip away from the salvation given us.
The ideas of Perseverance of the Saints, and Once Saved, Always Saved, which aren’t technically the same thing, are both wrong. The myth that you cannot lose salvation has led to so many churches and so many Christians becoming bland, Spirit-less and devoid. We must – like Paul and the author of Hebrews…and Jesus himself (cf. Matt. 7.13-23) – warn our people, our churches, not to slip into complacency because the consequences are absolutely terrible.