Many Christians believe in the doctrine of eternal security, which teaches that once someone is saved, they can never lose that salvation. It’s a very comforting thought, but it’s not without controversy. First of all, not all Christians believe in this doctrine, because the Bible gives very mixed signals about it. Secondly, most people who have left Christianity will attest to having a genuine belief when they were Christians, though they reject it now. Finally, common sense would also tell us that people can change their minds. So how do we answer this question?
Let’s start with what the Bible says on this subject. Christians who believe in eternal security (aka “once saved always saved”) get the idea from these passages:
For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. — Romans 8:38-39
I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. — John 10:28-29
All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. — John 6:37-40
In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. — Ephesians 1:13-14
Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” — Hebrews 13:5
They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us. — 1 John 2:19
If I’ve left any out, feel free to leave them as comments below, but these seem to be the major passages that support the idea of eternal security. I don’t know that any real discussion of these is necessary, as they seem fairly straightforward.
But a number of passages make the opposite case. To save time, I’m going to quote a comment I made about this on someone else’s blog:
In Hebrews 6:4-6, he talks about those who “have once been enlightened, have tasted the heavenly gift, and shared in the Holy Spirit.” I think those qualities could only describe believers. It then says, “if they fall away.” How can you fall away from something you were never a part of? Again, good reason to think he’s talking about the saved. In verse 4 he says, “restore again to repentance.” How is that possible unless one had already repented at some point?
Hebrews 10 is even clearer. Verses 26-31 talk about how bad it will be for those who deny Christ. But it’s not talking about just any old unbeliever or skeptic. Verse 29 says it’s talking about one who has “profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified.” You can’t be sanctified (cleansed) by Christ’s blood unless you’re a Christian.
1 Cor 9 doesn’t seem to talk about spiritual gifts to me [the other commenter had suggested that it did]. In fact, Paul says he’s working for a reward that’s imperishable. According to chapter 13 of this book, spiritual gifts were perishable. What isn’t? Eternal life. So if Paul is talking about eternal life and says that he doesn’t want to be disqualified, isn’t he talking about the possibility of losing his salvation?
1 Tim 1:18-20 is another passage to consider. Paul tells Timothy to hold his faith and a good conscience, then refers to those like Hymenaeus and Alexander who “shipwrecked” their faith. How can you wreck a faith that you never had?
But think about it. These passages are fairly clear. And take a look at Romans 11, which warns the Gentiles that they could be broken off just as the Jews had been. The Jews were broken off because of their unbelief (vs 20), but they could be grafted in again if they believe (vs 23). He’s obviously not talking about the entire Jewish and Gentile peoples, because there were both Jewish and Gentile Christians at this very time. He’s speaking in generalities to show that salvation is dependent upon faith.
So what should we make of all these passages? What’s the Bible’s position on this issue? Personally, I think some of the passages we listed at the beginning in support of eternal security can be reconciled with these that teach against it. About the only one that I think fully supports the doctrine of eternal security is 1 John 2:19. I don’t know how that fits with these other passages, but since they were written by different people, I don’t guess it should be too surprising that they’re a bit at odds. Either way, it seem clear to me that at least portions of the Bible teach that genuine Christians can most certainly stop believing and lose their salvation.
That was my experience as well. I was a sincere Christian for many years; it was the cornerstone of my life. My jobs, my wife, my financial decisions, when I had children (and what I named them) were all based around the beliefs that my wife and I shared. I was instrumental in converting several people to the particular brand of Christianity of which I’d been a member. It was very important to me to have the right beliefs. I wanted to make sure that I was serving God exactly as he had prescribed. It was actually that same desire for truth that eventually led me away from Christianity. To quote Paul, “I have lived my life before God in all good conscience up to this day.” My religious beliefs have always been genuine.
And if you think about it, it makes sense that people would be able to change their minds. If you’re like me, you believed in Santa Claus when you were a child. I assume you don’t believe in him now. Does that mean you never did? Of course not. It just means that as you’ve matured, you have received information and insight that have changed your mind. Why can’t it be the same with religion?
In fact, I’d say that the doctrine of eternal security actually has the opposite effect. After all, many Christians would now say that I was never a Christian. However, if they had known me as a Christian, they never would have suspected it then; nor did I. So what does that say about current Christians? Sure, they might think they’re Christians now, but what if they’re going to fall away at some point in the future? If eternal security is true, then they’re not actually Christians now. Even when a loved one dies, no one could really know where that person is going for eternity. What if he were going to fall away had he only lived another year? Well, obviously God would know that — wouldn’t he judge that person accordingly, since he would have never been a true Christian to begin with?
The doctrine of eternal security simply gains nothing for the Christian. It provides less assurance than believing salvation is dependent upon continued faith. The Bible has several passages that teach against it, and it is also contradicted by the testimony of those who have fallen away. To me, it seems clear that eternal security is a bogus doctrine, and I think Paul would have agreed with that as well.
50 thoughts on “Can a True Christian Ever Lose Her Faith?”
Woo-Hoo, first too comment, now let me go back and read the article
A well reasoned a well written item. I entirely agree with you. Well I guess I have to given my state of faith.
I used to believe once saved always saved. I am not entirely sure where it came from, I suspect my missionary school upbringing was the source.
As I matured that faded and by the time I was a young adult I was of the opposite persuasion. Again, I am not sure why. Probably because it just didn’t make sense.
Nate, I think you are both right and wrong. (Just like me to have an each-way bet!)
I reckon there are two ways of looking at this question. From our perspective, we have choice, we know what we think, we can change our minds, just as you say. So you were once a christian and now you are not. That’s all fair enough.
But there is also God’s perspective. He sees things from outside time so he sees the end from the beginning. There is also the idea of being “born again”. However we may understand that, it seems to involve a spiritual event which we cannot see (i.e. we cannot know who is a “true christian”), and only sometimes are aware of. And on this perspective, the christian is changed by believing.
Choice is a bit of a mystery, and it isn’t clear to me exactly how it works. But it seems to me that we have to say that both the above perspectives are true in their own way. And the Bible reflects them both, as you show. We are free to choose, and God knows who are “his” and he looks after them. It is a paradox, but no more so than choice in a non-theistic worldview.
Two verses reflect this dichotomy:
Philippians 2:12-13: “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.”
2 Peter 1:10: “make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble”
So the answer to your question is – yes and no. : )
@limey — thanks for the comment!
@unklee — thanks to you too! I always appreciate your perspective. I’ll have to think about your stance on this a little while. When I was a Christian, I also viewed God’s knowledge of the future this way — I had just never really thought about it in terms of the “eternal security” doctrine. On the surface, it still seems like a believer could never know whether they were really saved or not, since they don’t know what’s in their own future.
On a side note, when I first started thinking through my doubts, I was really troubled by the notion that God knew who would be saved and who wouldn’t — even if the choice was still left up to the individuals. If he knew so many were going to be lost, why did he create anything at all? Or at the least, why did he create those who were going to end up lost? I’m not expecting an answer, by the way (though feel free to offer one if you like). I’m just sharing a bit.
Anyway, thanks again for the comments!
here is a verse that goes against the once saved always saved….Revelation 3: 4-6 talks about the condition about someones naming not being erased or blotted out from the Lamb’s Book of Life.
Which gives some the indication that they can be removed from the book of life.
And in rev. 22:19, the bible gives a condition of when someone’s named can be removed from the book of life.
1. I think it’s not “just” a matter of God’s foreknowledge, but also of him knowing who the Spirit has “reborn”, whereas we don’t know that.
2. If “lost” people were punished forever, then I too would wonder that God would create, because if only a few are “saved”, then creation would decrease overall happiness. But if (as I believe) those who don’t choose God end their life at death, then the sum of happiness still increases. Of course if, as some believe and I wish was true, all eventually gain eternal life, then everything is good!
You know, I completely forgot about that passage! Thanks for referencing it. Rev 2 & 3 seems to support that idea too, because it warns certain congregations about what could happen to them if they don’t remain faithful.
Thanks for the comment!
Nate, some food for thought:
In the Old Testament, the animal sacrifice (shedding of blood) ceremony was repeated year after year for the people’s remission of sin. According to Christian belief, Christ’s blood was shed once, for all time. (See Hebrews 9:26-27, 10:10, and 10:14.) If one is to believe that his blood does not cover all sin, the question then becomes is the power of sin more powerful than the blood sacrifice of Jesus?
Jesus is reported to have said, “It is finished.” In other words, the work of redemption was complete.
If one is to believe the gospel of John, the final judgment isn’t even based on sin in one’s life. It is based on belief or unbelief. (See John 3:17-18).
Even though I am no longer a Christian, your post struck a cord with me. Many years ago, it was a sermon on this topic (whether or not past, present, and future sins are forgiven) that started my search for truth.
I’ll forever be indebted to that preacher because it was his words that put me on a pathway that has led to a peace I never experienced in the confines of Christianity.
Soooo what happens if Christ died for you and there is nothing you can do to get out of going to heaven? What happens if his blood sacrifice guarantees you salvation no matter what you do?
Perhaps you’ll just have to learn to like eternal life instead of death! It’s a tough ask, but maybe you could do it! : )
Whats does the Bible say regarding this?
it says differing things…
I deal with couples in the church who have major conflicts. What about the guy who was raised in the church and marries, then commits adultery 4 times and causes an inevitable divorce. Will he come back to the faith? Was he originally truly known of God?
I can’t make either judgement because no scripture gives an answer. Only God truly knows his heart–not even his former wife nor his new wife–only God.
I don’t believe in telepathy and I judge the claims made by believers to be entirely specious; but even at that, it’s more credible to me that God reveals Himself via telepathy than that He reveals Himself through a book (written, I suppose, by people who’d received telepathic communiques from heaven)
So put me down for “I can’t explain it because I don’t really know”. Perhaps I’m not convinced don’t that I NEED to know.
How about YOU help ME figure it out.
Consider this: at the start of the 19th Century, very few Christian preachers in the North were preaching against slavery. Quite the opposite, in fact, abolishinist preachers (we’re talking North, here) we’re regularly losing their jobs for “disturbing” their congregations.
Jump ahead sixty years. Virtually ever church in the North was anti-slavery. Virtually every Christian in the North believed GOD was opposed to slavery.
What happened? Certainly there were no changes to the Bible, but people had a significantly different (and better!) idea of who God is. If it isn’t revelation what is it. If I can’t explain maybe you can.
In any event, I’m quite certain that what you believe about slavery matters.
…and what you believe about Mary’s sex life doesn’t matter. Not really. It certainly isn’t going to influence your day to day behavior.
There is a huge problem with people who express genuine belief, but didnt truly place their hearts love and trust in Jesus and the cross. I know once saved always saved is definitely right just look at Philippians 1:6
“Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ:”
Or what about 1 John 2:19 “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.”
I think the problem is people are convinced of the truth in the bible but fail to genuinly place their heart in Jesus Christ of Nazareth and become born again. People can believe but not truly make Jesus Lord.
Shane, I’m not really sure what that means.
When I was a believer, I fully believed. I was devoted to prayer, to study, etc… but now here I am, a non-believer.
And it seems to me that a “relationship with Jesus” is an imaginary one. You read what others have said about him, and then you imagine the rest, as he doesn’t speak to you. It seems to me that one could more easily have a personal relationship with Anne Frank since she actually wrote her own book.
Am I way off?
Doesn’t once saved always saved send the wrong message to the faithful ? Why attend Church or live a moral life if you believe in this concept ? I once had an employee who believed in this. She lived with her boyfriend, sang in the choir, and embezzled $3,000 from her employer (me) and yet she believed she was eternally secure. And they say atheists have no moral compass.
“(a) Romans 8:30 declares, “And those He predestined, He also called; those He called, He also justified; those He justified, He also glorified.” This verse tells us that from the moment God chooses us, it is as if we are glorified in His presence in heaven. There is nothing that can prevent a believer from one day being glorified because God has already purposed it in heaven. Once a person is justified, his salvation is guaranteed – he is as secure as if he is already glorified in heaven.” (gotquestions.org)
Nate if the Bible is correct that God “predestined us” what happened to free will ?
@kcchief1, this is one of the great theological conundrums in the Bible. There are ample proof texts to prove both sides of the argument. What does this mean, is the teaching of the Bible contradictory?
Usually this conundrum is explained by the term Holy Mystery.
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Holy Mystery indeed, Batman ! 🙂
Thanks Peter for your comments
Peter, you seem to be quite knowledgeable in these things. In Christian Theology, one needs a “Savior” only if one has sinned. Why is it in Luke 1:47 Mary says, “How my spirit rejoices in God My Savior” when the Church has long proclaimed Mary was without sin and this is how Jesus was born the same ?
kcchief1, the magnificat of Luke chapter 1 is essentially a re-working of the Song of Hannah from 1 Samuel 2.
The doctrine of Mary being without sin is taught by the Catholic church, but not accepted by the Protestant church. Being someone of a Protestant background I am not really equipped to opine on why the Catholic Church teaches Mary was exempted from original sin, except to say that my tradition treated it with some scorn and derision.
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So, if we are all born sinners, would that not include JC too ?
The Catholic Church had to do all sorts of mental gymnastics because of discoveries of science. 🙂
I gather Jesus was excluded because the sinful nature must have come from the fathers side of the family.
When I studied theology there were very significant debates about whether or not it was even possible for Jesus to sin. I found those sort of debates quite tiresome.
If you are really keen, the exposition by James Dodds of the apostle’s creed is considered a classic work in reformed Christian circles. He examines and explains each aspect of the creed, it can be found Here.