Does the OPC believe in “once saved, always saved”?
Without being evasive, I would answer “yes and no.” I say that because there are different ways to understand the good question you’re asking.
Let me explain in a little more detail: If your question is about “eternal security” and whether an elect person can lose their salvation, the OPC clearly believes and teaches that an elect person is eternally secure in God’s saving grace, and cannot lose his salvation. If God has truly saved a person by grace through faith in Christ, he will not revoke that saving action, “for the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable” (Rom. 11:29). Once the Holy Spirit has made a person spiritually alive through regeneration, that work is never undone or reversed.
You may be wondering why I said, “… and no.” Most often when we talk about the eternal security of God’s elect, we use the language of “the perseverance of the saints” rather than the phrase “once saved, always saved.” We believe that the language of perseverance is more careful and accurate as to what the Scriptures teach, and less open to abuse or misunderstanding. Some of our evangelical brethren with Reformed leanings will use the language of “once saved, always saved,” but with different baggage attached and with different underlying assumptions.
This language of the “perseverance of the saints” is rooted in our Westminster Confession of Faith, which is the theological standard of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Since the chapter on the Perseverance of the Saints is brief, allow me to reproduce it for you below.
Of the Perseverance of the Saints
1. They, whom God hath accepted in his Beloved, effectually called, and sanctified by his Spirit, can neither totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace, but shall certainly persevere therein to the end, and be eternally saved.
2. This perseverance of the saints depends not upon their own free will, but upon the immutability of the decree of election, flowing from the free and unchangeable love of God the Father; upon the efficacy of the merit and intercession of Jesus Christ, the abiding of the Spirit, and of the seed of God within them, and the nature of the covenant of grace: from all which ariseth also the certainty and infallibility thereof.
3. Nevertheless, they may, through the temptations of Satan and of the world, the prevalency of corruption remaining in them, and the neglect of the means of their preservation, fall into grievous sins; and, for a time, continue therein: whereby they incur God’s displeasure, and grieve his Holy Spirit, come to be deprived of some measure of their graces and comforts, have their hearts hardened, and their consciences wounded; hurt and scandalize others, and bring temporal judgments upon themselves.
You’ll notice that the focus is really upon God’s love and work in choosing, in saving and in applying salvation to the elect. Because of what God has done, is doing, and will do, the elect “shall certainly persevere” and will be eternally saved. God preserves His people, and therefore they persevere through his grace and goodness.
At the same time we affirm these beautiful truths, we recognize that true believers may fall into grievous sins, and may continue in such sin for a time. When they do, they incur God’s fatherly displeasure and grieve the Holy Spirit. This can cause true believers to be deprived of some measure of their graces and comforts, have their hearts hardened and consciences wounded. They may hurt and scandalize others, and even bring God’s temporal judgments upon themselves by their folly. Yet even in such cases, the elect do not totally or finally fall away from the state of grace. God will bring his prodigal child back to himself.
On a popular level, the language of “once saved, always saved” can sometimes be used as a cover for sin. The thought process goes something like this: “God has saved me, and I cannot lose my salvation. Therefore, I may engage in sin and behave disobediently toward God. He won’t revoke my salvation, so I can actually sin with impunity. In fact, my sin will provoke more of his grace. Therefore, let us sin that grace may abound!”
To such a line of thought the Apostle Paul emphatically said, “By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Rom. 6:2) If we are made alive in Christ, and belong to him, then we are dead to sin and cannot be content to live in sin any longer. As we grow in grace, we increasingly hate sin and its effects. We are putting off the old man with all of his corrupt practices. We are also putting on the new man, being conformed increasingly to the image of Christ. Thus, the perseverance of the saints happens as they make progress in their sanctification, and growth toward maturity.
One last thought: not everyone who makes a profession of faith in Christ is necessarily a true believer. Judas Iscariot would be an example. As John says in 1 John 2:19, “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.” Some who falsely pretend to be Christians, and make apparently convincing claims, will show their true colors by turning away from their former profession and leaving the Christian community. They didn’t lose their salvation because they never possessed salvation in the first place.
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