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Can a Person Lose His or Her Salvation (eternal security)?
Can a person have assurance of Salvation?

These two issues divide many theologians. In my opinion, both these conflicts are unnecessary and stem from a false concept of salvation. I will come back to this later, but first, let’s look at some scriptures that point us to a wonderful, loving, merciful, forgiving and patient God. These same verses also show God as being righteous. He must judge sin!

God is longsuffering. Consider how much patience he showed to the “stiff-necked” Israelites! Jeremiah wrote, Thou hast played the harlot with many lovers; yet return again to me, saith the LORD (Jeremiah 3:1-5). Consider Nineveh which God said he would destroy, yet he showed the city grace and mercy.

[Jesus] spake also this parable; A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came and sought fruit thereon, and found none. Then said he unto the dresser of his vineyard, Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and find none: cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground? And he answering said unto him, Lord, let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it, and dung it: And if it bear fruit, well: and if not, then after that thou shalt cut it down. (Luke 13:6-9)

II Peter 3:9 The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.

I. The "Unpardonable Sin"

For many centuries, the Roman Catholic Church claimed to have absolute authority in spiritual matters. The church claimed that salvation outside of the Roman church was not possible. Anyone who left the church, was guilty of the sin described in Hebrews 6 and 10: Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, Of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. And this will we do, if God permit. For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame. (Hebrews 6:1-8)

For if we sin willfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries. He that despised Moses’ law died without mercy under two or three witnesses: Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace? For we know him that hath said, Vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense, saith the Lord. And again, The Lord shall judge his people. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (Hebrews 10:26-31)

The church claimed a monopoly on the Holy Spirit and interpretation of scripture was singled out particularly. Whenever individuals attempted to interpret or understand what the Bible said, they were admonished by priests with II Peter 1:20 Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. Christians who claimed to have God’s leading, a personal relationship with Christ or have the Holy Spirit were burned at the stake, beheaded, imprisoned or brutally persecuted. In reality, the action of church leaders was sin against the Holy Spirit!

The following passage is sometimes quoted in reference to the "unpardonable sin"

And the LORD said to Samuel, Behold, I will do a thing in Israel, at which both the ears of every one that heareth it shall tingle. In that day I will perform against Eli all things which I have spoken concerning his house: when I begin, I will also make an end. For I have told him that I will judge his house for ever for the iniquity which he knoweth; because his sons made themselves vile, and he restrained them not. And therefore I have sworn unto the house of Eli, that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be purged with sacrifice nor offering for ever. (I Samuel 3:11-14)

Even as God promised unconditional blessing on Abraham and his seed, he also pronounced curses on certain individuals and their descendants (Adam, Cain and Eli...). This only references life on earth and has nothing to do with eternal salvation.

There are other verses that seem to indicate that a person can lose his or her salvation.

The parable of the talents in Matthew 22 seems to represent a servant of God when it says, Then said the king to the servants, Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. For many are called, but few are chosen.

John 15:1-8 I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit. Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned. If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you. Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples. (Seven times “abide”!)

For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee. Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off. And they also, if they abide not still in unbelief, shall be graffed in: for God is able to graff them in again. For if thou wert cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and wert graffed contrary to nature into a good olive tree: how much more shall these, which be the natural branches, be graffed into their own olive tree? (Romans 11:21-24)

This is also a parable and it illustrates an important truth. We must "abide" - not live in sin, or as Revelation 3 says it, be lukewarm. The following verses have a similar message.

Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; 3 Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth. For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving: For it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer. (I Timothy 4:1-5)

For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows... O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust, avoiding profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science falsely so called: Which some professing have erred concerning the faith. Grace be with thee. Amen. (I Timothy 6:10 and 20-21)

Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God. (Hebrews 3:12)

For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning. For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them. (II Peter 2:20-21)

Perhaps the most difficult verse is…

II. "The sin against the Holy Spirit"

He that is not with me is against me; and he that gathereth not with me scattereth abroad. Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men. And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come. (Mark 3:22-30 and Matthew 12:24-32)

Some have speculated on what is meant by the words, “neither in this world, neither in the world to come.” The Mormons and Catholics build their teachings on this to explain why they pray for the dead or have baptisms for the dead (also: I Cor. 15:29; I Peter 3:20-21). But that which causes the most controversy in the theological world is what is meant by “blaspheming the Holy Spirit”.

I have read many articles and given this much thought, but don't have all the answers. I know that I have not committed this sin because I enjoy close fellowship with my Lord and Savior. Nor do I fear committing this sin and losing my salvation. I have sinned against God on numerous occasions, but he has forgiven and I am assured that he will forgive me again.

III. "The sin unto death"

If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it. All unrighteousness is sin: and there is a sin not unto death. We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not; but he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not. And we know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness. And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true, and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life. (I John 5:16-20)

IV. Salvation is God's work

Are there some sins that can not be forgiven? Can a person really lose his or her salvation? Is there such a thing as eternal security? As I stated in the beginning paragraph, many people, even Christians, have a false concept of salvation.

I know that some who read this will jump to the conclusion that I am one of those extreme Calvinists who rejects the "whosoever" of John 3:16. Let me assure you that I did not spend 38 years as a missionary, hoping to discover those whom God has "predestinated and foreordained" to populate his kingdom!

North America is a nation of individualists, do-it-yourselfers and entrepreneurs. America is all about freedom, liberty, justice and rights. We make all kinds of decisions. We choose what we eat, where we live, our occupation, who we vote for and what church we join. Even little children who are too young to make many of these decisions, are encouraged to invite Jesus into their hearts. And soon afterwards, they are encouraged to get baptized.

For those of us who are fortunate enough to live in North America and were raised in Christian homes and churches, "conversion," being "born again" or "getting saved" normally references a major turning point in life when a person recognizes that he or she is a sinner, asks God for forgiveness and help to live for him. Many Christians can give the exact date of their conversion, which was consummated in a specific place and in just a few minutes.

Salvation is the same for all but it is not always experienced in the same manner. Conversion may be perceived quite differently in other nations and cultures. Even in America, there is an increasing number of people who are clueless about God, salvation, sin and righteousness. A large number of Americans are baptized into a church as infants or young children, with very little if any knowledge or understanding of what it is all about. They grow up thinking that they are Christians until situations and circumstances raise doubts in their minds. Perhaps an even larger number of Americans are ignorant of even the most elementary biblical teachings. We are of course all saved through faith in Jesus and his sacrificial atonement for our sins, but recognition of sin may take longer for some. Thos who grow up in good Christian families and churches often learn much before they "make a decision" for Christ while others "pray the sinner's prayer" and gradually begin to realize what the Christian life is all about.

Soon after my own conversion, I felt called to missions and began Bible college with this goal in mind. Missions was foremost in my thinking when I selected courses, volunteered for weekend evangelistic outreach and when I started dating. I already knew in my heart where God wanted me to serve before marriage and my wife soon had the same desire. Together, we prayerfully selected a mission and traveled from church to church raising support and recruiting prayer warriors. We arrived in Austria green behind our ears, but we made all our own decisions about where to live, how to spend our time and money. We decided when our German was fluent enough to begin a ministry, and where we would serve.

Almost immediately, we began to experience resistance from Austrians, even fine believers, who could not understand the God we served. These people made few choices. Their religion, government and social status neither required, encouraged nor allowed such freedoms. Parents decided what their children learned, how they dressed and who they married. Other decisions were made by the socialist government, which was a great improvement over the rule of Adolf Hitler, but still quite restrictive compared to America. Austrians were Roman Catholic by birth and leaving the church was equated with giving up citizenship. Conversion would eventually lead to adult baptism and joining an evangelical church. This often severed family bonds, prevented advancement in the workplace and caused friction with neighbors and authorities.

Salvation is God's work in response to a person's acceptance of God's invitation. It is God who begins, sustains and concludes his work of salvation in us. Conversion involves five distinct steps which are seldom taken in the same moment of time. It involves: 1) recognition of sin; 2) repentance of sin; 3) request for forgiveness; 4) turning from sin and 5) acceptance of the lordship of Christ. These five steps are not necessarily taken in a particular order and "perfecting of the saints" continues throughout our lives. We must also distinguish between justification and sanctification. We "take up our cross daily." We "work out our salvation" and continue to build on what we have learned (Hebrews 6:1-3; 5:12-13 and I Cor. 1:1-2). Then there is what I call ultimate Salvation -- when we get to our eternal home in heaven where "we shall be like him".

Note that I didn't mention baptism. That is an altogether different subject. Baptism is important, but has nothing to do with salvation. Unless you would argue that a person can be saved by works, you must agree that baptism is a believer's act of obedience in testimony to what God has already done in your life.

How we view salvation also affects the way we perceive of the church. We of course know that we belong to God's church, yet we also speak of "our church." I will return to my own experience in missions to illustrate this rather than pick on some other group. You can draw the parallels.

Missionaries plant churches. Whose churches? The Lord’s of course. The church is the house of God, but we still plant our churches, or the mission's churches. And at some indefinite point in time, we hope they will become "indigenous" churches, meaning they should belong to the national Christians.

Moses constructed the tabernacle according to plans that God gave him, God blessed it and took up dwelling there. So how can we explain that God’s tabernacle disappeared without a trace? Solomon built a temple and asked God to bless it and dwell in it, yet said that God cannot live in a house made by human hands. God even blessed the temple that wicked King Herod built. Jesus was dedicated there and taught there. When he threw out the money changers, he said "My house is a house of prayer, but ye have made it a den of thieves."

According to Hebrews 12:1-2, our bodies are God’s temple and we should take care of them as such. We dedicate ourselves to God and he blesses us, takes ownership and uses us to his glory, but we are still in the driver’s seat. It is still "our life" and we are accountable for the things we do and say. We present our bodies as a living sacrifice unto God, but God is not to blame when we do something wrong!

V. Assurance of salvation is God's work

Let me say right away, that we CAN know without a shadow of a doubt that we are saved. We CAN have assurance of salvation!

Granted, there are times when we can’t see light at the end of a tunnel and need encouragement. We may get so discouraged that we begin to doubt our salvation. It is good when a fellow believer comes to our side in such times to comfort and encourage us, but only God can give ultimate assurance of salvation. If a person lacks patience, wisdom, strength or assurance, let him ask of God. Counseling people with doubts must consist of turning their eyes to Jesus and God's Word. There are plenty of verses in the Bible which point to the eternal nature of our salvation, but God provides it!

When a person doubts his or her salvation, there is need for counseling. There may be sin in his or her life. Are we doing that person a favor by insisting that he or she is safe in the arms of Jesus, while living in sin?

A child that strays from Mommy in a mall will soon discover that it is lost and begin to cry or even be filled with terror. Would you try to comfort the child by saying, “You are okay, you have a mother!” You would hopefully help that child get back to its mother.

If you are married, how do you know? If you answer, "Because I have a marriage certificate" or "because I have a wedding ring" you need marriage counseling. My wife knows where our marriage certificate is stored, but I have seldom seen it. That piece of paper doesn't give me marriage assurance. Marriage is a relationship and the stability of marriage is determined by the quality of that relationship.

Salvation doesn't come from filling out a "decision card" or repeating the "sinner's prayer" after a counselor, and these certainly cannot give assurance of salvation. Assurance of salvation comes from a personal relationship with God and restoration of that relationship should be the primary purpose of counseling.

I had made at least two "decisions" and was baptized three times prior to turning my life over to God at Camp Haluwasa when I was 19. My parents belonged to a Lutheran Church when I was born and I remember getting sprinkled in a Presbyterian Church about 12 years later. I was immersed in a Baptist Church at 15. I was not well behaved, but Sunday School teachers, Pastors and even my parents kept trying to give me assurance of salvation. They would say, "Ralph, Christians don't do such things!" or, "You are a Christian and shouldn't act that way."

When I was in Bible college, a Bible teacher was once talking about eternal security, claiming that we cannot lose our salvation. In a previous class we had learned that a baby that dies in infancy goes to heaven because it has not reached the “age of accountability.” After class, I asked the professor if the baby loses its salvation when it reaches “the age of accountability.” The Professor said that he had a personal opinion but didn’t want to tell me what it was. The "age of accountability" is not Bible doctrine, but a human invention. God knows his own and we can know that we are his. Austrians and people in other nations must learn that they need a personal relationship with God that gives them peace, joy, fulfillment and assurance. No church and no person can provide that. Not in Austria and not in America!

Just as salvation is God's work, assurance of salvation is the work of the Holy Spirit.

John 16:12-16: I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come. He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you. All things that the Father hath are mine: therefore said I, that he shall take of mine, and shall shew it unto you. A little while, and ye shall not see me: and again, a little while, and ye shall see me, because I go to the Father.

Romans 8:9 But ye are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you. But if any man hath not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.

I Thess. 4:7-8 For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness. He therefore that despiseth, despiseth not man, but God, who hath also given unto us his holy Spirit.

The Pharisee and the Publican

Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted. Luke 18:10-14

The publican was not justified because he recognized that he was a sinner, but because he recognized a holy and righteous God and asked for mercy! According to Romans 14:22-23, whatsoever is not of faith [outside of a personal relationship with God] is sin.

The attitude of the Pharisee made him a sinner of the worst sort.

• He committed the unpardonable sin (Hebrews 6:1-8 and 10:26). He trusted in his own righteousness.

• He committed the sin unto death (I John 5:16), for without admission of sin, there is no forgiveness.

• He committed the sin against the Holy Spirit (Matthew 12:31-32), whose job it is to convict of sin and lead us in the whole truth.

The Pharisee was incorrigible, unrepentant and proud. There is no forgiveness for such a person. He had no assurance of salvation but just tried to impress God.

I John 1:1-10

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us; That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full. This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.