DOES “ONCE SAVED, ALWAYS SAVED” ENTITLE US TO ABUSE GOD’S GRACE?
by Shawn Brasseaux
“I understand sin being taken care of once you become saved. I have heard preachers state, ‘Once you are saved, you are always saved.’ However, I never believed that because people take advantage of that saying and do things that are ungodly. I know that you are not saved by your works. However, what about a person who becomes gay or a serial killer who claimed that they are saved and die? And people who are saved started robbing and hurting people? Don’t those people need to ask for forgiveness? What about a person who kills someone in your family and they ask of your forgiveness or God’s? I don’t understand God’s forgiveness. This can also lead to people not doing the will of God but committing sinful acts because they believe that their sins are already forgiven. Sorry about the long email but I had to ask these questions about this issue due to some of the problems I am having regarding sins.”
Thank you for submitting these questions. No apologies are needed—other readers have similar questions and misconceptions. While we have a similar Bible Q&A study titled “Is grace a license to sin?,” and I encourage you to read it (the link is at the end of this article), I would be glad to dedicate a study dealing with the specifics of your concerns. To best answer your email, I will address your comments by dividing them into three main issues.
ISSUE #1. You wrote, “I know that you are not saved by your works….”
We will begin by starting where you are in your Bible understanding, and then proceed to deeper discussions. You understand that sin is taken care of by simple faith in Jesus Christ’s finished crosswork. Sin was most definitely taken care of at the moment of salvation. For example, in Romans 4:3-5, we read: “ For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.  Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt.  But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.” We need righteousness to make up for our sinful nature (unrighteousness). When we believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, when we rely exclusively on Him, we are saved unto eternal life (Acts 16:31), delivered from the penalty of sin (hell and the lake of fire), and given a new nature. Our faith in Jesus’ death for our sins, His burial, and His resurrection, is the means whereby Father God can reckon (consider, think of) us as just as righteous before Him as His only begotten Son.
Although you are aware of it, I will share with you what the Bible says in Romans 3:21-28: “ But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets;  Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference:  For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;  Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:  Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God;  To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.  Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith.  Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.”
We could look at many other verses to prove the point, but this passage should suffice for beginning our discussion. What is unique about our present Dispensation of Grace, the Bible always emphasizes faith in Jesus Christ, not our works. The grace of God is not what we can do for Him in religion, but what He has already done on our behalf at Calvary. It is always His performance, not our performance. It is always His goodness, not our goodness. It is always His grace, not our works. Our works never save us, so our works will never cause us to be lost. We did nothing in our own strength to be righteous before God, so we cannot do anything to become un-righteous before God. Positionally, we are accepted before God in Christ. God has taken away the sin debt… permanently. And again, as you know, our salvation is apart from our works.
Romans chapter 4 continues: “ Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works,  Saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered.  Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.” If ever a Christian lost his or her salvation because of sins committed after he or she trusted Christ, then that would mean that God imputed sin to his or her account. Yet, the Bible says that God will never impute sin to a Christian’s account. Jesus Christ already took care of sin; why are we still dredging up something that God put away?
ISSUE #2. You wrote, “I know that you are not saved by your works, however, what about a person who becomes gay or a serial killer who claimed that they are saved and die? And people who are saved started robbing and hurting people? Don’t those people need to ask for forgiveness? What about a person who kills someone in your family and they ask of your forgiveness or God’s?”
Once again, you know that we are saved by simple faith in Jesus Christ’s finished crosswork, and that we are not saved by any works that we have done (Romans 3:19-31; Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:4-5; et cetera). Yet, you are not consistently applying this logic. The very reason—yea, the only reason—we have security in Christ is because of the perfect nature of His work. If we were and are saved by our works, we would have no security because our works are imperfect (no wonder people in religion lack assurance of going to heaven). Hypothetically, if someone trusted Jesus Christ as his or her personal Saviour, they could live any way they want and not lose their salvation. As stated earlier, we were never by our works to start with, so our works do not keep us saved. Our lifestyles never saved us and our lifestyles can never make us “unsaved.” Let us deal with this in more detail.
Going to heaven or hell is not based on our performance or lack thereof; going to heaven or hell is an identity issue, an issue of what nature we have. If one is “in Adam,” unregenerate, having never dealt with that sin nature by faith alone in Christ’s shed blood and resurrection as sufficient payment for their sins, there is no imputed righteousness. That lack of a right standing before God is what results in going to hellfire. However, if one is “in Christ,” regenerated, having dealt with that sin nature by faith alone in Christ’s shed blood and resurrection as sufficient payment for their sins, there is imputed righteousness. That right standing before God is what results in going to heaven.
Please remember that it is the nature, not the works, that primarily offends God. The nature produces the works. Sinners are sinners not because they sin; they sin because they are sinners. Likewise, Christians are not Christians because they do good works; Christians do good works because they are Christians. Their Christian nature produces good works just as a sinner’s nature produces evil works. When a Christian sins, they still have their Christian nature (they just did not access it by faith). We do not lose our Christian identity when we sin; once we are in Jesus Christ we are always in Him. It is just that we do not always behave like saved individuals.
You asked, “What about a person who becomes gay or a serial killer who claimed that they are saved and die? And people who are saved started robbing and hurting people? Don’t those people need to ask for forgiveness? What about a person who kills someone in your family and they ask of your forgiveness or God?”
Remember, sin is sin and salvation is salvation. If a homosexual Christian or serial killer Christian needed to ask God for forgiveness when they pursued their particular sinful lifestyle, then lying Christians would need to ask God for forgiveness every time they were dishonest. Dirty- or evil-minded Christians would need to ask God for forgiveness when they have their illicit or foul thoughts. With that said, who is to say that we did not lose our salvation when we had a bad thought, told a lie, gossiped, used filthy language, were filled with pride, et cetera. To say that homosexual Christians and homicidal Christians lose their salvation, would be to say that God lets some Christians lose their seat in heaven but He lets lying Christians into heaven (“lying” would describe all Christians, correct?). We should not compare sins among sins. All sins dishonor the Lord Jesus Christ. All sin is doing what you want instead of what God wants. That includes lying, stealing, murdering, premarital sex, extramarital sex, cursing, pride, juvenile delinquency, lusting, envying, wrath, coveting, engaging in homosexual behavior, and so on.
As we mentioned earlier, when we start involving our performance, the uncertainties arise. Who is to say that we need to ask God for forgiveness for every single sin we have ever committed in life? Would we, at the end of each day, need to compose a list of all sins that we have committed the previous 24 hours, and ask God to forgive us of each and every act? What if we forgot some or most of those sins? Would that mean that God would never be able to forgive us? Would that mean we would go to hell now? There are sins in our past that we still do not recognize as sinful. Does that mean that God will not forgive us those sins until we confess them? Until we ask for forgiveness about things we cannot remember, does that mean that God will not forgive us but hold those sins against us? Friend, there is nothing but uncertainty, burdensome worry in these statements. We can avoid this by remembering the Bible rightly divided. We are not under Israel’s Law system, a “short-account system,” a performance-based system, et cetera. We are under grace. God has already accepted us, and now we need to behave like He has accepted us. We do not have to strive to get His blessings. He already gave us all of them in Christ!
Colossians 2:13 says, “And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses;” And Colossians 3:13: “Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.”
When did God forgive us? Did He not forgive us of all our sins the moment the Holy Spirit put us into Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 12:13)? If God has already dealt with our sins, why do we have to bring them up again and again in a confessional booth or prayer closet? Do we get forgiveness from God on the basis of what we do, or on the basis of what Jesus Christ did? The Holy Scriptures say that God has already forgiven us based on what Jesus Christ did. We need to leave it at that. We need to believe it.
Suppose, if you are a parent, that your child wronged you. Then, your child apologized, and you told your child that you forgave him or her. But, the next day, here comes your child again, “Oh, will you not please forgive me? Oh, I beg you to forgive me! Please, please, please forgive me!” What are you going to say? And the next day, a third time, “Oh, will you not please forgive me? Please, please, please! Oh, forgive me! Forgive me!” Over and over and over again, you are asked for forgiveness. Would it not be pointless? Would it not break your heart? Would it not break God’s heart to have His child (you, the person He told, “I have forgiven you of all your sins!”), His child come to Him as ask, “Oh, Father, will you not forgive me? Please forgive me!” What should He forgive you of? He already wiped your sin debt clean in Jesus Christ! There is nothing there being held against you! You have imputed righteousness, not imputed sins. Remember our discussion earlier about Romans chapter 4? (Friend, if God were holding sins against you, that would mean you were going to hell!) Why are you asking God to deal with something when He already did it long before you have a chance to do it?
You raised a good point. If we have done someone wrong or someone has done us wrong, forgiveness in that sense is not to be confused with God’s forgiveness. God forgiving us, or us forgiving others, or them forgiving us, are all separate issues. Surely, we should ask someone to forgive us if we did him or her wrong, but whether that person forgives us or not, we still have God’s forgiveness (and His forgiveness ultimately matters). If someone has done us wrong, and they ask us for forgiveness, we should forgive them because God forgave us for Christ’s sake when we committed greater offenses against Him! Ephesians 4:32: “And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.”
How many sins did Adam and Eve have to commit to be kicked out of the Garden of Eden? Only one. They ate of the forbidden fruit, the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and that broke fellowship with God. Adam and Eve did not murder anyone, pursue homosexual lifestyles, rob or steal, get drunk or use drugs, et cetera. One act of disobedience—eating a forbidden fruit—and they were banished from God’s presence! To say that certain acts of disobedience (Christians being gay, Christians being serial killers, et cetera) necessitate them asking for forgiveness, but that other acts of disobedience are not as serious, is to miss that Jesus Christ paid for them all, the “major” sins and the “minor” ones. We tend to rate sins and compare sins, but each and every sin sent Jesus Christ to Calvary, each and every sin merited God’s wrath.
If they have trusted Jesus Christ’s finished crosswork, they are still saved, they still have a right standing before God positionally, they still have their Christian identity, and they are still going to heaven. Remember, in God’s eyes, positionally, Christians are not “in Adam” anymore. They are “in Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:17). They are “accepted in the beloved” (Ephesians 1:6). Yes, Christians do not necessarily act like who they really are, and it is unfortunate. It is similar to adults behaving like children—they are not behaving in accordance with their identity. They have not matured in the Word of God. They have failed to reckon, to understand, that they are “dead indeed unto sin, but are alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:11). They are living in their own flesh, in their own resources, in their own strength, and they cannot produce godly living. They are still operating as though they are sinners instead of remembering they are saints, called unto a life of good works that are “by Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:11; cf. Ephesians 2:10; the whole book of Titus!; et cetera).
ISSUE #3. You wrote, “I have heard preachers state, ‘Once you are saved, you are always saved.’ However, I never believed that because people take advantage of that saying and do things that are ungodly…. I don’t understand God’s forgiveness. This can also lead to people not doing the will of God but committing sin acts because they believe that their sins are already forgiven.”
A brother once aptly stated, “Grace, because it is grace, can be abused. But, because it is grace, is should not be abused.” In other words, God knows that by Him offering to us grace and salvation from our sins as a free gift, He is risking that we will take the offer lightly, that we will use our liberty in Christ to then live as we please. But, God in His grace teaches us how to think about that grace system. When we think like Him, we will behave accordingly. Why did God take us out of the performance-based acceptance system of religion? Because we could not merit His favor in our own strength! He gave us grace freely because He knew we could never earn it on our own! There is no power to do good in the Law system. The Law says to do good—but it does not enable us to do good. The Law only condemns us (Romans 3:19-20). Grace says to do good because grace gives us the power to do good!
When a Christian uses grace as a license to sin, just remember he or she was doing that before he or she became a Christian! Grace is not needed to live any way we want; before we found the grace of God, or should we say, the grace of God found us, we were living however we wanted. Please read the book of Titus. Read Ephesians 2:1-10. Study Romans chapters 1-8. These passages will orient your mind to think properly about Christian living in this the Dispensation of Grace.
Again, God’s grace does not save us on the basis of our works (Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:4-5; et cetera), but that does not mean that God does not care how we live. The verse after Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.”
Titus 2:11-14 is perhaps the best example of God’s grace teaching us how to live: “ For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men,  Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world;  Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ;  Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.”
Christian good works—not to be confused with doing good works in an attempt to be a Christian—is simply the outward manifestation of the indwelling Holy Spirit. The “fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance” (Galatians 5:22-23). Christian service is dealt with extensively in Romans chapters 12-16. As mentioned earlier, Paul’s entire epistle to Titus addresses Christians doing good works. Christian good works are just Christians walking in their new identity in Christ. This comes once we have an understanding of that identity, and we come to understand that identity by studying and believing Paul’s epistles, Romans through Philemon (the part of the Bible that describes God’s current dealings with mankind!).
But, in reality, it is not us doing the good works. It is Christ in us. We read in Galatians 2:20: “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” Read Colossians 1:29: “Whereunto I also labour, striving according to his working, which worketh in me mightily.” And Philippians 2:13: “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” Also, 1 Thessalonians 2:13: “For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe.” And, 1 Corinthians 15:10: “But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.” Finally, Philippians 1:21: “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” It is the Lord Jesus Christ living His life in and through us the Christians as we walk by faith in an intelligent understanding of God’s Word to us. The Holy Spirit will then take that sound doctrine from His Word and use it to transform us from the inside out. Again, “the word of God… which effectually worketh also in you that believe” (1 Thessalonians 2:13).
“ As ye have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him:  Rooted and built up in him, and stablished in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving” (Colossians 2:6-7). How did we “receive Christ Jesus the Lord?” By striving with all our might? By working for salvation? Paul asked in Galatians 3:2, “Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?” Did we not receive Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit by “the hearing of faith,” hearing the Gospel of the Grace of God (1 Corinthians 15:3-4), how that Christ died for our sins, He was buried, and He rose again the third day for our justification, and then believing/trusting in this (the Word of God) which we heard?
According to Colossians 2:6-7, our Christian lives (our “walk”) operate on the same basis as our salvation—it is Christ’s performance, not our performance (because as sinners, we can do nothing for God). Notice the word “as”… “as ye have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him.” Just like we got saved, our Christian service works the same way—by faith in what Christ did, without our works and without our performance. Did Jesus Christ sin? No. When we rely on Jesus Christ, His power and His Word, we will not sin. It is when we walk in that old identity (Adamic nature) that we sin. When we do not renew our minds by studying and believing God’s Word rightly divided, we will lapse into that old thinking mode, and thinking like lost people, we will thus act like lost people (Romans 12:1-2; Ephesians 4:17-32; Colossians 3:1-17).
Even as Christians, we can strive to perform and try to accomplish all the religious duty at church, and eventually we will mess it up. Just like with salvation, our failure to fulfill God’s standards also happens in Christian service. The Apostle Paul “delighted in the law of God after the inward man” in Romans 7:22, so we understand Paul here is speaking of his Christian life (not the life he had when he was lost, for no lost person delights after God’s Word). “For to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not” (verse 18). Paul is trying to live the Christian life, and guess what, he failed. Verse 24 says, “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” Paul concludes Romans chapter 7 in defeat. He is not letting Christ live His life in him, he is trying to live Christ’s life, and that just is not enough. Just like his working for salvation was futile, his living the Christian life was futile.
Romans chapter 8 is the key to the Christian life, as Paul writes, “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (verse 1). This is not talking about salvation unto eternal life and heaven (as commonly assumed)—the context is Christian living, Christian good works. A Christian’s service will not be condemned by God and self if it is the Holy Spirit working within the Christian (link the “walk” here in Romans 8:1 with the “walk” we read about earlier in Colossians 2:6-7). The believer must “walk after the Spirit” if he or she is to live a life pleasing to God. How? By us performing? The Galatian believers thought so, and Paul had to tell them No! Galatians 3:3, “Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?” The “flesh” there is their performance.
If the believer’s service is to be acceptable to God, it must be the Holy Spirit working through the believer. The only way this can happen is if the believer is studying God’s Word and then, by faith, letting the Spirit of God work in him or her. Again, “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13). This will then motivate the believer to do good works (but notice, it did not originate with us, it originated with the indwelling Holy Spirit). Again, “the word of God… which effectually worketh also in you that believe” (1 Thessalonians 2:13).
If it is you living in your own resources and your own capacity, your Christian life will be in ruins (see earlier comments about Romans chapter 7; you can also see Galatians 5:1-6). But, if you study and believe the Bible (using dispensational Bible study), God the Holy Spirit will “renew your mind” (Romans 12:1-2; Ephesians 4:23; Colossians 3:10) and then you can make informed decisions as to what God would have you to do regarding an issue. In His Word, the King James Bible, God has given us instructions on what we are to do, and that is in Paul’s epistles. Romans through Philemon. We do not have to guess what we think is right, or wonder what God wants us to do—we know what He wants us to do! His grace tells us all about it.
Grace, because it is grace, can be taken for granted and abused. However, because it is grace, it should not be abused. Grace is free to us because it cost Jesus Christ His life! We should never diminish the extraordinarily high cost of grace. Grace was not cheap, and it was not free. If we appreciate the fact that sin is what killed our Saviour, we will think about sin differently. If we appreciate the fact that sin is not who we are anymore, we will not sin. We are in Christ, called unto good works. Father God wants to accomplish in and through us some wonderful things. Since we are still in these bodies of sin, we can (and will) lapse back into the old way of thinking and living. Still, God will not give up on us. He has accepted us in the Beloved always. He has forgiven us always, and we need to move on to maturity. Grace teaches us to put away sin just as Jesus Christ put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. Grace teaches us that we are dead indeed unto sin and alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. We were not saved by our works, so we are not kept saved by our works. It is not our performance, but Jesus Christ’s performance at Calvary, that gives us the victory over sin—whether eternal hellfire or daily failures.