Once Saved, Always Saved — AGAIN! and AGAIN! and AGAIN!
by Jack Cottrell (Notes) on Tuesday, July 12, 2011 at 9:47am
The fifth point of the “five points of Calvinism”— the P in TULIP— is the Perseverance (or Preservation) of the saints, more commonly known as “once saved, always saved” (“OSAS”). This doctrine originated with Augustine (died A.D. 430) and is currently believed by millions of both Calvinists and non-Calvinists. On the other hand, those who reject OSAS as a false doctrine call attention to many Biblical texts that seem to teach or imply that believers can lose their faith and their salvation, e.g., John 15:6; Romans 11:19-22; 1 Corinthians 9:27; Galatians 5:4; Hebrews 3:12; 6:4-8; 2 Peter 2:20-21.
How do OSAS defenders interpret such texts? They approach them in three different ways. One, such texts are said to be hypothetical only. God presents the possibility of falling away as if it could be true, in order to motivate us to holy living; but in reality it can never happen. This is how one of my professors at Westminster Seminary interpreted the whole book of Hebrews. The main flaw with such an approach is that it requires God to be deceptive at best and cruel at worst. This view simply cannot stand close scrutiny.
A second approach is that such texts do not say that a person is losing his salvation as such, but is only losing his heavenly rewards. You still get to go to heaven, but “no crown for you!” The third approach is to say that these texts are referring to persons who were not truly saved to begin with. Such persons profess faith in Jesus but are “Christians” only externally; their hearts are never truly surrendered to Jesus.
In this brief essay I will show that there is absolutely no validity to these last two explanations of persons who appear to have “fallen from grace.” I will call attention to a single English word that is used in three crucial Biblical texts relevant to this subject. This word, in my judgment, by itself completely undermines the whole false concept of OSAS. It is the simple word, “again.” The texts are Luke 15:24; Romans 11:23; and Hebrews 6:6.
The first of these texts occurs in the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32). This entire parable supports both the concept of a true falling from grace, and a true restoration of the fallen one. It starts with the prodigal son “alive in the Father’s house,” which is equivalent to being a true believer and member of Christ’s church. However, in the next stage the son is (spiritually) “dead in a far country,” having lost everything. He is still the father’s son, but he is a dead son. The final stage of the prodigal’s odyssey finds him “alive again in the father’s arms.” Here is what the father says when his prodigal son repents and returns home: “This my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found” (v. 24, ESV).
The key verb here is “alive again,” anazaō in the Greek. The zaō part of the verb means “to live, to come to life”; the prefix ana- has the force of “again.” The prodigal son, who was spiritually dead, has now become alive AGAIN. This shows two things. He cannot have become alive again if he had not already been alive at an earlier time. Also, he cannot have become alive again if he were not truly dead in the interim. This one word thus exposes the fallacy of the second and third attempts to explain away the Biblical teaching on a true falling from grace, as set forth above.
The second of the “again” texts is Romans 11:23. This is in the midst of Paul’s analogy of the olive tree, used to explain the transition from the Old Covenant administration to the New Covenant administration of the people of God. The Old Covenant began with its Abrahamic roots and grew into a tree, the branches of which were individuals of the Jewish nation. With the coming of the Messiah, the makeup of the tree was significantly altered as it was transformed into the New Covenant Church. Any of the original branches (individual Jews) who refused to believe in Jesus as the Messiah were broken off of the tree because of their unbelief (vv. 17-20). Any individual Gentiles (branches from wild olive trees) who believed in Jesus were grafted into the now-transformed tree; but Paul warns them that they too will be broken off if they cease to believe (vv. 17-22).
But what about the once-believing Jews who had been broken off because of their unbelief? “And they also, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again” (v. 23, NASB). Here the word “again” is the Greek word palin, the standard word for “again, once more, anew.” What does this imply? It shows first that these fallen, broken-off Jews cannot be grafted in AGAIN if they had not been a part of the tree in the first place. Thus the argument, “They were not really saved to begin with,” is shown to be false. Also, it shows that these fallen Jews were really fallen (broken off, separated from the tree), else the word “again” would not apply. Thus the argument, “They were not really lost; they had just lost out on their rewards,” is also shown to be false.
The third “again” text is from the crucial passage in Hebrews 6:4-8. Of course, the entire book of Hebrews presupposes the possibility of giving up one’s faith and falling from grace; the letter seems to be written for the express purpose of persuading some Hebrews (Jews) who had been converted to Christianity from changing their minds and returning to their original state. The passage at hand (6:4-8) shows what a terrible mistake this would be. Verses 4-6 specifically say, “For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame” (NASB).
For our purposes the key word again is “again” (Greek, palin) from verse 6, where it is said that for those who “have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance.” Is the inspired author here talking about persons who were saved to begin with? He actually goes to an extreme in vv. 4-5 to show that this is so; the descriptions given here can by no stretch of the imagination apply to unbelievers who are only pretending to believe. The statement in verse 6 then makes this even more clear. When the author speaks of renewing them AGAIN to repentance, this means that at one time they would have been in a state of repentance, which is the mind-set of a saved person. Thus they were truly once saved. Also, they could not be REnewed (anakainizō, “to renew, to restore”) AGAIN to repentance unless they had in the interim NOT been in a state of repentance. But this would mean that, after having once repented, they abandoned that repentance and thus became lost.
I believe it is clear that the use of the word “again” in these three texts is a death blow to the false notion of “once saved, always saved.”
[P.S. Can we say, in view of the Greek word in the last two of these three texts, that it is PALIN TO THE RESCUE?]