Can you lose your salvation?
It was a question that haunted me. Tormented me. Sent me into an existential panic. Not only did I struggle to find assurance of salvation, I was also terrified of losing it.
And it didn’t help that I grew up in the 90s evangelical world, where every youth conference contained at least one opportunity to “rededicate” your life to Christ.
Music would be playing softly and the speaker would be earnestly pleading with all the “backsliders”, inviting them to be on fire for Jesus again (there was a lot of fire in the 90s). Tears would be shed, hands would be raised, and kids would stream to the front for prayer (and usually some sort of group hug).
To top it all off, there are passages in scripture that seem to indicate that a Christian can lose their salvation. What was I supposed to make of these spiritually terrifying words?
Maybe you can relate to this. Or maybe you know someone who struggles like I did.
So what does scripture really say? Can a genuine Christian lose their salvation?
God Will Preserve His People
Again and again, God makes it very clear that he will keep and preserve every true believer. In John 6:39-40, Jesus speaks these sweet words of comfort:
And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.
God has given believers to Jesus. I belong to him, he owns me, and he is very possessive of me. Jesus himself has promised that on that final day when he returns in staggering glory, I will be raised up to eternal life. Nothing can stop Jesus from fulfilling that promise.
Notice that this passage is all about what God will do. It’s not about my ability to persevere or hold fast to Jesus. It’s not like a spiritual Hunger Games, with Jesus saying, “Only the strong will make it to the end.”
Jesus will hold me fast in his invincible grip until the final day.
In Philippians 1:6, Paul says, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”
There was more dysfunction in Paul’s churches than most reality television shows. The Corinthians were getting pasted at the Lord’s Supper, the Galatians were on the verge of abandoning the gospel, the Colossians were tempted to worship angels, and two women were duking it out in the Philippian church.
How could Paul be confident that any of these people would persevere until Christ’s return?
Because God was the one who started the work of salvation and God would be the one who would complete it.
This gives me an incredible amount of peace. If my final salvation were up to me, I wouldn’t make it. I’m sure of that. I’m no spiritual Superman or hero (to paraphrase Dave Matthews). Without God holding me fast, I would be prone to wander and eventually fall away.
But God is the one who is working in me. He caused me to be born again and he will continue to work in me until that final day when I’m fully conformed to the image of Christ.
This is the glory of the new covenant in Christ. Israel was unable to consistently follow God. They constantly wandered into idolatry and wickedness, fundamentally lacking the power to keep God’s law. They could, and often did, “lose” the salvation God offered.
And so God promised to do something new and revolutionary: to write his law on the hearts of his people. In Jeremiah 31:33-34, the Lord speaks these breathtaking words:
For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.
In answer to the question, “Can you lose your salvation?” this passage (and others like it) give me great peace. One of the central promises of the New Covenant is that God writes his law on my heart.