“Can Christians can lose their salvation?” A popular ministry leader from my alma mater argues (here) that they can. In response, here are five reasons why genuine Christians cannot finally lose their salvation.
1. Grace and Salvation Are Not Commodities
One error regarding grace and salvation is to think of them as tangible commodities which God gives us when we repent and believe. The assumption is that salvation is an object which we have the power to lose (by willful disobedience, negligence, and so forth).
But grace is not an object; it is God’s undeserved favor. Grace is God’s loving-kindness lavished upon us in Christ (cf. Ephesians 1:7-8). Paul says “by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:5, 8) because grace is God’s power which makes “us alive together with Christ” (Ephesians 2:5) when we were “dead in our trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). Salvation is called “the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8) not because it is a commodity God gives us, but because it is God giving us Himself in grace and love.
Salvation comes sola gratia, by grace alone, meaning God alone is the author and finisher of our salvation in Christ (cf. Hebrews 12:2). To the extent that we do anything to “merit” our salvation (by works, faith, baptism, or anything else), we have grounds for boasting. But Scripture is clear: “this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8); “God saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which He gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began” (2 Timothy 1:9); “because of Him you are in Christ Jesus….Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:30-31).
2. God Will Preserve His People to the End
A second error is to assume that God has left us to ourselves (either wholly or partially) to accomplish our salvation. Scripture is full of “contingency statements,” meaning if you do one thing, God will do another. A different outcome will occur depending on whether or not you do that thing. Texts like Philippians 2:12, “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,” seem to argue that if you do not work out your own salvation, you will not be saved.
But continue reading: “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13). The basis for the believer’s final perseverance is the work of God, not the work of the believer. Believers will persevere to the end because God will preserve them to the end. We are to “work out our salvation,” because “God is at work in us, willing and working his good pleasure.”
Final perseverance is not something that a believer has the power in himself to accomplish. If we were left to ourselves, we wouldn’t be saved. If we could lose our salvation, we would. We sin every day, and we will continue with these wretched bodies until we die or until Jesus returns (cf. 1 John 1:8; Romans 7:24). But God has not put our salvation in our own hands. Rather, “He will bring [the good work in us] to completion” (Philippians 1:6); “[The] Father, who has given [the sheep to Christ], is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand” (John 10:29); and as Jesus prays, “Holy Father, keep them in your name” (John 17:11). Indeed, God is “able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy” (Jude 1:24).
3. Christ Did Not Fail in His Redeeming Work
A third error is to assume that Christ either did not fully accomplish the work of redemption or that his redemptive work failed in some respect. If a genuine Christian can lose their salvation, Christ’s work of redemption is either lacking in some respect (e.g., we need to add our faith or repentance or baptism for his work to be effective) or Christ fails to save those whom he desired to save.
But Jesus saves perfectly and completely. Consider John 6:38-39: “I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of Him who sent me. And this is the will of Him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that He has given to me, but raise it up on the last day.” To say that Christians can lose their salvation is to imply that Jesus fails to accomplish the will of the Father, which is to finally save all those whom the Father has given to him. But the author to the Hebrews says, “Jesus is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25).
Matthew 1:21 says, “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” The reason that Jesus is named “Jesus,” is because he will save his people from their sins. He will not try and fail. Jesus did not cry “I’ve done all I can do; the rest is up to them!” while hanging on the cross. He declared, “it is finished!” (John 19:30). Jesus accomplished our salvation perfectly and completely in his life, death, and subsequent resurrection.
4. The Spirit Is Given as a Seal of Our Salvation
Christians cannot finally lose their salvation because God’s Spirit indwells them, ensuring that they will receive the promised inheritance of God. Paul says, “if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you” (Romans 8:11). The same power of God which raised Jesus from the dead ensures that Christians will have eternal life. Paul elsewhere declares that Christians are “sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of God’s glory” (Ephesians 1:14). The Holy Spirit is the guarantee of our final salvation.
Peter says, “God has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:3-5). Our inheritance is imperishable, undefiled, unfading, and kept in heaven for us. We are presently being guarded by God’s power for final salvation. Praise and glory be to God for He will ensure that we are finally saved.
5. Salvation Is about the Glory of God
It is also an error to think that God lets us ultimately decide whether we will be saved. Some say, “God gave us free will so that we could decide to love God and be in relationship with Him.” Thus salvation is conceived in man-centered terms. God wants us to turn to Him but is often frustrated when we don’t. Just like any relationship, we must do our part. According to this line of thinking, salvation is primarily about our love for God.
But biblically, salvation is ultimately about God’s love for us! God has not put the ball in our court when it comes to salvation. He has not left us to ourselves to figure these things out. Rather, “we love because God first loved us” (1 John 4:9). God is not pacing around in heaven, wringing His hands, waiting on us to make a decision for Christ. No, God says to His people throughout the ages,
“I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules” (Ezekiel 36:25-27).
Why does God do all these things? The answer: “It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name.” (Ezekiel 36:22). Salvation is not fundamentally about us or our love for God. Salvation is fundamentally about God and His glorious love for us (cf. Psalm 115:1; Romans 5:6-8; Ephesians 1:6, 12, 14).
Thanks for reading. Have any additional thoughts? Leave a comment below.
I enjoyed reading this article! I do differ on a few points, but I agree that the biblical evidence points to genuine belief in Christ’s resurrection and repentance from sin securing a real salvation in Christ that seals us for eternity. I very recently wrote a hermeneutical paper on the issue of apostasy in Hebrews 6 & 10, and it was certainly challenging and rewarding! I also write about issues of theology and apologetics often so feel free to check out my blog and let me know your thoughts! jakebyrd.wordpress.com
Thanks for reading! I’d be interested to hear where we might differ a bit, though I’m glad that we are mostly in agreement. I’ll give your blog a follow!
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