Can a Christian lose salvation? It’s a question that many have asked, along with Can I be sure I am going to Heaven?
In one of my recent articles, a pastor from the 1600s offered the suffering Christian the encouragement that whatever they are suffering here on earth is “all the hell you shall ever know.” A commentator on that post asked “Can a Christian lose salvation?”
Lets make this personal:
What if I slip up and fall? What if I commit a big sin?
What if I ‘backslide’ on my faith, perhaps even renouncing it?
Can a Christian lose salvation?
Having once followed Jesus can we end up being cast aside?
At risk of being accused of offering a spoiler, I will quote at the outset one of my first blogging buddies, David Wayne, who said:
“It is true that, if you are truly saved, you cannot lose your salvation, but it is equally true that there are many who think they are saved and who aren’t.” David Wayne
There is a vital question we must ask ourselves, therefore, before we get into this subject of losing salvation:
1. Am I really a Christian at all?
Often when we worry about whether we can lose our salvation it really reflects a concern about whether we ever had it in the first place. I wrote a piece a while back now on these dreadful words of Jesus:
Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
So before we turn to the backslider, we need to look at ourselves. No matter how religious we seem to others. No matter how ‘good a Christian’ people might think we are, only Jesus can answer the most important question we ask ourselves: Many will say…but I will say ‘I never knew you.’
Does Jesus really KNOW me?
We must not be complacent about this. And if we feel our heart beginning to grow cold toward Jesus it should drive us to these words and to ask ourselves are we known by Jesus. I would encourage you to read the meditation I wrote on this:
There is no question that pursuing an intimate relationship with Jesus will help us feel confident we are saved, or to put it another way, give us the assurance of salvation.
Many Christians get by without much experience in their relationship with God. I would urge you not to settle for a mere intellectual belief but that Jesus would pour out more of his Holy Spirit on you in a way that you can recognize and receive.
I believe that the Bible very clearly says that there is an experience of the Holy Spirit available to us. This amounts to the love of God being poured out into our hearts as a seal acknowledging that we belong to God. Much anxiety about whether or not we are saved can be erased by this experience. This receiving of the Spirit has to be an experience for it to function as a deposit that helps us know for sure we are saved:
In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. (Eph 1:13-14)
Without it no wonder many Christians spend their whole lives worrying about the question of whether they are really saved. I would encourage you to read my post about this:
Knowing Jesus requires obedience to him.
Jesus makes it clear, in the verse we quoted a few paragraphs ago, that anyone who wants to know Jesus must do the will of God. Many Christians don’t like talking about commands. But here Jesus makes it quite clear that obeying him is vital for salvation.
This clear demand from Jesus that we obey him led to me setting myself a New Year’s resolution at the beginning of 2018. I would urge you to join me in this determination:
To look more closely at the commands of Jesus. And to learn to obey them.
I decided to go on a journey, partly guided by Piper’s book on the subject, but also seeking to create my own reflections on Jesus’ commands. I invite you to join me on this journey, and if you have missed the first steps to go back and look at them now. I aim to walk my way slowly through all the key commands of Jesus. This is not some kind of cute series. This is critical to our spiritual well-being, and even our salvation.
If we do not obey the commands of Jesus, we risk hearing that Jesus doesn’t know us.
We risk not losing our salvation, but never having had it in the first place.
As we have been seeing, the commands of Jesus are very different to the Ten Commandments. We have been looking at them for more than half a year and have yet to move on from the commands of Jesus about our relationship with him and the other members of the Trinity. If we want to be known by Jesus and accepted by him here are some of the critical posts I have written so far:
I would urge you to look at these articles carefully, and the Scriptures they reference, and ask yourself am I a Christian at all?
As you do so you will realize that Jesus is speaking to our hearts and demanding a much deeper response than simply putting up a hand at an evangelistic meeting (as much as that can often be the first step on our journey).
As we have been looking more deeply at the question of losing our salvation we can see that some backsliders may in fact never have been Christians at all.
And so I have urged us all to ask this first crucial question of ourselves. But part of our evangelism effort is to try to help others be sure of their own salvation too. If you suspect that someone who is not now walking with Jesus was actually never a Christian, what is your responsibility? To share the gospel with them and try to help them find the way back to Jesus.
But what then of the question, assuming we actually HAVE our salvation, can we ever LOSE it?
There are a series of questions we should be asking ourselves if we are concerned that we are at risk of losing our salvation. The first we have already explored, the second, which we will get to in a moment, is closely related.
There is a phrase Jesus uses which at first sight would seem to be a slam dunk. He says those who “look back” are out:
“No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” – Jesus (Luke 9:62)
However it is not as simple as it first seems. As is often the case, we must look carefully at the context of these words. As we do it immediately becomes clear Jesus is talking about someone at the beginning of their journey with Jesus who ‘looks back’ rather than making an initial firm decision to follow him. This verse is not the clear answer to the ‘can I lose my salvation?’ question that it initially seems:
As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” And Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:57-62)
So the looking back is about someone who never truly decides to follow Jesus, and so should lead us to ask another question: