THE PARADOX OF SALVATION
By Akin Ojumu
"Once saved is always saved" is the idea that the moment someone accepts Jesus Christ into their life as their Lord and Savior they are saved and are forever saved no matter what they do or how they live from that moment on. It is a concept that is also described as eternal security or eternal salvation.
The subject of this contemplation is to probe whether or not this concept of eternal security is Biblical. This is a response to a question about this topic on which a friend asked that I share my thoughts.
To begin with, the question of the doctrinal soundness of “once saved always saved” cannot be answered without first understanding the role that God plays in the salvation of the Believer and the role the individual plays in their own salvation. As this subject relates to the matter of sanctification (i.e. the spiritual growth or spiritual progress) of a Christian, the question must first be asked: “In my sanctification, is it me or is it God? Does what I do or how I live my life as a Christian matter at all in my salvation?”
When these questions are answered according to Scriptures, what you’d find is a spiritual paradox of the ages. The Biblical trail always leads the seeker to what God says about eternal security vs personal responsibility. Many of us Christians, as a result of our tendency to dig in our heels into a narrow theological box often fail to grasp this concept that is as old as the Scriptures. Our penchant for pigeonholing ourselves in doctrinal silos makes it extremely difficult for us to take off the veil to see the truth of the Word of God.
Traditionally and historically, there are 2 broad schools of thought about the salvation and sanctification of the believer as it relates to eternal security. These are the Quietism and Pietism points of view.
In the quietism view, the believer is quiet and passive in his salvation. He or she is not involved and plays no role in their spiritual progress. You just let go and let God. Quietists believe that the work of sanctification does not involve any effort on our part except to surrender. According to them, any effort on our part is actually a stumbling block to the process of sanctification. You are to get yourself out of the way and let God do His work in you. The phrase, “Let go and let God,” originated from this point of view. When you do this, they claim, your salvation is secured.
The other viewpoint about Christian salvation and sanctification, Pietism, says that salvation requires a diligent effort toward personal piety. There is strong emphasis on holy living, spiritual exercises, and self-discipline. They believe Christians have to use all their faculties, abilities, mind, heart, and soul in the pursuit of godliness. They stress the importance of good works. And they hold to the notion that a belief that doesn't lead to works is not a belief that can produce salvation. According to this school of thought, there is no such thing as “once saved always saved.” Making heaven, in this viewpoint, is by the sweat of your brow.
Now, in and of themselves, there is nothing wrong in these 2 different views; they each have their own merits and strong points. The problem though is the inability of those who hold these views to see that these 2 views are not necessarily mutually exclusive. What the adherents do not understand is the enigma of God’s work and human effort in our salvation and sanctification. They fail to see that the Grace of God is compatibility with work of man in our journey of faith, and that we cannot choose one to the exclusion of the other.
“By grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so no man may boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9.
Those who subscribe to the notion that “my works alone got me saved, and my works alone will keep me saved,” lack an understanding and an appreciation that the Blood of the Lamb of God was shed on the Cross for the remission of our sins. In the same token, an individual is saved only if they choose to hear and accept the Gospel message, and salvation only comes when that person consciously and freely surrenders their life to Christ. Anyone who believes that salvation is free and therefore costs them nothing or demands nothing on their part is in for a rude awakening.
Apostle Paul, in Philippians 2:12-13, described this paradox of God’s Grace and man’s effort:
“So then, my beloved…work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.”
There you have it – the paradox; human effort (verse 12) and God’s Grace (verse 13). While we work out our salvation, God in turn works in His grace in our lives. This concept is neither new nor limited to the New Testament.
In 1 Kings 8:57-58, 61, Solomon, at the celebration of the return of the Ark of Covenant to the Temple, prayed the following prayers:
“May the Lord our God be with us, as He was with our fathers; may He not leave us or forsake us, that He may incline our hearts to Himself, to walk in all His ways and to keep His commandments and His statutes and His ordinances, which He commanded our fathers….Let your heart therefore be wholly devoted to the Lord our God, to walk in His statutes and to keep His commandments, as at this day.”
Again, you find the paradox. God working His grace (verse 57-58) and the children of Israel working out their own effort (verse 61).
As a Christian, redeemed by the blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, my salvation is eternally secure, and I have an eternal salvation. I know this because, “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). “And this is the will of Him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me but raise them up at the last day.” (John 6:39). This is the aspect of the paradox of our salvation that addresses God’s grace, ability, and intention to save us. God has promised us salvation, He will not break His promise. His Words are true, and He will always fulfill them.
The other side of that paradox is our responsibility and effort in the process. This is the aspect of us “working out our own salvation”. And by the way, the phrase “work out your own salvation” means to continually and persistently make the effort to work out your salvation. It implies bringing something to fulfillment, to fullness or completion. What that phrase is saying is that salvation is already inside us, but we now need to bring it out all the way to its fullness and fulfillment. We are being commanded to put on sustained effort and diligence in working out what has already been deposited and planted within us.
To put it all together, our eternal security does not exist without our perseverance and persistent in the faith. Those who are genuinely saved and belong to God understand that they have a role to play in their own salvation. They are like the elite athlete who discipline their body in order to win the race (1 Corinthians 9:24-27). These are folks who purge themselves of all the defilement of body and spirit (2 Corinthians 7:1) and who, according to 1 Timothy 6:12, understand that they must fight the good fight of faith in order to lay hold on eternal life.
This is the paradox of salvation. We are saved by grace, but in order to receive the salvation we must reach out and accept the grace that God freely gives. Therefore, it takes God and it takes us. God will do His part, but we must do our own part also. God has given us His grace, but in order to realize the fruit of the grace and to ultimately enter into His rest, we must fulfill our responsibility by living a life that is pleasing to Him. We are saved by grace. Yet, without working out our salvation our faith is dead. That is the full Gospel.