[At the end of last week, I announced on Facebook that I was going to start a series of weekly blog posts to answer any questions being posed by my Facebook “friends” who were from within Africa and aged between 15 and 25. The question below was the second one to come in. I will leave the first one, on Cessationism, for another week].
QUESTION: Thank you so much Pastor. I know it's the first time you have heard from me, I got saved 5 years ago so I am kind of new. I have a question with regards to salvation. My question is, “Can a person lose their salvation?” And is the phrase, “Once saved, always saved,” biblical? Kindly enlighten me with regards to this. Thank You. (From CM)
ANSWER: Your question is one that I also wrestled with during the first 5 years of my Christian life. It is interesting that it is still doing its rounds—some 30 years later. Evidently, there is nothing new under the sun! I will not be exhaustive in answering your question because I want to limit myself to only a single page. Long blog posts hardly ever get read. So, I will end with suggestions where you can get longer answers.
Can a person lose their salvation? The biblical answer is in the negative—No! What you experienced 5 years ago is simply the realisation of a process that began in eternity before God created the world and it will only end in eternity after Jesus Christ returns. The Bible puts it this way: “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified” (Romans 8:29-30).
We often refer to verse 30 as the golden chain of salvation. The first link is foreknowledge (“those whom he foreknew”). It refers to God setting his affections upon individuals as distinct from everyone else before the world began (see an example of this use in Romans 11:2). This link is hooked into another link, i.e. predestination (“those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son”). To predestine is to predetermine a destination.
And what is the destination that God has predetermined for those whom he set his affections upon in eternity past? It is that they will finally be completely conformed to the image of Christ. When will that happen? The apostle John tells us: “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).
The apostle Paul explains: “And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” What you have experienced is God’s calling. It happens when the Holy Spirit so convicts you of your sin and shows you the sufficiency of Christ as Saviour that you invariably call upon him to save you. In theology it is called “effectual calling”. It is a call that brings you from death to life and results in you having saving faith, upon which God justifies you. His job is now to bring you to glory so that you can perfectly reflect the virtues of his Son.
In that sense, the phrase, “Once saved, always saved,” is biblical. You cannot lose your salvation! However, the weakness of this phrase has been in its historical usage. Many people use this to mean, “If you once walked to the front at the end of an evangelistic meeting and repeated a sinner’s prayer, then it does not matter how you live afterwards you will still get to heaven.” I want to assure you that such an understanding is false and dangerous. It matters how you live. The Bible argues again and again that the life you live after you profess Christianity is what proves whether you are saved or not.
1 John was written so that those who believe in Jesus may know that they have eternal life (1 John 5:13). John’s arguments are along the lines that if you are saved it will show in the way you now live in relation to sin. For instance, John writes, “Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God” (1 John 4:7-9).
So, next time someone uses the phrase, “Once saved, always saved,” ask them what they mean. If by saying that, they are saying that God never leaves his work half done. He will persevere in making his children holy—step-by-step—until he brings them to heaven. If that is what they mean then they are right. If they are using it as an excuse to remain wallowing in sin like a pig wallows in mud, then warn them. They have been deceived. God does not only save us from the hell where sin was taking us, but he also saves us from the sin that was taking us to hell. The two must never be separated!