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Can You Lose Your Salvation?
By David A. DePra
The issue as to whether it is possible to lose one’s salvation if often clouded by a misunderstanding of exactly what salvation is. Thus, to begin this discussion, it is necessary to first address that question.
Salvation is LIFE. It is resurrection life in Christ Jesus. And there is only one way to receive this life: Come to the Cross and relinquish your old life. If you do that, then as Paul says in I Corinthians 4:17: "If any man is in Christ, He is a new creation. Old things have passed away, behold, all things have become new."
In this we see the new birth. We see that if we are saved, that our old life is DEAD in Christ, and through the resurrection of Christ, we are born again as a new creation in Christ Jesus.
Obviously, this happens, "from the inside out." Your body is not saved, and neither are many other aspects of your makeup, such as emotions. But you now have Christ in us through the Holy Spirit. Those parts of us which are not now saved are to be brought under the control of the Holy Spirit as we go on to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ.
So salvation is LIFE – we are born again with resurrection life, as a new creation in Christ Jesus. But once we understand that, we also see what salvation is NOT: Salvation is not merely a LEGAL classification before God.
The great Truth of justification by faith is based, firstly, on a legal transaction: If I place my faith in Christ, God imputes to me His righteousness, and imputes to Christ my sin. I am then forgiven, and justified, because Christ has died in my place. The salvation I receive is therefore completely legal, moral, and just.
But if that were all that salvation consisted of – a legal transaction – there would be no provision made for changing a thing about me. In that case, I might be legally forgiven for sin, and thus, be delivered from punishment, but I would not be delivered from sin itself. Indeed, if salvation is only a legal classification, based on a legal transaction, then it could be said that God saved us while we are yet sinners, but it would be likewise true to say that He saves us as sinner to leave us that way. A legal salvation, in and of itself, does nothing to sanctify anyone.
This tells us that salvation involves much more than a legal classification – it tells us that God does MORE than simply IMPUTE to us forgiveness and righteousness in a legal sense. Sure. God actually IMPARTS to us the very righteous life of His Son.
If we really gave it thought, we would see that only if God IMPARTS to us the life of His son, does the legal IMPUTATION remain moral. For if God merely imputed to me the righteousness of His Son, only to leave me a sinner, in the end God would be licensing sin. No. The reason justification by faith is just, moral, holy, and right, is because along with the legal imputation, God IMPARTS to us the very righteousness of His Son through our resurrection in Him.
Now, once we understand that, it ought to make perfect sense that salvation is a new birth as a new creation. You cannot be a new creation, or born again, in merely a legal sense! No. Those things speaks of a living relationship.
One way to say it is this: In Christ, we do have all of our sins forgiven. That is a fact. But more than merely having all of our sins forgiven, in Christ we are forgiven people. That is what a new creation IS – a forgiven PERSON – because he is born again in Christ.
Resurrection life is life that is IMPARTED, not imputed. It is life which has victory over sin and death. It is far beyond anything legal.
So salvation is LIFE – not merely imputed life – but imparted life. If we are saved, we got that way by passing FROM death to life, and by being born again a new creation. In effect, we cannot go back! There is no way to be, "born again backwards." Your old life isn’t there anymore. You died in Christ. You cannot LOSE eternal life.
Furthermore, your salvation was never based on anything you did. Thus, you cannot lose it by anything you do. Salvation is based solely upon faith. Now, as to the possibility of losing your faith, and thus, "losing" your salvation, this is also not possible. But we’ll get to that later.
All of this ought give us the answer as to whether we can lose our salvation: No. We can’t. We cannot lose our salvation, utmost and foremost, because of the nature of salvation. Salvation is life that, by definition, cannot be lost. It isn’t the KIND of life that can be lost, and neither is it received in a way that can be reversed.
Categories of People
When everything is said and done, there are only two categories of people on this planet: The living and the dead. If you are in Christ, you are alive. If you are in Adam, you are dead. You are one or the other.
Everyone starts out, through natural birth, in Adam, spiritually dead. It is only by bringing, "my Adam," to the Cross of Christ, and taking my position of death there, in Christ, that I am set free from Adam. I am then raised with Christ – born again a new creation. This is the spiritual birth. I am now saved. I have LIFE.
So we see that the way OUT of Adam is through death, and the way INTO Christ is through resurrection. Thus, the two classes of human beings: Those alive and those dead.
However, within each of those two categories, there are others. For instance, in Adam there are those who have never heard the gospel. These, the Bible calls, "the lost." There are also those who have heard, but are presently resisting, and there are those who have heard, and are presenting being drawn to Christ. There are also, in Adam, all of those who have heard the gospel and refused salvation. Unless they repent, their fate is sealed. These, the Bible calls, "the condemned."
In Christ, we also have different sorts of people. We have those who are growing and maturing – walking in the light they have. But we have others, who, despite being saved, are settling for less than their full inheritance. Others are simply deceived.
There are also many people who think they are saved, and whom everyone else thinks are saved, but are not. What this does is create a false frame of reference for what salvation is, and thus, when this FALSE frame of reference is violated, or forsaken, then everyone assumes the person has lost his or her salvation. They have not. They have disavowed their religion. They were living in a religion, going to church, but had never really passed from death to life. They didn’t lose salvation because they never had it.
So there are all kinds of possibilities with people. Saved people make bad choices, and become deceived. People can be saved, and doubt it, and people can be lost, but think they are saved. And worst of all, people can absolutely refuse salvation on God’s terms, but be deceived into thinking they are saved on their own terms. The Bible speaks to every one of these conditions and possibilities.
The reason it is important to see all of these possible conditions is that doing so brings definition to any number of Bible passages – which we might otherwise think are talking about losing one’s salvation. The Bible never talks about losing your salvation. But it does talk about saved people losing the fullness of their inheritance in God’s kingdom. It does talk, not about losing salvation, but about REFUSING salvation – that is, about people who have been drawn to Christ, but who have said no.
Let’s look at only one example:
For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame. (Heb 6:4-6)
Notice the condition of these people who are in danger of eternal loss – they were, "ONCE enlightened." Being enlightened never means you are saved. It just means you KNOW. You can be enlightened, and come into a certain amount of Truth – and yet if you refuse it – the Truth which God intended to draw you to Christ will condemn you. Once you are enlightened, you are accountable.
John affirms this fact:
And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hates the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God. (John 3:19-21)
John is giving us the very definition of condemnation. He says, "THIS IS condemnation…." John says that condemnation comes upon me if LIGHT comes into my world, but I love darkness rather than light. This mandates that I do have light – because I could not love darkness RATHER than light unless I had light, and was refusing it. And John says that people do make that terrible choice simply because they do not want to come out into the light and have what they have done, and who they are, exposed before God.
Back to Hebrews. It says of those who deserve condemnation, "They have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come…" None of these things mean they were actually BORN AGAIN. No. "To taste the heavenly gift," does not save you. You must, "eat and drink the flesh and blood of Jesus," to be saved. These people have TASTED, but presumably, spit it back out.
These have also been, "made partakers of the Holy Ghost." Sure. That is always the case when God draws someone to Christ. But when they come to the place of choice for Christ – God does the drawing TO Christ, but we must do the COMING once God draws – they refuse. Thus, these people are not losing their salvation. They are refusing it.
Lastly, they have, "tasted" the good Word of God and the powers of the world to come. Same picture as we saw with the heavenly gift. Tasted, but not eaten. They will NOT surrender. I think we might be shocked as to how many people in our churches, right now, are tasting the things of God, partaking of them in that sense, but not surrendering themselves to Christ. They are enlightened enough to come to Christ – to come into the Light. But for now, they are not doing so.
With all of that in mind, the rest of the passage begins to make sense:
If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame. For the earth which drinks in the rain that cometh oft upon it, and brings forth herbs meet for them by whom it is dressed, receives blessing from God: But that which bears thorns and briers is rejected, and is nigh unto cursing; whose end is to be burned. But, beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation, though we thus speak. (Heb 6:6-9)
The picture being used here is that of a garden. It is a garden upon which it rains and rains, but to no good end. Why? Because of the condition of the soil – in other words, the heart of the person. It is hard, and thus, it will not yield the fruit God is after, which in this case, is simply a yielding of faith unto salvation. We know this is what is being talked about, because the passage goes on to say, "We are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation." In other words, the Hebrews, to which this was written, were saved people, and thus, these, "better things," could be expected of them. But those being talked about in the passage were not yet saved. They are, in fact, in the process of refusing salvation.
There are a couple of basic principles revealed in this passage. First, you and I are accountable for the light we have been given. If we refuse the light, the grace God is granting us, and intends to soften our heart, will be exactly what condemns us and hardens us. Secondly, God is long-suffering. The passage from Hebrews 6 shows that condemnation is not the result of a one-time sin. It is the result of a life-time sin. Thirdly, and this is the summary of the first two points: If we are saved, we cannot lose our salvation. Indeed, these passages do not apply to us. But if we are not saved, it is possible to REFUSE salvation.
Virtually every passage of scripture that people use to prove that you can lose your salvation is either talking about those who are REFUSING salvation, or it is not talking about losing salvation, but losing your inheritance as a saved Christian. But again, if we think that salvation is merely a legal classification, we open ourselves to these misinterpretations. It is therefore essential that we know what salvation is, and what it is based upon.
Incidentally, the errors of five-point Calvinism ought to be apparent here. There is no such things as, "unconditional election." God’s election to draw us to Christ, rather than be unconditional, is irrevocable. Once we see the Truth, we cannot say we have not seen. We are accountable. We cannot go back to ignorance. In the end, we MUST either reject Christ or refuse Him. Likewise, the Calvinist teaching of irresistible grace is error. We most certainly can resist God’s grace. Many people do – both saved and unsaved. And finally, despite the fact that Calvinism does teach that you cannot lose your salvation, it does not do so upon a Biblical basis. Calvinism teaches that you cannot lose your salvation because you are one of the elect. The Bible teaches that you cannot lose your salvation because of the nature of salvation, and the nature of conversion – salvation doesn’t fall into the category of losing.
The Unpardonable Sin
There are many Christians who are worried that they may have committed the unpardonable sin. From what we have seen so far, it ought to be apparent that no Christian can commit the unpardonable sin. Only an unbeliever can commit this sin -- by rejecting Christ. For if a Christian could commit the unpardonable sin, he could lose his salvation – something the Bible never teaches.
The unpardonable sin is not a matter of losing your salvation. Again – it is a matter of REFUSING your salvation. But before we get ahead of ourselves, what exactly is the, "unpardonable sin?"
Let look at one of the passages which describes this sin from the words of Jesus:
Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men. And whosoever speaks a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaks against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come. Either make the tree good, and his fruit good; or else make the tree corrupt, and his fruit corrupt: for the tree is known by his fruit. (Matt. 12:31-33)
Jesus said, in the gospel of John, that the Holy Spirit, "would convict the world of sin… because they do not believe on Me." Unbelief is THE sin – and it is the sin the Holy Spirit begins with in each of us. Conviction of UNBELIEF -- this is the job of the Holy Spirit in the life of the unbeliever – one who is NOT saved. The Holy Spirit convicts the sinner of his sin of unbelief – of not believing on Christ – and shows him that Christ is the only way to salvation.
Thus, to, "blaspheme the Holy Spirit," would be to take a position of resistance against that conviction. It would, in the ultimate sense, be to say that the conviction of the Holy Spirit was a work of the Devil – or anything else but the Holy Spirit.
But why would a person do this? Well, it is precisely what we read about in John 3:19, above. If a person is being convicted by the Holy Spirit, and WILL NOT come into the light of that conviction, he will eventually say that it was not the Holy Spirit convicting him. Sure. There is something moral in nature in man – his conscience –that makes it impossible for him to ignore conviction. We MUST do something with it. Thus, if we won’t come into the light, we rationalize it, or reason it away. We will make whatever moral adjustments we need to make to the Truth and to the light in order to preserve ourselves. In short, rather than come into the light, we bring our darkness into it.
Now, once we understand this, many other things become clearer. First of all, this makes it clear that the unpardonable sin isn’t something we SAY. It isn’t a mistake we make. It isn’t a sin of ignorance, or even a deliberate, one-time, sin. The unpardonable sin, as we saw before, is a LIFE-TIME sin. In effect, what makes the unpardonable sin, "unpardonable," is the fact that we don’t repent of it – despite knowing to do so.
When everything is said and done, the unpardonable sin is the refusal of God’s forgiveness through Jesus Christ. God cannot forgive the refusal of His forgiveness! If God forgave the refusal of His forgiveness, He would make His forgiveness meaningless. Or, to put it another way, there is ONE sin which Jesus did not die for! That’s right. Jesus did not die for the rejection OF His death as payment for sin. If Jesus had died for the rejection of His death as payment for sin, then His death is meaningless.
Can we see how all of these things are gathered up into the same Truth? All of them go back to the unpardonable sin: It is the REFUSAL of the work of the Holy Spirit in convicting us of sin, and of revealing to us the Savior, Jesus Christ. That is why there is no forgiveness.
Many people think that they have committed the unpardonable sin because they have blurted out some curse against Jesus, or the Holy Spirit. That isn’t it. Others think that if you, in ignorance, attribute to the Devil something God is doing, that you are doomed forever. That isn’t it either. All of us make those kinds of mistakes in varying degrees. Jesus is talking about a SPIRITUAL CONDITION – not about mistakes. He is talking about people who, by their very lives, are blaspheming the work of the Holy Spirit. This is about what people have BECOME, more than it is about what they do. The doing is defined by the heart from which it proceeds.
The unpardonable sin is not possible for one who is saved. Why? Because the unpardonable sin is the refusal of God’s forgiveness. If you are saved, you haven’t refused God’s forgiveness – you are saved because you have received it. Furthermore, if you are afraid that you have committed the unpardonable sin, or are afraid that perhaps you have never been saved to begin with, the solution is quite easy: Turn to Jesus right now. Problem solved.
Again, the refusal of salvation is only unto eternal condemnation because it is never repented of – it is an eternal refusal. The unpardonable sin is unpardonable because the person refuses to turn from it. These terrible sins are not things that HAPPEN TO US, or things which we accidentally or mistakenly do. By definition, they condemn people because they KNOW, and yet refuse salvation in Christ Jesus. They choose something else instead.
The Main Reasons
The main reason people think they are guilty of losing their salvation is that they look at themselves for evidence they are saved, and seem to find only evidence they are not. This, of course, is based on the false notion that we are supposed to look at ourselves. But we are never to look at ourselves to prove what is the Truth. We are to, "look unto Jesus."
Jesus has saved us as an act completely independent of anything about us. We simply put our trust and reliance upon it.
So often, people have false expectations of salvation. We think that a saved person is supposed to automatically be able to obey God perfectly, and able to exercise freedom from every possible damage found in the old creation. Often, we base this expectation upon the Truth that, in Christ, we are already delivered from the power of sin.
But we are not delivered from the presence and possibility of sin. You can sin anytime you want to. You can choose to doubt, choose to sin, or choose to believe and obey. But none of that changes whether you are saved.
I need only point to the Old Testament account of the promised land. Israel had been given the land, but had to go in and progressively drive out the enemies who were still living in there. Read their reactions, and then later, when they did enter, read their warfare. This is the Christian life – saved people. This ought to adjust our expectations.
Christians need to get it straight: In Adam, there is no Truth in us. There is no life in us. And once we are saved, what is in us, is so utter contrary to our expectations and frame of reference, that it is going to sometimes seem like we are going crazy, rather than growing in Christ.
Furthermore, in order for us to have God’s will, and God’ s kingdom, God must dismantle OUR will, and OUR kingdom. Does anyone see a major upheaval here? Yep. And as God does this, it will seem as if we are losing our life. Well, we ARE. We are losing our life that we might find His.
You cannot lose your salvation – you cannot lose HIS LIFE in you. But you must lose YOUR life, because it is the one thing that will continually conflict with HIS LIFE. Failure to know this, or what it is like to experience it, accounts for more confusion on this matter than we can imagine.
How About Unbelief?
In the end, if it were possible to lose your salvation, we would have to ask, "Upon what basis?" Obviously, it could not be because we failed to do enough good works. We were not saved by works, so we certainly cannot lose salvation by works. What is left? That we can lose our salvation by NOT believing?
This might seem possible to some people. For if we are saved through faith, can’t we lose salvation through a lack of faith, or by renouncing Christ?
Well, the fact is, someone who is truly converted to Christ will not renounce Christ. They can’t. This isn’t because they don’t have free will. This isn’t because they are one of the so-called, "elect." No. Again – it come back to the nature of salvation.
If I am saved, I got that way by giving my life to Christ. I got saved by settling all of those issues and possibilities of faith and surrender. Conversion is a change of direction. Repentance is a change of mind – towards God. By definition, and by their nature, these things are not reversible. The Godly sorrow that leads to repentance – if it is real – is not something that is possible to disavow.
But haven’t some people done so? No. The chances are, every person you hear about who seems to have disavowed Christ, was never converted to Him to begin with. They probably had a conditional relationship with Him, or their faith was in their teachings and doctrines, rather than Christ. I have know of many people who were absolutely dedicated to their principles – but who lost faith when a trial came and tested their supposed faith in Christ.
Once we water down salvation, and make Christianity nothing more than a belief system, then everything else must likewise be adjusted to compensate. A Christianity that consists of principles to follow and doctrines to believe in – and that is all – will fall in a person’s life because their, "house," is built upon sand. A Christianity that is only a legal position will likewise fall if a strong enough storm comes. But if a person’s life has been built upon the PERSON of Jesus Christ, who is THE rock of our salvation, that believer may stumble, but he will never fall. This is not because of the believer. It is because of the Rock.
If you are worried that you have lost your salvation, or worried that you have never been saved, there is good news. What you need isn’t merely theology or an understanding of Bible verses. Simply turn to Christ as Savior right now. If you do, all the bases are covered. You will be saved.
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