Once Saved Always Saved?

21 And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, 23 if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister. (Colossians 1:21-23)

There is a phrase that is used often in Christian churches, and one that most of us have heard. This phrase is regarding salvation. It is simply this: “Once saved always saved.” It is a phrase that I have used many times, and it is one that I believe is biblical. However, I think sometimes in discussing this idea of “once saved always saved,” the emphasis is usually on the last half of it rather than the all-important first half. Here is what I mean. We all want to know what our end will be, right? To say that we will always be saved gives us comfort and some level of ease regarding our future state. It is like, “Okay, I can handle today if I know that, even if it is really hard, good things are headed my way.” We can work a hard project to completion if the promised reward is perceived to be greater than the sacrifice. I’m just talking about human nature. If we can be assured of our future, then the present can be more easily handled. And so we want to know what our future is going to be, so the last half of the phrase, “always saved,” gives us comfort and strength and perseverance for today.

I would argue, however, that the first half of the phrase is of much greater importance. The first half is this: “once saved.” If we are not “once saved,” then the “always saved” is totally irrelevant. Maybe we should focus more on the “once saved” part of this phrase. Are you, are we saved?

Over the last couple of weeks we have spent our time talking about the gospel. What is redemption, what is salvation, how does God intervene in the lives of people to save them? We have talked about it as being God’s work. He is the one who, by His grace, as a gift to us, an undeserved gift, saves us. He gives us faith, He gives us new life, He makes us alive to spiritual things where we were once dead. No one can boast regarding salvation because it has not been earned in any way.

8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

If we have all of this, if we have this gift from God, meaning we are saved, then certainly we will always be saved. He gives it and no one can take it away. In fact, it is sealed by God through His Spirit and no one, no being, no power can break what God has sealed. These are not my thoughts, they are from the Word of God.

13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:13-14)

So God saves, and He seals those He saves forever. For those who are saved, there is no more glorious news. We need to know this because in our flesh we still sin, and as true believers we feel guilt over sin. We have a keen awareness that our sin, no matter what it is, is against our Savior, our Lord, and it is awful. And we feel that, don’t we? We wonder how He can still love us and and we wonder, in our weakest moments, if He will still love us. And when we are there we can go to passages, to truth that reminds us that Jesus knows our sin and our sin does nothing to affect the certainty of our salvation. In our flesh we are really messed up, and He knows that, and He saved us anyway! He is faithful even when we are not. We need to know that.

But here is the thing: we need to be sure we are in the faith to begin with.

In our passage this morning Paul gives us a conditional statement – “he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith…” We may look at this and say, “Wait a minute! What is Paul saying here? Is he indicating that I have to keep myself saved? That I am saved and will remain saved if I do something? Do I have to do something here to keep myself saved?” Well, sort of, but not really! How is that for an answer? Let’s look at this together.

We know that with true salvation there comes new life. It is the picture of baptism. We are buried with Christ, going down into the water, and then we are raised to what? To new life. This new life is not just something spiritual that stays way down deep inside somewhere and then pops out after we die, it is really new life. New desires, new ways, new devotions, new thinking – not perfect, but new nonetheless.

17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation…20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. (2 Corinthians 5:17-18, 20)

With new life comes new actions. We actually become ambassadors of Christ, we are his visible representatives on the earth. We cannot be that person, and ambassador, one who speaks and lives for another, if we have not changed from our former state of being as enemies of God. We cannot continue living as His enemy in this world and at the same time be His representative. My point is that with salvation comes new things, new life, new ways, from an enemy to an ambassador.

This is not putting on a good face for a while or pretending to be someone we are not. It is not just trying to look like a Christian, it is being changed into one. We are talking about real change, a new life. We see this truth all over the Bible…

9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)

2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh (Ephesians 2:2-3)

13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son…21 And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death (Colossians 1:13, 21)

Real change, God-instigated change. This is the real thing.

There is however, a type of change that is counterfeit to the change we have been talking about. That is a type of change that may seem genuine for a time, but in the end is revealed for what it really is: it is fake. We know it is not real because it does not last. It is temporary. That is what Paul is getting to here in our passage when he says, “if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.”

Of all of the characteristics or marks of genuine Christianity, I think this one is the most significant. We give evidence of our true conversion if we continue in the faith, stable and steadfast. If we do not continue in the faith, our profession, however dramatic it was, however emotional it seemed, however convincingly it was presented, it was not real.

The “always saved” part of the common phrase, “once saved always saved,” it proves the “once saved” part. Or perhaps a better phrase is “perseverance of the saints,” meaning that true believers will persevere in the faith to the end.

Now, this is important stuff. It is important because it applies to each one of us here. This is what I would call a contemplative verse. It is a verse that each one of us should take with us to our devotion time. We should take this passage with us as we have our personal prayer and worship time with God. This verse should be one of those that we think on from the depths of our souls. The question for all of us is simply, are we persevering in the faith, meaning are we those who are living for Christ by faith today? Does that describe your life, my life? Not, “Well, some day I will live for Christ,” or, “After I get past this stage in life I will,” or, “I’ve done that in the past enough, right now I’m spending my days other ways.” Where are we in the faith today, right now? The overwhelming emphasis in the Bible regarding salvation is this: where are you in the faith today? Not, “What have you done in the past?” We too often want to go to the past and only refer to a past decision and then jump on the phrase “always saved.” “Because I did this – whatever – in the past, I’m always saved,” even if there is no desire for Christ-honoring living today. The question that is pertinent is, “Where am I right now?” Not, “Where was I twenty years ago?”

I want to show you this emphasis from the Bible, that is the importance of persevering in the faith, and what this shows as opposed to putting our trust in a one-time decision to follow Christ. A one-time decision to follow Christ is a meaningless decision if one is no longer really following Christ.

Here are some really good passages for us. And you can do this all over the Bible, I just happened to be reading John this last week so I picked some places from John.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)

The world “believes” is present-tense in the Greek, meaning it is an action that is in process. It is not an action on our part that is relegated to some past event. No, it is in process, it continues to be in our lives, we have believed, but then we go on believing. And to believe in is to have full confidence in, trust in, faith in. It is to stake our whole lives on, today and forever. If we have full confidence, full trust, full faith in Christ and His Word, we will live lives bent toward Him in obedience. This is consistent with what Paul wrote in Colossians, “if indeed you continue in the faith”

18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already… 21 But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God. (John 3:18, 21)

Jesus is talking about the true believer here when He says that one “does what is true and comes to the light.” The words “does” and “comes” are both present tense, they are currently happening, continual efforts that mark a person as being in Christ.

We could go on and on through John’s gospel and beyond, but let me just give you one more…

Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him. (John 3:36)

Whoever “believes” – again, continuous action, to go on believing – and “does not obey” – continuing action – both are marks of a person’s life, both give evidence of either change or a lack of it. 

We cannot think of salvation merely in past tense – “I did this when I was 10,” or, “I felt this way years ago,” or whatever. Where are we now, where are our hearts today?

Jesus tells us in another passage why we need to think this way, why we need to put away any assurance we have that rests only in some past event.

In Luke 8 Jesus tells a parable about a farmer, or a sower, and then He begins to explain the parable in verse 9. Part of the parable tells of seed that fell on rocky soil. The seed, Jesus says, is the word of God, and the rocky soil represents those who heard the word of truth and actually received it, and even with great joy, but there was no root. The truth did not take root in them. Now, how would this show itself? It might look like a quick response of a positive nature, a confession, verbal confession of agreement with the gospel, and even a desire to follow Christ, but as time passes so does the spirit of the former confession. Testing comes and they fall away. Life happens, and living according to God’s way goes by the wayside. Other methods are chosen, other philosophies are followed, what looked like faith fades, and life goes on as it did before. Does this mean someone has lost their salvation? No, it means they never were saved.

And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away. (Luke 8:13)

Passages like this ought to be very sobering to each of us. The key here is, are we as those who have fallen away? Has our faith lasted? Are we today embracing Christ as our Savior and our Lord?

There may be no more chilling passage than Matthew 7:22-23…

22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ (Matthew 7:22-23)

What we see here is that there are those who even have served in some way in the name of Christ, even doing mighty works, and yet they have no real saving faith. Saving faith then is faith that lasts and perseveres through time. How? “stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard”

“Stable” and “steadfast” are words that relate to a foundation, to live in a state of being securely founded in Christ. Not shifting or seeking security in things outside of faith in Christ. For the Colossians and for us it is continuing in the faith that has been brought to us by God, for the Colossians that would be the preached word from the Apostles, for us that is the written Word. If we stay in that truth we are His, if not we are not His.

if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister. (Colossians 1:23)

One thing we need to be careful of is that we don’t equate perseverance in the faith, continuing in the faith, that we don’t equate that with perfection. We shouldn’t say, “Well today I sinned, and so I didn’t persevere, I must not be a Christian.” The Bible does not teach perfection in this life. It does teach an ever-growing, Christ-following direction of life in which we become more like Him. Not perfection, but a desire for godly direction as a way of life.

God keeps those He saves, none will be lost who have received true salvation. And those will continue in the faith, outwardly so, visibly so, stable and not shifting.

I don’t think the primary way we should look at these verse is in a spirit of judgmentalism. I don’t think we need to take this and begin evaluating everyone in our lives. God is the judge, and He will judge according to His Word. What I mean by that is that He will take this verse and use it to judge men and women. That is His role. We don’t need to feel so compelled to do the same. We can judge ourselves with it, and we can encourage others to take it seriously and consider their lives, but ultimately God knows all things and He will judge perfectly. I am glad He is the judge. 

My prayer for each of us is that we will be honest with ourselves regarding whether or not we are in the faith desiring to walk with Christ. And if we find that we are not really, honestly there, wanting to walk in obedience to Christ, that we will cry out to Him for the salvation of our souls. That pride would not keep us from crying out to Him, that the Holy Spirit will convict and that we will run to Him. 

Once saved always saved? Yes. Once genuinely saved no one can snatch us away, and once genuinely saved we will endure in the faith, in obedience to Christ as a way of life, a direction of life to the very end. No turning back. This does not eliminate sin, but it changes our response to it. We respond as a Christian with confession and repentance, and then we move on in our walk with Him.

if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister. (Colossians 1:23)