Today’s question is another good one. We hear it often: can true Christians lose their salvation? First of all, I don’t like how the question is phrased because it implies that you can lose your salvation just like you lose your car keys: totally accidentally, never expecting it. In fact, you don’t even realize it until sometime after you discover that they’re lost.
The answer to that question is: absolutely not. Salvation is very precious and valuable. It’s not something that you get accidentally and, certainly, it’s not something that you lose accidentally.
But is it possible for a true believer in Jesus Christ who possesses the gift of eternal life—who’s a child of God—to somehow forfeit or lose that? Well, Christians are divided on this issue and everybody has their proof texts.
First, a Lesson on Bible Interpretation
Let’s start with a little lesson on Bible interpretation, first of all. Because when you start ‘a proof text war’ and you say, “Here’s my scripture,” and someone else says, “Well, here’s my scripture,” and you see who’s got the longest list of proof texts, that’s really not the best way to interpret the Bible!
I would advise you to look at the proof text from both sides. Because if the Bible is saying that you can and that you can’t forfeit your salvation under any circumstances, then we ought to throw the Bible out, right? Because it’s unreliable, it doesn’t even agree with itself! But the Bible is internally unified—a consistent message—and so it’s one or the other. Either you can or you cannot forfeit salvation under certain circumstances.
If you have a list of scriptures on one side and a list of scriptures on the other side, you need to look at all of them. And then, whatever viewpoint that you adopt, you have to take the other side’s proof texts and somehow harmonize them with your proof texts. Then you’re going to be safe. The side that is not able to harmonize their proof texts with the other side, that’s the wrong side. So there’s a little advice on interpreting the Bible on any subject whatsoever.
What Scripture Says About Forfeiting Salvation
There are so many texts that make it crystal clear that it is possible, under certain circumstances, for Christians—true Christians—to forfeit their salvation. They are too numerous to list in a little lesson, but you can easily find them in your own Bible reading.
When people ask me how I can prove my view, I hardly know where to begin. But let’s start in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10:
Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God.
I think that’s pretty plain and clear, isn’t it? People whose lives are characterized by the things that Paul lists in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 will not inherit the kingdom of God. And inheriting the kingdom of God is a clear reference to ultimate salvation. Jesus said in Matthew 25, speaking of the future judgment of the sheep and the goats, the king will say to the sheep, “Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” That’s a salvation statement.
Paul says that the kind of people he lists are not going to inherit the kingdom of God.
Can True Christians Backslide?
Here’s the next question then: would it be possible for a true Christian to backslide, turn his back on the Lord, revert (or whatever you want to call it) and be in one of these categories Paul mentions? Could a Christians become an adulterer? Of course a true Christian could become an adulterer. That’s a temptation that Christians, as well as non-Christians, face. And Christians can succumb. Does that mean that the very second that they commit adultery the Holy Spirit leaves them? If they were to die at the second they committed adultery, would they go straight to hell?
I personally don’t believe that. I believe God still loves folks that fall into sin—his children—and He does everything He can to try to reel them back in and get them to repent. Because God forgives people who ask for forgiveness and repent, right? God is a God of discipline. He disciplines everyone whom He loves. When we get off track, God has a way of getting us back on track.
Let’s consider a person who is a genuine believer and dives into adultery, ignoring the conviction of the Holy Spirit and continuing in that lifestyle. If that person resists the discipline of the Lord and closes his heart down, I believe that they are not going to inherit the kingdom of Heaven. Some people will say,
“Well, maybe God will take them home before God’s mercy runs out.” That actually is a possibility, believe it or not.
Paul wrote to the Corinthians,
For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep [obviously referring to death]. But if we judged ourselves rightly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord so that we will not be condemned along with the world. – 1 Corinthians 11:30-32
That verse is a little bit of a consolation.
Can a True Believer Stop Believing?
We could also ask the question, is it possible for a true believer to stop believing? Because Paul said that the Lord is going to, “confirm you to the end, blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 1:8). But he adds in Colossians 1:22-23, if you continue in the faith. Well, you are saved by faith, and you continue to be saved by faith.
Is it possible for a believer to stop believing, turn his or her back on the Lord and no longer believe in Jesus? If you’ve been around as long as I have in Christians circle, over 40 years now, you see some of that. It’s tragic. Absolutely heartbreaking, but I’ve seen it. Not only is this evident from scriptural examples, it’s true from our observation.
Some folks will say, “Well, those people were never saved in the first place!” Okay, all right, I get that. Maybe we’ll talk about that on our next Little Lesson. Love you, thanks for joining me! God bless you.