Can We Lose Our Salvation?
Q: Do you believe we can lose our salvation once we are truly saved? My personal belief is that, yes, we can. While God will never take it away, through constant and willful sinning, we can turn our eyes away from God. This will eventually lead to a case of “Pharaoh’s hardened heart,” a state whereby we can reject God’s offer, and create a wall between ourselves and God that even God will not cross—for to do so would be to break his promise to us of free will.
A: No, I do not believe we can lose our salvation. Before explaining why, let me say that this discussion, in my view, is not a “make or break” theological perspective. Christians differ about the details of the question “Can we lose our salvation once we are truly saved?” I believe Christians are, in Christ, able to differ on this and other non-essential issues/questions/discussions and that we should respect one another’s differences. Having said that, here’s the position I take, and why:
1) This topic is most well-known as “eternal security”—it is also known by an older, more traditional title— “perseverance of the saints”—and is often negatively approached by those who believe salvation can be lost as “once saved, always saved.”
2) My hermeneutic—that is, the interpretation that governs my understanding of the Bible—is Christ-centered and grace-based. That’s my starting point, and that’s my ending point. I absolutely believe that the gospel of Jesus Christ teaches that nothing we do has or will ever earn us any part of salvation. I believe salvation—all of it—is a gift of God. I reject the idea that God’s grace gets us started but the rest is up to us. I believe any notion that we can, of and by our human efforts alone, gain or lose our salvation is Galatianism, a theological perspective that is clearly and dogmatically opposed to the gospel of Jesus Christ, as explained in the book of Galatians.
3) Salvation is eternal life. We are given eternal life because of God’s love. God’s love does not change. Jesus is the same, yesterday, today and forever.
God’s love is the basis of our relationship with God. Our good deeds or our bad behavior do not change the love that God has for each of us. We cannot cause him to love us more, we cannot cause him to love us less.
He is more pleased with good behavior than bad, but his pleasure or displeasure with what we do or fail to do is not, according to the gospel, the measure that determines his love. His love is unconditional. His love cannot be moved. His love is unwavering. God doesn’t ever “change his mind” about us. We don’t receive or lose salvation, at any point in our relationship with him, as a result of the work we expend or that we fail to expend.
4) God gives us eternal life. In fact, I believe he already has, for the entire world—but this gift is not imposed on us. We must choose to accept his offer. We can reject or accept his invitation. Our choice is not easy—it involves absolute and unconditional surrender on our part to the grace of God.
We must absolutely reject the notion that we have anything of eternal worth to contribute to our salvation. Until we make such a decision, no matter what we may think of our relationship with God, no matter what religious authorities may pronounce as our spiritual position vis a vis God—we are not “saved.”
5) Simply thinking or claiming that someone has salvation is not the basis of our relationship with God. Doing religious deeds does not make us a Christian—and bad behavior does not remove a relationship God has given. God alone makes a Christian, just as God alone can make a tree.
6) Do Christians sin? Some believe that they don’t—or at least very much—and some actually believe that moral perfection is possible in this flesh. I believe that such a view is unbiblical—many passages speak to another reality. When we accept God’s grace, we enter into a divine relationship. This relationship means, among other things, that we are assured of our salvation. We need not worry or be stressed about what God has in mind for us. We are not “under the gun.” We rest in Christ.
Resting in Christ is not some nebulous condition—it involves the life that Jesus lives in us producing God’s fruit. Resting in Christ means that we will become (because Christ lives in us) his workmanship (Ephesians 2:10). That means that we will gradually, over time, begin to be more like Christ—that spiritual condition will not be due to our efforts—it will be because eternity lives within us.
The Bible says that the ability to stand firm in our faith, to overcome, to be “more than conquerors” (Romans 8) is not a humanly derived ability. We overcome because of Christ. It’s all about him, in terms of our salvation, and in terms of the life we lead, among our fellow humans, and the relationship we have with God.
7) What about people whom we once knew, people we thought of as Christians—and perhaps they did as well? But now it seems they have completely—in every possible way—profaned God. They could be the kind of people that 1 John 2:19 refers to—people who left “us,” in part, because they never were part of “us” (that is, the universal body of Christ).
The fact is that no human has perfect ability to recognize and define others as to whether they are “in Christ” or not. If we are in Christ and he is in us, we can, with some degree of accuracy, discern and recognize Christ in others. But ironically, the more we are in Christ and the more he is in us, we become less and less concerned about who is a “true” Christian and who isn’t. We know that God alone knows that, and God alone takes care of details we cannot, in that regard. We rest in him.
8) Eternal life is just that—eternal. If it were “conditional” life, then God would have clearly articulated the conditions of the relationship—that he would “get us started” but from then on, our relationship with him must be a partnership—he works and we work and between us we just might “make it.” But there is nothing in the New Testament about “conditional” life. There is a great deal about eternal life.
God does not give us eternal life only to take it back when we do something that doesn’t make him happy. Such a conclusion can only be reached by the application of human reasoning with regard to God’s grace—but when we attempt to understand God’s grace and love by our human limitations, we invariably diminish and devalue it, bringing it “down to our level.”
9) Of course there are passages that can be, and are, interpreted as if “maintaining” eternal life is up to us—works-based, performance-based religion (within Christendom) frequently cites them—but they are always cited and applied outside of a Christ-centered, grace-based methodology. The fact is this—God loves us just as much right now as he ever will. If we have really accepted his invitation to eternal life, we have now, right now, been given eternal life.
We are assured, on the basis of God’s love and sovereign power, of our salvation. We will not “lose” our salvation, for Christ lives in us and will, though there will be ups and downs (see Romans 7 for an example in Paul’s life), work out his good purposes in our lives.
Our behavior therefore is inconsequential to our salvation. Such a statement sounds scandalous to those who believe that our morality is the basis—or a part at the very least—of our relationship with God. I understand that. I believed such a perspective for about thirty-five years. But that was before God’s grace entered into my life.
God does not need our help to save us. If he did need our help, then every one of us would be in deep trouble! He does not need our help—he only needs our acceptance of his grace.