Can a Christian Lose Their Salvation
This is a topic of some controversy in the Christian world. It speaks to one who, at first, seems to be outwardly following the tenants of the Christian faith for a period of time. However, at some point, they begin to drift into unrepentant sin, actively deconstruct their faith, or, find some of their once-accepted Biblical Christian theology becoming untenable and they simply walk away from the Bible, church, Christian peers, etc. Do these changes suggest (1) a loss of salvation, (2) a temporary and recoverable drifting, or (3) are they just documenting the fact that they were never “saved” in the first place?
What is a Christian
Let me begin with a clear, but unorthodox, definition of the word “Christian”. I wrote an article recently entitled, “ Christian Salvation in Less Than 150 Words “ which spoke directly to the definition of the term “Christian”. Humbly, I would say it is likely the most important article I will ever write in terms of its brevity, yet its eternal importance. The definition I landed on is,
“A Christian is someone who has been saved and will, consequently, spend eternal life with Christ in Heaven.”
Many reading this would be quick to point out that though the statement above is true, the fact is that since Heaven follows our Christian life on this earth, the definition provides little comfort or value. My response, which is contained in the above-referenced article, is that we know from Scripture what God requires of man to be saved. So, Eph. 2:8–9 in tandem with Rom. 10:9 offers an assurance of securing the narrow pathway (Matt. 7:14) toward an eternal future with God.
The question(s) then becomes, once one is on that path of sanctification (drawing close to the Lord),
- can we choose to leave the path of our own free will? Or,
- did we just stumble on the path but are still on it? Or,
- were we actually never on the path to Heaven and salvation in the first place?
1. Can We Choose To Walk Away From God, Exhibiting Free Will?
Webster defines “free will” as the “freedom of humans to make choices that are not determined by prior causes or by divine intervention”.
It is my personal belief that mankind has free will to make our own decisions in life. God is omniscient or all-knowing, but that does not preclude man’s ability to make decisions for himself; it just means that God knows what those future decisions will be. Consider that God wrote an instruction manual for life (the Bible). Why would He do that if man could not make certain decisions for himself? Further, the Scriptures are full of warnings and condemnation for man’s sins. How could God hold us accountable for our sins if we were not making decisions to engage in them? [For mature Christians, please understand, I am trying very hard to keep this short post simple to make a point, not to teach systematic theology.]
So, if man can exercise his free will, can he turn away from God, after being saved? My view, and again, I could be wrong, is no.
I believe that there are times when we are making free will decisions, and times when God is setting up conditions where we are following a course He has set before us, all of which are intended to perfect His perfect will. However, exclusively in the case of salvation, or accepting Christ as our Savior and Lord, I believe, in every case, God is orchestrating our attraction to Him, by faith in and through His Son. To put it more clearly, I believe God drags us kicking and screaming to the cross of Christ. We have no choice in the matter.
For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. — Romans 8:29–30
Now again, I could be wrong, and so this is not a part of my core theology. However, if one accepts that God is directly involved in attracting man into a Heaven-bound faith, then it should be logical to assume that an all-powerful God would not allow His saved child to walk away from that faith. Further, consider the insecurity free will believers have when they commit one of a raft of sins outlined in verses such as Mark 7:21–23, 2 Tim. 3:1–5, and 1 Cor. 6:9–10, believing their eternal destiny hangs in the balance of an on-again-off-again Heaven-bound, Hell-bound, Heaven-bound rotating trajectory. I believe part of the peace that God offers us (Phil 4:7) as Biblical Christians is the confidence that we remain in His hands, safe and secure (1 John 5:13).
In summary, I think man has free will but not in the case of salvation.
And so my non-core theology is that once one is saved, they are always saved. We cannot choose to walk away from God if we are saved.
I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. — John 10:28
However, I will conclude this section by acknowledging that there are many Biblical Christians who believe man does have the free will to resist God’s call, even after receiving saving faith in Him. And, they support that view through verses such as John 5:40, 2 Thes. 2:10, Heb. 2:3.
2. We Are Still On The Path To Heaven, And Just Stumbling?
The second approach to the question of, whether we can lose our salvation, is to say that when someone seems to turn away from God and back into sin, it is just a temporary condition. The term often used is “out of fellowship” with God. Still saved, just “not in a good place right now”.
The deep issue here is repentance, which can be defined as, sorrow or contrition for what one has done or left undone. As Christians, we are held to a standard based on our love of God and desire to serve Him. That standard comes from the Bible. When we knowingly reject that standard, we sin. What is most important is how we respond to that sin. If it elicits a desire to resist, to apologize to God, to thank Him for the grace and love He continues to show us, then we have merely stumbled on the path. If however, we turn away from God and continue with no sense of remorse or repentance toward sins that we know and accept as Biblical, then we likely are not on the narrow path that is in eternal fellowship with God.
If it is true that once one is saved, they are always saved, AND if one has a consistently unrepentant heart in regards to what they knowingly believe is Biblical sin, then there is only one choice left.
3. Were They Never Saved In The First Place?
Again, once God calls a person to accept Him by faith, through His grace, providing a solution for our sins through the sacrifice of Christ, I believe no one or nothing can change that. So, if someone seems to be “saved” by initially showing fruits of the Spirit for some time, and yet becomes no longer concerned over their sin nature and consequently rejects God and His commands, the only condition left is that they were never saved in the first place. I believe this is the case with many who profess a Christian faith at an early age by walking an aisle and saying a brief prayer but never really experiencing a heart change. In a sense, they were inoculated with dead Christianity and have played a role in church and with their peers, but when an issue they believe is humanly acceptable, but acknowledge that God disagrees, their true nature surfaces. Sadly, in our current cultural environment, this condition is surfacing to an accelerating degree.
And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: the ones who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy. And they have no root in themselves, but endure for a while; then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away. — Mark 4:16–17
There is a continuing sin nature in the heart of all mankind, including the saved. We see it manifest itself in every Christian that has ever lived, except Jesus. For seekers to see any credibility in Biblical Christian evangelism, we need to acknowledge that reality and still be able to demonstrate a faith and hope for eternal life. Otherwise, we are hypocritical and legalistic as we suggest we have to fully resist sin that is not demonstrated by our behavior (Rom. 7:16–18). However, there is no question that the saved need to be convicted of their sin, and repentance is evidence of our continuing desire to love and serve God and our brothers and sisters in Christ (Matt. 18:21). In my view, that process is contained within sanctification, while on the narrow path toward eternal life with God, and not a constantly flipping Heaven/Hell switch that one is never sure will be on the Heaven side at the point of death.
For further consideration on the topic of the permanence of salvation for the Biblical Christian, I would recommend this link which offers better theological support.