Once Saved Always Saved?

The following is an email discussion with an Evangelical who was trying to understand the Catholic position on "once saved, always saved". We've left the spelling as is:

So, do Catholic teach once save always saved (Calvin) and or a person can give away their salvation (Armenian)? Taking this in light of the seal of the Holy Spirit never leaving, it seems the former, but I know that isn’t true Catholic doctrine, might be more like Lutheran or Methodist or Presbyterian or Orthodox or something though..

Our belief on salvation is neither Calvin or Arminian. In fact, we predate those two theories by 1500 years or so. The Catholic faith teaches that original sin is washed away at baptism with only concupiscence left, which is a propensity to sin. Baptism brings many graces, but the person can choose to sin after baptism. They have free will until death. Salvation is only assured when the race has been run. (2 Tim 4:7)

We don't think it is biblical to say, "once saved always saved." Catholics would say that God gave us free will and that even after we are authentically "born again," we can always choose to sin. An example of this is the number of "born again" Christian men who have struggled with pornography (including 60% of Evangelical pastors according to Focus on the Family). We believe we can damage the bond with Christ even after we have had an authentic "born again" experience. If someone is into porn, it doesn't matter whether they are a Born Again Evangelical, Catholic, or whatever type of Christian, their soul is in grave danger. Get help!

I will not even pass judgment on myself. True, my conscience does not reproach me at all, but that does not prove that I am acquitted: the Lord alone is my judge. There must be no passing of premature judgment. Leave that until the Lord comes; he will light up all that is hidden in the dark and reveal the secret intentions of men’s hearts. Then will be the time for each one to have whatever praise he deserves, from God.
1 Corinthians 4:1-16

The Evangelical Chuck Swindoll criticized Catholicism citing Romans 8:1, "Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." A big question about Romans 8:1 is this: What does it mean to be "in Christ Jesus"?

Chuck Swindoll would say the word "NOW" in Romans 8:1 means that we can now be certain of our salvation from this moment forward. We don't think the text says that at all. The word "now" means exactly that, "now." It does not say "from now on..." It says "NOW." It's important not to try to add meaning to sentences that are already perfectly clear in the Bible.

Being in Christ Jesus is a moment-to-moment thing and after our born-again experience, there are many times when a Christian has to look in the mirror and ask, "where am I at with the Lord today?" Catholics believe that we must continue to be in the presence of God in order to remain free of condemnation. If we drift, we must come back. It is important to remember that the passage leading to Romans 8:1 says:

For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do ... For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. (Rom 7:15-20)

He is speaking in the present tense. These are battles we each face even after our born again experience. Even the apostle Paul did. We must run the race until the finish line. (2 Tim 4:7). 

My Evangelical friend continues: Catholics believe baptism is the critical moment of salvation. So, I am Still wondering if the first (communion, per one of your emails) conversion or second conversion (confession or repentance, same thing?) is necessary for salvation, since baptism doesn’t save?

Confession and repentance are related but not the same thing. Generally, repentance has to happen before a genuine confession can take place. They both orient us (or reorient us) toward the Grace of baptism.

Baptism is the critical moment in salvation. It saves us from original sin and any personal sin committed before the baptism. It also launches us into the Grace of God which is awesome. However, after the baptism we can choose to sin. Baptism does not prevent future sin that may be committed after the baptism and before the time we finish "running the race". A BIG Repentance (2nd conversion or born again experience) and subsequent instances of repentance return us to the Grace of baptism. Otherwise the soul is in peril.

My Evangelical friend continues: I guess this leads to the question, as a Catholic how do you (or anyone) preach the Gospel and do you preach the Gospel with assurance that one will be in Heaven when they die?

We tell them to repent and be baptized, surrender to Jesus, and then we give them a whole bunch of tools (Confession, repentance, penance, Eucharist, other Sacraments, fellowship, etc...) to guard the grace of baptism until they come to the finish line. (2 Tm 4:7)

My Evangelical friend continues: This process beginning (as a protestant Christian) when they accept Jesus as Lord and Savior and live out the Gospel daily in their lives (including repentance, but repentance and other works don’t save, but do show that an individual has Jesus in them and working through them, faith leading to good works, not faith and works, maybe unless Catholic doctrine includes placing faith in Jesus as an adult or in confirmation, as a work). Please let me further know your thoughts.

Repentance is not a WORK. It's a state of mind, a state of heart and an orientation to be open to the mercy of God. Proper faith is followed by good works. Occasionally, someone might do it backwards, which is ok as long as they do arrive at faith eventually. They might do good works which put them in a frame of mind that will bring them to faith and surrender.

Related articles

  1. Faith vs. Works
  2. Are Catholics 'Born Again'?
  3. Baptism
  4. Flowchart of Catholic Doctrine