Can Salvation be Lost?

But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)


I have a friend who developed ulcers asking himself whether he was truly saved. He attended a church that held to the belief that salvation could be lost. My purpose in writing this article is not to attack those who hold this belief, but rather to offer comfort to those who are struggling with this question.

It has been argued for many centuries, but I think the salvation-can-be-lost crowd is missing an important point. Nothing man does merits salvation. This includes good deeds, asking forgiveness, proclaiming Christ, "continuing in the faith," etc. Salvation is a gift from God, based on His mercies alone. We don't deserve it; that's why it is called "mercy." He saved us "...not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy..."(Titus 3:5). Christianity is the only religion in the world that teaches salvation by grace. The Bible says, "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast" (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Once God has granted salvation, why on earth would He take it back? Would God remove a person's salvation because he or she was a sinner? Did not He offer us salvation "while we were still sinners"? John the disciple said, "Beloved, now we are children of God" (1 John 3:1). The Father protects His children. Jesus said, "And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone 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 My Father's hand" (John 10:28-29). Jesus also protects us. He said, "Those whom You gave Me I have kept; and none of them is lost except the son of perdition [Judas], that the Scripture might be fulfilled" (John 17:12). Dr. Henry Morris puts it this way, "Just as a babe, once born, cannot be unborn, so one who is "born again" into God's family can never be not born again." If salvation depended on man, then yes, it could be lost. But since salvation is based solely on God's mercy and work, it is permanent.1

CONTINUING IN THE FAITH

The salvation-can-be-lost crowd claims that you must continue in the faith to stay saved. They say that those who believe in eternal security teach that eternal security equals a license to sin. However, we stand with Paul when he says, "What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not!" (Romans 6:15).

The Bible says, "...envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like...those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God" (Galatians 5:21). But notice that there is a key word in this verse: practice. Those who habitually commit these sins have not truly accepted Christ and so will not inherit the kingdom of God. A person may claim to have asked for salvation and then later renounce his or her faith. This person never truly accepted Christ, because if he had, Christ would not have lost him.

One particular passage of Scripture used to defend the idea that salvation can be lost is the parable of the sower:
When anyone hears the word of the kingdom, and does not understand it, then the wicked one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is he who received seed by the wayside. But he who received the seed on stony places, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no root in himself, but endures only for a while. For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the world, immediately he stumbles. Now he who received seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful. But he who received seed on the good ground is he who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and produces: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty (Matthew 13:19-23).
I had a friend in high school who got suspended for drinking alcohol on school grounds. He was quickly befriended by Christians, who sobered him up and put him back on track. My friend began preaching about his conversion--a truly wonderful story it was. However, months later he turned his back on his faith. When we asked him for a reason, he replied that he never meant it to begin with. He had "prayed the prayer" to make us happy, and the aim of his enthusiasm was to impress us. My friend was not evil. He truly wanted to find the peace that we had found, but when he didn't, he put on a show. My friend's response was emotional, rather than knowledgeably volitional. He heard what seemed to be a happy release from his troubles and fears, and so received Christ immediately and joyfully. But there was no root or foundation for his purely experiential faith. He felt good about it for a while, but salvation does not come through feelings. I am not implying that this describes all backsliders. However, the truly born-again believer will find his way back to God. 1 John 2:19 says, "They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us..."

The Christian who becomes unfruitful will lose his reward. The apostle Paul said this of the unfruitful Christian, "If anyone's work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire" (I Corinthians 3:15). The unfruitful believer will not lose his salvation, but he will lose his reward.

If you are a backslidden Christian, repent! "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness...if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous" (I John 1:9, 2:1). If you find yourself doubting your salvation, and yet you were sincere in your confession of faith, remember Jesus' words to you: "My Father, who has given you to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch you out of My Father's hand."


Notes


1. Morris, Henry. The Defender's Study Bible. Note on Hebrews 6:6.