by Derrick G. Jeter
Lucy and Linus are looking out the window and watching the rain pour down. Lucy says, “Boy, look at it rain . . . what if it floods the whole world?” Linus answers, “It will never do that. In the ninth chapter of Genesis, God promised Noah that would never happen again, and the sign of the promise is the rainbow.” “You’ve taken a great load off my mind,” Lucy says. Linus responds, “Sound theology has a way of doing that!”
When it comes to the question of whether Christians can lose their salvation—a question greatly burdening the minds of many—we need a dash of sound theology.
God is God. You are Not.
We start with what ought to be obvious, but too often forgotten: God is God. You are not. This has foundational implications as we try to answer this question of once saved, always saved. First, we will never understand everything in the Bible, but this doesn’t mean that we can’t understand some things. Second, this essay will not answer every question or objection. Third, God’s Word is more important than our feelings and opinions.
As we look into God’s Word let’s not forget that it is a book, made up of various types of literature, written by people within a context and for a purpose. As such, we can read it like any piece of literature. But it is more than just a book, it is a divine book, so we must read and interpret it with humility and in an attitude of prayer. God, the author, can and will help us understand what He wants us to know. Since the Bible is a divine book it cannot contradict itself. The apparent contradictions are just that, apparent—from a human perspective. Those things we see in tension, in the mind of God are beautifully harmonized. To bring apparent contradictions together the Bible should interpret the Bible. But a word of warning here: Always interpret obscure passages by clear passages to make the obscure more clear. Never interpret clear passages by obscure one because you’ll make the clear obscure.
What Do We Mean by Saved?
Now, one more word before we tackle the question of security directly. We need to understand what we mean by salvation. First, you must be a possessor, not a professor (Romans 10:9–10; 1 John 5:11–12). My name is Derrick Jeter—I possess it. But I’m not the Derek Jeter of the New York Yankees, no matter how often I claim it. Playing short stop as a boy doesn’t mean I can hit a big league curve ball. Second, the issue is security not carnality. Many, especially those who teach that you can lose your salvation, don’t believe that Christians can live in a lifestyle of sin, though they can (1 Corinthians 3:1–3). Third, our salvation and our security are about God, not us (Romans 5:8; Ephesians 2:1–2, 4–7). Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the late, great saint of London, said it best: “It is not your hold of Christ that saves you—it is Christ. It is not your joy in Christ that saves you—it is Christ. It is not even faith in Christ (though faith is the instrument)—it is Christ’s blood and His merits. Therefore, do not look to your hope, but to Christ, the source of your hope.”
Why Do Some Doubt Their Salvation?
Why do some doubt? The problem is not the truth of eternal security, but their assurance that it indeed is true. Assurance is the realization that a Christian has that he or she possesses eternal life. And for many that realization is doubtful. Some common reasons why people doubt include the inability to identify a specific time and place when they trusted Christ, wondering whether the procedure—the prayer, raising their hand, coming down front—when they came to Christ was appropriate, the belief that the doctrine of security will lead to loose living, feelings of unworthiness of God’s love and forgiveness, and the “problem” passages in the Bible that seem to teach you can lose your salvation.
As we get into the specifics of looking at some of these “problem” passages, you should keep this question in the forefront of your mind: Can any work of God be undone?
Does This Mean I Can Lose My Salvation?
John, in his first letter (not his gospel), refers to a group he calls “antichrists”—teachers who taught something contrary to Christ’s teaching. He says, “They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us” (1 John 2:19). Teachers who espouse that you can lose your salvation use this verse to prove their conclusion. But John is not talking about salvation, but about those who made a public affirmation of faith at one point but didn’t really make a commitment, in faith, to Christ. These are professors, not possessors. Other passages include Matthew 13:1–8; 1 Corinthians 15:2 (cf. 2 Corinthians 13:5); and Hebrews 3:6, 14.
Again, some go to Colossians 1:21–23 to show that salvation is tenuous. But Paul, in this passage, is making the point that Christians who were once “alienated and hostile . . . engaged in evil deeds” have now become “reconciled” into the body of Christ so He might “present [us] before [God] holy and blameless and beyond reproach.” The condition of this presentation is our faithfulness to Christ. The question is not whether we’ll be presented before God or not, but whether we’ll be presented as faithful followers. The issue is the loss of reward, not salvation (John 15:1–17; 1 Corinthians 9:24–27).
The next two passages, John 13:2–10 and Galatians 5:4 deal with the loss of fellowship and falling from the doctrine of grace, not salvation. The John passage deals with Jesus’s washing Peter’s feet. Peter wants his whole body washed, but that is not needed because he is already saved. Only his feet need washing because he has been walking the dirty street of Jerusalem. If he doesn’t wash his feet, that is, have his sins removed as a believer, he cannot have fellowship with Christ. The Galatians passage has to do with their temptation to become legalistic and teaching that following rules is the only means of salvation. To do so would mean to fall from the truth that God’s grace is what saves us.
Hebrews 6:1–8 is the ace in the hole for salvation losers . . . or so they think. Admittedly, this is a difficult passage and has some hard things to say to Christians who decide to turn their backs on the Savior, but falls short of casting them into hell. Here are the main points:
- The subject is the maturity of the Christian, not salvation or security (6:1).
- These Christians, primarily, were converts from Judaism, where rituals were important for justification before God (6:1–2).
- With God’s help these Christians will grow in maturity—leaving the elementary ideas of justification through rules behind (6:3).
- It is possible for true Christians to “fall away”—apostasy (cf. Hebrews 3:6, 14; 10:23–25, 35–39; 2 Timothy 2:18)—and not be restored to the same commitment (not conversion) to Christ as they once enjoyed (6:4–6).
- They cannot be restored because these Jewish Christians, in rejecting Christ have “crossed back” over the line and agreed with the Jewish nation that Jesus was not the Messiah and deserved crucifixion (6:6).
- The illustration helps clarify what the writer means: Faithful and mature Christians have the blessing of God and benefit others (6:7). But unfaithful Christians, who immaturely abandon the truth, are unproductive and fall under the judgment of God—their unfaithfulness is burned away (not Hell), just as a farmer will burn away thorn bushes so the land can be cultivated (6:8). Notice, thorns and thistles are burned away, not the land—it remains.
How Can I be Sure I won’t Lose My Salvation?
We can be sure of our eternal security because of the work of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. The Father gives us salvation forever. His promises are always fulfilled (John 3:16; 5:24; 6:37; Romans 4:13–14, 16, 20–24; 8:28–30; Galatians 3:17–19, 22, 29; 4:21–23, 28; Ephesians 1:11–12). His power is infinite (John 10:27–30; Romans 4:21; 8:28–39; Ephesians 1:19–20; 3:20; Philippians 3:20–21; 2 Timothy 1:12; Jude 24). And His love is infinite (Romans 5:6–10; Ephesians 1:4–5).
The Son purchased your salvation (Romans 3:23–24). He died to purchase your salvation (Romans 6:23; 8:1; 1 John 2:2; 5:11–13). He rose from the dead to secure your salvation (Romans 6:4; Colossians 2:12; 3:1; 2 Timothy 2:11). And He prays for you, insuring your salvation (John 17:2, 6, 9, 11–12, 20, 24; Hebrews 7:25; 1 John 2:1).
The Holy Spirit seals your salvation for eternity. He regenerates you to new life (John 3:5; Titus 3:5). He indwells true believers (John 14:16–17; Romans 8:9; 1 John 2:27). He baptizes you into the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:13; Ephesians 2:18). And He seals you until the rapture or the resurrection of your body (2 Corinthians 1:21–22; Ephesians 1:13–14; 4:30).
Read slowly and deliberately Romans 8:31–39. Then ask yourself, do I believe Him now?
You can never lose your salvation—you are saved forever!
Peanuts cartoon: Charles M. Schulz in Robert L. Short, The Parables of Peanuts (New York: Harper & Row, 1968), 246–247. Spurgeon quote: Undocumented.