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Once Saved, Always Saved?

1. The Bible says in Romans 10:9 that if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. So, when I accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior, I was saved. It’s a done deal.

When a Catholic hears the above assertion, his fist inclination is to immediately launch a litany of verses that emphasize that salvation can be lost. Usually this causes the other person to present just as many verses that speak of salvation as a completed event. Both parties feel as if they have offered plenty of evidence, but no progress has been made.

There’s a better way to go at it. Concede that the Bible does speak of salvation as a past-tense event. Offer some verses of your own, such as Ephesians 2:8–9: “For by grace you have been saved through faith.” From there, add that Scripture also speaks of salvation as a present-tense event. In Philippians 2:12, Paul exhorted us to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.”

Just as we cannot deny that salvation is a past- and present-tense event, the Evangelical Protestant cannot deny that Scripture also speaks of it as a future-tense event. For evidence of this, verses such as Romans 13:11 might be offered: “our salvation is nearer than when we first believed” (Rom. 13:11; cf. 1 Cor. 3:15; 5:5).

When you emphasize that salvation can be lost, the Protestant often hears, “You have not yet been saved.” He knows that the Bible speaks of salvation as a past-tense event, and so no matter how many verses you offer, you will not be able to prove this to be false. The way to move beyond this impasse is to offer the big picture of salvation: past, present, and future. The Evangelical will then not feel as if you are trying to prove that he has not been saved, but will perhaps be more open to look at salvation in a broader—and more biblical—context. Once you have reached this point, it’s time to offer the evidence that the free gift of salvation can be just as freely forfeited.

2. How could I lose my salvation if Jesus said that no one could snatch me out of God’s hand (John 10:28)?

One mistake that often leads to verse slinging is failing to address a verse that is presented. When we hear a Protestant offer his verse, we think of another verse that seems to argue for our position and we toss it back to him. Then we become frustrated that he never looked seriously as the verse and threw a different one back at us. The remedy for this type of scriptural ping-pong is to take the time to look at each verse that is brought up.

In the case of John 10:28, Jesus says that no one will be able to take us away from God. The language is similar to Paul’s in Romans 8:39 when he says that nothing in creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Both of these passages address the same fact that no one is capable of removing you from the grace of God. No one is capable of nullifying your salvation. It would be like saying that no one is capable of pulling you out of a car driving at eighty miles per hour. This does not mean that you are incapable of opening the door and jumping out. In the same way, John 10:28 does not mean that we are incapable of severing our relationship with God. Read on in John, and you’ll see why.

Five chapters later in John’s Gospel, Christ tells the apostles at the Last Supper to remain in his love. He adds that if we keep his commandments we will remain in his love. But he who does not remain in his love is “cast forth as a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned” (John 15:6). Now, if salvation were a done deal, why would Jesus feel the need to tell anyone to remain in his love? It would be like locking a person in a closet and telling them to remain there. If they are unable to leave, it is senseless to ask them to remain.

Jesus told his disciples to remain in his love because just as we enter freely into a relationship with Christ, we are free to leave him. Scripture is overflowing with examples of this. In Romans 11:22, Paul says, “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.” In Galatians 5:4, Paul says, “You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.” This verse implies that they were united with Christ and in grace before they fell. In 1 Corinthians 9:27, Paul again warns the Christians against being overconfident: “I pummel my body and subdue it, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” This is not the language of “once saved always saved.”

3. If you can lose your salvation by sin, doesn’t that imply that you are earning your salvation? Ephesians 2:8–9, says, “for by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God—not because of works, lest any man should boast.”

Perhaps the best place to begin when dealing with this verse is to turn to the Council of Trent. In chapter eight of the Decree on Justification, the Church said that “none of those things which precede justification—whether faith or works—merit the grace itself of justification.” This means that no man can work himself into a state of justification. The New Covenant is not a system of works righteousness whereby a person can please God and earn heaven by doing a number of good deeds. This is what Paul is driving at in Ephesians 2. He is not saying that sin cannot separate us from Christ.

When he gave a litany of created things that can not separate us from the love of God in Romans 8:39, notice that he did not say, “neither fornication nor adultery nor drunkenness nor murder will separate us from the love of God.” He was well aware that if we choose sin, we renounce Christ. In 1 Corinthians 15:1–2, Paul says, “Now I would remind you, brethren, in what terms I preached to you the gospel, which you received, in which you stand, by which you are saved, if you hold it fast—unless you believed in vain.” So, you could believe, but fail to hold fast to the gospel, and not be saved (cf. 2 Pet. 2:20).

This is why Paul spoke in the book of Romans about the “obedience of faith” (Rom. 1:5, 16:26). It is not enough that one call Jesus Lord, for, as he said, “Not every one who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 7:21; cf. Matt. 10:33, 18:35). If we are disobedient, God will “take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city” (Rev 22:19).

Just because you may choose to no longer hold fast to what was freely given to you does not mean that you were ever capable of earning what was given to you in the first place. The same is true of earthly sonship—it cannot be earned. But if you were adopted, you would be free to run away as a prodigal son and lose your inheritance.

4. What’s the history behind the teaching that you could lose your salvation?

The first person to espouse the idea of “once saved, always saved” was John Calvin in the mid-sixteenth century. Even Martin Luther didn’t subscribe to the theory. Prior to Calvin, the unanimous consent of the early Christians was that a person is capable of losing his salvation by committing mortal sin, as John spoke about in 1 John 5:16–17.

In the first century, the Didache, commonly known as the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, said “Watch for your life’s sake. Let not your lamps be quenched, nor your loins unloosed; but be ready, for you know not the hour in which our Lord comes. But you shall assemble together often, seeking the things which are befitting to your souls: for the whole time of your faith will not profit you, if you be not made complete in the last time” (Didache 16 [A.D. 70]).

In the second century, Irenaeus wrote, “To Christ Jesus, our Lord, and God, and Savior, and King, according to the will of the invisible Father, ‘every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth, and that every tongue should confess’ [Phil. 2:10–11] to him, and that he should execute just judgment towards all. . . . The ungodly and unrighteous and wicked and profane among men [shall go] into everlasting fire; but [he] may, in the exercise of his grace, confer immortality on the righteous, and holy, and those who have kept his commandments, and have persevered in his love, some from the beginning [of their Christian course], and others from [the date of] their penance, and may surround them with everlasting glory” (Against Heresies 1:10:1 [A.D. 189]).

Such consistent testimony could be given from the dawn of Christianity until today, and no suggestion of “once saved, always saved” can be found on the lips of any Christian before Calvin.

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