Once Saved, Always Saved?

diplomatic immunityThe year was 1979.  The Burmese ambassador to Sri Lanka was convinced his wife was having an affair.  Deciding to take matters into his own hands, he shot his wife one evening when she came home late.  Neighbors reported to the police that a funeral pyre was being built in the back yard of the residence.  When Sri Lankan police arrived, they could see the ambassador putting his wife’s body on the pyre, but the ambassador refused to let them set foot on the property. 

According to Gerald Hensley, one-time high commissioner of New Zealand: “It caused quite a stink.  The ambassador said it was Burmese territory and they couldn't enter.”1

Despite the seriousness of the crime, the Sri Lankan Government was unable to proceed against the envoy who was eventually, but not immediately, recalled to his country.2

A murderer walked free . . . because he had diplomatic immunity.

get out of jail free cardThe abuse of diplomatic immunity has caused many to question its fairness.  It is not just or reasonable to give anyone freedom to flout laws simply because of their diplomatic status.

And yet...

Millions of Christians teach a doctrine that, in effect, is as unjust and unreasonable as a murderer walking free simply because he is a diplomat.  It is called “once saved, always saved.”  In other words, once you are saved, you will always be saved.   This doctrine, popularly referred to as “eternal security,” sounds good but a careful study of this belief reveals it to be profoundly unbiblical.

Proponents of eternal security base this belief on several texts that speak of the security a believer has in the Saviour:

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand.  (John 10:27-29)

(See also 1 Peter 1:5; John 6:39; and Jude 24.)

In this passage, believers are referred to as “sheep” who hear the Shepherd’s voice and follow Him.  Rather than teaching “once saved, always saved” these passages simply promise that no spiritual harm can come to the person who, submitting to Yahuwah, lives in submission to the divine will

Sheep, however, are notorious for wandering astray.  “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way.”  (Isaiah 53:6)  If one ceases to surrender the will to Yah and begins to knowingly sin, he will be lost – even if he had previously accepted the gift of salvation.

Yahuwah will never force the human will.  It is for this reason that Scripture abounds with warnings of what will happen to those who, having once accepted salvation, wander astray.  The parable of the lost sheep reveals the pitying love of the Father and the Saviour for lost and wandering souls.  But even then, a soul will never be forced to return.  Full religious liberty is guaranteed all.  If the heart stubbornly clings to cherished sins, eventually the waves of mercy will be beaten back, never to return.

pruning branchesUsing the analogy of a vine and branches, Yahushua explained the fate of all who do not continue to abide in Him:  “If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.”  (John 15:6)

The branches are not weeds that were never connected to the vine.  A branch can only grow and exist if it is connected.  The branches in the Saviour’s parable refer to those who, at one time, were closely connected to Him, receiving the spiritual nourishment to grow!  But, exercising their divinely given freedom of choice, they withdrew from their source of life.  They became unfruitful and were eventually cast off.

Far from teaching “eternal security,” Scripture teaches the exact opposite: that it is possible to accept salvation and, at a later date, exercise one’s free will, returning to a life of rebellion against Yahuwah. Using the illustration of a race, the apostle Paul highlighted the sacrifices and careful preparations which athletes are willing to make to win the prize.  He ends his illustration by acknowledging even he could still be lost:

Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it.  And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown.  Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air.  But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.  (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)

running in the wayPaul knew that, although he was in a saving relationship with his Redeemer, this did not steal his personal freedom of choice.  He could still, by the choices he made, lose out on eternal life.  The death of the Saviour on the cross provides “diplomatic immunity” for sins past.  It does not remove accountability for current sins, knowingly committed.  Thus, Paul realized that, even after leading others to salvation, his personal choices could still cause him to be “disqualified.”  This word, translated “Castaway” in the King James Version, comes from Adokimos (#96), which means: “unapproved, i.e. rejected; by implication worthless . . . castaway, rejected, reprobate.”

The word “reprobate” is an interesting word choice.  It is not used very much anymore, but it contains a wealth of meaning.  The word, when used as a noun, refers to “A person abandoned to sin; one lost to virtue and religion.”3  There are a number of verses in Scripture that use this word.  These passages provide clear contextual examples of what it means to be a reprobate or have a reprobate heart.  (See Titus 1:10-16; 2 Timothy 3:8; 1 Corinthians 13:5-7; etc.)

Probably the clearest use of the word, and the passage that most directly refutes “once saved, always saved,” is found in Romans 1:18-32.  Here Paul specifically states that, although these reprobates “knew” Yahuwah (verse 21) they nevertheless stubbornly clung to sin.  It cannot be said that these were heathens with no knowledge of the Creator.  But, even knowing Him, verse 28 states that they did not want to remember Him: “And even as they did not like to retain Eloah in their knowledge, Eloah gave them over to a reprobate mind.”

Note that Yahuwah “gave them over to a reprobate mind.”  Here is presented the truth of the salvation offered by Yahuwah.  He “is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.”  (2 Peter 3:9)  But, as much as He longs to bring all to repentance so that all may be saved, He will never remove the individual’s right to choose for himself.  He will let go those who do not want to retain a relationship with Him, leaving them to follow their own desires.

The apostle Peter likewise teaches the same thing: 

For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Master and Saviour Yahushua the Annointed, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning.


For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them.


But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire.  (2 Peter 2:20-22)

a dog returns to its own vomitIt is a Biblical principle that “In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established.” (2 Corinthians 13:1)  Thus, both Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, and Peter, the apostle to the Jews, concur that even after a person has accepted the gift of salvation, by the free exercise of his will, he can still be lost.

The danger of clinging to the error of “eternal security” is that, like diplomatic immunity, it can be used to rationalize or otherwise excuse cherished sins that the stubborn heart does not wish to surrender.  Salvation is a free gift, but it does not remove personal responsibility to choose to surrender to Yahuwah on a daily basis.  “Once saved, always saved” is a popular error because it, in effect, exempts one from the consequences of all future actions and decisions, regardless of how grievously, or frequently, the divine law is broken.  It is a sort of divine “diplomatic immunity” that, they suppose, covers anything they do because they are now saved.

This is an extremely dangerous supposition to make.  The work of the Holy Spirit is to “reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment.”  (John 16:8)  The Holy Spirit might be convicting a heart to lay aside a particular sin, but if a person believes in “once saved, always saved,” such convictions are brushed aside as “doubt.”  This is extremely dangerous because rejection of the Holy Spirit is the one sin that is unpardonable.  When the Holy Spirit’s drawing is consistently and continually rejected, there is nothing more Heaven can do.

Scripture is clear regarding the fate of all who turn back from following the Saviour:

For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of Yah and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of Yah, and put Him to an open shame.  (Hebrews 6:4-6)

Some would argue that, if a person falls away, they were never saved to begin with, but this is not consistent with the passage of Scripture given.  Paul clearly states they “were once enlightened.”  If a person turns his back on divine grace, divine Love will never force him to remain against his will.  “For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins.”  (Hebrews 10:26)

Perhaps the worst thing about the doctrine of “once saved, always saved,” is what it teaches about the character of Yahuwah.  “For Yah so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.  For Yah did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.”  (John 3:16-17)  The inheritance of a sinful nature, stole from every son and daughter of Adam, the ability to choose for themselves who they would serve: Yahuwah or Satan. Yahushua’s sacrifice did not guarantee that all would be saved.  It merely restored their right to choose for themselves, rather than lose eternal life through the choice of Adam.

Yahuwah, who sacrificed so much to ensure freedom of choice, is never going to remove that right to choose once the individual is in a saving relationship with the Saviour.  Sin enslaves the will; redemption restores it to harmony with Yahuwah.  But none at that point become will-less mind slaves. All still have the power of choice and Yahuwah will never take that away, forcing His will on His creatures.

The Bible teaches that believers are secure while they remain faithful to Yahuwah.  But if one chooses to let go of the hand of Yahushua, there is no such assurance.  “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23) even for those who, at one time, had accepted salvation.

All error separates from the source of all life and love.  The fact that Yahuwah sacrificed His own Son to ensure freedom of choice and that He continues to allow all to retain that freedom of choice, demonstrates a love so profound, so far-reaching the human mind cannot grasp it in its entirety.  Lay aside the error of “once saved, always saved.”  Draw close to the one who is able to keep you safe from all harm.  He will never violate your individuality, your self-hood, your freedom of choice, but when you choose to surrender your will to Him, He will keep you. 

3 Noah Webster, American Dictionary of the English Language, 1828.