Can believers lose their salvation?

Yes, although it is nearly impossible for someone who has accepted Jesus as their personal savior to fall from grace once and for all, there is an exception. What the New Testament teaches about salvation is that it is a promise from God to those who remain faithful to Jesus and that nothing can remove those who are saved from God's hand -- except for the believer's own free will to do so themselves. Forfeiture, then, is the one exception to salvation. There are basically two primary camps of thought on this subject: the "once saved - always saved" half who believe that nothing a believer could do would ever disqualify them from salvation and the other bunch which believes that works are as essential to salvation as faith and that without both, salvation is no guarantee. John Calvin of the Reformed Church was one of the primary individuals responsible for promoting the ideal of the eternal assurance of salvation for the elect. The Catholic Church upholds works as fundamental to salvation as faith, but that participation in the sacraments will keep its members from losing their salvation. John Wesley of the Methodists taught that salvation wasn't assured until after death and that anyone could lose their salvation by a single immoral act or thought. Though there seems to be scripture verses which could support all sides, here are the reasons for the one-exception rule to losing salvation...

        "See that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father. And this is what he promised us -- even eternal life." (1 John 2:24-25)

If you turn your back on God, then you forfeit salvation.

According to Philippians 2:13, "it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose." If this is so, then how is it possible for a believer to stray from God's will and allow their's to cause them to fall? The answer is that the sinful nature is in continual conflict with the Spirit (Galations 5:16-25). Even Jesus had to ask God to make his will be done over his own conflicting desires (Matthew 26:39, Mark 14:36, Luke 22:42). According to Hebrews 6:4-6, "It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace." This does not say that it is impossible to fall away, but that it is impossible to be brought back after falling away. 2 Peter 2:20-21 says, "If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning. It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them." By no means does this infer that backsliders cannot be brought back into the fold. What it does say is that there are those who will lose their salvation who ultimately reject Christ as their savior after having known the way. In this sense, they are worse off than those who are lost, having never known the way, and who remain under God's wrath. If it were impossible for the saved to lose their salvation, then Scripture would not have addressed the possibility. Even as in the Old Testament under the law, it must then remain possible to be blotted out of the Book of Life (Revelation 20:12, 15, Exodus 32:33, Psalm 69:28).

        "Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him." (John 3:36)

Continued and deliberate sin leads to forfeiture.

It is possible to sin as a believer, because 1 John 1:8 says that we deceive ourselves if we claim to be without sin and 1 John 2:1-2 says that Jesus is the defense for the sin of the believer and the atoning sacrifice for the whole world. The Bible warns that "If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God" (Hebrews 10:26-27). 1 John says three times that those who are born of God do not continue to sin (3:6, 9, and 5:18). This does not mean that Christians are incapable of sin, rather, that they are no longer slaves to sin (Romans 6:6, 12). If we continue to live in sin, then we allow the work of the devil to succeed, which Jesus came to destroy, and we ourselves become children of the devil (1 John 3:6-9). Jesus warned the church in Ephesus that, although they were hard working and had suffered hardship for his sake, they were still unrepentant of ongoing sin and were in danger of losing their lampstand (Revelation 2:1-7). In the parable of the ten virgins (Matthew 25:1-13), half of the redeemed were foolish and continued in their sinful ways, unrepentant and unprepared at the coming of their groom, the result of which was his rejection of them. Like Esau, who forfeited his inheritance rights, Christians may be denied their eternal inheritance as a result of continual immorality (Hebrews 12:16-17).

        "What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?" (Romans 6:1-2)

Once saved, no outside force can disqualify you.

Scripture teaches that no one can snatch Christ's followers out of his hand or the hand of God (John 10:27-29), nor can any power in all creation, both earthly and spiritual, separate Christ's followers from God (Romans 8:38-39). According to 1 Peter 1:5, those who have faith in Christ are shielded by God's power. According to Ephesians 4:30, believers are sealed with the Holy Spirit for the day of redemption. According to Hebrews 7:25, "he is able to save completely those who come to God through him." However, it is still the responsibility of the believer to remain faithful to Jesus and thereby remain protected by God. Outside forces still have an influence in changing our minds and our hearts. 1 Timothy 4:1 warns us, "The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons." According to John 6:39-40, "And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father's will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day." Although this may be the will of God, there is still the will of man to contend with. Because of our free will, we are free to choose to accept or reject Christ as our savior. If this is true, then we are still able to reject him even after being saved by him. Outside forces may have an influence in the potential departure from God, but ultimately the burden of rejection lies in our own free will, or lack of desire to employ it for our own good. Jesus said in John 6:37 that he will never drive away those who come to him. Remember, however, that whoever disowns Jesus before men, he will disown before his Father in heaven (Matthew 10:33).

        "Here is a trustworthy saying: If we died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him. If we disown him, he will also disown us; if we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself." (2 Timothy 2:11-13)

Judgment -- not salvation -- will be based on works.

Some may argue that works are as essential to salvation as faith, however, it is not by works that we are saved (Romans 4:5, 11:6, Ephesians 2:8-9), but it is works which prove our repentance (Acts 26:20, 2 Corinthians 9:13). Ephesians 2:10 says that we were "created in Crist Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." The good deeds which we do are in penitence for being reconciled to God. As Matthew 3:8 and Luke 3:8 put it, "produce fruit in keeping with repentance." Our responsibility is to work for the sake of Christ towards the salvation of others. As long as we have faith, we should continue to work. Once the work begins to cease, it is a sign that our faith has faltered and we may be in danger of becoming spiritually dead and useless: "As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead" James 2:26). Though some may work diligently and be saved, their efforts will be shown as misguided and they will be as one escaping through the flames (1 Corinthians 3:14-15). According to the parable of the loaned money (Matthew 25:14-28), Jesus warns that those who do absolutely nothing with what God has given them will be stripped of what they have and thrown out. Although this may be perceived as an example of losing salvation through a lack of works, it is the attitude of the useless servant which condemns him. In the end, what we have done and all our deeds will be judged (Revelation 20:12-13) and by this will we receive our eternal rewards (Matthew 16:27, 1 Corinthians 3:8, Ephesians 6:7-8, Colossians 3:23-25).

This whole premise can be summed up in John 15:1-8, where Jesus says, "I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples."

Those who try to be justified by works will be judged in accordance with the law and will find themselves alienated from God's grace (Galations 5:4). Our works, as 2 John 1:8-11 warns, should be in accordance with the teachings of Christ and not wasted efforts towards the benefit of godless men, otherwise we may lose what we have worked for and not be fully rewarded. According to 2 Corinthians 5:10, "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad."

        "But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone." (Titus 3:4-8)

Those who have deceived themselves and others regarding finding Jesus are not truly saved to begin with.

There are some who believe themselves to be saved and work towards this end, but only deceive themselves (Matthew 7:21-23): "Not everyone who says to me, �Lord, Lord,� will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, �Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?� Then I will tell them plainly, �I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!� " There are others who seek Jesus, but are not willing to serve him (Luke 9:62): "Jesus replied, 'No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.' " There are those whom Paul speaks of who accept Jesus but not the gospel (1 Corinthians 15:2): "By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain." Then there are those who seem to be Christians but deny the diety of Christ, whether secretly or openly (1 John 2:19-23): "They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us. But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth. I do not write to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it and because no lie comes from the truth. Who is the liar? It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a man is the antichrist -- he denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also." Regardless of the reason or circumstance, not everyone who claims to be saved is actually redeemed by the blood of Jesus and therefore cannot lose what they did not have to begin with.

        "This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is the word of God. Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. Those on the rock are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away. The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life's worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature. But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop." (Luke 8:11-15)

The one unpardonable sin is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.

According to Matthew 12:31-32, Jesus said, "...every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come," and according to Mark 3:29, he added, "whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin." There are some confessed believers who feel that they have blasphemed against the Holy Spirit in one sense or another and have therefore lost their salvation. The general concensus regarding this is that true believers are incapable of committing this one unpardonable sin because the Holy Spirit lives within them and cannot blaspheme against himself. Contextually (Luke 12:8-10 aside), this remark was made to the Pharisees because they had dismissed various miracles of God and heedlessly regarded the Holy Spirit as the prince of demons. Jesus knew their thoughts and the intentions of their hearts. Not only were they rejecting Jesus, they were also openly rejecting the Spirit of God. Bear in mind, though, that according to Matthew 12:36, we will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word we have spoken. Oh, and another heinous sin is causing a believer to sin (Matthew 18:6, Mark 9:42, Luke 17:1-2).

        "If anyone sees his brother commit a sin that does not lead to death, he should pray and God will give him life. I refer to those whose sin does not lead to death. There is a sin that leads to death. I am not saying that he should pray about that. All wrongdoing is sin, and there is sin that does not lead to death." (1 John 5:16-17)

What about suicide?

Does the act of taking one's own life after accepting Jesus as their personal savior destroy their chances of salvation? The early church fathers considered suicide a premeditated act of murder, a violation of the sixth commandment (Exodus 20:13), and one of the most fatal of unrepented sins. Modern apologetics holds to the view that the acceptance of Jesus is the assurance of eternal life (John 6:47), and that nothing a believer does will disqualify them from this promise. There are no Bible verses which directly address the loss of salvation due to suicide. According to 1 Corinthians 6:19-20: a Christian's body is a temple of the Holy Spirit; who is in you; whom you have received from God; you are not your own; you were bought at a price; therefore honor God with your body. Now consider 1 Corinthians 3:16-17, "Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit lives in you? If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him; for God's temple is sacred, and you are that temple." 1 Corinthians 12:26 says that all believers are part of the body of Christ and if one part suffers then every part suffers with it. The act of suicide, it would seem, is a selfish act of destruction upon the temple of God and a blow to the entire body of Christ. Not only has the suicidal individual rejected their own life, but they have rejected the comfort and alternatives that God provides (1 Corinthians 10:13, Ephesians 3:16-19, Philippians 2:13, 4:7). A loss of salvation, however... most likely not, because it still remains a forgivable sin.

        "For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone. If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord." (Romans 14:7-8)

How are we assured of salvation?

There are several assurances of the hope of everlasting salvation, one of which is by loving one another. If we follow the command to love one another, even unbelievers will know that we are disciples of Jesus (John 13:34-35). According to 1 John 4:20, "If anyone says, 'I love God,' yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen." Another that ties into this is simply doing right, as 1 John 3:10 says, "This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother." Another is finding comfort in the Bible, which reminds us of God's promises to those who believe: "I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us - whatever we ask - we know that we have what we asked of him" (1 John 5:13-15). Other assurances of salvation include maintaining the faith, adding godly qualities to that faith, and preventing our hearts from condemning us, as the following Scriptures say...

Colossians 1:21-23, "Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation -- if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant."

2 Peter 1:5-11, "For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, selfcontrol; and to selfcontrol, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins. Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ."

1 John 3:18-24, "Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him. And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. Those who obey his commands live in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us."

1 John 4:13-18, "We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love."

        "We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the one who was born of God keeps him safe, and the evil one cannot harm him. We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one. We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true -- even in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life." (1 John 5:18-20)

Struggle to remain in the faith.

There are many examples in the Bible which speak of the struggle of maintaining the faith and encourage and warn us not to give up or to give in to deceiving spirits and false teachings, by which we may ultimately deny reconciliation with God and relinquish our promise of salvation. Here are just a few...

Matthew 24:10-13, "At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved."

Luke 13:22-24, "Then Jesus went through the towns and villages, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem. Someone asked him, 'Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?' He said to them, 'Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.' "

Luke 14:34-35, "Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out."

Romans 11:22, "Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off."

1 Corinthians 9:27, "No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize."

1 Corinthians 10:12, "So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall!"

Philippians 1:6, "...being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus."

Philippians 2:12-13, "Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed -- not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence -- continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose."

Colossians 1:22-23, "But now he has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation -- if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel..."

1 Timothy 4:1, "The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons."

2 Peter 3:17, "Therefore, dear friends, since you already know this, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of lawless men and fall from your secure position."

1 John 2:24-25, "See that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father. And this is what he promised us -- even eternal life."

        "You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men." (Matthew 5:13)

Holier Than Thou