QUESTION: Is it possible for me, as a Christian, to lose my salvation? Am I eternally secure or might my sins remove eternal life from me?
ANSWER: The possibility of losing one’s salvation has haunted many a follower of Christ. Many live in fear of not making it to heaven because they committed some terrible sin. There are some verses that initially seem to support the idea that salvation once received can, nevertheless, be lost. But the Bible teaches just the opposite; that salvation cannot be lost. Once a person is born into God’s family, and thus has the life of God, that person will be eternal saved and secure.
We need to first remember that salvation is totally a work of God. We trust Jesus Christ (see the question on how we are saved) and at that moment receive eternal life. And that eternal life is completely a gift of God with no works of ours contributing to it (Eph. 2:8-9). Nothing we do can bring us salvation, and nothing we do can lose that salvation. I would concede that if our eternal security depended on our efforts or perfect righteousness, then we would have real cause to be concerned. But it does not. Our eternal security depends on the promises and work of the Trinity.
The FATHER has, as His sovereign purpose, said He would bring each and every believer to final glorification (Rom. 8:29-30; Eph. 1:4). The Father decreed, before creation took place, that those He chose would become totally holy and blameless, and this decree cannot be thwarted by anyone or anything. The Apostle Paul informs us that all people that God has justified have also been glorified (Rom. 8:30). Paul intentionally used the past tense for these verbs, “justified” and “glorified”. When you placed your faith in Jesus, God justified you. But, at that same moment, God the Father also glorified you. Paul used the past tense of these verbs to emphasize the absolute certainty of them. As far as God the Father is concerned, the justified person has already been glorified (something which experientially still awaits our arrival into heaven). It is in the mind of God, a done deal. There are no exceptions given. There is not one person who is justified who is not also glorified.
Also, the Father’s power keeps a believer in a completely secure position. This was Jesus’ very clear declaration in John 10:29 where He said that “no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.” Jesus’ “sheep” are secure because they are in the protective custody of the Father. According to Jesus, the Father is “greater than all” and, therefore, no one can remove them from their position of absolute security. This includes the church, Satan, people and even the believer himself. If it were possible for the believer to remove himself out of the Father’s hand, then Jesus’ statement is not only false but terribly deceptive. If a believer, by his sinning, could remove himself from the Father’s hand, then surely Jesus would have indicated that, and would have issued a warning. Jesus’ statement is an all-inclusive statement.
The SON, Jesus Christ, paid for every sin we have or will commit. In His present ministry, Jesus is functioning as our high priest and keeps us secure (1 John 2:1-2; Heb. 7:23-25). When we sin, He pleads our case before the Father and condemnation is withheld because the sin has been paid for completely by the shed blood of the Son. No sin, since they are already paid for, can affect our secure position in Christ. The Lord Jesus also sees believers as secure in His hand (John 10:28) He says that the ones He gives eternal life to “shall never perish”. In this passage, Jesus uses a double negative, which is poor English, but great Greek. Using a double negative in the Greek makes the strongest possible statement for the security of His “sheep.” He is saying, “they shall not never perish.” Essentially, Jesus is saying “no way will that happen.” He then goes on to add, “no one shall snatch them out of My hand.” Jesus is just as adamant in John 6:38-40 where the verses clearly declare that He does not lose anyone that the Father has given to Him. There are no exceptions to that statement given. The eternal security of the believer does not depend on that believer’s ability to cling tenaciously to Jesus, but on Jesus’ all-powerful grip on the believer. The all-powerful Lord is holding on to us.
The HOLY SPIRIT too is involved in the security of the believer (Eph. 1:13-14; 4:30). The Holy Spirit regenerates a person when they believe (John 3:5-6; Titus 3:5), causing them to be born again. The Spirit puts a believer into the family of God. Once a person is born into a family, that person is always the child of the parents. DNA says so. That child could change his name, color his hair green, deny he know the parents, geographically remove himself, etc. but the fact remains, he were born into a certain family and cannot be unborn. When the Spirit brings the life of God to the believer (“born” into God’s family); that is a settled fact and cannot be changed. Our spiritual DNA is set.
The Spirit also “seals” a person who believes (a seal in NT times communicated the ideas of ownership and security). The believer is sealed by the Spirit (Eph. 1:13-14) which means we belong to the Lord and we are secure. Can we become “unsealed”? or can the seal be broken? According to Ephesians, this sealing work of the Spirit lasts until the day of final redemption; that is, when finally we experience the end of our salvation, which is our glorification. Could the seal somehow be broken? This seal cannot be broken. In NT times a seal could only be broken by someone who had the authority to do so (For example, only Pontius Pilate could break the seal on Jesus’ tomb; or someone like Caesar who was greater than Pilate). Only God (or someone greater than God) could break the seal and cause us to be lost again. This dramatically limits those who could break the seal of the Spirit to God alone. And we must never forget that God is clearly committed to keeping the believer secure.
Several other key scriptures should be mentioned here. Romans 8:31-39 constitutes one of the most profound declarations of the believer’s eternal security. Paul here points out that since God has now aligned Himself with the believing sinner, and the Spirit has declared the believer righteous based on the totally sufficient work of Christ on the cross, it is now impossible for any legitimate charge to be leveled against the child of God. No one, and nothing, can usurp God’s authority and condemn the believer who sins. Paul then gives a list of all persons and forces who we might think could separate a believer from God. The conclusion is that no one or noting has the power, authority or ability to bring such separation. The believer is thus secure. Before this in Romans 5:6-10, Paul observed that we were once ungodly sinners and enemies of God. Into that most deplorable of situations Christ came and did the powerful work of saving us. He then states that if Christ did this for His enemies, then He will in fact do “much more” for His own that He has redeemed. “Much more” is a term of comparison. His point is that if Christ saved His enemies, He will keep His own reconciled to Himself. John 3:16 and John 5:24 should not be overlooked in this discussion. We should observe that when someone trusts in Jesus Christ, they get “eternal life”, not “conditional” life. It surely should not be called “eternal” life if it can be lost. We are also told in these verses that those who believe will not face condemnation and judgment. There are no conditions attached to those statement. Eternal life is the present possession of the one who believes and this has the guarantee that judgment will not be theirs. If judgment were a possibility because our sin and failure, then these are false statement and are terribly misleading ones.
But what about those who teach that we can lose our salvation? What is their view based on? Generally, those who argue for “insecurity” base their view on two areas which, in fact, do not support their view. First, they make the assumption that the word “save” or “salvation” nearly always refers to spiritual salvation; that is, being justified and delivered from hell. However, there is a wide range of meaning in both the Old and New Testaments for the verb “save” and the noun “salvation.” In the great majority of times those words DO NOT refer to justification and deliverance from hell. For example, in Matthew 9:21, the woman who was ill for 12 years decides she might get well if she touched the hem of Jesus’ garment. The word “saved” is used and older translations did in fact record her as saying that if only she could touch the hem, she would be “saved.” This is clearly not how one is justified, and so, more current translations say “I will be made well.” This is a legitimate, and correct, translation of the word “save”. Another example is found in 1 Timothy 2:15 where a woman will be “saved” by bearing children. Eternal life, obviously, does not come to a woman by having babies. In the context, Paul is encouraging women that even though they might not be able to be elders in the church, they are nevertheless delivered to a place of fulfillment and wholeness by being a mother. In 1 Timothy 4:14, Timothy is told to keep on teaching as this will “insure salvation” for himself and for his hearers. But Timothy and his believing listeners are not justified by his teaching, for they are already justified. The verse is saying that they all would “be delivered” from damaging heretical teachings by Timothy’s good teaching. These three verses illustrate that the words “save” and “salvation” are very often to speak of something other than justification. It is the less than careful exposition of passages using “save” and “salvation” that has contributed to the idea that salvation can be lost. The second general area used to support the idea of losing salvation has to do with scriptures that do indeed speak about losing something, or that warn believers of bad things that might happen to them. But most often, these verses in context are not talking about justification but about rewards. Rewards can be lost. Inheritance in the messianic kingdom can be lost. But rewards and inheritance are not the same thing as eternal life. For example, the book of Hebrews, with its five warning passages, are regularly used to show that salvation can be lost. But Hebrews is a call to believers to persevere in their Christian lives, not about spiritual salvation. It focuses on the rewards that can be gained or lost during the time when Jesus Messiah rules on the earth. It is beyond the scope of this question/answer to deal with this here. But a discussion of verses used to teach the loss of salvation can be found in my book “The Believers Payday” (pages 21-55; and 206-209). The clear, definitive statements of scripture declare that eternal life is a secure thing.