Can a man lose his salvation? Yes! If it depends on him. This is one of the most controversial issues—and one of our most frequently asked questions. There are good scholars on all sides of this issue, yet we felt it would useful to explain our own views on this highly charged subject.
Three Tenses of “Being Saved”
We believe that the root problem stems from a lack of precision in our definitions.
We have been saved: positionally from the penalty of sin.1 This is often called justification salvation.
We are being saved: from the power of sin, operationally, by the Holy Spirit, moment by moment.2 This is usually called sanctification.
We shall be saved: from the presence of sin; after the resurrection, often called glorification, or “the redemption of our body.”3
All three persons of the Godhead have their share in preserving to fruition that which God has determined. In our previous article we explored “Part 1: It Depends upon God the Father.”
In this article we will explore the second and third bases of our security...
Part 2: It Depends Upon God the Son
If God has already justified the man who believes in Jesus,4 how can He lay anything to the charge of His justified one? His justification comes from the imputed righteousness of Christ and is legally ours! It is not a subject of merit, and its loss cannot be the subject of demerit. Like a father, God can and does correct His earthly sons, but they always remain sons (cf. the Prodigal Son, Lk 15:24).
God, having justified the ungodly,5 will not—and cannot—contradict Himself by charging them with evil. In Romans 8:34, Paul asks, “Who is he that condemneth?” and then gives four answers, each of which are taught elsewhere in Scripture, but are gathered here to underscore the unconditional security of the believer:
1) Christ died;
2) He is risen;
3) He advocates; and
4) He intercedes.
1) It Relies Upon His Substitutionary Death
Who can condemn us if the penalty has already been paid? The greatest proof of eternal security is justification by faith. Justification refers to how God sees us, not how others—or even we ourselves—see us. It is entirely a forensic (legal) matter; Colossians 2:14 declares that our “Certificate of Debt” has been “paid in full”: Tetelestai!6
(I believe He paid for each of our sins, individually. No dis-count for volume; no package deal.) This redemption was eternal7 and once and for all.8
2) It Relies Upon His Substitutionary Life
Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him.
For more examples, see Romans 5:19; 10:4; Colossians 2:10, et al.
3) It Relies Upon His Present Session: Advocate and Intercessor
Jesus is both our legal advocate (the Arminians fear that this doctrine will tend toward sin, but John says that it is a motivation not to sin)9 and our priestly intercessor.10
Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.
“Saves to the uttermost” sounds pretty complete to me! And, completing the participation by each member of the Trinity:
Part 3: It Also Depends Upon God the Holy Spirit
1) Upon His Ministry of Regeneration
Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost;
Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are past away; behold, all things are become new.
2 Corinthians 5:17
2) Upon His Baptizing Ministry
For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.
1 Corinthians 12:13
3) Upon His Sealing Ministry
Who hath also sealed us, and given the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts.
2 Corinthians 1:22
Sealing: To “set a seal” was a mark of protection (Cf. Mt 27:66, on the tomb of Christ) and ownership. When the Holy Spirit seals, it is with the signet ring of the Father on our hearts. He leaves the mark of ownership. A broken seal is an indication that the protection wasn’t adequate. Can you break the seal? Can Satan?
He is also a Pledge: An earnest, or pledge, is a legal concept. It is a first installment, with which a man secures a legal claim upon a thing as yet unconsummated. It is a down payment, a deposit; an evidence of good faith, obligating the party to consummate the commitment involved. (A pledge as in Genesis 38:17ff).11
In Romans 8:23, the Holy Spirit is designated as a down payment, a “first fruits,” to be followed by more. We are sealed unto that day. If one person who was born again in Christ ever fails to enter into heaven when he dies, then God has broken His pledge. No conditions are mentioned. It is a work of God and depends upon Him alone.
What Kind of Assurance Can We Have of Victory?
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
The apostle lists seven things a believer might experience that some might think could come between a believer and Christ’s love (Paul experienced all of them).12
1) Tribulation : “pressure or distress”; mentioned frequently by Paul in 2 Corinthians);
2) Distress : literally, “narrowness”; i.e., being pressed in, hemmed in, crowded;
3) Persecution: Used 10 times in the New Testament, always in reference to the gospel.
4) Famine (limo,j limos): Used 12 times in the New Testament. The God of Elijah looks after His own.
5) Nakedness: See 1 Corinthians 4:11.
6) Peril [jeopardy, danger] : Used eight times in one verse (2 Corinthians 11:26; cf. 1 Corinthians 15:30).
7) Sword. The world hates the saints.
These things—stated in increasing intensity—do not separate Christians from Christ; instead they are part of the “all things” (Rom 8:28) God uses to bring them to conformity to His Son.
Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.
His Final Guarantee
For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature [created thing], Shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Wow. Angels! Principalities [demons]! Powers [of “darkness”]! What else is there? What else, in the entire universe, matters? This should really re-prioritize our entire outlook on everything!
More to Come
This still leaves some issues of grave importance: To “enter” heaven is not equivalent to inheritance (“ownership”). What different kinds of inheritances are there? We have been dealing here with justification, the past tense of “salvation.” What about sanctification, the present tense of “salvation”? We are all heading for a final exam, and behavior matters! I suspect that the only reason there will be tears in heaven (Rev 7:17; 21:4) is for recognizing our lost opportunities:
The saddest words of tongue or pen, are these: “It might have been.”
—Ralph Waldo Emerson