Once Saved, Always Saved
Protestants believe that once one has "accepted Christ as his Lord and Savior", he is saved and cannot lose his salvation, no matter what he does. He can sin and sin seriously, but he will not lose his salvation. He may be punished by God in this world for his sin, but he will still go to heaven when he dies. All he needs to do is "accept Christ as his personal savior" once, and nothing else matters–he will be saved. Since, say Protestants, the believer did nothing to merit salvation, he can do nothing to demerit it. Sin cannot result in the loss of grace because sin is a violation of the Law, and the Law has been abolished: "But now the righteousness of God apart from the Law is revealed . . . to all and on all who believe" (Rom. 3:21-22).
The Catholic Church, on the other hand, teaches that one can be justified and in a state of grace, and lose that grace through mortal sin (Gal. 5:19-21; 1 John 5:16-17). Far from the Law being done away with, Jesus condemned such a notion (Matt. 5:17, 19:16-21, 25:31-46).
There is nothing in the Scriptures that supports the notion that one cannot lose his salvation once he obtains it. As Paul said: "Now these things happened to them as a warning, but they were written down for our instruction, upon whom the end of the ages has come. Therefore let any one who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall" (1 Cor. 10:11-12); "See then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God's kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness; otherwise you too will be cut off" (Rom. 11:22); "It is impossible for those who were once enlightened . . . and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit . . . If they fall away, to renew them again to repentance . . . if it bears thorns and briers, it . . . is to be burned" (Heb. 6:4-8). "If we sin willfully after receiving the truth, there remains for us no further sacrifice for sin–only a fearful expectation of judgement and a flaming fire to consume the adversaries of God . . . a much worse punishment is due the man who disdains the Son of God, thinks the covenant-blood by which he was sanctified to be ordinary, and insults the Spirit of Grace?" (Heb. 10:26-29); And Peter says: "When men have fled a polluted world by recognizing the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and then are caught up and overcome in pollution once more, their last condition is worse than their first. It would have been better for them not to have recognized the road to holiness than to have turned their backs on the holy law handed on to them, once they had known it" (2 Pet. 2:20-21); "If any among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turned a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death" (James 5:19-20).
Some have argued that fleeing the polluted world (in 2 Peter), is merely hearing about Christ. That did not actually mean that they followed Christ. However, in this passage, we see that those who have escaped the defilement of the world "knew" our Lord Jesus Christ, got entangled again in these sins, and lost their salvation. Therefore, it is not an accurate interpretation to say "they knew about Jesus but did not accept Him." Escaping the defilement of the world means accepting Christ. Peter also says they went back to their sins, indicating they repented and were saved.
Furthermore, Paul says: "I buffet my body and subdue it, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified (adokimos–meaning "rejected" or "retrobate", similar to the way it is used elsewhere–Rom. 1:28, Tit. 1:16, 2 Tim. 3:8, Heb. 6:8, 2 Cor. 13:5-7--to describe those who have been separated from Christ)" (1 Cor. 9:27). Protestants explain this passage by saying Paul did not want to lose heavenly rewards from God for failing to serve Him adequately. The problem with this interpretation is that it does not fit the context (salvation in 1 Cor. 9:19-23; and the running of the race to salvation–1 Cor. 9:24-28), and is contradicted by other passages (1 Cor. 10:12, 15:2; 1 Tim. 3:7; Heb. 3:6,14, 10:36; 2 Pet. 1:10).
Elsewhere, we read, "Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling" (Phil. 2:12). "For he who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption; but he who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary in well-doing, for in due season we shall reap, if we do not lose heart" (Gal. 6:8-9). In the first passage, we see anything but assurance, and in the second passage, we see the word "if", which contradicts the notion of "once saved, always saved". In Matthew 10:22-32 we read: "He who endures to the end shall be saved;" In 1 Corinthians 15:1-2 we see: "You are being saved . . . if you hold fast to it as I preached it to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain;" According to Matthew 6:15, Jesus warned, "If you do not forgive others, neither will your heavenly Father forgive you your transgressions". This applies to "born-again Christians". And Revelation 2:10 reads: "Remain faithful until death and I will give you the crown of life" (See also Colossians 1:22-23).
Finally, Paul says: "These things happened as examples for us ("born-again Christians"), so that we might not desire evil things, as they did. Do not become idolaters, as some of them did . . . let us not indulge in immorality, as some of them did. These things happened to them as an example, and they have been written down as a warning to us, upon whom the end of the ages has come. Therefore, whoever thinks he is standing secure should take care not to fall" (1 Cor. 10:6-8, 11-12). The Apostles often wrote about having hope and confidence in salvation (Rom. 6:8, 15:14; 2 Cor. 1:10, 8:22; Phil. 1:6; 2 Thess. 3:4; Tit. 1:2, 3:7; Heb. 6:18-19; 1 Pet. 1:13, 3:15), because they acknowledged that one could lose his salvation, and therefore, infallible assurance was not possible. Although God will grant every Christian the grace necessary to remain in the state of grace (1 Cor. 10:13), that grace can always be rejected. Although Paul was certain that the names of the Phillippians were written in the Book of Life (Phil. 4:3), he did not claim to know this with absolute certitude. Any talk Paul gave of being saved in the end (2 Cor. 4:14; 2 Tim. 4:18) was conditional upon his remaining in God's grace.
How should Catholics respond when they are asked, "Are you saved?" "I have been saved (Rom. 8:24; Eph. 2:5), I am being saved (2 Cor. 2:15; Heb. 2:11), and I hope to be saved (Rom. 5:9-10). I have been redeemed and I am working out my salvation in fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12), confident in the promises of Christ."
No one taught the idea that it was impossible through sin to lose one's salvation for more than 1500 years. Not even Martin Luther taught this. John Calvin was the first to teach this theory. As the following quotes show, the Fathers of the Church were unanimous in their belief that it was possible for a Christian to lose his salvation.
Ignatius of Antioch (To the Ephesians,10 [A.D. 110]) "And pray ye without ceasing in behalf of other men; for there is hope of the repentance, that they may attain to God. For 'cannot he that falls arise again, and he may attain to God.'"
Didache (Didache,16 [A.D. 140]) "Watch for your life's sake. Let not your lamps be quenched, nor your loins unloosed; but be ye ready, for ye know not the hour in which our Lord cometh. But often shall ye come together, seeking the things which are befitting to your souls: for the whole time of your faith will not profit you, if ye be not made perfect in the last time".
Hermas (The Shephard, 3:8:7 [A.D. 155]) "And as many of them, he added, as have repented, shall have their dwelling in the tower. And those of them who have been slower in repenting shall dwell within the walls. And as many as do not repent at all, but abide in their deeds, shall utterly perish...Yet they also, being naturally good, on hearing my commandments, purified themselves, and soon repented. Their dwelling, accordingly, was in the tower. But if any one relapse into strife, he will be east out of the tower, and will lose his life".
Justin Martyr (fragment in Against Heresies–Irenaeus, 5:26:1 [A.D. 156]) "That eternal fire has been prepared for him as he apostatized from God of his own free-will, and likewise for all who unrepentant continue in the apostasy, he now blasphemes, by means of such men, the Lord who brings judgment [upon him] as being already condemned, and imputes the guilt of his apostasy to his Maker, not to his own voluntary disposition".
Irenaeus (Against Heresies, 4:27:2 [A.D. 180]) "We ought not, therefore, as that presbyter remarks, to be puffed up, nor be severe upon those of old time, but ought ourselves to fear, lest perchance, after [we have come to] the knowledge of Christ, if we do things displeasing to God, we obtain no further forgiveness of sins, but be shut out from His kingdom".
Tertullian (On Repentance, 6 [A.D. 204]) "But some think as if God were under a necessity of bestowing even on the unworthy, what He has engaged (to give); and they turn His liberality into slavery. But if it is of necessity that God grants us the symbol of death, then He does so unwilling. But who permits a gift to be permanently retained which he has granted unwillingly? For do not many afterward fall out of (grace)? is not this gift taken away from many?".
Cyprian (Unity of the Church, 21 [A.D. 251]) "Confession is the beginning of glory, not the full desert of the crown; nor does it perfect our praise, but it initiates our dignity; and since it is written, 'He that endureth to the end, the same shall be saved,' whatever has been before the end is a step by which we ascend to the summit of salvation, not a terminus wherein the full result of the ascent is already gained".
Cyril of Jerusalem (Catechetical Lectures, I:4 [A.D. 350]) "Thou art made partaker of the Holy Vine. Well then, if thou abide in the Vine, thou growest as a fruitful branch; but if thou abide not, thou wilt be consumed by the fire. Let us therefore bear fruit worthily. God forbid that in us should be done what befell that barren fig-tree, that Jesus come not even now and curse us for our barrenness".
Athanasius (Discourse Against the Arians, 3:25 [A.D. 362]) "When then a man falls from the Spirit for any wickedness, if he repent upon his fall, the grace remains irrevocably to such as are willing; otherwise he who has fallen is no longer in God (because that Holy Spirit and Paraclete which is in God has deserted him), but the sinner shall be in him to whom he has subjected himself, as took place in Saul's instance; for the Spirit of God departed from him and an evil spirit was afflicting him".
John Chrysostom (Concerning Statues, 21 [A.D. 387]) "Let us admonish each other. Let us correct each other, that we may not go to the other world as debtors, and then, needing to borrow of others, suffer the fate of the foolish virgins, and fall from immortal salvation".
Jerome (Against Jovianus, 2:30 [A.D. 393]) "Some offences are light, some heavy. It is one thing to owe ten thousand talents, another to owe a farthing. We shall have to give account of the idle word no less than of adultery; but it is not the same thing to be put to the blush, and to be put upon the rack, to grow red in the face and to ensure lasting torment".
Augustine (On Rebuke and Grace, 12 [A.D. 427]) "And, consequently, both those who have not heard the gospel, and those who, having heard it and been changed by it for the better, have not received perseverance . . . and have perished in death: are not made to differ from that lump which it is plain is condemned, as all go from one into condemnation" (ibid., 16) "But they who are not to persevere, and who shall so fall away from Christian faith and conduct that the end of this life shall find them in that case, beyond all doubt are not to be reckoned in the number of these, even in that season wherein they are living well and piously. For they are not made to differ from that mass of perdition by the foreknowledge and predestination of God, and therefore are not called according to God's purpose, and thus are not elected".