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Question:

"Can Christians lose their salvation?"

Answer:

Some people believe that if a person is truly saved, then he can never lose his salvation no matter how badly nor how often he sins. This view is often called "eternal security," or "once saved, always saved." Other people believe that it is possible for a Christian to lose his salvation. This view is often called "conditional salvation."

Those who believe in the doctrine of "eternal security" often use passages such as the following to prove their view:
"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16)

"Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son." (John 3:18)

"Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him." (John 3:36)

"I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life." (John 5:24)
People often use these passages to show that if we believe in Jesus (as our Lord and Savior) then we have eternal life, and I completely agree with that. However, notice that if a Christian chooses to turn away and reject Jesus, then the above passages no longer apply to that person because he no longer believes in Jesus! This is why these passages do not prove the doctrine of "eternal security."

But if a Christian can turn away from the faith and somehow lose his salvation, then wouldn't we expect the New Testament to give us plenty of warnings against doing that? As a matter of fact, that's exactly what we find in the New Testament. In a moment we will look at dozens of passages which repeatedly warn us to remain in Christ and to continue in our faith so that we don't fall away from our faith or reject our faith or shipwreck our faith or turn away from our faith or wander from our faith or disown Jesus or drift away from our faith or shrink back from our faith. In fact, it turns out that every single New Testament author has given us these warnings. That's a lot of testimony, which would make sense if the "eternal security" doctrine is not entirely accurate.

Sometimes John 10:28-29 ("no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand") is used as being a proof of "eternal security." However, what this argument is overlooking is our free will. People can't be snatched out of God's hand by anyone else, as John 10:28-29 says. But this argument does not address the issue of a Christian choosing to reject Jesus and choosing to turn his back on salvation. As we will see, every single New Testament author has given us strong warnings about turning away from the faith. I realize that Calvinists do not believe we have such a thing as free will, but my article called What Is Calvinism? explains that Calvinism is a flawed doctrine.

Then there is the "predestination" argument, based on passages such as Romans 8:28-30 and Ephesians 1:4-5. If God has predestined or pre-chosen certain people to receive salvation, then doesn't this imply that those people have "eternal security"? Perhaps. However, consider that we shouldn't presume to know what is in a person's heart. Therefore, how can we honestly tell a person that he has "eternal security"? Think about it for a moment. I don't know what's in your heart, so I have no way of knowing for sure whether you are saved or not. Therefore, it would be wrong for me to tell you that you have "eternal security." Another problem is that none of us can honestly claim to fully understand predestination. For example, if God has predestined certain people to receive salvation, then how does our free will fit into the picture? If God has predestined certain people to receive salvation, then why did He command us to go out and do evangelism? If God has predestined only some people to receive salvation, then why does the Bible say that God "wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth"? (1 Timothy 2:4). I don't claim to know all of the answers to these questions, I'm just trying to show how thorny the issue of predestination can be to the fallible human mind. But you see, if we can't honestly claim to understand predestination, then how can we honestly use this argument as a proof of "eternal security"? Calvinists have a particular view of predestination, but as I mentioned above, I don't believe that their five points are supported in Scripture.

Another argument used by those who believe in "eternal security" is that we did not earn salvation by our good works, and therefore we cannot lose salvation by our bad works (i.e. our sins). I completely agree with that. But again, something is being overlooked here. This argument says that we did not do anything to receive salvation, but that's not entirely true. We had to make a choice to put our faith in Jesus. Since we received salvation by making the choice to accept Jesus, then can we lose salvation by making the choice to reject Jesus? As we will see, the apostle Paul said that "If we disown Him, he will also disown us" (2 Timothy 2:12).

The only way to determine if "eternal security" is true or not is to prayerfully, honestly, and thoroughly study the Bible with an open mind, with a clean slate, without any preconceived biases. Consider that it would be unwise not to study a particular viewpoint (such as "conditional salvation") just because we don't happen to like that view. In this article I am not trying to prove that "eternal security" is false, but I want to demonstrate that there is plenty of Scriptural evidence to make us question the accuracy of this doctrine. Prayerfully examine the following passages and consider the questions that they raise:

  1. "This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is the word of God. Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. Those on the rock are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away. The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life's worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature. But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop." (Luke 8:11-15. See also Matthew 13:18-23 and Mark 4:13-20)
    Notice that there are four groups of people described in this parable. The first group represents all unbelievers, from whom the devil has snatched the Word of God so that they won't believe and be saved. The second group of people are those who believe for awhile, but when they are tested they fall away. Some Bible teachers say that this group believed with their minds but not with their hearts, and therefore they never received salvation. However, notice how Jesus described the first and second groups. Jesus said that the first group was not saved because they did not believe, but He said that the second group did believe until they fell away. Jesus did not qualify this by saying that they only believed with their minds, but instead He referred to them as believers. Therefore, some Bible teachers say that these are people who were saved, but they fell away from the faith and lost their salvation. The third group of people are those who hear the Word, but they are so caught up in worldly things that the Word of God becomes "choked" within them. This comes from a Greek word that can also be translated as "strangled" or "suffocated" (according to Strong's Greek Dictionary). These words convey the idea of death, not the abundant life that we have in Christ. There is some debate among scholars about whether these are simply immature Christians, or whether these people are even saved at all. The fourth group represents true, mature believers, who retain the Word and produce a crop by persevering.

    So in this parable we have one group (group #1) which represents all unbelievers, and one group (group #4) which represents all true, mature believers. It is possible (as some people believe) that one or both of the other two groups represent people who received salvation, but then they "fell away" from the faith and lost their salvation. Our doctrinal biases might not allow us to consider this interpretation, but that is not a very good way to study the Word of God. We might not like the possibility of Christians losing their salvation, but we can't afford to dismiss this possibility without examining all of the evidence. If Jesus was warning us that Christians can lose their spiritual life by "falling away" (just as Adam and Eve lost their spiritual life at "the Fall"), then we need to know that!

    This parable is found in Matthew 13:18-23, Mark 4:13-20, and Luke 8:11-15. For more on this parable, I invite you to see my article called How to Be Certain That You Will Go to Heaven.
  2. "Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love." (John 15:4-10)
    Notice that Jesus said that it is up to us to remain in Him. If we don't remain in Him then we are like a branch that is cut off and thrown into the fire! Consider that in this passage Jesus made such statements as "remain in me," and "if a man remains in me," and "if anyone does not remain in me," and "if you remain in me," and "[if] my words remain in you," and "remain in my love," and "if you obey my commands." These are conditions! Jesus was telling us to continually remain in an intimate, loving relationship with Him, and to obey what is written in the Bible.
  3. "I am talking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I make much of my ministry in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them. For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? If the part of the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; if the root is holy, so are the branches. If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, do not boast over those branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you. You will say then, "Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in." Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but be afraid. For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either. Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off." (Romans 11:13-22)
    Some people don't like the doctrine of "conditional salvation" because they say that it creates fear. But notice that in this passage the apostle Paul told the Gentile Christians to be afraid! Let's look at this passage closely. First, Paul said that he hoped to arouse his own people (Jews) to envy in order to save some of them. Then he said that these unsaved Jews are "branches" that have been cut off because of unbelief, and the saved Gentiles are "wild branches" that have been grafted in because of their faith in Jesus. Paul was talking to Gentile Christians, and he said that it is up to us to continue in Christ. This is a condition! Otherwise, Paul said, we also will be "cut off," just like the unsaved Jews who were cut off because of their unbelief.
  4. "And do not grumble, as some of them did--and were killed by the destroying angel. These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall!" (1 Corinthians 10:10-12)
    Here Paul was warning us that some of the Israelites were killed by the destroying angel. Then he said that we need to be careful that we don't fall. This is another warning against falling away from the faith. Does "falling away" from the faith mean that we lose our salvation? Maybe, maybe not, but it is important that we honestly, prayerfully, and thoroughly examine all of the evidence before we decide what it means.
  5. "Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain." (1 Corinthians 15:1-2)
    Here we see another conditional statement. If we don't hold firmly to the Gospel then we have believed in vain.
  6. "You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace." (Galatians 5:4)
    Christians are saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8). If someone falls away from that grace and becomes alienated from Christ, could it mean that he has lost his salvation? Paul was speaking to Christians, warning them to stand firm and not to fall away from the grace that saved them. We can try to interpret this passage to mean different things, but whether we like it or not, one possible interpretation is that falling away from grace and being alienated from Christ means losing our salvation.
  7. "But now he has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation-- if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel." (Colossians 1:22-23)
    Here we see another conditional statement. Read this passage again and ponder what would happen if we turn away and we don't continue in the faith.
  8. "Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you for the prize. Such a person goes into great detail about what he has seen, and his unspiritual mind puffs him up with idle notions. He has lost connection with the Head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow." (Colossians 2:18-19)
    In order to lose connection with the Head, a person first has to be connected to the Head. Clearly the Head is Jesus, and a Christian is someone who is connected to the Head. So if a person has lost that connection with Jesus, one possibility is that this means he has lost his salvation.
  9. "Timothy, my son, I give you this instruction in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by following them you may fight the good fight, holding on to faith and a good conscience. Some have rejected these and so have shipwrecked their faith." (1 Timothy 1:18-19)
    A person has to have a ship before he can shipwreck it. In the same way, a person has to have faith before he can shipwreck that faith by rejecting the truth and not holding on to his faith. So if you had faith in Jesus, but then you rejected it and shipwrecked it, isn't it possible that this means you have lost your salvation? We can try to interpret this passage to mean different things, but whether we like it or not, one possible interpretation is that rejecting and shipwrecking your faith means losing your salvation.
  10. "Some have in fact already turned away to follow Satan." (1 Timothy 5:15)
    The phrase "to follow" in this verse comes from the Greek word opiso ("after"), and notice that by definition, all unbelievers are "following" the devil (see 1 John 5:19, for example). In this verse, Paul was referring to some Christians who had turned away from Jesus to "follow" the devil, or to become "disciples" of the devil (which is how the Greek word opiso is also used - see Matthew 4:19, 10:38, 16:24, Luke 14:27, 21:8, and so on). Remember that we had to choose to become disciples of Jesus. If we choose to undo that decision by turning away from Jesus and becoming "followers" or disciples of the devil, can we really guarantee that it will have no effect on our salvation?
  11. "For the love of money is a 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)
    Paul seemed to know about some Christians who had wandered away from the faith. What was Paul implying about their salvation? This is the third time that Paul has specifically warned Timothy about wandering from the faith.
  12. "Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to your care. Turn away from godless chatter and the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge, which some have professed and in so doing have wandered from the faith." (1 Timothy 6:20-21)
    Here we see more conditional statements. Some Christians did not guard their faith, and they did not turn away from godless chatter. Instead, they professed a belief in the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge. By doing so they wandered away from the faith. What was Paul implying about their salvation? This is the fourth time that Paul has specifically warned Timothy about wandering from the faith.
  13. "if we endure, we will also reign with him. If we disown him, he will also disown us" (2 Timothy 2:12)
    Here we see more conditional statements. In fact, Paul said in this passage that if we disown Jesus then Jesus will disown us! Notice that Paul used the word "we" here: "if we endure," and "if we disown Him." Non-Christians cannot disown Jesus because they never had Him in the first place, so Paul was talking about Christians disowning Christ. If we do that then Christ will disown us. Consider that if a father disowns his son then the son loses his inheritance! So if God disowns us, one possible effect is that we would lose our inheritance (eternal life). This is the fifth time that Paul has specifically warned Timothy about wandering from the faith.
  14. "Their teaching will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have wandered away from the truth. They say that the resurrection has already taken place, and they destroy the faith of some." (2 Timothy 2:17-18)
    Again, some Christians had wandered away from the faith. What was Paul implying about their salvation? This is the sixth time that Paul has specifically warned Timothy about wandering from the faith. This is obviously an important warning since Paul repeated this warning to Timothy so many times!
  15. "We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away." (Hebrews 2:1)
    Here we see another conditional statement. It is up to us to pay careful attention and to be diligent so that we do not drift away. What would happen if we "drift away" from the faith?
  16. "But Christ is faithful as a son over God's house. And we are his house, if we hold on to our courage and the hope of which we boast." (Hebrews 3:6)
    Here we see another conditional statement. Read this verse again and ponder what would happen if we don't hold on to our courage and our hope.
  17. "See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first." (Hebrews 3:12-14)
    Here we see more conditional statements. Read this passage again and ponder what would happen if we turn away from the living God or if we don't hold on firmly till the end.
  18. "Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience." (Hebrews 4:11)
    Here we see another conditional statement. It is up to us to make every effort so that we don't fall. What would happen if we fall? What happened to Adam and Eve when they fell?
  19. "It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace." (Hebrews 6:4-6)
    Only Christians have been enlightened and have tasted the heavenly gift and have shared in the Holy Spirit. This passage says that if a Christian falls away, then he won't be brought back to repentance. Such a person had repentance (and therefore was forgiven of his sins), but he fell away and will not repent. Doesn't it sound like such a person might have lost his salvation?

    Occasionally I get emails from Christians who have not been obeying the Lord very well, and now they want to repent and be sure that they are saved. But they saw this passage somewhere, and they are afraid it means that it will be impossible for them to repent and go to heaven. However, notice that this passage says that it is impossible to bring certain people to repentance, which means that they have no interest in repenting. They won't want to repent or be saved or go to heaven. So if you want to repent and go to heaven, that's the best evidence that Hebrews 6:4-6 does not apply to you! You might also take a look at my article called How to Be Certain That You Will Go to Heaven.

    Now, some people prefer to think of this passage as being hypothetical. They believe that this is something which cannot really happen. But if this can never happen, then why did the author of Hebrews bother to describe such a situation in the first place? Perhaps it really can happen, and a Christian really can fall away and lose his salvation.

    According to a Greek dictionary, the Greek word for "fall away" in this passage (parapipto) is the same Greek word which is used in Ezekiel 18:24-26 and 20:27 in the Septuagint (the Greek version of the Old Testament). It is interesting to see how this word was used:
    "Therefore, son of man, speak to the people of Israel and say to them, 'This is what the Sovereign LORD says: In this also your fathers blasphemed me by forsaking [parapipto] me'" (Ezekiel 20:27)

    "But if a righteous man turns [parapipto] from his righteousness and commits sin and does the same detestable things the wicked man does, will he live? None of the righteous things he has done will be remembered. Because of the unfaithfulness he is guilty of and because of the sins he has committed, he will die. Yet you say, 'The way of the Lord is not just.' Hear, O house of Israel: Is my way unjust? Is it not your ways that are unjust? If a righteous man turns [parapipto] from his righteousness and commits sin, he will die for it; because of the sin he has committed he will die." (Ezekiel 18:24-26)
    The author of Hebrews described a situation which was similar to the one that God described in Ezekiel (above), and he used the same Greek word to describe this "falling away." God was not being hypothetical in the Old Testament, and it is likely that the author of Hebrews (who was familiar with Old Testament Scripture) was not being hypothetical either. In the above passages, what are the consequences of turning away from our righteousness or falling away from our faith?
  20. "If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?" (Hebrews 10:26-29)
    Only Christians have received the knowledge of the truth. This passage says that if Christians deliberately keep on sinning then they have a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire as enemies of God. There's that fear again! This passage is specifically referring to a person who had been sanctified (saved), and it gives the impression that a Christian can come to a point where he is no longer saved.
  21. "So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. For in just a very little while, "He who is coming will come and will not delay. But my righteous one will live by faith. And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him." But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved." (Hebrews 10:35-39)
    Here we see more conditional statements. Read this passage again and ponder the question of what would happen if we throw away our confidence? What would happen if we don't persevere? What would happen if we don't do the will of God? What would happen if we shrink back? This passage says that a righteous person will live by faith (talking about a Christian), but if he shrinks back then he will be destroyed (which is contrasted with believing and being saved). What was the author of Hebrews implying about salvation here?
  22. "See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven?" (Hebrews 12:25)
    Here we see another conditional statement. If we turn away from God then we will not escape punishment. The author of Hebrews has given us many strong warnings, so this is obviously an important message. Maybe it's because our salvation is at stake.
  23. "When tempted, no one should say, "God is tempting me." For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death." (James 1:13-15)
    The Bible says that we were all dead in our sins (Ephesians 2:1-2, Colossians 2:13) and that the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). In this passage, James was talking to Christians, and he said that if we allow sin to become "full-grown" within us then it gives birth to death. Does that have an effect on our salvation?
  24. "You adulterous people, don't you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God." (James 4:4)
    James said that if we choose to be a friend of the world then we become an enemy of God! Does that have an effect on our salvation?
  25. "My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins." (James 5:19-20)
    Here is another reference to a Christian wandering from the truth. James said that if a Christian wanders from the truth and we turn him back, we will save him from death. Is it possible that James meant that we will save a Christian from reaching a point of spiritual death?
  26. "Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." (2 Peter 1:10-11)
    Here we see another conditional statement. If we don't do these things then we might fall, and we might not receive a rich welcome into heaven!
  27. "They have left the straight way and wandered off to follow the way of Balaam son of Beor, who loved the wages of wickedness. But he was rebuked for his wrongdoing by a donkey--a beast without speech--who spoke with a man's voice and restrained the prophet's madness. These men are springs without water and mists driven by a storm. Blackest darkness is reserved for them. For they mouth empty, boastful words and, by appealing to the lustful desires of sinful human nature, they entice people who are just escaping from those who live in error. They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity--for a man is a slave to whatever has mastered him. If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning. It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them." (2 Peter 2:15-21)
    Only Christians are on "the straight way." If we leave "the straight way" then blackest darkness is reserved for us. Peter was specifically referring to people who had escaped the world through faith in Jesus, but who became entangled in the world again and became worse off than they were when they were unbelievers. Peter said that it would have been better for them if they had never known about Jesus than to be saved and then to turn their backs on their salvation.
  28. "Therefore, dear friends, since you already know this, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of lawless men and fall from your secure position." (2 Peter 3:17)
    Peter said that a Christian can fall from his secure position by being carried away into error. Does this refer to a person losing his salvation?
  29. "See that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father." (1 John 2:24)
    Here we see more conditional statements. John said that if what we heard remains in us then we will remain in Christ.
  30. "And now, dear children, continue in him, so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming." (1 John 2:28)
    Here we see another conditional statement. What would happen if we don't continue in Him?
  31. "If anyone sees his brother commit a sin that does not lead to death, he should pray and God will give him life. I refer to those whose sin does not lead to death. There is a sin that leads to death. I am not saying that he should pray about that." (1 John 5:16)
    John said that there is a sin which leads to death. Was he talking about physical death or spiritual death? There are actually many sins that can lead to physical death, such as fornication, adultery, and homosexuality (death by AIDS or other diseases), drunkenness (death by drunk driving or other types of accidents), drug use (death by overdose), and so on. But John did not say "sins that lead to death" (plural), he said "sin that leads to death" (singular). John doesn't tell us what this sin is, but if it is a particular sin that leads to spiritual death then was John implying that a Christian can lose his salvation?
  32. "These men are blemishes at your love feasts, eating with you without the slightest qualm--shepherds who feed only themselves. They are clouds without rain, blown along by the wind; autumn trees, without fruit and uprooted-- twice dead." (Jude 1:12)
    Consider what it would take for a person to be twice dead while he is still physically alive (as Jude described above). That living person would first have to be spiritually dead, then spiritually alive, then spiritually dead a second time. This would make him "twice dead." The apostle Paul said that we were all dead in our sins, but then we were made alive in Christ (Ephesians 2:1-5, Colossians 2:13). So we were spiritually dead, then we received spiritual life in Christ. The only way for a person to be spiritually dead after receiving spiritual life through Christ is if he has lost his salvation.
  33. "Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy. He who overcomes will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out his name from the book of life, but will acknowledge his name before my Father and his angels." (Revelation 3:4-5)
    Everyone who is saved has his name written in the Book of Life (see Philippians 4:3, Revelation 13:8, 17:8, 20:12-15, and 21:27, for example). Jesus said that if we "overcome," He will never blot out our names from the Book of Life. Does this mean that there are circumstances in which He will blot out a Christian's name from the Book of Life?

As I said earlier, the above passages raise some questions which we should prayerfully consider, rather than simply dismissing these issues. Some of the above passages might not have any bearing on whether or not Christians can lose their salvation, but many of the above passages appear to directly contradict the doctrine of "eternal security." Notice that if we believe in "eternal security" then we would have to somehow explain away all of the passages above. Every single one, without exception. We can try to rationalize them away somehow, but if we really want to know God's view then it's important that we set aside our own views and doctrinal biases, and prayerfully study these issues as thoroughly and honestly and objectively as possible.

Notice that the above passages repeatedly warn us to remain in Christ and to continue in our faith so that we don't fall away from our faith or reject our faith or shipwreck our faith or turn away from our faith or wander from our faith or drift away from our faith or shrink back from our faith or disown Jesus. Every single New Testament author has given us these strong warnings. That's a lot of testimony, which would make sense if the "eternal security" doctrine is not entirely accurate.

Now, in 2 Timothy 2:12 (above), the apostle Paul made a very strong statement about the danger of disowning Jesus. But what does it mean to "disown" Him? Here is that verse again, in context:
2 Timothy 2:11: "Here is a trustworthy saying: If we died with him, we will also live with him;"
2 Timothy 2:12: "if we endure, we will also reign with him. If we disown [arneomai] him, he will also disown [arneomai] us;"
2 Timothy 2:13: "if we are faithless [apisteo], he will remain faithful [pistos], for he cannot disown [arneomai] himself."
Notice the parallels in the above passage, which are all in the form of, "If we do an action, then something will happen." Here are the actions which Paul listed above:
  • "If we died with him..."
  • "if we endure..."
  • "If we disown him..."
  • "if we are faithless..."
These are separate and distinct actions. For example, disowning Jesus is not the same thing as being faithless. All Christians will be faithless at times (because we are all imperfect), but this does not mean that we have "disowned" Jesus. Notice that if we are faithless, the end result is that Jesus will remain faithful (2 Timothy 2:13, above), which is a message of encouragement. In contrast, if we disown Jesus then the end result is that Jesus will disown us (2 Timothy 2:12, above), which is a message of warning. Those end results are essentially the opposite of each other. Disowning Jesus is not the same thing as experiencing faithlessness.

The Greek word for "disown" (arneomai) in 2 Timothy 2:11-13 (above) means:
"to refuse someone, not to know or recognize him, to reject him either in the face of a former relationship or better knowledge. To deny, decline, reject, give up (Matt. 10:33; 2 Tim. 2:12, 13). ... As used with something as its obj., to reject anything, retract, renounce, deny, disown depending on the context (1 Tim. 5:8; 2 Tim 3:5; Titus 1:16, to deny by actions that there is a God; Titus 2:12; Rev. 2:13; 3:8). Used in an absolute sense in 2 Tim. 2:12." (The Complete Word Study Dictionary of the New Testament, Spiros Zodhiates, p.254, emphasis added)
The above definition shows that "disowning" Jesus describes a person who makes the decision to absolutely deny, decline, reject, give up, retract, and renounce Christ. This is not simply experiencing a time of faithlessness or denying Him obedience, this is essentially a deliberate rejection of Christ and a deliberate rejection of salvation. As 2 Timothy 2:12 (above) says, if we absolutely deny, decline, reject, give up, retract, renounce, and disown Christ, then Christ will absolutely deny, decline, reject, give up, retract, renounce, and disown us.

The Greek word for "faithless" (apisteo) in 2 Timothy 2:13 (above) means:
"To be unfaithful, to doubt or not acknowledge as in 2 Tim. 2:13 where it is opposed to pistos (4103), faithful." (The Complete Word Study Dictionary of the New Testament, Spiros Zodhiates, p.213)
Again, we will all experience times of faithlessness or times of doubt or times when we don't acknowledge the Lord in all that we do (see Proverbs 3:6). This is not the same as disowning Christ and rejecting Christ.

Sometimes people point out that in Matthew 26, Peter denied knowing Jesus. However, that situation was different for a couple of reasons. For one thing, there is no indication that Peter had rejected his faith in who Jesus was. He didn't make a deliberate and permanent rejection of Christ. For another thing, Peter was not in danger of losing his salvation (as we might be) because he was not a Christian. There were no such things as "Christians" at that point, and there was no such thing as "the Church," because Jesus had not yet died on the cross. Peter was an Old Covenant Jew at the time when he denied knowing Jesus, and he did not receive salvation and the indwelling Holy Spirit until after Christ's resurrection (for example, see my two-part article called The Baptism of the Holy Spirit).


The doctrine of "eternal security" is comforting to many people, but have you ever wondered why it's comforting to people? After all, if you are living in a right relationship with God, obeying Him and asking for forgiveness when you sin, then you have no reason to fear losing your salvation. You don't need the comfort of an "eternal security" doctrine if you are living in a right relationship with God. The only people who really need the comfort of such a doctrine are people who are not living in a right relationship with God and who are not living for Jesus and who have areas of compromise and sin in their lives. The idea of "eternal security" is comforting to them because it means that they can continue to live for themselves and they'll still go to heaven. Or will they? People who are living in such a way might never have been saved in the first place, and they are counting on this "eternal security" doctrine rather than examining their lives. Imagine the multitudes of people in the world who are comforted by this doctrine, but who will be horrified to find themselves burning in agony for all eternity if this doctrine is not entirely accurate!

But is it possible to become "spiritually dead" after receiving spiritual life through faith in Jesus? Is it possible to have eternal life and then lose it? What does it mean to be "spiritually alive" or "spiritually dead"? What does "eternal life" mean? These questions are examined in my article called Do Babies Automatically Go To Heaven?, which shows from Scripture that a person can have "spiritual life" and then become "spiritually dead."

The big question is this: If a Christian can lose his salvation, then what sins will cause that to happen? In the two dozen or so passages above, the common thread that runs through those passages is a warning against rejecting Jesus and wandering from the faith. It's not a matter of committing sins, it's a matter of rejecting our faith in Jesus. That seems to be the line which we don't dare cross. Personally, I am committed to continue growing in the Lord, serving Him with all of my heart, living for Him, loving Him, praising and worshiping Him, seeking His will and not my will, reading His Word, confessing my sins, and doing whatever He says. I don't do this out of fear, I do this because I am so in love with Him, and the Bible says that to love Him is to obey Him (John 14:15, 21, 23, 15:10, 1 John 2:5, 5:3). And that is my suggestion to you. Don't be concerned about whether "eternal security" is right or whether "conditional salvation" is right. Instead, purposely cultivate a loving relationship with Jesus and obey His desires and commands (which means that we need to learn what His desires and commands are by reading our Bibles). In other words, instead of clinging to the comfort of an "eternal security" doctrine, cling to Christ instead!


Conclusion

As I said, I'm not trying to prove that the doctrine of "eternal security" is false, although we have seen many reasons for questioning the accuracy of this doctrine and seeking the Lord's guidance about it. The point is, I think that we are focusing on the wrong thing when we talk about "eternal security" or "once saved, always saved." When we tell people that they can never lose their salvation, our intention is to comfort them. But if they were never saved in the first place then we have given them "comfort," but now they have no reason to receive salvation because we have assured them that they are definitely going to heaven. If people are already saved, then the "comfort" of this doctrine allows them to live self-centered lives and to be complacent in their spiritual life, which at the very minimum makes them ineffective in the body of Christ. And if this doctrine is not entirely accurate then we might be "comforting" many people right into hell. For these reasons, it seems to me that we are focusing on the wrong thing when we talk about "eternal security" or "conditional salvation." Instead, we should be encouraging people to get into a right relationship with God and to focus on living for the Lord instead of living for themselves. Then they don't need the comfort of an "eternal security" doctrine.

I realize that it will be easy for people to miss the point of what I'm saying here, so let me boil it down and try to be crystal clear. Perhaps you are thinking, "I'm sorry, I just don't think that we need to be walking around in daily fear that we'll lose our salvation if we sin, because we'll never be perfect this side of heaven." If that's what you're thinking, then I agree with you! But you've missed the point. As long as you have faith in Jesus as your Savior then I believe that you will go to heaven no matter how many sins you commit (1 John 1:9 says that God is faithful to forgive our sins when we confess them to Him). However, if you choose to reject your faith in Jesus then at that point your "eternal security" becomes questionable, based on the greatest weight of evidence that I see in Scripture. Remember, "If we disown Him, he will also disown us" (2 Timothy 2:12). So I am not saying that we need to live in fear of losing our salvation if we sin. After all, we all commit sins, and anyone who claims that he does not sin is deceiving himself (1 John 1:8-10). What I am saying is that in the one specific scenario where you reject Jesus as your Savior, at that point you might be in danger of losing your salvation. Accepting Jesus as our Savior is the basis for salvation, and rejecting our faith in Jesus appears to be a basis for losing our salvation.

So it has nothing to do with how many sins you commit (and of course we should keep in mind that it is important to repent and ask for forgiveness after we sin). As long as you have faith in Jesus as your Savior, I personally believe that you have "eternal security." I encourage you to maintain your faith in Jesus, and don't ever allow yourself to wander from your faith. Stay on the "narrow road" (Matthew 7:13-14, Luke 13:23-24). To help you do this, consider the suggestions of Christian recording artist Rebecca St. James Offsite Link: "dig into the Bible, dig into prayer, become accountable to other Christian friends, get rid of the junk in your life and get involved in a Christian church where you can be fed." Excellent advice! I also invite you to see my articles called How to Be Certain That You Will Go to Heaven and Scriptural Ways to Grow in Spiritual Maturity, both of which describe some specific things that you can do to begin living in radical obedience to God.


I hope this has been helpful, and may the Lord abundantly bless you as you study His Word!
 
 
 
  Modification History  
 
 

  • 09/01/2005 - Modified the description of Hebrews 6:4-6, added a link to my article called "How to Be Certain That You Will Go to Heaven," added a detailed description of 2 Timothy 2:11-13, and modified the section which explains what "spiritual death" means.
  • 07/23/2004 - Modified some of the wording.
  • 06/28/2003 - Modified some of the wording, added a link to my article called "What Is Calvinism?", added a link to Rebecca St. James' website (and described some of her suggestions for maintaining our walk with Christ), added a link to my article called "Spiritual Maturity/Spiritual Authority."
  • 05/22/2001 - Modified some of the wording.