If I were to compile a list of questions that nearly every Christian asks or ponders, this question would be near the top. Can someone lose their salvation? Can someone have a relationship with Christ, in which they have eternal life, and then lose it? The question is always relevant. If we look back in the news just this month, we see a story of a prominent American pastor leaving the faith. There are several additional stories from this last year which tell of, not just ley Christians, but church leaders leaving the faith.
Again, it is a widely pondered question elicited in two primary ways. First, someone doubts their salvation, setting them on a journey to create security. Two, someone sees another renounce their faith, which naturally brings up the question, were they ever truly saved? Because, if they were, then their salvation must, in fact, have been lost.
Both of these trails which birth the question are rooted in pride. What? Pride. Yes, pride. Hopefully, by the end of this article, you will see why I would emphasize such a notion. Due to my assertion that pride fuels the question, it should be of no surprise that my position is, undoubtedly, for the negative. I assert confidently and assuredly, with no hesitation, that if one has genuine salvation, they cannot lose it.
To give a solid argument for why I assert this position, I would need to explain how and why one receives salvation; if we are clear on the how and clear on the why, this question becomes ridiculous. There is no substance to it. I do not have space for a thorough description, but I will recommend a place that wonderfully answers how and why — the Bible.
To simplify the description, here is what I will say. God saves a sinner wholly and entirely by His power and work. God saves sinners to conform them to the image of Christ, thus restoring them to their God-designed ability to worship Him unhindered for eternity. So, I can ask the question, if God does all the work in salvation and salvation is not the end goal, but eternal worship and holiness are, what makes us think we would have the ability to usurp God's work and purpose? To think someone can have salvation and then lose it is perilous. The idea comes from a low view of God and His power, resultantly pride.
What is pride? Is it not a high view of oneself and a low view of another? Therefore, the position that one can lose their salvation finds its root in a high view of man's power in saving and sustaining him or herself and a low view of God's power in that work. As Christians, do we not fully believe that we are saved not as a result of works? Do we agree with Paul when he says in Ephesians 2:8-9, "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast?" Let us read what Paul says in Romans 5:8-11 to accurately understand why the idea of losing your salvation is ludicrous:
But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
Paul's whole point in this passage is to show us the certainty and finality of our salvation. He is telling us that God died for us when we were His enemies. If He saved us when we hated Him, how much more will He sustain us in our salvation when we are now His sons and daughters? Paul is using a logical argument of the greater to the lesser. If Jesus did the higher work of shedding His blood on the cross to appease the wrath of the Father for our sin while we were enemies, He would undoubtedly do the lesser work of sustaining us in faith. Paul even adds an amplifier to this argument by saying we rejoice in God. What good is it to rejoice in God for saving us, if tomorrow, we could wake up and decide to no longer be a Christian? It does not make sense.
So, there is the pride of making salvation and sustained faith dependent on us, but also, the pride of believing we have judged the salvation of another rightly. Now, I am a firm believer that we can know with complete confidence, the state of our salvation. That does not mean that everyone has that full assurance, but I am saying it is possible. However, it is much harder to be sure of someone else's salvation. It is much easier to examine our hearts to see if the Spirit is truly in us than it is to investigate others. I know what I think. I know what I feel. I know what I do when no one is watching. I know how much time I spend in the word and prayer. Yet, it is hard to know these things about other professing believers.
Can you see the pride now? If I were to say “so and so” lost their salvation, I am claiming I have a knowledge of their life that nearly equals their own. Do I? Maybe. This claim is more sinisterly prideful, though. Without knowing it, if I say “so and so” lost their salvation, I am claiming to be an ultimate authority. I am asserting that my ability to take in information and interpret it rightly is perfect. That is pride. I am making myself the authority on who is saved and not saved. How about I humble myself and admit I was fooled at “so and so's” supposed profession of faith, instead of holding onto my right judgment on their previous salvation by saying they lost it. They did not lose it. They never had it.
Here is the reality. Judas, one of the original twelve disciples of Christ, lived life with the God of the universe closely and intimately for three years and never had true faith. Jesus knew that he was a fraud. However, Judas was a necessary piece to the fulfillment of prophecy in the Old Testament. Jesus, being God, saw His heart and knew he was not a believer. Jesus, being God, knew that Judas was not one He had predetermined to save. The other disciples, though, being men who could not see the heart, were duped by Judas's supposed faith. They thought he was a faithful follower. How do we know that? Listen to the account at the last supper:
After saying these things, Jesus was troubled in his spirit, and testified, "Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me." The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he spoke. One of his disciples, whom Jesus loved, was reclining at table at Jesus' side, so Simon Peter motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. So that disciple, leaning back against Jesus, said to him, "Lord, who is it?" Jesus answered, "It is he to whom I will give this morsel of bread when I have dipped it." So when he had dipped the morsel, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. Then after he had taken the morsel, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, "What you are going to do, do quickly." Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. Some thought that, because Judas had the moneybag, Jesus was telling him, "Buy what we need for the feast," or that he should give something to the poor. So, after receiving the morsel of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night.
As readily seen, none at the table, not even John or Peter, had any idea who the betrayer could be. Again, this was three years into the ministry of Jesus as it was just before His crucifixion. So, to think we can always judge rightly on someone's salvation is a far stretch and rooted in pride as even the disciples could not.
Nevertheless, God has indeed given us many tests to know the genuineness of other’s faith because a life as a Christian without brothers and sisters around you who you trust would be horrible. One of the most significant tests is how a person responds in suffering and pain. A true believer will always draw closer to God through suffering, while a nonbeliever will always drift away.
Many times people who seem to lose their salvation were filtered through this test. If someone's renunciation of faith is shortly after or during a hard trial or suffering, we should not be shocked. The test worked. And, again, the test is not for God; it is for us. We with true faith who go through suffering and persevere gain assurance for ourselves and show believers around us of our authentic faith. I guarantee if you start to look closely at the lives of those supposed believers that recently left the faith, you will begin to see a pattern. Death of a loved one, a recent divorce, a visit to a Nazi concentration camp, financial turmoil, or something of the sort, are likely apart of their history.
Here is one more test for you personally as you think through who is an authentic Christain and who is a fraud. Is “so and so” very closed and secretive? Do they rarely open up about their ongoing war against sin? There are people in my life that I would lean heavily towards being frauds who are incredibly closed. Not only that, the more time you spend with them, the more you see lies and coverups. Because of that, these people will rarely let you get close to them, and they will rarely go deep with you in conversation. These people will often speak highly of their success in killing sin, but have very little to say of their current sin struggles. They will also talk a lot about how good life is and appear to be overly happy. Often, they are unteachable and oddly confident. And, most certainly, if you snuck into their house and saw what they did when no one was around, you would be horrified. I have never done that; I am just saying. You would not see them on their knees praying with God, nor would you see them laboring in the scriptures. Why foster a relationship that does not exist?
Nevertheless, do not be prideful in your assertions. Do not have a low view of God. Do not compromise on explicit teaching in scripture to validate your intuitions and ideas. Do you know it all? We cannot lose our salvation, but we can be pretty good at making others think we have it. Praise God that He sees every heart as it is, and Praise God that He is the final judge, not man.