Can a Christ follower lose their salvation?
This is a BIG question, even a point of contention. Our foundation to explore this is the inspired Word of God. I’d like to review familiar verses which speak to both sides of this issue. We will discuss implications and potential pitfalls.
Our opponent can use an issue like this to split Jesus followers, limiting our fellowship and impact on our community. I’m convinced there is a common ground to be found on the other side of this discussion.
You and I are sinners. This is our fundamental identity, inherited from Adam (Romans 5:12-21). The penalty for our sin is death (Romans 3:23). Jesus is the incarnation of God who lived a perfect life and was crucified to take the penalty for our sins (Romans 3:24-25). We are saved by belief in Jesus (Romans 10:9). We believe and are raised from death to life, made a new creation in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:1-9). Being alive in Christ and dead to the world affects our actions (Ephesians 2:10, Romans 6:1-4).
That’s the gospel!
I hope you believe it. If you don’t, but you’re curious, please reach out to me or a Jesus follower in your community. Anyone can be drawn to the truth, believe, and be saved.
Eternal Security is a doctrine also called the Perseverance of the Saints. This is the concept that all of those who are saved by belief in Jesus, will continue to be saved until the day that they die. Once you are saved, there is NOTHING you could do to lose that salvation.
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 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. (John 10:27-29, ESV)
Jesus taught that he was the Good Shepherd, calling to the sheep. His sheep recognized his voice and followed. Sheep are not strong or independent. The Father is greater than ALL. He will protect the sheep and No one is able to snatch the sheep away. A possible understanding of this parable is that NOTHING, not even the sheep itself, can snatch it out of the hand of the Father. Once the sheep recognizes the voice of Jesus and responds, it is eternally secure.
This becomes a question of free will. I believe that every person has free will. This gift from God is not something deserved or demanded. God knows what we will ultimately choose. Our free will is preserved in that we do not see the future, do not know what choices lie ahead of us.
The eternal security understanding of these verses limits free will. Proponents of this would state that the sheep, itself, is included in the “no one” able to snatch them away. This means that once the sheep responds to the voice of Jesus, it is no longer free to wander away. After we cross over from death to life, have we lost our ability to choose?
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 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 8:37-39, ESV)
These beautiful verses are so reassuring. You might be facing depression, loneliness, chronic illness, persecution, uncertainty, even death. You are more than a conqueror, walking in victory, knowing that the God you serve is stronger than whatever you face. He will be with you through the trial and will greet you with open arms and endless love on the other side!
Can I separate myself from the love of God? The doctrine of Eternal Security would indicate that I cannot. Once I have responded to the gospel and believe, I am not able to resist the love of God. Of course, none of us is really strong enough to resist God’s love, yet he grants us that choice.
Mark chapter ten tells the story of a man who came to Jesus with a question. The law-abiding man might have been seeking validation. Jesus looked at him, loved him, and told him to sell everything and give to the poor. It was too hard, too much to ask. The man walked away sad and lost.
Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy (Jude 24, ESV)
The thread running through each of these passages is the incredible power and love of God. He is able to keep us in that love and present us perfect on that last day. Does that mean that he WILL keep us from stumbling and present us faultless? Do we play a role in “keeping ourselves” in the love of Christ. Jude encouraged the recipients of his letter to do exactly that (Jude 23).
It’s clear that if you want to be in the love of God, if you hear the voice of Jesus and respond, there is nothing powerful enough in this universe to take that away from you. If you want to keep your salvation – you will!
And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away. (Luke 8:13, ESV)
This verse from Luke is in the middle of Jesus explanation of the Parable of the Sower. I would strongly encourage you to read both the complete parable and Jesus explanation of each of the four groups.
We wrestle with the situation of those in “group two”. Those who believe in Eternal Security would say that people in group two were never saved. Rather then debate the unknowable, I’ll stick to the words of Jesus. There is a category of people who “hear the word”, “receive it with joy”, “believe for a while”, and then “fall away”.
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. (Hebrews 6:4-6, ESV)
The writer of Hebrews tells us about a group of people who have been enlightened, tasted the heavenly gift, shared in the Holy Spirit, and tasted the goodness of the word of God. That sounds like a group of people I’d love to invite into my living room for worship every Sunday! The author goes on to say that if these souls fall away, it is impossible to restore them to repentance. In falling away, their actions are crucifying the Son of God all over again!
Those who believe in Eternal Security might respond that because you cannot lose your salvation, those who have fallen away were never saved. This logic is a bit circular in nature. I would strongly prefer to let the verses speak for themselves.
The pitfall of Eternal Security is a false assurance of Salvation. Someone has no interest in God’s Word or His people, no desire to do what is right and avoid what is wrong is not saved, even if they prayed the “sinner’s prayer” when they were five years old. We endanger their soul by reassuring them that they’re fine and they can persist in their lifestyle. We should rather encourage belief, repentance, pursuit of truth, and discipleship. I have met many Jesus followers who staunchly embrace Eternal Security and do NOT live a life of license. This pitfall is not expressed by everyone who holds to this position.
There are two main pitfalls of believing that it is possible to lose your salvation. The first is the potential to live in fear. If I said a bad word, lashed out at a family member in anger, or entertained lustful thoughts today – have I lost my salvation? The answer to those questions can be found in the passages quoted above from John ten, Romans eight and Jude. If the direction of my heart is to respond to the voice of my Savior and embrace my regenerate identity, I HAVE NOT and WILL NOT lose my Salvation.
Legalism is another potential pitfall. The temptation is to create check-boxes like thirty minutes of Bible reading daily, church twice weekly, fasting one meal a week. As long as I have completed all of the above – when I die, I’ll go to heaven. Legalism was a problem for the Pharisees who were better than ANYONE at creating and completing religious check lists! Jesus harshest words were for these arrogant, pretentious hypocrites!
Jesus Followers SHOULD focus on holy living. We make check lists and stay organized to accomplish long term goals in work, music, or sports. We can do this in our walk with God as well. The key focus is that anything we do as a Christ Follower who was dead and has been brought to life is a result of salvation and NOT the way that the salvation was earned.
At the end of the discussion, everyone agrees that God is the judge, the decider, and we are not. Imagine a pastor who preaches the name of Jesus, leads a church, and travels the country leading revivals. Imagine that same pastor reaching age forty and deciding that God doesn’t exist. He now teaches that all paths lead to enlightenment as long as they are embraced with enthusiasm, that the highest goal in life is diversity, and “just be nice”. Those who embrace Eternal Security would say “He was never saved”. Those who consider loss of salvation a possibility would say “He is not saved now”.
After all the words and opinions - there is common ground. As Followers of Jesus, we want to reach the lost, share the gospel and welcome repentant souls into the kingdom.