David Pawson’s talk on the subject of Once Saved, Always Saved?:
The ‘Omega’ Version
This is the subtle understanding of OSAS, more sophisticated and much less permissive. Both sin and holiness in believers are taken more seriously.
There is an emphasis on the need for perseverance in the Christian life. Holiness is as necessary as forgiveness, sanctification as essential as justification. Believers must never become complacent or satisfied, but press on towards the prize of their high calling. It is as vital to finish the ‘race’ as to start it – hence my ‘Omega’ label for this viewpoint.
It is implicit in the teaching of many pastors, especially those who would describe themselves as ‘Reformed’ in doctrine. They urge their hearers on to maturity, with constant exhortations against standing still or, worse, slipping back.
The stress on perseverance distinguishes this from the simpler Alpha position. Indeed, some actually dislike the slogan ‘once saved, always saved’ because it does not include or even imply the need to press on afterwards. It is therefore shunned for inadequacy rather than inaccuracy.
It is not going too far to say that proponents of this view believe that only those who persevere will finally be saved – and that those who don’t persevere will be lost forever. So how can they be classed as OSAS? What they say about perseverance seems to be a direct contradiction of it! Actually, they manage to believe both and this is where the subtlety comes in. The tension is resolved in one of two different ways.
Some resolve it by defining the penalty of backsliding. They say that the most that can be lost is in the realm of reward or special blessing, either in this world or, more usually, the next. That is, there is a ‘bonus’ for perseverance which can be forfeited, though participation in heavenly glory is still assured.
Others resolve it by denying the possibility of backsliding, at least in a persistent form. This amounts to the belief that all those who are truly born again ‘must’ persevere – not meaning that they ought to, but that they inevitably will, that they cannot help but do so.
Nor does it stop there. This inevitable perseverance is not so much their action as a ‘gift’ from God which they cannot refuse. He ensures that they finish as he ensured that they began. This gift and belief in it are often referred to as ‘the perseverance of the saints’, which is something of a misnomer since it is a divine rather than a human action. Recently, it is being more accurately described as ‘the preservation of the saints’.
The logical deduction drawn from all this is that all those who in practice fail to persevere were never truly born again. They may have professed faith and even joined the Church on the strength of that, but they were only nominal ‘Christians’ and it is therefore not surprising that they did not persist in their pilgrimage.
– David Pawson, Once Saved, Always Saved? A Study in Perseverance and Inheritance (1996: Hodder & Stoughton), pp. 10-12
The ‘Alpha’ View
This is the simple understanding of OSAS. Its proponents believe that, once faith in Christ has been exercised, a person is safe and secure for eternity, no matter what happens afterwards. To put it another way, one moment of faith in a whole lifetime is sufficient to secure a place in glory.
All one needs to do is start the Christian life. You are now ‘saved’. You have a guaranteed ticket to heaven. Everything is settled. To start is in a sense to finish. Only the first step is absolutely necessary. You only need to begin at the beginning. Hence the ‘Alpha’ label seems appropriate.
This is implicit in the preaching of many evangelists, who must be held responsible for conveying this notion, even if they do not realise it. Perhaps unconsciously, they present the gospel as an insurance policy for the next world, offering an escape from hell rather than a liberation from sin. This is done by focusing on death rather than life (‘If you die tonight, will you find yourself in heaven or hell?’) So often a guaranteed place in heaven is offered in response to a thirty second ‘sinner’s prayer’ repeated after the evangelist, often without mentioning deeds of repentance towards God or reception of the Holy Spirit, much less baptism in water – in marked contrast to apostolic evangelism in the New Testament (see my book The Normal Christian Birth for a more detailed examination of Christian initiation; Hodder & Stoughton, 1989).
Though it is rarely stated, the impression is left that, however life is later lived, the convert’s standing with God cannot be affected. In a word, admission to heaven requires forgiveness but not holiness. In theological terms, justification is essential, but sanctification is not.
Not surprisingly, this can and does lead to moral and spiritual complacency. At worst, it becomes possible to rejoice in salvation while living in known sin. This was the case on the Clapham train and at Spring Harvest (see the Prologue). Typical were the remarks of an American mother reported to me: ‘My daughter’s a prostitute and drug addict but praise the Lord, when she was seven she made her decision for the Lord and I look forward to seeing her in glory.’
Such is the ‘popular’ view of OSAS. It takes a very light view of both sin and holiness in the believer. Neither can seriously affect eternal destiny, one way or the other. The main thing is to get as many as possible ‘saved’, which means to get them started …
… It is tempting to call this an ‘escalator’ salvation. Having once got on, one can step up or down, but never get off again. Sooner or later, one is certain to arrive at the top.
– David Pawson, Once Saved, Always Saved? A Study in Perseverance and Inheritance (1996: Hodder & Stoughton), pp. 9-12