The conversation is classic. I’ve heard it many times.
The Baptist claims, “I know my loved one’s in heaven. He prayed the prayer as a child to receive Christ.”
The Wesleyan responds, “But how can you be so sure? The man did not live a godly life. Swearing. Avoiding church. Not even claiming to be a Christian!” And then, as if to end the conversation, the Wesleyan adds, “I don’t believe in once saved, always saved.”
Now, as a pastor in a Bible church, something in me hurts to hear that last denial. The statement is precious to me, but not in the sense the Baptist or the Wesleyan means it. Let me explain.
There are three main positions today on “once saved, always saved.”
First, the modern Baptist often teaches eternal security. Believe in Christ for the forgiveness of your sins and you will go to heaven. It is simple. God has promised “eternal life” to everyone who believes (John 3:16; 5:24; 1 John 2:25) and how can it be “eternal” if you can lose it? Therefore, the believer is eternally secure.
In response, the Wesleyans assert, “You can lose your salvation.” Proof texts are abundant. In addition to many “if” statements about being saved in the end (e.g. Jn. 15:6; Rom. 8:13; 1 Cor. 15:1-2; Gal. 6:7-8; Col. 1:23), there are many exhortations to “remain” in Christ and in His love (John 15:4, 9), to “keep” ourselves in the love of God (Jude 21), and to “work out” our own salvation (Ph. 2:12). Perhaps the book of Hebrews says it best: “We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end” (3:14) and “Strive…for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (12:14). The believer has conditions for entering heaven. Sanctification results in eternal life (Rom. 6:22).
The historic Baptist position is the perseverance of the saints. It stands between the other two positions and affirms both. While the conditional statement is true, “If you persevere in the faith, then you will go to heaven” (Mt. 24:13; Rom. 5:3; 15:4-5; Jas. 1:2-4, 12), it is also true that every true believer will persevere. When we received Christ, we received all of Christ—the whole Christ. He became both our “righteousness and sanctification” (1 Cor. 1:30). We have Jesus within and Jesus without (Col. 1:27; 2 Cor 5:17). We are sealed with the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:14; 4:30), who sovereignly leads us to “put to death the deeds of the body” by fighting against our lusts, so that we will not do as we please (Rom. 8:12-14; Gal. 5:16-18). As those born of God, we have His seed remaining forever within us to love, obey, and not continue in sin (1 John 3:9-10; 3:18). And if we sin, our Father disciplines us so that we will share in His holiness (Heb. 12:10). As a result, we can have confidence of final salvation—not only for ourselves but for all true believers (Heb 6:9).
In short, while I do believe in “once saved, always saved,” I need to know how you understand the word “saved.” If it means making a decision and then going to heaven no matter what you do, then no, I do not believe in that kind of condition-less security. But if you mean receiving Christ as both outer right-standing-with-God and inner-power-for-holiness, then yes, I do believe in “once SAVED, always saved.” Christ fulfills all the conditions!