Many Christians deal with very similar issues and questions as they share the Good News. Among the most difficult problems are those caused by false teaching. Whether it’s a denominational teaching, an ignorant Christian’s personal belief being taught or just plain compromise of God’s word with the world, the problem is a real one. Sadly, God’s people have had to deal with such things since the earliest efforts to reach out with the Gospel. (See the New Testament books of Romans through Jude for numerous examples!)
One question that frequently rears its head was recently dealt with by a fellow preacher. Neither the false teachings nor the truth of the matter are anything new. But it is always important that ask what God says on any matter. So let’s consider:
Can Christians Lose Their Salvation?
What Does the Bible Say?
Lately, many of the commenters on this blog have boldly asserted that a Christian cannot lose his salvation. In fact, many well-meaning religious folks have built an entire theology around the assumption that it is impossible for a Christian to fall away and lose his salvation. But what if that assumption is false?
Let’s examine what the Bible says about a Christian losing his or her salvation. There are several passages which are often used as proof-texts. But if these verses are examined, they quite definitely do not teach the impossibility of apostasy. Let’s consider a couple of these “once saved, always saved” proof-texts:
Romans 8:35–39 (ESV) Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’ 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.
This, of course, is a beautiful passage of Scripture and should bring much comfort to Christians. However, it simply does not say what many attempt to make it say. Paul is talking about outside forces separating the Christian from the love of Christ. He never once says anything similar to the idea that Christians cannot choose to walk away from Christ. In other words, Paul says, “No matter what anyone does to you, they cannot take away your salvation.” It is wrong, however, to suggest Paul said a Christian cannot forfeit his salvation if he so chooses.
John 10:27–29 (ESV) 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.
Again, it is a great abuse of Jesus’ words to make Him say Christians cannot lose their salvation. In context, Jesus had told the Pharisees multiple times that they had rejected Him because they did not know God or His word. Those who followed Him, however, did so because they recognized His deity. John 10 speaks to Christ’s deity, His power to save, and (like Romans 8) the inability of outside forces to snatch a disciple from Christ’s hand. But it certainly does not teach “once saved, always saved.”
Those are two of the passages many use to prove their premise. But, of course, those passages say nothing of the sort. Let’s look at a few passages of Scripture that most definitely refute the idea of “once saved, always saved.”
John 15:5–6 (ESV) I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.
Those who teach “once saved, always saved,” say that if someone lives a Christian life and then goes back into the world, that person was never really saved to begin with. However, Jesus clearly teaches in John 15, it is possible for someone to “not abide” in Him. The word “abide” means to stay, continue, or remain. If I said, “Bob didn’t remain in the room, like I told him to do.” You could know for certain that Bob was in the room at one time.
Hebrews 3:12–13 (ESV)Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.
Again, it is pretty hard to deny that the Hebrew writer is addressing saved people. He begins this statement by saying, “Take care, brothers.” Obviously we are talking about Christians. He warns these Christians, it is possible for an “evil, unbelieving heart” to develop in them which would cause them to “fall away from the living God.”
Galatians 5:1–4 (ESV) For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.
Let us take notice that Paul warns them to “not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” These were people who had been freed from a yoke of slavery, by becoming Christians. Paul warns them not to leave Christ by trying to be justified by obedience to the Old Law. He says to these Christians, if they do so, Christ will be “of no advantage” to them. There were some in those churches who were already doing this and Paul said they had been, “severed from Christ” and they had, “fallen away from grace.” How could these passages be any more clear?
Hebrews 10:26-31 (ESV) For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, ‘Vengeance is mine; I will repay.’ And again, ‘The Lord will judge his people.’ It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
Obviously, the Hebrew writer was addressing those who had received “the knowledge of the truth” (vs. 26) and had been “sanctified” by “the blood of the covenant” (vs. 29). He said, if Christians “go on sinning deliberately” they could expect “judgment,” “punishment,” and “vengeance.”
Please understand, this doesn’t mean a Christian must be perfect, or else he will lose his salvation. John wrote, “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin…I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 1:7, 2:1). As long as a Christian is doing his best to live a life that is pleasing to God (2 Corinthians 5:9) – even though he will likely continue to fall short – the blood of Jesus will continue to wash him clean.
Please hear me, friend. Please study the Scriptures to see if these things are so (Acts 17:11). According to God’s word, a Christian is saved so long as he walks in the light; but if he chooses to go back into the world, he is trampling underfoot the Son of God and is throwing away the gift of salvation (see Romans 6:1-7).
— Wes McAdams online at RadicallyChristian.com
Yes, we’ve read these Scriptures before. Yes, we’ve heard this message from the pulpit and in Bible studies. What is vital is that we continue to hear it, learn it, obey it so that we will not give in to the pressure of Satan’s false teaching!
May we, this week and always, remember to listen to God’s word and believe and obey what He says!
— Lester P. Bagley