“Can a Christian lose his or her salvation?” This is a question which I receive on a fairly regular basis. It is a question which I myself struggled with early in my Christian life. It is certainly an important question and there is a lot of division on how best to answer it. My short answer is: No. A true Christian cannot lose his or her salvation. But why is there so much confusion about this issue and what does the Bible say?
Troubling Warning Passages
I think one of the reasons for the confusion is the presence of so many warning passages in the New Testament which warn against apostasy, or falling away. The presence of these passages implies that it is possible to fall away from the faith. Why else would they exist?
Colossians 1:21-23 tells us that Christ reconciled us “in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel.”
Jesus himself said, “The one who endures to the end will be saved” Mark 13:13. He also said, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples.’” John 8:31.
The writer of Hebrews warns us to strive for holiness “without which no one will see the Lord.” (Heb. 12:14).
Many other such passages could be cited which warn the hearer against falling away from Christ.
Those Who Fall Away Are Not Genuine Believers
Scripture speaks frequently of those who profess faith in Christ, but are not genuine believers. Jesus said that many would call him Lord at the judgment, but would be turned away (Matthew 7:21-23. In the parable of the sower, Jesus addresses those who fall away:
“As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away.” Matthew 13:20-21
John states the matter clearly when writing of those who had left the right way for another form of religion: 1 John 2:19 says, “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.”
Scripture clearly provides the category of a “false believer” and warns believers to make our calling and election sure (2 Peter 1:10). This quote has been attributed to several different individuals but sums the matter up well: “A faith that fizzles before the finish was faulty from the first.”
Salvation Belongs to the Lord
I fear that we have too often over-emphasized the human response in salvation and under-emphasized God’s initiative in salvation. It is true that we must repent and believe the gospel. It is equally true that we must be born of the Spirit (John 3:3) – this is something that God must do.
Peter tells us that God “has caused us to be born again to a living hope” (1 Peter 1:3). Our new birth was not brought about by our will, for we were not born by “the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:13). Peter continues talking about the new birth and says that we are now “kept by the power of God,” literally we are “being guarded by God’s power” (1 Peter 1:5).
Furthermore, our salvation is rooted in God’s gracious choice. Romans 8:30: “Those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.” Notice that all those who end up at glorification are those who were predestined. No one falls off along the way. Ephesians 1:3-14 beautifully lays out our election and the fact that we are “sealed by the Spirit.” It is impossible for someone chosen by God before the foundation of the world to be in danger of losing salvation.
Jesus says that his sheep “will never perish and no one will snatch them out of [his] hand” (John 10:27). He also says that when the Holy Spirit comes, he will be with us forever (John 14:16). Some other passages which speak of God assuring our salvation include:
Jeremiah 32:40 I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me.
Jude 24-25 Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.
1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 May the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.
Philippians 1:6 And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.
1 Corinthians 1:8-9 [Jesus Christ] will sustain you to the end; guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
Isaiah 46:3-4 (ESV) “Listen to me, O house of Jacob, all the remnant of the house of Israel, who have been borne by me from before your birth, carried from the womb; even to your old age I am he, and to gray hairs I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save.
Psalm 37:28 For the LORD loves justice; he will not forsake his saints. They are preserved forever, but the children of the wicked shall be cut off.
Notice in all these passages who it is that is responsible for our salvation. God ensures our sanctification, perseverance, and endurance. He chose us, He called us, He caused us to be born again, He justified us, He sanctifies us, He sustains us, He preserves us, and He will glorify us at the day of Jesus Christ.