Can you lose your salvation? This is a common question and one that must be answered daily in the life of a believer. More importantly, it must be answered from the inspired text of Scripture. I will attempt to answer this question in 2 ways. First, I will walk through one passage of Scripture, asserting that one CANNOT lose salvation, and second, I will address a “problem verse” that, at first glance, can give a Christian reason to question this doctrine.
So let’s start with another question that will help to lay the foundation for answering the former. What is salvation? (For a lengthy response, see this article by Matt Slick) The short answer is that salvation is the process by which a sinner is saved from the righteous judgment of God. A believer can rightly say that he/she is saved, is being saved and will be saved, for we differentiate justification (the one time act of being made right before God, where Christ’s righteousness is imputed to the sinner and he/she is now declared righteous; see Romans 3:21-26) from sanctification (the continual/ongoing act of being conformed and molded into the image of Christ; see Romans 6-7) and both of these from glorification (the one time act where our mortal bodies are exchanged for immortal ones; see 1 Corinthians 15:50-58). So to ask the question, “Can I lose my salvation?,” implies that justification can be lost, and one is no longer in a right standing before God. So is justification something that we accomplish on our own, is it something that we do with the assistance of the divine, or is it something that God alone accomplishes? I will posit that Justification, by the Biblical definition, is something that God alone accomplishes, and therefore, what God has accomplished, cannot be undone.
John 6 – “I will lose none…”
36 But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. 37 All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. 38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.40 For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”
(John 6:36-40 ESV)
Jesus, while talking to his disciples and the masses in John 6, says, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” (John 6:37) Jesus, here, is addressing a crowd who, earlier in the chapter, had made a “profession of faith” in Jesus as the Messiah. But Jesus, knowing their hearts, said in the preceding verse, “But I said to you that you have see me and yet do not believe.” (Jn 6:36) Why did these people not believe? They were following him, they were saying the right things. Why were they not believing? Jesus gives his answer in verse 37. “All that the Father gives me …” The reason the crowd is not believing, is that it has not been given to the Son, by the Father. “…will come to me…” For the ones who ARE given to the Father WILL come to Him. Salvation, itself, involves coming to the Father, through the Son, for Christ says in John 14:6, “…I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” However, the end of this verse in John 6, gets to the heart of the question at hand. “…and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” The believing ones, who come to Christ, will never be cast out because of the FINISHED work of Christ on Calvary. Jesus says that He will never cast them out. Never. But maybe I will backslide; Never. What if I lie about my job? Never. What if my marriage crumbles? Never. But, what if… NEVER. The emphasis in these verses must be noted. It is the Father who has given, the Son who receives, and the Son who never casts out. Not once is there an emphasis on an individual sinners actions that warrant being given to the Son, or a hypothetical casting out. All the action is in the hands of God and because it is God the Father who gives to God the Son, it is a perfect action which cannot be undone. “For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me,…” (Jn 6:38-39b) Jesus is not saying here that He has a different will than the Father, but He is simply submitting to the “better” will. He is proclaiming, that He is not alone in this thought, that he and the Father are one (Jn 17:21), and that their wills are undivided and complete. Isaiah 14:27 states, “For the LORD of hosts has planned, and who can frustrate it? And as for His stretched-out hand, who can turn it back?” (NASB) God’s will is perfect and unable to be thwarted. Thus, Jesus says that it is the will of the Father to lose NOTHING of ALL that the Father has given to Him. We have been sealed by the Holy Spirit for the day of redemption (Eph 4:30). SEALED! It’s a done deal! Yet, Christ does not stop there; He continues to drive the point home. …”but raise it up on the last day.” (Jn 6:39c) The will of the Father and the Son is to raise up every soul, given to the Son, by the Father, on the last day. If those words weren’t enough, He continues, “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (Jn 6:40) Praise God that He raises up EVERY soul given to him by the Father on the last day. My actions do not determine the giving, rather the giving of my soul to the Son determines my actions. Therefore, the giving, by the Father, to the Son, is a closed deal. It is finished. It is done. There are no take-backs. It can’t be undone. Case closed.
But Hebrews 6!
A common objection to the doctrine of eternal security, is the book of Hebrews. More specifically, Hebrews 6 and Hebrews 10 offer a challenge to the doctrine, if not read in the context of the entire book/argument of Hebrews. I will look at chapter 6, with the understanding that the verses in chapter 10 (vs. 26-31), give the same argument. If one is refuted, they are both refuted. With this stated, we will press forward.
1 Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, 2 and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. 3 And this we will do if God permits. 4 For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5 and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 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.
To understand the warning here in Hebrews Chapter 6, we must go back to the warnings beginning in Chapter 3 where the author quotes Psalms 95:7-11 when he says,
7 Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says,
“Today, if you hear his voice,
8 do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion,
on the day of testing in the wilderness,
9 where your fathers put me to the test
and saw my works for forty years.
10 Therefore I was provoked with that generation,
and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart;
they have not known my ways.’
11 As I swore in my wrath,
‘They shall not enter my rest.’”
And again the writer of Hebrews says,
12 Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. 14 For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. 15 As it is said,
“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”
16 For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? 17 And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? 18 And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? 19 So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.
The warnings here in Chapter 3 are given a “visible church.” The differentiation must be made here between the “visible church” and the “invisible church.” The “visible church” is the people which can be seen in a local congregation. Though we cannot see into the hearts of people, by their words and actions, they appear to be a part of the universal church of Christ. The “invisible church” is that body of believers within the “visible church” that are truly born again. They are the ones who, as stated above, have been given to the Son, by the Father and will raised up on the last day. We see this weekly in our home fellowships, where we know that, not everyone who walks through the door is a believer. The book of 1 John clarifies this by saying that those who once walked among us, once fellowshipped with us, and once partook in the table with us, yet have since walked away from us, were never of us. They did not lose their justification before God – They never had it. (1 Jn 2:18-21) So here, in Hebrews Chapter 3, the author warns the church at large, or the “visible church” against falling away, showing from their history, how often the nation of Israel has done this very thing. Verse 14 is a telling verse, differentiating between those whom are under God’s wrath and shall not enter His rest (8-11) and those who do not harden their hearts, but are obedient to Christ. For how do we know if “we have come to share in Christ?” “… if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.” We know that we share in Christ if we persevere to the end. It DOES NOT imply that we have lost our standing before Christ, but that we never had right standing before Him. So with that as the context, we look to Chapter 6.
*As a side note on these verses, notice the very intentional use of the pronouns in these verses. In speaking of the ones who disobeyed and were under the wrath of God, he uses the pronoun, “they.” However, in verse 14, he uses the personal pronoun, “we.” “They” were under the wrath of God, but “we” are not to turn from our calling.
In Chapter 6, the writer gives another warning, giving the same emphasis he gives in Chapter 3. “Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.” (Hebrews 6:1-2) As believers, we are to grow from the initial act of justification, in sanctification, being formed more and more into the image of Christ. Just as a baby is nursed at the breast of its mother, given small amounts of soft food as a toddler and rejoices in a steak as a teenager, we, as Christ-followers, are to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord. “And this we will do if God permits.” (Hebrews 6:3) This is a point that must not be overlooked. It is by the grace and mercy of a loving God that any of us are saved. James R. White has said of Romans 9:13, “The amazing thing is not, ‘Esau have I hated…’, the amazing thing is, ‘Jacob have I loved.'” White’s point in this is that God has every right to send each and every person, man or woman, infant or elderly, to hell for eternity. It is Biblical that God hates those who oppose His will. The truly amazing thing is that God loves any of us. It is amazing that He saves even one of us. It is by God’s grace that we are justified. It is by God’s grace that we grow in maturity. It is by God’s grace that we leave elementary doctrines, not relaying foundation after foundation, but building a structure, founded on Christ and reflecting His glory in all we do.
“For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come…” (Hebrews 6:4-5) Understanding the context, of the writer speaking to the visible church, John Gill in his commentary on Hebrews, says this, “such are meant, who are so enlightened as to see the evil effects of sin, but not the evil that is in sin; to see the good things which come by Christ, but not the goodness that is in Christ; so as to reform externally, but not to be sanctified internally; to have knowledge of the Gospel doctrinally, but not experimentally; yea, to have such light into it, as to be able to preach it to others, and yet be destitute of the grace of God:” (John Gill, Commentary on Hebrews – http://biblehub.com/commentaries/gill/hebrews/6.htm ) Again, we can see in our own churches, those who have once professed faith, been baptized, hosted Bible Studies and even taught Sunday School, only to one day, walk away from the very Gospel they proclaimed. So, they are those who have seen a glimpse, have tasted the heavenly gift, but found it sour, and were given gifts by the Spirit in an external since, but used them for selfish gain. For Jesus says in Matthew 7, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name? ’And then will I declare to them, ‘I NEVER knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ (Matthew 7:21-23) [emphasis mine] Again, these are “those” who assent to the word of God but have a superficial knowledge of the doctrines of Christ and the cross. They have seen the powers of the age to come, but seeing and believing are on completely different levels.
“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 6:6) In its context, the ones, who were never given to the Son, by the Father, they have fallen away from this temporary standing within the visible church. Dr. James R. White has said that apostasy is a blessing. To have a false convert within the walls of the church, pretending to be saved, whether convincing themselves their “experience” was real, or deceiving the invisible church of their standing before God can be detrimental to a body of believers. What apostasy accomplishes is to alert every believer that the apostate is NOT in right standing before God, that justification IS needed and any false teachings associated with the apostate can be addressed and dealt with. When the apostate “falls away,” the church is enlightened to be able to deal with the truth of the situation. For the one who falls away is taking advantage of the sacrifice of Christ on the cross, not realizing that Christ died, as the writer of Hebrews later states, “But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God,” and he says, “For by a single offering He has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified,” and “Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.” (Hebrews 10:12,14,18) The sacrifice of Christ was effectual and complete. It was for an intended purpose and people. It accomplished exactly what the Father intended for it to accomplish.
The question, “Can I lose my salvation?” is a question that can and must be answered Biblically. Christ’s death on the cross was effectual in that it didn’t simply make salvation a possibility – it actually saves. Justification, acquired by Christ’s death on the cross which fully and completely satisfied the wrath of God against sinful man, is given by the Father. Justification is not something earned by man. Because it is not something we earn, neither can we lose it.
“All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” (John 6:37)
For more information on the doctrine of “Perseverance of the Saints,” you can follow the links provided:
CARM – Perseverance of the Saints
CARM – Doctrinal Differences
John Samson on the Dividing Line (video)
CARM – Once Saved, Always Saved