May Christians Lose Salvation?
May Christians lose their salvation? For people who grew up going to church, or who have attended for any length of time, this is usually an abstract theological question. However, the assurance of salvation is also a major concern for new believers, and it may cause them to feel as if they are walking into the middle of a conversation. First of all, we need to define the terms "Christian" and "salvation" before we may answer the question. A "Christian" is a disciple of Jesus, not merely someone who admires or respects him as a good teacher or philosopher. Jesus did not come to start a fan club, a world religion, nor to merely offer good advice, but to restore the world for God's kingdom. The word "disciple" is a synonym of "student," someone who always asks questions, studies, and knows the cost of their beliefs. In fact, the biblical Greek word for "disciple" is mathētēs (G3101), which is also the root of the term "mathematics." This is why Jesus warns us, "Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?" (Luke 14:27-28). In other words, a "Christian" is someone who knows what they are pledging to when they claim to know Jesus. The question is, may we freely stop being Christians and, thus, lose our salvation?
Know that both faith and salvation are gifts from God (Eph. 2:8). He wants to save all people from their sins, but not everyone accepts his offer because they prefer evil (John 3:16-21). The gift of "salvation" is one of freedom, joy, preservation, restoration, safety, and well-being. The biblical Greek sōtēria (G4991) is the noun form of sōzō (G4982), which means "to heal" or "to rescue." Salvation is not "fire insurance" from an eternity in hell, nor is it God's plan to make us rich with worldly success and material things. He begins the process, and we merely respond to that call. However, this decision does not make us elite by our own merits, but elected from God's perfect will (Rom. 9:11). We confirm our calling and our election with God (2 Pet. 1:10), which means that no one has the power to remove us from it. Simply put, no human being has the power to take us away from God, to remove our salvation – not even ourselves! Jesus explicitly taught this when he said,
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. I and the Father are one (John 10:27-30).
Paul of Tarsus wrote a similar lesson when said that nothing may remove us from God's love (Rom. 8:38-39). So, what about Judas Iscariot? Wasn't he a disciple who lost his salvation? No, he simply was never a genuine disciple of Christ. In fact, both Jesus and Luke—who not only wrote a gospel, but also the Acts of the Apostles—both referred to Psalm 109:5-8 to suggest that Judas never truly believed (Mark 14:17-21; Acts 1:16). To be sure, John attested that Judas routinely stole money from the disciples' funds (John 12:6). He also explicitly wrote, "They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us. But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge" (1 John 2:19-20). On the other hand, some commentators point to a verse in Hebrews that reads, "For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins" (Heb. 10:26), as a proof-text that salvation could be lost. The author was not talking about true Christians, but ones who merely know about Jesus, but without faith to know him. John also believed this when he described how a genuine believer will always return to God, even after they sin (1 John 3:9). It is too painful for the authentic disciple to wander without their Master, but that pain does not occur to the one whose belief is noncommittal.
Think of any oath or vow you have taken in your life. For example, a marriage vow is supposed to be preserved until death. So, if one reneges on that promise, were they committed to it in the first place? Unless there is some mitigating circumstance, such as adultery (Matt. 5:32), the answer is a resounding "no." In the case of salvation and being a Christian, we know that God does not go back on his promises, so we know that his salvation is eternal. He does not write our names into the Book of Life with a pencil, erasing it every time we sin. God, who is timeless and infinite, does not hover over us in our place in history to see if he needs to take our salvation away each time we go astray. Though we may wander as lost sheep, Jesus is the Good Shepherd who goes to find us (John 10:7-18). Read the parable of the lost sheep, and you will see that Christ always puts himself at risk to lead us back to God (Matt. 18:10-14; Luke 15:1-7). Do not think you must "rededicate yourself to Jesus" every time you sin, thinking this one time you will finally get it right. Jesus has already proved himself righteous on your behalf. No, that does not mean grace is a free license to sin, but a free gift to avoid it. That is, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us . . . to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9).
Blessed are you, LORD our God, King of the universe, for you draw our hearts toward you; guide our minds; fill our imaginations; control our wills; and make us completely yours, fully dedicated to you. Employ us according to your will, and always to your glory and the welfare of your people; through our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen.
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