The question is, Can you lose your salvation?
It has been a much debated question for a long time and still is today. Many people–and maybe you yourself–live in the fear of “backsliding” or committing the “unforgivable sin” that could disqualify you from going to heaven after you die.
Before I address the question, I would like to address this Christianese term of “backsliding”. Personally, I have never particularly liked the term. In my mind, it presents the imagery of a Christian walking up a steep mountain, striving to reach the peak of the mountain where you reach holiness and perfection; but somewhere along the way there is a patch of mud, and you slide halfway down the slope. From there, you are forced to pick yourself back up and walk up the mudslide again. Either that or you simply give up.
I don’t know, maybe I’m the only one who imagines this when I hear the term backsliding. But, regardless, many believers view the Christian journey in this way.
Let me paint a different picture for you. Say the Christian life is more like an escalator. When you encountered Christ and received his salvation, you walked onto this escalator that is moving you upward to the top towards holiness and perfection. This escalator is the Holy Spirit.
We know from verses like Romans 8:9 that the person of the Holy Spirit takes up residence in every follower of Jesus. So, if there is any question as to whether or not you are “saved” (i.e. a follower of Jesus), you need only ask the question, “Does God’s Spirit live in me?” Ephesians 1:14 confirms this line of thought, saying that the Holy Spirit is our guarantee of our heavenly inheritance.
Then, how do you know if the Holy Spirit is in you? The answer is fruit. Galatians 5 talks about the fruit that comes as a result of the Holy Spirit working in you. Chances are you will never reach complete perfection within your lifetime, but the Holy Spirit sets you on a track towards it. The result is increased manifestations of love, joy, peace, patience, and more in your life. God’s Spirit is that escalator that is always moving you forward and up.
The scandalous thing about it is that, unlike the image of climbing a mountain, the escalator picture merely requires us to stand and rest on the escalator in order to move forward. It is not our efforts at all. If we were able to just try as hard as we can and strive in order to become better people, then why would we even need God from day to day? The truth is that we do need him; we need him to sanctify us just as much as we needed him to justify us. Where people get it wrong is they assume that grace is only for the day they got saved, and now they are on their own. But his grace is for every day, and, by definition, it is a free gift that we cannot earn.
Granted, there are always two sides of the coin. I will not deny that there are verses in scripture that talk about our responsibility to obey God and do good unto others. One verse that many use is Philippians 2:12, “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,” but they often fail to read on to verse 13: “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” So, even in our acting and obeying, we still have to recognize that it is ultimately the Spirit prompting us and giving us the strength to follow through.
Otherwise, it is just religion, where we believe we can produce righteousness in ourselves. Ultimately, this is a lie, and many Christians discover it to be so because they end up failing even more miserably in their own efforts. But when we finally stand and rest on the escalator and let God do it, we tend to succeed. Many people are uncomfortable with this idea because it sounds too easy–it sounds too good to be true. Indeed, it is that easy; it is good; and it is true. It’s the truth of grace!
So, what about the “backsliders”? What of the Christians who later curse or deny him and live in sin? Do they lose their salvation? I know that this is a very sensitive issue. Many who ask the question have a sibling or a close friend who has fallen away from the faith (myself included), and we all want to know, Will I see this person in heaven if they were to die today?
Unfortunately, there is no easy answer. I have learned that it is a mistake to try and judge the spiritual temperature of someone else; only God knows. Here is the hope I can give you: if a person has put their trust in Jesus at any point in their life, they have been put on that Holy Spirit escalator.
See, on an escalator, you can walk or even run backwards down the moving staircase, but you are still being propelled forward and up. When the Holy Spirit makes his home inside of you, you can run as much as you want from God, but there is a force that is constantly pulling you back towards him.
A young man who is a hard-core partier before he becomes a Christian has little-to-no conviction about what he is doing. That same young man, after becoming a Christian, may relapse and go back to partying again; but the difference is that now he has the Holy Spirit acting as a conscience, convicting him constantly no matter how much he strays from the Truth. This season of “walking away from the faith” is often very temporary for people, and God, who loves to pursue his children, orchestrates circumstances to draw his child home.
To the person whose loved one has walked away from God: What if they are just in a season of unbelief? Perhaps after years and years, you have given up hope and assumed that your love one has lost his or her salvation. May I suggest that their story is not over! You have no idea what God has been doing in their heart over these many years to pursue his child? You have yet to see what God may do to draw them back.
Like I said, there are no easy answers, but I do know what scripture says. It says that when we have the Holy Spirit, he seals us (Eph. 1:13). In ancient days, when a king issued a degree with his royal seal on it, it meant that it was unbreakable and irrevocable. That is what the Holy Spirit is for us, a permanent seal marking us as his own. We can run as hard as we can down the escalator, but we will not get too far. God will not let us go or give up on us. He promises to finish the work he started and “will carry it on to completion” (Phil. 1:6). The ultimate problem with believing that it is possible to lose your salvation is that you are doubting God’s power and faithfulness to finish what he started.
(I recognize that there are a few verses in scripture that present a challenge to this view. Dealing with all of these passages goes beyond the scope of this post. However, these verses–many of which are not the clearest in meaning–must be interpreted through the lens of the entirety of scripture, especially verses of scripture that are more clear. What is absolutely clear is that Jesus bestowed on us grace at the cross, a gift of salvation which we did nothing to earn; and it would be logical to conclude that no sin–even that of doubting, rejecting, or disowning God–is so great that God could no longer redeem you.)
If you still question your own salvation, it is healthy to ask yourself once and for all if you really know and trust in Jesus. Again, you will know based on the fruits–the gradual character change–in your life. If you do not see those fruits in your life, it is possible that you have not truly trusted in the name of Jesus to forgive your sins and save you. It is not too late; trust in him today, and the Holy Spirit will come to live in you!
If those fruits are there, then you know God’s Spirit produced them in you, and therefore you can have assurance of your salvation! You do not need to fear of losing your salvation; fear only comes from the enemy. God wants you to walk in the confidence of knowing you are forever his child. In his grace, you did nothing to receive salvation, so there is nothing you can do to lose it. He has you, and he will never let you go.
“I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” (John 10:28)