By Pete Rose
There is an ongoing controversy in churches today and between certain denominations as to whether or not once a person is born again he can ever be lost again—or is he saved for eternity? This document will attempt to clear the air and determine the truth of this matter.
First, there is the matter of how to interpret the Bible and how doctrines come about.
The Bible is the final authority in all matters concerning the Christian faith. It must be properly interpreted. It is to be taken at face value, as written, with words given their normal, ordinary meaning unless the context indicates otherwise. Scripture should be read in its context—that is, in the light of what precedes and what follows the particular passage you are reading. You need also to consider to whom is the passage written, who and what it is talking about, where they are, and what they are doing. The law of first use says that how a particular word is used the first time it appears in Scripture usually sets the correct usage of that word throughout the rest of the Bible. Never use a passage of weak or uncertain meaning to overrule a passage whose meaning is obvious. If the language is symbolic, try to determine what it symbolizes. Using a concordance or a Bible reference program to look up passages matching the symbols spoken of will help you find the correct meaning.
Doctrines usually come about in one of two ways—either through an honest study of the Scriptures, or by human reasoning. Sound doctrine is always based on Scripture taken in its proper context, and never on human wisdom or logic. False doctrine is based on human reasoning, frequently with "proof texts," Scripture quotations taken out of context and twisted to fit the doctrine.
That said, let's get to the heart of the matter.
It is Jesus' sacrifice on the cross and our relationship with Him that gets us to heaven, not anything on our part beyond putting our whole trust in Jesus as our Savior and Lord. He alone paid the penalty for our sins, and it is through Him alone that we have hope of going to heaven and avoiding hell. Ephesians 2:8–9 says, "For by grace are you saved, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works lest any man should boast." Titus 3:5 says, "Not by works of righteousness that we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Ghost." You can't get saved by joining a church, giving money to charity, or doing good deeds, though Jesus expects us to do such things once we are saved. You can't save yourself by right living, apart from Jesus. The prophet Isaiah says, "All our [human] righteousnesses are as filthy rags" in the sight of God (64:6). Jesus is our only hope of salvation, and it is Jesus and His righteousness living in us and through us that are our ticket to heaven.
I intend to examine this subject from several angles:
1. The words of Jesus and the apostles, the Word of God.
2. Our Father-son relationship with God.
3. The problem of salvation by works.
4. What the Bible really says about falling from grace.
5. Jesus' sacrifice on the cross.
6. The body of Christ.
1. The words of Jesus and the apostles, the Word of God. We have the plain words of Jesus Himself: "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them and they follow me. I give to them eternal life and they shall never perish, neither shall anyone snatch them out of my hand. My Father who gave them to me is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of His hand. I and my father are one" (John 10:27–30).
He plainly says we have eternal life, He knows us, we will never perish, and no one is able to snatch us from His hand. And since Jesus and the Father are one and the same, anyone trying to snatch us out of His hand is also trying to snatch us out of the Father's hand, and Jesus flatly says no one can do that.
In Jesus' high priestly prayer (John 17), He has this to say: "Holy Father, keep through your own name those whom you have given me, that they may be one, as we are. While I was with them in the world, I kept them in your name; and of those you gave me I have kept, and none of them is lost but the son of perdition [Judas]; that the scripture might be fulfilled." Jesus specifically asks the Father to keep those who were with Him during His time on earth, as He, Jesus, had kept them while He was here, and not for those only but for all who would believe on Him through their word (v. 12, 20). He also makes the point that none was lost except for Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Him. Nothing in the Bible indicates that Judas was truly saved, even though he had walked with Jesus and had part in His ministry. He was a thief as well as a traitor.
We have also the words of the apostles.
The apostle John tells us, "These things I write unto you that you sin not. And if any man sin we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous, And he is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world" (1 John 1:1-2.) Jesus has paid God's just penalty for all our sins, and they can never be held against us. Moreover, Jesus stands at God's right hand making intercession for us when we do sin. He is our lawyer, our defense attorney before God the Father. When Satan comes accusing us before God, Jesus says, "Father, my blood has already paid for that sin," and instantly it is erased. When we confess our sin, we are forgiven and cleansed from the effects of that sin (1 John 1:9). Paul tells us of God's love in Romans 8:37–39: "Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerers through him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, neither height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."
Again in 2 Timothy 1:12, "For which cause I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day."
Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 3:10–15 that our works of whatever sort they are will be judged, tried by fire. Our works are represented as gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, and stubble. Gold, silver, and precious stones will survive the fire; wood, hay, and stubble will be burned up. This judgment is only for Christians. The unsaved will face a much different judgment later on.
"Now if any man builds upon this foundation [Jesus Christ] gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble, Every man's work shall be made manifest, for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is. If any man's work abides which he has built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss, but he himself shall be saved, yet so as by fire." In other words, in the latter case it will be like he escaped out of a burning house. Even though he lost everything, still he is saved.
2. Our Father-son relationship with God. God is our Father and we are His children. When a person is saved, he is adopted into God's family. See Romans 8:15, Galatians 4:5, and Ephesians 1:5. In the ancient Roman culture, when a child was adopted into a family, he received all the rights, privileges, and responsibilities of the new family, and all ties and relationships with the old family were broken off. The adopted child had the same status in the adoptive family as a natural-born child. And so it is when we are adopted into God's family.
God has become our Father and we are His children. He cares for us, corrects us, and disciplines us as a natural father would do for his own children. Would we disown our children every time they disobeyed us? If we would not, how much less would God?
3. The problem of salvation by works. Some teach that if you sin, you lose your salvation. There are various degrees of disagreement among those who teach this as to how much you can sin before you lose your salvation. Some say that you lose your salvation every time you sin; some believe only willful sin will cause you to lose it; yet others believe there are varying degrees in between. The big problem with this teaching is it ignores the keeping power of God. Throughout Romans and Galatians, we are told that we cannot be saved by keeping the law—in other words, by works. First Peter 1:3–5 tells us we have an inheritance stored up for us in heaven, and we are kept by the power of God. We are not our own, and we don't keep ourselves saved by being good. Jesus and the Father keep us.
It is the righteousness of Jesus that makes us acceptable in God's sight, and our "badness" has no effect on Jesus' righteousness. It is our relationship with Jesus, not our goodness, that keeps us saved.
Let's assume for a few minutes, just for the sake of argument, that we have to keep ourselves saved by our good works. What then? First of all, we know this contradicts what Jesus Himself said. But if you can lose your salvation through sin, how much sin does it take to take us out of God's hand? What does James say? "If you keep the whole law, but offend in only one point, you are guilty of all" (James 2:10).
What was that? You mess up just one time, and you're out? That's what he says. Then there's another problem. There are two passages in Hebrews (6:4–6 and 10:26–31) that indicate that if a saved person falls away (loses his salvation), it is impossible for him ever to be saved again. According to this reasoning, if we lose our salvation when we sin, and if the foregoing is true, we're all lost and on our way to hell—with no hope of ever getting saved again. But that would defeat God's whole purpose of Jesus offering Himself as the perfect sacrifice for our sins. God is able to keep us from falling (Jude 24–25).
4. What the Bible really says about falling from grace. Galatians (5:4) uses the words, "You have fallen from grace." This is about a third of verse 4, which is sometimes quoted by those who believe one can fall from grace.
The whole verse reads, "Christ has become of no effect to you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; you have fallen from grace." Big difference. Paul makes it very plain throughout the book of Galatians, and also in Romans, that no one can be saved by keeping the law. The purpose of the law is to show us we are sinners and drive us to Jesus for the remedy. It is those who are trying to justify themselves by keeping the law—not Christians who have sinned—who have fallen from grace.
5. Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. Hebrews 10:9–18 indicates that Jesus offered Himself, one sacrifice, one time, as the full and sufficient sacrifice for all men for all time. Does this mean we are saved automatically? No. We must still receive the Lamb of God, Jesus, into our hearts in order for that sacrifice to be effective for us. Once we have done that, Jesus lives inside us, and it is He that keeps us, and not ourselves. If once we've truly been saved, we can lose our salvation by sinning, then Jesus' sacrifice was not enough to take away our sins, and we have to keep ourselves saved by our own efforts. Saying that Jesus' sacrifice is not sufficient to keep us saved, to me, is little short of blasphemy, if not in fact. Plus, it contradicts the plain words of Jesus Himself, "They will never perish."
6. The body of Christ. When we are born again by faith in Jesus, He comes to live in us and we become a part of the body of Christ. If we lose our salvation, we are no longer a part of the body of Christ, and the body would continually have parts falling off of it. Can you imagine this scene? "Whoops! There goes his left index finger." "Hey, his ear just fell off." "Uh-oh! His right arm just disappeared." Ridiculous? Of course it is. But that's just what would be happening if we lost our salvation every time we sinned.
Now you may wonder, in light of all the foregoing, why seemingly strong Christians sometimes go bad. Some possibilities come to mind:
Carnality. Some Christians let the flesh instead of the Holy Spirit rule their lives. Paul had to deal with this constantly with people in the church at Corinth—including a man in bed with his stepmother. But he never told them they were lost; instead, he sought to restore them.
Religion. Many people are religious but are not really saved. There is a big difference between religion and salvation. Religion has a form of godliness, but lacks the power of God. Salvation is a personal relationship with Jesus and is backed up with the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit.
Satan's trap. Satan is continually seeking to trap Christians into compromising situations. Sometimes they let down their guard, and Satan snares them. That doesn't mean they're lost, but they're definitely out of God's favor. Paul says to restore such a one with a spirit of meekness [or, gently, as in some translations], considering yourself, lest you also be tempted (Galatians 6:1).
Fear. Some may fear persecution, or fear what someone might do or think, and so turn aside to avoid it. Remember Galatians 2:11–14, where Paul rebuked Peter for playing the hypocrite when certain of the Jews came around, separating himself from the Gentiles?
Now to the flip side of eternal salvation. Does the fact that Jesus keeps us saved even when we sin give us a license to sin? Absolutely not!
Paul says in Romans 6:20–21 that where sin abounded, grace did much more abound. Then in 6:1-2 he asks, "What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?" then answers, "God forbid! How shall we that are dead to sin live any longer therein?" Sin never pleases God. And there are lots of other reasons to avoid sin.
When we sin, we invite the chastisement of God. God as our Father has the responsibility of correcting us when we do wrong, and if we insist on sinning, His corrections can be very unpleasant. Remember how it felt when your dad or your mom paddled you when you were a kid? Didn't feel very good, did it? But he or she did it for your ultimate good, and you're the better for it. Likewise, God as our Father will discipline us when we disobey, and His discipline can be quite unpleasant (see Hebrews 12:4–11). If you do sin, and you repent (turn away from it, forsake it), God may turn away His chastisement (see 1 John 1:9). If God doesn't discipline you when you sin, you’d better make sure you're really saved.
Hebrews 10:7–8 says God disciplines all whom He receives, and if you are without chastisement, you are a bastard and not a son. In other words, you’re not saved.
When you sin, you grieve the Holy Spirit, break fellowship with God, and open yourself up to all sorts of satanic attack.
You can lose your reward. Rewards and salvation are two different things. Salvation is a free gift from God given at no cost for you, and it will never be taken away. Rewards are perks (extra benefits) you earn through good works you do while on earth, which you will receive in heaven. They can be lost.
The ultimate price: If you insist on continuing in sin after God has repeatedly corrected you, He may take you to an early grave. It has happened. You will still be saved, but you will see your works—which are the basis for your rewards—all go up in smoke at the judgment seat of Christ, and you will enter heaven as one who escaped from a burning house with nothing but the smell of smoke on you (1 Corinthians 3:10–17).
What about good works?
If we don't work to get saved or stay saved, should we still do good works? Absolutely. God commands it. Ephesians 2:10 says we "are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which he has before ordained that we should walk in them." We do good works because we're saved, not to be saved or stay saved. It's a matter of cause and effect. Good works please God, and are the basis for our rewards when we get to heaven. Further, maintaining a good testimony through good works and staying out of sin will glorify God and help bring others to salvation.
To sum up, we are saved by faith, and we are kept saved by the power of God in Jesus living in us. We can never lose our salvation; the Word of God says so. We do good works not to be saved or to stay saved, but because we are saved and we want to please and glorify God. Salvation is a gift that can never be lost; rewards are earned and can be lost. Living in sin as a Christian will bring only misery and the chastisement of God, and may bring you to an early grave. If you do sin as a Christian, ask God to forgive you, and turn away from that sin (see 1 John 1:9). If you think you can earn your way to heaven in any manner, by any capacity, watch out. You can't. Thinking you can is a manifestation of pride, the worst sin of all because it leads into so many other sins.
Fact: Eternal salvation can never be lost; it is powered by Jesus Himself.
Fiction: Salvation is lost when you sin, and you have to work to keep yourself saved.