Can We Lose Salvation As Christians?
An ever popular and potentially devastating belief is that of being unconditionally saved; commonly referred to as “once saved always saved” or “perseverance of the saints”. Many have been confused by this, many unjustifiably comforted by it, and many led astray by it. As with most things, when error is encountered, people tend to be reactionary and as a result move from one error to the another. While the devilish concoction we call the Catholic Church had for many years deceived people by calling into question their salvation almost from moment to moment by requiring all manner of religious ordinance to be observed, another error emerged which was merely a 180 degree turn. 2+2 does not equal 8, but neither does it equal 3. We must be careful to strive for that which is accurate and not merely reactionary. There are two gutters in every bowling lane; avoid them both. Can a Christian lose salvation?
Let us observe firstly in our text, the condition by which believers can be “cut off”, namely their failure to continue in God’s goodness. The term “cut off” is not a reference to rewards or temporary chastisement, but rather judgment. Jesus uses this same phrase when speaking of false prophets in Matthew chapter 7, telling us we will know them by their fruits. He ends by saying, “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Matthew 7:19) The unmistakable context is that of complete separation and judgment. This is what Paul is conveying in Romans 11. The bible is replete with many “IF”‘s concerning entering into blessing from God. While God’s desire is for us to be in intimate fellowship and communion with Him, that reality is conditional. Even as one may be employed currently, with “job security” so to speak, that does not nullify conditions of employment. If conditions are violated, termination is possible, even if you were once employee of the month. You cannot be an adept employee one day and a disheveled drug addict the next. We must “continue” or “abide” in good standing. Any time you see the word “If”, it denotes a term or a condition that must be carefully observed. Here is a small sampling of verses that highlight this biblical reality:
“…if indeed you continue” (Colossians 1:23)
“…if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end.” (Hebrews 3:14)
“…if they do not continue in unbelief, [then they] will be grafted in…again.” (Romans 11:23)
“…if you keep My commandments, [then] you will abide in My love” (John 15:10)
“…if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people.” (Exodus 19:5)
“…if you do not obey the voice of the LORD your God, to observe carefully all His commandments… [then] all these curses will come upon you and overtake you” (Deuteronomy 28:15)
This is a mere fraction of the myriad “if / then” clauses we see throughout the bible. Blessing is contingent upon obedience and those who say otherwise may potentially peddle licentious living without thinking, but at the very least are simply misrepresenting Scripture. This is falsely called a “work” they say, for how can one lose something that was a gift to begin with? If we have to work to keep it, then it was never a gift in the first place and therefore it must be a false gospel; a works-based salvation…. they say.
Losing Salvation Is A False, Works-Based Gospel?
Let’s examine this logic for a moment. First let us note that this is not a biblical objection, but an anecdotal objection. It is merely philosophical, not theological. Might I add, it is poor philosophy as well. The premises for this argument would be formally framed as such:
Premise 1: Salvation is a gift from God, not by works of man.
Premise 2: Since it is not by my own works, it never depended on my obedience.
Premise 3: If I can lose a gift, then it depends on my obedience, which is a work, and it was never truly a gift.
Conclusion: Therefore; if salvation can be lost, then it constitutes a works-based gospel.
This sounds compelling at first glance, and it must, for it appeals to emotion and mere human reason without biblical guidance. In order for a deductive argument to have a sound conclusion, the premises must be true and airtight. In the case before us, Premise 3 is the weakness whereby the entire tower comes crashing down, though Premise 2 also presents a half truth. I have done my best not to erect a straw-man argument here, but to accurately present the argument as fairly as I have heard it presented.
Ephesians 2:8-9 tells us that it is “by grace through faith” and NOT works that we have been saved; that salvation is a gift from God. The book of Romans belabors that it is faith and not works that God is pleased with and that it has only ever been faith that has accessed the blood of Jesus by His grace and mercy; “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law.” (Romans 3:28). We read in Romans 5:1, “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,”. This is, of course, contrasting the works of the Law (Torah) and showing that Abraham (and therefore all) was justified by faith, that is an inward submission to and belief in God, and not merely a ceremonial adherence. Paul reinforces that we have been, “justified freely by His grace.” (Romans 3:24). It is apparent then, that works cannot save us, but that salvation is indeed a free gift that nobody is deserving of, and therefore all boasting is made void. So, what about the argument?
I have scarcely met someone who would call “faith” a “work”. Indeed, faith is the very thing that is contrasted with works. We find faith juxtaposed to works all throughout Paul’s writings, so it is fair to conclude that if there is anything that is not a work it is faith. Yet, we know that without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6). So, although salvation is a gift of God, we are told that men are justified by their faith in God, so that faith must be present in an individual or they will never be justified before God. So, what do we know about faith according to the Bible?
What Is Faith?
The Bible tells us that faith is the substance of things hoped for; the evidence of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1). The word “faith” (pistis) in the bible, is also translated as “faithfulness” as seen in Romans 3:3
“For what if some did not believe? Will their unbelief make the faithfulness of God without effect?“
We know that true faith brings with it the connotation of action as James goes to painstaking lengths to prove, so much so that the “de-Catholic’d” Martin Luther said it was, “…an epistle of straw.” We can see how the reactionary mindset tends to dominate when trying to escape and error, leading us right into another. It’s like over-correcting a car steering wheel after having veered off the road. Many accidents happen as a result of a violent over-correction. True Christian faith is apostolic, not reformational, not even patristic, but apostolic and biblical. Ah! How hollow is the phrase “sola scriptura” for most? Faith without works is dead and we know that for Abraham “…faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect..” (James 2:22) So, if faith is real it will inevitably produce fruit. If there is no fruit, or works, then that faith is properly dead. It is impossible for real and healthy apple trees not to produce apples, lest it be proven to be some other kind of tree or one that has become dead. So then, faith without faithfulness is not real faith; works proving the validity of the faith, though men are not justified by the works themselves, but rather the faith producing them. Where there is faith, there must be obedience. And where there is disobedience, faith has vacated.
Back To The Argument
We can now see more clearly the shaky foundation on which Premise 2 is situated:
Premise 2: Since it is not by my own works, it never depended on my obedience.
Being ceremonially obedient never saved a soul apart from faith, but real faith always produced that same obedience. Two people may have identical lives outwardly and only one be justified. One man, by faith in God, will produce righteous fruit and another man, through faith in himself, will produce behavioral modification. These may look near to mirror images of each other to the casual passerby, but God tests the heart. To remove obedience from the equation is to remove faith from the equation unwittingly, for if there is not obedience there cannot be true faith.
As we look to Premise 3, the case becomes more bleak:
Premise 3: If I can lose a gift, then it depends on my obedience, which is a work, and it was never truly a gift.
Separating obedience from faith is like separating olive oil from olives. Obedience is the product of faith.
The question must then be asked whether or not it is possible to lose faith. If it is possible to lose faith, then we are not talking about a “work” per se, but rather the seminal condition upon which salvation is established. This is where people jump off the anecdotal deep-end and resort to conjecture and poor, unbiblical logic in the process. If faith can be lost, then salvation is nullified, for the salvation of men in obtaining God’s grace and mercy through the blood of Jesus is inextricably tied to faith in Him and faithfulness toward Him (John 14:15). The premise in the faulty argument assumes that one who has at one time believed can never fall into unbelief, and while we will examine their arguments for this shortly, let’s first examine what the bible says, explicitly, about this very topic.
Falling Into Unbelief
The very notion of “apostasy” is predicated upon departing or defecting from where one was previously, and one cannot fall away from where he never was. The word apostasy becomes a meaningless word unless we presuppose that it is possible to depart from something. The Bible tells of a great falling away which will happen in the last days. This alone tells us it is not only possible, but actually prophetically imminent that believers can fall into unbelief. Even our text above speaks of “…those who fell.” Their falling presupposes that they were at one time standing, else falling becomes impossible.
Anytime you read the word, “Beware” in the bible, let me exhort you to….. BEWARE! When you see this warning in tandem with the word “Brethren” know that it is intended for none other than believers. God’s word does not exhort us to “beware” of hypothetical impossibilities. If there is a hypothetical situation suggested, it is one that is possible, especially because we are to “beware” of it. Nobody is careful for that which is impossible. The writer to the Hebrews tells us to,
“Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God.” (Hebrews 3:12).
Let me reiterate that the audience here are “brethren” meaning that they are presumed to be born again believers in Jesus at this point. The brethren are then warned about the development of an “evil heart of unbelief” that will culminate in “departing from the living God.” If these were not believers, they would not be called brethren, and if it were not possible for them to depart from the living God, these words never would have been written.
Honestly assess who is being described here:
“those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come…”
Can an unbeliever be enlightened, taste the heavenly gift, partake of the Holy Spirit and taste the powers of the age to come? Obviously not. This language is reserved for believers; for the brethren.
And yet, the rest of this passage (Hebrews 6:4-6) tells us that it is possible for such to fall away even to the point of being past repentance. The writer to the Hebrews says that these were “partakers” of the Holy Spirit. The same word is used 5 times in the book of Hebrews and is also translated as “partner”. Can the Holy Spirit be a partner to an unbeliever? Study this carefully all you who are “enlightened”. Never once in the whole of the bible is an unbeliever described in such language. This is clearly speaking of those who were believers to the extent of being partners with the Holy Spirit at one time.
Warning of a hypothetical impossibility would be a colossal and confusing waste of time and it is absurd to think that the Holy Spirit would go to such great lengths to warn us of things that were irrelevant or altogether impossible. Rest assured, this dreadful reality that we are to beware of can happen and has happened to many believers who eventually departed from the living God. These two verses alone would be reason enough for us to take a long sober pause to reflect, but when we see it supported by so many other verses, it would be near to an act of insanity to not pay them serious heed and reevaluate our thinking on this topic.
According to God’s Word it is possible to:
let the things which you have heard slip (Heb. 2:1)
go astray (Mt. 18:12,13)
ignore God’s will (Lk. 12:47)
err from the faith (1 Tim. 6:10,21)
err from the faith and overthrow the faith of others (2 Tim. 2:18)
lose your savour (saltiness) (Lk. 14:34,35)
be offended by Jesus (Mt. 11:6; Mk. 14:27,29)
fall away from grace (Gal. 5:4)
believe for awhile but in time of temptation fall away (Lk. 8:13)
be offended, betray one another and hate one another (Mt. 24:10)
have your faith shipwrecked (1 Tim. 1:19)
turn back and no longer follow Jesus (Jn. 6:66)
forsake the right way and go astray (2 Pet. 2:15)
stop abiding in Christ and as a branch, be withered and thrown away (Jn. 15:6)
be offended (Jn. 16:1)
turn aside after Satan (1 Tim. 5:15)
depart from the faith, having your conscience seared with a hot iron (1 Tim. 4:1-2)
turn your ears away from the truth and turn unto fables (2 Tim. 4:4)
acquire an evil heart of unbelief and depart from the living God (Heb. 3:12)
fall away to the point where you can’t be renewed to repentance (Heb. 6:6)
refuse Him that speaketh from heaven (Heb. 12:25)
become lukewarm and get spit out of the body of Christ (Rev. 3:15,16)
not remain faithful and be hurt by the second death (Rev. 2:10,11)
have God take away your part from the tree of life and in the holy city (Rev. 22:19)
be led away with the error of the wicked and fall from your steadfastness (2 Pet 3:17)
be carried away by all kinds of strange doctrines (Heb. 13:9)
be appointed a portion with unbelievers (Lk. 12:46)
be beaten with many stripes. (Lk.12:47)
be destroyed after being saved (Jude 1:5)
All of these things are said about people who are presumed to be believers in Jesus. This is a staggering fortress of evidence against any such notion that we cannot fall away, or that we will be unconditionally preserved as if regeneration were synonymous with robotic. Any who reflect upon these verses in sequence with even mild sincerity ought to be immediately sobered.
Warnings From The Old Testament
“Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.” (1 Corinthians 10:11)
A Warning From Jude
I want to briefly address two particular examples of tragedy after being chosen by God, that we find as warnings in the Old Testament. The last verse in our list above comes from the book of Jude which is a reference to the rebellious children of Israel as recounted in the books of Moses after their deliverance from Egypt.
“But I want to remind you, though you once knew this, that the Lord, having saved the people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe.” (Jude 1:5)
The four words we need to focus on in Jude’s epistle are “saved”, “afterward”, “destroyed”, and “believe”.
To briefly dismiss a possible objection, let us first acknowledge that God only allowed Caleb and Joshua to enter the promised land, and even Moses was excluded. This does not mean that Moses was consigned to hell as everything is not a 1:1 ratio. We are speaking of the types and shadows, and context in all things is important. Jude’s epistle is speaking of those God “destroyed” which is not how Moses departure is described. Let us begin there.
The word “destroy” is the same word used by Jesus Himself when He warned that we should, “…fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28) This is not some light punishment being spoken of, but rather a total and eternal one. When the demons recognized Jesus and began to plead with Him in fear, they asked if He had come to “destroy” them (Mark 1:24). This destruction Jude speaks of is that of God’s judgment on sin. Notice that this destruction happened “afterward”. But after what? According to Jude, “…after having saved [them].”
The word “saved” used by Jude is “sōzō” in Greek and it means exactly what is says. This is the word that denotes salvation. This is the word used to speak of those saved by God through the blood of Jesus nearly 100 times in the New Testament.
“For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” (John 3:17)
Jude goes on to tell us that these same people who had been saved were afterward destroyed because they DID NOT BELIEVE. That’s right. They fell into unbelief. The word “believe” is basically our word “faith” (pistis) but the verb form. They fell into unbelief, or lost their faith. Recall our verse at the top: “…those who fell.” (Romans 11:22). Now let’s examine this in light of a fuller biblical context.
We must understand that the Old Testament gives us types and shadows of things to come. The New Testament was concealed in the Old Testament and the Old Testament is revealed in the New Testament (Novum testamentum in Vetere latet, Vetus in Novo patet). To be brief, Egypt is a type of sin in the Old Testament, and the crossing of the Red Sea is a type or foreshadowing of baptism. This could be an entire article all on its own, so I cannot expound upon this in great length only to say that both of these can be clearly demonstrated from the books of Hebrews and 1 Corinthians alone if they are not already evident to some degree. Moses is a type or prefiguring of Christ, who leads His people who are in bondage to sin, out of it and eventually into a new land flowing with milk and honey; he saves them.
The children of Israel were “saved” from Egypt (sin) and then crossed through the Red Sea (baptism [1 Corinthians 10:2]), and AFTERWARD “did not believe” (lost faith, rebelled) and were “destroyed” (Judged by God).
The reformed theologian, or Calvinist, will typically appeal to God’s “elect” and espouse that they cannot be “unelected” so to speak. Were the Children of Israel “elected” by God? Yes. He elected them and saved them, but Jude’s warning is clear and an almost ignored and irrefutable example of how those who were once saved from Egypt, having passed through the Red Sea, can lose faith and incur the judgment of God by falling into unbelief. Remember that Jude, in the New Testament, wants to remind us of this.
A Warning From King Saul’s Life
Perhaps a more pronounced example of someone “elected” and anointed by God, was King Saul. Many readers likely know that the word “anointed” (which is used to refer to Saul and the position of King over Israel in general) is the word “mashiyach” or Messiah. While this is already quite significant, the description of his transformation is staggering. In the whole of the Old Testament, and arguably the New Testament, you do not see a detailed description of transformation quite like this. It is the most vivid parallel of someone being born again that I can think of. Indeed, the language nearly says that verbatim. While there is much debate about whether Old Testament saints were regenerated or born again in the same way New Testament saints are, it is worth noting that Jesus rebukes Nicodemus, a teacher of Jewish law, for not knowing that one must be born again. Nevertheless, we cannot deny this very clear language about what God did to Saul, which appears to be what we would call “regeneration”.
First the prophet Samuel prophesies to Saul that,
“…the Spirit of the LORD will come upon you, and you will prophesy with [prophets] and be turned into another man.” (1 Samuel 10:6)
We then read that,
“…when he had turned his back to go from Samuel… God gave him another heart; and all those signs came to pass that day.” (1 Samuel 10:9)
The language here is shocking and almost never spoken of. This sign of one prophesying after the Spirit has come upon them is something that we see in tandem with those who receive the Holy Spirit even in the New Testament. Those who formerly knew Saul were so astonished by this that they exclaimed,
“What is this that has come upon the son of Kish? Is Saul also among the prophets?” (1 Samuel 10:11)
God’s Word tells us that Saul was chosen by God (elected, if you will), anointed, and that the Spirit of God came upon him. God’s word then tells us that Saul was “turned into another man” and that, “God gave him another heart”. This is decidedly the language we would use to describe regeneration and being born again, and that is undeniable. We are told of the “new creation” that results from being in Christ, in 2 Corinthians 5:17, and can we deny this distinct language used to describe Saul’s transformation looks nearly identical? This “heart” is the same “heart” (לֵב lêb ) Jesus references in Matthew 15 when speaking about Isaiah’s prophecy, saying, “But their heart is far from Me.” (See Isaiah 29:13) God gave Saul another heart; the innermost core thing. Some contend that God only gave him desires and inclinations befitting of a king, but whatever we might conclude about this passage, we cannot deny that it stands alone and there is not another specific description quite like it in all the bible that I’m aware of. The point is this, God chose and anointed Saul then changed his very nature; the Holy Spirit coming upon him to the extent that he prophesied with prophets.
After all of this, what can we learn from Saul’s life? Despite becoming another man and being given a new heart, he rebels against God, the Spirit of the Lord departs from him, he consults a witch and then effectively commits suicide. How can such a thing be possible for a man chosen and anointed by God who was given a new heart and who was turned into a new man and on whom the Spirit of God dwelt so mightily that the people exclaimed, “Is Saul also among the prophets?”? How? This happened because it is possible for it to happen. As it was then, so it is now. Gentiles who have been grafted into God’s family today are no more “elected” than Saul or any of the children of Israel who rebelled. Like them, we too can fall into unbelief, which is why we are constantly exhorted, even by Christ Himself, to “abide” in Him, or to continue.
Jesus’ Warning Against Falling Away
Our Lord Himself gives a sobering warning to His disciples in the Gospel of John, chapter 15. The context of this chapter begins 2 chapters prior where we see the commencement of the Last Supper. The audience is again, “brethren”; His disciples, which He clarifies even in His statements saying,
“I am the vine, you are the branches“ (John 15:5)
We know that “branches” can only refer to believers. Branches bear fruit as a result of being connected to the vine (Jesus). But Jesus gives this sobering warning:
“Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away.” (John 15:2)
Please note the phrase, “in Me.” Jesus is speaking about believers in Him. These can be taken away if they don’t bear fruit, but He acknowledges that they were at one time “in” Him. He then continues,
“If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned.” (John 15:6)
He makes it clear that branches (believers) can be “cast out”, “gathered” and “burned” in a fire. This is not talking about the loss of a reward, but the branch itself is cast out and burned. This is a clear picture of judgment that corresponds with hell. They are cast out as a result of failing to “abide”. This word “abide” (menō) means to wait, or to stay in a certain place; to continue. The word is used 8 times in this chapter alone as Jesus is strongly emphasizing the importance of CONTINUING or abiding in him. This word is also translated as “remain”, “dwell”, “tarry”, and “endure”. If we do not do this, Jesus makes it abundantly clear that we will not bear fruit, even though we were branches, and as a result we can be cut off, withered and burned.
Another prominent and startling warning comes to us from Jesus in His final letters to seven churches in the book of Revelation wherein He gives rebuke to five of them. Here are some of Jesus’ words to these churches of believers:
“…repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place—unless you repent.” (Revelation 2:5)
“Repent, or else I will come to you quickly and will fight against them with the sword of My mouth.” (Revelation 2:16)
“Indeed I will cast her (Jezebel) into a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of their deeds…and all the churches shall know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts. And I will give to each one of you according to your works.” (Revelation 2:22-23)
“…hold fast and repent. Therefore if you will not watch, I will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you.” (Revelation 3:3)
“He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life.” (Revelation 3:5)
[In this verse, Jesus clearly implies that people can be blotted out from His book, else the statement becomes incoherent. If it was impossible for this to happen, this verse becomes essentially meaningless. Names can be blotted out and that is the irrefutable context.]
“So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth.” (Revelation 3:16)
Jesus does not say that they will merely lose some reward, nor can that at all be inferred from warnings so scathing, but that this repentance is urgent and the consequences dire. If their salvation could not be lost, why would Jesus not rather say, “Be of good cheer! You have been saved and can never be lost. You are unconditionally saved no matter what you do. Sure I don’t like that you are doing these things, but you’re going to heaven no matter what. I’d prefer you had more rewards so you’d have a happier eternity, but it’s only a matter of rewards. You can’t lose your salvation.”?
This is ludicrous and plainly so. The call for repentance is so urgent that the situation is clearly that of being near to cut off, which is why Jesus continually emphasized the necessity of being one who “overcomes”; a word found 8 times in these passages. We either overcome, or we are overcome by.
Here are the few and flimsy defenses traditionally put forth in favor of the “perseverance of the saints” or “once saved always saved.” My response is under each verse. You will notice that these verses must be read completely independent from the rest of the context of the bible and the literally dozens of verses heretofore shared and expounded upon.
“…I give [My sheep] eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand.” (John 10:28-29)
This is true; Jesus said it. Unfortunately people read what isn’t there and make the verse say something it doesn’t say. Nobody can snatch us away from Jesus, but it says nothing of our departing from Him willingly which we have seen is very clearly taught. Even angels left the domain God assigned to them and desired them to keep. (Jude 1:6) John 10 cannot be read independently of John 15 (or the rest of Scripture for that matter) where Jesus places the clear condition of “abiding” or continuing on someone’s salvation. Nobody can separate us from the love of God against our will, but the bible makes it clear that we can separate ourselves by falling into unbelief.
“…whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.” (Romans 8:30)
The context of this verse is almost always ignored. The very first verse of Romans 8 gives us more light as to this meaning. “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.” There are qualifications for those who are actually in Christ. It assumes that they are not walking according to the flesh, but as has been clearly shown, this verse says nothing of the inability of people to revert back to walking in the flesh later. In fact, the book of Hebrews gives us a fuller understanding, stating, “Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace?” (Hebrews 10:29). The author of Hebrews says that someone who has already been sanctified by the blood of Jesus, can trample Him underfoot and insult the Holy Spirit, as he (by the Holy Spirit) presupposes that we can willfully sin after being sanctified by the blood of Jesus (Hebrews 10:26). So, yes, being predestined, called, justified and glorified are all contingent upon abiding in Christ and even verse 1 of Romans 8 gives this qualification. It says, “those who ARE IN Christ Jesus.” It makes no claim to the future or even the past, but only the present. Romans 8:30 cannot be divorced from Hebrews 10:26, but that’s exactly what people do. It is a pretext that ignores dozens of other clear verses in favor of one that is decidedly more ambiguous.
“…rejoice because your names are written in heaven.” (Luke 10:20)
As we have already seen, Jesus clearly intimates that names can be blotted out per Revelation 3:5. As sins are blotted out, so too can names be blotted out if there develops a heart of unbelief. If this were not possible, Jesus’ comment in Revelation 3:5 is incoherent. Therefore, it is possible which is why He warns of this. The Lord even tells Moses, “Whoever has sinned against Me, I will blot him out of My book.” (Exodus 32:33) Names can be blotted out.
“In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise.” (Ephesians 1:13)
Yes, the Holy Spirit is a guarantee for those who have Him, but it is not a guarantee that people cannot depart from Him. We have already seen this clearly in the book of Hebrews; those who can “depart from the living God.” Here are some things that can be done to the Holy Spirit:
We can GRIEVE Him (Ephesians 4:30)
We can QUENCH Him (1 Thessalonians 5:19)
We can RESIST Him (Acts 7:51) *So much for “Irresistible Grace”. Sorry Calvinists*
We can INSULT Him (Hebrews 10:29)
So, while the Holy Spirit is given as a “guarantee” or the “down payment” if you like, we cannot isolate this verse from the fortress of other verses appealed to, lest we make this a pretext for a doctrine we simply wish to be true. This is a pledge or a surety of God’s faithfulness, but that says nothing of our willful departure from Him. Remember that Romans 3:3 contrasts God’s faithfulness with Israel’s unbelief. Both can exist simultaneously.
“Indeed, let God be true but every man a liar.” (Romans 3:4)
“This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day. And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day.” (John 6:39-40)
While it is the will of God that Jesus should lose nothing, it is also the will of God for, “… all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth,” (1 Timothy 2:4) but this is hardly a good argument for universalism. The King James literally says, “[God] will have all men to be saved.” We know that everyone will not be saved, despite it being God’s will. Jesus also says to Jerusalem, “How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!” So, despite Jesus’ will to gather Jerusalem, their will was to resist and despite God’s will being for all men to be saved, all will not. See also Luke 12:47 as Jesus says clearly that it is possible to know your Master’s will and do the opposite. This one was called a “servant” of his Master and yet disobeyed and was judged. Not only can he violate his Master’s will, but he is a servant of Him, not a stranger. Recall Jesus’ words in Matthew 22:2-3: “The kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who arranged a marriage for his son, and sent out his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding; and they were not willing to come.”
Moreover, when Jesus says, “…everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life…,” we must observe the word “believe” here. In Greek, this word is in the imperfect tense. Without being overly technical, this is basically a progressive past tense. An example of the simple past tense would be “they believed”, and an example of the progressive past tense (imperfect) would be “they were believing.” You can see the difference immediately. There is a progressive nature to the belief, it is not merely a one time event. So, those who are believing to the end will indeed have eternal life (Hebrews 3:14). And although it is God’s will that none would be lost, we see even Jesus lament Jerusalem’s unwillingness to be gathered, which was against His will.
To return to the original argument, they say that gifts cannot be lost. Even if we interact with this analogy superficially, it is absurd. While it is true that gifts cannot be worked for, by definition, that doesn’t mean that I cannot forsake the gift that was given to me. Supposing someone gives me $100 dollars that I did nothing to earn. I certainly cannot boast that I obtained this of my own merit, but this does not preclude me from simply throwing the money in the garbage. The one who gave me the gift may be faithful, but I can discard of that gift willingly. The gift still nullifies any boasting on my part, but that does not ensure that I will not neglect or otherwise dismiss it.
Can We Lose Salvation Every Hour?
This is the unfortunate and ridiculous trap people get consumed by (no doubt by Satan’s design) on the other end of the spectrum and the error that many who embrace “once saved always saved” seek to rid themselves of. The Catholic Church mandates penance, and a sacrificial “mass” weekly, because the sins of the people must constantly be atoned for and there is no assurance of salvation due to the necessity of ordinances that must be observed above faith. This doubt is, at least in part, designed to create a dependence upon the Catholic Church itself, which (according to their devil-deluded minds) one cannot be saved apart from. This is an angst ridden life that induces sympathy for those consumed by it and empathy for those, who as a result, adopt a mode of “once saved always saved” thinking. The problem is that they are both wrong and both dangerous to one degree or another. The Scriptures do not indicate that God saves people to lose them, but that He is actually “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in mercy,” (Psalm 103:8) constantly imploring repentance and offering hope to those still seeking Him. On the one end, we can run the risk of licentious living, falsely believing that we are saved because we can recall the Holy Spirit working in our lives at a definitive time and our lives having borne fruit as a result. For some, this thinking has induced complacency. On the other hand we can take our eyes off of Jesus and stop abiding in Him by being in a constant state of anxiety which we are actually commanded not to do: “Be anxious for nothing.” (Philippians 4:6)
Someone might ask, “At what point does one lose their salvation? How many times can they lose it and regain it?” Even if a strict Calvinist mindset were adopted, the question is an absurd one. I could just as easily ask the Calvinist, “At what point can I definitively declare someone saved?” The answer is: It’s impossible. I can accept a profession of faith as valid in good faith, but only God knows for sure. Our job is not do make such declarations, but to judge the fruit of the moment and to be aware of what can transpire. We cannot know for sure when the point of no return has been crossed; only God knows. Our only business should be to never find out. If we are abiding in Christ, we will be growing in holiness and repentance and away from the possibility. By the time that happens, one would likely not know or care to know. None of the disciples knew that Judas would betray Jesus as all outward signs indicated that he was in good standing. If not, they would not have all questioned themselves as potential betrayers. Judas apparently did not stand out. We can only judge a person’s fruit in any given moment, and we should all be judging our own fruit. There may be tares among us that we cannot perceive and God will deal with them. I don’t need to know how many gun shots I can possibly survive; I don’t want to be shot at all. And anyone who has been shot will tell you that they do not want to be shot again. Only know that it is a possibility and stay off of any path that could potentially lead to that end. Our job is not to make Popish declarations, but biblical declarations. We should never presume upon God’s grace lest our hearts be hardened. (Hebrews 3:13) There is a point of no return which can be crossed. We cannot know, nor should we want to know where that line is, but rather, we ought to grow in holiness and devotion to Christ, ensuring that line is not even on our path.
Are All Calvinists Heretics?
This is the unfortunate and extreme conclusion drawn by some who have a zeal but not according to knowledge (Romans 10:2). All Calvinist are not the same, neither are all Arminians. Extremes exist in both worlds and we must be careful not to hastily lay hands on one, nor anathematize another without good cause for both. There is a heresy of Pelagianism on one end and a heresy of Antinomianism or Hyper-Grace on the other with various others in between. Hyper-Calvinism is indeed a problem, and I find the tenets of traditional Calvinism sorely wanting. Some even postulate that God sends babies to hell based on their arbitrary understanding of election. This is unthinkable and, frankly, stupid. There are, however, many Calvinists who would be nearly sick unto vomiting to hear it suggested that Christians may live lawlessly under the presumption that they were previously saved or “elected”, but would rather say that it is evidence that they were never saved in the first place. In this sense, then, there can be a practically similar outworking as it concerns growing in holiness. The reformed believer who regards holiness as our high calling in Christ, would urge the same testing of one’s self and should they be found wanting would suggest that they never fell away, but simply never commenced truly believing. This is a possibility, but as my contention shows, there is another possibility as well. Truly Jesus said there are many who will hear the words “I never knew you,” but there is no indication that these will be the only lost religionists.
Here I offer the statements from One prominent Calvinist about a prominent Arminian, and of one prominent Arminian about a prominent Calvinist, without commentary.
Most atrocious things have been spoken about the character and spiritual condition of John Wesley, the modern prince of Arminians. I can only say concerning him that, while I detest many of the doctrines which he preached, yet for the man himself I have a reverence second to no Wesleyan; and if there were wanted two apostles to be added to the number of the twelve, I do not believe that there could be found two men more fit to be so added than George Whitefield and John Wesley. The character of John Wesley stands beyond all imputation for self-sacrifice, zeal, holiness, and communion with God; he lived far above the ordinary level of common Christians, and was one “of whom the world was not worthy.” I believe there are multitudes of men who cannot see these truths [Doctrines of Grace], or, at least, cannot see them in the way in which we put them, who nevertheless have received Christ as their Saviour, and are as dear to the heart of the God of grace as the soundest Calvinist in or out of Heaven.”
John Wesley (Arminian) on George Whitefield (Calvinist):
[After the death of George Whitefield a woman sought to ask John Welsey a question, but was afraid of his answer]
‘Dear Mr. Wesley, do you expect to see dear Mr. Whitefield in heaven?’
A lengthy pause followed, after which John Wesley replied with great seriousness,
‘No, madam.’ His inquirer at once exclaimed, ‘Ah, I was afraid you would say so.’
To which John Wesley added, with intense earnestness, ‘Do not misunderstand me, madam; George Whitefield was so bright a star in the firmament of God’s glory, and will stand so near the throne, that one like me, who am less than the least, will never catch a glimpse of him.'”
We can be confident that God has planned to and intends to complete the work He began in us (Philippians 1:6) while also being mindful that branches can be broken off if they do not abide in the vine. All of this can and should be done with reverent fear since the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 9:10). To avoid either extreme, we must continually fix our eyes on Jesus, following fast after Him, not worrying, but not in complacency; with fear, but knowing the riches of His mercy and grace toward us. We know that God does not will that any perish and that rejoicing in heaven takes place when lost sheep are found. The dual gutters of angst and complacency can consume even the most seasoned saint. The objective is not to focus on ourselves as much as we are focused on the Lord. We should take stock and examine ourselves, but always looking unto Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith. He has made it clear that He will never forsake us and that as long as we abide in Him, we will indeed bear fruit. It behooves us, then, to never wander from Him, but to remain. Our admonition to remain or continue in Christ is no more a work or cause for boasting than one who clings to a life-preserver in the ocean. They have not saved themselves, but merely held fast to that which was extended to them. Should they decide to let it go, they will drift despite safety being freely offered.
Indeed, “the violent take it by force.” (Matthew 11:12)
The truth often lies between two extremes, nevertheless, our aim is to be biblical no matter the apparent proximity to a certain proposition. We may be inclined to think that 3 is a better answer than 8 in the problem of 2+2 since 3 is “closer” to 4 than 8 is, but this is wrong-headed and doubly so in spiritual matters. Wrong is wrong and we must seek to be right. Whether that means a 180 degree turn or simply a turn of half a degree, we must strive for the marks that God has set. We are admonished to “Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith.” (2 Corinthians 13:5). I will note that this is in the present tense, not the past tense. It does not say to examine whether you “were” in the faith, but whether you “are” in the faith. We can obtain new mercies every morning and cling to the old rugged cross. Never presume upon God’s mercy, but don’t believe the lie that mercy is gone from the broken and contrite heart. Jesus said, “the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out.” (John 6:37). God will always be faithful to His word and therefore we needn’t worry. Our “God is faithful who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape.” (1 Corinthians 10:13) There is need to simply trust in Jesus. We must live in the present, not putting trust in the past nor being overcome with worry of the future, but actively, presently remaining in; continuing in; abiding in Christ, that our cares may be cast upon Him for He cares for us (1 Peter 5:7). May the gracious and merciful God of all the universe have Christ to be fully formed in us and bring many sons and daughters to glory.