Can Christians lose their salvation?

 In Perseverance of the Saints, Questions, Salvation

The discussion of whether or not Christians can lose their salvation is a highly controversial topic among the church today. What are we supposed to think when a believer steps away from the faith and strays completely away from following Christ? Was it possible that they lost their salvation? Were they never saved? I believe, when searching for the answer to this question, we must come to understand the Biblical doctrine of perseverance of the saints which argues that the salvation of a believer cannot be lost.

Perseverance of the saints is the belief that God’s plan for redemption will not fail. In other words, God will preserve his children and they cannot lose their salvation based on any sinful acts they may commit. It is this belief which assures that a “once saved”  believer is “always saved.” We know this because we know God does not save people on the basis of their works, but rather on the basis of Christ’s work. Throughout scripture we are assured that God’s work in our hearts is greater than the sins we will commit. By studying the doctrine of perseverance of the saints we can understand the promise that God will hold His children fast.

A grasp on the doctrine of perseverance of the saints is essential for a Biblical understanding of God’s redemption of sinners. This doctrine is important, not only because it teaches us about our sinful nature, but also because it reveals more about the immense sovereignty of our God and His story of salvation. We can have assurance about our security in Christ through understanding the doctrine of perseverance of the saints.

The passage John 10:27-29 comes to mind as Jesus says:

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will 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 the Father’s hand.

By this verse, we are assured in God’s promise to His children that we will not be forsaken. In other words, God’s children are completely secure in His arms and no one can ever snatch them away. For example, think of someone being rescued from drowning. As they are drowning, their rescue is not dependent on how many times they flail their arms, but is instead dependent on the one doing the rescuing. This is similar to our salvation in the sense that we contribute “nothing to our salvation except the sin that made it necessary,” as Jonathan Edwards once said. Our salvation does not rely on us keeping ourselves away from sin but instead relies solely on the keeper of our salvation. God promises that He will not leave His sheep and it is by this promise that we know that as His sheep we are kept from our own sin and kept from eternal separation from God. What a truth to rest in! For we do not have to trust ourselves, but we can rest in this beautiful assurance of our salvation.

It is important for Christians to understand perseverance of the saints because it points our focus back to God and informs us more about His character. By understanding how firm a grasp God has on us and how He will not let go of  one of His sheep, we can grow in our understanding that our salvation is not based off our works. This will lead us to live with incredible joy and confidence in Christ. I believe that understanding perseverance of the saints leads us to a deeper understanding and appreciation of God’s overall character. This deep understanding of God’s character will lead us to a love and amazement for God. I believe that there are four essential characteristics about God that are reinforced by the principle of perseverance of the saints. They are:

  • God is unchanging (Immutable): His plan for salvation never changes and is not dependent on the sinner.
  • God is all powerful (Omnipotent): He will keep His children and His salvation plan is secure.
  • God is all-knowing (Omniscient): God knows all and He knows the future of His children and is able to keep them in His hand.
  • God is faithful: In His salvation of sinners, God does not leave one of His own but is faithful to continue His work in their hearts.

Through the doctrine of perseverance of the saints, we can come to a deeper understanding of God’s faithfulness. This doctrine teaches us that our salvation is nothing of our doing and assures us our salvation by reminding us of God’s steadfast nature.

I believe scripture clearly supports the teaching of perseverance of the saints. However, if you are unsure where you stand on this topic I encourage you to take a look at the following verses and dig deeper into scripture in your searching:

  • John 6:35-51 God will not lose any of those that come to Christ.
  • Romans 8:30-38: Nothing can keep us from the love of God.
  • Philippians 1:6: & John 10:28 He will finish the work of salvation in His children.
  • 1 Peter 1:3-6 & 2 Timothy 1:12 We are guarded by God’s power in our future inheritance.
  • Hebrews 13:5b & Deuteronomy 31:8: He will never leave us.

Through these verses we can see that, as Christians, we cannot lose our salvation because it was not acquired by us in the first place. Salvation is not anything we have earned but is a sweet gift from the Lord. (Ephesians 2:8-9). However, even though our salvation is a gift, this does not give us a means to continue in our sin!  We, as believers, are to continue steadfast in the faith and press on towards the goal as Hebrews 12:1 reminds us by saying, “…let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.” Our salvation does not come by our pursuit of faith but it is instead evidence of our salvation. Yes, we are to press on in the faith in our difficulties, however, we can take comfort in knowing that the Lord will preserve His own children, even when they fail.

In the end, I’ll leave you with a quote from R.C. Sproul on the doctrine of perseverance of the saints because I believe it encapsulates the core of understanding this Biblical principle. He says:

…I prefer the term the preservation of the saints, because the process by which we are kept in a state of grace is something that is accomplished by God. My confidence in my preservation is not in my ability to persevere. My confidence rests in the power of Christ to sustain me with His grace and by the power of His intercession. He is going to bring us safely home.

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