Eternal Security or “Once Saved, Always Saved”

There is considerable confusion in terminology when talking about current views of assurance on the theological scene.  In this post I want to clarify at least one significant difference.

Calvinists and Arminians agree on a signifcant point:  all the elect will persevere in faith.  Those who do not persevere in faith are not elect.  They further agree that faith is the instrument by which God perseveres the elect though they disagree about the nature of human participation in the origin and continuance of faith.

But another perspective is quite popular in the American context. It first arose out of 19th century Dispensational thought, was promoted by the Schofield Bible, and is commonly found among Southern Baptists communitites (though not all of them) as well as in other faith communities.  It is sometimes called “Eternal Security” or “Once Saved, Always Saved.”  Good examples of this perspective are found in some popular Southern Baptist preachers (e.g., Charles Stanley) and promoted by the Grace Evangelical Society.

“Eternal Security” is understood, in this perspective, as the possession of eternal life by a believer at the moment they believe and even if they stop believing. A person is eternally secure (saved) whether they continue to believe or not if they have at least at one moment in their life trusted in Jesus. It is not merely that faith alone saves but that faith eternally saves at the moment of belief even if one later stops believing. The warning texts in Scripture and the role of good works is an oft discussed topic among adherents of this perspective but generally the function of works and warnings is about the nature of the reward in the eschaton than about entrance into the grace of the eschaton. In other words, works and even the perseverance of faith will determine the level of reward but they have nothing to do with salvation itself.

Here are a couple of example statements.

Charles Stanley, Eternal Security, 74: “The Bible clearly teaches that God’s love for His people is of such magnitude that even those who walk away from the faith have not the slightest chance of slipping from His hand.”

Bob Wilkin, “Saving Faith and Apostacy: Do Believers Ever Stop Believing?”:  “While our salvation is guaranteed from the moment we trust in Christ, our faith is not.”

I don’t intend to engage a critique of this position in this post. Rather, my interest is merely to point out that there is a huge difference between the Arminian/Calvinist notion of perseverance and this particular definition of “eternal security.” The former recognize that saving faith perseveres while the latter does not believe faith must persevere for salvation. Of course, advocates of this persuasion encourage believers to persevere and they would think it detrimental to the nature of the heavenly reward for believers to dismiss the importance of sanctification and growth in faith.

Arminians and Calvinist hold significant common ground on this point. Here there is practical and ecclesial agreement, but this agreement is often missed because the position identified as “Eternal Security” is sometimes mistaken as a Calvinist position. Calvinists and Arminians both share the conviction that saving faith will persevere. Each should value this in the other.

4 Responses to “Eternal Security or “Once Saved, Always Saved””

  1.   Tim Archer Says:

    Once again, I did not know this. That’s an important difference. I guess I’ve spent much more time with the “Once Saved, Always Saved” people than with true Calvinists.

    Thanks for the insightful study!

  2.   Jim Holway Says:

    I guess I among the many who confused OSAS with Calvinists. I recently had a long discussion with a couple that was leaving our congregation because we did not preach OSAS. They believe that humans have free will to accept or reject God’s calling, but once they come to faith, the indwelled Holy Spirit prevents them from making any decisions that would threaten their salvation. If a person were to make such a decision, then they were not really saved to begin with.
    I tried to help them see the common ground we shared, but they were having none of it.
    BTW, I noticed that Craig Brown has a new book “The Five Dilemmas of Calvinism.” Have you seen it?

  3.   John Mark Hicks Says:

    It sounds like, Jim, that they were Calvinists on perseverance if they believed that if a person did make a decision that resulted in lost faith then they never were saved in the first place. However, they agreed with OSAS on the freedom to accept or reject God’s calling though OSAS would say that those who lost faith were still saved because they once had faith even though they no longer believed. It gets confusing fairly quickly. 🙂

    It is not uncommon for many on either side of the discussion to dismiss the common ground. Calvinists believe they have a greater assurance and want it preached. Arminians are afraid the Calvinists will use their theology as a license for sin. Neither find it sufficient to rest in the experience and perseverance of faith in Christ as the means of salvation and assurance.

  4.   John Mark Hicks Says:

    I have not yet read Brown’s book, but the dilemmas he seeks to resolve as a Calvinist are critical ones for those who reject Calvinism. Whether he is coherent in his attempt I cannot judge as I have not yet read it. But the dilemmas are spelled out in this review

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