Can a Christian lose his salvation? This question has long troubled and divided believers. Thousands of pages have been written to give an answer to this burning question. One of the major battlegrounds in this debate is the meaning of various key verses in the book of Hebrews. For example, Hebrews 10:26 says, “For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins.” Does this mean that if someone knowingly sins they lose their salvation and can never enter heaven?
Hebrews quotes the Old Testament over 30 times and makes many more references to people, events and rituals found in the Old Testament. The book of Hebrews was written to Jews who had a broad knowledge of the Old Testament. The modern Christian needs a similar broad understanding of the Old Testament to better understand the book Hebrews.
Hebrews 10:26 points back to the absence in the Mosaic law of any sacrifice for intentional and willful sins. Numbers 15:30-31 says, “But the soul that doeth ought presumptuously, whether he be born in the land, or a stranger, the same reproacheth the LORD; and that soul shall be cut off from among his people. Because he hath despised the word of the LORD, and hath broken his commandment, that soul shall utterly be cut off; his iniquity shall be upon him.” The Old Testament did not permit a person to plan to sin on Saturday and ask forgiveness on Sunday.
The book of Hebrews was written as a warning to those in the church on the verge of abandoning their profession of faith. The Jewish Christians faced intense persecution because they turned to Christianity. Some buckled under the pressure and turned away from their profession of faith. Hebrews encouraged the wavering believers to remain faithful to Jesus because He is far better than the Judaism they were returning to. There is no salvation in Judaism. Jesus is the only way of salvation. Those who rejected Jesus for their cultural traditions and familial religion were not saved.
Despite the absence of sacrifice for willful sin in the Old Testament, the grace of God was and is greater than sin. When David committed adultery with Bathsheba, he sinned willfully and presumptuously. Does this mean he was never forgiven? In Psalm 51 David was confident God would forgive Him He acknowledged his guilt before God. He understood no sacrifice was available for his sin. However, David did not despair he would never be forgiven. He cried out to God confident He would forgive. He prayed, “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.” (Psam 51:7) David’s words in Psalm 51 stand today as a Divine promise for all sinners, even those who willfully and rebelliously continue in sin. “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart thou wilt not despise.” (Psalm 51:17) Those who repent of their sin and cry out to God for salvation will be saved.
Hebrews never teaches that salvation can be lost. The entire book emphasizes that Jesus alone is the fully sufficient Savior. He saves to the uttermost. (Hebrews 7:25) Those saved by Jesus can never exceed the limits of His grace. Hebrews not only teaches that Jesus secures the believer’s salvation, He also secures the believer in salvation. Hebrews 10:39 confidently asserts,“We are not of them who draw back unto perdition, but of them that believe to the saving of the soul.” Those who believe to salvation will not draw back, fall away or turn aside. Those who rejected Jesus for Judaism did not lose their salvation, they turned aside from a profession that was not genuine. Those who are genuinely saved will not cast Jesus aside nor be cast aside by Him.
The doctrine of election has been a source of debate among Christians for many centuries. One Bible teacher, Millard Erickson, who wrote a 1,000 page book about all the major doctrines of the Bible, said this doctrine is, “Certainly one of the most puzzling and least understood.” The Biblical doctrine of election has nothing to do with who is going to be the next President of the United States. The doctrine of election is about how God determines who will be saved.
Election is defined in many different ways. One view of election is typically associated with the group of teachings known as Calvinism, and is also closely related to the Lutheran view of election. This view teaches that God unconditionally chose to save certain, specific people. He chose these people before He created anything. He chose them only because of His grace, not because He saw they would believe in Jesus or because of some other good He foresaw would be in them. The ones God chose to save will be saved because He Sovereignly works in them to bring them to salvation.
The position that is often seen as the opposite of Calvinism is the Arminian view of election. This view teaches that God chose to save those who would believe in Him. In this teaching, God chose to save but He did not chose specific individuals who would be saved. Some variations of Arminianism teach that God chose to save individuals based upon foreknowledge of who would believe. That is, God saw who would believe Him and He elected to salvation those He foreknew would believe.
Others believe that election is of a means of salvation. God did not choose who would be saved, but He chose to save through the death of Jesus. All those who believe Jesus are joined to the chosen Savior and become part of the elect.
Others believe God chose to call out a group of people to Himsel, but He did not select the individuals of that group. He chose the nation of Israel in the Old Testament and He chose the church in the New Testament. In the New Testament era, all who are saved become part of the body of Christ. The individual members of this elect group are then known as the elect.
The question of election is challenging because it struggles with ideas that seem to be competing and contradictory. If God Sovereignly chooses those who will be saved and if only those He chooses can be saved, then how can He righteously punish any who do not believe what He has not given them the ability to believe? On the other hand, if man has the ability to believe or reject salvation then God cannot be fully Sovereign. If people have the full freedom to chose or reject God, then they have the ability to do things that God has no control over. The question of election wrestles with this seeming paradox of God’s sovereignty and man’s accountability.
Despite the challenges surrounding the doctrine of election, several key truths about God must be upheld. These truths cannot be denied and remain true to Biblical teaching. God knows everything. God knows the past, the present and the future. His knowledge includes everything that was, is and will be. He knows what men will believe and what men will not believe.
God is good and infinitely loving. He always acts for the benefit of His creation. He is not cruel or malicious. He is just. He does not play favorites with humanity based upon color, language, wealth, education, employment or power. God does not prefer those who have the most to offer Him. He deals with all men in goodness and justice.
Though many Christians have reached different conclusions on this subject, election should not divide sincere believers. In the end, each Christian will have to reach his own conclusions on the doctrine of election.
Once received, can salvation be lost? This question has been asked and discussed by many Christians and is understandably one of great importance. The security of salvation impacts how a believer lives the Christian life. The reasons for believing salvation can or can not be lost come from the believer’s understanding of key salvation doctrines.
Most Christians accept one of three possible answers to this question. The least commonly held view is that salvation is lost every time a Christian sins. Those who hold this position believe that to keep their salvation Christian’s must ask for forgiveness every time they sin.
The more common view is held by many who believe Lutheran or Arminian doctrines. This second group includes Wesleyans, Methodists, Charismatics and some Baptists. This belief contends that salvation is not lost by committing sin, but a person who lives in sin or turns from the faith loses his salvation. This position finds support in passages like Hebrews 2:1, “Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip”; Hebrews 6:4-6 “For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance, seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame”; and Galatians 5:4, “Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace.” The warnings in these passages against falling from grace or letting truth slip seem to indicate that a Christian can lose his salvation.
The third view is held by many Baptists and those who believe Calvinistic doctrines. The third view is called eternal security and it denies that those who are truly saved can ever lose their salvation. A minority of those who hold this view believe anyone who prays a prayer for salvation is saved forever, no matter if they continue to live in sin or later deny Jesus. The majority who hold this third view believe those who are saved are secure in their salvation and genuine salvation is accompanied by a changed life. Because of James 2:17 they insist a prayer or confession of faith not accompanied by a transformed life is not truly saving faith. Scriptures upholding the doctrine of eternal security include John 10:28-29, “And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand.”
Despite the presence of passages that would seem to teach otherwise, the New Testament is clear and consistent in its teaching about salvation. The saved are saved forever. Salvation can never be lost. The Christian is secure in salvation because no part of it is accomplished by the person. Jesus has done everything necessary to save those who believe. The book of Hebrews is often cited as proof that salvation can be lost, but it is not. Hebrews is an awesome explanation of the supremacy of Jesus. He is greater than angels, Moses, the priests, the law and the sacrifices. Because Jesus is infinitely better, the salvation He gives is sufficient and eternally secure for all who will believe. “For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.” (Hebrews 10:14)
Judas Iscariot was one of the twelve disciples. Judas was the one who sold out Jesus to those who wanted to kill him. When thousands of people abandoned Jesus because His words were too difficult to believe, Judas stayed with him. He was a theif who stole money that was given to Jesus. Judas traveled across the region of Judea preaching the message of Jesus to the Israelites. While a disciple of Jesus, Judas probably performed miracles. Judas obviously believed something about Jesus or he would not have devoted over three years of his life to following Him. The combination of committed disciple and greedy betrayer causes many people wonder whether or not Judas was actually saved.
The evidences for Judas’ salvation are not conclusive. Jesus said specifically that that doing miracles is not evidence of true salvation (Matthew 7:21-23). Belief in the existence of God is not enough, for even the devils believe. (James 2:19) Judas’ actions as a disciple are not necessarily proof of salvation nor was Judas’ betrayal of Jesus proof that he was unsaved. Peter denied Jesus (though he did not sell Him for money), but Peter later repented of his denial.
When Judas betrayed Jesus he felt great remorse. Matthew 27:3 says that Judas repented himself, yet Judas’ repentance does not seem to have the hallmarks of saving repentance. His response seems to be an emotional sorrow, not a rejection of his sinful actions or choices. He was sorry that Jesus was going to be put to death, but not necessarily sorry that he had betrayed Jesus. The remorse of Judas did not lead him to repentance but to suicide.
The Bible never gives a definite statement about the salvation of Judas, but Satan’s possession of Judas seems to strongly imply that he was not saved. (John 13:27) Many Christians are agreed that a genuine believer can never be demon possessed. It seems extremely unlikely that God would allow Satan to take possession of one of His children. This is even more telling in the case of Judas when he contrasted with Peter. The evening before the crucifixion Jesus warned Peter, “Satan hath desired to have you that he may sift you as wheat.” But Jesus tells him, “I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not.”(Luke 22:31-32) Satan was actively working on Judas, but Jesus gives no indication of praying for Judas. Would the Good Shepherd who gives His life for His sheep neglect to protect one who was truly His own?
Scripture gives no compelling reason to believe Judas was saved. Some have said we do not know the reality of a person’s heart, so we should not say if one was saved or not. While the compassionate Christian will be careful to avoid being overly dogmatic about the state of another’s soul, the Bible gives specific evidences of salvation. The evaluation of the Biblical evidence leads me to conclude Judas was probably not saved. My conclusion does not condemn him to hell, nor do I wish for Judas to burn in hell. A comparison of Judas’ life and choices to the Biblical evidence of salvation leads me to believe he was never saved. If Judas had of repented of his sin, the grace of God is great enough that even the betrayal of Jesus could have been forgiven.
In an article entitled “Ten Questions about Hell from an Atheist” author Herb Silverman writes, “Our earthly binary divisions are usually quite arbitrary. People may vote when they are 18 and buy alcohol when they are 21, but they are not permitted to do so the day before. We recognize such rules for what they are — distinctions without a real difference. Not so when it comes to the cutoff between an eternity of bliss and an eternity of torture.” He wonders, “How much more deserving is the worst person in heaven than the best person in hell?”
Only one person in heaven deserves to be there. That one is Jesus who is fully God and fully human. Aside from Jesus the best person in heaven is not in the least degree more worthy to be in heaven than the worst person in hell. The difference between heaven and hell is not worth, merit, deserving or goodness. No one goes to heaven because they deserve it. Those who enter heaven do so because they have been saved from what they deserve.
Salvation is never an issue of what the person deserves. “For by grace are ye saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, not of works, lest any man should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9) “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us.” (Titus 3:5) Heaven is not about getting what you deserve. Heaven is about the mercy of God which does not give you what you deserve and the grace of God which gives you what you do not deserve.
Every person deserves eternal judgment in hell. “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:” (Romans 5:12) “But he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” (John 3:18) “But the fearful, and unbelieving . . . shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.” (Revelation 21:8) Because all have sinned, all deserve eternal punishment.
What everyone deserves has been placed on Jesus. What no one deserves is given to those who trust Him for forgiveness. “For He hath made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Corinthians 5:21) “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God.” (1 Peter 3:18) The punishment of sin that everyone deserves has been suffered by Jesus. Those who turn to Him for salvation are forgiven and given eternal life.
The distinction between those in heaven and hell is not an arbitrary division. The difference between those who make it and those who don’t is not based upon a barely understandable determination that one is slightly better than another. All are guilty. Everyone has been condemned. The difference between heaven and hell is the response of the sinful person to Jesus. Those who believe Jesus is God and Savior, who trust Him and only Him for forgiveness of sin, will have eternal life. Those who do not will not. “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life.” (John 3:36)
Alan Redpath, a famous evangelist and pastor, said, “God has not promised to forgive one sin that you are not willing to forsake.” Other pastors have said, “God only forgives the sins that we confess.” Does every sin have to be confessed to be forgiven?
Confessing every sin is impossible. Sin is so much a part of every person’s daily life that complete confession is not possible. More important than the impossibility of confessing every sin is the lack of any Biblical command to confess every sin. The Old Testament commanded offerings to cover sins, it provided for sins committed in ignorance and for all sins to be forgiven even the ones unnoticed and unremembered.
The New Testament never commands or implies that confession of every sin is required. The promise of salvation is that in Jesus “we have redemption through His blood, even the forgiveness of sin.” (Colossians 1:14) 1 John 1:7 assures Christians, “The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin.” God promises full forgiveness through Christ. The Bible never makes total confession a condition of salvation.
1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” This verse has been used as the proof text to show that full confession is required before there can be forgiveness. John is not teaching that forgiveness is dependent on confession. He is teaching the Divine promise to forgive. First John assures forgiveness without implying a need to exhaustively list every sin committed. The depth of our sin is deeper than we can confess but the grace of God is greater than all our sin.
God promises to forgive every sin. He does not promise to forgive every sin we want to have forgiven or of which we have repented. He does not forgive every sin we want forgiven. He forgives every sin. If He only forgave the sins we wanted forgiven no one would make it into heaven. If you have asked Jesus to save you, then every sin, conscious and unconscious, past, present or future, is completely forgiven.
This does not mean the Christian can sin as much as he wants because he is forgiven. The child of God is not going to want to live in sin. He will be convicted of sin and will be continually confessing and forsaking sin. Because he is forgiven the Christian will no longer delight in sin.
Why do Christians need to confess their sin? Confession of sin serves to maintain the intimacy of the believer’s present experience of his relationship with God. Sin hinders fellowship with God during this life, but does not change the Christian’s eternal destiny nor does it change God’s love for His children. Sin does affect God’s pleasure of your life, it affects your walk with God and it hinders your effectiveness in prayer.
When you are convicted of a sin confess the sin, but do not worry that you have not confessed them all. Trust God and rejoice in Jesus that your relationship is dependent on Him not on you, your memory or the extent of your penitence. God has already forgiven the Christian’s every sin. Rejoice in His complete forgiveness.
Only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life will enter the New Jerusalem. God’s judgment upon the unsaved will be executed based upon the contents of several books. The most important book in judgment will be the book of life. Those who are not listed in the book of life will be thrown into eternal punishment. “And whosoever was not found in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.” (Revelation 20:15)
What is the book of life? Does God have a physical book in which He keeps a list of all those who will be allowed to enter heaven? The idea of God’s record book is found scattered throughout the Bible. The first mention is in Exodus 32 when Moses pray for God to preserve rebellious Israel. Moses says, “Yet now, if thou wilt, forgive their sin- and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book which thou hast written.” Other mentions of a celestial book are found in the Old Testament, but not until the New Testament is a direct reference made to the book of life. The first use of the phrase “book of life” is in Philippians 4. There the apostle Paul describes his fellow workers in the ministry as those “whose names are in the book of life.”
Two references in the New Testament seem to refer to the book of life though they do use that phrase. In Luke 10 Jesus tells the disciples “rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” Hebrews 12 says those who are saved are part of the church of the firstborn, “whose names are written in heaven.”
The book of Revelation makes the most frequent mention to the book of life. During the time of the tribulation most of the world will worship the antichrist. Revelation 13 and 17 say that those who worship the antichrist are ones “whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb”. Revelation 21 describes the New Jerusalem, the great heavenly city where the saved will enjoy eternal bliss. The only ones who will enter God’s city are those who “are written in the Lamb’s book of life.”
The Bible does not aim to give an explanation of the book of life. Any man’s description of the book of life is based upon deductions from the Bible’s descriptions of how the book is used. What is clear in Scripture is that the book of life is a heavenly record of those who are saved. Those whose names are written in the book of life will enter into eternal life. Those whose names are not in the book of life will not.
Little else can be said with certainty. The book of life may be a just a metaphor of God’s accuracy of in keeping track of those who are saved. This author prefers the more literal reading that the book of life is a written record of all those who genuinely have eternal life. The clear truth is most important. God knows those that are His. Those who have been saved will have eternal life. Those who have not been saved will not. God will not err in distinguishing between the saved and the lost.
The book of 1 John was written so those who are saved will know they have eternal life. These evidences are not given to cause unwarranted doubt about salvation. They are given to comfort the true believer and to bring the false professor under conviction so he will be saved.
- The genuine Christian is honest about his own guilt before God. He does not deny his sinfulness. Salvation is not possible apart from confession of one’s sin and the saved person will continue to acknowledge his sinfulness. (1 John 1:6)
- None can be saved who deny that Jesus is God. Those who profess salvation and deny the deity of Jesus or who later reject His deity show they are not truly saved. (1 John 2:23-24)
- Salvation comes through faith that trusts God entirely for salvation. None can be saved who rely on anything (like goodness, church or religious ritual) in addition to God for their salvation. The child of God trusts Jesus alone to be saved and continues to trust God for his salvation. This saving trust in God grows into an ongoing confidence in God that continues throughout life. (1 John 5:12-15)
- At salvation the Holy Spirit immediately takes up residence in the child of God. The Holy Spirit produces in the Christian a desire to obey the commands of God. The child of God wants to obey and grows in obedience to God. He lives in righteousness and rejects sin. (1 John 2:4; 3:3-10; 3:24; 5:18)
- The New Testament commands for Christians are summed up in the command Jesus gave, “love one another”. (John 13:34) The child of God loves his fellow Christian. His love for others results in a natural obedience to all the other New Testament commands. (1 John 2:9-10; 3:10-18, 23; 4:8-5:3)
- The culture and kingdoms of this world are under the dominion of Satan. The child of God has been delivered from the tyranny of Satan and from enslavement to the world. He no longer loves the things of this world but loves the things of God. (1 John 2:15-17)
- Because salvation comes through the hearing of the Word of God, the believer desires to know more of the Word. The genuine Christian has a hunger for the Bible. (1 Peter 2:2-3)
Many Christians have times in their lives when they doubt their salvation. Doubts should not be brushed aside as if they were mere tools of Satan to discourage. Doubts may be the result of a spiritual assault but they may also warn of spiritual problems. The Bible teaches the Christian to examine the validity of his own faith. (2 Corinthians 13:5) The Christians is to make his salvation evident and certain. (2 Peter 1:10) The epistle of 1 John was written, “that ye may know that ye have eternal life.” (1 John 5:13) Evaluating the genuineness of one’s own salvation can be a beneficial exercise.
Questioning the certainty of one’s own salvation should never be the result of doubting God’s ability to save. One should not question the promise or power of God. Nor should a person wonder if the rights words were said. Salvation is not a matter of saying the right words. Salvation is a matter of genuine faith that believes God’s word.
This question can be wisely asked if the person is assessing the genuineness of his profession of faith. The wise person knows the human heart is a great liar. (Jeremiah 17:9) Only a foolish person believes the feelings and promptings of his own heart. (Proverbs 28:26) The tragic reality is many unsaved people have prayed a prayer, walked an aisle, made a commitment or had a stirring spiritual experience. Assurance of salvation does not come by remembering a feeling or an experience, but from the promises of God in His Word.
A person is saved through believing Jesus is God who became man to die in place of men, believing Jesus was restored to life three days later and believing He promises salvation to all who will trust Him. A person is saved by turning to Jesus in faith believing that God will forgive completely every sin and give eternal life. If there has not been a time in a person’s life where he has turned to Jesus and began to trust Him for all of salvation then that person is not saved. Salvation is not inherited from believing parents. Salvation is not absorbed by church attendance. Growth towards conversion may be a gradual process that takes a long time but there must be a point in time in which the person consciously turns to Jesus, confesses his faith and seeks forgiveness.
A person is saved by trusting in Jesus and only in Jesus for forgiveness. Many who think they are saved are not truly saved because they are not trusting Jesus alone. Any addition of works, personal merit or religious observance denies the salvation of Jesus. Believing that something you do has any part in your salvation denies the need of Jesus’ death. (Galatians 2:21) Salvation is only received by those who trust entirely in Jesus, and only in Jesus, for full salvation.
The person who is saved is transformed by his faith. This last point of evaluation can be confusing and lead some to think the Bible requires good works or obedience as necessary parts of being saved. The transformed life does not save but shows salvation has occurred. The absence of increased obedience is not conclusive proof that a person was never saved, but it should cause the person to seriously question the reality of his salvation. The New Testament gives several key marks of genuine conversion. If a person’s life shows the New Testament marks of genuine conversion then his life supports his profession of faith.
You can know for certain that you are saved if there has been a time in your life when you have confessed Biblical faith in Jesus and turned to Him for forgiveness, if you are trusting only in Jesus for salvation and if your life shows evidence of genuine conversion.