Home > Questions and Answers, Theology > Can salvation ever be lost or what?

Can salvation ever be lost or what?

This topic came up in conversation last night, and while it seems like a basic topic on the surface, it’s really a lot more in-depth than people think. But thankfully, the bottom-line conclusion seems to be the same for those who oversimplify things and for scholars who have done all the necessary research and exegesis: true salvation cannot be lost.

1 Peter 1:3-5 tells us: “3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, 5 who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.”

This is usually where people stop. Feels good doesn’t it? A sense of security sets in, and all worries are alleviated. But as human beings, we always need to remember the practical, application aspect of it. In short, true salvation cannot be lost, but professing faith can. In other words, it all goes back to the whole “fruit” issue of whether we are genuine Christians or not. Many people have themselves fooled because they like easy, convenient answers, but the Bible does not tell us that gaining Christ is supposed to be a simple, one-time “decision.” Philippians 2:12 tells us to “work out our own salvation with fear and trembling,” not just rainbows, smiles, and relief.

One of the biggest tests for true faith is endurance (Hebrews 3:14). True faith endures to the end, false faith fizzles out at some point. But until we reach the end, how can we know for sure that we have a true faith in the meantime? After all, we all backslide time to time (although I’m convinced a true believer cannot backslide past a certain point of severity or length). That’s why the Bible tells us not to take it lightly and to keep growing in the faith. We can know in our heads that true salvation cannot be lost, but we must constantly test our faiths and examine ourselves (2 Corinthians 13:5) to make sure we fall into that “true” category. Imposter Christians might be fooling themselves as well—possibly with the help of the ever-crafty Satan, who probably just loves fake believers who stop trying. It’s like being in a war and a blinded person is unknowingly fighting for the other side.

Anyway, what is a passage like Hebrews 6:4-8 actually saying then? It sure sounds like it’s saying that those “who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit” can later fall away and crucify Christ all over again. Well, let’s take it step by step here…

First, a professing Christian probably goes to church. He probably even goes on retreats or to conferences once in a while. So he has been in the company of true believers. He has seen them, talked with them, and shared in fellowship.

Second, he may have even felt (or indirectly experienced) some of the Holy Spirit passing through a certain venue or event. He may have gotten caught up in the swell of music—or dim lighting, crowd pressure, mood, etc.—and lifted his hands, filled with emotion. Mob mentality or some similar form of peer pressure is one heck of a powerful thing. While these feelings can be great sometimes, we also need to be aware that our hearts are deceitful above all (Jeremiah 17:9). Feelings are not an end-all, be-all indicator of a saving experience, no more than butterflies are evidence of true love between two people. I guess you can compare infatuation to real love in the same way you can compare mere professing faith to true faith. Or just think of the rocky/thorny soil examples in Jesus’ parable. But if you NEVER get fuzzy feelings, that could be evidence of a hidden problem…

Third, this professing believer may have read the Word of God, prayed, and done all the things that true believers do. He may have even had glimpses into the beauty of the Word and appreciated it.

In many ways, this person may have “tasted” or “shared” in common experiences with us without being truly saved. But why does the author of Hebrews seem to think they are even worse off than before? Because if this professing Christian later falls away—rather than transitioning into true faith—he will think that he has seen it all. “Been there, done that,” he will think to himself, and he will be less likely to give Christ another chance later on with an open mind. A part of his heart will be hardened, almost like a person who has experienced broken trust. It will take that much more to buy into Christianity the next time, if there ever is another opportunity for that person.

So what can true believers learn from all of this? It’s important for us to never grow complacent! The following passage (Hebrews 6:9-12) brings us some more crucial advice:

9 Even though we speak like this, dear friends, we are convinced of better things in your case—the things that have to do with salvation. 10 God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them. 11 We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, so that what you hope for may be fully realized. 12 We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.

We need to realize our full potential as believers…growing lazy is the easiest thing to do for many of us. Heck, that has been one of the biggest struggles throughout my life, whether in worldly or spiritual affairs. But by pressing on continually, we will please God more and hear the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Or, if our salvation was not true to begin with (but we were falsely convinced it was), we may end up truly finding the Lord along the way because God honors diligence and effort. Maybe by staying immersed in scripture and prayer, the not-yet-saved person is increasing his or her chances of finding that “aha!” moment. So there’s nothing to lose by being diligent and working out our salvation with “fear and trembling,” but eternity to gain.

Bottom line? True salvation cannot be lost. But we better make sure our salvation is true by treating the issue with tons of reverence and priority (but not paralyzing paranoia)! Let’s not take the wonderful truth of God’s eternal gift and twist it into an excuse to live shoddy Christian lives.

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  1. January 2, 2012 at 10:33 am

    Profound as always. In my conversations with “logical atheists”, one thing they bring up is the logical fallacy called “no true scotsman”. look it up on wikipedia. ie. no true christian would ever…. Whenever a Christian does something counter to our faith, we might say, “well, no TRUE Christian would ever do that.”. They would call that a logical fallacy.

    Former Christians who have had sincere faiths and then fallen away would be offended by being told they were never really a true Christian. I’m not claiming their position, but merely raising a point of discussion from their perspective. I know a former Christian who claims to at one time spoken in tongues (a gift of the Holy Spirit). So, either he was full of it (fooling himself)…never a true Christian, or he was a true Christian…and still is…even though he doesn’t know it or believe it.

    For me, that’s where the issue of whether someone can lose their salvation becomes fuzzy for me.

    However, at the root of the issue is what is the definition of a Christian…or TRUE Christian. In my mind, it’s not a logical fallacy as long as we are consistently clear on the definition of what it means to be a true or as you say a merely “professing Christian”. You’ve done a good job of reigning in the subject of whether someone who is truly saved can lose it. But we need to go deeper on the topic of who is truly saved in the first place. And then consistently apply and that definition in the face of sometimes conflicting worldly experience.

    Keep up the great writing!

    Brad

  2. Michael
    January 2, 2012 at 6:02 pm

    Great job on articulating this point regarding genuine salvation, but the issue now is how are people going to accept and be convicted of this truth when this generation and the last have grown up with easy believism preaching/teaching. Many of them will misinterpret/misread/misunderstand this piece as “works-based” salvation.

    When it comes down to it, the concept and definition of God’s Grace has been watered down and misapplied to a form of cheap grace – a form of grace that mitigates God’s holiness and glory.

  3. Michael
    January 2, 2012 at 6:04 pm

    I guess in obedience we must faithfully preach/teach this seemingly hard stuff and pray that all will come to the fruitful knowledge of God’s biblical truth. Salvation is truly God’s work and never dependent on man’s effort in “selling” the gospel message.

    • Anonymous
      February 12, 2012 at 6:23 am

      What do you mean by it is God’ work? Does it mean God chooses the saved? then not every man can be saved?

  4. Anonymous
    February 12, 2012 at 6:20 am

    This topic was raised between me and a fellow Christ follower a few months back, and she was shocked that I had never heard of it. I grew up extremely religious, going to and enjoying services (or part of it to be fully honest!), but hardships slowly drew me away. Look I’m convinced of my love for Christ and of His works. I wandered around a few years then after more deeper struggle rededicated my life to Christ decided to seek Him with my whole being in 2008; I’m a bit sensitive to accept the world state n that is a big struggle, when you add skepticism on religion …. enough of me already. What do you, shall we do with the case of the such as King Solomon (again I’m aware that his salvation was law-related n ours is Grace’s)?

  5. February 12, 2012 at 6:25 am

    I have posted the previous two comments as anonymous. thanks.

  6. February 24, 2012 at 5:51 am

    I have new found understanding on this topic, is not Salvation truly gained at the end of our worldly lives? think about it.

  7. MAR F. CATAMEO
    March 29, 2012 at 6:04 am

    SALVATION IS BY GRACE, WE ARE SEALED UNTOIL THE DAY OF REDEMPTION THAT GOD’S ETERNAL PROMISE

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