The Ancient Doctrine of Once Saved Always Saved

By Kevin Cauley

We all know people who believe the doctrine of “Once saved, always saved.” This is the idea that once a person becomes a child of God, there is no sin that they can commit to lose their salvation. Many people today find this doctrine to be of great comfort, because it in essence relieves them of all personal responsibility in their relationship with God. After all, if I am saved, and there is nothing that I can do to be lost, then it doesn’t really matter how I behave or act, so I need not worry that much about it. The truth is that this is a most dangerous doctrine when it comes to matters of religion, because it deceives people into thinking that their relationship with God is secure, when it really is not.

Interestingly enough, this false doctrine has been around for quite a long time. In fact, early Christians had to deal with it in the 1st and 2nd centuries. During that period of time, there was a false doctrine known as Gnosticism. Of the Gnostics, one sect taught the doctrine of once saved, always saved. A Christian named Irenaeus lived during the 2nd century A.D. (130-202). He wrote a book titled, “Against Heresies” in which he called attention to this particular fact. In this work (Book I Chapter 6) he said the following regarding Gnostic teaching:

But as to themselves, they hold that they shall be entirely and undoubtedly saved, not by means of conduct, but because they are spiritual by nature. For, just as it is impossible that material substance should partake of salvation (since, indeed, they maintain that it is incapable of receiving it), so again it is impossible that spiritual substance (by which they mean themselves) should ever come under the power of corruption, whatever the sort of actions in which they indulged. For even as gold, when submersed in filth, loses not on that account its beauty, but retains its own native qualities, the filth having no power to injure the gold, so they affirm that they cannot in any measure suffer hurt, or lose their spiritual substance, whatever the material actions in which they may be involved.Wherefore also it comes to pass, that the “most perfect” among them addict themselves without fear to all those kinds of forbidden deeds of which the Scriptures assure us that “they who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.”

And committing many other abominations and impieties, they run us down (who from the fear of God guard against sinning even in thought or word) as utterly contemptible and ignorant persons, while they highly exalt themselves, and claim to be perfect, and the elect seed. For they declare that we simply receive grace for use, wherefore also it will again be taken away from us; but that they themselves have grace as their own special possession, which has descended from above by means of an unspeakable and indescribable conjunction; and on this account more will be given them.

Now, let’s compare what was stated regarding Gnosticism with some more recent quotes. Notice the following quotation from Billy Graham in answer to the question, “Will I lose my salvation if I sin?”

When we do sin, God does not reject us or disown us. Our fellowship with Him may be broken, but our relationship is not; we are still members of His family if we have truly committed our lives to Christ”(h**p://www.billygraham.org/qna/qna.asp?i=484)

In response to another question, “How big a sin do you have to commit before you lose your salvation?” Billy Graham said:

I am convinced that once a person sincerely and honestly trusts Christ for his or her salvation, they become a member of God’s family forever — and nothing can change that relationship.(h**p://www.billygraham.org/qna/qna.asp?i=1777)

Edward Hiscox in “The Standard Manual for Baptist Churches” says it this way:

We believe that the scriptures teach that such as are truly regenerate, being born of the Spirit, will not utterly fall away and perish, but will endure unto the end; that their persevering attachment to Christ is the grand mark which distinguishes them from superficial professors; that a special Providence watches over their welfare; and that they are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation (Hiscox, pg. 67, 1939).

The Westminster Confession of Faith states regarding the perseverance of the saints:

I. They whom God hath accepted in his Beloved, effectually called and sanctified by his Spirit, can neither totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace; but shall certainly persevere therein to the end, and be eternally saved.II. This perseverance of the saints depends, not upon their own free-will, but upon the immutability of the decree of election, flowing from the free and unchangeable love of God the Father; upon the efficacy of the merit and intercession of Jesus Christ; the abiding of the Spirit and of the seed of God within them; and the nature of the covenant of grace; from all which ariseth also the certainty and infallibility thereof.

III. Nevertheless they may, through the temptations of Satan and of the world, the prevelancy of corruption remaining in them, and the neglect of the means of their perseverance, fall into grievous sins; and for a time continue therein: whereby they incur God’s displeasure, and grieve his Holy Spirit; come to be deprived of some measure of their graces and comforts; have their hearts hardened, and their consciences wounded; hurt and scandalize others, and bring temporal judgments upon themselves.

The point of these quotations is not to prove that Calvinists teach this doctrine, because they freely admit it. The point is to show the similarities between what the Gnostics taught and what Calvinists teach. There are some differences, but the essence of the teaching is the same.

  • If a person is saved, it is not by means of his own conduct, but on account of his nature. While Gnostics and Calvinists differ in the origin of that nature, the doctrine is still the same. Gnostics say that it is due to a special spiritual nature. Calvinists say that they are infused by the nature of Christ.
  • One is saved on account of one’s election to be saved. The Gnostics said that they were of the “elect seed.” Calvinists say that they are elected by God. Both agree that being elected precludes their actions from affecting that election in a negative way.
  • While one may willfully sin in the flesh, that does not affect the relationship that one has to God and salvation. The third part of the Westminster Confession of Faith (as quoted above) makes it plain that Christians may even live in sinfulness, yet not affect their salvation. The Gnostics just went one step further and stated that it was their desire and practice to do so.
  • Grace overcomes all sins regardless of the individual’s attitude toward sin. Calvinists state that grace is irresistible and the Christian cannot help but fall under it. Gnostics say that regardless how much sin they willingly commit, grace flows upon them freely for every sin they commit.
  • Both agree that there is nothing that can cause the one who is saved to lose their salvation. Gnostics take this to the ultimate conclusion and pursue their own lusts and passions without constraint. Calvinists, however, take another approach. They say that the Christian who is saved generally won’t choose to live like that, even though if they did, they couldn’t lose their salvation. In essence giving mere lip service to practicing righteousness.

The parallels are striking. How many times have we heard the person who believes in this doctrine of “once saved, always saved” say that the child of God cannot fall from grace? How many times have we heard those who believe this doctrine say that the child of God cannot lose their spirituality? How many times have we heard them say that the child of God cannot sin in such a way so as to lose his salvation? The similarities between this form of Gnosticism and the doctrine of “Once saved, always saved” are too numerous to ignore.

It was indeed the teaching and practice of the apostles to reject the doctrines of Gnosticism, including this doctrine. The book of Colossians was written by Paul in rejection of Gnosticism. John’s account of the gospel of Christ and his epistle of 1 John were also written as a response to the doctrines of Gnosticism, and particularly, 1 John was written to refute the idea of once saved, always saved. One cannot honestly read through this book and ignore that conclusion. In addition, the following passages in the New Testament clearly indicate that Christians may sin so as to fall from grace: Galatians 5:4; Hebrews 6:4-6; Hebrews 10:26; 2 Peter 2:20-22.

If you know of someone who believes this doctrine, then I urge you to take this article to them, invite them to study it with you and help them to come to understand that believing this doctrine is not in harmony with God’s word. If one truly believes this doctrine they will be eternally lost, because they will not regard sin as the awful and terrible thing that it truly is. A Christian may be forgiven after having committed sin based upon repentance and confession, but one will not be forgiven while actively pursuing a life of sin. Yes, friends, the Christian can so sin as to fall from grace.

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The Nature of Biblical Edification

What does it mean to be edified? Without doing a scientific survey, my guess is that most people would say that being edified means to be encouraged, to make to feel better, or to have a more positive attitude. So, I did some searching on the Internet to see if my guess was accurate or not. I found that the majority of the time, the word is used in the sense of encourage or be made to feel better. However, when I looked into an English dictionary, I found the following definition. “Edify: enlighten, to improve the morals or knowledge of somebody.” Another dictionary said this. “Edify: to instruct or improve spiritually.” Does this surprise you? Do you think of being instructed as edification? Do you think of gaining new knowledge when you are edified?

In going back to the Greek language and looking at the word, we find that it comes from a word that means to build, erect, or set up one thing or another. The word was originally used to describe the founding and construction of a house. So it literally meant to build a place of dwelling out of construction materials. The original sense of the word can still be found in our language today in the word edifice, a building. However, in the New Testament, the word is often used metaphorically of imparting wisdom to another person. That is, instructing another person with words that can be understood and applied to life. While today the word may be used in the sense of encourage or make someone to feel good (that is, from a purely emotional point of view), that is generally not the way that it was used within the New Testament.

One of the reasons I wanted to think about the proper way this word was employed in the New Testament, is that there are some today who claim to do things in worship to God on the grounds that those things are edifying. That is, I have heard people say that the use of instrumental music within the worship is edifying, and so it must be a good thing. Could we justify instrumental music (or anything else, for that matter) based upon the idea that we are emotionally moved or stirred? Could we justify adding an additional element to God’s worship under the banner of “edification?” Is this biblical edification?

There is no doubt that the Bible clearly teaches us to follow after things that edify. Romans 14:19 states, “Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another.” 1 Thessalonians 5:11 states, “Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, even as also ye do.” And in 2 Corinthians 12:19, Paul says “…we do all things for your edifying.” However, we also read that not everything that is lawful is something that edifies. Paul writes in 1 Cor.10:23, “All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not.” This leads us to ask the question: what are the kinds of things that truly do edify?

In 1 Corinthians 14, Paul deals with the problem of the Christians at Corinth speaking in unknown tongues without the presence of an interpreter. In contrast to the one who speaks in an unknown tongue, Paul states in verse 3, “But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort.” In essence Paul is saying that the unknown tongue does not edify, but prophesy does edify. He reiterates these thoughts in verses 5 and 12, and then in verse 17 he states, “For thou verily givest thanks well, but the other is not edified.” The point that I am bringing out here is that in order for something to edify, it must have meaning. Not in the sense of emotion or feeling, but in the sense of the understanding of the intellect. That is, if something is not intelligible or comprehendible by the intellect, then it cannot edify. True edification can only come through a situation where knowledge and instruction is imparted with the attitude of love.

Let us note Ephesians 4:11-16. These verses speak concerning the subject of edification of the body of Christ. Verse 12 tells us that one reason God gave the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers was for the edifying of the body of Christ. Each of these offices are special in that God uses them to instruct and teach. Verse 13 tells us that this instruction and teaching has as its object, imparting the knowledge of Christ. Verse 15 says it is about speaking the truth in love. One cannot be edified without love (1 Corinthians 8:1). Verse 16 reiterates that instruction and teaching are for the purpose of edifying. Truth, knowledge, instruction, and love are all things that are associated with edifying. We learn then, that edification comes through the avenue of words when conjoined with the motivation of love on the part of the one edifying. Biblical edification inherently involves communication. Wordless expressions of emotion, feeling, or any other element which produces an incomprehensible sound cannot edify. Speaking the truth in love, however results in godly edifying (1 Timothy 1:4).

Playing an instrument of music is something that is aesthetically beautiful, stirring, and uplifting, but it cannot edify; it cannot impart knowledge; it cannot instruct. Only the use of verbal communication when combined with spiritual words and an attitude of love can accomplish this task. Knowledge alone does not accomplish this task. Knowledge separated from love does not edify, it merely puffs up (1 Corinthians 8:1). However, biblical edification is the loving impartation of spiritual instruction designed to build up the wisdom, knowledge, and understanding of the student to the motivation of accomplishing the work of the kingdom.

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Pattern Theology

The plea of churches of Christ today is to restore New Testament Christianity into the lives of as many as will receive the gospel message. It is not sufficient to merely preach the gospel, without expecting those who claim to believe it to restore to their lives the truth that is contained within that gospel. To this end, the churches of Christ preach and teach that the gospel contains all of the information that we need to do this (2 Peter 1:3; 2 Timothy 3:17). This revealed information constitutes a pattern whereby those that conform to it and abide by it restore New Testament Christianity into their life. It is with this pattern that we are concerned in this particular study.

There are those today who say that the New Testament contains no such pattern and in so affirming, also must affirm the impossibility of restoration. If there is no pattern, then certainly one cannot restore New Testament Christianity. However, if the New Testament does contain such a pattern, then not only is restoration of New Testament Christianity possible, we must restore it to be pleasing to God. Hence, the plea of the churches of Christ today rests upon this one pivotal question; namely, does the New Testament contain a pattern of information, whereby when we conform to that pattern we have restored New Testament Christianity?

Jesus tells us that there is a pattern. In explaining the Parable Of The Sower, Jesus says, “The seed is the word of God” (Luke 8:11). From examining this parable we take Jesus to mean that the proverbial seed refers to God’s word, and that the word of God, as illustrated within the parable, has the properties of a seed. Just what are the properties of a seed? We recognize that a seed contains everything within it to restore the plant from which it came. There is a pattern within a seed which nature follows to restore from that seed a living and breathing organism. We don’t expect that a seed with the pattern of an apple tree would restore an orange tree, and vice versa. We expect a seed that contains the pattern of an apple tree, when that pattern is followed by nature, to restore an apple tree. So is the word of God. When individuals follow God’s word, restoring to life out of that word what God put into it, they will find themselves conforming to a pattern that will create what God desires it to create, namely, a Christian. In so doing, they will find that they have restored what God placed into His word. With such, God will be pleased.

The opposite of this is that when we neglect the word of God in such a way so as to remove part of God’s pattern or even to add other things to God’s pattern, we will not get what God desires and God will not be pleased. One of the lessons that we learn in this regard comes from Cain and Abel. We remember the story. Cain was a tiller of the ground and Abel was a shepherd. Cain offered in worship to God from the fruit of the ground, but Abel brought of the firstlings of his flock. God had respect toward Abel’s worship, but God was not pleased with the worship of Cain (Genesis 4:1-5). Why was it that God was pleased with Abel’s worship, but not with Cain’s? The book of Hebrews helps us to understand the answer. Hebrews 11:4 states, “By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts: and by it he being dead yet speaketh.” 1 John 3:12 also helps us to understand; this passage says that Cain’s works were evil, but Abel’s were righteous. How could Abel’s works be righteous? Had not Abel sinned and fallen from God? How could Abel present a work of righteousness before God? We must conclude that God instructed Abel in how to please Him. Abel heard God’s word and presented that offering by faith, for faith comes by hearing God’s word (Romans 10:17). It was thus that Abel had a pattern from God. No doubt, Cain had been told of this same pattern; Cain simply did not follow it. By not following it, Cain offered worship that was according to his own righteousness and not pleasing to God. We learn from this not only that Abel followed a pattern, but also that fallen man needs a pattern so as not to present to God a righteousness of his own.

To illustrate this further, we turn to Adam and Eve. Prior to Adam and Eve’s fall, man was in about as patternless a state as man could ever be. There was but one law by which to abide, and as long as man abode by that law, he could do any other thing he wanted to do and live forever and never be displeasing to God. Once, however, man fell, man no longer could please God with just any behavior. It became necessary for God to tell man what to do in order for man to please God. This necessitated God’s creation and delivery of a pattern to man. This is illustrated for us in Adam’s attempt to clothe himself after the fall. Standing naked before God he attempted to cover himself and woefully failed. God, however, made coats out of animal skins and thus covered man’s nakedness and established the divine pattern for so doing. In this pattern we see man’s dependence upon God for righteousness. When we follow God’s pattern for that righteousness, man is covered. Without it, man stand’s naked.

Man’s failures at his own coverings transfer to his attempts at worship as well. We have already illustrated this in the story of Cain and Abel. Because man could not approach God with a righteousness of his own, this necessitated God delivering a pattern for worship. Fallen man cannot present worship to God without some kind of God given pattern of worship. Since that time it has been universally true that when man by faith presents the pattern of worship that God has given, man lives within God’s righteousness. However, should man step outside of that pattern and act on his own in worship to God, man creates a righteousness after his own pattern and not after God’s pattern. In so creating his own pattern, man can never truly restore God’s order of things. However, if man humbles himself, goes back to the pattern of God, and follows that pattern, beautiful restoration occurs. This is true in matters concerning worship, salvation, the organization of the church, the behavior of Christians, and many other things whereby we, as man, must approach God.

Today, the blood of Christ has dedicated the pattern of things which God has given us to approach Him (Hebrews 9:23, 24). This means that the pattern is pure and holy and that when one follows it in faith, one can approach God in purity and holiness with boldness (Hebrews 10:19-22). When we so follow the pattern we will restore the things God wishes for us to restore in our lives. When we fail to follow that pattern, we do err and like Cain, do that which is evil. Let us not be about the business of approaching God based upon a righteousness of our own, but let us hold the pattern of sound words (2 Timothy 1:13) and thereby approach God in His righteousness.

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