Recently, I had a long-time friend renounce his faith in Jesus Christ. On my Facebook page, he wrote, “Dale, why would I believe in a genocidal maniac that lives in the sky?”
Now, this is a man who for decades believed in Jesus and made him the Lord of his life. This is a man who was baptized, who led Bible studies, who went on missions trips, who participated in worship at his church and who even studied theology for a short time in college. So, the question we must ask is did my friend leave the faith or was he never saved in the first place?
I’m sure you can see where I’m heading—we’re going to discuss the controversial theological philosophy “once saved, always saved.” A philosophy made popular through John Calvin’s theory of the “preservation of the saints.” Now, it’s not my aim in this article to present my opinion on the matter, but the Bible’s. Furthermore, men have written scores of books on this topic and this article will only offer a microscopic view of the discussion.
So back to my question, did my friend leave the faith or was he never saved in the first place? In other words, did he lose his salvation or was he simply faking his faith in Jesus for all those years? I’ll begin by sharing seventeenth-century theologian, John Wesley famous and convincing words on the topic.
“Calvinists, who deny that salvation can ever be lost, reason on the subject in a marvelous way. They tell us, that no virgin’s lamp can go out; no promising harvest be choked with thorns; no branch in Christ can ever be cut off from unfruitfulness; no pardon can ever be forfeited, and no name blotted out of God’s book! They insist that no salt can ever lose its savor; nobody can ever “receive the grace of God in vain”; “bury his talents”; “neglect such great salvation”; trifle away “a day of grace”; “look back” after putting his hand to the gospel plow. Nobody can “grieve the Spirit” till He is “quenched,” and strives no more, nor “deny the Lord that bought them”; nor “bring upon themselves swift destruction.”
Nobody, or body of believers, can ever get so lukewarm that Jesus will spew them out of His mouth. They use reams of paper to argue that if one ever got lost he was never found. John 17:12; that if one falls, he never stood. Rom. 11:16-22 and Heb. 6:4-6; if one was ever “cast forth,” he was never in, and “if one ever withered,” he was never green. John 15:1-6; and that “if any man draws back,” it proves that he never had anything to draw back from. Heb. 10:38,39; that if one ever “falls away into spiritual darkness,” he was never enlightened. Heb 6:4-6; that if you “again get entangled in the pollutions of the world,” it shows that you never escaped. 2 Pet 2:20; that if you “put salvation away” you never had it to put away, and if you make shipwreck of faith, there was no ship of faith there!! In short, they say: If you get it, you can’t lose it; and if you lose it you never had it. May God save us from accepting a doctrine, that must be defended by such fallacious reasoning!”
While that might be a hard chunk of theological material to take in, Mr. Weslsey lists the dozens of Scriptures that support the believer’s ability to lose their salvation. But allow me to simplify this even further. In the Bible we see two true doctrines:
1. Once you are a believer in Christ, your salvation is forever secure in him.
2. Once you are a believer in Christ, you can later reject his salvation through rebellion.
To us, these may appear to be mutually exclusive. Either #1 is true or #2 is true, but they can’t both be true. But Scripture teaches both.
The tension between them is the tension between God’s two words to us: the word of warning and the word of promise.
So yes, from my understanding of the Bible, you can lose your salvation. Furthermore, in my experience, those Christians who are looking for irremovable salvation theology are often the same people interested in being comforted in their wanderings from their Lord. That is to say, if you’re one of the many lukewarm and half-hearted Christians who are hopeful that the Sinner’s Prayer you prayed back in high school church camp won’t expire, then you might want to reevaluate your relationship with Jesus.
Let me explain further, in Rom. 10:9 it says, “that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”
Now, does the word “confess” simply mean to say, “Jesus is real!” out loud in a room filled with people? Is that all that He’s looking for to secure eternity? Of course not. The word confession in the Greek is homologeō and is defined as an authentic acknowledgment or a profession of fact.
Ultimately, salvation isn’t simply dependent on belief in Jesus.
Jesus’ own brother the Apostle James wrote, “Even the demons believe—and tremble!” That is, salvation is dependent on belief combined with lordship. The authentic acknowledgment of Jesus’ ownership of your entire life in combination with your absolute belief that Jesus came, died, and that God has raised him from the dead.
However, I actually don’t care about the theological debate and neither should you. What we should care about is this: Walking in the Spirit (Galatians 5:16), relinquishing the authority of our lives to Jesus (1st Corinthians 6:19-20), and keeping His commandments (John 14:15).
The point is this, are you walking under Jesus’ lordship or do you just believe in Jesus existence? Do you make all your decisions based on the truth of God’s Word or do you make your own way? You see, many people love Jesus as Savior or Jesus as Comforter. Similar to how I love my wife “the cook” and my wife “the house cleaner.” But my wife isn’t my cook or my house cleaner, she’s my wife. Those are simply the things she happens to do for me, but that’s not who she is. Similarly, “Savior” or “Comforter” is something Jesus does for us, but that’s not who He is. He is Lord and until we fully renounce our own headship and place Him on the throne of our life, salvation sits on shaky ground.
So don’t ask yourself if you’re saved. Ask yourself, if you’re walking in the Spirit. Don’t ask how far you can go before you lose your salvation. Ask yourself if you’re seeking God’s will, repenting when you choose to sin, and placing Jesus as the Lord of your life.
Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.”
But then James 2:18-20 says, “But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble! But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?”
There it is—the tension. We hate it. Christian, forget the theological debate. Walk in righteousness, trust in God’s grace, justice, and mercy, and become comfortable with the tautness between these difficult biblical doctrines.
Bottom line, it all comes down to how we exercise the miraculous mystery of our free will. And this free will is a beautiful picture of love in action. I can choose to receive Christ because I am loved and desired. I can choose to respond to Christ because I am loved and desired. But I can also choose to reject Christ because I am loved and desired—a difficult truth to swallow but a biblical one at that.
What’s been your understanding of this debate? Do you have any thoughts or opinions on the discussion? If so, let me know about them in the comments below.