"Can a person Lose his or her Salvation?"
Updated: Jun 6, 2022
A question that I have been asked over the past 20 years of teaching the Bible is “can a person lose his or her salvation?” Boy, is that a loaded question. Historically, this question has been answered with either a “Yes” or a “No” but the more I study the Bible, the more I realize that the answer to this question is not that simple. The reason why we cannot give a simple “yes” or “no” answer to this question is because the Bible seems to teach that while believers have assurance of their salvation, people can lose their salvation if they walk away from God.
But, let me ask another question, why do people ask this question about losing salvation? This question is one of motive. What is a person’s motive for asking the question, “Can a person lose their salvation?” Sometimes people are asking because in the back of their mind, they want to know if they can continue to live a lifestyle of sin and still get to heaven. My response to this type of thinking is that this person does not fully understand the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The sad reality, in my humble opinion, is that most churches in America have fed this thinking by telling people to pray “the sinners’ prayer” at evangelistic events and not clearly explaining to people what Jesus requires, which is total surrender. Due to this wrong thinking in the American Church, we have a whole generation of believers who said the “sinners’ prayer,” who may have even walked down to an alter to pray, and this decision had no effects on their daily life, except that they now believe that if they were to die, they would go to heaven instead of hell. What about what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:17, how a person’s old way of life is dead because he or she is now in Christ. Dietrich Bonhoeffer calls this cheap grace in his book The Cost of Discipleship. Then people ask this question, "can a person lose their salvation" and they love the side that says “no” because that gives them an excuse to continue to live their lives however they see fit instead of realizing that when they believe in Jesus as their Savior, He also becomes King of their lives.
The Bible makes it clear that we, followers of Jesus are not to use the Gospel of Jesus Christ as a license for immorality (Jude 1:4). We cannot continue to live a lifestyle of sin and think, “it’s okay, Jesus will forgive me.” This is a totally wrong view of our salvation.
Yet, the opposite is also just as wrong; when a person believes that after they believe in Jesus, that if they commit just one sin, then they lose their salvation. The Bible makes it clear that believers have assurance of salvation. Just read 1 John and you see this. John is writing this letter to believers and in 1 John 2:1, he tells his readers the purpose behind this letter, so that you will not sin. In other words, so that they may live a life pleasing and honoring to God. But John knows that we live in a sinful, fallen world. That even though believers are in a right relationship with God, that sometimes believers in Jesus still sin; believers still disobey God. John says that we have Jesus as our advocate with the Father, who paid the penalty for all our sins, past present and future sins. Again, this does not give us permission to continue to live a lifestyle of sin, but it does teach us that our salvation is not this one and done mentality; if I sin one time, my salvation is gone.
So, if we have assurance of salvation, but this assurance does not give us permission to live sinfully, then again, can a person who experiences this new life in Christ, ever lose their salvation? The Bible seems to indicate yes. But it is not God who walks away, it is people who walk away from God. To me, this is clearly taught in the Parable of the Sower (Luke 8:1-15; Matthew 13:1-23; Mark 4:1-12 ), Hebrews 6:1-8 and 1 Timothy 1:18-20. These passages of scripture show us people who have believed in Jesus and who walk away from the Gospel of Jesus for one reason or another. They have “lost their salvation.”
But again, we need to be asking, what’s our motive when we ask this question. If we are asking to see how much sin we can get away with before God says enough, then we do not understand the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the change that takes place when a person believes in Jesus as their Lord and Savior. If we are asking because we have sinned as a believer in Jesus, the good news is that Jesus’ death and resurrection forgives all our sins, and we have assurance of salvation as we continue to follow Him. But a person can decide to walk away, to not persevere to the end with Jesus. When a person does this, it breaks God’s heart, and it should break ours as well. As the writer of Hebrews says, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eye on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith…consider Him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart (Hebrews 12:1-3). As Jesus explains in the parable of the Sower to His disciples, He describes the seed on the good soil as someone who hears the word of God, holds fast to the word of God, and perseveres (Luke 8:15). May this describe our lives.