A Substitute For Grace

By Jeff Paton

"For by grace are ye saved through faith"

One thing that I have learned over time is that people are very passionate about their belief in the doctrine of Once Saved Always Saved/ Eternal Security. To many it is much more than just another doctrine, it is the Gospel itself! I can understand how people connect the doctrines they believe into a package and see them as all relating to the Gospel, but I must admit that I was somewhat shocked to hear how adamant some people were about the issue. Even Charles Stanley states this as being the case by saying, "The very gospel comes under attack when the eternal security of the believer is questioned." This would explain his incessant references to this doctrine in nearly every sermon that he preaches. I would too if I believed that the doctrine of Eternal Security was the very Gospel of Christ! I understand his passion, but not the rationality of his connection. 

Others have stated the case even more strongly. They follow the idea of the "gospel" equivalent to its logical end, they say, " If you do not believe that once a person is saved he is always saved, then you have NEVER really trusted in Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior, you are lost in your sins, and you are heading straight to Hell," and another way it is frequently stated is, "Eternal Security is the Gospel!" It was quite enlightening for me to see the depth in which some people take this! I never knew that there were some people that believed in unconditional security that considered anyone that was not in agreement with them as hopelessly doomed to an eternal hell! I have always taken a strong stance on the issue since the truth of the matter was revealed to me from the Scriptures. This of course had brought me into disagreement with many of my Christian friends, but as far as I know, they did not question the validity of my faith in Christ anymore than I would have questioned theirs. Once Saved Always Saved ( OSAS ), is without a doubt a dangerous doctrine if it is followed to its logical end. I see the belief in this doctrine as hazardous, but not fatal to one's salvation if they are not using it for justifying living in sin. The real danger comes in the form of living in sin and using the excuse of Eternal Security to justify it. Some go down this primrose path because of the inevitable conclusion of OSAS is that they are still in grace regardless of how much open rebellion they wallow in. This is known as license or antinomianism. People can disagree with me on the issue of the doctrine of Eternal Security and I still consider them to be truly Christians. I know of several Christians that believe OSAS and are examples of faith and holiness that continue to challenge both myself and others. Their doctrine is not a stumbling block to them as it has been to others. Thank God that not all believers in Eternal Security are as void of grace towards others as Charles Stanley and the originators of these other quotes are! Sure, no matter what position a Christian takes on the matter, it is an important issue for them. I believe there is room for these differences within Christendom. Not all issues are candidates for driving a wedge between Christians to the point of calling each other unbelievers! 

I know that many may be wondering why I would make such a harsh accusation that many teachers of OSAS are void of grace in this matter. I do not state it to defame anybody, but to make an observation. Many may deny that saying that "Eternal Security is the gospel" means that they relegate all dissenters from their doctrine as being on their way to an eternal hell. Some may boldly state the way they feel about the matter and overtly say that anyone who does not believe in Once Saved Always Saved is hopelessly on their way to hell. There are also those that arrive at the point, but do so more subtly, and state their case through innuendo or implication. If Eternal security is the Gospel, then surely, to deny the doctrine is to miss the Gospel. This is certainly a serious charge! I hope that the reader is beginning to see some of the problem of making this doctrine the "gospel." Is the doctrine of Once Saved Always Saved really the very "good news" that all of our salvation hinges upon? The problems with teaching OSAS in this manner has multiple consequences. First, it replaces the object of our faith for salvation by putting it in a doctrine, and not in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Secondly, it asks someone to put faith into a well meaning, but unscriptural doctrine as essential to the salvation of our souls. If it were true as these people dogmatically state or imply, then we must ask as to why the Scriptures never seem to see this mysterious connection of salvation to some belief concerning irrevocable salvation. It also ignores the fact that if this is the Gospel, then why was God so secretive about it in His revelation to us? For the "Good News" to be any "news" at all, it must be plain and evident. Otherwise, we are bound up in seeking salvation through some special Gnosis instead of the plainly revealed message concerning Christ.

What are we then to do with all of Church history? Are we to say that some of the greatest evangelists of all time were never really saved because they denied this doctrine? What of John and Charles Wesley? With all of the "Once Saved Always Saved" people around, why would God use these men so powerfully when He could have used "believers"? How do we explain the fact that the Early Church knew nothing of such a doctrine? How do we explain the consistency of First century believers in the denial of Eternal Security, and the strange absence of any doctrinal witness to validate the belief of OSAS in the Early Church? What we do see is the abrupt doctrinal shift away from Scriptural Christianity as occurring at a singular focal point, which was the introduction of fatalistic Manichaeanism into Christian thought by Augustine. Is it any surprise to see the modern descendents of this doctrinal heritage making the doctrines of Calvinism, and the acceptance thereof, as being the "gospel" itself, and essential to salvation? It is a strange and inconsistent doctrine indeed that believes in fatalistic predestination, yet doubts or denies the salvation of those who disagree with their doctrine. If we are predestined by fatalistic decree, how could anything we believe have any impact on our salvation at all? You would be predestined to heaven or hell regardless of what you believed if such a doctrine were true. Does belief in fatalism, predestination, or Eternal Security replace the atonement of Christ, or the Gospel message? When we hinge our faith and belief on anything but Christ for salvation, we have truly created a substitute for grace!

How then is OSAS a substitute for grace? Grace by definition is "unmerited favor." It is God reaching out to offer that which we do not deserve. It cannot be earned, and it cannot be merited. The passage, "For by grace are ye saved through faith", contains two main elements, grace and faith. Salvation comes through God's unmerited gift to us. It is obtained upon the condition of faith. The "Good News" is grace; it is the Gospel. To say that OSAS is the Gospel is to replace grace as the Gospel. We are forever told by Scripture to cast our faith entirely on the work of Christ on our behalf; the atonement of Christ, God's unmerited favor; grace! Predestination, fatalism, Eternal Security, or Once Saved Always Saved may be what some are putting their faith in for salvation, but it is not grace!  The object of our faith is to be in the work of Christ, and never in any personal merit or doctrine! 

"But", you say, "I believe that it is all of grace, and I still believe in Eternal Security." That my friend is fine as long as you do not teach that one is lost over their denial of Once Saved Always Saved. Once you make acceptance of this doctrine a condition, you have exceeded grace and have created a "gospel" of your own. There are many who believe in Eternal Security that do not use it as an occasion for stumbling. There are many who do not exclude those that do not believe in OSAS as genuine believers. They do this because they truly grasp the meaning of grace. But there are many out there who equate OSAS with the Gospel of Christ. My concern is not with their condemnation of believers in conditional security, for I am secure in my relationship with Christ. I can be secure, for my faith does not reside in a doctrine, but in Christ. My concern is for those who have misplaced the focus of their faith; the ones who are banking on Eternal Security to get them to heaven, and not Christ. I also wish to remove a wedge that unnecessarily comes between Christians, while at the same time allowing room for healthy doctrinal debate.     

Saved by grace, through faith. Accept no substitutes!