For those of you sound in doctrine my title may disturb you. Let me calm your fears. I believe that when a person is genuinely saved their salvation is secure forever. However, like Joshua Harris with dating, while the teaching of “once saved, always saved” isn’t inherently bad, it’s lost its luster for me. For quite some time I’ve ditched that angle on eternal security for the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints (where God will ensure the faithfulness of the faithful). It’s a much better and biblically defensible alternative. You could say it’s the courtship of dealing with the security of someone’s salvation.
“Once saved, always saved” while having merit (because it’s true) far too often gets used by Christians and church staff trained on the denominational party line as a false sense of security for people who’ve shown no demonstrable sign of regeneration but can stir up a yarn of how they said a prayer when they were little. This view of eternal security mistakenly places the weight of salvation in the wrong thing– the person’s decision. However, it seems the New Testament’s idea of helping people feel secure in their salvation revolves around their present-day faith and practice. A cursory glance at 1 John, which was written for those “who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.”(5:13), highlights areas like submission to God’s Word, trusting in the Gospel, love for the church, etc. (e.g., 2:23-24; 3:9-10, 24; 4:6; 5:18)
From a biblical perspective, the focus is always on the current obedience of the believer, not a decision he made years, if not decades, ago. Thus I believe the perseverance of the saints is a much better road to walk when helping other Followers of Jesus understand their eternal security (a term who’s usefulness I question in light of this discussion). It should grant confidence and peace to the one who pursues Jesus and deliver uncertainty and sober introspection to the one who doesn’t. There is nothing better than “Perseverance” to best frame and give perspective to that biblical tension on the issue of eternal security, something “once saved, always saved” fails at miserably. You’ve got a better chance with helping others avoid false confidence, empty confessions and cheap grace.
Therefore, while not rejecting “once saved, always saved” in principle, I have essentially jettisoned it from my vocabulary in pastoral discussions with those under my care. In my humble opinion, the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints is a much better (and biblical) alternative to others teachings on eternal security.
“They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.” – The Epistle of First John 1:19 (ESV)
Dr. Yancey C. Arrington is an eighth generation Texan, Acts 29 Network and Houston Church Planting Network fan, and Teaching Pastor at Clear Creek Community Church in the Bay Area of Houston. He is also author of Preaching That Moves People and TAP: Defeating the Sins That Defeat You, and periodically writes for Acts 29 and The Gospel Coalition.