I’m not usually one to comment on controversial topics – my self-esteem is way too low to do that. As soon as someone proves my argument to be wrong, I fall apart thinking that my whole identity is crushed along with that argument. But after the events of the last year or so in my family’s life, and after reading articles and blog posts by multiple authors, I have come to the point where I am needing to summarize my thoughts on a very debatable topic – the answer to the question of, once we are saved, is it possible to fall out of salvation? Are there things we can do after accepting Christ as our savior that mean we are no longer saved, and are bound for hell?
For as long as I can remember, I have believed that salvation was permanent. Of course, I was raised in a Baptist church, where the teaching of once saved, always saved is probably most prevalent, so it’s no wonder where I picked this belief up. But as I got older, I was exposed to other denominations and other Christian belief systems that didn’t necessarily agree with the once saved, always saved philosophy. And like any person with low self-esteem, as soon as I came across someone with different beliefs, I started questioning my own. But now, with a few years of faith under my belt and perhaps a bit more self-confidence than I once had, I have come to firmly believe that salvation is permanent. Here are my biggest reasons why:
- No one is perfect, not even after we accept Christ. Though some people hold a belief in sinless perfectionism that comes after salvation, where a Christian is no longer capable of sinning, if this were true I wouldn’t be able to consider myself a Christian. I still sin, believe it or not, and I cannot for the life of me think of another Christian who doesn’t. The Apostle Paul still sinned after his conversion, too. In Romans 7:14-25 he wrote
We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!
Randy Alcorn, in his blog post over sinless perfectionism, points out that Paul is speaking here about his Christian life. He has “a desire to do what is good” and in his inner being he “delights in God’s law” – a non-believer wouldn’t say these things (especially that they delight in God’s law). Yet even though he believed, even though he trusted in Christ for his salvation, he still had to wage war against his sinful nature. He still sinned. If we, as believers, still sin, and it is sin that causes us to lose our salvation, then no one is saved. Not even the Apostle Paul. That is not in line with what the Bible teaches at all.
- It’s illogical. If we still sin after conversion, where is the line drawn? How big of a sin must we commit before we are no longer saved? Logic tells me that any sin we commit would put us back into the unsaved category (just as any sin we committed prior to our conversion put us at enmity with God to begin with). But then we must factor in repentance. If we repent of our sins, we’re no longer guilty of them, right? So as long as there has been repentance of all sin, we’re safe. This brings up another problem – what if someone dies before repenting? They sin, but before realizing they needed to repent, they were killed in a horrific golf cart accident. Do they go to hell, all because of bad timing? I don’t believe they do. If the thief hanging on the cross next to Jesus lived a life of sin, yet Jesus could tell him that due to one moment of faith prior to his death he would spend eternity in Paradise (Luke 23:43), then I can’t see how one unrepented sin in the life of a long-time believer would cancel out his or her salvation. I’m not going to argue that everything in the Christian faith is logical. We know that salvation by grace is not logical – the fact that there is nothing we can do to get into heaven beyond faith in Christ is mind boggling and doesn’t seem to make sense at all. But I will argue that, from a Biblical perspective, everything in the Christian faith is reasonable. And the fact that someone could lose their salvation because of one sin is not reasonable, when taken into perspective of everything the Bible teaches.
- It’s not Biblical. More importantly than the fact that it’s not logical, losing our salvation isn’t even biblical. In Romans 8:38-39, Paul said “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (emphasis added). That includes me. Not even I can separate me from the love of God that is in Christ. There’s nothing I can do bad enough that God would unforgive me. And in John 10:37-40, Jesus says “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” It’s obvious that Jesus is saying that, first of all, we have eternal life – not life-until-we-screw-up. And second of all, no one can snatch us out of His hand. Not even ourselves. There is nothing we can do to lose our salvation.
This will obviously cause some to ask about the person who blatantly turns their back on Christ – someone like Charles Templeton, who traveled with Billy Graham early on in his evangelistic ministry and was interviewed by Lee Strobel in his book A Case for Faith. Can a person who had a strong conversion, worked in the ministry and in evangelism, but then rejects his faith still be considered saved? Can a person who returns to a life of selfish pleasure (I’m not saying that Templeton did…), completely forsaking the Gospel and the kingdom of God, still be saved? Do they lose their salvation, or were they saved to begin with? I really don’t know. I know 1 John 2:19 says “They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.” This would seem to say that when a person rejects the faith, he is showing himself to have never really been saved to begin with. And Jesus did tell the parable of the seed that was sowed in shallow soil (in Matthew 13) – He said it represented a person who at first hears the Gospel, but “…since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away.” (v. 21). Perhaps this was the person Jesus was speaking of.
To conclude, I will concede that I understand where people who believe in conditional security (the opposite of once saved, always saved) come from. Passages like Hebrews 6:4-6 are hard to understand, but I also believe that you have to take the entire message of the Bible to form a sound doctrine about anything. I believe the Bible as a whole teaches that salvation is secure for eternity. Yes, we’ll screw up in our Christian lives, and if we are truly following Christ, we’ll feel bad about it and quickly repent. This is part of becoming more like Christ every day. Randy Alcorn sums this up the best:
…there are three tenses of salvation: we have been saved, we are being sanctified, and we will be glorified. Glorification still awaits us, when we enter the presence of God. When glorification happens, there will be complete sinlessness. But until that time, we are still sinners. Sanctification is very real, but it is not the same as glorification. Sanctification means having great progress and victory in our battles with sin. But it does not mean sinless perfectionism. That is reserved for glorification, which awaits us in Christ’s presence, but is not the state we are in now.
We have something to look forward to in our glorified bodies. Until then, we can rest assured that we are held tightly in the firm grip of Christ.