Beliefs | Salvation is Secure

When it comes to the issue of whether a person can lose their salvation, I’m firmly in the camp that one cannot. However, that doesn’t mean that I’ve not given a fair amount of consideration to the opposing idea. In fact, I nearly changed my mind on the matter at one point. I should say up front, this is not a full theological treatment of this subject, so don’t fire back with verses that I fail to mention. It's abbreviated on purpose for the sake of brevity, and it still isn't too brief. But I do believe what I am presenting to you is clear.

As a young man I did some college missionary work and one of my supervisors opened my eyes to this possibility I had never considered. Growing up Southern Baptist, this issue was never up for debate. Once you’re born again, you can never be unborn again, and that’s it. So, when this man, whom I respected, opened his Bible and showed me in its leaf the verse references he had written down over the years, I was shocked. The verse column for passages which support the idea that you can lose your salvation was considerably larger than the column for passages teach say you cannot.

That was just the beginning of my journey.

I didn’t dive in right at that moment. I smugly thought to myself that he’s clearly misunderstanding something. To be sure, I still believe he’s misunderstanding something, but now I believe it from careful study instead of youthful arrogance.

As I journeyed, I continued to encounter godly men who didn’t embrace the once saved, always saved point of view. I began engaging with a few of them and wrestling with the texts they believed were the concrete evidence that they were right, and I was wrong.

One verse after another, one conversation at a time it began to dawn on me that some of these men and women embraced a salvation that can be sinned away. That never sat right with my spirit, even though they were pointing to verses in the Bible. Generally, the problem they had – from my perspective – is that their beliefs about the Christ’s work on the cross said one thing, but their beliefs about sinning your way out of salvation said something else. To make those beliefs coherent, you would either have to change your beliefs about Christ’s work on the cross or change your belief about sinning your way out of salvation. Either Christ’s death has paid for our sins completely – past, present, and future – or it has paid for them provisionally – meaning it pays for your sins provided you continue in repentance.

The idea that you can sin your way out of salvation is fraught with issues.

For starters, how much sin does it take? Let’s say last night Radene and I got into an argument where I cussed and ranted and abused her verbally (to be clear, we didn’t). Had I died in my sleep last night before seeking forgiveness, what would’ve happen to me? I know believers who say I would’ve gone to Hell. I also know believers who would say that as long as it wasn’t an established pattern of sin, like it was a one-off kind of thing, then I would’ve probably been fine.

In the first case where I went to Hell, that means we need to be in constant confession because death could come at any moment. But when you consider the multitudes of thoughts that run through your mind that are sinful, you’d have no hope of catching or remembering all of them. God should’ve taken you home the moment you were born again to save you from yourself because you’ll inevitably wreck your salvation. This can’t be right.

In the second case, it’s a more gracious approach, but it still leaves believers with an unanswerable question. How much sin is going to push me out? How far can I go before it’s too late? At best, the believer who embraces this will have a half-way hope of making it because no matter how you slice it, saved people will never be totally rid of sin in this world. What is a pattern of sin? Is it a daily indulgence? Weekly? Monthly? What about the Apostle Paul’s lament in Romans 7 that he finds himself doing the things that he shouldn’t do, even though his desire is to not do them? This can’t be right either.

Why can’t these positions be right?

It comes down to one reason. They keep your central focus on fear of sinning. Most of the individuals I’ve encountered who are in these camps have varied lists of dos and don’ts that police their morality which go beyond the sufficient teaching of Scripture. Consequently, that means you no longer believe the Scripture is sufficient for living a godly life. Now it’s the Bible, plus your little black book of extra rules. Or perhaps more gently put, you do not trust the Holy Spirit to be a sufficient guide in how to apply the Scriptures to your life. In a nutshell, both of these positions fail because they essentially teach that Jesus has saved you, now save yourself. That fails the test of the Scripture every time. I could give you many examples, but perhaps the clearest and best one is the life of King David.

"And the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon David from that day forward." 1 Samuel 16:13

King David was God’s king. He was the Lord’s choice. That’s not to say that King Saul wasn’t, but God chose Saul because he was the kind of king Israel wanted. God chose David because he was the kind of king that He wanted. When Samuel anointed David as king, 1 Samuel 16:13 says, “And the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon David from that day forward.” From that day forward means that the Holy Spirit never left him. Yet, we know that David was an adulterer, a polygamist, a murderer, and he was not a stellar father. Yet, God never left him. If moral performance was the arbiter of our salvation the Holy Spirit would’ve departed from King David long before his death.

Blaspheming the Spirit

However, this wasn’t the end of my journey through this, although it was a decisive moment. I had put to rest the idea that moral performance was the key to staying saved. It can’t be that, it never has been that, and it never will be that. But that isn’t the end of this discussion. Not every passage or verse in the Bible that seems to support losing your salvation is about moral performance. Now we’re getting down to what almost changed my mind: blaspheming the Spirit.

Blaspheming the Holy Spirit is a controversial subject. Jesus said that this is the only sin that won’t be forgiven in this age or the age to come. What is blaspheming the Holy Spirit? The first time it is mentioned is in Matthew 12. Jesus casts a demon out of a man who was blind and mute, but the Pharisees refused to believe and said He did so by the power of Beelzebul. Jesus then takes a moment to teach on their disbelief, ending that teaching with this statement.

"Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come."
Matthew 12:31-32

The sin of the Pharisees in this moment wasn’t a moral failure. It was a belief failure. If you’re a student of Matthew’s Gospel, you may have noticed that it was after this episode that Jesus began concealing his public teachings in parables in order to hide the truth from the religious leaders. It’s no coincidence that Jesus tells the Pharisees blaspheming the Spirit is unforgivable, then proceeds to teach in parables designed to mislead them. It appears that this moment of disbelief sealed their destiny.

The first time I understood the larger picture at work in Matthew 12, I was shaken from my certainty. This is the first place where it seemed evident that there is a case for lost salvation. It changed the way I would speak about Christ’s work on the cross. Suddenly Jesus died for all sins, except one: disbelief. And honestly, that makes sense. Being born again begins with belief.

"because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved." Romans 10:9-10

Utter Disbelief

For me, the question then became this: can a believer ever blaspheme the Spirit? In simpler terms, can a believer ever come to a place of utter disbelief in the Gospel? I say utter disbelief because it’s fair to say that many believers wrestle, at one point or another, with doubts. Doubts don’t condemn us. They may cripple our growth and hinder us from flourishing, but they’re not necessarily an indication that you’ve utterly rejected the Gospel. However, utter disbelief in the Gospel – blaspheming the Holy Spirit – is unforgivable and once someone does this, according to Jesus, there is no forgiveness for them.

The Southern Baptist answer that I had always been taught was this: blaspheming the Holy Spirit is dying in your sins. In other words, you died in unbelief, and blaspheming the Spirit is utterly rejecting the Gospel, which is unbelief, so dying in your sins and blaspheming the Spirit is the same thing. The logic is sound, and I don’t disagree with that reasoning. But is that all that blaspheming the Spirit can be?

Are there other ways to blaspheme the Spirit without physically dying? That’s apparently what happened with the Pharisees. Once they blasphemed the Spirit, Jesus purposefully taught in ways that would confuse them, via parable, or at the very least in ways that he knew they would outright reject, via chastising them publicly.

I don’t want to understate how close this journey brought me to changing my mind. If there is any case in the Scripture that can be made for losing one’s salvation, it is the sin of utter disbelief. The book of Hebrews teaches, very clearly, that the people of Israel who died in the wilderness couldn’t enter the Promised Land, not because of their moral failure, but their unbelief.

"So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief."
Hebrews 3:19

So, when you approach the oft-cited passage of Hebrews 6:4-6, this sin of unbelief fills in the blanks for us. How can someone fall away? The sin of unbelief.

"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, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, 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."
Hebrews 6:4-6

I want to doubly emphasize that no matter how you read Hebrews 6:4-6, this passage can never mean a lack of morality will cause you to lose your salvation because salvation doesn’t hang on morality. It hangs on belief. Do you believe the Gospel? Have you hung your hopes for salvation entirely upon Jesus Christ? Do you believe everything that God’s Word says about Jesus and how we can receive forgiveness for our sins through Him? That’s what salvation hangs upon. Therefore, if salvation hangs upon utter belief, if it could be lost, it would only be by utter disbelief.

Can a believer cross the line of utter disbelief?

I still haven’t answered the question. Can a believer cross a line of utter disbelief, wherein he or she would cease to be saved? Before I move into my answer, let me raise one final issue that applies when we affirm this question.

If it is true that a believer can cross a line of utter disbelief and lose their salvation, then we must also embrace the belief that there is no hope for a re-saving once they do. Hebrews 6:4-6 says very clearly that it is impossible for them to come again to repentance. Some will decry that all things are possible with God. That’s true except when it comes to God violating His own Word. If God has decreed that utter unbelief – blaspheming the Spirit – is unforgivable, then it is impossible that anyone who crosses this line can be forgiven. If you’re not prepared to embrace that reality, then you’re not embracing a coherent theology of what I’ll call abandoned salvation. If you believe Christians can utterly reject the faith, then, to be coherent, you must also believe if they do their fate is irreversibly sealed.

Now, let’s answer the question. Can a believer cross a line of utter disbelief and lose their salvation? As best as I understand it, no. Rather than go to all the verses that I’ve traditionally used, which are excellent points and should be a part of any defense of my belief, I’m going to hit one that isn’t normally used.

"And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.'” - Matthew 7:23

I Never Knew You

Jesus is talking about final judgment. Some people will stand before him and desperately appeal to a time in their lives when they were ministering, casting out demons, and doing many things in His name. His response is, “I never knew you.” It won’t be, we were cool for a while, but then you walked away. It’s, “I never knew you.” In the Greek, never means… never. Jesus’ own statement precludes the possibility that there was a time when He knew you, but later He didn’t. There never was salvation, there never was a relationship.

Notice what this individual proclaimed to the Lord at the judgment.

"Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?" Matthew 7:22

Now notice again what Hebrews 6:4-5 says.

"… in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come…"

See the similarity? In both places the individual was deep into the community of faith, active, sharing in the fellowship, even involved in ministering, and sharing in the powers of the age to come. Yet in Matthew Jesus says He will respond, “I never knew you.”

I know this brings up new questions. For instance, can an unsaved person cast out demons and taste of the power of the age to come? That deserves a discussion of it's own, so I'll simply say, I don't know, but I do know that never means never. Therefore, since Jesus made that so abundantly clear, I don’t think I can ever see it otherwise.

What about this: does Hebrews 6:4-6 suggest that the person who is in the Church, but not of the Church, who walks away in unbelief has blasphemed the Spirit? It’s possible, in which case he or she would become like the Pharisees in Matthew 12 who crossed the line and sealed their fate before their death.

However, in both of these cases it’s important to remember this. We, who look on as outsiders, can never make a final judgment over whether they’ve utterly fallen away, so we always continue presenting the Gospel in the hope that they haven’t.

This has been my journey thus far...

So, here I stand. If you don’t agree with me, I love you regardless. Let me close, though, with a warning. Obsession with whether you can lose your salvation is often an indicator that you’re wrestling with a sin that you cannot shake, or that you’ve allowed too many voices into your life that lead you away from a healthy relationship with Jesus. In either case, seek a godly friend, a pastor, or someone you know will point you to Jesus Christ, and get counsel. A thriving, flourishing relationship with the Lord doesn’t happen when your gaze is on something or someone else all the time. The evidence of true faith is the fruit of the Spirit.

"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law." Galatians 5:22-23

If you’re growing in these, you need not worry about the security of your faith. In fact, you won’t give it much thought at all. That’s something upon which people on both sides of this discussion can agree.
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