Can We Lose Our Salvation?

HomeChristianity and the BibleCan We Lose Our Salvation?

I grew up in a denomination that teaches that Christians can lose our salvation. I was a licensed minister in that denomination, too… so the idea that we can lose our salvation is something I’ve known about since I was 8 years old, and have studied at some length. I’ve spent a fair amount of time thinking through the different arguments, especially as I’m now part of a congregation that – generally speaking – believes that we can’t.

This isn’t something we can settle. There are fairly clear verses that suggest that we can’t, and there are a bunch of verses that seem to say otherwise. Theologians have argued about this issue for centuries, and I doubt we’ll discover a clear answer today. However: that doesn’t mean that all opinions about salvation are equally valid! We should look to the Scriptures for answers, be honest about what the Bible says, and be content with the information we have available.

We should not pretend to know more than has been revealed. We should not go beyond what Scripture tells us. Yes, we can speculate. No, we should not draw final conclusions without sufficient evidence.

Also: our human traditions about such disagreements are meaningless unless they match what God has already said.

Seems pretty clear, right?

For me, the issue is pretty straight-forward. Eternal life is, according to the New Testament, the PRESENT POSSESSION of every believer. One example is John 10:27-28: “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.” This isn’t a promise of a future eternal life that comes only after we die, but a clear declaration of the present condition of those who listen to, and follow, Jesus. We see the same thing in John 5:21 and 24:

“For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it.”

“Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.”

We learn in 1 John 5:12 that this life can be had now:

Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.

There are other passages that state that the believer already has eternal life. Our eternal life begins, near as I can personally figure it, when we’re born again. When the Holy Spirit comes to dwell in us, He transforms us into new creatures (2 Corinthians 5:17), and that’s when we have eternal life.

Not so fast…

BUT… that isn’t the whole story. Jesus said that whoever perseveres TO THE END will be saved. 2 Peter 2 seems to be talking about people who were actually saved, who then were not. Here are verses 21-22:

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. 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.

Sounds like they were actually saved, right?

I have two responses to the debate. One is a story, the other is a philosophical argument.

1: A old man is dying. As a young man, he professed faith and lived as a believer. He then walked away from God, lived a life of depravity and self, and finds himself at a crossroads at the end of his life. He calls two ministers to come and talk: a Calvinist and an Arminian (these are just stereotypes for the sake of the story). He asks both what he should do. The Calvinist said that he was never actually saved, and that he needed to be reconciled to God. The Arminian said that although he had been saved, he backslided… and that he needed to be reconciled to God.

In this story, the question of whether his salvation was genuine, and what he should do today, is answered in the same way: be reconciled to God. Neither would tell the man to rest on his earlier profession of faith, and neither would neglect his obvious need for redemption. This story has been a useful guide for me, as a teacher, when discussing the question with other believers. No responsible person would tell someone to not worry about their relationship with God because of an earlier profession of faith… and so the question seems entirely academic, rather than practical.

2: Here’s how I teach the Scriptures on this subject.

2a: The New Testament really IS clear that we who follow Jesus ALREADY HAVE eternal life, and there are plenty of passages that speak to the need to remain in, persevere in, stand in our salvation. As a result, I believe that when we’re saved, we’re actually saved. Being born again today is not a placeholder for a future eternal life, but the beginning of our present eternal life.

2b: However: from a philosophical perspective, I don’t believe that being saved takes away our free will. I believe that we could walk away from God if we choose to. I do not believe that being saved is a one-way street, where we lose the ability to turn our backs on God and are, essentially, trapped in a right relationship with Him. I believe we CAN lose our salvation, but that it would be very rare if it happens. There are some Scriptures (like Hebrews 6:6) that are admittedly very difficult, but throw into question the idea that HAVING eternal life means always KEEPING eternal life.

Here’s a good question… one that started me thinking that my childhood view might not be all that I thought it was:

How many sins does it take before the Holy Spirit leaves a believer?

We have no answer. It’s certainly not ONE, as some suggest. Were that the case, we would see a New Testament full of appeals to be saved AGAIN, rather than to confess, repent, and trust. Nobody in the Bible is saved twice. It’s questionable whether anyone was saved once and then became lost again. We don’t know whether there’s a point at which the Holy Spirit would leave and cause someone to become an ‘old creature.’ It doesn’t seem like that would happen, but I logically believe it might.

I’m sorry to say that there’s no single answer. I’m okay with that, but it sure would be nice to know, wouldn’t it?


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