One of the hottest theological debates regards the matter of eternal security with respect to salvation. In the following article, an answer to a follower’s question, Pastor Bob Russell provides his understanding along with a discussion of the entire issue. I believe you’ll appreciate his balanced approach to the question. This article appeared first at: www.bobrussell.org as: Ask Bob: Can a person once saved lose his/her salvation? RMF
Occasionally people email me asking for my opinion on various personal or church issues. I recently received the following question which I have reprinted below, followed by my response.
EMAILED QUESTION: Bob, can a person once saved lose his/her salvation?
This is a question I’ve been asked dozens of times over the course of my ministry and one that merits a detailed answer. On the one hand no teacher wants to leave the impression that obedience doesn’t matter; on the other hand we don’t want to leave the impression that salvation is dependent on perfect obedience.
That’s why this question causes considerable division in the body of Christ. We all know people who professed Christ in their younger years but have not remained faithful. We hope they are saved, but what does the Bible actually say about people who have fallen away from the faith? Even more importantly we are all fully aware of our own transgressions since accepting Jesus as our Savior. When the Bible warns there will be some on judgment day who cry, “Lord, Lord” but who don’t enter the kingdom of heaven, could he be talking about us?
I went to Bible College with a guy who was studying for ministry. He held to the basic teaching of Scripture and even preached at a small church on weekends in his senior year. However, something drastic happened to him over the years. He went through a bad marriage, dropped out of ministry and shortly thereafter totally renounced his Christian faith. He claims he no longer believes in Christ and even ridicules those who do.
Is that guy still going to heaven because as a young man he trusted Christ as Savior, was baptized and preached for a few years? Some will say that such a person “was never saved in the first place,” because God knew in His Sovereignty that he would reject Christ in the end. Whether the person was saved then lost, or never saved in the first place, is not clearly addressed in Scripture, and both sides of the debate can point to Scriptures to defend their position.
The Bible says God is Sovereign and knows the future. But the Scripture also warns the saved person against falling away (2 Tim. 2:12-13; Heb 2:1; 3:8-12; 2 Pet. 2:20-22; 3:17). The argument may simply be semantic because the end result is the same on both sides: a person who once believed but has become apostate is not saved. Nearly all Christians agree on this point.
A few believe that once you are saved you may live an unrighteous life or even reject Christ without the possibility of ever losing your salvation; but they are ignoring a vast amount of Biblical evidence to the contrary, and such teaching has dangerous consequences.
A key passage that helps clarify the issue for me is 2 Timothy 2:12-13. It reads, “If we disown him, he will also disown us; if we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself.” If we stumble and fall into sin God will still be faithful to His promise to save us. But since we are saved by faith in Christ if we sin to the point of saying, “I no longer believe in Christ; I disown Him,” He will disown us. In a very real sense that person has renounced his own salvation.
Because of the Scriptures mentioned above and others warning the saved person against falling away, I believe it is possible for a person to lose his or her salvation through continual rebellion. Salvation is the free gift of God, available to all who trust Christ. And God desires that all be saved (1 Tim. 2:4). Every individual has the choice to accept or reject God’s offer of forgiveness. Once a person is saved, that salvation cannot be lost through one sin, or even a series of sins. But, as Hebrews 10:26 says, “If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth,” we may get to a point where our hearts are so hard that we reject Christ and want no part of his salvation any more, at which point, “no sacrifice for sins is left.” Peter states that “the last state is worse than the first.”
Jesus said in John 3:16, “Whoever believes in [God’s Son] shall not perish but have eternal life.” The word “believes” in the original Greek is in the present tense, denoting continual action. Whoever “continues to believe” will have eternal life. Someone who believed as a youngster but rejects that belief in later life should not expect to be granted the promise of eternal life. God is not going to force anyone into heaven against his or her will.
Once you put your faith and trust in Jesus Christ, your salvation is secure. If you are a sincere believer, then questioning your salvation is wrong. It is not a sign of humility or showing your awareness of your sins…to question your salvation shows a lack of faith in the promise of God to save you. It is often a sign that you question whether God is big enough or gracious enough to forgive your sin. If you trust in the substitutionary death of Christ on the cross, then you should have assurance of your salvation (1 Jn. 5:13).
If you have wandered from the Lord, then you should repent and return to Christ lest you harden your heart, reject him and lose your salvation. Peter warned us to be on guard lest we be carried away by evil men and fall from our “secure position” (2 Pet. 3:17). Rest assured, your salvation is secure, as long as you remain in faith. Your God is big enough to forgive your sins.
This issue of “eternal security” is not one Christians should make a test of fellowship. Some, even in our own fellowship may disagree strongly with my position on this issue. This is a good area to practice the slogan, “In doctrine, unity; in opinion liberty; in all things, charity.” Let us humbly admit that there are mysteries in Scripture which will not be fully understood until the return of Christ, and let’s renew our commitment to practice love and tolerance toward fellow believers who do not agree with us on secondary doctrines. Jesus prayed, “May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17:23).