Once Saved Always Saved vs Persevering Grace

by Mike Ratliff

24 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. (John 5:24 ESV)

When I was growing up as a Southern Baptist the Gospel we heard preached to us continually always included a doctrine that could best be called “Once saved, Always Saved.” After God had mercy on me in 1986 when I was 34, opening my heart to believe the Gospel, I went right into serving in various Southern Baptist churches eventually becoming a Bible teacher and Deacon and serving in the role of an Elder even though our church did not officially have that role defined at that time. It was as I began studying doctrine back in 2003-2004 that I realized that I had grown up as an inconsistent Arminian.  In any case, in that study of doctrine I also compared Arminianism and Calvinism. I had heard of Calvinism in a historical sense but really knew nothing about its theology. However, through this study, I also found that I was not in agreement with all the points of consistent Arminianism. As I prayerfully studied Reformation Theology over a period of several weeks I found myself coming to grasp each of the five points. How did this happen? What was it that God was revealing to me from His Word that caused this? It was the fact that Sacred Scripture clearly shows that  He is sovereign over all especially the salvation of all who believe the Gospel.

While Southern Baptists have a doctrine called “Once saved, Always Saved,” those of us who are Reformed in our Theology also are firm in our belief in the security of the believer, but in Reformed Theology it is called Perseverance of the Saints. However, I prefer the term, “Persevering Grace.” The former makes it seem as if the believer is eternally saved by his or her own merit or ability. The latter, however, states that it is God who preserves His saints by His grace.

Let’s look at some passages from scripture that speak of this.

3 I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, 4 always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. 6 And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. (Philippians 1:3-6 ESV)

People may be inconsistent and have feet of clay, but not God. He finishes what He starts. We contend that our salvation is God’s work not ours. We affirm that salvation is Monergistic not Synergistic. That means that since we did not do anything to be saved, because we were spiritually unable to do so, God did it all. He regenerated us so that we are able to repent and believe. Through saving us by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9) he then justifies us. Since it is His work, He will complete it. God never leaves anything incomplete. Salvation produces regenerate people who still require God’s gracious, sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit in their minds and hearts. Since God finishes what He starts, He will not leave this work unfinished either. That of course is making His elect mature unto Christlikeness.

25 Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, 26 but you do not believe because you are not part of my flock. 27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.” (John 10:25-30 ESV)

In this passage we see nearly all five points of Calvinism. Jesus identifies His sheep as those whom the Father has given to Him. They are the gift of God’s electing love. Jesus died for for these sheep. (John 10:15) These sheep are the special objects of the tremendous atoning work of Christ on the Cross. He died for these sheep specifically. He bore their sin. These sheep respond to the effectual call by the Holy Spirit which is God’s Irresistible grace. Also, these sheep not only listen to Jesus’ voice, they follow Him as well. While all of that is wonderful and those of us who are Reformed rejoice in each point, the emphasis in these verses is God’s persevering grace. Notice in v28 that there is a danger that someone will try to snatch these sheep from our Saviour’s hands. That is, to snatch them away from salvation. However, that danger is an illusion for Jesus emphatically states their eternal security. What is the basis of this eternal security? The first is that He has given His sheep eternal life. That life lasts forever because it depends entirely on the perseverance of God’s grace. The second is that His sheep will never perish. Even though that sounds like the same thing it isn’t, but it still depends upon God’s persevering grace. The third is that Jesus states that no one can snatch them out of His hand. To emphasis how secure this is, Jesus then states that His Father’s hand is wrapped around His. This emphasis tells us that this is a done deal. There is no power in the Universe that can overpower the creator of it.

35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35-39 ESV)

Some may argue that this is speaking of deliverance from tribulation, but since death is included in those things that cannot separate us from the love of Christ, this is speaking of eternal life and eternal victory. All who are in Christ are in a position of security where nothing can ever separate them from God’s love. Paul lists 17 things that appear to our temporal vision as barriers to salvation. However, none of them even come close to threatening a believers eternal security. We should look at this promise not with eyes to overcoming these things temporally, but as a list of things that have no power over the eternal security of God’s elect.

10 And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. (1 Peter 5:10 ESV)

Peter was writing to believers from every part of Asia Minor. He refers to them as God’s elect exiles of the dispersion. (1 Peter 1:1). These same believers had been suffering all sorts of trials . (1 Peter 1:6-7;3:13-17;4:12-19; 5:9) They were suffering malicious slander from unbelievers, persecution from Roman authorities along with Satan’s spiritual attacks against them. One of the purposes of this epistle was Peter’s desire to encourage these Asian believers by speaking of the certainty of a glory yet to come. In 1:3 he speaks of their “living hope” through the resurrection of the Jesus Christ from the dead. In 1:4 he speaks of an “inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you…” In 1:7 he tells them that their tribulation has come so that the “tested genuineness of your faith–more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire–may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” In 3:18 he tells them, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God…” In 4:13 he tells them to “rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.”

Then we come to 5:10. 1 Peter 5:10 encourages the believers Peter is writing to by reminding them of the glory which is theirs when they complete their earthly journeys and are then with Christ in Heaven. Until that time, however, God will strengthen and keep them. Perseverance does not mean that Christ’s sheep are automatically delivered from tribulations, tests, trials and suffering. In fact, it is seen clearly in these verses that suffering comes to those who seek to live godly lives separated from the world unto God. In 1 Peter 5:10 we see four things God will do for all believers. He will restore, confirm, strengthen and establish each and everyone of His. The word restore in this verse is translated as “make you perfect” in the King James. It carries with it the idea of bringing something to completion or fulfillment. Since Peter was speaking of a “restoration” after intense suffering he more than likely meant that after suffering God would graciously restore them to spiritual wholeness or perfection.

The word confirm is translated as “establish” in the KJV. It speaks of being “established” in a firm, defensive position so that no matter how intense Satan attacked them, they could not be dislodged from where God has “established” them. This is a promise that God will continue to use stresses, and pressure in our lives in order to build our faith. He will keep us and not let us fall when the pressure is on. The word “strengthen” in v10 is the only usage of this word in the New Testament. This is simply a statement that we can resist the devil in God’s strength, not our own. It is a promise that He will give us that strength when we need it. Lastly, the word “establish” is translated as “settle” in the KJV. It means “to be made to rest securely.” This is speaking of being set on a strong foundation as when erecting a building. Our enemy desires to topple us off of our firm foundation, Christ. That is his goal. However, God’s purpose is to set us on Jesus Christ, allow the attacks from our enemy, not to dislodge us, but to make us even more firmly attached to Him. 1 Peter 5:10 isn’t speaking of eternal salvation in its message of deliverance, but it is speaking of how God works in our hears and lives with His Persevering Grace. This enables us to abide in our Lord and remain firmly attached to Him as our firm foundation which will keep us from falling away.

Let us press on, in patient self-denial,
Accept the hardship, shrink not from the loss;
Our portion lies beyond the hour of trial,
Our crown beyond the cross. – William H. Burleigh

Soli Deo Gloria!

4 thoughts on “Once Saved Always Saved vs Persevering Grace

  1. Well done, Mike! Too many Christians think that “making a decision for Christ” sews it up, as if Sovereign God is a genie in a bottle waiting for us to command Him! And while we are commanded to press on towards the prize that does not tarnish, we are well instructed that it is God who wills and works in us – via His Spirit – to want and will to do good. We are 100% responsible for our sin; He is 100% responsible for the good we do.

    Though the world hate us, though man might slay us, we will persevere because Christ is our refuge and help in every present trial.

  2. I cannot conceive of a more freeing belief than salvation is, from beginning to end, altogether the work of God alone. He who is our salvation takes full responsibility for commencing and concluding all that pertains to eternal life in each of us. It is not possible to come to any other conclusion if one’s focus is only on Christ in the Scriptures. But the one, who looks away from Jesus and turns their attention to themselves even in the Scriptures, will inevitably come to believe that they can lose their salvation because they focus mainly on the fallibility of man, thus of themselves. As a former Catholic my whole concept of salvation was based on my performance in keeping all the rules and commandments of Catholicism. But when Christ came into my heart the Holy Spirit changed all that and guided my heart and mind to concentrate only on Jesus. That change (some might call that repentance) has brought about in my heart the full assurance of everlasting life with Jesus and my Heavenly Father.

    Thanks Mike for a concise and excellent presentation of why salvation is of God only.

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