Several years ago, I was talking with my best friend Mason. His dad is the pastor at a church in Southside, and I have a lot of respect for him and his ministry. Funnily enough, his church is the first and only instrumental service I have attended where I wasn’t a keynote speaker at a lectureship. It was at that service that I realized that my charges of instrumentalists being irreverent or showing off were totally incorrect despite my continued preference for a cappella.
Anyway, Mason, knowing my background in the Churches of Christ, asked if I believed in “once saved always saved.” Typically, I would respond with a hard “no” and talk about false teachings or whatever. But this time I had a new idea. You see, Mason, like I said, is my best friend, and the literal hundreds of hours we’ve spent playing disc golf, skateboarding, and gaming together mean a lot to me. They helped me through some rough times and a particularly difficult summer and fall.
After all, once you’ve carried your best friend to the emergency room twice to have his chin stitched up after two skateboarding incidents, you have a lot of respect for each other.
So, instead of condemning him, his dad’s church, and everyone else I disagree with, I asked him to clarify what he meant.
After explaining his position and clarifying what he did not mean, I couldn’t help but agree with his ultimate conclusion: the person who believes in Jesus and tries to follow him is saved and has nothing to fear despite their humanity and natural mess-ups.
But I want to take this to another level by further defining some terms.
What does it mean to be saved? Typically, we look at salvation as binary: you are either saved or you are not. In some passages, this view is expressed, but in others, salvation is pictured as a journey, an ongoing thing as one matures through the Spirit. 2 Peter 1, 1 Corinthians 15:3, and other passages talk about the process of sanctification.
But without getting into exegesis and theology, let me simply give an illustration:
I love my son Cayden more than I can describe. I could never intentionally bring harm to him. There have been times when we play together that I might accidentally bonk him or he may fall down chasing me, but I could never ever intentionally hurt him. I, as any parent has, have also had to tell him “no” which causes him to cry and, despite breaking my heart, it’s ultimately for his own good.
But intentionally hurt? It isn’t possible. You might even say, “Once loved always loved.”
Hang on a second, though. I am somewhere between 5’11” and 6’0″ depending on what DMV or doctor’s office I’m at. I am not the strongest guy, but compared to a toddler, I’m Hercules. Is it physically possible for me to harm my son?
But. It. Will. Never. Happen.
Why? Because of my love for him.
Now, let’s get back to faith. My love for God, Jesus, the Spirit, and my church family is so intense that I will never step away from Jesus. Is it technically possible for me to abandon my family, leave faith behind, and live however I want? I mean, yeah.
But. It. Will. Never. Happen.
I hear some preachers say, “We are all sinners.”
We are? Now, it’s true that I was at one point a sinner, but there’s a “but.”
But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.Ephesians 2:4–7
A sinner leads a life of sin. That describes my former life. While I occasionally mess up, and maybe not occasionally, I am not a sinner. I happen to sin sometimes, but those sins do not define me. I have been saved. I have been redeemed. I am part of a new creation.
And because I have been transformed in this way, I will always be saved.
And that’s what I mean by “once saved always saved.” It is not “cheap grace.” It is not a “golden ticket into heaven.” It is based on the fact that I have been so radically transformed by the love of Jesus that there is nothing on earth that will come between myself and him.
Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, “FOR YOUR SAKE WE ARE BEING PUT TO DEATH ALL DAY LONG; WE WERE CONSIDERED AS SHEEP TO BE SLAUGHTERED.” But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.Romans 8:35–39
So, I believe we are “once saved always saved” but not because of a price Jesus paid, but because of a transformation we’ve experienced after coming in contact with his sacrificial love which he demonstrated through the Cross. In other words, it isn’t a default position we have legally; it’s because of who he has made us to be through his love.