Can Salvation be Lost?

Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. Hebrews 10:22-23

In this post I want to look at some of the different views on the possibility of losing salvation. Before looking at each view it’s important to ask two questions:

1) How is Salvation “gained”? By works, by faith, or by decree?
2) How is Salvation “kept”?, By works, by faith, or by decree?

I’m going to propose 5 views, that come about through the way we answer these two questions.

View #1) Salvation is gained by works, it is kept by works. Net result: Salvation can be easily lost.
This view says salvation is dependent on what we do. If we do enough good and avoid enough bad then God gives us get a ticket to heaven. This view is popular among nominal Catholics and Protestants. It is also popular among some heterodox groups like the LDS.

The main problem with this view is that it makes Jesus’ death unnecessary. If we can make it on our own why did he need to die? And a practical concern with this view is that one never knows how much work to do to obtain salvation. As a result there is no security. Scriptural support for this view is essentially zero.

View #2) Salvation is gained by faith in Jesus, it is kept by good works. Net result: Salvation can be easily lost.
One can become a true Christian, but if he sins once he loses his salvation and must repent again to get it back. One must be in a “state of grace” to get to heaven. Lather, Rinse, Repeat. This view is common among Catholics and also some Arminians.

The problem with this view is there is no security for the believer. One accidental sin can cause you to forfeit your salvation. In its more extreme forms this view also leads back to a “works” view of gaining salvation. It envisions a “Santa Claus” type God, who’s making a list and checking it twice. This view leaves us open to deception from the enemy who is eager to convince us that we’re no longer saved. It can also actually encourage sin. Just confess it after the fact and you’re good to go again (Romans 6:1-2)

View #3) Salvation is gained by faith in Jesus, It is kept by faith in Jesus. Net result: Salvation can not be “lost”, but it can be forfeited.
In this view losing Salvation is a possibility, but it only comes about by a deliberate choice and doesn’t happen by accident. It must be walked away from. This is the view of many Arminians.

Problems: this view must be reconciled with passages which seem to imply that salvation can not be forfeited (like John 10:28). And like view #2 it also potentially leaves us open to deception from the enemy who is eager to convince us that we have lost faith and committed the unpardonable sin.

View #4) Salvation is gained by faith in Jesus, It is kept by decree of God. Net result: Salvation can not be lost one we have believed.
In this view we must believe to be saved, but once we have believed we are “sealed” by God, and there is no longer a possibility that salvation can be lost. This view is popular among some Arminians, Southern Baptists, and some other groups groups like Calvary Chapel.

The strength of this view is that the believer has both full assurance and security in Christ. The weakness is that it discounts the many warning passages in scripture. It can also result in believers thinking they have a license to sin.

View #5) Salvation is gained by decree of God, It is kept by decree of God. Net result: Salvation can not be lost.
Faith in Jesus is an inevitable result of God’s eternal decrees. It does not come from anything in the believer. Those whom Jesus died for will certainly be saved. This view is often called “monergism” and is popular among Calvinists.

Problems with this view: First, it has the same weaknesses of view #4 (discounts the warning passages, gives a license to sin). Secondly it denies assurance. Those whom God decrees will certainly be saved, but no one knows what God has decreed. This view can cause us to doubt the good character of God, and can easily lead to a fatalistic attitude.

Works, Faith, and Decree
It’s important to note that while there are at least 5 views on the possibility of losing salvation, there are really only 3 views on how salvation is given to us by God, and only three views on how salvation is kept. In each case it is by works, by faith in Jesus, or by unconditional decree.

The Arminian distinctive – We all agree on question #1: Salvation is given by God through faith in Jesus.
For Arminians, we all agree that salvation comes through faith in Jesus, however, there is disagreement on how is salvation kept. It has often been assumed by Calvinists (and others) that all Arminians believe salvation can be easily be lost. This is an unfortunate misunderstanding. The heart of Arminianism is that salvation comes by faith in Jesus. However, there is diversity on the second question: How is salvation kept? As a result, out of the 5 views described, Arminians can logically hold to view #2, #3, and #4.

It has been my observation that some Christians (Southern Baptists in particular) don’t want to be labeled Arminian because they strongly disagree with view #2. This aversion to the Arminian label is unnecessary. One can hold to view #4 and still be Arminian. The root issue for Arminians is that salvation is genuinely offered by God to all, and the means he has ordained for us to be saved is through our faith in Jesus Christ.

My point here is not that this issue of losing salvation is unimportant or irrelevant to Arminians. It clearly is very important, but there is disagreement on the issue because of the way we answer the second question, not the first one. As Arminians we need to allow room for differences of opinion on the matter, and we need to teach others that not all Arminians hold to view #2 or even view #3.

Conclusion:
There are several scripturally reasonable positions that can be taken on this issue. And to be fair, none of the views are without difficulty. No matter what our understanding, may we show love to those believers who disagree with us.

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11 Comments

Filed under assurance, perseverance, salvation, Uncategorized

11 responses to “Can Salvation be Lost?

  1. SLW

    Interesting post. If salvation is by faith, the only way it can be lost is by a loss of faith (e.g. Hebrews 6). We don’t get saved by faith and lost by works, anymore than we get saved by works in the first place. It is he who endures [in faith] to the end that will be saved.The only place the Bible really speaks to the notion of “security” as we fashion it in modern evangelicalism is 1 John 3:16-24, and I think that passage would produce a far different formula than is often promoted by “easy-believism” today. One of the most “insecure” passages of the Bible is 2 Corinthians 13:5, which sadly gets left out of discussions on the subject.Suffice it to say, there are no shortcuts, nor any panacaic pills in salvation. We must come to a faith in Christ which turns our direction toward following him, and we must be in that faith when we breathe our last. Failure is not a derailment (1 John 1:8-2:2), but walking away is.

  2. Excellent points SLW. Your comments helped to clarify my own understanding. I made a few updates to the post to reflect what you said.

  3. slw,2 Cor. 13:5 influenced me include an apostasy that can be remedied in my latest post on perseverance.BTW, I added you to my blog-roll. Not sure why it took me so long to do that.God Bless,Benwww.arminianperspectives.wordpress.com

  4. I like your irenic tones guys as you deal with difficult and extremely practical issues.

  5. how did the strawberry patch do this year?

  6. Hi Nancy, the strawberries did very well this year. We ate a lot and the birds ate even more. :)Unfortunately we just moved, so I need to start a new patch again when we get settled.

  7. Stephen Flood

    I take a viiew that says that Gods sovereignty and mans free will run side by side like the two rails of a train track. When we believe, God seals us…and the sea is meant to last forever.Why bother with a seal if we lose salvation the first time we yield, after a fierce fight, losing a battle against temptation? Salvation is like breathing. just as one has to stop breathing to physically die, so once has to asphyxiate spiritually in order to lose salvation. Just as our bodies need oxygen and continue top breathe without a decision of our will, so we continue to breathe spiritually unless we do something that takes away our spiriual breath or totally destrys our realtionship with God. Jesus never leaves us when we sin bec ause if he did there would be no possibilty of repeptance, Phrases like one sin,,,lose salvatio,,are simply not found in the Bibel. .

  8. May I point out that John 10 is very clear salvation cannot be lost or forfeited, the text cannot be ready any other way. Consider specifically verse 29 (John 10:29) where the text makes it clear, you would have to be greater than the Father in order to perish and fall out of the fathers hand?

    Who is greater than the Father? We all know the answer. I praise God for my salvation when I once and for all trusted God to save me.

    God bless

  9. Mike

    It is sad that you give viewpoints and NO scripture at all to back up your viewpoints. You mention there are a lot of scriptures yet you did not reference a single one. Salvation is done by God as a gift of grace and the only thing a person needs to do is accept it. Every man sins and cannot escape that (1John 1:8-10). Our sins do not cause us to lose salvation. Jesus died on the cross for ALL sins (past, present, and future). Once we are born again our names are written in the Lamb;s Book of Life and cannot be removed (unless we blaspheme the Holy Spirit). That is the only way to loose your salvation.

    • It wasn’t the scope of the post to argue a particular viewpoint, or give detailed scriptural support. It’s not something I spend a lot of time arguing about, because good scriptural cases can be made for each of the views.

      My own view is #3 – that salvation can be forfeited (Mark 4:16-17, Luke 8:13, Galatians 5:4, John 15:5-6, Romans 11:19-23, Hebrews 6:4-6, Hebrews 10:26-27, 2 Peter 2:1, 1 Timothy 1:18-21, 2 John 8-9, 1 Timothy 6:9-10, Revelation 2:4-5, Revelation 3:16).

  10. I think number 3 . But one problem. Hebrews says clearly that once a christian has forsaken salvation by continuing to willfully sin after receiving Christ, cannot be brought back to repentance again, as would require Christ to die again. Ironically I never see any amianists refusing christians coming back to Christ after rejecting him! “sorry u had your one chance, you’ve blown it.Can’t be saved again” I have yet to hear one convincing explanation of the problem. I am the type that believes in simple christian faith, Christ forgave me, follow the Holy Ghost, that’s it. Leave theology alone it just causes arguments and divisions and doesn’t build anyone one. Grace alone builds up. One other thing, ironically hebrews ends up providing immunition for an eternal security position, because if someone who rejected christ, cannot be brought back to salvation (as it would require Christ to be crucified all over again for them), it implies that christ’s blood is applied only once in a believer’s life, when they first are saved, and that cleans them forever. If so, indeed that would require christ to go to the cross again for the prodigal coming back, because that person would need that once for all time cleansing again. If however the blood of christ is appropriated gradually (only when u confess a sin) , then why would christ need to go to the cross again for that believer? Why couldn’t his blood be sprinkled on him, just as it was for any other sins he confessed as a believer? It strongly implies that a christian has all his sins forgiven at genuine rebirth, past present and future, and is therefore eternally secure. On this issue I see strong paradox on this, which is why we have arminian and calvinist. We should be either, we shouldn’t be following 16 century theologians, but the bible and holy ghost only. Seems to me both positions hold to one side, but dilute or ignore the other side. Arminian services rarely preach the eternal security scriptures, or if they rarely do, they dilute them down so much that they are crappy. For example, if we can be deceived and take ourselves out of christ’s hand, then the promise says that noone else can take us out of his hand. But who on earth would think that bob down the road could take you out of christ’s hand?! What kind of crappy promise is that? What next? Noone can snatch u out of my hand, except a butterfly? Eternal security services dilute the warnings down so much that they are no longer serious, or better still, usually avoid mentioning them. But as the post said, let’s not destroy ourselves over these things, as the scriptures also tell us not to devour each other especially not over semantics!

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