When we ask “can we lose our salvation?” we really ask three questions: 1) Can anyone trust in Christ as his savior and then fall away? 2) How do we explain people who live like Christians for years and then inexplicably turn away? 3) How do our beliefs about the certainty of salvation effect our spiritual life? Let’s take a swing at these:
1) Can anyone trust in Christ as their savior, and then fall away? First let’s briefly ask how someone comes to Christ. In John 6:65 Jesus says, “No one can come to me unless it is granted him by the father.” People do not simply choose God. They certainly make a choice, but that choice must be “granted him by the father”, because our free choice and God’s sovereign rule mysteriously function alongside one another. It would be strange for God to will our salvation, and then allow us to will our way out of it. Jesus said that just as God is sovereign to call us, he is sovereign to retain us. In John 10:27-30 Jesus 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 … [and] no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.” Jesus assures us that we cannot lose our salvation, because God powerfully protects us, so that no one (not even yourself) and nothing can snatch us away.
But what about people who live like Christians, and then turn away from Christ? Didn’t they lose their salvation? Well, given the previous passages we must say that they could not lose their salvation. Instead, the bible asks were they saved to begin with? Jesus said, “I am the door of the sheep … He who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber” (John 10:7, 1). So Jesus acknowledges that amongst his flock are false sheep, who crept in like robbers. These people appear for a time like Christians, but because they did not truly enter by Christ (trusting and believing in him) the shepherd will one day drive them out for the sake of his flock. The apostle John wrote that “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” (1 John 1:19). People who turn from Christ, never trusted in Christ. Those who trust him “continue with us.” And it’s a grace that such people leave, before they do great damage to God’s church as false teachers, and liars.
All of this is good theology, but does it really effect my spiritual life? Sincerely I say, yes! If it is true that we can lose our salvation we become either fearful or prideful Christians. We may live in fear, because we live in sin and constantly wonder whether this sin or that sin will cause us to lose our salvation. As our guilt increases, exhaustion overwhelms us, and after years of struggling we feel like there’s no hope for salvation. However, we may also live in pride because we blind ourselves to our sin, thinking that our continued salvation is our own work. We thank ourselves, not God for our salvation and pridefully look on those who do not work hard enough to stay saved.
However, if we trust that God alone upholds our salvation, it does not produce spiritual laziness, but profound gratefulness and confidence. My salvation is beyond my own ability to claim or lose, so I am not fearfully wallowing in guilt, but sincerely repenting and rejoicing. My savior is perfect in power, and strong to save. He is faithful to bring me to spiritual maturity (Phil. 1:6). Our graciousness to him, and our confidence in his future promises (which we cannot lose) overflow into good works, not out of fear or pride, but out of joy for my savior’s work.