“Can a Christian lose their salvation?” (or similar), is a question I frequently hear from the lips of new or immature Christians who have often been battling an area of sin, are guilt ridden and are scared that God will or has already kicked them out of the ‘family’ because he won’t stand for their weakness’ any further. The image is one of a shouting boss or angry dad who, “Won’t put up with your incompetence any longer!”
However, the answer to their question and the balm to their fears biblically is a resounding, clear, emphatic, joyful, glorious “No.” A born-again person cannot become dead, cannot be unborn again. John MacArthur once said, “If you could lose your salvation you would.” With respect to John MacArthur, I’d go a step further and say that if I could lose my salvation I already would have.
When people come to know Christ as their Saviour, they are brought into a relationship with God that guarantees their eternal security. Jude said, “To Him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before His glorious presence without fault and with great joy.” – Jude 24. Jude knows that his half-brother Jesus is a God who is All-Powerful, and it’s his power that is able to keep the believer from falling, not yours or mine. It is up to him, not us, to present us before his glorious presence.
Jesus proclaimed, “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
In other words, both Jesus and the Father have us firmly grasped in their hands. Think about it, they are so amazingly strong, who could possibly separate us from their holds? That’s a firm grip I’m thinking.
Paul says in Ephesians 4:30 that believers are “sealed for the day of redemption.” If believers did not have eternal security, the sealing could not actually be to the day of redemption, but only to the day of sinning, apostasy, or disbelief. And then John 3:15-16 tells us that whoever believes in Jesus Christ will “have eternal life.” Logically then, if a person were to be promised eternal life, but then have it taken away, it was never “eternal” to begin with. That means then that if eternal security isn’t true, the promises of eternal life in the Bible would be lies.
Ah… But What About Hebrews 6?
There are many people who have taught (and others sadly still teach today) that Hebrews 6:4-6 clearly shows that a Christian can lose his or her salvation. I admit, that at a cursory reading, it does seem that this interpretation is correct. But, as it is with many scriptures, we need to be careful about not getting into the‘first glance then interpret habit’. So, let’s slow down and take a close look at this passage and see what it really is saying.
“For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and shave shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.” – Hebrews 6:4-6
This passage begs the question, “How can one be ‘enlightened’ and fall away?” It does seem to be speaking of someone losing his or her salvation.
Or does it?…
It’s important to know that this section of Hebrews is talking about apostates and heretics who may have, to some degree, embraced the gospel presented to them, but have now abandoned it. However, if we want to fully understand what is being said here we need to also know context. For instance, it’s important to know how the believers who originally read this message would have understood the phrase, “those who have once been enlightened”. Today, we might think it means that they were enlightened about the truth, or that they were regenerated. But before we add our cultural or 21st century interpretation to this passage we need to first ask what the intent of the original author was, and how would his readers have understood it?
Glad you asked…
What this passage is speaking about is of certain individuals who were involved, perhaps heavily involved, in a church community. They would have heard the gospel, and would have seen the Spirit working in the lives of the Believers. They most likely would have even received some of the blessings of being part of a covenant community, even probably publicly confessing Jesus and then getting themselves dunked ‘baptized’. By the way, it’s important to note in light of this passage, that in many instances, the early Christian writers spoke to conversion and baptism as “enlightenment”.
Back to the context. The context leads us to understand that those same people just described, never had a saving knowledge of Jesus. They only “tasted” or “sampled” him. They were never truly converted to him by faith.
Think about it this way. There is a big difference between marrying someone and just going out on a few dates with them. Anyone can learn things about Jesus, even come to admire him, and even enjoy being part of a community that celebrates him, yet still have no real lasting commitment to him.
Another example is Costco. Yes, I said Costco and yes, I mean the big giant corporation. Anyways, Deb & I are card carrying members and will go to buy and experience the perceived savings and the occasional deals that the blessed membership brings to our lives.
On occasion, one or both of our boys will come along, but for very different reasons. They are “enlightened” by, and enjoy many of the same goodies that Deb & I bring home, but they aren’t members and so can’t experience the same benefits of being a member that the totalitarian corporation can bring them. They do not have access to the inner sanctum on their own. They simply come with us to “taste” the samples that are given out. They are in Costco, but not of Costco.
We see this today. There are people who attend church for years, involve themselves in a lot of good things, even have a perfect attendance record, but aren’t saved. They’ve been “enlightened” by seeing God at work, but have only just “tasted” or “sampled” what was going on, never really being a part of it. Never buying the membership card as it were.
To paraphrase Scripture, they were “in the church, but not of the Church.” In the end I think we can all understand that to be a baptized member of a church, and to be “enlightened” by the life seen in the Church and seeing God at work, doesn’t mean the same thing. In other words, “enlightened” does not necessarily mean “saved.”
But Doesn’t ‘Fallen Away” mean That They Were Saved At Some Point?
That still leaves an important question unanswered. If the ‘those’ is someone who has ‘tasted’ of the Church, has seen what’s been going on and seen God at work, has been ‘in the church, but not of the Church,’ what exactly have they ‘fallen away’ from that they can’t be ‘restore[ed] again to through repentance’? Doesn’t that imply that they were originally brought to a place of repentance? Doesn’t ‘fallen away’ mean that they were at a place to have fallen away from? In other words, weren’t they saved at some point?
John Calvin states that the unsaved person in this situation holds onto the “shadow” instead of the “substance.” This, Calvin proposes, is what is called a “temporary faith.”
Louis Berkhof in his Systematic Theology says that temporary faith is most likely “grounded in the emotional life and seeks personal enjoyment rather than the glory of God.” That’s why it is not difficult to understand why this kind of false faith is quickly lost when God or the church stops being be fun, or when it simply loses its appeal. But for those of us who have taken a hold of the substance – Jesus Christ – our salvation, from beginning to end, is undergirded by God. Understanding this helps us I think understand the parable of the seed in Matthew’s Gospel.
Three Indicators That You’re Truly Saved
For those of you who still are uncertain about whether you are saved or not, the following is what I share with those people who come to me with heart felt questions about their security in Christ. I discovered over the years that The Apostle John was gracious enough to give us three indicators that help us to know that our salvation is owned in our hearts.
1) We believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and so love him with our whole heart.
You should have confidence in your salvation if you believe in Jesus Christ the Son of God, 1 John 5:11-13. John doesn’t want people to doubt. God wants you to have assurance, to know that you have eternal life. And this is the first sign that you believe in Jesus.
You believe he is the Christ – the Messiah, 1 John 2:22.
You believe he is the Son of God, 1 John 5:10.
You believe that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh, 1 John 4:2.
If you get your theology wrong about Jesus you’ll not have eternal life. But one of the signs that should give you confidence before God is that you do believe in his only Son Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour and that you believe that he is who he claims to be… God come in the flesh. As we grasp this great truth the great truth begins to grasp our heart and we begin to love God with our whole selves. As a result, we see the other two indicators begin to take root in our faith journey.
2) We Aim to Live Righteously
You should also have confidence if you live a righteous life; 1 John 3:6-9; 3:24. Those who practice wickedness, who plunge headlong into sin, who not only stumble, but habitually walk in wickedness – should not be confident. This is no different than what Paul tells us in Romans 6 that we are no longer slaves to sin but slaves to righteousness. We see this also in Galatians 5 that those who walk in the flesh will not inherit the kingdom.
This is no different than what Jesus tells us in John 15 that a good tree cannot bear bad fruit and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. So, if you live a life where your radar is continually being pulled back to a morally righteous life (even though you will stumble at times), you should have confidence. And in case this standard make you despair, keep in mind that part of living a righteous life is refusing to claim that you live without sin and coming to Christ for cleansing when you do sin, 1 John 1:9-10.
3) We love other Christians
You should also have confidence if you love other Christians, 1 John 3:14. Even the grumpy and mean ones or the ones who don’t seem to love back. None of that matters. In other words, if you hate like Cain you don’t have life, but if your heart and your wallet are open to your brothers and sisters no matter how they respond (or not respond), then true relationship with Jesus is a marker in you. One necessary sign of true spiritual life is that we love one another.
These are John’s three signposts to assure us that we are on the road that leads to eternal life. Keep in mind, these are not three things we do to earn salvation, but three indicators that God has indeed saved us. We believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God. We aspire to live a righteous life. We are generous in love toward other Christians.
Or we can put it this way: we know we have eternal life if we love Jesus, love his commands, and love his people; 1 John 2:4, 6; 4:20; 5:2. None of the three are optional. All must be present and growing in the Christian, and all three are meant to be signs for our assurance.
John belabours the same points again and again. Do you love God? Do you love his commands? Do you love his people? If you don’t, it’s a sign you have death. If you are seeing these become growing habits and desires, it’s sign that you have life. And that means confidence instead of condemnation.
On those day where you may still feel less than encouraged, you may find your heart blessed by these words of Charles Spurgeon taken from a sermon he preached Sunday Morning, March 23, 1856, At New Park Street Chapel, Southwark.
“If Christians can fall away, and cease to be Christians, they cannot be renewed again to repentance. “But,” says one, “You say they cannot fall away.” What is the use of putting this “if” in, like a bugbear to frighten children, or like a ghost that can have no existence? My learned friend, “Who art thou that replies against God?” If God has put it in, he has put it in for wise reasons and for excellent purposes. Let me show you why. First, O Christian, it is put in to keep thee from falling away. God preserves his children from falling away; but he keeps them by the use of means; and one of these is, the terrors of the law, showing them what would happen if they were to fall away. There is a deep precipice: what is the best way to keep any one from going down there? Why, to tell him that if he did he would inevitably be dashed to pieces. In some old castle there is a deep cellar, where there is a vast amount of fixed air and gas, which would kill anybody who went down. What does the guide say? “If you go down you will never come up alive.” Who thinks of going down? The very fact of the guide telling us what the consequences would be, keeps us from it. Our friend puts away from us a cup of arsenic; he does not want us to drink it, but he says, “If you drink it, it will kill you.” Does he suppose for a moment that we should drink it? No; he tells us the consequences, and he is sure we will not do it. So, God says, “My child, if you fall over this precipice you will be dashed to pieces.” What does the child do? He says, “Father, keep me; hold thou me up, and I shall be safe.” It leads the believer to greater dependence on God, to a holy fear and caution, because he knows that if he were to fall away he could not be renewed, and he stands far away from that great gulf, because he knows that if he were to fall into it there would be no salvation for him.”
After all is said, I still believe that the most powerful argument for eternal security in our salvation is found in Paul’s letter to the Romans, which speaks to the fact that our security is based on God’s love for the ones he has redeemed.
“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” – Romans 8:38-39
Insert image here (Paul’s mike drop…)