“For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” – Romans 8:13-14
Someone recently asked me if I believe in “once saved, always saved.” It’s difficult to answer this question with a simple yes or no. I believe the Bible teaches that God sustains his elect until the very end. I wrote about that here. However, to many people, “once saved, always saved” means that as long as someone has asked Jesus to come into their heart at some point in their life, they are 100% destined for Heaven. They believe that reciting some version of the “sinner’s prayer” ensures justification. And I do not believe the Bible affirms this idea.
The Scriptures teach that God justifies all whom he has predestined and preserves all whom he justifies (Romans 8:29-30). In this sense, “once saved, always saved” is true. But the question that really needs to be asked is how do we know if we’ve been saved? “I asked Jesus to come into my heart when I was twelve” is not a satisfactory answer. A person’s initial profession of faith can be evidence of genuine conversion, but it is not sufficient evidence. Jesus taught that many people would respond positively to the gospel only to then later demonstrate their unregenerate state by falling away (Matthew 13).
The evidence of justification is something that must be looked for beyond the moment of suspected conversion. Peter wrote that we should make our calling and election sure—or, in other words, grow in assurance of our salvation—by increasing in virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love (2 Peter 1:5-11). More concisely, James taught that good works always accompany saving faith (James 2:20). And I have already quoted Paul at the top of this article who said it is those who are led by the Spirit—namely, those who kill sin and grow in personal righteousness by the Spirit’s power—who are the sons of God (Romans 8:13-14).
In summary, those who imperfectly but progressively love God, love others, and wage war against their sin have good reason to be assured that God has justified them. And because they can be assured of their justification, they can also be confident that God will allow nothing to snatch them out of his hand (John 10:28-29). He will keep them from falling away (Jude 24), protect them from the Evil One (1 John 5:18), and complete the redemptive work he began in them (Philippians 1:6). He will permit nothing in Heaven or Earth to separate them from his love for them in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:38-39).