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Can Salvation be Lost? / Can Christ lose a Christian?

The following is an excerpt from Douglas Wilson’s book “Easy Chairs, Hard Words”

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“Okay,” I said, getting to the question that was keeping me up nights. “Can a Christian lose his salvation?”

Martin didn’t answer with a yes or a no. In fact, I was sort of surprised at how he began.

I guess I have to ask you to define your terms. What do you mean by ‘Christian,’ and what do you mean by ‘salvation’?”

I sat and thought a minute.

“A Christian is someone who has been born again, and has faith in Jesus Christ. Salvation is from sin and the consequences of sin. Someone loses his salvation when he foolishly rejects Christ, and falls back into the eternal consequences of that choice.” I leaned back in my chair, feeling a little pleased with my definitions.

“And it bothers you to think that this sort of thing might happen?”

“Yes, it does. I know that in some places the Bible seems to teach that this can happen, but there are other passages which make it seem unthinkable.”

“We’ll look at some of those passages later. For now, let’s continue with our definitions.”

I nodded in agreement, so he went on.

“Suppose you saw a lifeguard rescuing a drowning person. The lifeguard was pulling the person in, and then for some reason the drowning man began to fight the lifeguard, pulled free, and went to the bottom.”

“All right,” I said.

“Did the drowning man lose his ‘salvation’?”

“Well, yes.”

“Really? Was he ever saved?”

Okay, not in any ultimate way. True salvation would be the possession of those up on the beach.”

“In other words, a man is only saved from something if that something doesn’t happen to him, right? He is only saved from drowning if he doesn’t drown?”

“Right.,,

“Now with regard to salvation from sin and hell, does God know which individuals will be ‘up on the beach’ eventually? Does He know who will wind up in heaven?”

“Certainly. God knows everything.”

“So then, God sees who will possess this ultimate salvation?”

“Yes.”

“Can this final salvation be lost?”

“Obviously not.”

“So once you are saved, then you cannot lose it.”

I nodded my head, wondering where this was taking me.

“So then, the disagreement between Christians is not over whether salvation can be lost. It is over whether a man in this life can know that he will be saved.”

I thought for a moment, and then agreed.

“Another way of putting this is to say that some Christians think that regeneration can be reversed, and other Christians do not. And that leads us to your definition of a Christian. You said that a Christian was someone who was born again through his faith in Jesus Christ, right?”

“Yes,” I said.

“So his regeneration is dependent upon his faith?”

“Well, of course.”

“But what if faith is dependent on regeneration?”

“What do you mean?”

“Suppose faith is a gift? And suppose further that the way God gives this gift is through regenerating a sinner’s heart?”

“It is all very well to suppose. How do you know that it is? And if faith is a gift from God, then how is it genuinely mine? ”

“There are two questions there. In order, we know that faith is a gift because the Bible says it is.”

“Where?”

“Philippians 1:29. For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake. This teaches that suffering for Christ is a gift, along with believing in Him. Both are gifts, and both are from God.”

“Anywhere else?”

“Yes. Acts 18:27. In talking about the ministry of Apollos, Luke tells us that he was a great help to those who had believed through grace. It doesn’t say that they believed in grace, but rather through grace. Grace enabled them to believe. So again, faith, or belief, is a gift.”

This was all pretty strange to me, so I asked for another passage.

“Well, this one is disputed, but it is worth noting. Ephesians 2:8-9. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God not of work lest anyone should boast.

“What is the dispute over?”

“It is over the referent of that. What is the gift of God? Salvation? Grace? Faith? A plain reading of it in English would indicate that you have been saved by grace, through faith, and that faith was not from yourself, but was a gift from God. The fact that faith is a gift keeps anyone from boasting.”

“You said English. What about Greek?”

“That is where there is some dispute. Some have argued that faith cannot be the referent of that because in Greek the noun faith is feminine, while the pronoun for that is neuter.”

“Well, doesn’ t that settle it? Doesn’t the pronoun have to match the noun in gender? I don’t know much Greek, but. . . .”

“No, it doesn’t have to match. With concrete nouns, like house, or ship, it usually will match. But abstract nouns like faith, hope and charity take the neuter. Thus, there is no reason in the Greek grammar of the passage to reject the plain reading of the text. Faith is a gift.”

“You said there were two questions I had raised.”

“Yes. You asked how faith could be mine if it were a gift.”

“Oh, right,” I said.

“You are concerned that if faith is a gift from God, then my faith in Him is really an optical illusion; it looks like I am exercising faith, but it is really He who does it?”

“Yes. That’s exactly it. It makes the whole thing seem like a charade.”

“Do you mind a physical example?”

“Not if it helps.”

“When a young man hits adolescence, does he find himself, all of a sudden, with sexual desire?”

“Well, of course.”

“Is the desire his?”

I answered carefully. “He experiences it. It sure isn’t somebody else’s desire.”

“Prior to this, had he by an act of the will commanded his body to change?”

“No. It just happens.”

“So his body is filled with testosterone, and his mind with desire.”

“Right.”

“And it is his desire?”

“Yes.”

“But who made the body this way?”

“God.”

“So this body, and the bodily desire he has, are gifts? From God?”

“Yes.”

“And the desire is nevertheless his, and he is responsible for how he acts, based on those desires?”

“So why do we have a double standard? If God can give physical gifts this way, why do we say He cannot give faith? It is the same sort of thing. He gives me a new heart, and this new heart believes in Him. And I am the one believing.”

I thought I almost had it, so I said, “Could you say it briefly another way?”

“Sure. I have faith in God because He gave it to me. Of course it is mine. He gave it to me.”

“I guess so.”

I grinned.”I see. Suppose someone told me that a birthday present wasn’t mine because it was given to me. That’s not an argument against my possession of it. It is mine because it was a gift.”

“Right. And the fact that we are dealing with faith doesn’t change things at all.”

“Okay. Now how did we get here? We were talking about whether Christians can lose their salvation.”

“It all ties in. If my salvation is something God does in me, through me, and for me, then He will not cease doing it. If I am saved through faith, and I am, and faith is a gift, and it is, then that faith will not falter. It is the work of God.”

“I see.”

“But if I am saved by faith, and faith is the work of man, then I have every right to be insecure. I may in fact be lost.”

I nodded my head, and got up to go. “Thank you very much. I am afraid that’s more than enough to chew on. May I see you next week?”

“Next week.”

__________________________________

  “Do you mind if we go over something again? I think we need to talk a little more about whether we can lose our salvation.”
Martin laughed. “Sure. But there would be a lot more peace in the church if Christians learned to frame such questions more biblically.”
“How do you mean?”

“When the question is posed as to whether a Christian can lose his salvation, those for and against line up, and debate the question as it was posed. But salvation is not a personal possession of ours, like car keys, which can be misplaced by us.”

“So what is the real question?”

“The way the question is usually asked, we wonder if a Christian can lose his salvation, which is the same as asking whether a Christian can lose Christ. Some say yes, and others no.”

“And you would say… ?”

“I would ask whether Christ can lose a Christian.”

“I don’t get you.”

“Christians are those who are redeemed or purchased for God through the blood of Christ. We have been bought with a price. Now if someone, so purchased, winds up in Hell, then who has lost that person’s salvation?”

“I’m sorry, I must be thick. I still don’t get what you are driving at.”

“Christians cannot lose their salvation, for the simple reason that their salvation does not belong to them. It belongs to Christ. If anyone is to lose it, it must be He. And He has promised not to.”

“Where does the Bible teach that we are His possession?”

“There are many passages which cover this — too many to cover tonight. Why don’t we just look at a few? I’ll give you a list of others.”

“Fair enough.”

“In Revelation 5:9 – 10, the new song in honor of the Lamb states that He has redeemed us to God by His blood from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation.”

“And. . . .”

“In I Corinthians 6:20, it says, For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s. ”

“It seems pretty clear.”

“Right. In salvation, Christ does not become our property; we become His. So in discussing this, we must remember that all the saving is done by Him. Those who want to maintain that salvation can be lost are really saying that He is the one who loses it.”

“This throws the whole debate into a completely different light. ”

“It does. And frankly, it is the difference between grace and works. ”

“How so?”

“To assert that a man can lose his salvation through what he does or does not do is to assert, in the final analysis, salvation by works.”

“But the church in which I grew up taught that you can lose your salvation, but they also preached salvation by grace.”

“Not quite. They preached a conversion experience by grace. But how is that experience to be maintained and protected? And by whom? They begin with the Spirit, but seek to finish through human effort.”

I must have looked confused, so he continued.

“Were you ever taught that you could, by committing certain sins, place yourself outside of Christ?”

“Yes, and it terrified me.”

“Now, let’s say that you committed such a sin, and then were killed in a car wreck? Where would you go?”

“To Hell.”

“And why?”

“Because I had sinned, and a holy God cannot look on sin.”

“And your salvation, or lack of it, was up to whom?”


“You are arguing that it was up to me. I can tell you that it certainly felt that way. The more I wanted to serve God, the more condemned I felt.”

“Don’t you see that your insecurity was the result of your salvation riding on a roulette wheel every day?”

“How so?”

“If you died on Monday, you go to be with the Lord. If you died on Thursday, off to Hell. On Sunday night, you are heavenbound again.”

“You are saying that this is salvation by works?”


“What else can we call it? And it produces two kinds of people. One group is confident in their own righteousness, but they have watered down the righteous standards of God in order to delude themselves this way. The other group is comprised of sincere people, who, because they are honest, realize that they are under condemnation.”

“It seems a little strong to say that they are professing salvation by works, though.”

“Paul rebuked Peter to his face at Antioch, and why? Because Peter did something as trivial as withdrawing table fellowship from Gentiles temporarily. But Paul knew that the gospel was threatened by this. How much more is it threatened through teaching that a Christian can do a ‘work’ which will blow his salvation away? This teaching makes salvation depend upon the works of men.”

“You contrasted this with grace.”


“Correct. Salvation by grace is a gift from God. Salvation by works is man’s attempt to earn his way into the presence of God, or in this case, his attempt to earn his right to stay there.”

“But what is to prevent someone from saying they are saved by grace, and then going to sin up a storm?”

Martin laughed. “Nothing at all. Sinners can say and do what they please. Until the judgment.”

“But how would you answer the objection?”

“There are two things worth noting about it. One is that having to answer it places me in good company. The apostle Paul had to answer the same objection in Romans 6, against those who objected to his message of grace. Secondly, the answer is the one Paul gives in that passage. Recipients of grace do not get to decide to receive forgiveness grace, while refusing death-to-sin grace. How can we who died to sin, still live in it?”

“But aren’t there some who teach that salvation can be lost simply to keep this type of person from presumption?”

“Out of a concern for ‘holiness,’ there have been some who insist on teaching that Christians can lose their salvation. They say that without this perspective, people will abuse grace. But if you hold the biblical perspective, you do not consider grace a possession of your own that can be abused. Rather, grace belongs to God, and He never abuses it.”

“Keep going.”

“In Ephesians 2:8-9, we learn that we are saved by grace through faith. In the next verse, we learn that we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works prepared beforehand by God. God’s grace is never truly abused because it belongs to God. Outsiders abuse the word grace, but they cannot touch the thing itself ”

“You sound like you have very little respect for those on the other side of this issue.”

“That is not quite true. Some of them are teaching another gospel, and the condemnation of the apostle is sufficient for them. But there are others who are true Christians, and who hold this position because of their reading of certain texts. Hebrews 10:26 is a good example.”

“You respect them?”

“Yes. I believe them to be wrong, but their error proceeds from a desire to be honest with the text. With the purveyors of a false gospel, the error comes from an almost complete confusion of grace and works.”

“What about Hebrews 10:26?”

“We are almost out of time. Why don’t I read that passage, adding some comments of my own based on the context of Hebrews. Then you can go back through the book with that context in mind. It should be helpful in chapter six as well.”

“Fine.”

“For if we sin willfully by going back to the sacrifices of bulls and goats after we have received the knowledge of the truth that Christ was the once for all sacrifice for sin, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins because temple sacrifice of bulls and goats is a system that is fading away, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries because they are sacrificing their bulls and goats in a temple that will be destroyed in just a few years. “

I laughed.”Is all that in the Greek?”

Martin grinned. “No, but it is in the context. Read through the book of Hebrews with the impending destruction of Jerusalem in mind, and consider the problem caused by professing Christians who were being tempted to return to Jerusalem in order to sacrifice there. The fire that was going to consume the enemies of God in this passage is not hellfire.”

“So what is the basic issue here?”

“It is grace — grace and works. Works is a barren mother; she will never have any children, much less gracious children. Grace is fruitful; her children are many, and they all work hard.”

 
 
 
Texts on the Preservation of the Saints
Isaiah 54: 10
“For the mountains shall depart and the hills be removed, but My kindness shall not depart from you, nor shall My covenant of peace be removed,” says the Lord, who has mercy on you.
Jeremiah 32:40
And I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from doing them good; but I will put My fear in their hearts so that they will not depart from Me.

Matthew 18:14
Even so it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.

John 3:16
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.

John 3:36
He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.

John 5:24
Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life.

John 6:35
And Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.”

John 6:3 7
All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out.

John 6:40
And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day.

John 6:47
Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life.

John 10:27-29
My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand.

Romans 5:8. 10
But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.

Romans 8:1
There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.

Romans 8:29
For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.

Romans 8:34-39
Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
As it is written: “For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.”
Yet in all things we are more than conquerors 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, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

1 Corinthians 1:8.9
Who will also confirm you to the end, that you may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

2 Corinthians 4:14
Knowing that He who raised up the Lord Jesus will also raise us up with Jesus, and will present us with you.

2 Corinthians 5:5
Now He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who also has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.

Ephesians 1:5
Having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will.

Ephesians 1: 13-14
In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory.

Ephesians 4:30
And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.

1 Thessalonians 5:23,24
Now may the God of peace Himself, sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it.

2 Timothy 4:18
And the Lord will deliver me from every evil work and preserve me for His heavenly kingdom. To Him be glory forever and ever. Amen!

Hebrews 9:12
Not with the blood of bulls and calves) but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption.

Hebrews 9:15
And for this reason He is the Mediator of the new covenant, by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.

Hebrews 10: 14
For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified.

1 Peter 1:5
Who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

1 John 2:19
They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us.

1 John 2:25
And this is the promise that He has promised us — eternal life.

2 John 5:11-13
And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God.

Jude 24-25
Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy, To God our Savior, Who alone is wise, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and forever. Amen.

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Filed under: Reformed, Salvation

4 Responses

  1. julie says:

    “To assert that a man can lose his salvation through what he does or does not do is to assert, in the final analysis, salvation by works.”

    “But the church in which I grew up taught that you can lose your salvation, but they also preached salvation by grace.”

    “Not quite. They preached a conversion experience by grace. But how is that experience to be maintained and protected? And by whom? They begin with the Spirit, but seek to finish through human effort.”

    Great stuff. Thanks for posting it!

  2. […] be Lost?” or even “Can a truly saved person choose to reject Christ?“, but “Can Christ lose a Christian?“, because ultimately it would mean a breakdown of God’s ‘chain of […]

  3. Jordan says:

    there seems to be something wrong with the formatting half way through this page; some of the text seems to run off the right side under a white border. would someone please take a look at this? thanks.

  4. I think those who were ‘christian’ and then become athiests were never christians in the first place. I cam across a horrible website as I was looking for support in becoming an ex charismatic. This website (i will not mention the name} were bashing charismatics and pentacostals to the extreme. I stood up for them of course because they are sincere people and some of them are dearly loved. I got banned from their website.. anyway what I am trying to say is that a lot of those people on the website (community) were ex christians… they have chosen to be athiests. In my eyes, this cannot be. To know and to love God must remain the same or there was no real connection with God at all… I found this very strange.

    In the bible it does say somewhere that God will forgive the one who admits he is sinful and in need of forgiveness. Jesus looks at the heart.. It’s a heart condition. The righteous live by faith..

    This is quite a striking subject.. what about a christian who does not attend church? where does that put that person. In our church they believe if you dont’ attend church you are lost. I believe that church is essenial but it’s about finding the right church.

    In our recent experience, my husband actually does not want to attend church because of what we have been through. He would rather stay at home and read his bible. I don’t blame him as our experience was a hectic one. . . We need to pray in finding the right church as right now we are official church hoppers trying to find a place to call home. It’s been a month since we have left our overly charismatic church.. we have been to a baptist church twice but it does not feel like home. It’s hard finding the right church.

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