Can Eternal Salvation be Lost?
A participant on our site recently e-mailed me a question. He wanted to know if one could lose his salvation. He correctly identified scriptures that show that salvation once gained cannot be lost, but was concerned that he might be wrong. I empathized with his concern. There can hardly be a more crucial question for a believer to have answered. He wondered why so many churches teach that salvation can be lost.
There are quite a number of ways to show from the Scriptures that one cannot lose his salvation. Presenting all of them would make this a very long article. I’ll just approach a few, and then discuss reasons why a number of churches teach otherwise. Let’s start with a passage in 1 John.
1 John 5: 11 And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.
12 He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.
13 These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.
The record clearly states that those who have believed on the name of the son of God have already been given eternal life, not that they might some day get it. We who believe on Jesus Christ have been given eternal life, not just the promise or hope of attaining it. If you already have eternal life, then your life cannot end. If your life ends, then you did not have eternal life. Verse 13 says we are to KNOW that we have eternal life. How could we ever know for sure if we could lose it at any time by screwing up in some way?
Believing on the name of the son of God and other very similar such phrases are given numerous times in God’s Word as the criterion for being saved, born again, and heaven bound. The most specific record as to exactly what one must believe is in Romans 10.
Romans 10:9 That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.
10 For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.
Notice that there is nothing here about loving your brethren, feeding the poor, self sacrifice, doing the 10 commandments, or whatever other good works one might be able to think of. I am highly in favor of good works, they are commanded in God’s Word; but they are irrelevant to being or not being saved. Not every child of God is always well pleasing to Him, but that does not make him no longer His child. The very terminology of being a child, or son, of God (used frequently in the Scriptures) is crippling to the idea of losing one’s salvation. I have a son that I am very proud of. He loves God. He is an honest, loyal, and ethical young man. But what if I were not so proud of him? What if he had become an axe murderer? Would he still be my son? Of course he would. The sonship relationship and the well-pleasing relationship are two entirely different things.
Salvation is by grace, not your works.
Ephesians 2:8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:
9 Not of works, lest any man should boast.
You did not receive salvation through works, and you do not keep it through works. Grace is grace, and works are works. They are different, not intertwined as two sides of the same coin. What is of works is not of grace. What is of grace is not of works, as is shown by Romans 11 (among other places).
Romans 11:6 And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work.
If maintaining your salvation were dependent on certain works that you do or do not do, then it would no longer be by grace that you are saved.
Ephesians 2:8 also says that salvation is a gift of (or from) God. What kind of a giver is God? Is He the kind Who gives and then claims his gift back as soon as He becomes unhappy with you for some reason? Some people are like that, but not God.
Romans 11:29 For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance.
“Without repentance” means God does not change His mind about it. The Greek word here is also defined as, “unregretted.”
This gift of salvation is also called being born again of incorruptible seed.
1 Peter 1:23 Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever.
In light of all these clear scriptures, why is it that so many churches teach that one’s salvation can be lost? Unfortunately, some do not hold the Bible, God’s Word, as their only source for Truth. Others do not recognize the difference between the Gospels and the Epistles. During the Gospel period when Jesus Christ was ministering on earth, salvation was not a matter of grace without works. It was dependant on certain works as well as on following him.
Mark 10:17 And when he was gone forth into the way, there came one running, and kneeled to him, and asked him, Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?
18 And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God.
19 Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Defraud not, Honour thy father and mother.
20 And he answered and said unto him, Master, all these have I observed from my youth.
21 Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me.
22 And he was sad at that saying, and went away grieved: for he had great possessions.
23 And Jesus looked round about, and saith unto his disciples, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God!
The vast majority of the records people use to endeavor to show that salvation is conditional on your behavior are taken from the Gospels, when indeed, it was conditional on behavior. What is required for salvation and the nature of that salvation changed as a result of Jesus Christ paying for our sin at Calvary. If that were not true, what would have been the point of making the sacrifice for us that he did? We can confess Jesus as lord and believe God raised him from the dead, and be saved by grace, the gift of God, being born again of incorruptible seed. People in the Gospel period did not yet have this available. Records from the Old Testament or the Gospels cannot be used to show the nature of the salvation we have today. The deal has changed.
I believe that another part of the picture as to why so many churches teach that one can lose his salvation is that God’s grace is just too big for many people to fully accept. They feel like they’ve got to do something, even if they are not sure what, to at least in part earn their eternal life. Ephesians 2:9 (above) says salvation is not of works lest any man should boast. Thinking that we are earning it, even partly so, is prideful. We should have the humility to accept God’s gift of salvation for what it is, a gift.
Another reason the teaching of possible loss of salvation (as well as many other legalistic doctrines) prevails in some churches is a feeling among some church leaders that they are responsible to facilitate the regulation of the behavior of others. They are, indeed, responsible to encourage appropriate behavior, but not to coerce and regulate. I have had other church leaders tell me I should not be presenting the grace of God that I teach because people will take it as a license to sin. That has never been my experience. People are thankful when they learn more of God’s love and grace, and they love Him even more and even more want to do His will. And that’s the proper motivation. We do good works because we love God and all His kids and want to do His will, rather than do good works because we are afraid we might miss heaven if we don’t. Romans 2:4 states that it is the goodness of God that leads men to repentance. It is also the goodness of God that continues to lead men to good works. Ministers who use fear of loss to motivate their congregations are not serving them well.
Those of us who teach God’s Word to others are responsible to speak the truth, no matter what we think people might or might not do with it. No one has the right to change what God’s Word says and teach what he thinks is a better idea for getting people to behave appropriately. That is shortsighted and, quite frankly, arrogant. God’s ideas are always better than ours.
My heart goes out to those who have not accepted our Lord Jesus Christ and do not have eternal life. There can be no greater tragedy. My heart also goes out to Christians who have eternal life but go through their time on earth not being sure, just hoping that they will be judged worthy. How sad when the truth is so readily available and should have been taught to them.
By the way, if this is your first time on our site (and probably for a number of you it is), may I suggest that you check out our home page to see a little more of where we are coming from and then peruse the section on the GIFT if righteousness? This site is all about God’s love and grace and about attaining an accurate understanding of the Scriptures. (Yes, that is actually possible. It isn’t just a matter of one person or another’s opinion.) If a believer (and that’s the first requirement) can lay aside tradition, his church’s doctrine, and whatever other preconceived ideas he might have, and can read and reason, the truth can be known, absolutely known. Well, maybe not all of it. We all have our limitations in our abilities to reason. But the fundamentals and a whole lot more than just the fundamentals should be apparent enough that those of us who want to go by the Scriptures and only the Scriptures can be in agreement. Give us a try. Let’s learn together.