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
10 Questions for Calvinists
1. Can God genuinely desire the salvation of those whom He, from eternity, unconditionally determined not to save, and is, in the words of Calvin, “pleased to exclude” and “doom to destruction”? Or in the case of those who eschew the more passive doctrine of preterition and opt for the more active doctrine of reprobation, I ask: can God genuinely desire the salvation of those whom He has specifically created for the express purpose of destroying, who are, to quote Calvin, “doomed from the womb to certain death, whereby God is glorified by their destruction”?
2. If God has indeed causally determined and decreed all that comes to pass, isn’t it incoherent to think that our prayers influence God’s answers to our prayers? Further, wouldn’t prayer be like someone putting on a sock puppet, and then having the sock puppet ask him to do something? And to extend the analogy even further, wouldn’t God’s answer/s to prayer be like someone answering a request that he had his own sock puppet ask himself?
3. Regarding the Parable of the Sower (Luke 8:4-18), is the Calvinistic doctrine of Irresistible Grace compatible with Satan actively stealing away the Word of God (the ‘seed’) from people to prevent them from believing (Luke 8:12)? In other words, wouldn’t it be pointless for Satan to steal the Word from people, when these very people whom he is attempting to prevent believing cannot believe anyway, due to Total Depravity, and indeed, cannot believe until after they are already regenerated?
4. Regarding Luke 22:14-23, is the Calvinistic doctrine of Limited Atonement compatible with the fact that Judas Iscariot – who would have been better off had he never been born (Mark 14:21), and whom Jesus called a ‘devil’ (John 6:70) – was among those for whom Jesus Christ said He gave His body and shed His blood? If so, wouldn’t that mean that Judas Iscariot is among the elect?
5. God specifically states that there were sins that He “did not command or decree” (Jer. 19:5). Indeed, these sins did not even “come into my [God’s] mind” (Jer. 19:5; cf. Jer. 7:30-31; 32:35). If God has indeed causally determined and decreed all that comes to pass, isn’t it incoherent to believe that He has causally determined and decreed sins that He did not command or decree, indeed, sins that did not even come into His mind to command or decree? Further, does the fact that these sins occurred without God first decreeing them mean that the sins were not under God’s sovereign rule?
6. In 1 Samuel 23, David learned that Saul was plotting harm against him (vv. 7-9), and so inquired of God as to 1) whether the people of Keilah would surrender him into Saul’s hand, and 2) whether Saul would indeed come to Keilah. Regarding both inquiries, God answered in the affirmative: Saul would come to Keilah, and the people of Keilah would surrender David into Saul’s hand (vv. 10-12). David and his men swiftly fled from Keilah (v. 13), and even though Saul sought David every day, God would not surrender David into his hand (v. 14). According to this passage, it would appear that God had foreknowledge of events that, in fact, never came to pass. Doesn’t this passage contradict the Calvinistic tenet that God can foreknow the future only if He has already causally determined said future? On the Calvinist view, if the above-stated events never came to pass, then surely God did not foreordain (or even permit) them to come to pass, so how then could God have foreknowledge of events that never came to pass?
7. The Apostle Paul states that “those who are perishing… refused to love the truth and so be saved” (2 Thes. 2:10; emphasis added). Even the Hyper-Calvinist John Gill said of this passage, “the reason therefore of these men’s perishing is not the decree of God, nor even want of the means of grace, the revelation of the Gospel, but their rejection and contempt of it” (emphasis added). Isn’t the obvious implication that those who are perishing, in spite of the fact that they do ultimately perish, had a legitimate chance of being saved?
8. In the Bible, Christians are described as having “died to sin”(Rom. 6:2; cf. Rom. 6:7, 8, 11; 7:4-6; Gal 2:19; Col. 2:20; 3:3; 2 Tim. 2:11). Before conversion, the unregenerate are obviously described as being “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1; cf. Col. 2:13). Calvinists (eg., Boice and Ryken) describe the spiritually dead as having “all the passive properties belonging to a corpse” in that “like a spiritual corpse, he is unable to make a single move toward God, think a right thought about God, or even respond to God”. If being dead in sin entails not being able to make a single move toward God or even respond to God, does being dead to sin entail not being able to make a single move toward sin or even respond to sin?
9. Regarding the Apostle Paul’s warning to be sober-minded, watchful, and to resist the devil (1 Pet. 5:8-9), is the Calvinistic doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints (which entails ‘inevitable perseverance’, ‘once saved, always saved’, and if anyone apostatizes, they were ‘never saved to begin with’) compatible with Satan actively prowling around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour (1 Pet. 5:8-9)? In other words, wouldn’t it be pointless for Satan to seek to devour people whose salvation cannot possibly be put in jeopardy? And even if he actually does successfully ‘devour’ someone, wouldn’t that be sure proof that the person was never saved to begin with, and thus render the act of ‘devouring’ futile?
10. John Calvin taught what is known as ‘evanescent grace’ (Institutes, 3.2.11). Calvin thus taught that God bestows grace on the reprobate (or non-elect) and implants faith in them that is “so similar to the elect” that sometimes, there is virtually “no difference” between the elect and the non-elect. Calvin further taught that, “In the elect alone he implants the living root of faith, so that they persevere even to the end”. In other words, true saving faith only proves to be truly saving if it perseveres to the very end. In light of this, is it possible for a Calvinist to have true assurance of salvation? Doesn’t this doctrine actually undermine the Biblical markers for assurance? How can someone know that his present faith is genuine, if genuine faith only proves to be genuine if it perseveres to the very end? How can a person be sure that the inner witness of the Holy Spirit is not an “inferior operation of the Spirit” which “afterwards proves evanescent,” the “better to convict them, and leave them without excuse”? Can a person even have assurance by producing fruit, considering that Calvin taught that the reprobate, through evanescent grace, “may for several years… produce fruit”?
“Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”
“The plain sense of this text is that if one believes now, he is not condemned (lost) now and will not be condemned later (cf. Rom. 8:1).” 1
If the interpretation was left simply as, ‘the plain sense of this text is that if one believes now, he is not condemned (lost) now’, there would not be much to dispute. But developing the OSAS interpretation that bit further by adding ‘and will not be condemned later (cf. Rom. 8:1)’ is unwarranted, and the reasons are fourfold:
1. The text does not say it. The text does not say, ‘Whoever once believed in him is assured of never being condemned, no matter what.’ It says, “Whoever believes in him is not condemned…” Whoever believes (presently) is not condemned (presently). But that raises the question – why aren’t those who believe condemned? The answer is: because through the sacrifice of Christ, their sins have been forgiven. But that raises another question – what sins are forgiven? Past sins? Present sins? Future sins? The Scriptures are clear: only past sins that have been repented of are forgiven (cf. Luke 13:3, 5; 17:3-4; Acts 2:38; 3:19; Rom. 3:21-25; 2 Pet. 1:9; 1 John 1:9; 2:1-2). The promise of not being condemned is conditioned upon belief, and is applicable only for past sins, not present ones that haven’t been confessed, nor future ones. For a powerful refutation of the idea that future sins are already forgiven, see Dr. Michael L. Brown’s Hyper-Grace (2014: Charisma House).
2. The context does not demand it. There is nothing in the context of the passage that demands that it be interpreted to mean that one act of faith unconditionally assures someone of never being able to resume a state of unbelief (condemnation). In fact, other Scriptures (such as Rom. 6:23; 1 Cor. 11:32; Jas 5:12) indicate that there is a possibility of believers falling under condemnation, via sin.
3. The logical conclusion of such a belief is the same lie that Satan told Eve: that even if you sin, ‘you will not surely die.’ The OSAS interpretation was that “if one believes now, he will not be condemned later.” On the contrary, the Scriptures say that the wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23), and what’s more, that was written to believers. Even for the believer, the wages of sin is still death. It would appear that the apostle Paul didn’t believe OSAS.
4. Citing Romans 8:1 as proof of OSAS is circular reasoning. Romans 8:1 says:
“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
Note that there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For this passage to have any force, it must first be assumed that ‘once in Christ Jesus, always in Christ Jesus’, which is the very point in question. In other words, we would have to assume OSAS in order to prove OSAS. See also Feedback: A Christian Can’t Lose Their Salvation Because They’re a New Creation
John 3:18 does not prove unconditional eternal security. As with the previous proof-text, John 3:15, the promise of security is only for those who believe (i.e., those who believe now, in the present). There is no promise of security for those who once believed. Indeed, we are warned in God’s Word that if a righteous person turns away from his righteousness, he will be destroyed. His past righteousness will not be taken into account (Ezekiel 18:24). One act of faith sometime in the past is not enough to guarantee an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our God.
At the very best, John 3:18 is inconclusive.
1 Geisler, Systematic Theology, p. 306