In this three-part series we will briefly explore Calvinism – a Reformed Theology which states, Once Saved Always Saved, and its counter, often called Arminianism, which believes a Person Can Lose their Salvation. You may be familiar with the phrase “Once Save Always Saved” held by many to be taught in Scripture. It is likely that this issue Unconditional Election or Conditional Election, as it has traditional been called – will likely never be resolved on this side of eternity. Yet, I believe it remains a serious theological issue that needs to be vigorously discussed because of the tremendous effect it has on how we represent and understand our true relationship with God.
Theological teachings held within Christian circles such as, “Once Saved Always Saved” and/or a “Person Can Loss Their Salvation” actually poses a potential contradiction, because both views can’t be true in the same way and at the same time. All true Christians believe that the Bible, or Holy Scripture, is the inerrant, inspired Word of God. We can also acknowledge that there are those who after, a cursory reading, may suggest that there are a number of supposed contradictions throughout the Bible. In actuality, however, there have been no contradictions found to date that have been verified or validated. I am also convinced that we should be studious Christians like the noted Bereans who Luke wrote, “These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the Scriptures daily, whether those things were so. Therefore many of them believed;…” (Acts 17:11-12).
Once Save Always Saved, is a Calvinist view, held by many Christians in America today. Its position is namely based on the belief popularized by John Calvin (1509-1564), that the Bible supports and teaches God who alone is sovereign ‘He has before the foundation of the world determined and pre-ordained’ or unilaterally decided who will and who will not be saved. This of course, strongly denies man’s free-will. Calvinism is based on the fact that Scripture states that the individual has no decision-making capabilities – not only regarding salvation – but in any aspect of their lives because they are dead in trespasses and sin. To be saved or not saved, or any action conducted by man, is based solely on God’s pre-determined discretion. God fortunately decides for each individual – no one can hinder or obstruct His sovereign will – namely, unconditional election, as it is stated by their supporters below.
“God, who is rich in mercy, from his immutable purpose of election, does not wholly take away his Holy Spirit from his own, even in lamentable falls; nor does he so permit them to glide down that they should fall from the grace of adoption and the state of justification; or commit the ‘sin unto death,” or against the Holy Spirit: that, being deserted by him, they should cast themselves headlong into eternal destruction. So that not by their own merits or strength, but by the gratuitous mercy of God, they obtain it, that they neither totally fall from faith and grace, nor finally continue in their paths and perish.” (The Canons of Dort, 1619)
Let me acknowledge forthright, that I count those who hold to the “Once Saved Always Saved” doctrine as my brothers and sisters in Christ. There are great Calvinist Reform theologians such RC Sproul, John MacArthur and John Piper, to name a few, whom I deeply respect that defend as biblical, the 5-points of T.U.L.I.P doctrine. In order to present a fair representation, in part one of this series I should quote at length one of RC Sproul’s article on unconditional election (or as he calls it Sovereign Election). He speaks forthright and open, as he strongly believes Unconditional Election is taught from scripture.
According to RC Sproul, in his April 1, 2017 Ligonier.org blog, commenting on Romans 9:10-13 states that, “…unconditional election, means that God does not foresee an action or condition on our part that induces Him to save us. Rather, election rests on God’s sovereign decision to save whomever He is pleased to save…In the ancient world, it was customary for the firstborn son to receive the inheritance or the patriarchal blessing. However, in the case of these twins, God reversed the process and gave the blessing not to the elder but to the younger. The point that the Apostle labors here is that God not only makes this decision prior to the twins’ births, He does it without a view to anything they would do, either good or evil, so that the purposes of God might stand. Therefore, our salvation does not rest on us; it rests solely on the gracious, sovereign decision of God…When we’re talking about unconditional election, we’re talking in a very narrow confine of the doctrine of election itself. So, then, on what basis does God elect to save certain people? Is it on the basis of some foreseen reaction, response, or activity of the elect? Many people who have a doctrine of election or predestination look at it this way. They believe that in eternity past God looked down through the corridors of time and He knew in advance who would say yes to the offer of the gospel and who would say no. On the basis of this prior knowledge of those who will meet the condition for salvation – that is, expressing faith or belief in Christ – He elects to save them. This is conditional election, which means that God distributes His electing grace on the basis of some foreseen condition that human beings meet themselves.” (italics mine)
RC Sproul continues, “Unconditional election is another term that I think can be a bit misleading, so I prefer to use the term sovereign election. If God chooses sovereignly to bestow His grace on some sinners and withhold His grace from other sinners, is there any violation of justice in this? Do those who do not receive this gift receive something they do not deserve? Of course not. If God allows these sinners to perish, is He treating them unjustly? Of course not. One group receives grace; the other receives justice. No one receives injustice. Paul anticipates this protest: “Is there injustice on God’s part?” (Romans 9:14a)…“God forbid” (v. 14b)…“For he says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion’” (v.15). Here the Apostle is reminding his reader of what Moses declared centuries before; namely, that it is God’s divine right to execute clemency when and where He desires…It is not on those who meet some conditions, but on those whom He is pleased to bestow the benefit.” (italics added mine).
We will briefly look at eight commonly held passages used to support Calvinism called Unconditional/Sovereign Election (we will only list a few below). A cursory read of these passages by any reader would quickly convince them, as it did me, that ‘what they say is what they literally mean’ proving and supporting the Unconditional Election doctrine.
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 KJV
And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed. Acts 13:48 KJV
For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover, whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified. Romans 8:29-30 KJV
And not only this; but when Rebecca also had conceived by one, even by our father Isaac, (for the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth. It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger. As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated. What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid. For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy. Romans 9: 10-16 KJV
In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purposed of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will; that we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ. In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also, after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise, which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory. Ephesians 1:11-14 KJV
For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast. Ephesians 2:8-9 KJV
But after that the kindness and love of God our Savior toward men appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost, which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior; that being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. Titus 3:4-7 KJV
They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us. I John 1:9 KJV
I will not take the time to expound on the scriptures listed above. I will only say that reading these passages alone, would leave the impression that “Once Saved Always Saved” is true, if one ignores or refuses to properly look at all the other scriptural passages. I strongly believe the Calvinist are mistaken, due to the fact that these words: Only the words Limited and Perseverance (are found once Psalm78:41; Ephesians 6:18), while the words Total, Unconditional, Irresistible (are not found or used anywhere in the Bible) that John Calvin believes in. These words have been added by Calvinist to support their non-scriptural doctrine. It is easy for someone to interject more than what is necessarily required when interpreting the above passages. Considering the many verses throughout the Bible, you will find that there is a convincing argument to support both God’s Sovereignty and Individual Free-will. So, it is no surprise that anyone reading these passages can easily be convinced that “Once Saved Always Saved” is solidly taught in the Bible.
However, they only do so by not reviewing or paying attention to the many biblical passages that present the opposite viewpoint, which I am convinced promotes a complementary view of both the Sovereignty of God and the Freewill of man. This venue will not permit us to sufficiently parse each of the scriptural passages listed in our next series, we will attempt to do that in part two.
In our next series, Once Saved Always Saved Part 2, we will present a different and probable interpretation – graciously attempting to counter the respectable late RC Sproul’s position on Unconditional Election, namely the Conditional Election promoted by Jacob Arminius (1560-1609), and you can choose which position represents a more accurate exegetical understanding (proper interpretation) of the scriptures.