Can a Christian 'lose' their salvation?
Updated: Oct 27, 2022
This question, like any, ties into a number of areas I will try and address given time including what is the ‘sovereignty of God’ and the position and state of humanity. I will get to these in more detail but allow me to address this question directly first.
Can a Christian 'lose' their salvation?
HOW IS A PERSON SAVED?
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.” Eph 2:8 – 9
”If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.” Romans 10:9 – 10
The Grace of God in the context of salvation is the provision of Jesus as the eternal lamb (John 1:29) of God who laid down his life on our behalf taking our punishment (Is 53:5) defeating death itself and making a spectacle of it (Col 2:15). Faith, in this context is the affirmation and acceptance of this act on our behalf (Rom 10:10) Grace is the position in which we are saved, faith the bridge. The person who denies that one can forfeit salvation usually frames their objection with a statement like this, ‘You cannot lose by works something given to you through grace’. It sounds good but is largely a 'strawman'. It also often frames 'faith' as a work which clearly is problematic.
The problem with this statement in practice is that if ‘faith’ is the bridge, you most certainly can bomb the bridge to grace. This denial most certainly can be expressed in ‘works’ but it starts with an internal denial of faith. Faith is expressed in works and so too is faithlessness.
We see this this clearly shown throughout scripture. I would argue, the passionate desire of God for his people yet the ability of that ‘chosen people’ to rebel and forfeit their position in terms of salvation is actually one of the central themes of scripture.
We see this in a moment with Jesus and Jerusalem in Matthew 23:37
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.” (Matt 23:37)
Jesus desire? To gather. The decision of Jerusalem, to resist. Herein is the common theme of scripture.
Can a people ‘chosen’ be ‘unchosen’?
Rev 3:5 says
“The one who is victorious will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out the name of that person from the book of life, but will acknowledge that name before my Father and his angels.” (Rev 3:5) Also see Rev 20:12
Jesus acknowledges those before his father who are ‘victorious’. This is clearly in contrast to those that have "...soiled their clothes" (Rev 3:4) The conditional nature of the acknowledgement is clear.
What causes him to deny people before his father?
“Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. 33 But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.” Matt 10:33
Note, the warning here is clear, the potential for a name to be blotted out of the book of life. Those who ‘disown’ Jesus, he will ‘disown before the father. Jesus is talking to his disciples, believers who may well deny him.
I have read all sorts of excuses for why this does not mean what it clearly implies but they are weak. The basis of the denying what is clear usually sounds like this, “If someone has been predestined to Salvation, they WILL be victorious”. The idea is that a believer can’t be denied because a believer would never deny. The crucial issue is that does not gel with the rest of scripture and the active warning that stands in Revelation 3. The author of Hebrews also makes this clear…
"It is impossible, for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace" (Heb. 6:4-6).
Note the key statements here
“once have been enlightened”
“tasted the heavenly gift”
“Shared in the Holy Spirit”
“tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age”
“If they fall away”
The excuses around this text are simply ridiculous. Some propose that these people are hypothetical and could not actually exist. Such an idea is frankly ridiculous and makes a mockery of the warning. A warning that absolutely cannot happen is a lie. Whilst the author is ‘confident of better things’ (Heb 6:9) for them, the real and relevant warning stands. The warning is for “those who have…” (Heb 6:4) You cannot “fall away” (Heb 6:5) or "be brought back to" (Heb 6:5) something you have never had
In chapter 10 of Hebrews, we read a similar warning
"Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?" (Heb 10:28-29).
Note here, the acknowledgement that the “blood of the covenant…sanctified him”. You can also see clear warnings elsewhere in Hebrews such as Heb 2:1, 4:11, 12:25.
Jesus himself also tells us
"I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit" (John 15:5).
Those unfruitful ones who do not remain in Christ are "picked up, thrown into the fire and burned" (15:6).
Salvation is covenantal
Covenants have conditions even when the intention is an absolutely binding outcome. We see the reality of God himself breaking covenant upon spiritual adultery in Jeremiah 3. Covenant is very difficult to break, one can’t trip over and be ‘un-married’ BUT one can commit adultery in the natural or spiritual adultery in the case of salvation covenant and breach the condition of faithfulness in covenant (Jer 3:8)
Salvation as past present and future tense
One of the weird quirks of evangelicalism has been the obsession with salvation being a past tense issue, this clouds this discussion. We tend to think of salvation having happened when “I prayed a prayer” or something to that effect yet the scriptures actually talk of salvation having it’s completion as a future tense issue.
“saved us, through the washing of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:4-5).
In 1 Corinthians 1:18 it says
“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Cor 1:18)
Romans 5:9 tells us that “having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him.”
We are saved, we are being saved and ultimately we will be saved. When we realise that salvation is it’s fullest sense is yet to come it is much easier to recognize that denial of faith in the journey can ‘shipwreck’ faith (1 Tim 1:19).
BUT WHAT ABOUT THE PROMISES THAT JESUS “Sheep shall never perish”
Calvinists and other believers in "eternal security" argue that real apostasy of a born-again person is an impossibility because Christ said that his sheep "shall never perish." (John 10:28)
Firstly, the assurance here is that “no one will snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:28b). ie. No external person or reality can steal someone away from Jesus. That is to say nothing about apostacy from faith by the ‘sheep’.
This is also the case when someone references Romans 8:38 – 39. The focus of Paul is encouraging a persecuted Church that none of the oppressive circumstances or powers could “separate them from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:39b) He is not speaking to apostacy from faith.
Many also reference 1 John 2:19 saying that it says that “their going showed that none of them belonged to us.” (1 John 2:19)
The key and clear problem is that they have 'universalised' a particular statement. There is no doubt there are fake Christians that have never been saved. That does not for a moment negate the clear statements elsewhere that others have forfeited something they truly had.
Other arguments centre around the amazing reality that we are ‘sealed’ with the Holy Spirit (Eph 1:13 – 14) Again, the unfortunate and intentional oversight is that a seal of an agreement can absolutely be broken if conditions are not met. Secondarily, God makes promises both with and without expressly mentioning conditions.
In Deuteronomy 33:27 - 28, God says to the people of Asher, "The eternal God...will drive out your enemy before you, saying, Destroy him! So Israel will live in safety alone; Jacob's spring is secure in a land of grain and new wine where the heavens drop dew."
The promise is presented as if there were no strings attached. Earlier in the book, however, God lays down stringent conditions for receiving such blessing and protection (Deut 28:15-68). There is no contradiction here.
We also see ‘promises’ elsewhere without clear conditions but implicit conditions such as is the declaration of the impending destruction of Ninevah in Jonah 3:4 that never happened.
The promises are to be understood in the light of conditions, even in those places where the conditions go unmentioned.
IF IT IS POSSIBLE TO ‘FORFEIT’ SALVATION HOW CAN I THEN BE SECURE?
The question itself I find to be a ‘left over’ of a false gospel. Our security is not found in having prayed a prayer once, or living a perfect life, it is not in believing our self to be part of a select elect. Our security is found in being ‘in Christ’ (Eph 1:4)
If we have faith in Jesus (Rom 10:19) we are saved. If we do have not have faith in Jesus’ finished work, grace, we are not. Simple.
SECURITY in SALVATION
Those who argue for ‘perseverance of the saints’ make emotional arguments in regard to ‘security’. For instance, 'if you can forfeit your salvation how can you be secure in it?' As said, the answer is simple, faith. There is no security of salvation if your faith is not securely anchored in Jesus, if you have placed your faith in Jesus and that remains, you are saved (Matt 24:13). However the bigger issue for those that believe in ‘perseverance of the Saints’ is that they themselves can never be secure in their faith, EVER. Why? Because someone who believes a person cannot forfeit their salvation must believe that there have been many people who have claimed faith, even led people to Christ yet apparently were never saved, it was all a delusion set by God himself. If others have claimed and confessed faith in Jesus, led ‘godly’ lives, even led people to Christ were NEVER saved, how can anyone be sure that they are actually saved? (present tense)
If you are reading and come from a perspective that says one cannot forfeit salvation, maybe God has set in his will that one day it will become clear that you were never saved.
How can someone who denies the ability to forfeit faith be sure they are saved? You can’t. Ironically, perseverance of the saints leads to ‘insecurity of salvation’.
Our security is not in some mysterious will of God to save some and damn others, it is through faith in the grace of God (Eph 2:8 – 9)
CAN A PERSON LOSE THEIR SALVATION? No, salvation is not like a pair of sun glasses, it is covenant BUT a person can surely shipwreck it through severing their faith in Grace and forfeit it.
"If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and are overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning. 21 It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them. 22 Of them the proverbs are true: “A dog returns to its vomit,” and, “A sow that is washed returns to her wallowing in the mud.” 2 Peter 2:20 - 22