Nuance is important. Unfortunately, nuance easily alludes us. For some reason, when we’re exposed to nuance, we are tempted to skip ahead or to think that the difference doesn’t really matter. These temptations aside, the nuances of a position can make a large difference in our lives. This is especially true in theology.
I am a Southern Baptist who affirms the Baptist Faith & Message 2000 (BFM 2000). Among other things, this means that I believe that a person who is truly saved cannot lose their salvation. According to the BFM 2000, “those whom God has accepted in Christ, and sanctified by His Spirit, will never fall away from the state of grace, but shall persevere to the end.” In typical parlance, preachers describe this position as “once saved, always saved.” Unfortunately, the phrase “once saved, always saved” carries connotations that we ought to reject.
Too often, once saved, always saved serves as an excuse for carnal lifestyles or outright unbelief. This position holds that a person who has accepted Christ as their Savior can never lose their salvation no matter what actions they take. Though this is certainly innocuous, it can quickly derail and lead to antinomianism—the belief that any action is permissible—or to unbelief. People who’ve followed this logic feel that they are free to do take any action they’d like with no consequences. They need only pray, and God will instantly forgive them with no eternal consequences. After all, that’s what 1 John 1:9 means. Or, people who’ve been exposed to this belief may comfort themselves with the memory of a childhood baptism though they have no active faith. After all, I was saved once, and once saved, always saved. This position is obviously prone to grave errors.
Once saved, always saved is a watered-down version of the perseverance of the saints. The doctrine of the perseverance of the saints holds that those who truly accept Christ as their Savior will persevere in the Christian life until their death. Though they will fail and fall into sin, God will graciously call them to repentance and rededication. Thanks to God’s power, they will persevere in a personal relationship with Christ as long as they live. They will never stop following him. Anyone who does not persevere proves that they never really knew Christ. Only those who persevere will be saved, and all who are saved will persevere.
The difference between these positions is in the nuance. Both affirm that those who are saved can never lose their salvation. The former implies that a person can do anything they’d like and still be saved. The latter asserts that those who are saved will follow Christ in obedience and will have a lifestyle that is indicative of a repentant heart.
May we opt for the perseverance of the saints instead of once saved, always saved. The perseverance of the saints is the biblical option, it leads to healthier believers, and it is the aim of the BFM 2000. Those whom God has saved “shall persevere to the end.”