A core doctrine of Evangelical Protestantism is “once saved, always saved.” This means if a person puts his faith in Jesus and sincerely asks the Lord to come into his heart, then that person is guaranteed to go to Heaven for all eternity. Another term for this doctrine is “assurance of salvation.”
This is by far THE most attractive and comforting doctrine in the history of Christianity. But is it true?
The various denominations that promote this doctrine cite certain Bible verses to prove that “once saved, always saved” is true, such as: “…that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but shall have eternal life” (John 3:16); and, “If you confess with your mouth ‘Jesus is Lord’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9).
Well, there you go, ironclad proof that this comforting doctrine is true.
However, these folks never seem to mention other biblical verses, such as the words of Jesus Himself, first in Matthew 7:21, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven”; and then in Matthew 24:13, “But the one who perseveres to the end will be saved.”
Also, there are the words of St. Paul, such as in his letter to the Romans: “Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off” (Romans 11:22). In his first letter to the believers in Corinth, Paul wrote: “I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize” (1 Corinthians 9:27).
Hmm, it doesn’t really sound like St. Paul promoted the idea of “once saved, always saved,” does it?
Finally, the epistle to the Hebrews clearly indicates that it’s possible for someone who has put his faith in Christ to later lose that faith: “For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift…And have tasted the good word of God…If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance” (Hebrews 6:4-6).
So what is the true Catholic position on the idea that we can be assured of our salvation? Well, in a word, the Church’s position is: “nope.” (The actual word used is “presumption.” See the Catechism of the Catholic Church, section 2092.)
You see, no matter how comforting it would be to have absolute assurance that we are going to Heaven, salvation is a life-long journey rather than a one-time event. Unfortunately, it is possible for someone to stop persevering in the faith and lose God’s sanctifying grace. If St. Paul, of all people, knew that he could be “disqualified for the prize,” we must not presume that our salvation is absolutely assured.
But be aware, if you’re concerned about this issue, then that’s a good sign. It means you really care about doing God’s will. If you ever reach the point where you don’t even care about this issue, that’s when you’re in trouble. That’s when you’ve drifted so far away from God that you don’t even realize your salvation is in jeopardy.
So don’t worry. Just keep on being faithful. Each day keep on loving God and loving your neighbor as yourself. Keep on receiving the Sacraments, and everything will work out fine. But please don’t presume that salvation is a “done deal” just because of a one-time sincere prayer. Scripture clearly teaches that this delightfully comforting “doctrine” is actually quite false.