Once Saved, Always Saved?

“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).

  • Man, is this a hard topic to cover! I wrestle with the topic of “once saved, always saved” all the time. I was saved in the early 90s, but I quickly fell into a life of sin and vice, largely due to a false message. I am undeserving of God’s redemption, yet He came for me, to set me back on the track towards His Kingdom. So many others are not so blessed. I am not deserving, but He came for me anyway. Why? I was saved, yet I fell hard. Was I still saved? What about my friend Jonathon who thought he was a woman? He had professed faith in God too, yet he died due to diabetes. Will I see him again too? Why did come to restore me and not my friend?
    I have no answers, only faith.

    • Denise Quick Dunmire

      Right? I have said that I could suffer from some form of PTSD if I sat and thought about the “why me?” too much. I am so undeserving. But I was still chosen over someone else?

    • Julian Barnes

      I struggle with this question too. I just decided to pray about it and ask God to help me understand His will and His love. I didn’t get all the answers but it gave me a sense of peace. He told me I should love others even more and leave eternal things to Him. Ultimately we ask God “Why me?” for good things and for bad things. I know he will reveal it to us one day. God bless!

    • Sonny B.

      Yes of course you lost your salvation. But thank God you returned to him !! Many never return.

      • I returned to Him, but only because He came for me. There was no reason he should have, except that He loves me.

        • Eric Newsom

          Yes

      • Eric Newsom

        Christ died on the cross once for our sins. If we lost our salvation, gained it back, lost it again, gained it back, then Christ would have to go back to the cross again, and again. 1 Peter 3:18, Romans 6:10. To think otherwise is to say that in my deepest, darkest moment of despair, as I struggle with the world, the flesh, and the Devil throughout my life; as I cry out “help though my unbelief”, that in that moment my savior would abandon me and not complete the work He began in me as He promised in Philippians 1:6? That He would abandon His promise in Hebrews 13:5-6, “….I will never leave you, nor forsake you….”? If any of us had to count on ourselves as sinful creatures for our salvation to begin with, much less keep it, none of would be saved and none of us could keep our salvation.

    • Eric Newsom

      Read Romans 9

  • GParker

    I have been seeking God on this very issue just this week! When I am walking on the narrow path, I have no doubts. However, a recent struggle with sin has left me with “weak faith” that you recently addressed. To open my inbox today and read your latest post is a testament to God’s faithfulness and an affirmation to my prayers. God is the only one that could have known what my heart was seeking. Thank you for being an open vessel for God’s work!

    • Eric Newsom

      I’d suggest that because you “struggle” with sin, that’s a really good sign of the Holy Spirit working in you. If you didn’t struggle, then I’d worry.

  • Lyle Nelson

    This post reminded me of the parable of the sower and the seed, which can be found in Matthew 13, Mark 4, and Luke 8. Each of these accounts has the original parable along with Jesus’ interpretation of it to His disciples. I’m particularly focusing on the thorny and the stony soil.To quote from http://www.gotquestions.org: “The stony ground pictures a man who professes delight with the Word; however, his heart is not changed, and when trouble arises, his so-called faith quickly disappears. The thorny ground depicts one who seems to receive the Word, but whose heart is full of riches, pleasures, and lusts; the things of this world take his time and attention away from the Word, and he ends up having no time for it.”

    In other words, these are people who initially seem to be saved, but for those who are represented by the stony ground, their faith disappears when trouble arises, and with those represented by the thorny ground, the world and its many temptations choke out the person’s faith. In neither case does Jesus indicate that these people are saved, even though they initially seem to have faith, unless of course they reverse their “backsliding” and become like those represented by the seed sown on good soil.

    In my life, it seems like the enemy is deadly comparison. I see someone whose faith seems to be greater than mine, for a variety of reasons, and I begin to question whether their faith is real and mine is not. But it is not the AMOUNT of faith that is most important, but the fact that there is faith, and it is in Jesus. Lord, help me remember that!

    • Sonny B.

      In Luke 8:13 one “believes for awhile and in time of temptation fall away”–Thus they later STOPPED believing —and they fell away.

      • Eric Newsom

        It is usually agreed upon by most theologians that though they “believed” (intellectual belief), they were never truly saved to begin with, and exhibited none of the fruits of the Spirit as described in Galatians. With regards to belief being a prerequisite and condition for salvation, the Bible says to “believe in your heart”. Again, theologians agree that in order to believe in one’s heart, God has to first breath life into that heart, as prior to that He says our hearts are dead, and an open tombs. I’d also humbly suggest we usually don’t get a complete picture by lifting one verse of Scripture off a page, but putting it in context with the Scriptures as a whole – just a suggestion.

  • Jennifer Dacunto Carota Dwan

    Matt…..this is a great article. And it is a great topic for our day for certain. Yet, like you said….it is not so cut and dry…is it? Last night I was teaching on the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. Which one went away “justified”? Not the religious man who thanked God for not being like other sinners. But the one who could not raise his eyes to heaven or even approach the temple. But knew his sinful condition and spoke from his heart. Lord, have mercy on me a sinner. Luke 18: 13 We must be so very careful with so many verses in God’s Holy Word. Because read at the wrong time by a new believer; the evil one can easily use those words t condemn. Honesty with God is our safest place at all walks of our faith. From the beginning to the end. And yes, we are to see fruit of our conversion as it takes place; but we must be certain to reassure new believers or young believers……or those who have never read God’s Word, that they are in fact…….a work in progress. And our nature is to believe we have failed if we sin once, God help us if we sin more after we come to Christ. We both know how the enemy will come against us and try and use our sins against us. Trust in God. Trust in His Word and His promises. Proverbs 28:13 He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy. 1 John 1: Fellowship with Him and One Another
    5 This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. 6 If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.

    8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/be2186b10e115c2fa76b57fdb889ac4a0043ee70754464271d79e24cf5514e57.jpg

  • Cheryl Powell

    So Matt, according to your logic, the death of Christ was not enough and in order to stay saved I have to jump through hoops? You ever hear of something called grace?

  • Austin shahan

    This article sounded very wordy to me honestly. I believe we are saved at the point we sincerely ask got to come into our lives. Titus 3:5; Acts 16:31 When we make that decision we are saved once not multiple times but once. If we continue to indulge the flesh we are sure to lose rewards we could of had in heaven. When you teach people that their justification comes from their performance and not Jesus’ life alone you are not following the grace gospel. Santification is very important to understand. We can’t grow if we are in the flesh for those who live by the flesh have their outlook shaped by the flesh. However, we can grow by living according to the spirit, therefore having our outlook shaped by the spirit. Hence growing in the grace and knowledge of our lord and savior Jesus Christ.

  • Eric Newsom

    The only thing I contributed to my salvation were my sins. God saved me according to His will, and His good pleasure. You are right that many claim salvation because they walked the isle at 12 and prayed the “sinners prayer”. Though I’m sure some are saved, many show no signs of a heart change after that experience because they counted on something they did for their salvation, and not God; they give themselves credit for something they did, not God. “By grace have you been saved through faith, and that (faith) not of yourselves. It is a gift of God, not of works lest any man should boast”. If I contributed anything but my sins for my salvation, I could pat myself on the back and say, “Look at what a good thing I did”. If I know God saved me not because of a prayer I prayed, or anything else I did, but that He chose to save me, I can be confident my salvation is secure in Him, not in myself, and nothing can separate me from His love. If I had to count on myself for my salvation, I’d never have been saved. Jesus Himself told us how we would know them in Matthew 7 – He said, “You will know them by their fruits. Then, in Galations Paul describes the good fruits, and the bad fruits. If one has truly been saved, is one of God’s elect, and God has breathed life into their cold, dead hearts, then yes, their salvation is secure in the blood of Christ, and what Jesus said applies, “I will never leave you, nor forsake you”.