Theological Positions I Don’t Understand, Part 3

Losing Your Salvation, or Conditional Preservation of the Saints

According to some, once a person is saved – they have repented of their sin, placed their faith and trust in Jesus Christ, and received eternal life – it is possible for them to lose that salvation.  This is the Arminian belief that believers are preserved by God in their saving relationship with Him upon the condition of a persevering faith in Christ. If a Christian stops believing, they are no longer saved.

This makes no sense to me.

In order to analyze this position, one must first understand exactly what happens to a person when they receive Jesus Christ as Savior.

Why does a person need to be saved in the first place?  In Genesis, God created humankind (Adam and Eve) to live sinless lives in a perfect relationship with Him.  However, they sinned, and that sin has been passed to all of humanity (Romans 5:12).  Sin separates us from God.  We are all born condemned because of sin (Romans 5:18).

How does a person get saved?  Romans 10:9-10 states, “that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.”  John 1:12 says, “12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name,”  and John 3:16 says, “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.”  So, salvation is based on believing in Jesus Christ and His resurrection, and receiving His forgiveness.

What happens to a person when they are saved?  First, the penalty for the person’s sins is removed, and placed on Jesus Christ, Who paid the penalty for sin on the cross.  Second, they are “born again” (John 3:3-8). When a person is born, their spirit – the part of us that connects us to God – is dead.  When we are saved, our spirit is brought to life.  This is eternal life (John 3:16; Romans 6:23). Third, at the moment of salvation, the Holy Spirit takes up residence in the new believer; he or she is then sealed by the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13).  The person becomes a “new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15).

What does all of this mean?  It means that there is a fundamental change in the person’s nature.  The new Christian undergoes an instantaneous transformation from death to eternal life.  He or she is instantaneously changed from guilty to innocent before God, and immediately saved against the wrath of God.  They are immediately placed into God’s family, and are instantly given the Holy Spirit within them who will guide and direct them.  But, the new Christian does not become instantaneously perfect and sinless. They are still trapped in a fallen, sinful body, with fallen, sinful minds.    But, the process of becoming like Christ – called sanctification – begins immediately.  Christians don’t receive new, perfect bodies and perfect, sinless minds until we arrive in Eternity.

There are numerous Bible passages that allude to salvation being permanent and unable to be lost.  Here is a partial list (links provided for context verification or translation change):

  • John 6:35-37  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. 36 But I said to you that you have seen Me and yet do not believe. 37 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 10:27-29  27 My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. 28 And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. 29 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 11:29  29 For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.
  • Ephesians 1:13-14  13 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, 14 whois the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory.
  • Hebrews 9:11-15 But Christ came as High Priest … with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption… that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.
  • 1 John 5:11-13  11 And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. 12 He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. 13 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.

There are several passages that seem to indicate a Christian can lose their salvation.  Under closer scrutiny, each passage can easily be understood to either refer to persons who were never saved in the first place, or refer to something other than salvation.  Here are two of the most problematic:

Hebrews 6:4-6  For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame.

The first question is, what is the context?  The book of Hebrews was written to Jewish Christians of the first century.  The author has just completed a discussion of spiritual immaturity.  He then continues by discussing the consequences of not progressing from immaturity to maturity.

What does Hebrews 6:4-6 mean?  Some would argue that it means Christians can lose their salvation – “fall away” – and can never be again saved.  I disagree; in fact, I believe the author is arguing exactly the opposite.  It appears to me that he is arguing that since it would be impossible for someone to be saved again if they lost their salvation, it is therefore impossible to lose one’s salvation.  In context, the author is arguing that spiritual immaturity cannot result in a loss of salvation!  The author continues in verse 9:  “But, beloved, we are confident of better things concerning you, yes, things that accompany salvation.”  He is saying that what he just talked about – losing one’s salvation – does not apply to them.  In verse 11, he mentions “the full assurance of hope until the end” – eternal security!  In verse 19, he states that “this hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast.” Again, our hope – salvation – is an “anchor” that is “sure and steadfast” – eternal.

Another key verse that some claim says that Christians can lose their salvation is Hebrews 10:26:  “26 For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins.”  The question is, to whom is this referring?  The saved, or the unsaved?  I contend that receiving “knowledge of the truth” is not the same as being saved.  Many people understand the Gospel message, but reject it.  These are the people Hebrews 10:26 talks about.  The author is saying that when a person fully understands the Gospel, yet consciously rejects Jesus Christ anyway, it makes no difference that they understand.  Belief is more than mere intellectual assent; it involves receiving and applying the truth to one’s life.

There are several other passages that proponents of conditional preservation point to in order to support their position, but a closer examination of each shows that the texts either do not refer to salvation, or else refer to the unsaved, not the saved.

With all of this background information in mind, let us now consider the possibility of losing one’s salvation from a logical viewpoint.  How can a person who has been “born again” become “unborn” again?  How can eternal life become temporary?  If the penalty for sin has been removed by Jesus Christ on the cross, does Jesus give it back to the person if they stop believing?  How can a person who has been eternally sealed by the Holy Spirit become unsealed?

When a person is saved, there is a fundamental change in the person’s nature.  The human spirit, which is born dead, is brought to life.  For a person to lose their salvation would mean that they would have to spiritually die again.  The fundamental change known as being “born again” and becoming a “new creation” would have to be reversed.  The Holy Spirit would have to leave them.  And, according to Hebrews 6:4-6, they could never again be saved.

The Christian is promised eternal life upon trusting in Jesus Christ as Savior.  If this can be lost, then it isn’t eternal.  If a Christian could lose their salvation, then John 3:16 should read, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in and remains obedient to Him should not perish but have everlasting life, as long as they continue to believe and remain obedient.”  However, that’s not what it says.

What then of those who have professed to be Christians, but later deny Jesus Christ?  I see two possibilities.  By far, the most common view is that they were never truly saved in the first place.  Many people have an intellectual understanding of the Gospel, but never actually put their faith and trust in Jesus Christ.  I believe these are the people Hebrews 6:4-6 talks about.  Jesus said in Matthew 7:21-23:

21 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. 22 Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’

How horrible it will be for those who understood the Gospel, but never received Jesus Christ as Savior!

The second possibility is considerably more controversial.  I believe there are some true born-again Christians who later change their minds, but are still destined for heaven nonetheless.  I believe some people can come to true faith and trust in Jesus Christ and receive eternal life, but at some later time are deceived by Satan, and intellectually conclude that Christianity is false.  Perhaps they backslide to the point where they no longer care; or perhaps they suffer a hurt so deeply that they blame God, and want nothing more to do with Him.  Whatever the circumstances, they are deceived into the intellectual conclusion that Christianity is false.  However, since they are eternally saved, and have eternally received the Holy Spirit, they will still go to Heaven when they die.  And, since they still are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, Who continues to convict them of their sin and unbelief, they are probably the most miserable people on the face of the earth.  Some of the so-called “angry atheists” may fall into this category.  The only way they can maintain their intellectual atheism is by actively ranting and persecuting anything related to God, the Bible, and Christianity.  I do not think there are many who fall into this category, because it would be extremely difficult for a person to deny the Holy Spirit when He lives inside of them, but I think there are some that do.  How extremely miserable they must be!

In conclusion, I do not understand the belief that a Christian can lose their salvation.  I understand where the belief comes from; but, I don’t understand how it makes any sense whatsoever.  As Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 1:12, “for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day.”  If eternal life can be lost, then it wasn’t eternal life to begin with.

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