If a man is righteous but has a son who is unrighteous, the righteousness of the father does not go to the account of the son. That is what the Lord told Ezekiel. On the other hand, if a man is unrighteous and does wrong and his son sees how he lives, gives consideration, and lives a righteous life, the father’s iniquity does not go to the son’s account. “All the souls are mine,” said the Lord, and “the soul that sinneth, it shall die” (Ez. 18:4).
The Lord goes on and gives more possibilities. If a wicked man changes, is there hope for him? “But if the wicked will turn from all his sins that he hath committed, and keep all my statutes, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live, he shall not die. All his transgressions that he hath committed, they shall not be mentioned unto him: in his righteousness that he hath done he shall live” (Ez. 18:21, 22). Yes, there is good hope for the one who turns from wickedness. True repentance is followed by an open door of grace.
What if a righteous man turns from what is right and lives a life of evil? He had better not hope in his past righteousness. “But when the righteous turneth away from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, and doeth according to all the abominations that the wicked man doeth, shall he live? All his righteousness that he hath done shall not be mentioned: in his trespass that he hath trespassed, and in his sin that he hath sinned, in them shall he die” (Ez. 18:24).
I had a friend who in considering OSAS (once saved always saved) said he believed that the Old Testament did not teach it but that he was leaning toward it because of the New Testament. However, the New Testament says that all that is written in the Old is there to teach us how God works. “Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come” (1 Cor. 10:11). So my friend needed to see the New Testament examples that reflect what the Lord said to Ezekiel.
Jesus likened the coming of the day the Son of man to servants in a household waiting for their master to return from a journey. He said that the one who was being faithful at the time the Lord returned would be rewarded. But there was another servant. He turned from what he had been because he thought, “The lord delayeth his coming.” He who had once done what his master wanted became evil and began “to smite his fellowservants, and to eat and drink with the drunken” (Matt. 24:49). Very much like the man who turned from doing right in Ezekiel, this man had a bad ending. “The lord of that servant shall come in a day when he looketh not for him, and in an hour that he is not aware of, And shall cut him asunder, and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 24:50, 51).
But didn’t Jesus say he was evil and a hypocrite? Yes, and Ezekiel could have said that of the once righteous man he described as turning to unrighteousness. Evil happens in the heart before the outward action is taken. A person backslides in his heart before his backsliding is apparent to others.
Another New Testament instance of one who had been working for righteousness but abandoned it is from Paul’s letter to Timothy, urging him to come quickly because Paul was alone. Part of the reason was Demas, who Paul said, “hath forsaken me, having loved this present world, and is departed” (2 Tim. 4:10). Abandoning the ministry is not always an indication of turning to unrighteousness, but loving the world is. The Apostle John made that clear. “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:15).
Peter gave warning to believers about the perils of becoming casual about the things of God. “Ye therefore, beloved, seeing ye know these things before, beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own stedfastness” (2 Peter 3:17). Falling from steadfastness indicates losing what had kept them firm. The warning was that they could be destroyed, along with those who instead of taking diligence to be people of “all holy conversation and godliness” (2 Pet. 3:11), were twisting the scriptures to their own destruction. The word destruction here carries the meaning of “the destruction which consists of eternal misery in hell” (Strong’s). Why would Peter, under the Holy Spirit’s inspiration give such a warning if OSAS were really true?
But what about John 10:27, 28? “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.” And what a wonderful promise that is! I am so glad that neither atheist Richard Dawkins nor the ISIS leaders have anything to do with my salvation, regardless of how they cajole or threaten. No man can take us from Christ. Those who are listening to His voice, are accountable to Him, and are following Him are perfectly safe.
On the other hand, what of those who stop listening, refuse to give Him an account, and quit following? “Well; because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not highminded, but fear: For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee” (Rom. 11:20).
I have been asked when one loses salvation. My response is when they lose their faith. This is because our life is only by faith in Christ. Look up the salvation texts and you will see that just as in the above verse, they portray belief in the present tense. “Whosoever believeth…shall not perish.” So we are secure as we believe, as we listen to our blessed Shepherd, and as we follow Him. As the beloved apostle wrote, “And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son” (1John 5:11). Eternal life is in the Son and we are in Him only by faith.
Is there hope for the backslider? Yes. Even though Israel had been broken off, they could be brought back. “And they also, if they abide not still in unbelief, shall be graffed in: for God is able to graff them in again” (Rom. 11:23). Peter three times denied Jesus yet received a special welcome. Those who have strayed will also find welcome in the Savior who declared, “Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out” (John 6:37b).
My conclusion is that those who are humbly trusting in Christ need not fear, but those who have turned back to sin have no basis for hope even if they at one time believed. Their only hope is to come back in repentance and faith, “Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works” (Rev. 2:5).
That’s my brief take on OSAS.