In these days of nominal Christianity, it is imperative to sound the warning that those who have become children of God can lose their salvation if they turn away from their heavenly Father and go back to become servants of sin. Unfortunately, there are people who have set up their own doctrines according to their preferred taste and desire.
They teach that a true, born-again Christian “can never permanently nor completely fall from grace and will always persevere until the end and is thus eternally secure. To fall into grievous sin and to live in sin for a time is allowed. Nobody by their own strength, nor by the grace of God, is able to keep the commands of God fully, but everybody transgresses daily in thought, words, and deeds.”
This doctrine claims that when someone comes to the Lord and receives pardon for their sins, they have eternal life and cannot lose it, even if they should become disloyal and turn their backs on the Lord again. God has to accept them because at one time they believed in Him.
The Holy Scriptures, however, say that eternal life is only through Jesus, and to know Him is eternal life (John 17:3). Only if a child of God, after being saved, through the grace of God lives a life of victory over sin, will he or she be sure that they will persevere until the end and remain in grace. If a person lives in sin, they alone are responsible for being sent to hell on the Day of Judgment.
Since God has given humans free will, the possibility to leave the blessings of God’s grace exists. We have examples of this in the Bible.
When a sinner is born again, the decision to accept God’s grace is completely contingent on his free will. It is also the person’s decision if he or she will remain a Christian or not. God does not take away a person’s free will once they are saved. It depends on the person, whether or not they will live a life pleasing to God. God’s word does not only say: “He who believes in the Son has everlasting life” (John 3:36). But it also says: “But he who endures until the end will be saved” (Matthew 24:13). So we can see that it depends on the resolve of the individual to endure until the end. The decision to believe in the Son is left to the individual.
What does Scripture teach in this regard?
The Bible teaches that God in His omnipotence has promised to protect the believer from Satan’s power. No power can snatch those who remain true to the Lord out of His hand. But the prerequisite is that the Christian remain true to the Lord.
The Bible also shows us that Christians can fall into sin again and lose their salvation. If a person dies in their fallen state, they will be eternally lost, the same as if they had never come to the Lord. Yet if they return to the Lord in true repentance and are sorry for their sin, God will forgive them. No one can keep God’s commandments by relying on their own power. It is only through God’s grace that we can remain obedient to Him.
Scripture affirms that through the power of God we can persevere. Paul writes: “I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day” (2 Timothy 1:12). Also, in Philippians 1:6 we read: “being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.” Jesus Himself says: “No one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand” (John 10:29). These scriptures, along with others, show us God’s faithfulness towards His children. But they do not claim that a Christian can never leave again leave the state of grace.
Reasons for falling
A person who has been saved continues to have free will. One commentator says that “Salvation places the believer into an impenetrable fortress, in which through God’s help they are safe. No attacks of the devil or of the world can penetrate into this place of safety that God has provided. But a Christian is not locked up inside this fortress. And if the fortress is locked, the believer has access to the key. If the Christian decides to open the door to let the enemy in or to leave the fortress, then God will not stop him.” This means that a Christian can depart from God’s grace. However, the cause does not lie in the failure of God’s power but in man’s free decision to choose evil and to hold God’s grace in low esteem.
In the Old Testament, as well as in the New, there are many Scriptures that show us the possibility of a Christian losing God’s grace and ending up eternally lost. “When I say to the righteous that he shall surely live, but he trusts in his own righteousness and commits iniquity, none of his righteous works shall be remembered; but because of the iniquity that he has committed, he shall die” (Ezekiel 33:13).
In the fifteenth chapter of John, the Lord teaches us the following: “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them in the fire, and they are burned” (John 15:6-7). “Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away” (John 15:2). Only true Christians can be branches that abide or remain in the Lord. But even they can be taken away and be lost if they do not bear fruit. (Also see 2 Peter 2:20-21; Hebrews 10:38-39; James 5:19-20.)
Further evidence can be seen from the lives of Saul, Solomon, Judas, Demas, and others. Paul even speaks of some believers, who “concerning the faith have suffered shipwreck” (1 Timothy 1:19). And Peter says: “They have forsaken the right way and gone astray, following the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness” (2 Peter 2:15).
Therefore, it is extremely important that we stay away from teachings that encourage us to sin and love the world. Only if we bear fruit by being totally dependent on God’s grace can we find joy, comfort, and peace and in the end be assured of eternal life.