In the vast world of religious teachings today, one of the main doctrines that is talked about regularly and believed by millions is “once saved, always saved.” That statement is technically true, but it is misunderstood and mistaught. Actually, no one throughout all of history has ever been saved. That seems like a contradiction, doesn’t it?
Not saved yet
Starting from the Garden of Eden, not one single individual has ever been saved—YET. Not Noah, not Abraham, not David, Peter, James, John or Paul. Not Ruth or Esther or Mary. These people are dead and in their graves and returning back to the dust. They are not saved yet.
The Bible talks about being saved, but in order to fully understand this subject, we need to start by examining what being saved really means. In Acts 2:47 we read that the early New Testament Church was “praising God, and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.” You can check a Greek Diaglott or a Greek Interlinear and different translations such as the RSV and the NKJV and you will find they translate this verse as, “praising God and having favor with all the people, and the Lord added to the church daily such as are being saved.”
The tense of this verb is the progressive form. It does not say they were already saved. They were being saved. When they were called and added to the church, they entered into a process of being saved. That is what that verse actually means.
Another example is found in I Corinthians 1:18: “For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.” The proper translation of this verse is: “For the preaching of the cross is to them that are perishing; but unto us which are being saved it is the power of God.”
A lifetime process
Conversion involves a lifetime of overcoming and growing in grace and knowledge, of building holy righteous godly character and developing the attitude of obedience to God—a lifetime of maturing spiritually. It is the process which leads to being saved.
Sincere people who believe once you are saved, you are always saved are convinced you cannot then be lost. They teach you can backslide but you cannot fall away. They feel you can sin but you are still saved. It does not matter what you do then, “You are saved, brother!” Actually, you cannot find that teaching anywhere in the Bible.
Here is what it says in Romans 5:8–10: “But God commends his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him.”
“Shall be saved from wrath through Him,” it says. In other words, the mind of Christ in us through the power of His holy spirit has put us on the road to being saved, and we are progressing in our conversion and in the process of salvation.
What is it like to be saved? Once we are given the gift of eternal life, then and only then are we saved: “But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, you have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life. For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 6:22–23). We are then spirit beings and we cannot sin. We cannot die. We cannot backslide. We cannot fall away. We are saved and will always be saved. But that will not happen until the resurrection.
Until we are resurrected, we are corrupt flesh. We are physical. We sin and make mistakes, and we can fall away if we do not repent and overcome. But once we are resurrected into immortal life, then we are saved forever: “Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither does corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I show you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory” (I Cor. 15:50–54). We will no longer be corruptible.
Lessons from Paul
People who have “given their heart to the Lord,” who are “born again” and who are now “saved,” believe that no matter what they do or don’t do they simply cannot lose out on salvation. If that is true, then what does Paul mean in Hebrews 2:1–3: “Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip. For if the word spoken by angels was stedfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompence of reward; how shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him.” How could we let things slip if we are saved? How can we neglect salvation if we already have it?
What does Paul mean when he says, “Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall” (I Cor. 10:12)? He is saying we had better be careful. We have to be alert. We must be on our guard or we might fall away.
Paul certainly is one of the greats in history and one of the heroes in the Bible. He was a tremendous servant of God, author of fourteen books of the Bible and a leading apostle. If there could ever be anyone who would be saved in this life, it would certainly be the apostle Paul. Yet look what he said about himself in I Corinthians 9:27: “But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.”
Why did he have to watch himself so carefully? How can we reconcile “once saved, always saved” in this life with what Paul says here? He is talking about staying on his toes so he would lose out on salvation because he could fall away.
Satan has turned the whole world upside down. He is teaching that up means down, and down means up, and black means white and white means black. Many sincere people continue to swallow that kind of convoluted reasoning over and over again without questioning it or really checking it out according to the truth and provable facts.
In Hebrews 6:4–6 we are warned that “it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the holy spirit, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.”
We must endure!
This is clearly referring to converted people! It says, “if they fall away.” That means they can fall away. Therefore, the teaching that “once saved, always saved” in this life cannot be true. If they are already saved, how is it possible that they can fall away?
The simple answer is that we are not saved until we are resurrected. We must go all the way through life, faithful to God, until we die or until Christ comes again in order to be saved. God’s Word is crystal clear on this matter. Christ Himself said it in Matthew 24:13: “But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.” That is when we can truly say, “once saved, always saved”—for all eternity!