DEAR FATHER PAUL: I heard a preacher on the radio recently teaching what he called “The Doctrine Of Once Saved, Always Saved.” He talked a lot about the fact that God never stops loving us and therefore, once we become a Christian, no one or no thing can ever separate us from him. I did some personal Bible study and came away with more questions than when I started. What do you say? Ted.
DEAR TED: Thank you for your tough but honest question. As I have said many times in this column over the years, “I am not God, and I am not a theologian.” A friend I respect told me, “Don’t even try to answer that question, Paul. The ‘Once Saved, Always Saved’ notion has been argued and discussed back and forth for hundreds of years, both sides are dug in and you’ll just end up making everybody mad.”
Hopefully, he was wrong. But he was right when he said that the “Once Saved, Always Saved Doctrine” is not new, and it has caused a lot of controversy. Theologians call it the “Doctrine of Eternal Security.”
As I personally understood this doctrine as a boy, growing up in a large denomination that strongly believes it, this belief means that once a person is truly born again (“Saved”), his place in heaven is secure and he can never lose that reward, no matter what, and instead go to hell. Hopefully, I have basically, if simplistically, stated it correctly.
The words of Jesus, found in John 10:27-30 are perhaps the number one Bible verse (among many others) often quoted by its adherents. The New Living Translation says: “My sheep listen to my voice, I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all. No one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”
On the other hand, the folks who do not accept the “Once Saved, Always Saved” Doctrine, ALSO have lots of scripture in favor of their position. Perhaps their leading scripture in that regard is found in Hebrews 4:4-6 where the New Living Translation says this: “For it is impossible to bring back to repentance those who were once enlightened (saved) … those who have experienced the good things of heaven and shared the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of God. It is impossible to bring such people back to repentance; (for) by rejecting the Son of God, they themselves are nailing him to the cross once again and holding him up to public shame.”
Now some skeptics, after reading these two passages, will say, “see, I told you, the Bible contradicts itself.” Actually, these passages DO NOT contradict themselves. BOTH ARE, IN FACT, TRUE … and the time spent arguing about “Once Saved, Always Saved” is something that the Church could well spend in better ways.
Here’s what I mean by my statement that BOTH ARE TRUE. All true believers should indeed have a feeling of complete security and feel safe in the absolute knowledge they now belong to God and that HE WILL NEVER ABANDON THEM. But, at the same time, God’s gift to all people of FREE WILL TO MAKE CHOICES which was given to Adam and Eve in the Garden is also in effect … SO WE CAN EACH CHOOSE TO ABANDON GOD at any point in our lives, even if we once followed him.
And (this is important) millions and millions of believers have done just that. The Bible often uses the word “backslider of backsliding” for such people. The word is actually used seventeen times in the Bible. The holy men who wrote the New Testament warn in it against the perils of backsliding and “falling away” dozens of times.
So will a backslider still go to heaven if he dies in that condition?
I’ll answer that question with a question: “Suppose Adolph Hitler had become a genuine born again Christian at age 15, but somehow later (as we know) he abandoned and rejected God, then murdered eight million people and caused World War II. Did God receive him into heaven under the Doctrine of “Once Saved, Always Saved?” Where is Hitler now … heaven … or hell? What do you think?
As I said earlier, I’m not God. But if I were today in a backslidden condition, I would not want to put God to that test with eternity on the line.
Know this … God is NOT some kind of celestial patsy. He is indeed merciful, but he is also just, and he will not be mocked. So, in love, he bids even the backslider, “Come back home to me today, before it is too late!”
DO YOU HAVE A QUESTION? Email your question to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will try to answer your question in this column.
[Father Paul Massey is Canon To The Bishop of the Diocese of the Mid-South of The International Communion of the Charismatic Episcopal Church and is assigned to the Cathedral Of Christ The King in Sharpsburg, Georgia. He is a volunteer Chaplain with the Peachtree City Police Department.]