Some people believe that when a person commits his or her life to Jesus Christ, accepting Him as personal Savior, then eternal salvation is totally assured from that moment on, with absolutely no possibility of ever losing it. This is often referred to as “eternal security” or “once saved, always saved.” But does the Bible really teach this? Let’s examine the Scriptures to understand the truth.
Those who teach or hold to this belief use several scriptures to try to prove it. Let’s look at one passage that is often misunderstood this way, and then see many verses that show this to be an erroneous conclusion.
John 10:27-29 is a pivotal passage used for this teaching: “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone 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 My Father’s hand.”
Jesus made this statement in response to some who had questioned Him as to whether He was the promised Messiah (John 10:23-24). The focus here was not “eternal security” but the recognition of His identity as Messiah.
He declared that His true followers, drawn to Him by the Father, followed Him as the One through whom they would receive eternal life. They thus recognized Him as the Messiah, and no one could shake them from their God-given conviction. His answer, then, was effectively that people couldn’t properly understand His identity and follow Him without the Father leading them to Him (compare John 6:44).
The verbs “hear” and “follow” are in the present tense in the Greek, so Jesus was speaking of the present and not specifically about the future. In stating that “no one is able to snatch them [the sheep] out of My Father’s hand,” He meant that no external power (be it Satan, false religious leaders or anyone else) could take them away. Jesus definitely did not say that His followers couldn’t ultimately fail due to fault of their own. Other verses clearly show it is possible to be once enlightened and then fail to continue in the path of righteousness.
Other scriptures used to establish the “once saved, always saved” doctrine follow the same pattern of being misinterpreted and misapplied. Just one clear scripture that contradicts this teaching is enough to show that the teaching is not biblical. Yet in fact, we can find many passages that teach just the opposite of this doctrine, showing that one must meet—and continue to meet—certain conditions to receiving God’s gift of salvation.
We are assured that God will never leave us or forsake us as Christians (Hebrews 13:5). But the Bible never says it is impossible for us to leave or forsake God and lose out on His gift of salvation!
Let’s notice a few of the many scriptures proving this is possible:
• “But he who endures to the end shall be saved” (Matthew 24:13, emphasis added throughout).
• “By which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which
I preached to you; unless you believed in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:2).
• “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 . . . ?” (Hebrews 2:1-3).
• “But Christ as a Son over His own house, whose house we are if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm to the end” (Hebrews 3:6).
• “For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end” (Hebrews 3:14).
• “For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise” (Hebrews 10:36).
• “Look to yourselves, that we do not lose those things we worked for, but that we may receive a full reward” (2 John 1:8).
• “And he who overcomes, and keeps My works until the end, to him I will give power over the nations” (Revelation 2:26).
• “Behold, I am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown” (Revelation 3:11).
• “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).
• “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” (Hebrews 10:26-27).
These are just a few examples of verses that say we must continue in the faith to the very end to be saved. Notice that some verses say, “if we hold fast . . .” Salvation is conditional on our continuing to the end. Even such a figure as the apostle Paul did not say he was assured of salvation. He wrote in 1 Corinthians 9:27, “But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.”
The doctrine of “eternal security” is not found in the pages of the Bible. We must all endure to the end to be saved.
On the other hand, there are many verses that show that as long as we do not through continued neglect or bitterness come to ultimately reject God, we are indeed assured of salvation. We do not need to live in worry, but can be confident in God to see us through. That is what Paul meant in Philippians 1:6: “. . . being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.” We just need to stay in the process with God—to keep repenting, growing and overcoming with His help.
To learn more, be sure to read “Faith: Is It All God Requires for Salvation?”.
Interested readers can also search our website on the topic of salvation for more in-depth information. Take particular note of a section of our free study guide The New Covenant: Does It Abolish God’s Law? titled “Salvation Accomplished in Stages” (within the sidebar “How Does Justification Relate to Salvation?”).