Saturday, February 18, 2017

Can salvation be lost?

Is it possible to be saved, then later turn away from God and lose one’s salvation?  This can be a hot topic and even Christians weigh in on opposite sides of this issue.  Some Biblical verses seem to indicate a Christian can lose his or her salvation.  Some people today believe in eternal security, not necessarily because they have researched the issue in the Bible, but because it sounds more appealing.  That’s not a good method for understanding theology, so let’s look at what the Bible says.

Some of the passages in the Bible that seem to indicate salvation can be lost:
·         “Behold then the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you, God's kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off.” (Romans 11:22)
·         “if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world by the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and are overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first.” (2 Peter 2:20)
·         “I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.” (1 Corinthians 9:27)

Maybe not?
Other Biblical passages seem to indicate salvation is assured:
·         "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” (John 10:27-28)
·         “He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6)
·         “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)

The Bible seems to support both sides of this issue.  Let’s dig deeper to gain a better understanding.

What about those who fall away?
Many people who read the sixth chapter of Hebrews become concerned they may not be able to return to God.  It states, concerning those who have once been enlightened, “and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame” (Hebrews 6:6).  Another verse that seems to corroborate this idea is Hebrews 10:26, which explains, “if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins”.  These seem to indicate believers can lose their salvation.  This is definitely one of the more troubling passages in the Bible.  As the Oracle said to Neo, “It’s a pickle, no doubt about it.”  Those of the Calvinist persuasion are convinced a person cannot lose their salvation:  Those destined for eternal life will experience irresistible grace and those destined for perdition will never be saved.  Arminians, on the other hand, hold to the position that we have the free will to reject God’s salvation even if we had previously accepted it, and vice versa.  As with any Bible passage, Hebrews 6:6 needs to be understood in context. 

A key point in understanding this chapter is recognizing the audience.  Since the book of Hebrews was obviously written to a Jewish audience (hence the book title), this passage may be referring to those who first believed in Jesus Christ for salvation, then returned to Judaism and the regulations found therein.  Rather than reading these verses in isolation, the context of the first five chapters of Hebrews discusses in some detail the status of Jesus Christ as our high priest.  The concepts of the animal sacrificial system and Sabbath rest practiced by the Jews under the old covenant are fulfilled and perfected in Jesus Christ.  Now, if we read Hebrews 6:6 with that backdrop, we can gain a fuller understanding of this verse.  In fact, Paul encountered a similar problem of Jews reverting to the old covenant in Galatia.  He writes, “I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ for a different gospel” (Galatians 1:6) and “did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?” (Galatians 3:2).  Those who have entered into salvation through grace under the new covenant are warned not to return to the old, which was only a foreshadowing anyway (Colossians 2:17).  This is exactly the point the writer of Hebrews is making in chapter 10, when he states:
“For the Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never, by the same sacrifices which they offer continually year by year, make perfect those who draw near” (Hebrews 10:1).

What about King Saul?
When Saul was first called by God to be king of Israel, and after the prophet Samuel anointed Saul, he told Saul:
“the Spirit of the Lord will come upon you mightily, and you shall prophesy with them and be changed into another man” (1 Samuel 10:6)
Then, we are told:
“God changed his heart; and all those signs came about on that day.   When they came to the hill there, behold, a group of prophets met him; and the Spirit of God came upon him mightily, so that he prophesied among them” (v. 9-10).
Though there is no Biblical verse that explicitly states Saul was “saved”, and being able to prophesy does not necessarily mean a person is saved (Matthew 7:21-23), it appears he was accepted by God.  Furthermore, because the Spirit of God came upon him, we can be fairly confident King Saul was saved. 

But, later in his life, Saul disobeyed God and was rejected by God.  The prophet Samuel (in an appearance from the grave) told Saul:
“The Lord has done accordingly as He spoke through me; for the Lord has torn the kingdom out of your hand and given it to your neighbor, to David.  As you did not obey the Lord and did not execute His fierce wrath on Amalek, so the Lord has done this thing to you this day” (1 Samuel 28:17-18).
The key question is whether King Saul lost his relationship with God and was no longer saved. 

Notice in Samuel’s indictment of Saul, he never stated Saul was no longer saved or anything to that effect.  Obviously, God was angry with Saul and removed him as King.  But, look at what Samuel says in the next verse:
“Moreover the Lord will also give over Israel along with you into the hands of the Philistines, therefore tomorrow you and your sons will be with me” (v. 19).
Samuel had died by this time; he was indicating Saul would also be dead the next day.  But, he did not say Saul would be in Gehenna (hell) but with him (Samuel).  God terminated Saul’s life early, but the Bible does not indicate Saul lost his eternal life with God. 

What about Judas?
Did Judas lose his salvation?  Was Judas saved?  In Luke 9, we read:
“And He (Jesus) called the twelve together, and gave them power and authority over all the demons and to heal diseases.  And He sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to perform healing”, then “they began going throughout the villages, preaching the gospel and healing everywhere” (v. 6).
Judas Iscariot was obviously with this group, since Jesus sent “the twelve”.  If Judas was with Jesus, preached the gospel, and was given authority to heal, do those actions mean he was saved?  If so, did Judas later lose his standing with God when, at the end of his life, he betrayed Jesus (Luke 22:48) and committed suicide (Matthew 27:5)?   

The Bible gives no indication that Judas was ever saved.  He is mentioned on a number of occasions in the four gospel accounts as being one of the twelve disciples, spending time with Jesus, and participating in the activities with the other disciples.  Even when Jesus spoke of a betrayer in their midst at the last supper, no one apparently suspected Judas.  To all outward appearances, he was a believer.  However, he never truly became a follower of Jesus in his heart.  Biblical references of Judas portray him as a traitor (Luke 6:16), betrayer of Jesus (Mark 14:10), entered by Satan (Luke 22:3), predicted in the Old Testament as a traitor (Psalm 41:9), a thief (John 12:6), and a devil (John 6:70-71).  Judas never was saved and therefore never lost his salvation. 

To ask if someone can lose salvation, it is critical to ask how salvation is attained in the first place.  Is it through adherence to the commandments?  No, it is not by works, but completely by faith (Ephesians 2:8-9).  So, if we cannot gain salvation by good behavior, it is reasonable to suppose we cannot lose it through misbehavior.  Paul states that we are “sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:26) and “a man is justified by faith apart from works of the law” (Romans 3:28).  King Saul did not lose his salvation because he did not obey God.  His disobedience cost him severely in this life, which is a lesson we should definitely heed today.  However, he did not lose eternal life.  On the other hand, Judas did not lose his salvation because he never had it.  Though he appeared to be a follower of Christ on the outside, his heart never was with Jesus. If we believe in the Son of God, we can know we have eternal life (1 John 5:13).     

[Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible.]

Recommended reading:

Geisler, Norman, and Thomas Howe, When Critics Ask, Wheaton, IL:  Victor Books, 1992.

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