One doctrinal formula which Calvinists bandy about and non-Calvinists like to mock is “once saved, always saved.” Like almost all doctrinal formulas, this one is shorthand for a longer assertion. It’s easy to expand it to “once a person has been saved, that person cannot lose his or her salvation.” But that formulation still presumes that we know what we’re talking about when we say someone “is saved.” Although this language is often used, especially among American evangelicals since the 19th C, I don’t think “saved” can meaningfully be used as an adjective as it always is, or even as an absolute verb (i.e. a verb without additional specification of the predicate). Now, some folks who know their Bibles really well will immediately point out that the apostles used the word “saved” in various contexts without adding additional specification (Eph 2:5 and 8 come to mind). But we must always ask, in every context, “What is the subject of the sentence saved from?”
Since the notion of “once saved, always saved” has come up recently in a few places, I thought I would re-post here an (edited) email I wrote back in 2010 in answer to a question from a friend. First, his question:
What does it mean to be “saved”? Is it a once-and-for-all thing, or a lifelong process, or what? A fellow who grows up a believer and manifests all the signs of a Christian and then in, say, his late teens turns away from the faith: is he saved?