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Once Saved Always Saved? by Maxie Dunnam

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In my last three articles I have discussed assurance and sanctification. These aspects of salvation lead us to think about what separates a Methodist understanding from those who believe in eternal security. Once saved, always saved was a theme I was asked often about in the first churches I served in rural Mississippi.

We Methodist Wesleyans believe that it is possible to return to sin in our lives to the point that we forfeit our salvation. According to Wesley, this is not easy to do, but it is possible.

We must not allow the question to be centered on whether God is able to keep us from falling. Of course God is able! It is a matter of whether we are vigilant in responding to God’s grace. If we cultivate and stay alive to the Holy Spirit we can be aware when the temptation to fall back into old patterns of sin is gaining power. We also recognize and not allow the seeds of “new sins” to germinate and spring up in our lives.

Being always saved depends on whether we continually listen to God’s voice and not allow that divine love to grow cold within us.

For further reflection, I make the case by coming at it from a different direction. There are two widely held notions about sin in the believer that are different in the way Wesley thought and taught. One thought is that, “Yes, sin continues in the life of the believer, but it is not possible for sin to separate a person eternally from God. One may backslide, but still be saved – if ever saved in the first place.” The “if ever saved in the first place” is a common escape hatch. I’ve never had a discussion about the issue where the conclusion, “The person was never saved anyway!” did not sound. How can we make that judgment?

The second thought is that in our justification, and certainly in our sanctification, sin is completely eradicated from the believer’s life. The error in this position is that it treats sin as a “thing” we do. Sin is a relation. The question is not one of removal of sin from our lives, but of reconciliation with God which overcomes the estrangement of sin.

Separated from God by our sin, justifying grace brings us together again. Grace continues to work, sanctifying us, restoring us, until we are so at one in relationship with God. In that at-one in relationship with God our intentions are centered on doing God’s will, and our love is perfected to love as Christ loves.

Once saved, always saved? Oh! The discussion will continue. If we are a part of the discussion it is helpful to remember we may “fall from grace” and forfeit our justification, but we don’t have to. Whether we can or can’t fall is not as important a question as whether we do or don’t.

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