By G. Lee Southard, PhD
Pro Position G. Lee Southard PhD March17, 2022
Con Position Jeffrey Clemons M.ED. May 22, 2022
The title question was originally proposed on March 17, 2022, with the conclusion that it is possible for one to lose their salvation.
This conclusion has been challenged on May 22, 2022, with the conclusion that it is not possible to lose one’s salvation.
Read the two positions and if you have an opinion go to the website www.toknowwithcertainty.com and click on contact and then click on Submit A Contact Form with a message.
The question of “Can one lose their salvation?” has been debated among Christians for years. Answers range from “no” and “never” to “yes”. This article takes the position that the answer is “yes”, under certain conditions, one can lose salvation. They undergo a deconversion and become an apostate, based on the loss of a belief in Christ.
Before building the case, some definitions are in order.
Deconversion: The loss of faith in a religion, for example. Christianity, and return to a previously held religion or non-religion (typically atheism, agnosticism, or rationalism).
Apostasy: Apostasy is when someone who at one time professed the Christian faith renounces it completely. They become an apostate.
Renounce: Formally declare one’s abandonment of a claim (Christianity) or to reject and stop using or consuming.
Blaspheme: To speak irreverently about God or sacred things.
Regarding whether one can lose salvation, there are three views. The first opposing view is “once saved, always saved,” even if you turn away from Christ through deconversion or apostasy. Under this view, salvation is a lifetime covering regardless of what one believes after having once made a genuine profession of faith.
The second opposing view is that if one has made an initial profession of faith and then later declares that they no longer believe the original profession of faith was not genuine.
The third, a supporting view, is that you can lose your salvation, i.e., no longer saved, even if your original salvation was genuinely based on belief at the time, but later, you no longer believe. You have undergone a deconversion. Marriott has given real-life examples of deconversion.1
What the Bible says
The Bible refers to people who were once in the church and left the church. Presumably, these people had made professions of faith in Jesus Christ and became part of the church. In 1 John 2:19, he says about them, “They went out from us, but they did not belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.” The Apostle John went so far as to call them antichrists if they had denied God and that Jesus is the Christ.
Does this passage mean these people were apostates? Did they undergo a deconversion? Had these people pretended or thought they were believers but never really trusted Christ? Alternatively, did they experience a deconversion from genuinely believing to non-believing? It is not clear if “belonged to us” means they had been saved or were part of the fellowship of believers, the church.
Hebrews 6:4-6 is more specific. “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, and who have fallen 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.” The passage appears to be saying that some have once tasted the heavenly gift of salvation, i.e., enlightened (saved), shared in the Holy Spirit, and tasted the goodness of God’s word but cannot be brought back to salvation. The passage describes a deconversion, and they can’t be brought back to repentance, the first step in salvation.
Another interpretation holds that the passage is written not about Christians but about unbelievers. They are convinced of the basic truths of the gospel but have not placed their faith in Jesus Christ as Savior. They are intellectually persuaded but spiritually uncommitted. However, being enlightened and sharing in the Holy Spirit sounds like a saved person, a Christian, and a believer in Jesus Christ. This passage is about Christians.
Another interpretation is that the writer of Hebrews is making a hypothetical statement that has no basis for happening: “If a Christian were to fall away” means it is not possible for a true Christian to fall away.
Many believers have held that true Christians can lose their salvation. Several New Testament texts indicate that this can happen. For example, Paul’s words in 1 Timothy 1:18–20:
“This charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies previously made abo good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith, among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme.” “… amid instructions and admonitions related to Timothy’s life and ministry, Paul warns Timothy to keep the faith, keep a good conscience, and be reminded of those who didn’t. The Apostle refers to those who made “shipwreck of their faith,” men whom he “handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme.” This second point references Paul’s ex-communication of these men, and the whole passage combines a sober warning with concrete examples of those who fell away grievously from their Christian profession.” RC Sproul
Hebrews 10:26-31 reinforces the argument for deconversion. It says that to deliberately keep on sinning after once receiving the knowledge of salvation has in effect turned away from the faith and Jesus’ sacrifice for sin applies to them no longer. Severe punishment awaits because it is equivalent to insulting Jesus and his sacrifice to create the blood covenant that brings salvation. In addition, the Holy Spirit has been insulted (blasphemed).
Unbelief is the Basis for Deconversion
Without belief, there is no salvation. The Bible is clear that belief in the Lord Jesus Christ is the essential requirement for eternal salvation. The most basic of faith statements, John 3: 16, states, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life”. The Apostle Paul in response to the Philippian jailer’s question, “What must I do to be saved” (Acts 16: 31) replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”
Since belief is essential to salvation, unbelief in Christ would be a state of being unsaved, whether once saved or not. Belief is strengthened and helped made possible by knowing the evidence for the faith with certainty. Deconversion and apostasy imply that belief has given way to unbelief.
The Prevalence of Deconversion
Deconversion is not a rare event. Deconversions have been growing at 1.1 million per year and are fed primarily by youth lost to the church before high school graduation. As many as 60% of Christian church youth leave the faith before high school graduation.2
Deconversion is real and represents a growing problem for the church and America. We know the reasons for deconversion and how to solve it. The church is the only institution that can reverse the trends, but it has blinders.2 It must take the lead.
People need to address doubt and unbelief by knowing the Christian faith based on Biblical, scientific, and historical evidence.3 The church must allow an atmosphere where one can express doubt. Then it must prioritize youth ministry, and Christian Education seeded with more evidence-based curriculum for ages 10-30.4
- Marriott J, A Recipe for Disaster. Four Ways Churches and Parents Prepare Individuals to Lose Their Faith and How they Can Instill a Faith that Endures (2019)
- Southard L, The Battle We Must Not Lose: A Call to Save Our Youth and Restore America as One Nation Under God, Faithful Life Publishers (2021).
- Southard L, To Know with Certainty: Answers to Christian Students Questions Before Leaving High School, WestBow Press (2017).
Can a True Christian Lose or Abandon their Salvation?
True salvation always produces a lasting change of nature in a true convert. Therefore, whenever holiness of life does not accompany a confession of conversion, it must be understood that this individual is not a Christian.
Jonathan Edwards, A Treatise Concerning the Religious Affections, 1746
Most Christians have asked this question at one time or another, and it is an enormously important question. The answer to the question is closely connected to everything the Bible says about God’s redemptive work through Jesus Christ.
Before directly addressing the question, it is critically important to define several terms according to the Bible accurately:
- True Christian. A true Christian is a person who has had a spiritual rebirth through regeneration. This is referred to in Scripture as being born again. By putting their faith and trust in the person and work of Jesus Christ. They have repented of their sins and accepted that the death of Jesus on the cross is payment for sin. They believe that His resurrection on the third day is our assurance of eternal life. John 5:24 says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment but has passed from death to life.”
The mark of a true Christian is love for others and obedience to God’s Word (1 John 2:4,10). The distinguishing mark of the true church of Jesus Christ is the proclamation of the cross of Christ and His resurrection. A true Christian is indeed a child of God, a part of God’s true family, and one who has been given new life in Jesus Christ and is now called a New Creation in Christ (2 Cor5:17).
- Regeneration. Scripture says that all people are born “dead in sins and trespasses” (Eph. 2:1). By nature, we are unable to do anything pleasing to God. No one naturally seeks after God (Rom. 3:10–11). The natural man or woman is unable to see the kingdom of God or understand the things of God (John 3:3; 1 Cor. 2:14). This means that no one can trust in Christ apart from the initiative of God’s saving grace, namely, regeneration.
In regeneration, God implants a new heart in those He chooses, called His elect. With a renewed will, affections, and desires in God’s elect, the new heart enables them to walk in a manner pleasing to Him. Regeneration is, therefore, one of the saving benefits of the redemption purchased by Christ and applied to the elect by the Holy Spirit. If a person professes to be a Christian but has not been regenerated by the Holy Spirit, they are not a true believer.
- Salvation. Commonly referred to as being saved or born again means deliverance or redemption from sin and its consequences of death.
Why does everyone need salvation?
- God loves you and offers you eternal life. John 3:16 says, “God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.
- All of us sin and our sin has separated us from God. We were created to be in communion with God, but our rebellion and sin have broken that fellowship. The
Bible says in Rom 3:23, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”. The results of our sin is death and spiritual separation from God. Romans 6:23 says, “The wages of sin is death”.
- Jesus Christ is God’s only provision for our sin. We are all dead in our sins, separated from God, and headed to hell. But Romans 5:8 tells us, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Jesus made it possible for us to be righteous before God by taking the punishment for our sins through His death on the cross.
- Salvation is individually receiving by faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord and repenting of our sin. Each of us experiences salvation by personally receiving Christ. John 1:12 says. “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” We receive Christ by faith. Eph 2:8 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God. When you are saved or born again, you experience a spiritual transformation, a total change of heart. When We Receive Christ, We Experience a new birth.
- Apostasy. Apostasy is generally defined as the determined, willful rejection of Christ and His teachings (Heb. 10:26–29; John 15:22). This is different from false belief or error, which results from ignorance. It is clear from the Bible that apostates are people who spoke professions of faith in Jesus Christ but never genuinely received Him as Savior and Lord. They pretended to be believers or make-believers. Those who turn away from Christ never really trusted Him; as 1 John 2:19 says, “They went out from us, but they did not belong to us. If they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.” Those who apostatize demonstrate that they are not true believers, and they never were. Some will point out that the Bible also contains strong warnings against apostasy. These warnings have led some to doubt the doctrine of eternal security. After all, if we cannot lose our salvation, why are we warned against falling away from the Lord?
The biblical warnings against apostasy are warnings to those under the umbrella of “faith” without ever having truly exercised their faith. Scriptures such as Hebrews 6:4–6 and Hebrews 10:26–29 are warnings to “pretend” believers that they need to examine themselves before it’s too late. With these Biblical definitions in mind, let’s go back to the question, can a true Christian lose or abandon their salvation? Dr. John MacArthur, Chancellor of The Master’s University, asserts that forfeiting salvation elevates one’s own power to sin above the power of God’s grace. He says, “If, as some Christians maintain, salvation can be forfeited, it would be obvious that God’s grace lacks everlasting power, that the life He bestows on believers is not eternal. A believer’s hope could only be temporary. He would be in danger of losing salvation because it would depend on his faithfulness and power to avoid sin that would cast him back into lostness. If that were true, one’s power to sin would be greater than God’s power to save and undermine any testimony to unbelievers to bring them to salvation.”
Therefore, answering the question of losing or abandoning one’s salvation requires examining what the Bible says occurs at salvation and studying what losing salvation would entail. The list below looks at what the Bible says occurs at salvation:
- A Christian is a new creation. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17). This is a phrase Paul repeatedly used in his epistles to speak of a believer’s spiritual relationship to Christ. According to Scripture, we see that a true Christian is not simply an “improved” version of a person; rather, a true Christian is an entirely new creature. That person is “in Christ.” For a Christian to lose salvation, the new creation would have to be destroyed, and God’s Word would be a lie. John 5:24 says: “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment but has passed from death to life.” Further, Deuteronomy 31:8 says, “It is the LORD who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.” Nowhere in Scripture does it say that God destroys, abandons, or rejects this new creation.
- A Christian is redeemed. “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect” (1 Peter 1:18–19). The word redeemed refers to a purchase being made; a price being paid. We were purchased at the cost of Christ’s death. For a Christian to lose salvation, God Himself would have to revoke His purchase of the individual for whom He paid with the precious blood of Christ. Nothing in the Scriptures supports this position.
- A Christian is justified. “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1). To justify is to declare righteousness. All those who receive Jesus as Savior are “declared righteous” by God. For a Christian to lose salvation, God would have to go back on His Word and “un-declare.” what He had previously declared. Those absolved of guilt would have to be tried again and found guilty. God would have to reverse the sentence handed down from the divine bench.
- A Christian is promised eternal life. Eternal life is the promise of spending forever in heaven with God. God promises eternal life to those who truly believe. For a Christian to lose salvation, eternal life would be redefined or God is lying. In the gospel of John, we repeatedly read those believers have “eternal life.” Not temporary life, but eternal life. Below are a few examples just from the books of John: John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:36: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.”
- A Christian is marked by God and sealed by the Spirit. “You also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:13–14). At the moment of faith, the new Christian is marked. He is sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, to act as a deposit to guarantee the heavenly inheritance. For a Christian to lose salvation, God would have to erase the mark, withdraw the Spirit, cancel the deposit, break His promise, revoke the guarantee, keep the inheritance, forego the praise, and lessen His glory.
- A Christian is guaranteed glorification. “Those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified” (Romans 8:30). According to Romans 5:1, justification is ours at the moment of faith. According to Romans 8:30, glorification comes with justification. All those whom God justifies are promised to be glorified. When Christians receive their perfect resurrection bodies in heaven, this promise will be fulfilled. If a Christian can lose salvation, then Romans 8:30 is in error, because God could not guarantee glorification for all those He predestines, calls, and justifies.
In Conclusion, true Christians cannot lose or abandon their salvation. Everything the Bible says happens to us when we receive Christ would be invalidated if salvation could be lost. Salvation is the gift of God, and God’s gifts are “irrevocable” (Romans 11:29). A Christian cannot be “un-newly” created. The redeemed cannot be unpurchased. Eternal life cannot be temporary. God cannot invalidate His Word. Finally, Scripture says that God cannot lie (Titus 1:2). Objections to the question of could a Christian lose or abandon their salvation
Two common objections to the belief that a Christian cannot lose salvation concern these experiential issues:
- What about those Christians who live a sinful, unrepentant lifestyle?
- What about Christians who are abandoning their faith and denying Christ?
The problem with these objections is the assumption that everyone who calls themself a “Christian” has had a true salvation experience and has been born again. Dr. Steven Lawson correctly points out that a genuine conversion results in a new creation in Christ, whereas a counterfeit believer will not show such evidence. He says, “In A Counterfeit Conversion, There Is No Death to Self, No Submission to The Lordship of Christ, No Taking Up A Cross, No Obedience In Following Christ, No Fruit Of Repentance – Only Empty Words, Shallow Feelings, And Barren Religious Activities. On The Contrary, With A True Conversion Sin Is Abhorred, The World Renounced, Pride Crushed, Self-Surrendered, Faith Exercised, Christ, Seen as Precious, and the Cross Embraced as One’s Only Saving Hope.”
The Bible declares that a true Christian will not live in a state of continual, unrepentant sin (1 John 3:6). The Bible also says that anyone who departs the faith demonstrates that he was never truly a Christian (1 John 2:19). They may have been religious, they may have put on a good show, but the power of God never regenerated them. “By their fruit, you will recognize them” (Matthew 7:16). The redeemed of God belong “to him who was raised from the dead so that we might bear fruit for God” (Romans 7:4).
True Christians cannot lose their salvation but they will encounter difficulties in life, harsh circumstances, or unfair treatment, and may question God’s activity or even His goodness. These true believers may be tempted to “backslide”, that is to move away from Jesus after being near Him. A backsliding believer may be tempted to make unrighteous choices such as those described in Galatians 5:19-21. But it is tremendously important to know the backsliding of a true believer doesn’t mean they lose their salvation. God, in His perfect timing, will draw the backsliding True Believer back to Him through a variety of situations and methods, including other believers, circumstances, and the illumination of the Scriptures. The Good Shepherd searches for His lost sheep, and, “when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home” (Luke 15:5–6). The lamb is found, and the Shepherd gladly bears the burden; our Lord takes full responsibility for bringing the lost one safely home.