Regarding what the Bible teaches about “once saved always saved” and “predestination”
By Jim Leverich, June 2020
Have you ever had “blinders” come off when you were praying and studying the Bible? It happened to me a few years ago. Having attended mostly churches that were influenced by Calvinism for the last 30 years, the doctrines of “predestination” and “once saved always saved” were deeply engrained in me. Rarely in those years did I ever hear anyone bring up a different viewpoint, and those that did, I quickly dismissed as not knowing the truth.
After freeing me from alcohol addiction about six years ago, Jesus asked me to leave everything behind and follow Him. I knew that was possible, but I didn’t think He would actually do it. I left a high paying job, sold my house and most of my possessions and moved over 200 miles away. It was the most uncomfortable thing I’d ever done, but it turned out to be the most rewarding. I moved into a remote and beautiful campground, I was hired at a large Christian humanitarian organization — against incredible odds — and I met and became friends with several brothers and sisters in Christ.
While attending a small church in the area, I began to hear a completely different perspective on the subject of salvation than what I had been taught. Although knowledgeable and wise in many areas, I assumed that they were way off base in this one. I refused to consider any other teaching on the subject because I was certain that what I learned was the truth.
The thing about having blinders on is that I didn’t know I had them on. It took praying and asking God to show me. One day when I was praying and studying in my trailer at the campground, my eyes were suddenly opened. It was like having a thick layer of blinders ripped off. Even though I didn’t want to believe it, the truth about salvation came jumping out of the Bible at me. I wasn’t forced to accept God’s grace and I’m not forced to continue to follow Him. I can choose to return to the world and my old life, and forfeit my salvation. God doesn’t force us to do anything. From the book of Genesis through Revelation, the Bible tells us that we are given free will to either obey God or rebel against Him. To remove free will means to remove the possibility of love, which is why He created the universe in the first place.
Among the many doctrines of Calvinism is predestination. The following verses are used to justify this teaching:
”… just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will,” Ephesians 1:4-5 (This and all other verses used in this article are from the New King James Version)
“In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will…” Ephesians 1:11
“For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.” Romans 8:29-30
Did God predestine some of us to go to heaven and others to go to hell? On the surface, these verses seem to say exactly that. If I’m forced to go to hell, how can I be held accountable for my actions? Wouldn’t that make God responsible for sin if I’m forced to go to hell? Why not force Adam and Eve not to sin? Are some of my family members predestined for hell? If God’s grace for the elect is irresistible, and some of us are forced to choose Him, why not force everyone to choose Him?
What does the rest of the Bible say about this subject? The Bible is full of verses describing God’s character and His reasons for creating humans. Eternal life with Him has always been His intention for all of us, but we have to choose Him over this life; He doesn’t use force. The following verses describe this reality:
“The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” II Peter 3:9
This verse would not be true if He predestined some of us for hell. How could He not be willing that any should perish if He’s forcing some to perish?
“Say to them: ‘As I live,’ says the Lord God, ‘I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn, turn from your evil ways! For why should you die, O house of Israel?’” Ezekiel 33:11
If it doesn’t give Him pleasure when the wicked die, and He forces some to turn from evil, why not force all to turn from evil?
“Now a certain ruler asked Him, saying, ‘Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’ So Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. You know the commandments: “Do not commit adultery,” “Do not murder,” “Do not steal,” “Do not bear false witness,” “Honor your father and your mother.” ‘ And he said, ‘All these things I have kept from my youth.’ So when Jesus heard these things, He said to him, ‘You still lack one thing. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.’ But when he heard this, he became very sorrowful, for he was very rich.” Luke 18:18-23
In these verses, Jesus tells the rich young ruler that to inherit eternal life, he would have to give all of his money to the poor and follow Him. If he didn’t follow Jesus because he wasn’t predestined to follow Him, why did Jesus tell him he could if he gave his wealth to the poor?
The chapter continues: “And when Jesus saw that he became very sorrowful, He said, ‘How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.’” Luke 18:24-25
If predestination is true, and some have no choice but to be saved, why would it be so hard for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God? Why would having riches matter at all?
“Then Peter opened his mouth and said: ‘In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality. But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him.’” Acts 10:34-35
Sending some to heaven and some to hell shows partiality I’d say. In this verse, it also says, “WHOEVER fears Him and works righteousness is ACCEPTED by Him.”
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” John 3:16
Again, “WHOEVER” is used here to show God’s intention is that everyone would choose to spend eternity with Him by submitting their short earthly lives to Him.
“He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” I John 4:8
How could God be love if He forces some people to go to hell?
It’s easy to forget that time doesn’t exist to God. The Bible tells us the way it’s going to happen because, for God, it has already happened. The story is already written. If God controls everything, including our will, no one is responsible for anything they’ve done. All the evil that happens in the world is because God “wills” it to happen. When reading story after story in the Bible about God’s people committing terrible sins and suffering various consequences for them, this is clearly not the case. There are many verses that speak of God’s character and His reasons for creating us. If He were going to force some of us to turn to Him, He would not have had to die on the cross at all.
Once saved always saved
The doctrine of “Once saved always saved” is just like it sounds. It’s the belief that once you’ve been saved, nothing you do can change that. Those that hold to this doctrine argue, that if “predestination” is true, then “once saved always saved” is also true. Many verses are used to support this doctrine, yet many others state plainly that it is possible to forfeit salvation.
If salvation can be lost, doesn’t that make it about works instead of grace? Which is it?
The following verses are used by Calvinists to justify the doctrine of “once saved always saved”:
“In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise,” Ephesians 1:13
“There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.” Romans 8:1
These, and other verses, appear to prove that once we’re saved, we’re always saved. However, in light of the whole Bible, there is much more to it. We are commanded to abide, continue, persevere, and overcome. We would not have been commanded to do those things unless it was possible to do the opposite. Being seated with Christ, sealed with the Holy Spirit, free from condemnation and justified, only apply to us if we abide in Christ. If we choose not to, however, we have been given free will to choose to go back to the world and our old way of life.
This does not mean we can work our way to heaven. Not one person has ever passed the “good enough person” test. God’s standards are so high that hate is murder and lust is sexual immorality. No amount of good works can pay for even one sin we’ve ever committed. We have to bring an acceptable sacrifice to God to have all of our sins forgiven, and Jesus is the only acceptable sacrifice. A lifetime of good works would not even come close.
Romans 3:23 says, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
“ALL” means anyone that has ever lived…except Jesus.
In Galatians 5:3-4, Paul tells Galatian believers that it is false teachers who are telling them they need to be circumcised to be saved. “And I testify again to every man who becomes circumcised that he is a debtor to keep the whole law. You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.” Galatians 5:3-4
This is an example of returning to an old way of life that can save no one. Being justified by the law is impossible. Attempting to, by those who are saved by faith in Jesus, leads to falling from grace.
Most of the churches I’ve attended teach that accepting Jesus into our hearts and saying the sinner’s prayer is what it takes to get saved. In other words, after that Jesus takes it from there no matter how I live. There is no need to repent, leave my old life to follow Jesus, remove sin from my life or place God on the throne of my life. In fact, I felt encouraged not to do God’s work at times, to show that I was relying on Him for salvation. John 3:16 and other verses were used by these churches to teach that if you believe in Jesus, you’re saved.
In many instances, the Greek words used in the original Scriptures don’t have an exact English equivalent. The Greek word used for believe in this verse, “pisteuo,” has several meanings. One is “to commit unto.” Believing in Jesus means a lot more than just knowing that He is who He says He is. Satan, demons, Judas Iscariot and many other people know who Jesus is. The Bible is very clear that following Jesus is a life-long commitment to leaving our old lives behind and not going back to them. We must sacrifice this short, earthly life for eternal life with God.
Ephesians 2:8-9 says: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.”
That seems to contradict James 2:14, 17 which says: “What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”
James goes on to explain what the faith of Abraham and Rahab looked like. So the question is, what is saving faith and where does repentance come in? “Repent” and “believe” are found many times throughout scripture. It seems that the saving faith described above is not just a certain belief, it includes obedience.
Words like repent, abide, continue and persevere are used many times in the Bible to describe our journey of faith. Salvation does not remove free will from a person, as evidenced by many who have left the faith and returned to this world. The Holy Spirit uses conviction to bring us back to Him, but if we continue in rebellion, we will eventually harden our hearts to the point that we no longer feel conviction and we will be lost. There is no losing salvation and then getting it back again. Calvinists would say that a person who leaves the faith to return to their old life was never saved in the first place. Here are a few verses that make it clear that it takes a lifelong commitment to following Jesus to be saved:
“If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it — lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish?’ Or what king, going to make war against another king, does not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks conditions of peace. So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple.” Luke 14:26-33
In the verses above, Jesus tells us to consider the cost of choosing Him over our lives in this world and that it takes a lifelong commitment. That means removing myself from the throne of my life and placing God there.
“But he who received the seed on stony places, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no root in himself, but endures only for a while. For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles. Now he who received seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful.” Matthew 13:20-22
I’ve heard the argument that these verses from Matthew don’t say the ones who fell away were saved, but they couldn’t have borne fruit without first being saved.
“Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins.” James 5:19-20
Here, James is speaking to Christian brethren about a Christian’s soul dying.
“Therefore we must give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest we drift away. For if the word spoken through angels proved steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just reward, how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him.” Hebrews 2:1-3
If we neglect our salvation, we can drift away. That means, we must agree with God about what the sin is in our lives and remove it.
“Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; but exhort one another daily, while it is called ‘Today,’ lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end, while it is said: ‘Today, if you will hear His voice, Do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.’” Hebrews 3:12-15
In these verses in Hebrews, the author pleads with the readers not to harden their hearts the way the people of Israel did after God lead them out of Egypt. The message is addressed to brethren, meaning brothers and sisters in Christ. It states clearly, that after being saved, if we rebel against God and ignore the Holy Spirit’s conviction, we can harden our hearts and end up being lost.
“Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron.” I Timothy 4:1-2
Again, the Holy Spirit will use conviction to draw us back to Himself, but ignoring Him will eventually sear our conscience.
“And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him.” Hebrews 5:9
This does not leave the option of saying we believe in Him while continuing to ignore His commands.
“For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame.” Hebrews 6:4-6
The twist that I’ve heard used here is that the author of Hebrews doesn’t say “falling away” can actually happen. If that is the case, why warn the readers of the possibility?
“For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries. Anyone who has rejected Moses’ law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know Him who said, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord. And again, ‘The Lord will judge His people.’ It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” Hebrews 10:26-31
Again, the Bible makes it very clear, though, I’ve heard the argument that the author doesn’t say it’s possible to “sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth.” If it wasn’t possible, there would be no need for the many warnings about it.
“Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble.” II Peter 1:10
If the doctrines of “predestination” or “once saved always saved” were true, this would be another useless warning by Peter.
“But there shall by no means enter it anything that defiles, or causes an abomination or a lie, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.” Revelation 21:27
Only the names of those that are saved are written in the Book of Life.
“…and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.” Revelation 22:19
Would God warn us of something that is not possible?
“If anyone sees his brother sinning a sin which does not lead to death, he will ask, and He will give him life for those who commit sin not leading to death. There is sin leading to death. I do not say that he should pray about that.” I John 5:16
I’ve heard the argument that this verse must be referring to physical death, but since we all die, I now believe John was referring to the spiritual death of a believer.
Augustine was instrumental in influencing Christian thought from the 5th century on. John Calvin, Martin Luther and Catholic theology were all heavily influenced by him. Calvin and Luther both referred to Augustine when they were accused of teaching new doctrine by the Catholic church. Augustine was a Manichaen before he converted to Christianity. He combined some of the principles of Manichaeism with Christian theology and played a big part in steering the church away from the traditional teaching of the apostles and early church fathers. He taught free will for the first part of his ministry and later changed to teaching no free will.
Gnostics taught that everything was predestined by God to come to pass, a teaching that eliminates human free will. They taught that the material world is evil, therefore, Jesus only appeared to be in the flesh because the flesh is evil. Paul and John both refuted the Gnostic beliefs that were already creeping into the church in its very beginning. Manichaens formed a Gnostic group that believed the material world is bad but the immaterial world is good. This is an obvious contradiction with scripture, which tells us that after God made the world and humans, He said they were good. The Bible also tells us that spiritual beings, angels who started out good, rebelled against God. Before Augustine, the early church fathers unanimously believed in free will without any kind of irresistible grace. Many historians and theologians admit this.
The doctrines of “once saved always saved” and “predestination” can lead some to believe that there’s no need to repent, give up our old way of life, follow Jesus, battle the sin in our lives, put God on the throne instead of us, or do any of the work that God has prepared for us. Basically, we can live on our own terms and still receive eternal life. At the very least, this can cause a lack of motivation to do God’s work or to battle the sin in our lives. At worst, it can cause people to believe they’re saved when they really aren’t or to forfeit their salvation by going back to their old lives. This is not to say that anyone who holds to this doctrine isn’t saved, just that there are a lot of warnings in the Bible about not living a Christ-like life that should be carefully considered.
Not long ago, I would have adamantly argued that “once saved always saved” was true. I now realize that this was to justify not submitting my life to God, not removing the sin in my life and not following Jesus. Is it possible that you are doing the same thing? The single most important thing to consider during this life is where we are going to spend eternal life. It’s not worth sacrificing eternal life to be the god of our own short lives here on earth.