Is it possible to lose your salvation?
I don’t like this question. I don’t like it is that I don’t think it can be answered in a yes or no format; it depends on what you mean.
Do you mean that if you mess up and sin that you lose your salvation and have to be born again again? If so, no.
Or do you mean to ask if it’s possible for a person to once be saved and then, for varying reasons, be lost again? If so, yes.
Now I first want to say this: It is of vital importance that you build doctrine on things that the Bible explicitly says–first. There are things the Bible states explicitly and there are things the Bible states implicitly. This is important to understand. Both the explicit and the implicit are important, but it should be obvious to us all the explicit statements should take precedence. And the reason for this is that implicit things are easier to misinterpret.
It’s also important to not allow preconceived theological notions affect the way you interpret scripture. Sometimes I run across scripture that challenges my currently held beliefs. In such cases, it’s important to allow them to challenge your beliefs. You shouldn’t just throw them out of the window immediately, but you should seriously consider what the scripture is saying and go from there.
With all that being said, let us go to the topic at hand.
In my studies on this subject, I’ve come to the conclusion that the Bible, at best, implicitly expresses the notion that once a person is truly saved they cannot be otherwise. However, I have observed many more instances where the Bible both explicitly and implicitly states that it is possible for someone who is genuinely saved to depart from the faith and be saved no longer. The most notable of these scriptures is 1 Timothy 4:1:
Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons – 1 Timothy 4:1
This verse is about as explicit as you can get. There are people who will depart from the faith.
We see that this same Paul (who wrote these words to Timothy) in other places entreated the brethren with many tears because he knew of the wolves that would come to scatter the flock of God (Acts 20:29-31). He urged them to continue in the faith because difficult times were ahead that would try their confidence (Acts 14:22). Jesus himself warned us that only those who endure til the end will be saved (Matthew 24:13).
Unfortunately, not all will endure. They will buckle under the pressure, give in to temptation, listen to deceiving spirits, and depart from the faith.
Now some may argue that those who depart were not really Christians in the first place but simply pretenders and/or deceived. But if they weren’t really Christians then they wouldn’t be in the faith to begin with. How can they ‘depart’ from something they were never truly a part of? Furthermore, what would be the purpose of the Spirit giving us this warning if the truly saved could not truly depart? Paul’s explanation for their departure was not because ‘they weren’t saved in the first place,’ but because they ‘gave heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons.’ In other words, Satanic forces infiltrated the church, seeking to draw people away from Christ. Why would these Satanic forces want unbelievers to leave the church? Wouldn’t the unsaved and deceived and pretenders help their cause if they were left inside the church? Truly they do. Satan does his best to push the pretenders in and draw the true believers out.
If this verse were an isolated one, then maybe we could say that is simply means something besides what it seems to obviously say. But it isn’t. Hebrews 3:12 is another scripture that is just as explicit as the one we just mentioned:
Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; but exhort one another daily, while it is called ‘today,’ lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end – Hebrews 3:12-14
This verse is very much a warning. It doesn’t warn people who are deceived to examine their hearts to make sure they are truly saved (something that people should definitely do, but not addressed here). But it addresses a group of people that the author calls ‘brethren;’ he warns them against ‘departing from the living God,’ of being ‘hardened through the deceitfulness of sin,’ and the importance of holding their confidence steadfast to the end.
Why would he say this to true believers if they couldn’t truly fall away from the faith? And if, as some may think, he was speaking this warning people who weren’t really saved in the first place, why would he tell us to exhort each other lest we be hardened? Doesn’t the unsaved person already have a hardened heart? Isn’t that why they aren’t truly saved? And why would he say that we are partakers only if we hold fast our confidence until the end? If once-saved-always-saved was true, why would he be concerned about believers holding fast until the end? According to the once-saved-always-saved crowd, true believers will endure to the end because God will be sure of it. They use Philippians 1:6 to support this idea. Would it not have been a much better idea for the writer of Hebrews to say something like this: “Make sure you aren’t deceived. Examine your heart to make sure you are truly saved because only the truly saved will endure till the end.” That’s a good exhortation, no doubt, because there are many people who think they are saved and are not, but that’s not what the author chose to put here. In this passage, he warns, by the Spirit, that it certainly is possible that true believers can depart from the faith, and he gives practical advice that we may protect our soul.
Now I do need to make a distinction here. This distinction is important and may be hard for some to understand, so pay attention. There is a difference between the elect and those who are saved for a time yet depart from the faith. The elect are those individuals who God chooses because He knows He can secure their salvation and their steadfastness until the end. They are the elect because of the foreknowledge of God. This means that God chooses them because of what He knows about them, namely that they will receive His grace and continue in it until the end. In God’s infinite mind, everything is finished, but to us, everything plays out in real time. Therefore it is perfectly possible for a person to receive God’s grace, walk with God for a time, and yet not ultimately be among the elect. They were truly saved, truly walked with God, truly loved God, but became hardened by sin and fell away (Luke 8:13). This is exactly why Peter exhorts us to ‘make our calling and election sure’ (2 Peter 1:10). It would be disingenuous for Peter to tell us to do such things if we could not.
These are only a very few of the verses that warn against the real temptation to depart from true faith in God. I will list much more at the bottom of this blog.
Now I want to address some of the scriptures that are often used to support once-saved-always-saved and show how those who use them draw implications out of them that are not there.
The most oft-used verse is this one:
I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. – John 10:28
This is a beautiful verse. Thank God that no one can snatch us out of the hands of Jesus! However, snatching implies a forcible removal against one’s will. You could hardly call it snatching when someone willing walks away from God (Hebrews 10:26). This verse isn’t saying that it’s impossible for someone to walk away from God, it’s saying that those who trust in Jesus can rest assured that no one is strong enough to snatch us away! Praise God!
And another verse:
[No] created thing shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 8:39
Once again, another beautiful verse. But there are a couple of problems if you are using this verse to promote once-saved-always-saved theology. First of all, this verse is speaking about God’s love, not salvation. If you look at the context, Paul is speaking about how many tribulations accompany the faithful in this life. The point he is making is that nothing that happens in this life will keep us from the great love of God. Amen! So even in hard times, even under attack from the enemy, even in the midst of great suffering, God’s love is still there! I don’t see how the honest reader wouldn’t understand that this is the point of this passage.
Secondly, if there were any reference here to salvation, it is very implicit. And since there are many more explicit verses that say the opposite, it’s important that we consider those first.
And let’s consider this verse:
being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Christ, – Philippians 1:6
This verse falls victim to the failure to use context. Many say, “see, if God starts a good work in you, he will finish it.” But that’s not what the verse says.
This verse very specifically addresses those who were in ‘fellowship’ with Paul concerning his gospel ministry (verse five). In other words, they were faithful financial supporters of his ministry. Because of their faithfulness to him, he was confident that God would complete His work in them. He confirms this in verse seven where he says, ‘just as it is right for me to think this of you all…” In other words, Paul expressed these thoughts specifically towards these people. Their faithfulness to him was a sign of their faithfulness to God; therefore he had the confidence to say that God would finish the work that He started in them.
These verses are some of the most cited by those who promote once-saved-always-saved. But none of them are nearly as explicit as ‘the Spirit expressly says that in the latter days some will depart from the faith.’ Do you see the difference?
And one last verse:
In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory. – Ephesians 1:13-14
Once again, this is a beautiful verse, yet it is misinterpreted to say something it doesn’t say by those who promote once-saved-always-saved theology.
Some will say, “See, we are sealed by the Holy Spirit. He is the guarantee of our inheritance.” Yes, but what does that even mean!?
Being ‘sealed’ in those days means something different than how we think of being ‘sealed’ today. Today we think of sealed in reference to a zip-lock bag. You put something in it and seal it so that it is protected from outside forces. This is the idea that some use with this verse regarding the Holy Spirit. I guess they believe that the Holy Spirit puts us in some kind of spiritual zip-lock bag to protect us from Satan until the day that we are completely redeemed.
But this isn’t what ‘sealed’ meant in those days.
A seal was a bit of wax that was dripped on a piece of paper and then impressed with a ring (or a seal) to confirm that the document was authentic. We still use this type of thing today on official documents (except we don’t use wax). (A secondary use was to show that the document had not been opened).
With that in mind, what does it mean to be sealed by the Holy Spirit? It means that the Holy Spirit is the proof of the authenticity of our salvation. In other words, how do I know I’m really saved? It’s because I have the Holy Spirit (see also Romans 8:16). That assurance of the authenticity of our salvation remains with us until the day of redemption. The day of redemption is when our faith becomes sight. It’s when we finally receive our new bodies.
Also, the word ‘guarantee’ in this verse does not mean what we typically think of ‘guarantee’ to mean. The proper translation for this word is ‘earnest payment.’ An earnest payment is giving money towards something you are planning to buy. You’ll say to the seller, “Listen, I have the money to buy this and I’m very serious about buying it. However, I only have this much money right now. Take this much money and hold the item until I can return to give you the rest.” That’s called an earnest payment. It means you’re serious about buying the item. In the same way, Jesus is serious about His soon coming and our soon redemption. As a guarantee of what He will do, He gave us His Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit both confirms the authenticity of our salvation and the surety of our bodily redemption. Praise God!
This has nothing to do with once-saved-always-saved. It’s God saying that He will keep His end of the bargain. We also need to keep our end of the bargain.
It should also be noted that this sealing happened when these men ‘believed.’ To believe is the same as to have faith. It is this faith that Paul (the same author) warned that many would depart from (1 Timothy 4:1). A sad but important truth to understand.
Why does it matter?
Some say they departed from the faith, some say they never were saved..what does it matter?
It matters for two reasons.
Number one: warning the saints against apostasy should be top priority. In this last days many are going to depart from the faith (read my blog on that here). We need to be exhorting one another daily so that none of us will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. Those who comfort Christians with the idea that it is impossible to fall away from their salvation are doing them a great disservice. Instead, we should warn them with the same warnings that Bible warns us with.
Number two: It’s confusing to those who do fall into sin. Those who believe this doctrine while in sin will be tempted to think one of two things: Either: “I guess I was never saved in the first place and everything I thought God ever did in and through me was all a sham and fake,” or: “I’m truly saved so God will get me out of this in His own good time because He who started a good work in me will complete it until the day of Christ.”
Both of these thoughts are dangerous. The first because Satan seeks to undermine the true things that God has done in a person’s life, thereby driving them further from the truth. The second because it engenders a complacent attitude towards sin.
I’m going to stop here, but I would like to say that while this issue is important, I don’t think it’s an issue that should cause a schism of fellowship among believers. I have friends and colleagues that believe differently than I do on this subject. They are still my friends and colleagues. I do believe there are some doctrines that should divide us, but this is not one of them.
That being said, I would encourage you to look up all these scriptures for yourself. Look at the ones that are explicit. Let them form your doctrine. I’m listing verses below that support the notion that I have put forth in this blog. Please feel free to comment on this blog with questions or arguments. God Bless!
“But he who endures to the end shall be saved.” – Mark 13:13
“For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame.” -Hebrews 6:4-6
For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries. Anyone who has rejected Moses’ law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace? – Hebrews 10:26-29
“For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning. For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them.”- 2 Peter 2:20-21
“For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” – 1 Timothy 6:10
“Some have in fact already turned away to follow Satan.” – 1 Timothy 5:15
“Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to your care. Turn away from godless chatter and opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge, which some have professed and in doing so have departed from the faith.” – 1 Timothy 6:20-21
“You therefore, beloved, since you know this beforehand, beware lest you also fall from your own steadfastness, being led away with the error of the wicked;” – 2 Peter 3:17
“For if God did not spare the natural branches, He may not spare you either. Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off.” – Romans 11:21-22
If anyone sees his brother sinning a sin which does not lead to death, he will ask, and He will give him life for those who commit sin not leading to death. There is sin leading to death. I do not say that he should pray about that. All unrighteousness is sin, and there is sin not leading to death. – 1 John 5:16-17
“Moreover, brethern, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you–unless you believed in vain.” – 1 Corinthians 15:1-2
“You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.” – Galatians 5:4
“Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins.” – James 5:19-20
“Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears.” Acts 20:31 (why did Paul warn the church with tears to watch if they had no risk of being led away?)
“Moreover, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware that all our fathers were under the cloud, all passed through the sea, all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ. But with most of them God was not well pleased, for their bodies were scattered in the wilderness. Now these things became our examples, to the intent that we should not lust after evil things as they also lusted. And do not become idolaters as were some of them. As it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play. Nor let us commit sexual immorality, as some of them did, and in one day twenty-three thousand fell; nor let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed by serpents; nor complain, as some of them also complained, and were destroyed by the destroyer. Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.” -1 Corinthians 10:1-12
“And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight— if indeed you continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel which you heard, which was preached to every creature under heaven, of which I, Paul, became a minister.” – Colossians 1:21-23
“For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world.” – 1 Corinthians 11:31-32
“When a righteous man turns away from his righteousness, commits iniquity, and dies in it, it is because of the iniquity which he has done that he dies.” – Ezekiel 18:26
“And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hell fire–‘where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.’” – Mark 9:42-48 (What’s the point of these verses if apostasy is impossible?)
But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified. – 1 Cor 9:2
if indeed you continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel which you heard, which was preached to every creature under heaven, of which I, Paul, became a minister. – Colossians 1:23
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