Baptists have a long standing motto: “Once saved, always saved.” This phrase has been tossed around so loosely amongst baptist circles that it has lost whatever meaning it once had. Today, the poorly worded phrase is used by folks that made some sort of profession of faith as a small child, but have experienced no spiritual growth as a result. When confronted about their wayward lifestyle, they are quick to snap back with “once saved, always saved,” almost like it is a trump card. This is a poor understanding of a very precious doctrine.
Blessed assurance is not to be trifled with. Theologians have long referred to the doctrine that teaches that a believer cannot lose his salvation as the perseverance of the saints. Another name to describe this doctrine is eternal security. This theological gem provides a great deal of rest for the believer. This is the doctrine that David seems to doubt in 1 Samuel 27. Growing weary of living in caves and being on the run from Saul, David seeks security from the Philistines. Admittedly, this does not make much sense, but insecurity will lead us to make rash decisions. See the sermon Trusting God’s Security at the bottom of the page.
What Scripture says:
Covenant - God made a covenant with Abram (Gen. 12) to bless him and build a great nation through him. Even when Abram threatens the covenant with his unbelief in the latter half of Genesis 12, God is faithful to keep his covenant. Trapped between the Red Sea and the enclosing Egyptian Army, God keeps the covenant he made with Moses (Ex. 14). Every time Saul came close to killing David, God was faithful to keep his covenant with David (1 Sam.) In fact, I would argue that Jesus is born because God is faithful to keep the covenant he made with these patriarchs of old. And then after Jesus is born, and Herod comes to kill the small child, God is faithful to keep his covenant. When you study the Scriptures, you will see time and time again where God supernaturally delivers those whom he has chosen to save; he delivers them with no help from them.
Election - Believers are not believers because of a random choice that they make in the midst of an an emotionally charged evangelistic service, but rather, believers are believers because God chose them in Christ before the foundations of the world (Eph. 1:3-4). To believe that one could lose salvation is to believe that the sovereign choice that God made was a bad choice, or perhaps it is to assume that the believer has the power to override the choice that God makes. Either way it is a preposterous thought.
Regeneration - Jesus is very clear with Nicodemus in John 3, when he tells him that he must be born again, that he must be born of the Spirit, to enter the kingdom of God (Jn. 3:3-21). To lose salvation would be to be “unborn.” Paul says that when a person is saved, he is made a new creation in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17). To lose salvation would be to be “uncreated.” These are absurd ideas.
Resurrection - Salvation is an act of God’s sovereignty. Paul teaches all believers are first dead in their trespasses and sins, but God makes them alive in Christ (Eph. 2:4-5). Dead people do not come to life on their own power, but they are made alive. This is a supernatural act of God, an act that mankind has no power to undo.
Adoption - Paul teaches in Romans 8:14-17 that believers are adopted into the family of God. We become children of God. Adoption is a permanent option, not to be undone. Adoptive parents choose to bring a child into their home and that child is awarded all of the blessings of being a biologically born child. They are given the family name and given an equal portion of the inheritance. God brings believers into his family and gives them the family name and an equal share of the inheritance. It is quite audacious to assume that God might have a failed adoption with one of his adopted children.
Secure - Romans 8 goes on to teach that believers are secure in Christ. Beginning in Romans 8:28, Paul teaches that no matter what happens, all things work together for good. Specifically, God works all things towards the ultimate glorification of those whom God has chosen to save (29-30). He goes on to supply an exhaustive list of foes that have absolutely no power to separate a believer from Christ (31-39). Again, the audacity that is required to think that a Christian can come up with something not covered by Paul in Romans 8 is mind-blowing.
Sealed - A believer is given the promise of the Holy Spirit as a seal for the inheritance to come (Eph. 1:13-14). To believe that salvation can be lost is to believe that this seal can be broken.
What other preachers are saying:
"I cannot understand people who say that a man can be born again today but that tomorrow he may cease to be born again. It is impossible, it is monstrous, it is almost blasphemy to suggest it. You can have emotional experiences that come and go; you can take decisions and then renounce them. But the Bible teaches the activity and the action of God. And when God does a work it is done effectually; and if you are in Christ you are in Christ. If you are a partaker of the divine nature and joined to, and made a part of, Christ in spiritual union, there can be no severance." - Martyn Llyod-Jones, Faith on Trial, 103.
"What grand security we have because we are ‘in Christ’! The Christian is not one who is redeemed and saved today but who may fall from it tomorrow and be lost. There is no ‘in and out’ in salvation. You are either ‘in Adam’ or you are ‘in Christ’, and if you are ‘in Christ’ you have eternal security, you are in Him for ever." - Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Assurance, 182
The whole of the New Testament teaches that eternal security is always a certainty. Eternal security is the doctrine, the truth, that a Christian salvation is secure for all of eternity, that when you trust in Christ as your Savior and your Lord, and when He opens your eyes to your need for Him and you are born again the Spirit of Christ comes in to you and is a promise guaranteeing your inheritance. - David Platt
"We believe in the eternal security of the saints. First, because they are Christ’s, and he will never lose the sheep which he has bought with his blood, and received of his Father. Next, because he gives them eternal life, and if it be eternal, well then, it is eternal, and there can be no end to it, unless there can be an end to hell, and heaven, and God. If spiritual life can die out, it is manifestly not eternal life, but temporary life. But the Lord speaks of eternal life, and that effectually shuts out the possibility of an end.” - Charles Spurgeon
What confessions are saying:
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. Believers may fall into sin through neglect and temptation, whereby they grieve the Spirit, impair their graces and comforts, and bring reproach on the cause of Christ and temporal judgments on themselves; yet they shall be kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation.
1. Those God has accepted in the Beloved, effectually called and sanctified by his Spirit, and given the precious faith of his elect can neither totally nor finally fall from a state of grace. They will certainly persevere in grace to the end and be eternally saved, because the gifts and callings of God are irrevocable. Therefore, he still brings about and nourishes in them faith, repentance, love, joy, hope, and all the graces of the Spirit that lead to immortality. Even though many storms and floods arise and beat against them, yet these things will never be able to move the elect from the foundation and rock to which they are anchored by faith. The felt sight of the light and love of God may be clouded and obscured from them for a time through their unbelief and the temptations of Satan. Yet God is still the same; they will certainly be kept by the power of God for salvation, where they will enjoy their purchased possession. For they are engraved on the palms of his hands, and their names have been written in the book of life from all eternity. (1 John 10:28, 29; Philippians 1:6; 2 Timothy 2:19; 1 John 2:19. 2 Psalms 89:31, 32; 1 Corinthians 11:32. Malachi 3:6)
2. This perseverance of the saints does not depend on their own free will but on the unchangeableness of the decree of election, which flows from the free and unchangeable love of God the Father. It is based on the efficacy of the merit and intercession of Jesus Christ and union with him, the oath of God,6 the abiding of his Spirit, the seed of God within them, and the nature of the covenant of grace. The certainty and infallibility of their perseverance is based on all these things.(Romans 8:30, Romans 9:11, 16. Romans 5:9, 10; John 14:19. Hebrews 6:17, 18. 71 John 3:9. Jeremiah 32:40)
3. They may fall into grievous sins and continue in them for a time, due to the temptation of Satan and the world, the strength of corruption remaining in them, and the neglect of means of their preservation. In so doing, they incur God’s displeasure and grieve his Holy Spirit; their graces and comforts become impaired; their hearts are hardened and their consciences wounded; they hurt and scandalize others and bring temporary judgments on themselves. Nevertheless, they will renew their repentance and be preserved through faith in Christ Jesus to the end.
By no means have I laid out an exhaustive defense of this doctrine, but hopefully I have whet your appetite to study the doctrine further. Theology matters. Your belief about the security of your own salvation is fundamental to your Christian walk. If you doubt security, like David you will seek sinful means to secure your fate. If you trust the authority of Scripture, you will rest in the grace of God’s sovereign work. And believers are intended to rest in Christ (Mt.11:28). The fear of losing salvation leads to the idea of working tirelessly to merit salvation. It leads to a works-based salvation. You need to study God’s Word and come to a sound understanding of the security of your standing in Christ.
Please understand that the doctrine of eternal security or the perseverance of the saints, is far more than the cliche mantra of “once saved, always saved.” It is not a license to live sinfully, but it is a means of grace to rest in. Believer, your eternity is secure.
Watch my sermon Trusting God’s Security here:
Platt, D. (2009). Faith Lasts. In David Platt Sermon Archive (p. 2284). Birmingham, AL: David Platt.
Sargent, T. (2007). Gems from Martyn Lloyd-Jones: An Anthology of Quotations from “the Doctor” (p. 104). Milton Keynes, England; Colorado Springs, CO; Hyderabad, AP: Paternoster.
Spurgeon, C. H. (1893). The cheque book of the bank of faith: being precious promises arranged for daily use with brief comments (p. 159). New York: American Tract Society.