I was recently posed this question so I thought I would share my insight here.
Some great Christians have questioned their salvation, such as John Bunyan the author of Pilgrim’s Progress. I will admit that I have even found myself at that point. There certainly seem to be several verses in scripture that appear to point to the fact that a Christian can indeed lose their salvation. Hebrews 6:4-6 is probably the most often quoted verse. It says:
“For 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”
That sure sounds like losing salvation to me. But is that really what the verse is saying? When we try to apply the scriptures we have to remember to keep them in context. Who is the author talking to here (the title of the book gives it away)? He is talking to Jewish “believers” who are considering turning their backs on the Christian faith. He is pleading with them to continue on and not give up. So is he saying here that if they turn away from Jesus that they will lose their salvation? Let’s look at it logically:
- Jesus Christ is the only way to heaven
- If you don’t put your faith in Jesus you won’t go to heaven
- To reject Jesus is to not put faith in Him
- Therefore, if you reject Jesus you won’t go to heaven
That all sounds pretty simple. So how does it apply here? As this whole book goes on it talks about how these Hebrews had seen all the signs and wonders the Apostles had done. They had heard the gospel. They were on the verge of believing. But, if they had heard and seen all of those things and then turned from them, there was no more hope for them because Jesus is it. If you see everything that Jesus is and still don’t believe, there’s nothing else to show you. That’s what this verse is saying. “You’ve seen everything there is, please don’t reject it!”
But many will say that they sin too much so therefore they must lose their salvation. If that were the case we would all lose it every single day. The key here is habitual sin. If we live a life of UNREPENTANT sin and aren’t concerned about it, we shouldn’t be concerned about losing our salvation; we should be concerned if we were ever saved in the first place! The Apostle John says that if we walk (meaning habitually, without repentance) in darkness we prove that we are not children of God (1 John 1:6, 2:4). But notice that a few verses later John says that Christians are going to sin; but the key is that he is talking about Christians being ones that confess their sin. God tells us constantly in his word that if we will humble ourselves before him and confess our sins that he will cleanse us from those sins and purify us from unrighteousness. That is why Jesus died and is currently our advocate with the Father (1 John 2:1-2). And Jesus promises that if we trust in him we shall never perish (John 3:16) and he promises that he will hold us in his hand, never to be snatched out (John 10:28). He also promises that those who trust in him will be raised up on the last day (John 6:54). We see elsewhere that salvation is permanent. In Romans 8:30 Paul says that whoever God justified (saves) he will ultimately glorify (bring to heaven) and he talks about it in the past tense, which means it is as good as done! Another important verse to look is 2 Corinthians 1:21-22. Paul says that those who are saved have been “sealed” with the Holy Spirit as a guarantee. That word “sealed” is a form of the Greek word arrabōn, which is the same term as an engagement ring. It is a down payment made in earnest that signifies that the full payment will be made. What that means is that if someone is truly saved and has received God’s Spirit then that Spirit is a guarantee that God will keep them unto final salvation!
Now it’s important to address what is usually at the root of this type of question: sin. Is there unrepentant sin in your life? If we tolerate sin in our life it grieves the Holy Spirit, whose ministry is to testify that we are children of God (Romans 8:16). If we grieve him through sin, we can quench this blessing of assurance from our lives. Scripture NEVER assures those who are living in sin that they are saved. In fact it warns inidviduals that those who practice sinful lifestyles do not inherit God’s kingdom and calls them to repentance. Living in unrepentant sin is not a typical indication of a child of God (1 John 1:6). However, If you are God’s child and his seed dwells within you, you cannot continue in unrepentant sin (1 John 3:9). But, Scripture calls you to repent today and not to dare presume upon the grace and patience of God (Romans 2:4-5) God calls us, through Paul, to examine our lives to see if we are in the faith (2 Corinthians 13:5). Examine yourself. If you are questioning your salvation it could be that you have sin in your life that needs to be confessed and repentended of because it is destroying your fellowship with God. Or, it could mean that you have only known “about” God and not truly known him in a saving way. Whatever the case, cast your cares upon God and talk to him. If you need forgiveness he is there to offer it. If you need salvation, turn form sin to obedience, seek him, know that he stands there with open arms and you can trust that those arms are strong enough to hold you for all eternity.
For Further Reading:
Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994). p. 788-809
MacArthur, John. “Can Believers Forfeit Their Salvation?”. http://www.gty.org/resources/bible-qna/BQ5510/can-believers-forfeit-their-salvation
___. “Hebrews 6 and the Loss of Salvation”. http://www.gty.org/resources/questions/QA198/hebrews-6-and-the-loss-of-salvation
___. “How Can I be Sure of my Salvation?” http://www.gty.org/resources/questions/QA165/how-can-i-be-sure-of-my-salvation
Packer, J. I. Concise Theology: A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs. (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House, 1993). p. 241-243
Piper, John. “Assurance of Salvation”. http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/articles/by-topic/assurance-of-salvation