One of the most common questions I get asked is around is whether or not a Christian and lose their salvation. Of course there are many many voices that speak into this issue – some are helpful, some not so. I’ve always approached the topic thinking about who God is and how salvation comes to us in the first place.
John the Apostle is probably the writer I go to most frequently to understand this issue. John wrote in 1 John 5:11 that “this is the testimony that God gave us eternal life and this life is in His son”.
I take this to mean that the life He has given us is eternal. It lasts forever, and cannot die. It’s not temporary. And, interestingly it’s not something we have to wait for. John 5:24 Jesus says “I tell you the truth who ever hears my word and believes Him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned, He has crossed over from death to life”. The present tense “has eternal life” is the mark of someone who has been born again. This life starts at the moment of salvation and we currently posses it. So the life that we have, has been given to us by God, and we have already started to participate in the life of the age to come.
God’s ability to Keep
For me this issue is really all about God’s ability to keep us. Is God able to save us? Well Jesus Himself was pretty certain that He is: “my sheep hear my voice and I know them and they follow me and I give them eternal life and they shall never perish need to show anyone snatch them out of my hand (John 10:27). 1 Peter 1:3 says “praise be to God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ and his great mercy he has given us new life into living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade, kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by Gods power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time”.
So this is really an issue of Gods character as opposed to an issue being with our own faithfulness. For example Philippians 1:6 says “I am sure of this that he began a good work in you will bring it to completion”. So this talks about Gods ability and his faithfulness to be able to keep us. Jude said a similar thing in Jude 24 when he said “now to him he was able to keep you from stumbling”. So this is overwhelmingly positively for Gods ability to keep us. None of us are going to slip out of his hands. He’s not going to lose any. God is completely faithful to complete the work that he has started.
So on the issue of “Can a Christian lose their salvation?” I tend to land on the side of “no, once you are saved by God you are kept by God”. There’s just some things that I can’t reconcile in my mind that are about God himself and His character, that would mean, you a Christian cam lose their salvation, that His grace can be outdone by our bad behaviour. Clearly to me, in the New Testament, the main teaching is that once God has done a transforming work – and by that I mean that he has placed a new life in you and given you a new heart and is working on your character to conform you to his image – this cannot be undone.
Can I turn away?
One of the many related questions is this is whether or not someone can turn their back on God. Or … is it possible for a person to decide that they no longer want to be saved, or they no longer desire eternal life or they no longer wish to walk in repentance and obedience and following Christ? Well, this is more problematic because it comes with a whole string of assumptions. For example … by asking the question we are assuming that the person is actually saved. We’re also assuming that we can see into the future and predict that someone who is struggling with their faith will ultimately turn from God and stay that way forever.
So let’s ask a more simple question ….. is it possible for a Christian to decide to become “unsaved”. Answer: “no”. Is it possible for someone who a non-Christian to decide that the Christian faith isn’t for them? Answer: “yes”.
I think someone can decide, even though they may have previously shown all the signs of being born again, they can decide that they no longer want to follow Christ. So the question then becomes did they lose their salvation, or were they never saved to begin with? And that’s the question that I don’t really know the answer to because no one can really know the heart of a person, and whether in time that person will end up coming back to the Lord. We are bound by our current time context, so we can only see what is happening in the past or what is happening now, we have no idea what is going to happen in the future.
The key for us is to continue to do what we are called as Christians to do: abide in Christ. That’s it. We are called into a relationship with the Almighty and we trust that He is able to keep us. From time to time we are going to fall and fail. We are going to have less faith and at other times. We are going even doubt that we are saved. We need to take heart that God never rejects those who come to Him because our salvation depends on him and not us.