Questions: Can I lose my salvation? Is salvation a 'one moment' thing?

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I’m always happy to answer questions about a sermon I preach. In fact, I think it’s a good sign when people ask questions. Questions show that you are not just listening, but listening critically. You should never automatically believe what someone says about the Bible, no matter how trustworthy a person he or she is. For those two reasons I’m happy to encourage you to ask questions as well as answer two question that came up after Sunday’s Sermon.

Both questions stem from our conversation that only those who abide in the teaching of Jesus have eternal life. Furthermore, one of the way’s abiding in the teaching of Jesus is proven in ones life is through participation in the Christian community. Like I said Sunday, willingly cut yourself off from the Christian community and you have no reason to think you have eternal life. You can’t love and follow Jesus and not love the brothers, the church. Here are the questions that arose from Sunday’s message.

1) Am I saying you can lose your salvation? No, I do not believe that an individual can be saved and then lose that salvation. I’m not going to argue for the doctrine of eternal security here (that’s a post for our ‘what we believe series’), but I do want to make it clear that I do not believe John is teaching that you can lose your salvation. Remember, John is writing that we might know we have eternal life. To make that argument John puts our attention on the present. What are you doing now? Are you currently living out the practical implications of Jesus’ message–like being a part of a Christian community? For John, solid confidence in eternal life is not found by appealing to a decision made or prayer in the past. For certain, past decisions and prayers are important, but the way you know you believe the message of Jesus is to consider how it impacts your life. That’s why John says, “They went out from us, but they were not of us” 1 John 2:19. Those who went out did not lose their salvation. They never believed, and their lack of believe was demonstrated by their leaving the Christian community. One reason this is hard to hear is because all of us know people whom we love dearly that have publicly confessed belief in Jesus but have since walked away from the church. We want to believe they have eternal life. But according to John, willingly leaving the church strips ones confidence that they have eternal life. It is evidence that you have not believed the message of Jesus and so never had eternal life.

2) Does salvation happen in a single moment? This is a separate but related question. One reason we have difficulty following John’s argument is because we have misunderstood the totality of salvation. For many Christians salvation is something that happened, a moment in their past when they were saved. They heard the gospel, believed the message of Jesus, and were saved. Now, there’s something right and wrong in that line of thinking. It is true that if you believe the message of Jesus your sins are forgiven and you have new and eternal life. There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:1). Salvation, however is not a simplistic one moment thing. There are several biblical words and ideas that represent salvation: conversion (Acts 15:3), regeneration (Titus 3:5), justification (Romans 5:18), adoption (Romans 8:15, 8:23), sanctification (Romans 6:22), perseverance (Mat. 24:13), glorification (Romans 8:30). Some of those things have already happened; namely, conversion, regeneration, actual adoption, and justification. Two, sanctification and perseverance, are ongoing in the life of a believer. And two, the fulfillment of adoption and glorification, are yet to happen. Salvation then is much bigger than a single moment in our life. Put your faith in Jesus and you were saved, are being saved, and will be saved. Your salvation began in the past, but it will not be completed until Christ returns, the dead in Christ are raised, and the Kingdom of God is fully consummated in the new heavens and new earth. And the great truth is that the God who began the good work of salvation in you will bring it to completion. You can see then why John puts emphasis on the present, which includes sanctification and perseverance–currently the most visible works of God’s salvation in our life. If you are not continuing in your belief in Jesus (perseverance) or growing in holiness (sanctification) you have no reason to think God ever began the great work of salvation in your life.

*If you have questions about any of our Sermons you can email us, ask us after the sermon, or write your question on the guest info portion of the bulletin and drop it in the offering plate.

4 Responses to "Questions: Can I lose my salvation? Is salvation a 'one moment' thing?"
  1. 1. The day before one leaves the community, one could say that since he has been abiding these many years. then surely he is saved. There are countless devout Baptist ministers that have left the community. When one sins, and God sends him to the desert to contemplate his heart, does he temporarily lose the promise?

    2. Assuming the thief on the cross accomplished conversion, regeneration, adoption, and justification, would he aslo be able to muster enough sanctification and perserverance to cross the finish line? ‘Twould be better to jump from the Sears Tower after leaving the altar.

    Don’t you just love it?
    Happy Father’s Day

    • Great points Bruce (and happy early Father’s Day to you too.) I’ll respond to both of your points in turn.

      1) As for the Baptist Pastor who leaves: I’m sure the false teachers John was addressing could have said the same thing. “Look John, we’ve been a part of the community for years, doesn’t that prove we have eternal life?” I think to rightly understand what’s going on we have to keep in mind that John is writing about ones confidence in salvation. What I want to say is that if someone leaves the Church (and as an aside I don’t think God leads his children away from the Church) they lose their confidence that they have eternal life (of course in reality they either have it or not). In addition, the Christian community has no confident ground on which to look at them and say, “they are a genuine believer.” In time they may repent and in obedience come back to the Christian community. At that time there would be at least one reason to have confidence.

      2) A few things here. First, all of the elements of salvation I mentioned are not things that an individual does. The Bible speaks of them as things that are done to a person. Thus, God regenerates us, adopts us, justifies us, sanctifies us, perseveres us (which is why we cannot lose salvation), and so forth. Second, there is no set amount of sanctification that has to take place for an individual to ‘cross the finish line.’ The key is that we are in actuality being sanctified, progressing in holiness. The thief on the cross, then, progressed in sanctification, albeit less than others who are blessed with a longer Christian life here on earth (though for argument sake, who’s to say how much or little he was sanctified while he hung on a cross believing in the promise of Jesus?). Third, I would say that the thief certainly persevered. Again, perseverance is not a thing to be measured in quantity. The question is, does your faith endure to the end. The thief’s end came far sooner than yours or mine, but he endured to the end none the less.

      And yes, I absolutely love talking about these things!

  2. It’s the same cop-out I’ve heard for years: “Apparently he never believed to begin with.” It’s a given that one’s confidence will wane upon willful separation. ‘Absence grows fonder the heart’ seems to dominate upon forced separation. But the meat of the issue is salvation, not confidence.
    Both sides of the ‘once saved’ coin break down in the extremes: if you sin just before you die, and whether you are allowed the choice to change your mind and not go to Heaven. It’s likely that God’s truth lies somewhere between these two extremes.

    It’s probably safe to say that one can lose his salvation by choice, but I construe ‘confidence’ just another issue that the Holy Spirit needs to deal with yet….not a deal breaker.

    You do not believe in the desert, do you? Ask Neb!

    • You are right in saying the meat of the issue is losing ones salvation. Interestingly, John never posits the idea that salvation can be lost. He writes from the perspective of either having it or not having it. For example, when John refers to those who leave he says, “They went out from us, but they were not of us.” He does not say, they chose to no longer be of us. He says they were (past tense in the Greek) not or never were of us. Abiding fruit that proceeds from faith then, is the evidence looked at.

      A major point in the discussion is that John is writing that we might know we have eternal life. Not that we might know that we will have eternal life. How could John rightly call life in Christ eternal if it could be lost? Eternal life is give to an individual the moment he or she repents and believes. It is by very definition eternal, un-loseable.

      Two verses that I believe play into the matter of losing salvation. The first is John 6:38 – 40. In this passage believers are spoken of as being given to Jesus by the father, and Jesus says that he will “lose nothing of all that [the Father] has given me.” The second is Romans 8:29 – 30. Here Paul argues that those foreknown by God are predestined and called. Ultimately God says the ones called are justified and glorified. If we are justified (made righteous) by faith in Jesus then we are righteous eternally. Never does Scripture speak of one losing the standing of being justified before God.

      Ultimately, that Salvation cannot be lost is rooted in salvation being a work of God. Salvation is not a work of man–man cannot take credit and does not aid his own salvation (that would be salvation by works). Salvation, including the gifts of faith and repentance, are works of God wrought in man. The only way salvation could be lost would be for God to stop his work of Salvation. I believe God would not do that. Philippians 1:6, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” The good work spoken of here is the work of salvation. If God begins it, we are confident that he will bring it to completion. If the work of salvation could be derailed, I don’t see how Paul could have written this verse.

      If salvation is based on human work the certainly salvation could be lost. But if it is a work of God from beginning to end then salvation cannot be lost. The sanctifying, fruit bearing work of God in the present is the evidence that God is working Salvation in us. And if he has begun the work of salvation, he will certainly complete it.

      This, of course, leads to the question famously asked by Jonathan Edwards in his work Religious Affections: “What are the distinguishing qualifications of those that are in favor with God, and entitled to his eternal rewards?” I believe that is the question John is answering.

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