The Once Saved Always Saved Myth

A book by John Calvin that represents his once-saved-always-saved doctrine.

Adam’s and Eve’s fall from grace proves once saved always saved is false and, even worse, it creates a false god.

Some Protestant denominations, especially those of the Calvinist tradition, teach that once a person is justified by grace, that person will never lose their justification. Their doctrine of eternal security is colloquially known as “once saved always saved.” These Protestants go so far as to teach that nothing the believer does will cause them to lose their justification.

An article at Got Questions, a popular Protestant apologetics website, states, “…when people come to know Christ as their Savior, they are brought into a relationship with God that guarantees their salvation as eternally secure.” The major problem for proponents of this manmade tradition (Mk 7:8) is that at least one iron-clad case of persons who were once saved, yet not always saved exists – the case of Adam and Eve.

The Iron-Clad Case

God created Adam and Eve full of grace. We know this for a few reasons: 1) God created man in His own image and likeness (Gen 1:26); 2) God gave man the capacity to receive grace; 3) after God created man, He looked across creation and said it was “very good” (Gen 1:31); and 4) God created man to live forever (Genesis 2:17).

First, God, who is spirit and grace, created man in His image and likeness, which means God gave man finite spiritual qualities that mirror His attributes. For instance, God is infinite power, truth, and love, and He gives humans finite power, truth, and love. Similarly, God is grace, and He communicates grace to those whom He designed for its reception for the purpose of making them spiritually alive. To emphasize this point, Genesis 2:7 says that man became a living soul (see also 1 Cor 15:45).

Since God made everything perfect in the beginning (deficiencies came about because of the Fall), and humans must be full of grace to be perfect, God fully infused Adam’s and Eve’s souls with sanctifying grace. Since grace perfects man, God’s creation of the first two humans without grace defies reason. Rather, God made Adam and Eve full of grace because He designed their perfect souls for grace. And they had not not inclined themselves toward sin that would have impeded their souls’ reception of grace.

Second, God justifies us with His grace by giving us a soul He designed to receive it. If God did not infuse Adam’s and Eve’s souls with grace at the moment of prelapsarian (before the Fall) creation, He would have made them without something that He clearly designed their souls to receive. If He made them with the capacity to receive grace but did not give it to them, He would have made them with a defect. Therefore, God made them with grace. In other words, God created Adam and Eve in a state of friendship with Him. He did not create them as enemies. To be God’s friend, sanctifying grace is necessary. Therefore, God gave them sanctifying grace at the moment He created them.

Continuing this line of reasoning, since sanctifying grace is necessary for friendship with God, if had God made man without sanctifying grace in his soul, then God would have made man as His enemy. However, after God made man, He looked across creation and declared it “very good.” But if God made man as His enemy, then man was not good at all. Therefore, God made man with sanctifying grace.

Third, before God created man, He looked at His physical creation and declared it “good.” But after He created man, He looked across creation and declared it “very good.” Thus, man had something in addition to the natural that allowed God to declare this. If God had created man with merely natural qualities, He would have simply declared him “good” like He did with the rest of creation.

But God gave man something that not only made him very good but made all of creation very good. This something was grace, which was God’s supernatural life and love that He communicated to Adam and Eve for the sake of a loving relationship with Him and perfect dominion over creation. The Christian tradition has called this the state of perfect harmony between the Creator and His creation Original Justice.

Fourth, God told Adam, and Eve by proxy, that they were not to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil or they would die. The implication here is that Adam and Eve would have lived forever had they not eaten from this tree. So, God created man to live forever, but man lost life after he ate from the tree. Although Adam and Eve lost physical life much later (Gen 5:1-5), God removed them from the Garden (Paradise) immediately because they lost spiritual life instantly. Since their souls were out of communion with God, God did not allow them to remain in the paradise He created for them.

So, God undoubtedly created Adam and Eve in and with grace; they were definitely “once saved.” However, when they chose to eat from the tree, they lost grace, and sold themselves to death. God then removed them from Paradise and issued other punishments. God did not “always save” them. Thus, once saved always saved is false.

Once Saved Always Saved Rebuttals

Protestants who subscribe to this erroneous doctrine employ numerous Bible verses to defend their position. The remainder of this article will discuss their most popular arguments and expose their defects.

Based on a small survey of Protestant apologetics websites, Romans 8:29-30 seems to be one of their favorite passages. St. Paul writes, “For those whom [God] foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son in order that he might be the first-born among many brethren. And those whom He predestined He called; and those whom He called He justified; and those whom He justified he also glorified” (RSV-CE). At first glance, the once-saved-always-saved (OSAS) Protestant seems to have a selected a solid passage to support their doctrine but notice that they need one word for their argument to work. And that word is “only.”

The Romans’ passage does not say that God only calls and justifies those whom He predestines. In fact, Jesus says, “For many are called, but few are chosen” (Mat 22:14). And St. Paul, who admonished some in the church at Galatia for returning to the old law, writes, “You are severed from Christ…; you have fallen away from grace” (Gal 5:4). These believers were in Christ but then severed themselves; they were justified and then fell away. Now, the ones whom God glorified He also justified, called, predestined, and foreknew. But the Romans’ passage nowhere states that every person whom God calls and justifies remains in their justification.

Further, this passage outlines a trajectory from foreknowledge to glorification, and Paul is merely illustrating how one who is glorified is eternally foreknown and predestined. He is not saying that God calls and justifies only those who will be glorified. God foreknows all who will be glorified, and He predestines for Heaven based on His foreknowledge (and grace). The idea that every person whom God calls and justifies will make it to Heaven is foreign to this passage.

We find another favored verse of the OSAS crowd just a few verses later in Romans 8:33, which states, “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.” This verse, like the previous verses, is completely true, but OSAS proponents misunderstand and misapply it. This verse says that the elect will make it to Heaven, which is true. But it does not say or even remotely imply that only the elect will be justified at some point in their earthly lives. Instead, Jesus says that many will lose their justification (see Mat 13:18-23).

(By the way, these same folks believe in the Bible alone, but because of this, they ultimately have no way of refuting a Catholic’s interpretation of these verses or the Catholic Church’s teachings. They are like cars stuck in the mud, spinning their wheels but going nowhere. They need someone to pull them out but reject anyone who is willing to help.)

For brevity’s sake, I will provide a few more OSAS-used Bible verses without quoting them, and then I will provide brief clarifications.

The Gospel of John, 10:28-29, does not say that only the sheep will hear Jesus’ voice or that some who are justified cannot leave Jesus’ “hand.”

John 3:3 does not say that a born-again Christian does not or cannot leave Christ.

John 3:15 does not say that believers in Christ do not or cannot stop believing in Christ.

Romans 8:38-39 does not say that we cannot stop loving God. Certainly, nothing can separate us from God’s love, but we can stop loving Him. God loves all His creation, even Satan. But Satan definitively separated himself from God through his own hatred. Incidentally, Satan provides us with more proof that once saved always saved is false. Satan was an angel whom God created full of grace, but he chose to rebel against God and eternally separate himself from Him.

Ephesians 1:11-14 does not say that a person cannot walk away from their destiny in Christ or the Holy Spirit’s guarantee.

Proof Texts Against Once Saved Always Saved

After understanding the flimsy logic upon which eternal security stands, one might wonder if a proof text exists for the Catholic teaching that a person can lose their justification (i.e., conditional security). Indeed, such a text exists in John 15:1-10.

Jesus tells us, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch of mine that bears no fruit, He takes away…,” and, “If a man does not abide in me, he is cast forth as a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.”

Notice that Jesus is talking about branches that are part of and belong to Him (the true vine). Also, notice that Jesus gives them life (i.e., they are not withered). But, by rejecting grace, they fall away from Him and wither. If these people were not justified, they would not have been one of Jesus branches. But Jesus is clear that they were His and had life. So, they were once saved. However, these branches that God made alive with grace fell away, withered, and burned. They were certainly not always saved.

Galatians provides another proof text. As I alluded to earlier, Galatians is one of the critical Pauline letters for understanding St. Paul’s teaching on predestination. In Galatians 3, Paul continues to reprove the Galatians for turning away from their faith (an admonition he begins in chapter 1 verse 6). Paul asks, “Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun with the Spirit, are you now ending with the flesh” (3:2-3)? Then, Paul writes, “…for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (3:26-27).

Paul’s language is unmistakable. The Galatians were justified by faith and baptism. They had put on Christ, but they fell away. Paul was perplexed that the Galatians were turning back to the old law and warned them not to continue abandoning the faith. His perplexity makes no sense under the OSAS doctrine. Then, to those who seek justification through the old law, he builds on this insight by telling them, “You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen from grace” (Gal 5:4). Immediately after that, in verse 7, he adds, “You were running well; who hindered you for obeying the truth?”

Clearly, St. Paul was expressing his frustration with those in Galatia who had left or were leaving Christ and the Church. According to OSAS thinking, their falling away was impossible because Paul – whom the Holy Spirit guided when he wrote these words – firmly believed the Galatians were justified, that is, they were “once saved.” If this was the case, the OSAS crowd would have us believe they must have been “always saved.” However, being led by the same Holy Spirit, Paul later wrote that they severed themselves from Christ and fell from grace after “running well” (Gal 5:4,7). In reality, they were not always saved.

More Passages

While some are indeed “once saved, always saved,” that is, they are justified and remain in their justification for eternity, others are justified and later reject their justification. Still others reject their justification and return to it by grace and repentance. The following verses provide positive evidence for this:

Verses about falling away from justification: Ezekiel 18:24-26, Romans 11:22-23, 1 Timothy 4:1, 2 Corinthians 11:3, Galatians 4:9, 2 Peter 2:17-22, and Mark 4:1-20.

Verses about returning to justification after falling away: 1 John 2:1, Galatians 6:1, Acts 8:13-24, and Revelation 2:5.

The bottom line is that God foreknows every person whom He predestines for Heaven. This predestination is based on God’s foreknowledge, grace, and man’s response to grace. God eternally knows every person who will receive His grace and will ultimately enter Heaven, every person who will reject His grace and go to Hell, and every person who will receive His grace, reject it through sin, but ultimately return to His grace via repentance. God, who is Love and Truth, does all this by foreknowledge. 

OSAS Protestant Vs. Catholic Conclusions

Under the OSAS scheme, when a person commits sin, a chosen act that opposes grace, God continues to force His grace upon this person. Therefore, God overrides the person’s freewill decision to reject His grace. God, who is freewill, makes the person in His image and likeness, but when they use their God-given ability to choose sin, God ignores their decision and forces His grace upon them. Question: If God forces his grace upon some, and He wants to save all people, why not force it upon everyone? The following conclusion here should be obvious.

Since God made humans in His image and likeness of God, by removing human free will and cooperation with grace from the economy of salvation, we end up with a god who does not have free will and who forces people to Heaven or Hell.

A god who forces people to go Heaven or Hell is no god at all because force implies a need to dictate rather than to create and govern out of love and generosity. A god who needs to dictate clearly needs something. Whereas the true God needs nothing because He is eternally and infinitely perfect. So, the OSAS crowd wittingly or unwittingly creates a false god who needs to be a dictator and then they worship this false god. They make themselves idolators and agents of Satan.

Conversely, Catholics worship the Father who loves us into being and makes us all in His image and likeness. He eternally knows who will go to Heaven and who will go to Hell, but He does not force them to either destiny at any point during their earthly journey. In other words, He never overrides our freewill. Rather, He wants everyone to be with Him in Heaven (Jn 12:32, Jn 1:7, 2 Pt 3:9, 1 Tim 2:4, and 1 Jn 2:2), but being made in His image and likeness, He gives us freewill and choice.

This article was originally published at Catholic365.