Once Saved, Always Saved? Can I Lose My Salvation?


I would be hard-pressed to find a more contentious issue in the church. Those who believe once-saved-always-saved believe it so strongly that they see it as a necessary belief in order to truly enjoy your salvation. Those who don’t believe it see it as a dangerous teaching that provides a false sense of security. This author holds to the latter view.

First, it is important to realize that saying a prayer is not what gets us saved. Chances are, by now, you’ve said the sinner’s prayer. But that is not what makes you a Christian. Did you know that you can become a Christian without saying the sinner’s prayer? Did you know that you can say the sinner’s prayer and nevertheless not be a Christian? How is that possible, you ask?

Salvation is a state of being forgiven. You have learned that forgiveness is by the blood of Jesus, and that there is no other way to receive forgiveness. If your sins are forgiven, you’re saved. How do our sins get forgiven? By saying a prayer? The sinner’s prayer isn’t mentioned in the Bible. No, we are saved when we believe with our heart, and this belief is expressed with our mouths (Romans 10:9-10). It is our faith that saves us. Why? Because it is by faith that we accept this forgiveness. However, James 2:14-26 points out that faith not accompanied by works is dead. It is utterly unprofitable–good for nothing. This is because faith expresses itself by works. What did James say, but “show me your faith without your works, and I’ll show you my faith by my works.” This is difficult at confront value, because much of the New Testament focuses on the fact that it is not by works, but by grace that we are saved. How can this be reconciled?

In talking about grace, Paul was talking about what makes you saved. Your works are not what save you, or get you forgiven. The blood of Jesus does that. But already Paul talked about responding by works. For example, in Ephesians 4:1-3, he said:

I, consequently, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

At the same time, James contends that lip service without action is meaningless:

What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food ,and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does is profit? consequently also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. –James 2:14-17

What this is saying is that works are not what save us, but it is our works that demonstrate we are saved. Every action we perform is a reflection of our belief system. If we do not live a godly lifestyle, we may not truly be born again. If your works don’t mirror a godly conscience, don’t focus on improving the works, rather, work on the heart. The Spirit of God is the input, and the works are the output. In other words, as we draw closer to God, we allow Him to live by us, and our works will line up with His information.

In many instances, someone has been saved for a period of time, but then fallen away. These are people who served the Lord at one time, but then for at any rate reason, abandoned their faith. This often happens slowly or as the consequence of a trauma. In any case, this person is in a backslidden state.

No one can say for sure at what point salvation is lost, although most people agree it is not something that happens easily. Let’s consider Hebrews 6:4-6:

For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good information of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to revive them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame.

These people fall into a category similar to the Pharisees. The Pharisees saw the miraculous works of Jesus, but nevertheless rejected Him, which indicated that they could never be brought to repentance. Remember, repentance is a meaningful part to salvation (it is the work by which the faith we receive at salvation expresses itself). Repentance or without of repentance is a good measure of salvation. Someone needing to be brought back to repentance is someone who needs salvation. consequently, this verse shows that it is possible to be a Christian and fall away. This particular verse is addressing people who have been mature Christians and experienced the kingdom of God and its strength, but who nevertheless choose to go another way in the end. This requires a hardness of hearts like the Pharisees.

Some would say that the people in this category were never saved to begin with. However, if that were the case, they would not be crucifying Christ a second time.

The following verse from James also proves that a Christian can go back to being a sinner:

Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sin. –James 5:19-20

Let’s examine this verse. The letter by James is addressed to Christians. Notice how the beginning of this verse is worded: If any of you wander from the truth. So, if a Christian wanders from the truth, then the person who turns him back will save his soul from death. So this demonstrates that a Christian who turns away from the truth will go to hell. To rescue a soul from death is to rescue a soul from hell. Also, observe that the Christian who turns away from the truth is called a sinner. Finally, turning a fallen Christian/sinner back also covers a multitude of sins, because once he has repented, his sins are forgiven, or covered, once again.

It may seem that these verses contradict each other. It seems like one is saying that a backslidden Christian can’t turn back to Christ, and the other says he can. However, these verses do not contradict each other. The Hebrews verse is specifically talking about mature Christians who experienced all the wonders and powers of kingdom living and nevertheless turn their backs completely on the gospel, because this is an intentional rejection of Christ, which requires a hardening of the heart. A hardened heart cannot be turned back. The Pharisees who blasphemed the Holy Spirit did so after seeing His wonders and powers, but were determined to deny it. This is the same state of this person.

Knowing it is possible to lose your salvation need not be a fearful reality. First, it is hard to do. The situation described by Hebrews is something that only pertains to certain mature Christians. The example of James applies to any other Christian who turns away. However, this should not be construed to average that every time we sin or experience a crisis in our faith, we have lost our salvation. It just doesn’t happen that easily. Many Christians go by seasons in which they are not serving God like they should, but during this time, the Holy Spirit is at work to convict and restore them. The longer it takes to respond to the Holy Spirit, the less sensitive the Christian becomes, until soon, the Christian cannot hear Him at all. This is definitely a dangerous time. However, it takes a long time to get to that point. God won’t give up easily.

Remember, that God’s focus is on the heart, much more than on the external behavior (1 Samuel 16:7). You may find yourself “messing up” in a number of ways throughout the day, but that will enhance over time, provided your heart is soft towards God and you are allowing your desires to line up with His (Psalm 37:4). Just keep confessing. You may get tired of confessing the same things repeatedly, but God is much more patient than you are!

Why is it dangerous to believe once-saved-always-saved? Because this gives many people a false sense of security. Being in a backslidden state is a dangerous place to be as it is, but much more so if you mistakenly believe your salvation isn’t in jeopardy.

The once-saved-always-saved doctrine does not teach that just saying a prayer causes you to be saved. Teachers of this doctrine believe in the importance of faith, confession, and repentance too. However, many people take the message too far and construe it to believe that saying a little prayer one time and “getting saved” during an emotional experience saves them for all eternity. But emotions should never be mistaken for a true salvation experience, which can best be measured by the repentance that happens afterwards.

Also, those who purport the once-saved-always-saved doctrine also concede that Christians can turn away. However, their contention is that they were never really saved to begin with. This causes difficulty for a lot of people because it raises the question, “How can I know for sure I’m really saved?” Who can know whether he’ll turn away from God in the future?

The reality is, the two schools of thought may not really be all that opposed to each other. After all, if a person backslides and dies and goes to hell, what difference will it make then that the person was “once saved?”

The most important thing for you to keep in mind is that we should regularly draw nearer to God, keep sensitive to His Spirit, keep conscientious about spending time in His information and prayer, and stay involved with other Christians. This will provide the sustain and motivation needed to continue on in our pilgrimage. The devil will do everything he can to trip you up, but remember that He who is in you (Jesus) is greater than He who is in the world! (1 John 4:4)

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