Q&A – Can Someone Lose their Salvation?

Our youth group grappled with the tough question last night: “Can someone lose their salvation?”  We discussed both sides of the issue while presenting some of the Biblical evidence on each side.  The Reformed tradition is quite firm on their doctrines of God’s “Unconditional Election” of certain individuals for salvation and the “Perseverance of the Saints” which says, in essence, those whom God has elected are eternally secure and cannot fall away. There is a strong case for this view and I respect those who hold it.

I lean toward the other side and base my assurance of salvation on my day-to-day faith (or trust) in my Lord and Savior Jesus. My salvation is entirely a gift of God and with the help of the Spirit I have responded freely to my Lord’s invitation to enter into saving, covenant relationship (i.e., marriage) with Christ. My salvation is by grace through faith; not by works, lest I should boast (Eph 2:8-9). Yet, I currently believe just as one freely chooses (by the help of the Spirit) to say “I do” and enter into a “marriage” with Jesus, they can freely choose to walk away from their covenant relationship and jeopardize their future salvation.

The Bible has strong evidence for this view as well. Just a few passages that seem to indicate the possibility of “falling away” include:

  • He who stands firm to the end will be saved. (Matt 10:22)
  • If we endure, we will also reign with him. If we disown him, he will also disown us. (2 Tim 2:12)
  • 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. (Phil 2:12-13)
  • I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing. (2 Tim 4)
  • 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. (Heb 6:4-6)

I agree with Gregory Boyd on this issue that we should view our salvation from a relational point-of-view just like a marriage:

It’s best not to put the question of “when salvation happens” into a legal framework (like a court of law). It’s better to rather frame it in a covenant framework. “Getting saved” isn’t like signing up for an insurance policy (the legal framework). It’s like getting married (the covenant framework). Salvation (= kingdom wholeness) begins with a covenant pledge and it grows as one lives out that pledge day by day.

We are the “bride” of Christ, betrothed to Jesus. This begins with our “I do.” We grow as we live this pledge out every day — the bride “making herself ready.” And someday our groom will come back for his bride and we’ll “consummate” the marriage eternally.

When I have an opportunity to “lead people to Christ,” I explain to them what I just told you. If they are ready, I simply lead them in a short prayer in which they confess their sin, ask for forgiveness, and pledge their life to Christ. It’s no different than a pastor leading two people as they enter into marriage vows. But I explain to them, very carefully, that this is not a magical “rescue prayer.” It is a marriage vow. Their pledge only has as much meaning as they give it every subsequent moment of their life (From Greg’s Blog HERE).

I do not think this view needs to leave anyone less assured of their salvation.  My daily surrender to God and commitment to make him Lord of my life is not a burdensome task or attempt to earn salvation.  It is the opposite: It is a daily decision to give the controls over to God precisely because I cannot save myself.  I try to say daily, “Not my will but yours be done” by the inward power of the Holy Spirit.  But I base my security on my real, active relationship with Christ; not on some “experience” of saying the magical prayer, walking the aisle or anything of that sort.  (Those things aren’t bad, of course, if they lead to a genuine life of living that decision out day by day. But sometimes they do not.)  See also my article on Spiritual Synergy.

Furthermore, our loving savior is a faithful covenant keeper and pursues his bride with a reckless kind of unconditional love even when we continuously fall short in our reciprocating love.  So many want to turn the issue into a legal one where we ask how much can we get away with before being “cut off” from salvation.  This “in” or “out” understanding of salvation with Heaven as the main goal immediately fades when we begin to look at salvation as the byproduct of our covenant relationship with God.

The question we should concern ourself with daily is not “Am I still saved?” or “Will I still get into Heaven?” but “Is my relationship with Jesus growing stronger and more intimate daily?” Like a loving spouse, am I loving, adoring, serving, listening to, conversing with Him daily?  Our ongoing battle with sin and unrighteousness does not dissolve our marriage; it merely hinders the intimacy and union God longs to share with us.  The only thing that can render our covenant vows void is if we abandon our faith and cut ourselves off from the lover, forgiver and savior of our souls.  And, rest assured, there is a huge difference between a poor marriage in need of growth in grace on the one hand, and walking out on one’s spouse vowing never to come back on the other. God will never leave us or forsake us.  Will we let His penetrating love and sanctifying Spirit daily transform us more and more into his likeness?

I believe this is an important debate yet one that I am not dogmatic about.  I am still wrestling with other traditions and viewpoints.  For example, I (coincidentally) found the following video posted at Jesus Creed when I got home from our youth group gathering.  Here is the Eastern Orthodox Church’s understanding of salvation — past, present and future realities.

So, what do you think?

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