Why We Can’t Lose our Salvation

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.

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About Patrick K. Miller

Currently I am living in Columbia serving at the University of Missouri with Veritas, The Crossing's campus ministry. In December 2010 I graduated from Mizzou with a degree in English Literature. My beautiful wife, Emily, works is an Interior Designer with a local firm. I like espresso, 30 Rock, and books. My favorite old dead guys are John Owen, Augustine and Francis Schaeffer. You should read something by them.
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4 Responses to Why We Can’t Lose our Salvation

  1. Using passages that support the idea of preservation of the saints is good, but I’d like to see a post that shows how to deal with passages that seem to give a different picture. Such as 1 Timothy 1:19, where Paul says some have made a “shipwreck of their faith.” While it probably can be interpreted with 1 John 1:19 in mind, I believe Wesley made the point that you can’t wreck a ship that you were never on in the first place.

    Also the passage in Hebrews 6 that talks about people who share in the Holy Spirit, and tasted the goodness of the Word of God (very strong language), etc., yet fall away. It’s hard to think of people who were never saved actually sharing in the Holy Spirit. The author seems to be speaking hypothetically, but a big theme of the book is to convince the Jewish converts not to fall away from the faith. Arminians/Molinists would reason that if saints cannot fall, then such warnings are superfluous.

    You can thank me later for another blog idea!

    • Patrick K. Miller says:

      Kyle,

      Good question. The blog format does not allow us to deal with every question as fully as I would like, but for those who have similar questions to yours, let me supply a brief response.

      Hebrews 6:4-6 says “It is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.”

      Is this saying that we can lose our salvation? Well, let’s look at it in the context of all of Hebrews. Earlier in the letter, the writer says “For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end” (Hebrews 3:14). The writer is saying that we know that we are true christians IF we hold to Christ “to the end.” Therefore, those who do not make it to the end have not “come to share in Christ.” So what of chapter 6? Let me pose two possibilities:

      1. This is a gracious warning. No Christian will ever actually find salvation and “fall away”, but God uses warnings like these as the means by which he prevents people from falling away. A kind of holy, gracious, but impossible warning.

      2. (my favorite) This verse does not say “lose your salvation”, It says “fallen away.” Fallen away from what? From the faithful community of Christ’s church, where we experience the “enlightenment” of biblical preaching, the “heavenly gift” of fellowship,” and “shared” the powerful work of “the Holy Spirit.” (i.e. watched God work in the community, perhaps even partake in baptism and the Lord’s Supper, but this is patently different from being sealed or filled with the Holy Spirit, which is for true Christians alone). Their false “repentance” leads to hardness of heart, and a sort of apostasy from which the worst cases will never return. This may be a very severe warning against false repentance, which does something akin to crucifying Christ anew. Proverbs 14:9 says something similar “Fools mock at the guilt offering, but the upright enjoy acceptance.”

      As for 1 Tim 1:19, “By rejecting [faith and good conscience], some have made shipwreck of their faith, among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme.” This seems fairly clear to me. When the church disciplines members for unrepentant sins, they follow a simple pattern: confront once with one person, again with two, and again with church leadership. If the member refuses, then he is to be excommunicated, which Paul calls in other places “being handed over to Satan” (1 Cor. 5:5). The goal is not a person’s destruction, but their sanctification, eventual repentance, and return into the church. In 1 Tim. Paul is not trying to pass judgment on the authenticity “Hymanaeus and Alexander’s” salvation–he knows this is for God alone. He is merely saying that Church discipline occurred, and that he hopes that they may return (and if they did, they certainly made a wreck of their faith, but escaped with their lives.)

      I hope that helps.

  2. Ryan Stoll says:

    I’m not sure how you pulled off those great questions, given the enormity of its implications, but you did a phenomenal job summarizing it up on a one page blog post. I love you Patrick K. Miller, I love you.

    I’ve been a fan for years.

  3. Excellent, Patrick. Thank you.

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