Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Can Salvation be Lost?

This article may take us into contentious waters since it is an issue on which sincere believers in Christ sincerely disagree. While I am going to take a side, I want to say first that anyone’s position on it does not determine the validity of his or her faith. If we further discuss it, I hope we can all keep that in mind. Second, and in relation to that, we need to be on the lookout for unifying themes that overcome our division. That is what I intend to do, especially in closing.

Someone asks, “It is possible to lose your salvation?” For myself, I believe in the doctrine of eternal security. That means I believe a person, once saved by the grace of God through faith in Christ, cannot lose their salvation. Unfortunately, the reason this is a contentious issue among Christians is because the Bible does not provide a straightforward answer. I can’t deny that a few passages in it appear to point to the possibility that Christians can forfeit the new life they have found in Christ.

Necessity of Interpretation

I think the primary passages that present this possibility are Heb. 6:4–8 and 10:26–31. Those who believe in eternal security have our ways of coming to terms with these verses, but those explanations can look like mental gymnastics. That, I think, is because it requires us to read more into them than their obvious meaning. In other words, they take careful interpretation.

Why do we do this? If these biblical passages suggest that salvation can be lost, and we believe in the Bible, then why do we look for a way around them? This is where I would start to argue a bit. We aren’t looking for a way around them. At least, I’m not. Rather, it is that I believe the entirety of Scripture is true, and a great deal of it points in the other direction. I do not see this as a contradiction. It is only something that has to be harmonized.

Let’s look at a few of the places that say salvation is something that cannot be lost. We have Rom. 8:35, 37–39, which say,

Who can separate us from the love of Christ? Can affliction or distress or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?... No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

A brief statement in 2 Tim. 2:13 reiterates that salvation is assured because it depends on God’s nature,

If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny himself.

Along with that, 1 John 3:19–20 reinforces the source of our assurance being God rather than ourselves:

This is how we will know that we belong to the truth and will reassure our hearts before Him whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and He knows all things.

Then there are the words of the Lord Himself, who said,

I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all. No one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one. (John 10:28–30).

I could go on, but of course, so could those who disagree with me by pointing to other verses. Ultimately, everyone who decides to focus on this debate is going to pick a side. Doing so will mean interpreting away from the obvious meaning of verses that point in the opposite direction. It is necessary to do so. The important point is picking the position that is most in accordance with the overall redemptive theme of Scripture. When looking at the whole picture, eternal security is what I believe that theme teaches.

The Basis of Security

In an attempt to come back the Bible for an authoritative answer, though, my opinion is that we can build a strong case for eternal security through a combination of John 3:3–6, 1 Cor. 15:35–49, and 2 Cor. 5:17. The first tells us that believers in Christ are born again of the Spirit rather than the flesh. The second says that we are heirs to an incorruptible (in other words, unkillable) nature. And the third says that those in Christ are new creations for whom the old passes away.

As I see it, these passages send a unified message. When we become Christians, a new nature is born in us. We start a life that did not exist before. The nature of our old lives is that they can die. However, the new nature is different. Nothing can kill it. If we have a new nature that cannot die because it exists in union with Jesus, then it is not possible for us to lose it.

Another side to this issue does bear pointing out, now that I’ve said that. The doctrine of eternal security focuses on God’s sovereignty. In essence, it is the belief that we do not have the power to undo what God has done. That is what I mean about the new nature in Christ. Salvation is the final word because it depends on His work, not ours.

The doctrine of conditional security, meanwhile, puts the focus on free will. The position takes the view that just as we must decide to come to faith in Christ, we are also free to cast that faith aside. If we do not choose to persevere in holiness, then we can lose the benefit of what the Lord offers us. We therefore have to be committed to it if we want to keep it.

This, in fact, is another reason why I believe in eternal security. I cannot believe that my salvation relies on myself, and I cannot look at the doctrine of conditional security without coming to the conclusion that it promotes a sort of works-righteousness. If you must do something to keep salvation, then it is not a gift. It is a wage. That is too far outside of Scripture’s presentation of the gospel for me to be comfortable with it (Rom. 11:6; Eph. 2:8–9). Salvation that depends on our ongoing choices is too weak to save. It makes us the lynchpin of our success, but that was the reason we needed Jesus in the first place. We are too weak to succeed. He had to be victorious for us. All we actually do is accept His victory or not, and if we do, it all relies on Him.

In an effort to be both fair and clear, however, know that those who believe we can lose our salvation do not believe it is easy to do. Not everyone takes that position, unfortunately, but I have in mind the majority Protestant view here. They are not saying that you lose your salvation as a result of just sinning. We all still do that. There are no perfect people even among Christians. We make it our aim to live in sanctification, but we always fall short. No one thinks that makes it all right to sin, just that it is a reality of life in this world. So conditional security is not about struggling with sin. It is about relinquishing faith. It is the active, explicit decision to say that you no longer believe that Jesus is your Savior.

Unity above the Division

For someone who is questioning their own salvation, this should be a relief regardless of which side you take. From the perspective of eternal security, you are safe because it does not depend on you. From the perspective of those who believe salvation can be lost, you are still safe. If you had given up your faith, you would not be asking whether you still had salvation. So your concern is the sign you still belong to Christ.

If you are looking at a loved one, I am afraid there is no real assurance to give. Either side of the debate is going to take a grim view. One will say that someone living outside of faith never had it. The other will say they gave it up. Can any of us be sure? No. We cannot look at the hearts of others to figure out if they are saved or not. All we can do, on either side of the debate, is reach out to them with the truth of the gospel and hope they accept it now regardless of what they have done before.

There is the point of unity, then. If apostasy is possible, it is not easy. That means, either way, we can have assurance. And that is the most important thing. Even with my concerns about works-righteousness implications, it is clear enough that my opposites still rely on the grace of God when it comes to justification. Ultimately, we both know there is no hope in making our own way to Him. We need Jesus, and having Him means not having to be afraid. That’s the point we all agree on. It is where we should all focus, whether we need assurance or we are just debating what it looks like in a worst-case scenario.

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