Can a true Christian lose their salvation?

Posted: November 4, 2013 in Bible Study, Soteriology, Uncategorized
Tags: , ,

Revelation 2:5 talks about if the church of ephesus doesn’t repent God will remove their lampstand. Sounds a lot like they lose their salvation, but this isn’t possible. So what does it mean?

In Revelation 2:5 Jesus is addressing a church, not individual believers. The danger they face is that their congregation will either cease to operate, or if it does, it will no longer be considered a church by Jesus – the candlestick is a symbol of God’s presence and the presence of the light of the Gospel among the community. It seems that the Ephesus church had lost sight of their ‘first love’ – more than just an assessment of whether they were a loving community – Jesus and the Gospel was no longer front and centre in their communal life and worship.

This passage then does not say anything necessarily about the salvation of individuals, or whether a Christian can lose their salvation. But what does it say about individual believers?

Within mainstream Christian teaching there are two major views on this issue:

  1. Salvation is permanent. Those who ‘fall away’  and reject Christ were never really saved in the first place. It is possible for someone to profess faith in Jesus and appear to be ‘walking the walk’, but their profession will not last.
  2. Salvation is tentative, and dependant on us keeping on trusting. Those who fall away were genuine Christians, but by choosing to reject Jesus have lost their salvation.

Some of the strongest passages that warn against ‘falling away’ are in Hebrews and Galatians:

Paul tells the Galatians that they are, ‘deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and turning to a different gospel,’ (1:6), that they have been ‘bewitched’ (3:1), were ‘submitting again to a yoke of slavery’ (5:1) and that ‘you are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.’ (5:4). That may sound like losing salvation, but we need again take in the corporate element. As a church they were embracing legalism and falling away from grace – that does not mean that those individual Christians within the community had lost their salvation, but that as a body – an institution – they were accepting legalistic teaching and losing sight of the grace of God. Notice that Paul does not start the letter his usual way – by speaking of them with a confidence or calling them ‘saints’. He does not want to presume that everyone who reads and hears his letter are Christians!

Similarly, the writer to the Hebrews does not make this assumption that those to whom he writes are all Christians. He is writing to those who were being lured back into the Old Testament system – not just circumcision (as in Galatians), but the whole Temple worship and offering of sacrifices. His main thesis in the book is that Jesus’ sacrifice is completely sufficient, and has done away with the Temple. Therefore He is also the only way, so to reject Him is to cut yourself off from any chance of salvation.

So he strongly warns anyone who reads his letter – not presuming they are Christians, but assuming they are a part of the church community and my presume themselves to be Christians under false pretence.

Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.’ (Hebrews 3:12-14 ESV)

 Here he is saying that ‘perseverance’ to the end is the sign of true salvation. We should use that word ‘persevere’ advisedly, because in modern use it implies effort and hard work to reach a goal; the word translated ‘hold’ here simply means ‘maintain’ or ‘continue’, and the thing to maintain is ‘our original confidence’ – which is in Christ’s sacrifice, not ourselves. In other words, continuing to live by faith instead of works.

‘…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.’ (Hebrews 6:4-6 ESV)

Is this losing salvation?

Only if we take his description of the person in 4&5 to be referring to a genuine Christian. A non-believer who is a part of the church community may have all of those experiences, but never actually have faith (notice he does not use that word), and after all of that reject Christ as their atoning sacrifice. The implication here is that these people here are wanting to continue offering sacrifices in the Temple but still be accepted as Christians at the same time. But their offering of sacrifices is, in itself, a denial of the once-for-all sufficient sacrifice of Christ; to ‘restore them again to repentance’ – language that speak of re-instating them as members of the church – is impossible while they are ‘crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding Him up to contempt’ by essentially declaring every time they take a sacrifice to the Temple, ‘Christ’s sacrifice was deficient.’

Hebrews 10:26-29 is a similar warning:

‘…if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace.’ (Hebrews 10:26-29 ESV)

The phrase ‘profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified’ does not refer to Christians, but to Jesus. The High Priest was sanctified by the blood of sacrifice, and this then qualified him to make the sacrifice for the people. To come under the sound of the Gospel, the message of Christ crucified, and to reject it is not exercising our right to free choice. It is trampling the Son underfoot and outraging (literally ‘despising’) the Holy Spirit.

God certainly calls Christians to persevere – continue trusting by faith until the end. Hebrews 12:1 tells us to ‘run with endurance the race that is set before us’. There are other verses that seem to imply that keeping our salvation is conditional on our ongoing faithfulness.

But every command is also a promise. How do we reach the finish line? We are to fix our eyes on Jesus, who is called in Hebrews 12:2 ‘The founder and perfecter of our faith’ – literally ‘starter’ (archegon) and ‘finisher’ (teleioteen).

We are unable to endure. Jesus has done for us what we are unable to do.  The condition is remaining faithful, and Jesus has met that condition, and when we are justified God credits all of Jesus’ righteousness – including his faithfulness, perseverence and endurance – to us, and makes sure that by the Holy Spirit that righteousness begins to work out in our lives, and we become people who persevere. As Paul said, ‘The life I now live I live by the faith of the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ dies for nothing.’ (Galatians 2:20-21)

He has run and completed the race on our behalf, and by faith we trust him to bring us to the end as well – not because we stay faithful to him, but because he stays faithful to us. If you have any doubt that this can happen, that is the point of Hebrews 11 – the list of the ‘great cloud of witnesses’ which surrounds us (12:1) who by living by faith have crossed the finish line before us and testify to Jesus’ faithfulness.

If you worry that you may lose your salvation – or think you already have – ask yourself, ‘In whom am I placing my confidence – me, or Jesus?’

If it’s you, then you are right to be concerned, because no-one will ever be saved by trusting in themselves! If in Jesus, you need to remind yourself of all that He has done for you, and His promise to never leave you or forsake you, and know that His sacrifice and resurrection is the only thing you have as an assurance of salvation. Do you know that Jesus died for you and rise again? If so, you are secure.

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  1. […] Can a true Christian lose their salvation? (newjerusalem.net.au) […]

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