To be saved means to be saved from the penalty (eternal damnation) of one’s personal sin. To further extend the definition, to be saved means to be given a new life in Christ. Since salvation requires a recognition and a turning from (repentance) from your sin, some Christians wonder if it is possible for some folks, who once claimed to be saved, are still saved. They see a lot of people who pay lip service to Christ, maybe by making a decision during an altar call or just by the fact that they grew up in church, but then see them live hypocritical lifestyles.
The word “hypocrite” means “a person who lives contrary to their stated beliefs and opinions.” Certainly a Christian would not have to look far to see that there are indeed some people who claim to be Christians yet consistently their words and actions do not match up. And I’m not just talking about the occasional slip-up or even the acknowledged struggle with sin, but an unrepentant attitude toward some aspects of their lifestyle.
So, there are some that would say, “Yes, you were once saved, but you have forfeited that salvation by your lifestyle choice.” Check out what this pastor said:
If you could not give up your salvation voluntarily, then once you become saved you could then go ahead and do whatever you wish. You could steal, murder, cheat, lie, never pray, reject the scriptures, lead others astray, blaspheme God from morning to night – do anything that is sinful, rebellious, and against the laws of God. To believe that “once saved, always saved” is believing that one has a “license to sin” after the person is born again.
So, to summarize it, they seem to be saying:
A) A person claims to be saved.
B) He/she may start out with some evidence of their salvation.
C) They stop going to church/caring about spiritual things and start making worldly decisions.
D) The Bible makes it clear that you cannot say you are born of God and still make a practice of sinning.
E) Therefore they must have lost their salvation.
But, is that the right assessment?
The Biblical Justification for losing your salvation:
I have read and heard people use a dozen or so different passages of scripture trying to justify the idea of losing your salvation, but none of them were even remotely convincing except the passage in Hebrews 6. Here it is in its immediate context:
Hebrews 6:4-6 For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.
The key phrase is “and then have fallen away”. As a younger Christian, I could not get passed that phrase. Especially since the sentence starts out “For it is impossible”. It does make it seem as if this is not talking about a true Christian struggling with sin, soon to be restored to the faith, but one who went from being of the faith to not being of the faith.
It sure sounds like they can lose their salvation. Do you agree with that interpretation? How would you interpret that scripture?
Those who say we can lose our salvation will say to believe otherwise (and therefore to interprete that passage in Hebrews as anything different) is dangerous. They would say that it gives an unsaved person a false sense of security and fills our world with pretenders instead of genuine Christians.
Is that true? Will someone who thinks their eternity is secure be tempted to live contrary to scripture?
The Biblical Explanation for Eternal Security
Firstly, let’s take another look at that passage in Hebrews, but in its greater context:
6:1-6 Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits. For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.
Several things we can take away from this passage:
- We are encouraged to grow out of our elementary understanding of spiritual things and become more spiritually mature.
- Those who do not mature in the faith are showing evidence that they are not saved.
- However, that doesn’t mean that they WERE once saved. In verses 4 and 5, it describes those who have fallen away as those who TASTED the heavenly gift and the goodness of God’s word. It doesn’t mean they were saved.
Have you ever gone to (or your wife left you at home with the kids to go to) a Mary Kay party? When someone throws a Mary Kay party, they may get a dozen people to participate and those ladies may have enjoyed their time there, but does that automatically mean they are all Mary Kay customers? Or let’s say your noob brother just bought the new Modern Warfare game or gets it for Christmas. Just because he gets a Call of Duty game for Christmas jumps on-line to play multi-player mode for a weekend doesn’t mean the are sold on competitive multi-player does it? Of course not.
Similarly, someone can taste of the Christian worldview, maybe even make an emotional decision to become a follower (similar to Simon the Magician in the book of Acts), but not ever be saved. The people who have fallen away are the people who”gave the whole Jesus thing a spin” but never surrendered their life to Him. They may have enjoyed the benefits of the Christian faith, they may have even have made some of the same sacrifices, but they won’t stick around when the trials get harder or when public opinion turns against them, or when a new thing comes along that offers to fulfill the same needs they sought to fulfill in Christianity.
Secondly, there are other passages in scripture that support the idea of eternal security:
Hebrews 9:23-28 is one of those passages. Take a moment to read that passage. The Old Covenant had the priest atoning for all the sins of the past year, but not future sins. He also had to do it repeatedly, year after year. However, the New Covenant includes all sins, past, present and future. Also, the act of atonement through Jesus Christ is not to be done repeatedly.
Here’s a question to ask those who believe you can lose your salvation: Is there a sin that the blood of Christ hasn’t covered? If so, does that not include the sin of unbelief? Does it not include the sin of hypocrisy? If not, then prove it Biblically.
Thirdly, the belief you can lose your salvation comes from a weak view of salvation and a weak view of sanctification.
1. Salvation is more than just forgiveness of sins. It includes the following:
- Justification (God declares us righteous)
- Regeneration (God raises us from the dead and gives us spiritual life)
- Adoption (God makes us a member of his family)
God would have to undo all of that for us to lose our salvation. He would have to declare us unrighteous, kill us again spiritually, and deny us sonship. None of that makes any sense for God to do. In fact, there is so much going on when we get saved, it would go against everything God was setting up from the moment of creation, throughout the Old Testament, and into the New Testament. Like my old pastor, Jerry Vines, once said, “In order to lose your salvation, you have to stop the prayers of Jesus. In order to stop the prayers of Jesus, you have to enter into the Holy of Holies. In order to enter into the Holy of Holies, you have to be born again. And once you are born again, you are not going to want to stop the prayers of Jesus!”
2. Constant Sanctification: The Bible says that when we accept Christ as our Savior, the Holy Spirit takes up residence in our hearts. Do you think the Holy Spirit would let one of the members of God’s family go so far off track that He wouldn’t do something about it before they are gone forever? Are we honestly going to say that Jesus’ hands are tied all in the name of giving us a choice we were obviously willing to surrender to Him when we accepted Him as Savior?
I believe that the passage in Hebrews 6 acts not only as a description of those who taste the divine things but then show themselves later to be unbelievers, but it also acts as a warning to those who are truly saved to “work out their salvation with fear and trembling”. Make no mistake, it is a warning the truly saved will always heed.
So, back to their assessment. I agree with points A-D. Simple observation of church life shows those to be true. However, I would change point E to read: E) Therefore, they were never saved to begin with. The good thing is that my brothers in Christ recognize a pretender when they see one. And they do rightly say that those people are not saved. The problem is one of identity confusion . It cheapens salvation when you can say to someone who they can be legitimately saved then give it up any time they want. Salvation means that you SURRENDER your life to Christ. That decision can’t be made cheaply. I have friends that I grew up with, whose decision for Christ was suspect to begin with, that followed Christ for a while (even went on mission trips) but eventually fell away. I can look them in the eye today and, with all the certainty that scripture gives me, say to them, “You were never saved and you need to surrender your life to Christ today.”
What benefits does eternal security offer us?
- The confidence that God’s grace is always there for us. John Piper called this future grace. If you can lose your salvation, then your life will ultimately become a life of sin management and not much else. Which leads me to my next point…
- Relief from the anxiety that comes from insecurity (if I believed I could lose my salvation, I would be a nervous wreck!). With eternal security in place my life then becomes more about enjoying the relationship that I have with God and less about sin management.
- We can move on to that more mature spiritual life Hebrews 6 talks about. We need to stop quibbling about things that are elementary (yes, eternal security is an elementary doctrine since every new believer experiences it, recognizes it instantly, and doesn’t have a problem with it unless someone comes along and messes with the doctrine) and move forward to the more important tasks in the Christian life.
But, you know what, don’t just take my word for it. Search the scriptures yourself. If it was as rewarding to me to read these passages and think and pray through this issue for me as it will be for you, then you will walk away inspired and renewed.