A Question of Torment: Can You Lose Your Salvation?

Can you lose your salvation?

It was a question that haunted me. Tormented me. Sent me into an existential panic. Not only did I struggle to find assurance of salvation, I was also terrified of losing it.

And it didn’t help that I grew up in the 90’s evangelical world, where every youth conference contained at least one opportunity to “rededicate” your life to Christ.

Music would be playing softly and the speaker would be earnestly pleading with all the “backsliders”, inviting them to be on fire for Jesus again (there was a lot of fire in the 90’s). Tears would be shed, hands would be raised, and kids would stream to the front for prayer (and usually some sort of group hug).

To top it all off, there are passages in scripture that seem to indicate that a Christian can lose their salvation. What was I supposed to make of these spiritually terrifying words?

Maybe you can relate to this. Or maybe you know someone who struggles like I did.

So what does scripture really say? Can a genuine Christian lose their salvation?

God Will Preserve His People

Again and again, God makes it very clear that he will keep and preserve every true believer. In John 6:39-40, Jesus speaks these sweet words of comfort:

And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.

God has given believers to Jesus. I belong to him, he owns me, and he is very possessive of me. Jesus himself has promised that on that final day, when he returns in staggering glory, I will be raised up to eternal life. Nothing can stop Jesus from fulfilling that promise.

Notice that this passage is all about what God will do. It’s not about my ability to persevere or hold fast to Jesus. It’s not like a spiritual Hunger Games, with Jesus saying, “Only the strong will make it to the end.”

Jesus will hold me fast in his invincible grip until the final day.

In Philippians 1:6, Paul says, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”

There was more dysfunction in Paul’s churches than most reality television shows. The Corinthians were getting pasted at the Lord’s Supper, the Galatians were on the verge of abandoning the gospel, the Colossians were tempted to worship angels, and two women were duking it out in the Philippian church.

How could Paul be confident that any of these people would persevere until Christ’s return?

Because God was the one who started the work of salvation and God would be the one who would complete it.

This gives me an incredible amount of peace. If my final salvation were up to me, I wouldn’t make it. I’m sure of that. I’m no spiritual Superman or hero (to paraphrase Dave Matthews). Without God holding me fast, I would be prone to wander and eventually fall away.


But God is the one who is working in me. He caused me to be born again and he will continue to work in me until that final day, when I’m fully conformed to the image of Christ.

This is the glory of the new covenant in Christ. Israel was unable to consistently follow God. They constantly wandered into idolatry and wickedness, fundamentally lacking the power to keep God’s law. They could, and often did, “lose” the salvation God offered.

And so God promised to do something new and revolutionary: to write his law on the hearts of his people. In Jeremiah 31:33-34, the Lord speaks these breathtaking words:

For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.

In answer to the question, “Can you lose your salvation?” this passage (and others like it) give me great peace. One of the central promises of the New Covenant is that God writes his law on my heart.

God the Father ordained my salvation in eternity past.

God the Son purchased my salvation through his life, death, and resurrection.

And God the Spirit now dwells within me, convicting me of sin and compelling me to follow Christ.

From beginning to end, my salvation (and yours) is all of God.

If you fear losing your salvation, these passages are your peace. Your comfort. Your rest.

What About The Warnings Regarding Losing Salvation?

Of course, this does raise a rather sticky question: what about the passages of scripture that seem to warn against falling away?

For example, Hebrews 6:4-6 says:

For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance…

That sure makes it seems like I can fall away from Christ after being saved. What am I supposed to make of these passages?

First, I have to acknowledge that there is a real tension between these warnings and the promises noted above. I need to avoid the common mistake of rounding off the sharp edges of the passage and I need to feel the full weight of its meaning.

So how am I to interpret these passages? They are passages of severe warning meant to push me to persevere in Christ.

This is where the mystery of God’s providence and my responsibility collide. Does God promise that he will keep me to the end? Yes. Does he assure me that nothing can separate me from the love of God in Christ? Absolutely.

Does God also call me to put aside every sin and to run hard after him? Yes. Does he warn me against the danger of rejecting Christ and embracing sin? Absolutely.

Do I have to reconcile these things so that they fit perfectly together? Nope.

I like how Ardel Caneday says it:

The preacher [in Hebrews 6] expects us to take to heart both the urgent warning against a final departing from Christ (6:4–8) and the admonition to assured confidence in God’s promise (6:9–20) without any whisper of contradiction. He doesn’t admonish us to doubt the inheritance that God assures us by his sworn oath and promise. God regularly uses warnings and consolations or threats and promises together to secure us in the way of salvation.

In other words, I’m called to heed the warning of Hebrews 6 without doubting that God will also keep me to the end. Additionally, the warning passages themselves function as a means of God helping me to persevere to the end.

I don’t have to somehow make everything fit together. If I do that, I’ll end up minimizing either the promises of perseverance or the warnings against falling away. Instead, I need to embrace both and let the tension exist.

He Will Hold Me Fast

Are we called to work out our salvation with fear and trembling? Yes. But can you lose your salvation? No.

That’s such sweet news to me, because if I could lose it, I already would have.

Charles Spurgeon puts it this way:

lose salvation

Stephen Altrogge

I'm a husband, dad, writer. I drink too much coffee and know too much about Star Wars. I created The Blazing Center. I've also written some books which people seem to like. You can follow me on Twitter and Facebook

20 comments

  • Stephen, It’s true that a Christian can’t lose salvation because God has promised eternal life to those who have accepted Jesus’ atonement for our sins. However, a person can stop being a Christian, reject Jesus and, in that way, lose salvation. Don’t confuse us with an absolute “no” when the truth is “no if you remain a Christian”. Be very careful to tell the whole truth.

    • Hey Steven!

      I agree with you…mostly. This is where it gets into the issues of our free will and God’s sovereignty. I believe that God will keep his people from rejecting him, and that those who do reject Christ will be punished for their sins.

      “Christians” who turn from Christ would fit into 1 John 2:19 which says, “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.”

      In other words, God will keep all of his people until that final day. Those who depart from Christ were never actually of Christ. Does that make sense?

      • 1 John 2 does rightly describe some folk. But the Calvinistic approach that salvation is only proven by the fact someone remains is works theology. It’s God starts it you finish it.
        What this doesn’t account for is genuine Christians, who through reasons, like manipulative religion which spiritual abuses its followers produce wounds and bitterness that cause some to walk away. I have seen this happen. Grace is eternal. If the wounded never return are they doomed to hell? No. You can’t take one passage and formulate a dogmatic doctrine from it. John is speaking of people who were never saved. I am speaking of those who were genuinely saved. Fruit was clearly seen but through hurts, oppression and life in a fallen world they fell away.
        I just believe the Calvinistic one size fits all response isn’t accurate or applicable in all situations. Eternal life isn’t potential life. Eternal life isn’t temporal life until you get off probation by persevering until you die…either once saved always saved period or its conditionally saved…

  • I believe God’s Word is clear that true salvation cannot be lost. Jesus warned us of the difficulties that would follow if we choose to carry His cross. Jesus, absolutely, understands the troubles and tribulations of this earthly journey. That we will experience depression and sadness in the difficult times. That’s the test: In the worst of times, we lean closer into Him……trusting and growing in His love relationship with us. Those who say the words but truly fall away and reject Jesus…..were not saved to begin with. Nothing was lost. Salvation was not there to begin with. God reads our hearts and knows our thoughts…He will not be mocked! Prayers daily for the lost because time is running out! Ellen

  • Stephen, I’m in the hand of God and nothing or no one can pluck me from his hand; including myself! I concur with you completely! When Jesus saves, He saves completely! MARANATHA

  • Thank you for settling that question in my mind once and for all. I have always believed that once saved, always saved, but deep in my heart Jesus’ words in Matthew 7 v 22 and Matthew 25 v 31 – 46 always worried me and niggled at me. We pass so many hungry, destitute people every day as we go about our business and it is impossible to heed them all. However, your article has reassured me that God has me safely in His care until Jesus comes back. Thank you!! GOd bless you.

  • Hi Mr. Altrogge,
    I have come to realize how truly slow I am to understand many (most) of God’s truths, but I do know that I belong to Christ. Forever. I don’t understand why He’d want be because…well…MAN! But still, He does. I will not turn away because there is nowhere to turn that does not lead away from Him and because I am SO looking forward, one day, to being somewhere near Him in His kingdom. Daily I fail, but I will strive to continue and to grow, every prayerful and thankful that He has never lost even one that He called.
    Thanks for your thoughts. This is twice today that this Jeremiah chapter has come to my attention. I need to give it much more consideration.
    Sincerely,
    Dawn

  • Hello Stephen,
    In my church we were taught that you could lose your salvation. So I focused on not going to hell. After I got married the Lord called my husband to preach and when he shared what the Lord reviled to him, I had trouble believing . But one day as I was doing some ironing, the question came to me, which one of your children cease to be your child, no matter what. Since that day I am confident in God and am free to lead others to Christ.
    God bless and keep up the good work,

  • Hebrews 12. For the joy set before Him, endured the cross. The JOY of securing for all who would believe, Eternal life, peace with God. Enduring the cross was not in vain, no. Reflecting on Jesus’ sacrifice daily should help us persevere due to making our hearts be filled with gratitude, that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. We deserved to die, but he, ungrudgingly, joyfully, went instead. Can we believe this to the end? If so, fear not, be filled with the joy of the Lord.

  • I came from a Pentecostal/Charismatic background. They were a little extreme on the holiness fringe. At least they were consistent. One sin, you’re out. Truth, the wages of sin is death. Not unanswered prayer, not broken fellowship, death. That is hardly good news. It’s still truth, so what are Christians to do? Either we are lost and saved and lost and saved over and over or Jesus took upon Himself all the sins of man. There is no more death for those who received Christ’s free gift of Grace. Because once saved, we are forgiven once for all time.
    As for the Calvinistic approach to security, I disagree. Perseverance of the Saints is actually sad, bad news. It’s not Grace. It is pure works. Salvation becomes God starts it but we finish it or perfect it. My eternal salvation isn’t based upon my ability to persevere. It’s all on Him. He preservers me to the end, for it is written we are sealed with the Spirit until the day of salvation, not until the day we burn out and quit persevering. Because salvation is by Grace through faith, the moment we believed we are eternally secure. Unconditional eternal security is the Gospel of Grace. 🙂

  • Is it possible to get a copy of this article? I teach Bible Study to the women at Huron Valley Women’s Prison in Ypsilanti,
    Michigan and I am constantly reminding the women that you cannot loose your salvation. I then stress that your salvation experience must be a heart changing experience and not just a head changing experience. I believe this article would help me reinforce the fact that you cannot loose your salvation if you have truly had a heart changing experience and the Holy Spirit, a gift from Jesus has come to reside in your heart.
    Thank you for your consideration.
    One of God’s servants
    Sandra J Ellis

  • I thinking of this matter as in a marriage. You know, love and relationship are both necessary factors in a marriage and in Christianity. I can truly say that , as for me, I will always love my husband. If he divorces me in the future I can assure you two things. Firts, that I have always fell loved by him. He really cares for me and wants me by his side. Second, that I don’t want a separation, but I would have to accept it. As part of my love for him I could never force him to be by my side. You know, coldness and lack of interest could kill the most intense love. That’s what happen when people leave God. Some were never interested at heart. But some really get tired of waiting for God or starts meddling in the business of sin. I have seen many kids that really loved God and when becoming adults leave Him. I have seem preachers leaving God because of adultery, but when with the Lord, seems in a deep relationship with Jesus. How this could happen? Because the gates of sin were not opened for many years. So as I understand our salvation can be lost. But is not up to God but we indeed are responsible to keep the gift of salvation pure. It is never up to God to loose a soul. Ins’t this referered in the Bible as an anathema? A person who was in the way but depart from it? Please coreect me if I’m wrong.

  • There is a lot of misunderstanding of the doctrine of “The Perseverance of the Saints” here. Reformed Christians do not believe it is up to you by works. Some commenters have this completely backwards. “Calvinism” is quite misunderstood by many people. The true saint perseveres because God does the work. Perseverance is just what happens, and the evidence of God’s promise.

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