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Salvation Can Be Lost

A List of Scriptures that Teach or Imply that Christian Salvation can be Lost.

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WARNING: This is a very long list of Scripture passages, along with some comments from myself and a few historic Bible commentators. Don’t expect to read this straight through in one sitting. (The imagery of salvation being “lost” is also a bit problematic. The idea here is not “lost” in the sense of inadvertently misplaced, but “lost” in the sense of forfeited.) Obviously, these Scriptures are a beginning point for the discussion of these issues. My point is how pervasive this theme really is. Quotes are given from historic commentators with differing  perspectives — some Arminian, some more Calvinistic — again, the point is the pervasiveness of this theme.


 

The Bible warns us time and time again about the danger of falling away from the faith. The following list of Scriptures is by no means complete or exhaustive. Much of the the New Testament can be quoted against the “once-saved-always-saved” doctrine.

1.) From the teaching of Jesus in the Gospels:

Notice the parable of the sower:

  • 11 “Now the parable is this: the seed is the word of God. 12 And those beside the road are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their heart, so that they may not believe and be saved. 13 And those on the rocky soil are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no firm root; they believe for a while, and in time of temptation fall away. 14 And the seed which fell among the thorns, these are the ones who have heard, and as they go on their way they are choked with worries and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to maturity. 15 And the seed in the good soil, these are the ones who have heard the word in an honest and good heart, and hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance.” (Luke 8:11-15 NASB)

The crucial words here are: “… they, which, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, which for a while believe, and in time of temptation fall away.” Yes, a certain type of theology says this is impossible. Jesus says something quite different.

And, then notice this passage:

  • 42 “And the Lord said, ‘Who then is the faithful and sensible steward, whom his master will put in charge of his servants, to give them their rations at the proper time? 43 Blessed is that slave whom his master finds so doing when he comes. 44 Truly I say to you, that he will put him in charge of all his possessions. 45 But if that slave says in his heart, ‘My master will be a long time in coming,’ and begins to beat the slaves, both men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk; 46 the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him, and at an hour he does not know, and will cut him in pieces, and assign him a place with the unbelievers.'” (Luke 12:42-46 NASB).

What would be the point of this parable if Jesus believed in the once-saved-always-saved doctrine? This passage actually says that one who is a disciple, one who has been entrusted with solemn responsibilities by the Lord, can presume on that position and depart from the path. How can it mean anything else?

And, then notice this passage:

  • 21 “Then Peter came and said to Him, ‘Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?’ 22 Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven. 23 For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a certain king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24 And when he had begun to settle them, there was brought to him one who owed him ten thousand talents. 25 But since he did not have the means to repay, his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment to be made. 26 The slave therefore falling down, prostrated himself before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will repay you everything.’ 27 And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt. 28 But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and he seized him and began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay back what you owe.’ 29 So his fellow slave fell down and began to entreat him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you.’ 30 He was unwilling however, but went and threw him in prison until he should pay back what was owed. 31 So when his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved and came and reported to their lord all that had happened. 32 Then summoning him, his lord said to him, ‘You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you entreated me. 33 ‘Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, even as I had mercy on you?’ 34 “And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. 35 So shall My heavenly Father also do to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.” (Matthew 18:21-35 NASB)

Again, what would be the point of this parable if the “once saved always saved” doctrine were true? If God’s “servants” are automatically saved by a past condition of faith, then it follows that their present obedience is of no eternal consequence. Jesus says different. Genuine faith issues in obedience. Thus, it can be recognized by its fruit.

According to the teaching of Jesus, salvation is for those who stand firm in their faith “to the end.”

  • “And you will be hated by all on account of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved.” (Matthew 10:22 NASB)
  • “But the one who endures to the end, he shall be saved. (Matthew 24:13 NASB)

And, then notice this passage:

  • 1 “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it, that it may bear more fruit. 3 You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in Me. 5 I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me, and I in him, he bears much fruit; for apart from Me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch, and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.” (John 15:1-6 NASB)

An ongoing relationship with Christ is necessary for salvation.

A. T. Robertson (1863-1934)

A. T. Robertson (1863-1934)

Baptist scholar and commentator A. T. Robertson comments on verse 4:” Abide in me (μείνατε ἐν ἐμοί). Constative aorist active imperative of μένω. The only way to continue “clean” (pruned) and to bear fruit is to maintain vital spiritual connexion with Christ (the vine). Judas is gone and Satan will sift the rest of them like wheat (Lu 22:31f). Blind complacency is a peril to the preacher.”

And, he comments on verse 6: “The apostles are thus vividly warned against presumption. Jesus as the vine will fulfil his part of the relation as long as the branches keep in vital union with him.”

Word Pictures in the New Testament.

The warnings throughout the NT about the consequences of “falling away” have no meaning if it is not genuinely possible to fall away.

And, then, notice this passage:

  • 27 “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; 28 and I give eternal life to them, and they shall never perish; and no one shall snatch them out of My hand. 29 “My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. 30 “I and the Father are one.” (John 10:27-30 NASB)

The promise that is given here is clearly conditional: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me….” some people quote this passage and leave out the stated conditions. Jesus promises to “keep” only those who are listening and following — that is, those who are living out their faith in Christ!.

This is consistent with what Jesus teaches elsewhere:

  • Jesus therefore was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, “If you abide in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine….” (John 8:31 NASB)

The issues of “faith” and “obedience” cannot be separated from one another. Genuine faith issues in obedience and is known by obedience.

  • “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.” (John 5:24 NASB)

In this passage “hear” and “believe” are both present participles in the Greek — that is, they denote continuous action. So, the passage says: “the one who continually hears My word and continually believes in Him who sent me….”

This is in line with New Testament teaching in general that speaks of a continual, living faith-and-obedience relationship with Christ as the ongoing condition of salvation.

And, all this is basically consistent with the way the Spirit of God worked in Old Testament times as well. Jesus’ teaching needs to be understood in terms of its Old Testament precedents. He came not to destroy the law and the prophets but to fulfill them (Matt 5:17).

  • “But when a righteous man turns away from his righteousness, commits iniquity, and does according to all the abominations that a wicked man does, will he live? All his righteous deeds which he has done will not be remembered for his treachery which he has committed and his sin which he has committed; for them he will die.” (Ezekiel 18:24 NASB)
  • “When a righteous man turns away from his righteousness, commits iniquity, and dies because of it, for his iniquity which he has committed he will die.” (Ezekiel 18:26 NASB)
  • 12 “And you, son of man, say to your fellow citizens, ‘The righteousness of a righteous man will not deliver him in the day of his transgression, and as for the wickedness of the wicked, he will not stumble because of it in the day when he turns from his wickedness; whereas a righteous man will not be able to live by his righteousness on the day when he commits sin.’ 13 When I say to the righteous he will surely live, and he so trusts in his righteousness that he commits iniquity, none of his righteous deeds will be remembered; but in that same iniquity of his which he has committed he will die. 14 But when I say to the wicked, ‘You will surely die,’ and he turns from his sin and practices justice and righteousness, 15 if a wicked man restores a pledge, pays back what he has taken by robbery, walks by the statutes which ensure life without committing iniquity, he will surely live; he shall not die. 16 None of his sins that he has committed will be remembered against him. He has practiced justice and righteousness; he will surely live. 17 Yet your fellow citizens say, ‘The way of the Lord is not right,’ when it is their own way that is not right. 18 When the righteous turns from his righteousness and commits iniquity, then he shall die in it.” (Ezekiel 33:12-18 NASB)

We see here that the “once-saved-always-saved” concept is inconsistent with the way in which God had worked in Old Testament times. (And there are many, many more scriptures from the Old Testament that could be cited.) Wouldn’t Jesus have made it clear if God was working in some new and unprecedented way? Instead of this, he makes statements which are entirely in line with God’s way of working with people in Old Testament times.

2.) From the teaching of the apostle Paul:

  • 21″…for if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will He spare you. 22 Behold then the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you, God’s kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off.” (Romans. 11:21,22 NASB)

Paul is here drawing out a moral from the Hebrew Scriptures. If we remain faithful God remains faithful to us.

Adam Clarke (1760–1832)

Adam Clarke (1760–1832)

I quote from Adam Clarke’s Commentary: “If He, in his infinite justice and holiness, could not tolerate sin in the people whom he foreknew, whom he had so long loved, cherished, miraculously preserved and blessed; take heed lest he also spare not thee. Be convinced that the same righteous principle in him will cause him to act towards you as he has acted towards them, if you sin after the similitude of their transgression; and to this, self-sufficiency and self-confidence will soon lead you. Remember, therefore, the rock whence you were hewn, and the hole of the pit whence ye were digged. Depend incessantly on God’s free grace, that ye may abide in his favour.”

  • “…by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:2 NASB)

The phrase “you are saved” in this passage could be translated “you are being saved.” “Believing in vain” would be: abandoning the faith. The danger of genuine apostasy is mentioned often in the New Testament.

Adam Clarke comments on this verse: “By which also ye are saved] That is, ye are now in a salvable state; and are saved from your Gentilism, and from your former sins. If ye keep in memory] Your future salvation, or being brought finally to glory, will now depend on your faithfulness to the grace that ye have received.”

A. T. Robertson comments: “Paul holds this peril [“except ye believed in vain”] over them in their temptation to deny the resurrection.”

  • “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.” (1 Corinthians 10:12 NASB).

The context indicates that this passage is about the danger is falling from the faith into idolatry.

  • “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you — unless indeed you fail the test?” (2 Corinthians 13:5 NASB)

old-books002J. A. Beet comments: “He therefore urges his readers generally to search their hearts whether they are continuing in faith; that thus the guilty ones may find that they have lost the condition of salvation and no longer belong to Christ, and may by this discovery be led to repentance.”

  • “You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.” (Galatians 5:4 NASB)

In this passage, the  problem is the Judaizers who are leading people astray from the Gospel of Grace. Again, if genuine apostasy is not possible there would be no reason to fear for the state of any professed believer.

Quoting again from Beet: “Consequently, to receive circumcision was to place oneself beyond the benefits which proceed from Christ, to abandon the lofty position in the favour of God enjoyed by those who believe the Gospel.”

Adam Clarke comments: “Ye are fallen from grace.] From the Gospel. They had been brought into the grace of the Gospel; and now, by re-adopting the Mosaic ordinances, they had apostatized from the Gospel as a system of religion, and had lost the grace communicated to their souls, by which they were preserved in a state of salvation. The peace and love of God, received by Jesus Christ, could not remain in the hearts of those who had rejected Christ. They had, therefore, in every sense of the word, fallen from grace; and whether some of them ever rose again is more than we can tell.”

There is no point in warning Christians against apostasy if it is not possible. Maybe some people’s theology says it isn’t, but the apostle Paul thought differently.

  • “…if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard, which was proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, was made a minister.” (Colossians 1:23 NASB)

Again, this exhortation would be pointless if salvation cannot be lost. Once again quoting Clarke: “Verse 23. If ye continue in the faith] This will be the case if you, who have already believed in Christ Jesus, continue in that faith, grounded in the knowledge and love of God, and settled — made firm and perseveringly steadfast, in that state of salvation.”

  • “…and not holding fast to the head, from whom the entire body, being supplied and held together by the joints and ligaments, grows with a growth which is from God.” (Colossians 2:19 NASB)

J. A. Beet says this is : “Further description of the false teachers, tracing their error, negatively, to their failure to grasp, or to retain hold of, Him from whom as the Head flows to the various members of the body nourishment and stability and growth.”

  • “But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons….” (1 Timothy 4:1 NASB)

He says “depart from the faith” — not that they once made a false profession of the faith. The once-saved-always-saved doctrine forces people to explain away a lot of clear passages like this.

  • 15 “Take pains with these things; be absorbed in them, so that your progress may be evident to all. 16 Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things; for as you do this you will insure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you.” (1 Timothy 4:15, 16 NASB)

This issue is to “continue in the faith.” This is consistent with the whole emphasis of NT teaching. The conditions of salvation are continuous in this life.

Paul does express confidence in Timothy’s salvation, he says: but Paul’s confidence is based upon the fact that he had “fought the good fight.”

  • 6 “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; 8 in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.” (2 Timothy 4:6-8 NASB).

The purpose of his letter is to encourage Timothy to do the same. He exhorts Timothy to “hold fast… keep… endure… flee… follow… continue… watch….” And, he says: 13 “But evil men and impostors will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. 14 You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them; 15 and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” (2 Timothy 3:13-15 NASB)

  • “If we endure, we shall also reign with Him; If we deny Him, He also will deny us….” (2 Timothy 2:12 NASB)

Who is included in “us” here? Paul, Timothy and all Christians! John Calvin attempted to evade the obvious meaning of this passage by writing: “A threatening is likewise added, for the purpose of shaking off sloth; for he threatens that they who, through the dread of persecution, leave off the confession of his name, have no part or lot with Christ.” Calvin then tries to change the subject! What value or meaning could this “threatening” have if there was no real danger?

3.) From other NT letters:

  • 4 “For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, 5 and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God, and put Him to open shame. “ (Hebrews 6:4-6 NASB)

This is the classic passage on apostasy and much has been written about it. By “apostasy” we mean falling away from the faith or abandoning the faith. Christians are warned in this passage against this very real danger. Once again, it is not necessary to warn people against something that is not possible anyway. The whole book of Hebrews was written to warn Christians against falling away from the faith: warning them of the consequences of it. These are not “false professors” or “false Christians” that are spoken of here. They are, rather, those who “were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come….”

Clarke comments: “The design of these solemn words is evidently, First, to show the Hebrews that apostasy from the highest degrees of grace was possible; and that those who were highest in the favour of God might sin against him, lose it, and perish everlastingly. Secondly, to warn them against such an awful state of perdition, that they might not be led away, by either the persuasions or persecutions of their countrymen, from the truth of the heavenly doctrine which had been delivered to them.”

  • 26 “For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a certain terrifying expectation of judgment, and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries. 28 Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29 How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace?” (Hebrews 10:26-29 NIV)

Again, this needs to be read in the context of the warnings against apostasy throughout the book. The “once saved always saved” doctrine renders the book of Hebrews meaningless in terms of its basic intent!

John Calvin (1509-1564)

John Calvin (1509-1564)

Surprisingly, John Calvin himself comments on this passage with these words: “He shows how severe a vengeance of God awaits all those who fall away from the grace of Christ; for being without that one true salvation, they are now as it were given up to an inevitable destruction.” Calvin goes on to argue that the “sin” spoken of here is “apostasy” (that is, renouncing faith in Christ) and I personally agree with him about that.

In a similar vein Adam Clarke comments: “…the case is that of a deliberate apostate — one who has utterly rejected Jesus Christ and his atonement, and renounced the whole Gospel system. It has nothing to do with backsliders in our common use of that term. A man may be overtaken in a fault, or he may deliberately go into sin, and yet neither renounce the Gospel, nor deny the Lord that bought him. His case is dreary and dangerous, but it is not hopeless; no case is hopeless but that of the deliberate apostate, who rejects the whole Gospel system, after having been saved by grace, or convinced of the truth of the Gospel. To him there remaineth no more sacrifice for sin; for there was but the ONE, Jesus, and this he has utterly rejected.”

  • 13 “But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called ‘Today,’ lest any one of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. 14 For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end….” (Hebrews 3:13, 14 NASB)

Calvinistic “once-saved-always-saved” theology denies the clear meaning of this passage.

  • 19 “My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth, and one turns him back, 20 let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death, and will cover a multitude of sins.” (James 5:19, 20 NASB)

This verse is about reclaiming those who wander from the truth. If they are turned back from the error of their ways, they are turned back from death — clearly stating that such apostasy results in spiritual death.

  • 10 “Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble; 11 for in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you.” (2 Peter 1:10, 11 NASB).

Bible-messageHow can they be called upon to make their “calling and election sure” if it already is? Clearly this bible verse would never have been written if the author had ever heard of the “once saved always saved” doctrine.

  • 20 “For if after they have escaped the defilements of the world by the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and are overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. 21 For it would be better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn away from the holy commandment delivered to them. 22 It has happened to them according to the true proverb, ‘A dog returns to its own vomit,’ and, ‘A sow, after washing, returns to wallowing in the mire.'” (2 Peter 2:20-22 NASB).

Again, the danger of apostasy from Christ is what is in view here. A theology that says such a thing is impossible makes these warnings meaningless.

  • “You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard lest, being carried away by the error of unprincipled men, you fall from your own steadfastness….” (2 Peter 3:17 NASB)

There is no need to “beware” if there is no danger.

4.) From the book of Revelation:

Consistently, the promise of final salvation is to those who “overcome.”

  • “‘He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the Paradise of God.’” (Revelation 2:7 NASB)
  • “‘He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death.’” (Revelation 2:11 NASB)
  • “‘He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, to him I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and a new name written on the stone which no one knows but he who receives it.’” (Revelation 2:17 NASB)
  • “‘And he who overcomes, and he who keeps My deeds until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations….'” (Revelation 2:26 NASB)
  • “‘He who overcomes shall thus be clothed in white garments; and I will not erase his name from the book of life, and I will confess his name before My Father, and before His angels.'” (Revelation 3:5 NASB)
  • “‘He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he will not go out from it anymore; and I will write upon him the name of My God, and the name of the city of My God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God, and My new name.'” (Revelation 3:12 NASB)
  • ‘‘He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.'” (Revelation 3:21 NASB)
  • “He who overcomes shall inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be My son.” (Revelation 21:7 NASB)

 

 

Obviously, much more can and should be said about this issue, but this should give you a start on the issue, with some relevant Scriptures.

Comments (5) | Trackback

5 Responses to “Salvation Can Be Lost”

  1. “CONSTANTIVE AORIST ACTIVE IMPERATIVE . . .”??? Very interesting. I fully agree.

    • A. T. Robertson was one of the foremost Greek scholars of his day. In addition to his other writings, he wrote an extensive Greek grammar entitled A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research. This grammar book is almost 1,500 pages long — and Robertson almost drove himself to bankruptcy to get it printed. It is out of date today (of course), but was a remarkable accomplishment for its time. And, of course, he had his own distinctive terminology. The usual way of expressing this is to say: μείνατε is second person plural, aorist, active, imperative. It calls for decisive action. The quote I gave is quite representative of the style of the whole of Robertson’s Word Pictures in the New Testament — so you can mark that down as a set you never want to own or read. The following article I found on the Internet (from the Baptist Press) is a good overview of Robertson’s life and scholarly accomplishments: https://www.bpnews.net/43400

  2. Sandra VandenBrink says:

    Is what you are referring to what some call “back-sliders”? Are you defining salvation as giving one’s life over to Christ and following in his ways. And therefore if one discontinues “following” is he/she no long “saved”? What if the person “believes” but does not follow in the Christian way? And how is that different from the believer who tries but fails…that is, all of us?

    • I am primarily attempting to point out the prominence of this theme throughout the Bible — thus, the long list of Bible verses. However, I feel the best way to understand these is as warnings against apostasy — the abandoning of the faith. We are not saved by perfect performance — good works are not meritorious, they are the outgrowth of heart devoted to God’s will and purpose. But, neither is faith the same thing as bare intellectual assent — it is a life-changing reality. If I trust in Christ, it affects my behavior. I agree with James: “For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead.” (James 2:26 NRSV.) Back-sliding is not necessarily apostasy.

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