Can You Lose Your Salvation? Once Saved Always Saved?
Leighton Flowers | Professor of Theology
Dallas Baptist University
**This article was previously posted by Leighton Flowers on his website www.soteriology101.com and is used by permission.
Leighton is: teaching pastor in his local church, an adjunct Professor of Theology at Dallas Baptist University, and the Youth Evangelism Director for Texas Baptists.
“Can I lose my salvation,” is one of the most googled phrases regarding the topic of soteriology. Many people are concerned with this tragic potential. In order to answer this question some refer to the doctrine called the “Perseverance of the Saints,” and others the more common teachings such as, “Once Saved Always Saved,” or “Eternal Security of the Believer.” All of the discussions typically center around the foundational concern of an individual feeling insecure in his relationship with God.
Many of us have gone through similar insecurities in dating relationships. We know how we feel about that significant other, but we are not quite sure how they feel about us. What has to happen? The “DTR!” The “Defining of the Relationship.”
We have to sit down with the one we care about and tell them how we feel in hopes that they reciprocate those feelings. In that process we can either bring that relationship to an end or find security in knowing how the other feels about us.
It is similar in our relationship with God. As long as we are unaware of how God really feels about us individually, we will continue to have these insecurities. The good news is that God’s word does provide us a “DTR.” The bible clearly “defines the relationship” between God and man, which is where we develop our systematic teachings on each particular subject.
This brings us to the “P” in the popular Calvinistic soteriological acronym called TULIP. Chapter 17 of the Westminster Confession of faith defines it in this manner:
Perseverance of the saints is the Calvinist doctrine that those who are truly saved will persevere to the end and cannot lose their salvation. It doesn’t mean that a person who is truly saved will never lose faith or backslide at any time. But that they will ultimately persevere in faith (inspite of failures) such as not to lose their salvation. The doctrine of perseverance is rooted in God’s unconditional election and predestination. That is, since God is the One who chose and predestined the elect to salvation, therefore the elect will be saved. They might turn away from faith and give appearance of losing their salvation, but if they really are elect they will repent and ultimately return to faith, because God is the One ensuring their salvation.(1)
Those of us who hold to “The Corporate View of Election” (the most widely held view of Southern Baptist biblical scholars), likewise affirm the Calvinistic doctrine that “those who are truly saved will persevere to the end and cannot lose their salvation.” Some Calvinists feel it is inconsistent for those of us who deny any part of the TULIP doctrines to try and maintain the doctrine of perseverance. This accusation, however, is misapplied because it fails to recognize that we affirm the effectual work of regeneration, just like our Calvinistic brethren. We disagree as to the “ordo salutis” (order of salvation) in that we do not affirm the concept of pre-faith regeneration (irresistible grace). Instead we believe as John clearly stated, “These are written so that you may believe Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and by believing you may have life in His name.” -John 20:31
In today’s podcast I go over these points in great detail, outlining Ephesians chapter 1 and Paul’s teaching regarding Predestination, the TRUE “P” of the biblical doctrine regarding the perseverance of those who are “IN HIM.”
John Piper writes this about the doctrine:
“The true Christian is safe, but his safety is confirmed in his pressing on to make his final inheritance his own. Our safety is seen in the words “because Christ Jesus has made me his own.” In other words, our security is not based finally on our grip on Christ, but his grip on us. ” -John Piper
I could not agree more with this statement, though we might disagree as to means and methods that God uses to “make us” His own. The real question of this debate is not, “Can you lose your salvation,” but instead, “If you lost it, did you ever have it to begin with?” 1 John 2:19 answers that question quite clearly:
I recently had a woman in a church tell me she “fell out of love with her husband and got a divorce.” With great care I had to explain to her that she cannot refer to that as “love,” because according to God’s definition “love does not fail.” True genuine love is a never ending commitment. So, she may have cared for her husband, liked him a lot, or been infatuated with him for a time, but she cannot rightly call what she had “love.” We cannot change the definition of the word to match our behaviors.
The same is true of salvation. If it lasts, then it’s real. If it does not then it is proven itself to have been false. So, from the human perspective, unlike God who can see the heart, it may appear one has lost something that he once attained. This may be why some passages appear to suggest that we may lose our salvation. However, from the divine perspective one choosing to walk away from the faith is merely revealing externally what has been true internally all along. The ultimate external fruit of true salvation is perseverance to the very end.
Now, does that mean God’s warnings about falling away are benign? Is God just bluffing as a means to ensure we do not fall away even though He knows full well we cannot? I do not believe so. We should never dull the edge of God’s warnings with our systematics. The warning is a real one and it is given for those who may be self-deceived into thinking they have something they truly do not. This is why Paul exhorts his listeners to, “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith.” (2 Cor. 13:5) Paul is not concerned for those who truly are in the faith, but for those who falsely believe they are in the faith. The only way the self-deceived may come to realize their error is by examining themselves to see if Christ is truly in them. I love what Francis Chan wrote in his book titled Crazy Love in reference to the parable of the sower:
“Do not assume you are good soil.”
In today’s podcast I reflect on my own faith journey (and get a bit emotional, which I shouldn’t be embarrassed about, but as a prideful man I still am). I discuss how reaching one’s pig sty in life and experiencing God’s unconditional love will change you. I honestly believe that anyone who experiences that level of love and forgiveness will never walk away from it. YOU CAN LISTEN TO THE NEW PODCAST BY CLICKING HERE.