Can Christians lose their salvation?

Nathan January 5, 2012 18

Now that we have explored what it means to be holy just as God is holy, and that gaining salvation is a process, is it possible to lose our salvation once we attain it? Do we really know what it takes to be saved, and how do we know we are saved in the first place?

Introduction

Continuing with the two part “meat and potatoes” series, we previously covered what being holy in the eyes of God meant, and how important that was for salvation–we now move on to understanding whether we can lose our salvation

Without a doubt this is a touchy subject, but the truth is, Christians have been taught things about salvation that do not line up with the Bible, ie: salvation is easy to obtain, and that it is impossible to lose our salvation once we get it

By far, these particular points are some of the most common, destructive, “ear-tickling” pieces of doctrine the enemy has managed to weave into contemporary Christianity

The greatest damage this doctrine inflicts, is that it leads the church to produce Christians who do not understand God’s character, nor does it inspire Christians to model themselves after the perfect love that paid for their sins–they are misled completely in regards to what it takes to secure salvation, thinking it is theirs by default

The easiest way the enemy spreads this false teaching is by preying on people’s fear of rejection to the point where they are unwilling to accept God has boundaries enough to bar people from heaven because of the choices they make–God’s grace and mercy are given freely to everyone, but we nullify these gifts when we reject them in favor of continuous sin

Regarding theology for this particular topic, people often use a few cherry-picked verses which are taken out of context or are misunderstood in the first place, with these verses only making sense if they were allowed to contradict numerous other verses in the Bible–not a good way to build any doctrine!

To guide the conversation, there are going to be four main points we will cover in the article:

1) It is hard to attain salvation

2) What is required to attain salvation in the first place

3) How do we lose it

4) Scriptural references that cover what happens to Christians who do not acquire salvation, and what happens to those who lose it

This is going to be a particularly hard teaching to accept, so I ask that before you read on, please take a moment and pray God reveals what is spiritually discerned as we look, together, at the verses in the Bible that discuss salvation

1 Corinthians 2:14
The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned

Matthew 7:7-8
Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened

Also, please understand this message is not meant to discourage anyone because we should rejoice knowing God paid for our sins, and has given us his spirit to overcome every ounce of sin in our lives just like Jesus did, but there will be parts of the article that will convict all of us (myself included!)–how we choose to respond to this conviction is very telling of our relationship with God

Now, let’s go seek out some mature wisdom!

We Cannot Lose Something We Do Not Have

Number one, there is a difference between losing salvation and not achieving it in the first place, as people make the assumption that it is “easy” to attain salvation in the first place

*boom*

The Bible teaches us that gaining salvation is a difficult process, not an instant prize for raising our hand at an altar call or because we prayed a sinner’s prayer

Philippians 2:12
Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling

Hebrews 10:26
You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised

Also, when we look at Paul’s writings, we see that it was not until he reached the end of his life, having faithfully run the race in full that he considered his salvation secure

1 Corinthians 9:25-27
Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize

2 Timothy 4:6-8
For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing

Now, really think about this, as Paul was an amazing Apostle who wrote a large portion of the NT, yet at an early point of his ministry, while he was clearly walking with God, he openly said he did not consider his salvation secure, nor irrevocable, as he openly says “I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize”

Does that sound like the preaching of a guy who believed salvation was guaranteed or irrevocable for even those who have the beginnings of a sincere faith, let alone someone as spiritually mature as himself?

No way!

This point is beyond important, as there is nowhere in the Bible that says salvation is easy to attain, in fact it is the total opposite–we are told it is difficult to reach, and that we should never give up on working towards it because we think we “made it”

The key is to not be lazy and complacent, as none of us would want to stand in front of God and “discover” that our standards of righteousness fell short of his expectations (we already know they do!)

1 Peter 4:17-18
For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And, “If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”

Matthew 7:21-23
Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

Luke 13:23-28
Someone asked him, “Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?” He said to them, “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to. Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, ‘Sir, open the door for us’

“But he will answer, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from’

“Then you will say, ‘We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets

“But he will reply, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers!

1 Corinthians 9:24-27
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize

2 Peter 1:10-11
Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ

Jesus said even those who prophesy, drive out demons, and perform miracles can be denied entrance into heaven, while Peter says “it is hard for the righteous to be saved”–they are speaking about people who are obviously trying and have a relationship with God, not random people on the street!

(Later on we will explore James speaking to believers about losing salvation, so it is important to remember the scriptures here are being spoken to those who claim to know Jesus)

Paul even says to run the “race” for salvation as if only one person could win the prize! Of course salvation is not an actual competition, but Paul is using the metaphor to help illustrate how we should have the same fierce, determined attitude of a competitive athlete–unwavering and committed

This is a big departure from the teachings out there that teach salvation is for everyone who simply “believes”

That would be like saying everyone who enters a marathon is going to be the winner no matter how hard they trained or how hard they run on the day of the race itself–that makes no sense whatsoever

However, to address the common verses people quote in response to salvation being easy to obtain for those who “believe”, it is important to address how people often see the word “believe” and take the meaning to simply mean “acknowledge”

For example, in the NT, the Greek word often used for “believe” means to “accept as truth that leads to action”, but within our contemporary culture people see “believe” and read it as “acknowledge”

If we simply acknowledge something as truth but do not live our lives by it, how much can we honestly say we “believe” in it in the first place?

It says that even demons believe in God but it does not affect their behavior

James 2:19
You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder

Does believing in God without changing our actions sound familiar?

*cough*

(I say this in total love and with a big ironic smile on my face, smirking at my own stubbornness in some areas of my life)

But seriously, there is a huge difference between “acknowledging” Jesus is the Messiah and living like he is–understanding, and living out the difference is the key to attaining salvation

What Does It Take To Attain Salvation: Rising Above Temptation, Letting Go Of Willful Lifestyles Of Sin, And Sincerely Loving God

The topic of holy living was covered thoroughly in the last article (http://www.godandstuff.com/?p=5441), so I will not go into the same level of detail here beyond covering some key points

First, since God is love itself, we are to model ourselves after his holy, sinless character in every way possible so his love will be made complete among us, those living on earth, for the purpose of allowing us to stand confidently on the day of judgment

1 John 3:5-6
But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin. No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him

1 John 4:16-18
God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love

1 John 4:20
If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen

These sets of verses are amazing as John tells us those who continue to sin are not “in him”, and that they have neither “seen him or known him”, but also that our ability to stand with confidence in front of God on the day of judgment hinges on whether we truly love both God and those around us–all of these points are beyond important for reaching salvation!

Remember there is an ocean of difference between someone who has overcome sin and no longer finds it desirable but still stumbles once in a while, and someone who continuously lives a sinful lifestyle and has never completely overcome sin because of their own choices to hold onto it–do not think for a second God views both attitudes in the same way

Those who continue to hold onto willful sins in their lives do not love God more than sin, and will be turned away just like Jesus turned away the miracle workers, prophets, etc… who did not love him in totality when he said: “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!”

Hebrews 10:26-27
If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God

A lot of people get intellectually hung up on this as they see letting go of all willful sin in our lives is no small task, and it may even feel impossible to some, but do not worry, God made it possible by his own spirit just like Peter said!

2 Peter 1:3-4
His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires

Do not let the enemy play games with you, you can personally achieve this standard of godly excellence through his very spirit and power: that which overcame all sin and death in the first place!

Also, look at John’s encouragement above for loving God sincerely, he points out that those who have been made perfect in love, obeying everything Jesus commanded (ie: no more sin and bearing much fruit), have no reason to fear God’s judgment, and that God’s love can be made complete among “us” (everyday Christians like you and me)–he is not saying we should only aspire to being made perfect, he is saying we can live in love (ie: total obedience) just as Jesus did, right now in our daily lives!

1 John 4:18
There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love

John 14:23-24
If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. He who does not love me will not obey my teaching

John 15:9-12
As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you

This gets me so excited!

Not only does Jesus tell us to live just like he did, but we are given the tools through God’s own spirit to be made “perfect” in love while on earth!

The key to salvation is sincerely loving God as well as our brothers and sisters in Christ, and living holy lives that rise above both sin and temptation–salvation is not a participant’s ribbon we tack on because we said “I believe in Jesus”, we must also change our lives accordingly

To quickly summarize the rest of the points on holiness in relation to modeling ourselves after God’s character, the verses below show God’s character is so holy that he cannot be tempted by sin, that we are tempted by our own desire for sin (we find it attractive enough to do it), God gave us his spirit so we can be empowered to rise above both sin *and* temptation to become holy like him, we are commanded to be holy just as God is holy in all we do (not just some things!), and in doing so we can literally become the very righteousness of God

James 1:13-15
For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death

2 Peter 1:3-4
His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires

1 Peter 1:15-16
But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy”

2 Corinthians 5:21
God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God

Think about what God is saying to us:

“I am holy and above temptation, and as my children, I am giving you the tools, and the command, to achieve the same thing”

That is quite an invitation!

A Time Out Before We Move On To The Really Heavy Stuff

Okay, a lot has been said, so let’s take a step back for a moment as I am sure people are either pumping their fists in the air with joy or maybe feeling a little sad and defeated

Despite our struggles with sin, never forget God gave us the tools, encouragement, and ability to succeed in pursuit of perfection in his likeness–his command to be holy was not an impossible task

We agree that God’s standards are high, there is no doubt about that, but everyone who does not meet them will still be judged, with our eternal fate being decided by Jesus himself, rather than having automatic salvation as soon as we arrive at heaven’s gates

Jesus and Peter said some will be greeted into the kingdom richly as those among the family of God, many others will not, but that does not mean by default everyone who does not get the red carpet welcome wagon will be denied–a chance, however, I am not personally willing to gamble on as Jesus will be looking at *every* area of our lives, asking:

“Why did you love this more than me and not let it go?”

“Why did you ignore my spirit crying out to you saying this was wrong for so many years?”

“Why should I let you enter into heaven after you denied me so many times in your life even when you knew better?”

Those are going to be extremely difficult questions to answer, and I cannot imagine what standing before Jesus, in all of his glory, giving account to him will be like

John 5:21-23
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. Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father

Luke 12:5
But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him

Revelation 20:11-15
Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. Earth and sky fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire

2 Peter 1:10-11
Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ

Luke 16:9
I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings

I quake in horror over the day of judgment, honestly, and I wish people had taught these things more directly as we will stand before God giving an account of our lives, with nothing being hidden from him that we did not lay down in repentance and walk away from

Proverbs 28:13
He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy

Before anyone says “but that was under the old covenant!”, take note that this Proverb is a revelation of God’s character not a part of the covenant itself, ie: God will give mercy to those who openly confess and turn away from their sins. This is something Jesus told people all the time, ie: their sins were forgiven, but he told them to stop sinning as well

John 8:9-11
At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

“No one, sir,” she said

“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin”

Further to this, Paul understood what it was going to be like before God’s judgment, so he urgently told us to love each other and have compassion rather than condemn people for their sins, as God will be the one to ultimately do that–God will do so definitively, so we should do everything possible to help each other avoid a negative experience on the day of judgment as there is no re-test

Romans 14:12-13
So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God.

Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way

And with that, let’s continue on with what it takes for Christians to lose their salvation

Dun dun dunnn…

How Can Christians Lose Their Salvation

(Okay, here we go, bring out the pitch forks and furrowed eyebrows, the banjo chase scene music is already playing!)

Without going into a lot of philosophical or intellectual explanation, I want to present a series of scriptures that illustrate how Christians can lose their salvation once they attain it, but I want to be very clear that the path to “losing” salvation is very specific, as understanding this is important before reading the rest:

Losing our salvation means overcoming sin and temptation in every area of our lives, but then falling backwards, even if in just one area, once again casting aside God’s righteousness in continual preference for sin, eventually desiring it just like we did before we overcame it in the first place

It is also important to note that losing our salvation is a process just like it was to gain it, James makes this very clear in the passage below as he tells believers there is a process for dying to sin again after becoming alive in Christ

I cannot stress this point enough:

James is speaking to believers, not non-Christians who are already dead in sin because they do not have Jesus, he is warning those who are alive in Christ that it is possible to be overcome by sin out of their own willing choices and ultimately die again!

James 1:14-15
…each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death

Let’s look at the specific steps in this process that James talks about as the detail in this one verse is mind-boggling:

1) We have a sinful desire

2) We listen to it long enough to be dragged out of God’s presence, into a different state of mind that does not involve resisting temptation

3) We give in to temptation and our desire gives way to the intention to sin

4) We either do the act of sin itself, or dwell on it mentally (remember Jesus said that bad thoughts are sinful, not just committing the acts themselves)

5) We hold onto the sin without repenting until it grows within us to the point of going from a one-time slip up to something powerful, and consistent within us–becoming part of our lifestyle

(This is where we typically step back from the edge and do not let things grow “too powerful” and form lifestyle habits, but it is a dangerous game people do not always win)

6) Over time, once the sin has overpowered us and becomes “full-grown”, we once again die in sin, and our constant desire is once again for sin, not God’s righteousness anymore

Before the enemy starts playing games with you by saying you have fallen backwards in some area(s) and have now lost all hope for salvation, just know that salvation is very difficult to achieve in the first place, so just ignore them!

(That sounded more encouraging in my head than after I wrote it)

Here are some scriptures that show we can lose our salvation after falling backwards, once again living a life of consistent sin, even if it is in just one area that we had previously overcome:

James 2:10-11
For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker

2 Peter 2:20-22
If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and 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. Of them the proverbs are true: “A dog returns to its vomit,” and, “A sow that is washed goes back to her wallowing in the mud”

Hebrews 6:4-6
It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance. To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace

I do not want to dwell on scriptures commonly used to support the view that Christians cannot lose salvation as they are mostly taken out of context and misquoted, but I do want to address the most quoted scripture specifically:

John 10:28
I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand

If this verse is used to promote the notion that Christians cannot lose their salvation, it demonstrates a misunderstanding of Jesus’ point altogether, as he was not saying people’s actions are above consequences or that salvation could never be lost, he was saying nobody can overpower him personally–there is a huge difference

The key to understanding the true meaning of this verse, is to separate the truth that God cannot be overpowered, from the theologically inaccurate suggestion that our sinful actions have no impact on whether we attain or retain salvation–there is simply no Biblical support for this concept, but people often get hung up on it

What Happens When We Lose Our Salvation, And What Happens If We Never Achieve It In The First Place?

Beyond quoting the verses below, I do not have anything more to say, as we understand the battle ahead is tough, just be encouraged that Jesus has overcome sin on our behalf, and he welcomes us to follow after him in power!

John 16:33
I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world

Luke 6:46-49
Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? I will show you what he is like who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice. He is like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built. But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete

Hebrews 10:26-27
If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God

John 15:5-10
I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love

Revelation 3:14-22
These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.

Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me

To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches

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