Over on the Growing Christians Facebook group we’ve been having a discussion about whether or not it is possible for a Christian to lose their salvation. This question has been hotly debated by theologians. The idea that we cannot lose our salvation is sometimes referred to as ‘the doctrine of eternal security’ or ‘the perseverance of the saints’.
In this post I will present some of the key scriptures on both sides of the argument, with a little commentary, and then I will state my conclusions at the end. The discussion will not be exhaustive, but I will recommend a couple of books for further reading on this subject as I conclude.
Scriptures that Support Eternal Security
“I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand” (John 10:28-29b)
The promise of eternal life for believers is spoken about often in the New Testament (e.g. John 3:16, 1 John 5:13, Romans 6:23, etc). Those who support the doctrine of eternal security argue that if we can lose our salvation, then the life that we receive in Christ is not eternal, which would render all of these scriptures redundant. If no one can snatch believers out of Jesus’ hand, that would seem to imply that the gift of eternal life is permanent.
Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling,
And to present you faultless
Before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy
The phrase ‘to keep you from stumbling’ is rendered as ‘to keep you from falling away’ in the NLT version. This scripture seems to suggest that once we are saved, we are in God’s hands, and if God has the power to save us He also has the power to keep us.
And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. (Ephesians 4:30)
Baptism in the Holy Spirit is often talked about as a seal that means we have entered into right relationship with God (e.g. Ephesians 1:13). If receiving the Holy Spirit in this way is a seal, then it wouldn’t necessarily make sense that the seal can be broken. For if we can lose our salvation, doesn’t this render the seal somewhat meaningless?
For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)
This might seem like a knock-down argument in favour of the case of eternal security. If nothing can separate us from God’s love, doesn’t this mean it is impossible for us to fall away once we have been saved?
Scriptures that Question Eternal Security
Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21)
This scripture presents a stark warning that if we practice sin we may compromise our entry into the kingdom of God. ‘Inheritence’ is a word that in this context may refer to salvation or attaining a place in heaven.
For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning. For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them. But it has happened to them according to the true proverb: “A dog returns to his own vomit,” and, “a sow, having washed, to her wallowing in the mire.” (2 Peter 2:20-22)
This passage appears to suggest that if after coming to Christ we return to a life of sin we are committing a terrible evil. This passage strikes fear into the heart of the Christian as so many of us have had engaged in sinful activities after we have come to know Christ. Is this scripture suggesting that a return to such sin forfeits our salvation?
“…if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.” Matthew 19:17
These words of Jesus to the rich young ruler could be taken to suggest that we cannot enter the kingdom of God if we break the commandments.
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure. (Philippians 2:12-13)
Paul’s use of the phrase ‘work out your salvation’ is our central concern here. If salvation is a process, as this verse suggests, to many this implies that we must act in the right way in order to be saved, so continually living in sin could perhaps compromise our right standing with God.
In my studies on this matter I have carefully considered all of the key scriptures that relate to the subject of eternal security, and I have presented many of those scriptures in this article. I feel the weight of evidence points to the idea that once we are truly saved, we cannot lose our salvation. There are many passages in Scripture that warn Christians against sinning, because sinning displeases God. God doesn’t want us to sin, but I believe once we are saved we are given a new heart (Ezekiel 36:26), so if we are truly saved, God will give us the strength to persevere and keep His commandments. If we do slip up and need to repent, we have the hope that God will forgive us, for Jesus’ sake.
I believe the core question at the heart of this debate is ‘Who saves, God, or man?’. If man is responsible for his salvation then it would make sense that we can fall away because we are free to choose evil actions at any point. But if Almighty God is in control of our lives, as I believe He is, then He is perfectly capable of saving us with certainty and finality.
I don’t believe God has any obligation to keep us eternally secure; but rather it is a gift that He has promised in Scripture for those who believe. God is always true to His Word. Jesus Himself said the Scriptures cannot be broken (John 10:35). So this should give us confidence that if we believe in Jesus, and have repented and been baptised in His name, we will be saved.
All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out… No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. (John 6:37,44)
My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. (John 10:29)
‘Drawn by the Father’ by James White (published by Great Christian Books, 2013)
‘Life in the Son’ by Robert Shank (Baker Publishing Group, 1989)