(All Bible quotations, unless otherwise stated, are from the English Standard Version)
“Once saved, always saved” is the mantra of those who believe in the eternal security of the saved. Proponents of this doctrine believe salvation is an eternal possession that cannot be lost for any reason. They believe one cannot be born again and later become “unborn again”; that one cannot become a child of God through the new birth experience and later become a child of the devil again, for whatever reason. What does the Bible say about this issue? Can a born again child of God backslide and be lost? Can someone who had once experienced salvation end up in hell? Let’s examine the Bible to answer these questions.
John 15:1 I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser.
John 15:2 Every branch of mine that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.
John 15:3 Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you.
John 15:4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.
John 15:5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.
John 15:6 If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.
The Lord Jesus, in the passage above, compared himself to a vine tree, and those who believe in him as branches of that tree. He went further to say that branches of that tree (believers) that aren’t fruitful would be cut off, and those believers that don’t abide in him would be cast away like dead branches of a tree that people gather for burning. If it’s not possible for believers who no longer abide in Christ to be cut off from him, why would he give this analogy of the relationship of believers (branches) to himself (the tree)? Remember that the Lord was addressing none other than the original twelve apostles here! (And, didn’t Judas Iscariot, who was among the twelve, end up being cut off and destroyed?). John the Baptist also used a similar analogy in his message to people who came to him for the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. He told them that God’s axe was at the root of every tree (symbolising God’s people here), and that any tree that didn’t bring forth good fruits would be cut down and cast into the fire. Jesus too used a similar metaphor when talking about false prophets and unfruitful believers in another passage. Surely, this cutting off and casting into the fire of bad-fruit bearing trees (and non-fruitful branches) can’t be referring to unconditional salvation for all believers? Surely, it can’t be validating the doctrine of “once saved, always saved”?
Matthew 3:8 Bear fruit in keeping with repentance.
Matthew 3:9 And do not presume to say to yourselves, We have Abraham as our father, for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.
Matthew 3:10 Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
Matthew 3:11 I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.
Matthew 3:12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.
Matthew 7:15 Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.
Matthew 7:16 You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?
Matthew 7:17 So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit.
Matthew 7:18 A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit.
Matthew 7:19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
Matthew 7:20 Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.
Matthew 7:21 Not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.
Matthew 7:22 On that day many will say to me, Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?
Matthew 7:23 And then will I declare to them, I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.
Scripture makes us understand that only those who believe and endure to the end shall be saved; that it’s possible to start off as a believer in Christ (saved), but get derailed along the way and get lost in the end. Some people will get saved, follow Christ and enjoy the benefits of salvation, and later draw back unto perdition (destruction). Christ threatened to remove a whole church out of its place, for abandoning its first love, if it didn’t repent and come back to where it fell from. Surely, the Lord wasn’t just making a vain threat? Surely, he meant what he said? We would be wise not to write off such remarks as empty threats! God does not mince words! He says what he means and he means what he says!
Matthew 10:16 Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.
Matthew 10:17 Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues,
Matthew 10:18 and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles.
Matthew 10:19 When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour.
Matthew 10:20 For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.
Matthew 10:21 Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death,
Matthew 10:22 and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.
Hebrews 6:4 For it is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit,
Hebrews 6:5 and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come,
Hebrews 6:6 if they then fall away, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.
Hebrews 10:32 But call to remembrance the former days, in which, after you were illuminated, you endured a great fight of afflictions;
Hebrews 10:33 Partly, whilst you were made a spectacle both by reproaches and afflictions; and partly, whilst you became companions of them that were so used.
Hebrews 10:34 For you had compassion of me in my bonds, and took joyfully the spoiling of your goods, knowing in yourselves that you have in heaven a better and an enduring substance.
Hebrews 10:35 Cast not away therefore your confidence, which has great recompense of reward.
Hebrews 10:36 For you have need of patience, that, after you have done the will of God, you might receive the promise.
Hebrews 10:37 For yet a little while, and he that shall come will come, and will not tarry.
Hebrews 10:38 Now the just shall live by faith: but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him.
Hebrews 10:39 But we are not of them who draw back to perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul (AKJV).
Revelation 2:4 But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.
Revelation 2:5 Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.
The Apostles of the Lord referred to several Old Testament Scriptures where God rejected and destroyed some of his people he had earlier saved, but who later departed from him, and used those examples to warn believers in the New Testament of a similar fate awaiting those of us who would follow their evil examples in departing from the living God. If Jehovah could destroy people he had saved earlier, because they stopped believing and following him, the same thing will happen to those of us who once believed Jesus and were saved, but later turn our backs on him and stop believing him as Lord and Saviour. Our salvation depends on our faith in Christ. For as long as we place faith in Jesus as Lord and Saviour and follow him, we’re saved. The moment we stop having faith in Christ and following him, we lose our salvation, for we have then cut ourselves off from Christ. Eternal life is in the Son of God, Jesus Christ. For as long as we have the Son of God, we have life. The moment we abandon him, we forfeit our eternal life. People who have believed in Christ as Lord and Saviour can fall from grace and be lost! That’s why the Scriptures constantly warn us to take heed to ourselves, to constantly examine ourselves to see whether we’re still in the faith. That’s why we’re constantly warned to remain steadfast in our faith in Christ to the very end, for only those who believe and endure to the end shall be saved! Only overcomers at the end will be saved and rewarded for their steadfast faith in Christ. Christ will deny those of his people who deny him before men. It’s not a vain threat, for he’ll acknowledge those who acknowledge him as Lord and Saviour, and deny those who deny him as such.
Hebrews 3:7 Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, Today, if you hear his voice,
Hebrews 3:8 do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness,
Hebrews 3:9 where your fathers put me to the test and saw my works
Hebrews 3:10 for forty years. Therefore I was provoked with that generation, and said, They always go astray in their heart; they have not known my ways.
Hebrews 3:11 As I swore in my wrath, They shall not enter my rest.
Hebrews 3:12 Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.
Hebrews 3:13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called today, that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.
Hebrews 3:14 For we share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.
Hebrews 3:15 As it is said, Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.
Hebrews 3:16 For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses?
Hebrews 3:17 And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness?
Hebrews 3:18 And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient?
Hebrews 3:19 So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.
1 Corinthians 10:1 I want you to know, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea,
1 Corinthians 10:2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea,
1 Corinthians 10:3 and all ate the same spiritual food,
1 Corinthians 10:4 and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.
1 Corinthians 10:5 Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness.
1 Corinthians 10:6 Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did.
1 Corinthians 10:7 Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.
1 Corinthians 10:8 We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day.
1 Corinthians 10:9 We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents,
1 Corinthians 10:10 nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer.
1 Corinthians 10:11 Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.
1 Corinthians 10:12 Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.
Jude 1:5 Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe.
Galatians 5:2 Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you.
Galatians 5:3 I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law.
Galatians 5:4 You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.
Luke 9:23 And he said to all, If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.
Luke 9:24 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.
Luke 9:25 For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?
Luke 9:26 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.
Matthew 10:32 So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven,
Matthew 10:33 but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.
2 Timothy 2:11 The saying is trustworthy, for: If we have died with him, we will also live with him;
2 Timothy 2:12 if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us;
2 Timothy 2:13 if we are faithless, he remains faithful— for he cannot deny himself.
2 Corinthians 13:5 Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!
1 John 5:10 Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son.
1 John 5:11 And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.
1 John 5:12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.
2 Peter 2:20 For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first.
2 Peter 2:21 For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them.
2 Peter 2:22 What the true proverb says has happened to them: The dog returns to its own vomit, and the sow, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire.
We’re severally warned in Scriptures not to grieve the Holy Spirit, to abstain from fleshly lusts and to continually purge ourselves and remain steadfast in our faith. Why are we exhorted to do all these things? If we continually grieve the Spirit by ungodly lifestyles, what will happen? Can the Spirit depart from us? Can we become reprobates? Paul spoke of a fellow worker, Demas, who deserted him and the Lord, and went back to the world. If Demas remained in that state until his death, what do we think would be his fate? Are there no consequences for a backslider who never comes back to the Lord and to the faith? Paul also talked of some disciples who had previously believed the truth of the gospel, but later swerved from the faith. What would happen to such if they died in their errors? In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul warned believers about certain categories of people who would not inherit the kingdom of God. Was such a warning necessary if no believer could fail to inherit the kingdom?
Ephesians 4:30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.
2 Timothy 2:16 But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness,
2 Timothy 2:17 and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus,
2 Timothy 2:18 who have swerved from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already happened. They are upsetting the faith of some.
2 Timothy 2:19 But God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: The Lord knows those who are his, and, Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity.
2 Timothy 2:20 Now in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for honorable use, some for dishonorable.
2 Timothy 2:21 Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work.
2 Timothy 4:10 For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmathi
1 Corinthians 6:9 Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality,
1 Corinthians 6:10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.
Proponents of unconditional eternal security of the saved (once saved, never can be lost) quote the popular Scripture that has the Lord saying: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand” (John 10:27-29). It’s true that all that the Father has given Christ will come to him. But, that also included people like Judas Iscariot, Demas, etc, who later fell from grace and were lost. It’s also true that no one can pluck any man out of God’s hands. However, a man can pluck himself out of God’s hands! A man can cut himself off from God and from his grace! Israel was engraved in the palm of God’s hands, and her walls were continually before God (Isaiah 49:16). Israel could not be cursed, nor could she be defeated, as long as she remained in God’s hands (Numbers 23:7-23). However, Israel abandoned the loving and protective arms of Jehovah and went into idolatory, and she ended up being cursed, defeated and disgraced! (Numbers 26:1-18). They’ve had their natural branch cut off from God’s tree because of rebellion! In the same way, a believer in God’s hands today can cut himself off and be lost, if he rebels and abandons God’s protective care. For such people that abandon the faith and go back to the world, God is not obligated anymore to protect and preserve them. Like Israel of Old, they would be left to their own fate. They would thus bring curses and damnation upon themselves.
Romans 11:13 Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry
Romans 11:14 in order somehow to make my fellow Jews jealous, and thus save some of them.
Romans 11:15 For if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead?
Romans 11:16 If the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, so is the whole lump, and if the root is holy, so are the branches.
Romans 11:17 But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree,
Romans 11:18 do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you.
Romans 11:19 Then you will say, Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.
Romans 11:20 That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but stand in awe.
Romans 11:21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you.
Romans 11:22 Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off.
Romans 11:23 And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again.
Romans 11:24 For if you were cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree.
Matthew 23:37 O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!
Matthew 23:38 See, your house is left to you desolate.
Matthew 23:39 For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
Finally, Scripture promises that some people’s names will be removed from the book of life! Yes, some people who were once saved and had their names written in the book of life would have their names expunged from there, for failing to keep the faith, for failing to endure to the end and for failing to overcome. God promised that he would remove from his book of life those who sin against him. Christ promised not to remove from the book of life those believers who would overcome to the end. This means that those who fail to overcome will be removed from the book of life! Nothing can be plainer than this truth! For as long as we remain in Christ, our salvation is secure, and our names will not be removed from the book of life. If we lose faith in Christ, cut ourselves off from him and backslide totally and completely, our names will be removed from the book of life, and we will be eternally lost if we die in that state! If someone’s name is removed from the book of life, it means the name was once in the book of life. Who else have their names in the book of life but the saved and the redeemed? This means that the once saved and redeemed can be lost!
Exodus 32:31 So Moses returned to the LORD and said, Alas, this people have sinned a great sin. They have made for themselves gods of gold.
Exodus 32:32 But now, if you will forgive their sin—but if not, please blot me out of your book that you have written.
Exodus 32:33 But the LORD said to Moses, Whoever has sinned against me, I will blot out of my book.
Revelation 3:5 He that overcomes, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels (AKJV).
Revelation 20:12 And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.
Revelation 20:13 And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.
Revelation 20:14 And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.
Revelation 20:15 And whoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire (AKJV).
In conclusion, salvation is contingent on one’s faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. Eternal life is found only in Christ Jesus. Whoever has Christ has eternal life; whoever does not have Christ has the wrath of God abiding in him/her. For as long as a believer abides in Christ and Christ abides in him, he has eternal life and will bear the fruits of righteousness. If, however, a believer stops abiding in Christ and stops having faith in him, he’ll be cut off from eternal life and cast away as a dead branch to be burnt. Believers can have their names expunged from the book of life, for failing to endure till the end, and for failing to overcome. For sure, no one can pluck a believer out of God’s hands. However, the believer can remove himself out of God’s protective care, by ceasing to have faith in God. When someone who once believed and experienced salvation backslides, goes back to the world and dies in their backslidden state, it will be as though they were never saved. Their previous righteousness and walk with the Lord will not count. That’s what the Bible teaches. Thus, the doctrine of unconditional eternal security of the saved is unscriptural. Salvation can be lost, and the once saved person will be damned if he backslides and dies in his backslidden state.
Ezekiel 33:12 And you, son of man, say to your people, The righteousness of the righteous shall not deliver him when he transgresses, and as for the wickedness of the wicked, he shall not fall by it when he turns from his wickedness, and the righteous shall not be able to live by his righteousness when he sins.
Ezekiel 33:13 Though I say to the righteous that he shall surely live, yet if he trusts in his righteousness and does injustice, none of his righteous deeds shall be remembered, but in his injustice that he has done he shall die.
Ezekiel 33:14 Again, though I say to the wicked, You shall surely die, yet if he turns from his sin and does what is just and right,
Ezekiel 33:15 if the wicked restores the pledge, gives back what he has taken by robbery, and walks in the statutes of life, not doing injustice, he shall surely live; he shall not die.
Ezekiel 33:16 None of the sins that he has committed shall be remembered against him. He has done what is just and right; he shall surely live.
Ezekiel 33:17 Yet your people say, The way of the Lord is not just, when it is their own way that is not just.
Ezekiel 33:18 When the righteous turns from his righteousness and does injustice, he shall die for it.
Ezekiel 33:19 And when the wicked turns from his wickedness and does what is just and right, he shall live by them.
Ezekiel 33:20 Yet you say, The way of the Lord is not just. O house of Israel, I will judge each of you according to his ways.
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