Can Christians lose theirSalvation
Michael Penfold, Bicester, England [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
The first step in settling the question of your ‘eternal security’ is to make sure you understand what salvation really is.
Do you know what happened to you when you were saved? Let’s have a look at some Scriptures:
- Acts 3. 19. You were converted - God turned you around.
- 1 Peter 1. 18. You were redeemed - purchased or bought back.
- James 1. 18. You were regenerated - given a new life.
- 2 Corinthians 5. 19. You were reconciled - made at peace.
- 1 Corinthians 1. 2. You were sanctified - set apart for God.
- Romans 3. 28. You were justified - God imputed your sin to Christ and imputed righteousness to you. The judge of the universe has declared you righteous.
- Romans 8. 15. You were adopted - You have not only been born into God’s family as a child, but you have been placed in God’s family as a son.
Added to this, you were sealed by, indwelt by, baptized in and anointed with God’s Holy Spirit, Eph 1. 13; John 14. 17; 1 Cor. 12. 13; 1 John 2. 27. You received everlasting life, John 3. 36, and because you are now ‘in Christ’ you are predestined to be conformed to His image, Rom. 8. 29. You have come from darkness to light, from death to life and from the power of Satan to God. Once you were blind but now you can see! Truly, you have been ‘blessed with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ’, Eph. 1. 3.
All these things were true of you the moment you were saved! These are positional truths that apply to every genuinely born again believer.
So, if you were to lose your salvation God would have to reverse all these operations each time you lost it!
But I still commit sin!
Some believers mistakenly think that when they were saved, God only forgave the sins they had committed up to that point in time. They feel they have to keep confessing their sins daily just to ‘stay saved’, and if they commit a sin bad enough they will lose their salvation and need to be born again, again. However, when God justifies a sinner He clears his guilt, past, present and future. The sinner is declared righteous on the basis of the death of Christ. Think about it; when Christ died on the cross you were not even born so all your sins were future! Having believed on the Lord Jesus, all your sins are now seen by God as having been cleansed by the blood of Christ. God will not now impute them to you, Rom. 4. 8.
Should you sin, as a believer you must confess this sin to God, 1 John 1. 9, this is to maintain your communion with the Father, not your salvation. When God adopts us into His family we actually become children of God, 1 John 3. 1. Although a child in a human family may disobey his parents and be punished, nothing can change the fact that he still a child. Thus it is with us. God will not cast away any of His true children.
Does this mean I can live as I like?
This was the ‘logical’ objection of some objectors in Paul’s day, but he anticipated the challenge. ‘Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we that are dead to sin live any longer therein?’, Rom. 6. 2.
When you were saved you died to sin and changed masters. Instead of serving sin you now serve Christ. You are not free to do as you like; you are ‘free’ now to do the Lord’s will. Any true believer who tries to ‘live as he likes’ will be chastened by their Father, Heb. 12. 6-11, and any professing Christian whose lifestyle has never changed only proves that he was never saved in the first place, Heb. 12. 8. Look at Judas. He did not lose his salvation. The Lord Jesus made that clear when He said of the twelve disciples, ‘Ye are clean, but not all’, John 13. 10. Judas was an apostate, and went to his appointed place, not a backslider.
But what about all those tricky verses?
Let’s have a look at six classic verses that are often supposedly used to teach that believers can lose their salvation:
a. John 15. 6, ‘If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned’.
These verses are about ‘abiding in Christ’ and refer to our ‘communion’ with Him, not our ‘union’ with Him. The Lord Jesus Himself speaks in verse 10 of His own abiding in the Father, through keeping His Father’s commandments. Christ was not attempting to maintain union with the Father, but was maintaining communion with Him. The figurative language of verse 6 speaks of a believer, who through lack of communion with Christ loses his testimony before men (men gather them and burn them, not God).
b. Galatians 5. 4, ‘ye are fallen from grace’.
Many Christians would abhor any thought of earning salvation by works, but they are attempting to keep their salvation by works, which amounts to the same thing. You cannot keep by works what you received by faith. You don’t earn a gift, nor do you work to keep it, Rom. 6. 23.
Thus, falling from grace in the context of Galatians means that believers who try to keep the law to ‘stay saved’ have fallen away from the true teaching of salvation through grace. They have not lost their salvation, but they have lost their appreciation and understanding of what grace really is.
c. Colossians 1. 21-23, ‘And you . . . hath he reconciled . . . if ye continue in the faith’.
Does this verse teach that salvation is conditional? No. Very often the word ‘if’ in the Bible means ‘since’. If you were asked to turn off a light switch, you might reply ‘If you say so’. The use of the word ‘if’ does not necessarily imply doubt. These verses simply mean ‘if, as is the case, you continue’. Continuing in the faith is thus a proof of salvation, not a condition of salvation.
d. Hebrews 6. 4-6, ‘For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened . . . if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance’.
These people were never saved! They were enlightened but not saved. They tasted but did not drink. They experienced spiritual power but were not personally born again. These were Jewish people who had come out of Christ-rejecting Judaism and into a knowledge of the truth, yet they had stopped short of actual faith in Christ. They had then turned back to Christ-rejecting Judaism (apostasy) and rejected the light they had received.
The context clearly shows that the writer to the Hebrews was not speaking of believers here. Read verse 9 carefully, ‘But, beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation’. If this verse meant a true believer could lose his salvation, note the verse says it is impossible to repent again, v. 6. Losing your salvation under Hebrews 6. 4-6 would therefore be a permanent loss!
e. Hebrews 10. 26, ‘For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins’.
If this verse means that a believer who commits a deliberate sin is lost, then all believers are lost, because all believers commit deliberate sins. Do not fool yourself into thinking that every sin you commit is accidental!
We need to understand this ‘wilful sin’ in the context of the whole book of Hebrews. Remember, the background is Jewish. This passage refers to those Jews who had come to an academic knowledge of the Messiah and then gone back to ritualistic Christ-rejecting Judaism. In verse 39 the position of true believers is contrasted with these Jewish apostates, ‘But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul’. True believers may fall and sin but can never become apostates.
f. 2 Peter 2. 20, ‘For if after they have escaped . . . they are again entangled . . . the latter end is worse with them than the beginning’.
Again, this verse is about apostasy. Believers are sheep, 1 Pet. 5. 2, but here Peter is speaking of dogs and pigs, v. 22. These people were never saved. Again, they had an academic knowledge of the truth but turned back to worldly philosophies for their salvation.
Four unanswerable questions
Those who teach that you can lose your salvation often avoid specifics. How would they answer the following simple questions?
- What sin do you have to commit to lose your salvation? A theft? A swear word? A lie? Ten lies? Fifty lies? There is no specific answer given to this question, just speculation.
- How would you know if you had lost your salvation? Again, there is no objective way of knowing this, only feelings and supposition.
- How would you get your salvation back once you had lost it? If believing saved you, how are you going to believe again? You can’t ‘believe again’. No true believer that has had Christ revealed to his soul could ever ‘believe again’.
- Can you show me one example in Scripture of a person who was saved, then lost his salvation and then got it back? There is not a single case of such a thing anywhere in the Bible.
Finally let us turn to a list of Scriptures to prove the glorious truth that ‘once in Christ you are in Christ forever’.
You cannot lose your salvation
John 5. 24, ‘Verily, Verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life’. This is a one way street and there is no threat of reversal.
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 [firstly] they shall never perish, [secondly] neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand’. What could be plainer than that?
Ephesians 4. 30, ‘And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption’. The seal of ownership is guaranteed to go through to the moment of the Lord's return.
Philippians 1. 6, ‘Being confident of this very thing, that He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ’. Again, God has promised to see us through to the end.
2 Timothy 1. 12, ‘I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day’. If our salvation depended on us, we would have all been lost a long time ago. Thank God ‘He is able to keep’!
May the Lord help us to grasp the truth of eternal security and in full assurance and certainty, begin serving Him out of love, not out of a fear that He will cast us out if we don’t meet some unknown standard of sanctification.
AUTHOR PROFILE: Michael Penfold was saved at 14 and is in fellowship in the assembly at Hebron Gospel Hall, Bicester, Oxfordshire. He is married with two young children, and is a director of Penfold Book & Bible House Ltd.