Can you lose your salvation?
Now some people have assurance who have no right to it. An old spiritual put it simply and directly: “Everybody talkin’ about heaven ain’t going there.” Some feel all is well between them and God when it isn’t. They don;t understand the truth about salvation and their own spiritual condition. Many people ask me why I speak and write so frequently on salvation and spiritual self-examination. Often they fear that what I’ve said will undermine the assurance of true Christians. Of course, I have no desire to do that, but to maintain a balanced perspective on the issue, I recall that Jesus said, Matt 7:21“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. 22“Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ 23“And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.’ That passage haunts me. Like no other, it brings me face to face with the reality that many people are deceived about their salvation. I am sure the apostle Paul felt that way when he said to the church at large, Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves!” (2 Cor 13:5)
How do people acquire a false sense of assurance? By receiving false information about salvation. Much of our modern day evangelism contributes to that through what I call “syllogistic assurance.”
A syllogism has a major premise and a minor premise that lead to a conclusion. Let’s consider John 1:12: “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name.” The major premise: Anyone who receives Jesus becomes God’s child. The minor premise: the person you just witnessed to received Christ. Conclusion: The person must now be a child of God. That seems logical, but the problem is, you don’t know whether the minor premise is true – whether that person truly received Christ. Beware of trying to assure people of their salvation based on an untested profession. True assurance is the reward of tested and proven faith (see James 1:2-4; 1 Peter 1:6-9). And it’s the Holy Spirit who gives real assurance (see Romans 8:16). The human counselor must guard against any tendency to usurp that role.
Some people believe no one can have full assurance- not even a true Christian. They reject God’s sovereignty in salvation, thereby destroying the theological basis for eternal security and assurance. That’s the historical Armenian view (named after Dutch theologian). It asserts that if a Christian thinks he is secure forever, he is apt to become spiritually negligent. That belief is also the official teaching of the Roman Catholic Church. The Council of Trent declared it anathema to say ” that a man who is born again and justified is bound [of faith] to believe that is certainly in the number of predestined” (canon 15 on justification). Modern Catholic teaching, such as that of Vatican II, upholds that position. G.C Berkhouwer’s the conflict with Rome explains that Rome’s denial of assurance of salvation is consistent with it’s conception of the nature of salvation. Since it conceives of salvation as a joint effort by man and God, something that’s maintained through the doing of good works, it concludes the believer can never be absolutely sure of his salvation. Why? Because if my salvation depends on God and me, I might mess up.
Whenever you have a theology that involves human effort for salvation, there can be no true security or assurance, because human beings can default. But historical biblical theology declares salvation is entirely the work of God, which leads to the concomitant doctrines of security and assurance.
The apostle John said, “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13). The prophet Isaiah wrote, “The work of righteousness will be peace, and the service of righteousness, quietness and confidence forever (Isaiah 32:17). Where God grants righteousness, He also adds the peace of assurance.
It is true that someone can be saved and doubt it. One may go to heaven in a mist, not knowing for sure he’s going, but that’s certainly not the way to enjoy the trip. God wants you to enjoy the trip. First, consider what the bible teaches about the lasting nature of salvation. There’s no valid basis for being assured of your salvation is Scripture says it’s possible for you to lose it. We will examine the classic biblical texts affirming the forever quality of salvation, but will not ignore the troubling passages that seem to indicate otherwise. Then we will explore two passages that seem to indicate otherwise. Then we will explore two passages that overwhelmingly illustrate in cumulative fashion the security of salvation as a gift of God in line with His irrevocable purposes. All this constitutes the objective grounds for assurance. We’re to be assured of our salvation first and foremost because scripture promises eternal life to those who believe in Christ (see John 20:31). God’s Word and the guarantee of life to believers is thus the foundation of full assurance.
Second, once we’ve established that the Bible consistently affirms that salvation is forever, we need to get personal. As Paul said, we need to test ourselves. The lasting nature of salvation won’t mean anything to you personally unless you are a genuine believer. How can you tell whether you are really a christian? How do you know if your faith is real? The apostle John write his first letter to answer that question, for it is the same question. He gave us a series of tests to measure ourselves by, and we will take them all. They delve into the subjective grounds for assurance. Their focus is the fruit of righteousness in the believer’s life and the internal witness of the Holy Spirit. Note that those two subjective factors have meaning only if they are first rooted by faith in the objective truth of God’s Word. They are vital to our discussion, however, and I will emphasize them in the remainder of the book because most contemporary discussions on assurance focus almost exclusively int he objective grounds for assurance. They minimize or dismiss the subjective grounds, thus robbing an untold number of believers of a valuable source of assurance. Worse yet, in doing so they perpetuate the tragic phenomenon of false assurance.
Third, as we take a closer look at the subjective grounds for assurance, we will see what God’s word says to the many believers who struggle emotionally with the issue of assurance – in spite of knowing the promises of scripture. Perhaps you’re on of them: You believe in the security of salvation and that your faith in Christ is genuine, but you are plagued with the insecure feeling of not knowing for sure whether you will go to heaven. For some of you, those times are but fleeting moments; for others they last a long time; and for still others, they seem like a way of life. Is there any way to overcome that doubt? How can you match up your feelings with your faith? How can you experience the assurance for your salvation?
For a start, it helps to know the different reasons that could lead you to doubt your salvation. That’s how I began my series on assurance from 2 Peter 1. It’s an honest examination of where most of us are struggling. We don’t want to assume because we know the facts, we therefore experience the reality. That assurance will become more and more real as we understand and apply the virtues Peter described. After we examine them in detail, we will conclude out study by taking an encouraging look at victory in the spirit and the promise of God to help us persevere.
To provide hooks to hang your thoughts on, I’ve come up with three simple questions to remind you of the direction of our study:
* Is is a done deal? – what the Bible teaches about the lasting nature of salvation.
* Is it real? – how can you tell whether you are truly a christian?
* Is it something I can feel? – how you can experience the assurance of secure salvation.
My prayer is that after carefully considering each area, grace and peace will be yours in fullest measure (see 1 Peter 1:2). Don’t continue to live with doubts about your eternal salvation. Rather, live with blessed assurance God wants you to enjoy as His child!
Part of the intro to John MacArthur’s book Saved without a Doubt.