Can You Lose Your Salvation? Can God’s Judgment Fall on Believers?
- by Pastor Jim Feeney, Ph.D.
Summary: For 20 centuries the greatest scholars of the Christian church have wrestled with the question: Can a born-again Christian lose his salvation? Good Calvinist theologians can quote a dozen scriptures that appear to strengthen one side of this issue. And similarly capable Arminian theologians can likewise bring forth a dozen scriptures that seem to provide a different answer to the question. I will not be presumptuous enough to suggest that I can resolve this ancient debate with any degree of certainty.
- My intention in this Bible study, rather, is to offer some Scriptures for you to ponder, to pray about, and to seek illumination on God’s Word from the Holy Spirit. In my 74 years on earth I have seen a growing looseness in American Christianity. The downward moral decline seems to have quickened in our 21st century. I see an increasingly casual approach to sin among believers. In response to that, I offer the Scriptures and comments below in a sincere desire to encourage a striving for Christ-like holiness and for ever-increasing victory over the world, our flesh, and the devil. May the Holy Spirit give you enlightenment and wisdom.
First, let it be established that the apostle Paul is clearly writing this epistle to Christians, to believers in Christ. Fully ten times he addresses the letter’s recipients as “brothers and sisters.”
This 11th chapter speaks in detail about the unbelief (vs. 20) of the majority in ancient Israel. Their unbelief and disobedience (vs. 30) brought upon them God’s severity (22). The Assyrian and Babylonian Captivities and centuries later the Romans’ destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in 70 A.D. are some clear historical examples of God’s severity against His people Israel for their disobedience and unbelief. But thankfully for the Gentiles, “because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles” (11). And thankfully for Israel, the apostle Paul looked prophetically down the corridors of time and foresaw a great ingathering of natural Israelites to faith in Jesus Christ (vss. 12, 15, 23, 24, 25f, 31).
In this chapter’s context, the urgently important point of vs. 22 applies to us believers. Paul declares that the Israelites “which fell” experienced God’s severity in judgment. But to us, to born-again believers in Jesus Christ, Paul spoke of God’s goodness, but with a very big “IF” — “if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off.”
Towards those who fell, severity. Towards the believers, goodness. But the Christian must continue in God’s goodness, avoiding the disobedience and faithless transgressions done by Israel of old — things that brought God’s judgment upon His people and were “written to teach us” (Romans 15:4) … and “were written down as warnings for us” (1 Corinthians 10:11). Those Roman believers, and just as certainly we believers today, were exhorted by the apostle to “continue in His kindness [by faith and obedience to Him]; otherwise you too will be cut off” (vs. 22, Amplified Bible).
Peter is not speaking of people who have never known the Lord. He is speaking of people who “have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” Their serious error was that they “are again entangled in it and are overcome.” They had come to the saving knowledge of Jesus. But then rather than remaining wonderfully freed from the corruption of the world, they returned to it, were again entangled in it, and were overcome. The result of their first entering, then forsaking, God’s way of righteousness and being overcome by the world once again is that they are “worse off at the end than they were at the beginning.”
Shocking but true is the apostle Peter’s Holy Spirit-inspired statement (vs. 21): “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.” You may be finding that thought disconcerting. But it is the infallible word of God! And the Spirit-inspired writer goes on to liken such a person to a dog who vomits the sickening contents of his stomach, then turns right around and eats again that disgusting vomit.
And remember, Peter is not speaking of those who hear the Gospel and simply reject it. No, he is speaking of people who have come to Christ for salvation “by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” and thereby have “escaped the corruption of the world.” But sadly, they have later on “turned their backs on” the way of righteousness, have returned to the world’s corruptions, and are “again entangled in it and are overcome.” They are like the proverbial sow who, having been washed, goes right back to wallowing in the mud!
It takes some serious stretching of the imagination to try, as some commentators do, to portray these people as not really saved in the first place. To the contrary, they show multiple characteristics of having experienced the Lord’s salvation:
• they have “been enlightened”
- • they have “tasted the heavenly gift” (Romans 6:23)
- • they have “shared in the Holy Spirit”
- • they have “tasted the goodness of the word of God” (1 Peter 1:23)
- • they have “tasted the powers of the coming age”
- • clearly at some point in their lives they had repented of their sins (vs. 6)
Whether the writer was speaking of real people or hypothetical examples, they had clearly heard God’s Word with faith and had tasted the heavenly gift of eternal life and had the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. Yet they had “fallen away” from all that, “to their loss”! This was not just a one-time or occasional sin followed by repentance. No! This was a falling away from the Lord that was so significant, so total, that it was the equivalent of that person “crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace” (6).
Of such a deeply fallen believer it is said that “it is impossible for [them] … to be brought back to repentance, to their loss…” Two things stand out here:
1) The believer can fall away to such an extent that he or she can no longer repent.
- 2) They do this “to their loss” (loss of salvation?). However one interprets this, the eternal ramifications of these two items are catastrophic!
As in the Scriptures we have looked at already, this epistle is clearly written to Christian believers. Five times the author addresses the recipients as “brothers and sisters” (3:1, 3:12, 10:19, 13:1, 13:22, NIV).
Then in verse 26 he addresses his fellow believers: “If WE deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth…” Read that verse carefully. This is not a one-time or occasional sin followed by sincere repentance. To the contrary, this is a “deliberate” continuance in sin — “If we [believers] deliberately keep on sinning…” This person is essentially doing the following (29):
- • trampling the Son of God underfoot
- • treating Christ’s blood, which had “sanctified them” (29), as an unholy thing
- • insulting the Spirit of grace (remember, God’s grace that brings salvation is also corrective, Titus 2:11f)
This is a knowledgeable, calculated, conscious choice to continue sinning after having come to the Lord as Savior. The results are catastrophic:
- • no sacrifice for sins is left (26)
- • such a one will have a fearful expectation of judgment… (27)
- • …and of raging fire (27)
- • of being consumed as an enemy of God (27)
- • severe punishment (29)
And finally, lest we erroneously try to apply these warnings to the unbeliever only, the inspired writer pointedly says (vss. 30-31): The Lord will judge his people. It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”
“Without holiness no one will see the Lord.” I can hear the “but, but” reactions! There’s nothing difficult, deep, or mysterious about that verse. It is clear New Testament Scripture, written to “brothers and sisters,” to “make every effort…to be holy.” Why is this pursuit of holiness so important that it is worth our every effort? Because without holiness no one will see the Lord! In fact, our awesomely high calling in this matter is spelled out in Ephesians 4:24 — “Put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”
I have heard John 8:1-11 (the woman caught in adultery) referred to by some as if it allowed us to take a light approach to sin. In front of a hostile crowd, Jesus forgave the woman who had been caught in the very act of adultery — a death-sentence crime in ancient Judaism. Yes, Jesus graciously said to her, “Neither do I condemn you.” However, far too few people go on quote Jesus’ next words to the newly-forgiven adulteress: “Go now and leave your life of sin.” Forgiven? Yes. But also commanded by Jesus to stop sinning? Yes!
A terrible looseness, a casual treating of sin, has infected many portions of the Lord’s Church. You’ll hear Christians excusing unholy living with such nonbiblical justifications for sin as: “Oh, God understands” … “God wants me to be happy” … “Our church is not into a ‘performance’ mentality” … and similar justifications for corrupt lifestyles.
I would love to suggest a two-point sermon outline for preachers to share with their churches this coming Sunday. Here it is:
1) Hebrews 12:14 “…without holiness no one will see the Lord”
- 2) Luke 13:3 [Jesus said] “Unless you repent, you too will all perish.”
Churches are full of people exclaiming, “Lord, Lord.” Likewise, at the Judgment Day there will appear many before Jesus who will say to Him, “Lord, Lord.” Some will say, “Lord, we prophesied, we drove out demons, we did miracles.” Sadly, to some of them Jesus will say, “Away from me, you evildoers!”
Lest we forget, Jesus listed the ultimate standard of His judgment (for good or bad) upon all people: “By their fruits, ye shall know them” (Matthew 7:20, KJV). And immediately after saying that came His words in VSS. 21-23 above, ending with His ominous words, “Away from me you evildoers!” The fruits of their character and conduct did not match up with the confession of their mouths (“Lord, Lord, we prophesied, cast out demons, did miracles.”) But Jesus ignored all that and called them “evildoers.” He knew them and judged them by the fruits of their character manifested in their conduct.
In closing: I have deliberately avoided tackling the long-standing Calvinist-Arminian debate on salvation (eternal security or not? once saved always saved?). After centuries, scholars still have not resolved it conclusively, nor can I. My intent, rather, has been to quote some biblical warnings to believers, warnings that clearly speak of very negative consequences to those Christians who might take a casual, nonchalant approach to their salvation and their own personal conduct.
In His crucifixion, Jesus paid an indescribably horrible price for our sins. He did this so that we could be forgiven, be born again, and become sons and daughters of God Almighty. As the apostle Peter wrote, Jesus “Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness…” (1 Peter 2:24, NASB).
The very grace of God that saves us (Titus 2:11) also “teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age” (Titus 2:12). I trust that each and every one reading this today will incorporate that Scripture into your lives and will see great blessings come from it, as you grow increasingly into the image of our magnificent Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
If God has spoken to your heart today and you would like to come to know Him personally, His Son Jesus Christ is ready and willing to impart His salvation to you and to usher you into the family of God. I encourage you to let evangelist Billy Graham help you pray a sincere prayer that will bring you into God’s wonderful salvation. Please go to https://peacewithgod.net/ You’ll be eternally thankful that you did!