Salvation

Category: Other Classes

Eternal Salvation:

While all Christians believe that Jesus died for our sins and we are saved through the sacrifice of His death on the cross, there are some differences in belief among different denominations as to whether that salvation is permanent or whether it can be lost.

It is a fact that there are Christians who lose faith, who stop believing in Jesus and salvation, and who turn from living a Christian life. The question arises in such instances: Did that person lose his or her salvation? Having once been saved, can you lose your salvation?

The Roman Catholic position on salvation differs significantly from the Protestant view and won’t be covered in detail in this article, though I’ll mention a few general things in brief. (This is by no means a complete explanation of Roman Catholic beliefs on salvation.)

The Roman Catholic Church teaches that by the sacrament of baptism God infuses justifying grace into the soul, which cancels original sin and imparts the habit of righteousness. This initial justification is strengthened through other sacraments, love-inspired works, and special merit from Mary and the saints.[1] The belief is that when Catholics die, if they have committed venial (minor) sins which haven’t already been forgiven through the sacrament of confession, their souls will go to purgatory, a place where they will be fully cleansed. Having gone through the cleansing work of purgatory, they are then justified before God. Believers who commit mortal (serious) sin and die without receiving forgiveness through confession fall from grace and lose their salvation. Salvation in Catholic theology depends on continued obedience and can therefore be lost.

The two primary Protestant views are presented in general terms in this article. Beyond the main basic premises, various denominations on both sides of the issue also have further nuances within their belief systems, which aren’t necessary to delve into here.

Let’s look at the two general positions, beginning with those who believe that salvation can be lost if certain conditions are not met throughout a Christian’s life.

Conditions

Those who believe that it is possible for salvation to be lost believe that once one is saved, there are certain conditions that must be maintained in order to keep salvation. The belief is that God has reconciled us to Himself and we will have eternal life, provided these conditions are met. Some Pentecostal denominations, such as the Assemblies of God, as well as Wesleyan-based ones, such as the Methodists, believe this.

These conditions mainly have to do with maintaining one’s spiritual life and living a Christian life. Those who believe that salvation cannot be lost also believe that it’s important to maintain one’s spiritual life, but don’t believe salvation will be lost if one fails in this duty.

The conditions, as seen by those who believe salvation can be lost, are based on five general principles that must be fulfilled: abiding, continuing, enduring, firmness, and faithfulness. The position is that these conditions must be fulfilled throughout one’s life to maintain salvation.[2] In the footnotes, I’ve included some of the verses which those who take this position base their understanding on.

Abiding

The first condition in this belief system is that one must abide in what they have heard concerning the Gospel. They must stay close to the source, God’s Word and Christ. [3]

Continuing

Continuing means remaining steadfast. While God has begun the work of salvation, one must continue steadfast, to hold fast and continue in the faith. If one moves away from the faith and hope that is in the Gospel, then salvation will be lost.[4]

Enduring

Enduring in the faith to the end of our lives is seen as one of the conditions of the final salvation of a believer. Life is filled with ups and downs, and the expectation is that individuals will hold on to their faith and live it through life’s trials. If there is a failure to endure in the faith until the end of one’s life, eternal life will not be obtained.[5]

Firmness

Those who don’t confirm—or make firm—their faith by supplementing it with virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love are in danger of losing their salvation. By spiritually growing in these—and presumably other—virtues, they confirm their salvation.[6]

Faithfulness

It is necessary to remain faithful to the end. The believer must remain in faith and belief. If that faith weakens and turns to unbelief, then there is a loss of salvation and eternal life, unless there is repentance and return.[7]

Eternal Security

Other Christians disagree with the idea that salvation can be lost. They see God’s work in salvation through Jesus’ death as bringing eternal life, and consider that Christians have assurance of that eternal life due to Christ’s sacrifice.

Among those who believe in eternal security, sometimes referred to as “the perseverance of the saints,” there are differences of opinion as to why salvation can’t be lost. Nevertheless, they are in agreement that it cannot be lost.

Reformed churches (Calvinists) believe that God predestined people to be saved, and since they are predestined by God for salvation, they can’t possibly lose their salvation. While they don’t believe predestined Christians can lose their salvation, they do believe that some who profess to be Christians aren’t truly saved, that they aren’t predestined to salvation, and that those who lose their faith or turn their back on God were never truly saved in the first place. From their point of view, no truly saved Christian will ever turn against God. While there are undoubtedly people who profess to be Christians who aren’t actually saved, or who have said a salvation prayer but didn’t really mean what they were saying and thus weren’t born again, it doesn’t seem within the realm of possibility that no saved Christian ever turns away from faith in Jesus. Most Christians probably know of, or have heard of, saved Christians who abandoned the faith.

Many Protestant and evangelical churches base their belief in eternal security on specific promises in the Bible, without linking them to belief in predestination. Reformed churches also use scriptures which speak of eternal life as the basis for their understanding and belief in the perseverance of the saints.

Those who believe “once saved, always saved” believe this way due to a number of key verses which are very specific regarding having salvation permanently.

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.[8]

My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of My hand. 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.[9]

These verses have no caveats. They explicitly say that those who believe have eternal life, and no one or nothing can take it away. They will never perishI should lose nothing of all that He has given Me. The next passage strengthens that understanding.

I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.[10]

Scripture states that those who believe in Jesus have eternal life.

Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life … [11]

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.[12]

Eternal Life

Some who believe that Christians can lose their salvation don’t look at eternal life as meaning forever, but rather see it as a quality of life, a type of life in relationship with God, which one can have for a time and then lose. However, this concept doesn’t match the meaning of the Greek word aiōnios which is most often used in the Scripture for everlastingor eternal. The definition of aiōnios is without end, never to cease, eternal, everlasting.[13]

Eternal life stands in contrast to judgment, condemnation, and separation from God. Those who receive Jesus, who are born again, are not condemned—they have been redeemed by Christ’s death on the cross.

God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him. Whoever believes in Him is not condemned … [14]

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.[15]

Salvation doesn’t bring an end to sin in our lives. As Christians we are to continually strive to overcome sin, but humans have sinful natures and therefore we sin, and when we do, we should ask God for forgiveness.[16] While our sins have ramifications in our spiritual lives, in that they affect our personal relationship with God, they aren’t a cause for the loss of our salvation. We may suffer the consequences of our sins and be chastised for them, since God, as a good parent, lovingly tries to teach and train us; but we don’t lose our place as a child of God, one adopted into God’s family.

For the Lord disciplines the one He loves, and chastises every son whom He receives … If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons … He disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.[17]

To all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God.[18]

As children of God, we are heirs of eternal life. It is our promised inheritance through salvation.

You are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.[19]

When the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to His own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.[20]

Being justified by grace, which means being saved through Jesus’ sacrifice, we are heirs of an imperishable inheritance which is kept in heaven for us and which is guarded by God’s power.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to His great mercy, He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.[21]

The Holy Spirit, the Guarantee

As believers, we are sealed by the Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance.

In Him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the Gospel of your salvation, and believed in Him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of His glory.[22]

Theologian Wayne Grudem explains the seal of the Holy Spirit as a guarantee of our eternal inheritance like this:

The Greek word translated “guarantee” in this passage (arrabon) is a legal and commercial term that means “first installment, deposit, down payment, pledge” and represents “a payment which obligates the contracting party to make further payments.” When God gave us the Holy Spirit within, He committed Himself to give all the further blessing of eternal life and a great reward in heaven with Him. This is why Paul can say that the Holy Spirit is the “guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it.” All who have the Holy Spirit within them, all who are truly born again, have God’s unchanging promise and guarantee that the inheritance of eternal life in heaven will certainly be theirs. God’s own faithfulness is pledged to bring it about.[23]

God has promised salvation; through His death and resurrection Jesus has secured it; the Holy Spirit guarantees it. Our salvation is secure, is permanent, and is eternal. Once you have it, you don’t lose it.

We may have temporary lapses in faith, but these lapses in faith and obedience do not change our legal standing as heirs, as those justified by the blood of Jesus.[24] Those who are saved, who have received Jesus, who are born again, do not lose their salvation.

One verse which is used by those who believe a Christian’s salvation can be lost is:

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, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding Him up to contempt.[25]

This is a much debated scripture passage, and depending on one’s theology it is looked at differently.

Those who believe one can lose their salvation use this verse to show that it can be lost. According to this view, those who have been enlightened, who have received the heavenly gift of salvation and have shared in the Holy Spirit, if they fall away, lose their salvation.

From the Reformed point of view, Wayne Grudem argues in a lengthy explanation that the author of the book of Hebrews is not talking about born-again believers, but rather about those who were associated with the early church, who were enlightened by the Gospel but had not come to full belief and salvation. They knew something of God’s Word, they had seen the Holy Spirit work in different situations, and had seen the power of God manifest in others. They were connected with Christians, with the Holy Spirit, and had been influenced by them, but had not made the decision to believe. They had become “associated with” the work of the Holy Spirit, they had been exposed to the true preaching of the Word and had appreciated much of its teachings, but in spite of all this, they willfully rejected all of these blessings and turned decidedly against them.

In this view, the author of Hebrews was saying that it’s impossible to restore these particular people, as their familiarity with the things of God and their experiences of the influences of the Holy Spirit had served to harden them against conversion.[26] This interpretation fits the Reformed belief that those who are truly saved won’t stop believing, but will persevere to the end due to their being predestined to salvation.

From the non-Reformed position, Baptist professor Dr. Andrew Hudson explains these verses in the larger context of what the book of Hebrews is teaching. Within the context of the complete book, he argues that while this verse is speaking about saved Christians, it is not speaking about them losing their salvation. He begins by making the case that “those who were once enlightened” does mean saved Christians. He goes on to point out that “falling away” in this context is not fully rejecting Christ, and that the judgment for the Christian who falls away isn’t a loss of salvation.

Hudson makes the point that the book of Hebrews was written to Jewish Christians who were facing persecution and who were faced with either trusting God for help (through Jesus) or refusing to trust Him. If they were to turn away from Christ and return to the Mosaic worship system, they would be saying that Jesus’ sacrifice was not sufficient for their daily faith needs. In taking that stand, they would be saying that Christ’s work on the cross was defective. In doing so they would be criticizing His public ministry and thus “putting Him to open shame.” In such an instance, these Christians would lose God’s blessing and experience His discipline. If they repented, they would be forgiven, but they would still face discipline from God’s hand. The believer would not escape the consequences of his sinful action by simply repenting. He’d be forgiven, but would face the repercussions.

Hudson suggests that the verse could be paraphrased like this:

For it is impossible for true believers who have been once enlightened, and have accepted the heavenly gift, and have been indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and have experienced the good word of the Gospel and the power of the coming kingdom; and then they fail to live their daily life by faith in Christ, to return by means of repentance to a place where they can escape God’s temporal chastisement because they have openly claimed that Christ’s sacrifice was insufficient to maintain fellowship with God and they have publicly embarrassed and dishonored Christ, their patron.

I see Hudson’s explanation as the proper interpretation of the verse. It shows that Hebrews 6:4–6 isn’t speaking of Christians losing their salvation and being unable to regain it. (For Dr. Hudson’s full paper, click here.)

Christians who have accepted Jesus as their Savior, who have been born again, are saved permanently. We have received eternal salvation, God’s gift of love. We have everlasting life, we are reconciled to God, and we will live forever.—All because God loves us and Jesus died for us, so that we might receive the wonderful gift of salvation.

There will probably always be some theological debate among Christians as to who is saved and who isn’t, or whether some are predestined and others aren’t, as the scriptures on these matters and the interpretation of them will probably always generate some controversy. Let’s remember that these things are truly in God’s hands and it’s not our place to be judgmental. There may well be those whom we will be surprised to see in heaven, as we may not have thought they were believers, or that they sincerely meant it when they prayed for salvation. But we must remember that God is the true and righteous judge; He is the one who knows each person’s heart and motives, who understands everything about each of us. He longs for people to be saved. He loves us all and freely extends His gift of salvation to all who will receive it.

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.[27]


[1] Gordon R. Lewis and Bruce A. Demarest, Integrative Theology, Volume 3 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 175–176.

[2] These are summarized from J. Rodman Williams’ book Renewal Theology, Systematic Theology from a Charismatic Perspective (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 122–127.

[3] Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it … how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? (Hebrews 2:1,3).

Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you too will abide in the Son and in the Father. And this is the promise that He made to us—eternal life (1 John 2:24–25).

If anyone does not abide in Me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned (John 15:6).

[4] You, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, He has now reconciled in His body of flesh by His death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before Him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard … (Colossians 1:21–23).

[5] Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. The saying is trustworthy, for: If we have died with Him, we will also live with Him; if we endure, we will also reign with Him; if we deny Him, He also will deny us (2 Timothy 2:10–12).

Do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised (Hebrews 10:35–36).

[6] We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end (Hebrews 3:14).

Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Peter 1:10–11).

[7] Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life (Revelation 2:10).

I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent (Revelation 2:4–5).

The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of My God, and the name of the city of My God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from My God out of heaven, and My own new name (Revelation 3:12).

[8] John 6:39–40.

[9] John 10:27–29.

[10] Romans 8:38–39.

[11] John 3:36.

[12] John 3:16.

[13] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: InterVarsity Press. 2000), 790.

[14] John 3:17–18.

[15] Romans 8:1.

[16] For more on the subject of the connection between sin and salvation, see The Heart of It All,Sin: Humanity’s Sinful Nature, and Sin: Are There Degrees of Sin?

[17] Hebrews 12:6, 8,10–11.

[18] John 1:12.

[19] Galatians 4:7.

[20] Titus 3:4–7.

[21] 1 Peter 1:3–5.

[22] Ephesians 1:13–14.

[23] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 791.

[24] Since, therefore, we have now been justified by His blood, much more shall we be saved by Him from the wrath of God (Romans 5:9).

[25] Hebrews 6:4–6.

[26] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 794–803.

[27] Philippians 1:6.