Can you lose your salvation?

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:

  1. We are encouraged to grow out of our elementary understanding of spiritual things and become more spiritually mature.
  2. Those who do not mature in the faith are showing evidence that they are not saved.
  3. 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?

  1. 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…
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

8 thoughts on “Can you lose your salvation?

  1. This is an issue that just bubbled up for me in the past week, a good friend and Christian mentor used that very passage to illustrate the same point and, frankly, I agreed with him. It is something I had never thought of before (shame on me), but in light of that scripture, it seemed right. Not having thought of it again, I was awaken very early in the morning several day later with a recurring thought…..wasn’t Christ blood enough? I dove head first into scripture and I came to the same conclusion as you. Here are some notes from my study:

    [13] In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, [14] who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.
    (Ephesians 1:13-14 ESV)

    Sealed with the Holy Spirit the moment we believed and GUARANTEED our inheritance.

    [3] Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, [4] to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, [5] who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
    (1 Peter 1:3-5 ESV)

    Our inheritance IS imperishable, undefiled, and unfading. How can it be all these things yet able to be lost.

    [37] All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. [38] For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. [39] And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. [40] For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”
    (John 6:37-40 ESV)

    Does this sound like it can be lost? Not to me.

    [27] My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. [28] I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. [29] My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. [30] I and the Father are one.”
    (John 10:27-30 ESV)

    [8:1] There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
    (Romans 8:1 ESV)

    [38] For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, [39] nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
    (Romans 8:38-39 ESV)

    [4] I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, [5] that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge—[6] even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you—[7] so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, [8] who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. [9] God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
    (1 Corinthians 1:4-9 ESV)

    [28] For the LORD loves justice;
    he will not forsake his saints.
    They are preserved forever,
    but the children of the wicked shall be cut off.
    (Psalm 37:28 ESV)

    • Nothing can separate us from the love of God? Well in a sense yes and in a sense no. Adam’s sin DID separate us from the love of God. So we mustn’t go jumping to conclusions here. When the scriptures talk about nothing being able to separate us from the love of God, it’s just another way of saying that God is always with us in our trials and tribulations—SO LONG AS WE REMAIN IN HIM BY OBEYING HIS COMMANDMENTS.

      If you need further proof of this, just take a look at Samson, David, Peter, and essentially every human being that’s ever lived who’s committed a sin.

      • Daniel,
        I agree in one sense, we are separated…. BEFORE we truly believe. After being born again, the blood of Christ covers all our sin. Christ paid it ALL, for our sins…past, present and future. I believe it is inconsistent with the nature of God communicated in the Bible and common theme found throughout to say otherwise. It is not by our WORKS (read ” OBEYING HIS COMMANDMENTS”), but by HIS completed work I become a co-heir with Christ and can rest in that assurance.

      • Daniel,

        Do “trials and tribulations” include temptations that would lead to us losing our salvation? Is God “with us” then? And what DO you mean by “with us”? Just a pal? A cheerleader? Or someone who doesn’t let go of us in the same way he never let go of his covenant with Israel?

  2. Alan,

    These are all excellent verses that support the doctrine of the perserverance of the saints and eternal security (two seperate ideas, by the way). You did exactly what I would want everyone to do with this issue: You went to the Word of God. Thank you for taking the time to post these verses.

  3. Excellent discussion. I too have wrestled over these issues in the past. However, once God showed up, and turned on the lights in my darkened head, his word became so clear to me. Our God is sovereign, and in his sovereignty He will keep us safe until the day of redemption!

    You’d have to be more powerful than God to lose your salvation. He will carry on the good work he began in you until the day of completion!

  4. The Sovereignty of God is what gives Satan and Sinners alike freedom to choose to either repent or to do good. Hence, it stands to reason that a person can be justified one day and unjustified the next.
    I noticed in the article the author wrote:
    “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.”

    To say that the gift they “tasted” was anything less then the gift of forgiveness, repentance and salvation is a desperate attempt to interject an alternate meaning to support one’s own view. In fact, I can’t even begin to count how many times Christians talk about Salvation as God’s “free gift” to Man. So to suggest that the heavenly gift referred to here is some other heavenly gift then the ones Christians are always talking about is simply an attempt to not call it what it is(the Gift of Salvation) so you don’t have to assent to the true which is this—if you fall back into sin after having been saved, it doesn’t mean you were never saved it just means your name will get blotted out of the Book of Life.

    Also, I like the falling snowflakes on your web-page. Very festive.

    • Daniel,

      So, you interpret “tasted” as becoming a full-fledged believer? Not sure I can get behind that. For one, “tasted” in the Greek is “geuomai” and it means not much more than “tasted”. Thayer’s definition:

      1) to taste, to try the flavour of
      2) to taste
      2a) i.e. perceive the flavour of, partake of, enjoy
      2b) to feel, make trial of, experience
      3) to take food, eat, to take nourishment, eat

      Out of all those possible definitions, only 3 has one that has any sense of permanency or full-on indulgence. The rest of them, the ones that are more common, obviously have a feel of being temporary or not getting the full experience of it.

      Also, you seem to accuse me of saying the gift is not salvation. I never said that. It is salvation. It is every benefit that salvation gives us. That’s what they are tasting. Like Simon the Magician in Acts, the benefits the gospel can bring is exploited by pretenders either for financial/political gain or for personal (feel-good) gain. Just because they tasted salvation doesn’t mean they are saved since to be saved means a “for life” believer surrendered to Christ.

      Finally, your understanding of the Sovereignty of God is self-defeating. To be sovereign means to have complete control over everything. So sovereignty actually gives God freedom, not us. Once God gives us freedom that he has no control over he sacrifices his sovereignty.

      I wish I can take credit for the snowflakes, but it was either one of the other writers on this blog or WordPress’s doing. Glad you enjoy them.

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