The Calvinist doctrine of “Perseverance of the Saints,” often called “Once Saved Always Saved,” teaches that once a person accepts Christ, he can never lose salvation. Here’s the “Westminster Confession of Faith”:
“They whom God hath accepted in his Beloved, effectually called and sanctified by his Spirit, can neither totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace; but shall certainly persevere therein to the end. This perseverance of the saints depends not upon their own free will, but upon the immutability of the decree of election” (XVII:I–II).
But, Christians falling away and becoming unsaved is a reality described in the Bible.
In Luke 8:4–18, Jesus tells the parable of the sower. The seed represents the saving word of God, and the four soils represent people. The rocky soil represents those who “believe for a while, and in a time of temptation fall away.”
In Galatians 5:1-4, Paul warns that those who return to Judaism “have been severed from Christ … you have fallen from grace.” It is puzzling to hear Calvinists assert that a Christian cannot “fall away from the state of grace,” when the words “you have fallen from grace,” are so plainly present in the Bible.
Calvinists have a safety valve. They argue that those who depart the church were just pretenders, having never really been saved in the first place. That’s rhetorically suspect. It’s obvious that people must have existed in grace to fall away from it. It seems common-sensical that you can’t fall off the roof if you aren’t on the roof.
In any case, the Bible describes those falling away as actual, genuine, saved Christians. In 1 Cor. 8:11, Paul tells Christians to be sensitive to other Christians’ weaknesses, because their faith can be destroyed; “for through your knowledge he who is weak is ruined, the brother for whose sake Christ died.” A brother who has benefited from the death of Christ is the definition of a genuine Christian; now he is being ruined. In 2 Peter 2:1-2 Peter describes false teachers who are “even denying the master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves.” One bought by the Master is the definition of a genuine Christian; now he’s in line for doom. In Rev. 22:19 Jesus threatens those who take away from the words of the prophecy, that “God shall take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city.” One who has a part in the tree of life is the definition of a genuine Christian; now he losing his part of Paradise (cf. Rev. 3:5). In Acts 8:13–24, Simon both believed and was baptized; then Peter says, “may your silver perish with you!” A baptized believer is the definition of a genuine Christian; now Peter is warning him of his lost condition.
Even the Apostle Paul did not smugly declare his security. Instead, he said, “let him who thinks he stands take heed, lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12). He said, “I buffet my body and make it my slave lest possibly, after I have preached to others, I myself should be disqualified” (1 Cor. 9:24–27).
We are encouraged to go after wayward Christians. “If any among you strays from the truth, and one brings him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death” (James 5:19-20).
The Threat of Greater Punishment
Calvinists have a second safety valve. They suggest that insofar as a genuine Christian may suffer loss, it’s not the loss of his salvation; only his standing in the church, or physical suffering, or perhaps some demotion from a mansion in Heaven to a bungalow.
The Bible promises worse punishment for those who are saved and then fall away. While I’m not entirely sure what the worse punishment would be, and while I cannot pinpoint when a wayward Christian reaches the point that he can no longer return to the Lord, I am positive these passages contradict Calvinism. The Bible says that those who have “escaped the defilements of the world” but return to them find themselves in a worse state (2 Peter 2:20-21). And those who became “partakers of the Holy Spirit” but then fall away cannot be renewed (Heb. 6:4-6). And those sanctified by the blood of the covenant but then trample underfoot the Son of God face a fiery judgment (Heb. 10:26-31).
For those who choose to remain in the faith of Jesus Christ, truly “nothing is able to separate us from the love of God” (Romans 8:39, cf. 2 Peter 1:4-11). It’s not that Christians are living in fear (as Calvinists often suggest) moving in and out of salvation with any misstep, multiple times a day. But God permits free will. An individual can so act as to leave the fold of God, and thereby return to the world and forfeit his soul. Salvation is a saint’s blessed, present possession, but it is not irrevocable. Read Ezekiel 33:13-16!