“Once saved, always saved.” This phrase commonly describes our security in salvation. When God saves a person, the person is born again, and can never lose his or her salvation. Amen, no problem, and hallelujah!
However, I wonder if this phrase also encourages a limited, restricted, or one-dimensional view of salvation? Let me ask it this way, when does salvation occur? Think about your salvation. Once saved, always saved starting in 2001 for me. In rehab ministry, I consistently heard drunks and druggies tell me they were saved when, “I was 5 years old and prayed a prayer. ‘Once saved always saved, right pastor!'” “Well sir,” I replied, “Does a saved person get hooked on drugs for 10 years not acting like a Christian?” “I prayed a prayer, once I was saved, I’m saved.” hmmm . . . .
Is it possible, “Once saved, always saved” contributes to a life-insurance policy view of salvation? You know, I bought term, it’s automatically deducted from my account, and I never have to think about my families future if something happens to me! Once bought, always owned!
I have no problem with “Once saved, always saved” if used to describe God’s preserving believers from the beginning of salvation to glorification. But I fear its use among evangelicalism is a reduced, simmered down, anemic view of salvation that overemphasizes the past action while failing to account for the present and future aspects of salvation. Has the present and future aspects of salvation been lost? All three aspects are equally true. For I was saved, I am being saved, and I will be saved. Well, which one is it preacher boy? It’s all of the above ma’am; “both / and.”
I was saved.
Paul says, “Even when we were dead in our transgressions, [God] made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), . . . For by grace you have been saved through faith” (Eph 2:5 & 8). In both verses Paul uses the perfect aspect for “saved.” The Greek perfect highlights the past tense of the action with continued results. In both verses salvation is a past action. At one point in history a believer was not a believer. In fact, she, like everyone else, was a walking dead person. Dead in her transgressions needing to be brought to life by Christ. (See, you don’t need to watch The Walking Dead to witness zombies). But at one moment in a believer’s life, God makes us alive. One moment dead then, poof, made alive and saved. It is perfectly legitimate to think of salvation as a past action. But God doesn’t stop there.
I am being saved.
Not only was I saved, but Paul says I am being saved (1 Cor. 1:18; 2 Cor. 2:15). “Being saved” is a present passive participle highlighting and magnifying the continual, habitual action of God saving believers every day. Whereas the perfect emphasizes past action, the present emphasizes today, at this moment.
In fact, this same continual habitual action is applied to the doctrine of justification. Lest we think of justification as purely a past action, consider Romans 3:24. God says, Believers are “being justified.” Yes, “being made right” every day. The doctrine we so often think of as purely a past action, has a present, ongoing nature to it. “Being justified” is a present passive participle (same force and nuance as “being saved” in 1 Cor. 1:18). So God continually saves and justifies believers.
Confused? Frustrated? Dumbfounded? Me too. But put it in the theological pipe and smoke it for bit. Wrestle with it. Pray about it. And yet, here I am, forced to say, Scripture is clear. I am being justified. It doesn’t negate past salvation or remove future salvation, it just simply is one aspect to salvation. It’s one piece in the salvation pie.
Incorporated into the present aspect is the need to persevere to the end. “But wait, God preserves believers!” Of course He does. No biblical exegete can deny His preservation and protection. Phil 1:6, “He who begins a good work in you, He will complete it.” Amen.
But there are other texts in Scripture clearly emphasizing the believers need to persevere: Phil 2:16, Hebrews 3:7-14, and Col 1:23. All of them emphasize the need to finish, endure, and hold fast to reach the end. Hebrews 3:6-14 is my favorite, but specifically 3:6 and 14, “But Christ was faithful as a Son over His house — whose house we are, if we hold fast our confidence and the boast of our hope firm until the end. . . . For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end.”
Both verses grammatically, lexically, and contextually emphasize my need to endure and hold fast to Christ so that I can be in His house with future eternal life. Usually when teaching, someone raises his or her hand and says, “God preserves believers.” Of course He does. But do you see that in the text? Did God start to say, “Believer endure” then caveat it with, “But I preserve believers?” No. Why? Because it’s not the point.
The point here, for believers: endure, run the race, stay obedient and faithful. Apparently Paul and authors felt comfortable enough with the doctrine they weren’t scared or feel the need to caveat the truth that believers endure to the end. We persevere. Paul didn’t feel in danger of teaching salvation by works. And by the way, the doctrine of perseverance isn’t salvation by works. My works have no salviffic value what-so-ever. Phil 3:7-11, All things are rubbish compared to Christ! He provides my right standing.
Christ saves (present aspect) me.
I will be saved.
The future is now and yet it is not now. God will save me. “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom 10:9). My salvation has a future fulfillment. Right now I am not in my glorified body. If I were, I could eat more carbs and run less. When I die or Christ returns, I will receive a glorified eternal body. Right now, I gain weight and gray hairs, have achy joints, can’t eat spicy food after 6pm, and sin. But I can bank on this future promise. God has already granted me this promise and I, like those mentioned in Hebrews 11, look forward to the day when faith becomes sight and the promise turns into reality. God secures believers’ salvation, and complete fulfillment awaits. I am already saved but not yet saved.
The salvation pie contains a past, present, and future piece to it. Should we change our terminology? “Once saved, being saved, and will be saved.” Maybe we can just not forget there is more to the story than the catch phrase alludes too??