“Once saved, Always Saved”?
This term is often used by both Calvinists and Arminians in reference to salvation. When it is understood properly it can certainly be a true statement. Yet, if two diametrically opposed systems of doctrine teach the same thing, there must be a different understanding in the meaning of the statement.
This is true in this case. The key lies in the word “saved.” Dispensationalism, championed by Scofield, teaches that Christ can be your Savior without being your Lord. When you fall away, you are falling away from the “Lordship” of Jesus, and not necessarily from the salvation.
Scofield differentiates Christians as being “spiritual” and “carnal” Christians. “Carnal Christians” do not yield to the Lordship of Christ, but he can still be their Savior. This is his explanation on the teaching of I Cor. 2:14. One must wonder how such an error can be reconciled with the teaching of Romans 8. Romans 8:5 says, “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit.” It is a serious error to take Paul’s teaching in Romans 8 to teach that there are two kinds of Christians – those who are “carnal” and those who are “spiritual.” In fact, what Paul is teaching is precisely the opposite. To be “carnal” leads to death, while the Spirit gives life. “For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be” (Rom. 8:6-7). Paul is not describing two categories of Christians, but that there is an antithesis (a direct and all-pervading distinction) between believers (living by the Spirit) and unbelievers (living by the flesh).
It is simply an impossibility to have Jesus as your Savior and not at the same time have Him as your Lord. This is what Jesus is referring to in Luke 6:46, “But why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do the things which I say?” Those who use the term “Lord,” but who do not submit to Jesus as Savior and Lord, are lost. Jesus becomes our Lord by virtue of the fact that He bought us with His precious blood, and owns us, body and soul, in life and in death. If he is your savior, then He is your Lord. Our submission to His Lordship should grow throughout our life.
To believe in Jesus as your Savior means that you have also denied yourself, taken up the cross, and followed Jesus (cf. Matt. 16:24). A follower of Jesus has yielded to His Lordship. A denial of self must also include a denial of all innate power that a sinful person might have and complete submission to Jesus Christ. Paul refers to this in Romans 10:9, “That if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” The first half of this verse teaches the confession that believers make. The second half refers to the risen Lord whom we must believe and follow from our heart (out of which all of our life flows).
Backsliding and Church Discipline
All Christians fall into sin. Sin itself is not the ground for church discipline, but failure to repent of sin. However, not all Christians who fall into sin immediately repent of their sin. They may continue to commit the same sin for some time. It is for this latter group that church discipline must be exercised.
The Canons of Dort, Fifth Head of Doctrine, Article 14 states, “And as it has pleased God, by the preaching of the gospel, to begin this work of grace in us, so He preserves, continues, and perfects it by the hearing and reading of His Word, by meditation thereon, and by the exhortations, threatenings, and promises thereof, and by the use of the sacraments.”
God uses various means to cause His people to persevere. Internally, he pricks our conscience by His Word and Holy Spirit. In a more external way, when professing Christians fall into sin and do not turn from it, God has given the church authority, through its elders, to exercise Christian discipline. In that way, discipline serves as one facet of this doctrine of the perseverance of the saints.
While mere men cannot know the heart of man in any exhaustive way, but only by his actions, the church must attempt to restore all those who profess to be Christians and fall away from the truth and godly living. That is the purpose of discipline – the restoration of the wandering (see I Cor. 5:5). It is done out of love – love for God and concern for His righteousness, and love for man and concern for his godliness.
Heidelberg Catechism Q. 85 explains, among church members, how the kingdom of heaven is shut and opened by Christian discipline. Christian discipline involves admonition by fellow Christians and by the elders of the Church. The course of action taken in discipline is helpful in understanding this connection with perseverance. An erring Christian is first admonished (warned) concerning the sin and told that it must be repented of and, therefore, cease. If there is still no repentance, the next step is to suspend this person from the Lord’s table since by his life the person is declaring or exhibiting that he is not in communion with God or His people. This is a most serious and final warning. If there is still not repentance the sinning person must be excommunicated from the church. This means that he is considered and declared to be a heathen and outside of the Church or outside of the Christian faith. The church is not condemning him to hell, but declaring that as long as the person remains unrepentant and shows none of the fruits of faith, he is lost and is to be treated like an unbeliever.
Throughout this process, the desire is always that the unrepentant sinner will repent. If the Holy Spirit is in this person, he will ultimately repent and be happily restored to full communion in the church.
But, what if the person does not repent and remains such unto death? Does this mean that a person who was once a Christian has now lost his salvation? Not at all. It does say that the person who once professed to be a Christian was lying and has never been a Christian. This is what John is teaching in I John 2:19 where it refers to such a case, “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us.”
Certainly Christians who claim to believe in the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints must be faithful to exercise Christian discipline in the Church, recognizing that this is a tool by which God preserves His church and causes His people to persevere (see Hebrews 12:5-15). Failure to exercise Christian discipline when church members sin is to relinquish one of the primary means whereby God preserves His saints.
Blog post content is taken from Rev. Paul Treick’s book, Faith of Our Fathers, Living Still: A Study of the Five Points of Calvinism, available for purchase. It is posted with the gracious permission of the author.
If you’d like to read the blog series from the beginning, start here.