As a friend and I were having a conversation over a meal, he suddenly went silent mid-sentence. I looked up to see his head bowed in prayer. When he was finished, I curiously asked him what had just happened. He replied that he realized he’d sinned by saying something unkind about someone in our conversation. He explained that he needed to immediately repent and confess his sin to God, asking forgiveness. He needed God’s forgiveness for the sin he’d just committed so that he wouldn’t be lost.
Some Christians live their daily lives in constant fear of losing their eternal reward. They have been taught a graceless and warped view of God.
What does the bible say about losing salvation and regaining it?
As we concluded in the previous article, the passages that are traditionally used to teach the doctrine of losing and regaining salvation don’t really teach the idea at all. Once a person is saved, he or she stays saved until either (1) they die or (2) they lose faith and/or stop repenting.
The Bible actually teaches the opposite of intermittent salvation. Disturbingly, it teaches that once a person abandons their salvation, there is no getting it back.
For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, (5) and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, (6) and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt Heb 6:4-6 ESV
For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, (27) but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. (28) Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. (29) How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? Heb 10:26-29 ESV
For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. (21) For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them. (22) What the true proverb says has happened to them: “The dog returns to its own vomit, and the sow, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire.” 2Pe 2:20-22 ESV
These three passages cannot be convincingly reconciled with the idea of a second law of pardon. These passages clearly state that once a person has rejected God’s gift of salvation, it is impossible to get it back again.
Now let’s be very clear here about the circumstances that lead to a “loss” of salvation. The Bible never says that a person is lost after each sin is committed. Furthermore, it never says that a person who relapses into sin for an extended period of time is lost. It just doesn’t. This may seem counter-intuitive at first, but it is an assumption that a backslidden person is lost. If you think about it in terms of relationship, instead of laws or rules, it’s perfectly understandable. God is our father. Many, many times in the Bible He portrays our relationship with him as family.
How many parents have been long-suffering with a child who becomes disobedient and disruptive? Do we immediately kick them out of the house and write them out of the will? Or, are we patient with them and work with them so that in the end we’ll have a harmonious relationship again? In a healthy relationship it is the latter of course. We love them and will work very hard to make sure their temporary bad behavior doesn’t become permanent. It is the same between God and His children. He works very hard to keep us saved even during times when we act as if we aren’t His children.
We need to look at our relationship with God through the lens of family and relationship. We aren’t in a legal contract with Him, we are His adopted children. To be sure, a person who has backslidden is in a very dangerous condition. If such a person’s heart becomes so hardened that they no longer believe in God, or if they permanently stop repenting, then they have rejected their salvation.
We reject salvation, we don’t “lose” it
The Bible is clear that salvation can be rejected. We cannot become lost accidentally. Once we have been saved, how can we know that we are still saved? When exactly does a Christian reject salvation? The answer is very simple: only those who rebel against God lose their salvation. Our idea of rebellion may not be the same as God’s. The book of Hebrews teaches us what God means by rebellion.
(7) Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, “Today, if you hear his voice, (8) do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness, (9) where your fathers put me to the test and saw my works for forty years. (10) Therefore I was provoked with that generation, and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart; they have not known my ways.’ (11) As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest.'” (12) Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. (13) But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. (14) For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. (15) As it is said, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.” (16) For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? (17) And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? (18) And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? (19) So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief. Heb 3:7-19 ESV
The Hebrew writer is describing the condition of those whom God brought up out of Egyptian slavery. The author is saying that if we are guilty of the same sins as these Israelites, will we suffer the same fate. Because of their rebellion, they were not permitted to enter into the Promised Land. Pay special attention to the traits and actions of a person who is rebellious to God.
- hardened heart
- going astray from God
- departing from God’s ways
- turning away from God
- fall away from God
- evil, unbelieving heart
The Israelites described in this passage had fatal heart problems. They had stopped believing in God’s trustworthiness and therefore had hearts that were not penitent. This is how Hebrews defines rebellion. The Hebrew author will go on to explain in Heb 6:4-6 and Heb 10:26-29 what happens to those in rebellion against God.
What does this tell us about the possibility of surrendering our salvation?
It tells us that if we do the opposite of what these Israelites did, we can expect to receive our reward of eternal life.
We must let the bible define what it means by rebellion! Rebellion is not one who fails God repeatedly in spite of a desire to do better. Rebellion is not one who wrestles with putting God’s desires ahead of his own. Rebellion is not a temporary relapse that one later repents of. Rebellion is not a single deliberate sin. Hebrews does not teach we forfeit salvation due to a deliberate sin. Rebellion is not defined as continuous sin. We all sin on a regular basis, yet without condemnation (Rom 7:13 – 8:1). What then, constitutes rebellion? The combination of deliberate AND continuous sins resulting from a heart which is no longer interested in, nor capable of, repenting. This is the opposite of what? Repentance!
What is the opposite of unbelief? The opposite is belief. What is the opposite of distrust? The opposite is trust. What is the opposite of rebellion? Being penitent and faithful. When does a Christian rebel and lose reject their salvation? When he/she permanently stops believing, permanently stops trusting and/or permanently stops repenting. Therefore, all Christians who continue to believe, trust and repent are still saved!
As Hebrews defines the phrase, “falling away” is not synonymous with backsliding. Falling away is a condition where one’s heart has become so hardened that repentance is no longer possible. You see, such a person doesn’t permanently lose their salvation because God is no longer willing to accept them. They have permanently surrendered their salvation because they will not repent! There is not a single example in the entire Bible of God refusing to accept one who truly repents. Anyone who repents from a backslidden condition was never lost, even though from mine and your perspective they may have appeared to be. If they are still capable of repenting and eventually do so, they did not reject their salvation.
As long as we continue to have trusting faith in God and repent of our sins, we are saved and have been saved since we emerged from the waters of baptism. We only get saved once!
We act as if forgiveness is the ultimate goal and some people chase it their entire Christian lives.
- not realizing they already have it
- we’ve had it since our baptism
- forgiveness is a new beginning – not a goal still to be achieved
- takes our focus off of our new mission
- the new life is to participate in God’s mission within the kingdom, not to chase something we already have
This series of articles is not meant to be a rigorous or complete study of the subject, but merely a starting point. For a much more comprehensive study on grace I highly recommend Jay Guin’s free book, “The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace.”