Can a TRULY Saved Person Become Unsaved?
by Ed Vasicek
At the height of her fame as the other woman in the Ivana and Donald Trump breakup, Marla Maples spoke of her religious roots. She told interviewers she believed in the Bible, then added the disclaimer, "But you can't always take [it] literally and be happy." So relates Chuck Colson in his book, The Body.
As many of you know, I am into Bible interpretation (big time). But interpreters fall into two categories: those who seek to interpret the passage objectively with respect for the original meaning of the authors, and those who have an agenda.
Some passages are really "bears" to interpret. In a number of cases, we can never be exactly sure what a verse means. Some of the passages in Ezekiel or Revelation, for example, give us clues as to their meaning, but we are on thin ice if we declare their meaning with certainty.
Another challenge of interpreting Scripture is harmonizing seemingly conflicting passages. Such is the case when it comes to the issue of what some call "eternal security." I prefer the term "perseverance of the believer."
The issue as to whether a genuine believer can lose his or her salvation is usually wrapped around two questions: (1) Do I have to be afraid that I will lose my salvation? and (2) What about this person I know who claimed to be a Christian and participated actively in church and now has washed out?
Both sides of the issue have an arsenal of Scripture verses. If you took either set in isolation, they would win you over to one viewpoint or the other. But putting them together demonstrates that both camps are attempting to line up with Scripture -- at least some Scriptures. The real question is this: do you interpret the verses that seem to imply that you can lose your salvation in light of the verses that teach otherwise, or vice-versa?
Take a verse cluster that implies believers are safe and secure in Christ. These verses tell us that we are held safely in God's hand, and the only way to get out of that hand is to be greater than God. John 10:27-29 reads: "My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand."
Someone who believes we can lose our salvation might say, "Yes, but you can take yourself out of God's hand." Yet they miss the point: the reason we are safe in God's hand is because no one is greater than He.
Here's a verse that seems to teach we can lose our salvation, the famous Hebrews 6:4-6 passage. "It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace."
Someone who believes in security, as I do, might interpret this verse as referring to those who professed salvation but then later denied Christ. I would argue that such persons were never genuinely saved. I would also argue that whoever these people are in Hebrews 6, they could not be saved after they have reached the point the author mentions.
Most of us do agree that there are people who are not saved who, at one time, gave every indication of being true believers. The only difference is this: Were they at one time saved and then lost their salvation, or were they never originally saved (my view).
Judas Iscariot is a good case example. Was Judas saved and then lost it, or was he never really saved? He worked miracles, and was never held in suspicion by the other apostles. As a matter of fact, he was probably their most trusted companion, for he was the treasurer! According to John 16:4-6, Judas was never a sincere follower of Jesus. "But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, 'Why wasn't this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year's wages.' He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it."
When it comes to determining the GENUINELY saved from those who merely look saved, we should contemplate the words of Paul. "Nevertheless, God's solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: 'The Lord knows those who are his.'" (2 Tim. 2:19) But, in contrast, we do not. We presume those who profess salvation and who bear fruit, as Judas did, are saved; we do not know with absolute certainty.
Jesus taught a parable of wheat and tares (a weed that resembles wheat). Matthew 13:37-40 explains it. "And He said, 'The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man, and the field is the world; and as for the good seed, these are the sons of the kingdom; and the tares are the sons of the evil one; and the enemy who sowed them is the devil, and the harvest is the end of the age; and the reapers are angels. So just as the tares are gathered up and burned with fire, so shall it be at the end of the age.'"
There are many people who look like genuine believers, but then desert the faith. The devil is actively intermixing them among genuine believers. Ponder this. So how do we account for defections? John brings the best harmonization I have seen in 1 John 2:19: "They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us."
The way we are to distinguish true believers (wheat) from tares is perseverance in the faith. If you look at John's wording, the implication seems to be that true believers cannot desert the faith. If the apostles could not separate the wheat from the tares, it would be a little presumptuous to think that we could!
But why is it so important to understand that we are secure in Christ? If we were not, then our salvation would be at least be partially dependent upon us and God would not get ALL (and I mean all) the glory. But God gets all the glory. Salvation is totally and completely of God. Even our decision to believe is a result of His planning and working (see Acts 13:48). If you understand this, you can really understand grace.
But note this: the grace that saves us is also the grace that transforms us. That is why true believers are in the process of being conformed to the image of Christ. That is why sin bothers the genuine believer. And that is why the genuine believer, like a boomerang, always comes back.
The genuinely regenerate person does not need the threat of losing salvation as a motivator to walk the straight and narrow. Instead, he has the Law of God written on his heart (a new nature), and, although he fails time and time again, he knows that it is "God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose" (Philippians 2:13). He also knows he has a loving but firm heavenly Father who will discipline him or even take him home early rather than allow him to lose his salvation.
From a practical viewpoint, do those who believe they can lose their salvation live in a godlier fashion than those who believe otherwise? In my observation, just the opposite is true, or, at bare minimum, it makes no difference. The secure believer is free to focus upon maturing, the insecure believer may merely focus upon "hanging on."
What do our families teach us? That children who are on the verge of being disowned because of every infraction come out better than those who are unconditionally accepted? I don't think so. The same is true, I am convinced, in the spiritual realm. We operate best from a position of security.
Now there are all sorts of positions in between the two. Some people believe every time you sin you have to be saved again, others say you have to be saved again when you sin a big sin. Still others, who are more moderate, say that you lose your salvation only if you desert the faith or deny the Lord. But the issue still comes down to this: is salvation totally of God or mostly of God?
So Joe Schmo used to be a deacon and witness, but now Joe Schmo lives at the bar and is an atheist. Is Joe saved? Most of us would say no. The only difference is this: those who reject security say he was saved and lost his salvation, those of us who believe otherwise say he did not have the genuine
disease. Unfortunately, there are some in the eternally secure camp who would maintain that Joe was saved and still is. But, in an attempt to disassociate myself from that abuse, I prefer to label my conviction, "The Perseverance of the Believer."