Letters to a Christian

Question 15

Losing Salvation?

Letter from a concerned Christian:
"Once a person has accepted Jesus as Lord can they then fall away and lose their salvation   Hebrews ch 10 refers to sinning wilfully after tasting the good things  and all they can look toward is judgement

I have taken Jesus as my Lord but I find that I still  sin wilfully Could you ,if you have time, explain this to me .  I am afraid that God has wiped His hands of me"

BCBSR Response

If Christians deliberately fall away into living a lifestyle of sin in the sense in which Heb 10 refers, they will not be saved. While it doesn't explicitly say what "deliberately keep on sinning" (NIV) or "sinning willfully" (NASB) refers to, there are some clues from the context and from cross references.

In verse 29 he says, "How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?" The phrase "trampled the Son of God under foot" is much like a similar warning in Hebrews 6:6 "if they fall away, (it is impossible) to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame." Christ was trampled under foot and crucified by those who rejected him. Both Heb 6 and Heb 10 seem to refer to those who were "Christians". They had associated themselves with the household of God and claimed faith in Christ. But they didn't continue in the faith, but disassociated themselves from Christ in some permanent fashion.

The rest of Hebrews 10 encourages Christians to endure through the trials and not fall away from the faith. At the end he says, "You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. For in just a very little while, 'He who is coming will come and will not delay. But my righteous one will live by faith. And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him.' But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved."

So to be saved a person must have a quality of faith such that he perseveres in his faith through trials. For if a person shrinks back, they will be destroyed. One is reminded of the parable of the sower. "Those on the rock are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away." Luke 8:13 A person is not saved unless he endures. "He who endures to the end shall be saved." Mat 24:13 The faith that saves is the faith that perseveres.

Notice the conditional phrase in this statement in Col 1:22,23 "now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— IF YOU CONTINUE IN YOUR FAITH, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel."

Now all this may seem to indicate that one can lose their salvation. But upon closer analysis, that's not quite what it's saying. Look back a Heb 10:39 "we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved." If a person has a quality of faith that saves, not only will the person be saved, but he will also persevere in his faith to the end. And look back at Col 1:22,23. For it's not saying that you will be reconciled if you continue in your faith. Rather it's saying effectively that continuing in your faith is evidence that you have been reconciled (saved).

John makes this very clear will a practical illustration in 1John 2:19 where he speaks of people who do fall away. He 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." If you think carefully about what he's saying you'll notice that he's not only teaching Eternal Security, but also the Perseverance of the Saints. Notice the center phrase:

"if they had belonged to us" (ONCE SAVED)
"They would have remained with us" (ALWAYS SAVED)
Which is the doctrine of ETERNAL SECURITY


"if they had belonged to us" (ONCE SAVED)
"They would have remained with us" (YOU WILL PERSEVERE)
Which is the doctrine of THE PERSEVERANCE OF THE SAINTS

There are three basic theological positions concerning these ideas of eternal security and perseverance. I've written a page on these at http://www.bcbsr.com/topics/posp.html

Just to summarize,

1. There are those like myself who agree with the Calvinistic theology on these particular points, holding to Eternal Security and the Perseverance of the Saints

2. There are those of a "Free Grace Theology" who believe in Eternal Security but not in the Perseverance of the Saints.

3. There are those of an Arminian Theology who believe in neither, but rather that you can lose your salvation.

Much as I disagree with Calvinism on many other points, I find that position is most Biblical on these points. But I also have found that in practical living there really isn't much difference between Calvinism and Arminianism when it comes to the application of these doctrines.

I have a friend in Bible study who believes you can lose your salvation, he knows that I don't believe that. Nonetheless whenever we come across verses like those I've mentioned above we both agree that if a person doesn't persevere, they won't be saved. The difference is simply that rather than presume a person is saved and loses salvation, I would say, as John himself indicated, that if a person falls away such a person was never saved to begin with.

However both those of a Calvinist and an Arminian theology STRONGLY disagree with Free Grace Theology. Free Grace Theology holds that there is not necessarily any correlation between a person's behavior and their salvation status. That is simply unBiblical. I write more extensively on Free Grace Theology at http://www.bcbsr.com/topics/freegrace.html

Now getting back to what the Bible does say, so far I've dealt with Perseverance with respect to statements of faith. In other words doctrinal apostates are not saved. Those who reject the Biblical Jesus are not saved. But there is also another significant way in which true believers persevere. That is with respect to BEHAVIOR.

Paul writes, "Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God." 1Cor 6:9,10 So also you can read in Eph 5:5,6 and Galatians 5:19-21. The book of Jude also speaks of these "Moral Apostates". "For certain men whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord." Jude 1:4

In contrast to this John writes, "No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God. This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother." 1John 3:9,10 This again supports not only Eternal Security and the Perseverance of the Saints. For what John says here explicitly excludes the possibility of a person born of God continuing to live a lifestyle of sin or of such a person hating fellow Christians. It also gives us the reason why this is the case. It is because of the nature of the rebirth. When a person is born of God he is given a new nature such that it is impossible for him to live a lifestyle of sin and impossible to hate fellow Christians. And John goes on to say in verse 10 that this is such a reliable fact that one can discern whether a person is born of God by observing these characteristics of a person's behavior.

In fact the whole letter of 1st John is all about ASSURANCE OF SALVATION. How does a person know that they have been born of God? John answers that question in 1John. Here are some facts:

Indications that a person has been born of God.
1. He acknowledges his sin (1John 1:9)
2. He acknowledges the Son (1John 2:23; 4:15; 5:1,10,13)
3. He keeps God's commands (1John 2:3,17)
4. He accepts the apostle's teachings (1John 4:6)
5. He loves other Christians (1John 2:10; 3:14; 4:12)
6. He loves in general (1John 3:18,19; 4:7)
7. He Practices Righteousness  (2:29; 3:7)
8. He Does not practice sin  (3:3,6,9; 5:18)
9. He Overcomes the world  (5:4)

This is in contrast to Free Grace Theology in which there is no indication as to a person's salvation status - other than maybe having prayed a prayer to "receive Christ" at some point. When it comes to assurance of salvation the Bible does not teach that one should presume one had been saved having prayed a prayer. Rather it consistently teaches what John teaches in 1st John. (And if they reject what John teaches on this subject, it seems John would say to them, "We are of God. He who knows God hears us; he who is not of God does not hear us." 1John 4:6)

Now what of the Arminian objection concerning verses which speak of "believers" not being saved. For example:

1 Corinthians 15:2 "By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain." Or the one I mentioned above concerning the parable of the sower.  Now look again at 1Cor 15:2 above. Paul says, "otherwise, you have believed in vain." He is saying that there is a kind of faith - a vain faith - which doesn't save.

So also notice

Acts 15:5 "Some of the sect of the Pharisees who BELIEVED rose up, saying, 'It is necessary to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses.'"

But Paul says this of them:

Gal 2:4  "This matter arose because some FALSE BROTHERS had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves."

Such Christians were spoken of as those who "believed", yet they did not have the quality of faith that saves, but rather a vain faith - a faith that does not save.

Thus there are Christians - those who claim to believe in Christ and associate themselves with the Christian community - who have nonetheless not been born of God, not yet the quality of faith that saves.

What is one to do to assure themselves that they have the quality of faith that saves? There's plenty of verses about that - like Heb 10. And Paul warns the Corinthian Christians, "Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you— unless, of course, you fail the test?" 2Cor 13:5 Peter also writes, "Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." 2Peter 1:10,11 Do what things? "make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love."2Peter 1:5-7 That is, one should apply one's faith. The faith that saves is application-oriented.

But getting back to the issue of sinning willfully, or more generally living a lifestyle of sin, these are not point in time events, but rather the overriding characteristic of a person's life. We all sin from time to time. Consider the apostle Paul. He describes his Christian experience in this matter in Romans 7 saying, "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." or "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." In other words Paul has the INTENTION of doing what is right. But what he actually ends up doing falls short of his intention. In everything we do, sin is not absent. But nonetheless if we actually look at Paul's life, we'd find it difficult to accuse him of living a sinful lifestyle. For while sin is present, and we are imperfect in that sense, nonetheless there is a significant, measureable, characteristic difference between those born of God and the children of the devil.

For example notice 1Cor 6:11, after he had given a list of the characteristic behavior of those who don't inherit the kingdom of God, Paul writes, "And such were some of you.", indicating that they no longer behave in that manner. So also he says, "We ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another. But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit." 1Tim 3:3-4, which indicates that salvation is not only with respect to the wrath of God, but also with respect to one's behavior. For he says, "We ourselves were also once ...", indicating that they, as Christians, no longer behaved in that manner characteristically.

Concerning yourself personally as to whether you have fallen away or sinned willfully in the sense spoken of in Heb 6 and 10, I will tell you the same thing I tell everyone who asks this concerned for their salvation - NO, you haven't! I say that confidently because according to Heb 6:4-6 it is impossible to get such people to repent. But since you do repent therefore I know that you hadn't fallen away in that sense.

Well, like I said I had much to write to you on this subject. And I hope I've given you some things to think about as you develop your convictions.

steve amato

The Berean Christian Bible Study Resources Jul 29,2015