Many Christians aren’t sure whether a saved person can be lost again or whether once saved they are eternally saved. If a believer is unsettled on this crucial truth, doubts/fears/insecurity are bound to thrive. In place of truth, the devil continually presents wrong teachings, doubts and false reasonings. In the Garden of Eden he pulled those strings suggesting, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” (Gen. 3:1). And the distortion of the clear Word of God has been with us ever since. The Holy Spirit calls for simple faith in the Word of God. Joy comes by accepting what God has told us plainly in His Word, rather than by allowing our confidence to be confused/stolen by a verse that is difficult to understand. The first principle of interpreting Scripture is this: If there are passages that might seem to suggest Christian might lose their salvation, there are many others which with crystal clarity clearly state that we have genuine eternal security in Christ. A second principle which follows is the always seek to read the Word of God from God’s perspective rather than bringing the fallen wisdom and flawed philosophies and reasonings of sinful man. So when it comes to salvation, people who are reading the Bible from man’s point of view are coming to God’s Word with the view that salvation is up to us – when the Bible says salvation is up to God. The Bible says that God predestined us, foreknew us, called us, chose us, elected us, appointed us. Don’t dismiss the sovereign role of God in salvation.
The question is do we hold on to our salvation? Or is it eternally held? If our salvation depends on your “holding on,” then we should MORE than doubt our eternal security. Because our salvation is up to us. Rather, God’s Word says, “Being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6). It asks, “Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?” (Gal. 3:3). We are told that “Salvation comes from the LORD” (Jonah 2:9) rather than from us or anything we can do. The New Living Translation for that verse is even clearer on this point: “For my salvation comes from the LORD alone.” Ephesians 2:8-9 argues, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” And we’re assured, “if we are faithless, He remains faithful, for he cannot disown himself” (2 Tim 2:13). If you want to hold on to your salvation and make it all about you and what you can do for yourself, even by making it all about YOUR faith rather than GOD’S work, well, you go ahead. As for me, I’m counting upon God to hold it for me.
Many want to claim that if we can choose to be saved, well, surely we can choose to be UNsaved. But without bothering to venture into the debate between Armenians and Calvinists (I am actually a Molinist who upholds both human free will AND God’s absolute sovereignty), let me show how that is a false dilemma. When a Christian freely confesses Jesus as Christ and Lord, that Christian freely makes Christ the Master of his/her life. The last sentence in 1 Corinthians 6:19 reads, “You are not your own.” And the first sentence of 1 Corinthians 6:20 says, “You were bought at a price.” If you confessed Christ as Lord, you freely chose with your own free will to make yourself what the Bible calls a “bondslave” of Jesus Christ and of God (e.g. Eph 4:12; 1 Pet 2:16). If you’ve made yourself God’s slave, you can’t decide you get to go free; because that decision is not UP to you, but to your Master. And Jesus says He doesn’t let anyone out of His hand (John 10:28). You used your free will to make yourself His, to give your soul to Him. Which is to say you ALREADY exercised your free will. And it is not the kind of decision you can unmake/undecided any more than you can decide to commit suicide by jumping out of a high flying airplane without a parachute and then “undecided” to re-exercise your free will as you are hurtling toward the ground. In that example, you exercised your free will in a one-time decision to choose death; if you confess Christ as Lord, you used your free will in a one-time decision to choose life. And you can’t take that choice back.
If we can lose our salvation, there would have to be THREE classes of people: the saved, the unsaved, and the ones who used to be saved but lost their salvation. There would be the (saved) sheep, the (unsaved) goats, and the sheep-goats. And those who were elected/appointed/predestined/called to be SAVED by God (e.g. Acts 13:48; Rom 8:27-30; 9:11,16,23-24; Eph 1:4-6, etc.), were thus subsequently RE-elected/RE-appointed/RE-destined/RE-called to be UNsaved by the God of salvation. I don’t see that in God’s Word. I don’t see God appointing someone to eternal life and then re-appointing that same individual to eternal death after He had appointed him/her to eternal life. Colossians 1:13 says “For He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son He loves”; it does NOT say that God does the opposite and transfers believers back into the dominion of darkness. See John 5:24 (“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”); see 1 John 3:14 (“We know that we have passed from death to life”). Show me ONE passage that clearly states that process EVER works the other direction.
Jesus provides a powerful assurance to His sheep: “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. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of My Father’s hand. I and the Father are one” (John 10:27-30). First of all, just how can life be “eternal” if it can be changed to eternal death? And second, if salvation comes from the LORD alone, and if no one is able to snatch us out of God’s hand, well, what’s the question again about losing your eternal salvation?
Those verses beg one question: how can you have “eternal life” and lose it? Doesn’t “eternal life” by its very definition mean that you can never die and that you will live forever? If I can have eternal life today and lose it tomorrow, I don’t have eternal life today and frankly can’t ever have it because “eternal life” becomes like a “square circle” and doesn’t even make any sense. It is non sequitur to “lose your eternal life.” If you have “eternal life” it can NEVER be lost or it wouldn’t be very “eternal.”
As sheep, our security is the responsibility of our Shepherd (1 Pet. 2:25) as “the Overseer/Guardian of our souls.” The Bible repeatedly points out the fact that it is the NATURE of sheep to wander/stray (Isaiah 53:6). And what does God DO when His sheep wander? See Matt 18:12. We “are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed” (1 Peter 1:5).
Are there passages that give us reason to believe that not everyone who says they’re Christians are actually Christians? Yes. Jesus taught the parable of the sower (Matt 13:3-8): there was seed that was sowed on the road, and the birds came and ate it up; there was seed that fell on rocky places and seemed to spring up, but having no true root, withered; there was seed sown among the thorns and again the lack of true roots choked out the shoots; and then there was the seed that was sown on good soil that sprang up with real roots and yielded a crop. But what Jesus does NOT say is that the seed that is sown on good soil with real roots will perish! Hebrews 6:4-7 is a favorite passage that people who teach “eternal INsecurity” rely upon. But they are WRONG for TWO reasons: 1) the passage doesn’t merely suggest – on their own reading – that you can lose your salvation; because on that view it flat out states that “it is IMPOSSIBLE to renew them again to repentance” (vs 6). So if you think you’ve lost your salvation, don’t bother trying to get it back again. And 2) while there is suggestive language used “enlightened,” “tasted,” “partakers,” the word “saved” or “salvation” is NOT used of them and in fact is CONTRASTED to them in verse 9 (“But, beloved, we are convinced of better things concerning you, and things that accompany salvation”). I submit to you that this passage is describing an individual who has “tasted” but not “eaten” the Bread of Life. They have been around it; they have been surrounded by it – but they simply never made that true decision for Jesus. Franklin Graham was surrounded/immersed with Jesus; he saw all kind of miracles. But he wasn’t saved until he made his own decision at age 22. And many others so surrounded by faith never make that decision of faith for themselves. And so they end up having “fallen away” the same way that the seed in Jesus’ parable lacking the true root ends up dying.
[For the record, many exegetes believe Hebrews 6 refers to Jews who had professed faith in Christ, but when persecution against Christians came, forsook Christ and returned to their Judaism and began offering animal sacrifices again – tantamount to profaning the blood of Christ (Heb 10:2-3)].
I think 1 John 2:19 sums it up best: “They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.” There are pseudo-Christians to whom Jesus will say, “I never knew you” (Matt. 7:21-23). The point here is that they were NEVER known; that is, they were never saved even if they appeared from the human perspective to be saved. Jesus is most certainly NOT saying, “I used to know you, but you lost your salvation and now I don’t know you any more.” He’s saying He NEVER knew them at all. By contrast, Jesus says “I know My sheep” (John 10:27). And Jesus says that His sheep will “never perish but have eternal life.” (John 10:28). How can eternal life be eternal if it can be lost, particularly when Jesus said they will never perish? If they will never perish, then they obviously can’t lose their salvation. Also, Paul says that nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God (Rom. 8:38-39). Read the Bible from The Author’s Point of view; you can’t consider the divine perspective and doubt that salvation is eternal and secure.
In terms of eternal life truly being eternal and salvation truly being of the LORD, I love this passage which provides a powerful guarantee that God will keep them despite their tendency to sin/stray: “But Zion said, ‘The LORD has forsaken me, the Lord has forgotten me.’ Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me” (Isaiah 49:14-16). And Christians have a pair of nail-scarred hands – with those nails being driven into His hands WHILE WE WERE YET SINNERS (Rom 5:8) AND ENEMIES OF GOD (Rom 5:10) – that guarantee us that our salvation is secure as long as Jesus bears the nail-engraved scars on His hands (Luke 24:39; John 20:27; Rev 5:6). We are saved as long as Christ is alive, because Heb 7:25 states: “Therefore He is able to save completely those who come to God through Him, because He always lives to intercede for them.”
Are there passages that suggest to us that we if we are living just like the world, that we might still BE of the world? Yes. People want to say if you deny Christ, you can lose your salvation, for example. But, for all of Peter’s denials of Jesus, Jesus didn’t say to Him, “You lost your salvation.” Jesus restored Peter. And as to my relationship, having been born again and indwelt by the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:13), I am a child of God (Rom 8:16), I have eternal life (John 3:16), I am “in Christ” and a member of His body (1 Cor. 12:13). I am no longer in Adam, but a new creature in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17). And so are YOU if you EVER truly knew Jesus.
Some of the passages that emphasize eternal security for believers:
- John 6:39: “And this is the will of Him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those He has given Me, but raise them up at the last day.”
- John 6:40: “For My Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in Him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.”
- 2 Tim. 1:12: “…I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day.”
- Rom 5:10: “For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to Him through the death of His Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through His life!”
- Jer 21:23: …“I have loved you with an everlasting love…”
- Rom 8:30: “And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.”
- 2 Tim 1:9: “He has saved us and called us to a holy life–not because of anything we have done but because of His own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time.”
- John 1:12-13: “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God — children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.”
- 1 John 3:2: “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.”
- John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.”
- 2 Cor 5:17: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”
- Colossians 3:3: “For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.”
If you are what is commonly described as “a backslidden Christian,” there is a high price that you will pay in this life until you are truly right with God. You will suffer hardships in this life that you may not have suffered and you will miss out on rewards in heaven that you could have received while you were backslidden. But you will NOT pay the ultimate penalty of hell. Because when you confessed Christ as your Savior and Lord, He took ALL of your sins upon Himself once for all and for all time. Let me try to explain in my own story.
My testimony: I became a Christian at age 15 on September 25, 1979 at Forest Home, when I went with my high school youth group. I’d grown up in church, but had never truly experienced God (He was an old man with a big white beard in a bathrobe who saw everything I did – and disapproved) or Jesus (He was a wimpy guy carrying around a wimpy sheep) as something I wanted in my life. At Forest Home, I first encountered Jesus as someone powerful who I truly wanted to follow. I prayed to open my heart to Christ that day.
I came home changed. My two best friends ultimately became Christians because of my transformation. One is a Wycliffe missionary and the other became a pastor.
I entered the military. But I ended up like too many young men end up today, wounded and injured. And the experience broke me both in body and in faith. I simply could not understand why God had allowed me to get hurt. And when I cried out to God, He did not seem to come to my rescue. I came out of the Army bitter and questioning. What good is God? Is He even real? And I lived for a number of years like a pagan.
Because I truly had been saved, I knew deep down that I wasn’t living rightly. The backslidden Christian is the most miserable creature on earth, because on the one hand he/she doesn’t have the power to live a joyful and triumphant life pleasing to God and on the other hand as one who has the Holy Spirit within he/she can’t take true pleasure in sin the way unbelievers can. You can sin, but there is a nagging sense that you are doing wrong. In my heart, I knew where I needed to be. I claimed to doubt God, but whenever I was in a tight spot, I prayed. More than once, I had the realization that God would not let me die like this.
That said, I wasn’t going to church and I sure wasn’t living as a Christian.
I knew already in my heart that if there was no God, then there was no morality. As Dostoevsky put it, “If God does not exist, everything is permitted.” And that if Mother Teresa and Adolf Hitler had the same end, morality is for fools and everyone should be as wicked and selfish as the slogan “Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die” entails. But I knew deep-down that wasn’t true. I knew right from wrong because the Holy Spirit lived in me. And it was because the Holy Spirit lived inside me that the entire time I was rebelling against God, I was miserable. I couldn’t enjoy the immorality that the world could wallow in. Deep down I always knew that I was on the wrong path. At the same time, I couldn’t enjoy my experience with God because I constantly knew that I was not pleasing Him. I was stuck in the middle of the road in a deep rut.
It took years for me to reach the end of myself and finally come to the point where my resistance to God had softened such that I could miss the relationship that I had once truly had. But I had to know for sure that my faith was in something/Someone REAL. I began to search.
I first considered evolution, because if evolution was true there was no need for God and frankly no point IN God. I read Richard Dawkins’ Blind Watchmaker and was actually more convinced of the reality of God when I put it down than I’d been when I’d started reading it. I was appalled by the foolish reasoning and by the trivial dismissals of arguments that deserved profound exploration. I read another book called Darwin’s Enigma by Luther Sunderland and was amazed at how bad the arguments for evolution truly are even according to many leading evolutionists. But it took my examination of the historicity of the Resurrection and the marvel of prophecy to make me realize: it really happened. On January 30, 1997, I prayed a prayer of re-dedication. And I had an experience of a Presence just barely within my peripheral vision. The passage, “And you will hear a voice behind you…” immediately flooded into my mind, and I wept like a baby as I realized that I had turned my back on Jesus, but that He had NEVER turned His back on me.
Did I lose my salvation and find it again? No. Like Peter, I had been sifted like wheat. And I had folded like a cheap suit. But like Jesus said, I was in His hand, and He wasn’t going to let go of me. No matter how lost I felt, Jesus knew exactly where I was every second of every day. And He never gave up on me, never quit working in my mind and in my heart. Because as God says in His Word, “I will never leave you or forsake you” (Heb 13:5). And He won’t. That is a promise from God.