Heaven's Hostages: Can the Saved Be Lost?

by Kim Kjaer


The preacher urged sinners to give themselves to Jesus, inviting them to the altar, where peace could be found. As they came, he praised God and asked them to repeat after him a simple prayer of about six sentences. Then he congratulated them with the words: "Now you are saved, and from this moment on, your destiny is eternally secure. Nothing you might do can ever reverse the decision you have made today; nothing can cause you to lose your eternal life." Then he pulled a key out of his pocket and handcuffed the right hand of each person to the altar. They were locked into the choice they had made and could not reverse it.

Although it is very unlikely that such a thing would ever actually happen in church, yet some have understood it to be an accurate representation of what happens when a sinner accepts Christ. In fact, a controversy has long been raging in Christianity over this very subject. Some teach that once a person has a conversion experience, his destiny is eternally secure, no matter what happens afterward. Others maintain that assurance of salvation is a byproduct of a saving relationship with Jesus, and that salvation can be lost if that relationship is broken-not by God's choice, but by the free choice of the individual himself.

The question is this: Once we have received the precious gift of salvation, can we later make choices that will cause us to lose the gift? To find our answer, let's examine what the Bible teaches regarding eternal security.

When addressing the multitudes who flocked to hear His teaching, Jesus illustrated the spiritual truths of His kingdom by telling stories, or parables. Later, in private, He explained their meaning to His disciples. The parable of the sower, who cast the seed abroad (Luke chapter 8), represents the spreading of the gospel to our world. The various types of ground on which the seed falls represents the different conditions of people's hearts. All who hear have a chance to receive the message that God forgives sin for Christ's sake. All may pass from death to life and be reconciled to God by believing the promise and receiving Christ as their personal Saviour.

In the parable, some seed falls by the wayside, which represents hearts that are unprepared to receive God's grace. Like the beaten path that was too hard to provide a bed for the seed, these people are so callused by the world and Satan's deceptions that they reject the very thing that would have placed them in a saving relationship with Christ. The devil easily snatches the gift away from hearts that do not accept it, just as birds pick up seed that lies on the surface of hard soil.

Jesus went on to tell about seed that falls on rocky soil. As soon as the plant springs up, it withers for lack of moisture. "They on the rock are they, which, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, which for a while believe, and in time of temptation fall away." Luke 8:13. These people gladly accept the marvelous truth that Christ died to atone for their sins. They believe, and are therefore saved. But notice what happens to these believers as life goes on. They fail to put down strong roots into God's Word and believe only "for a while." When Satan brings temptation into their lives, they fall away.

From What Do They Fall?
It is important to know that the same Greek word that is translated "fall away" in Luke 8:13 is translated "depart" in 1 Timothy 4:1, where Paul tells us that "in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils." According to Jesus' parable and the warning of the apostle, believers can fall away. They can depart from the faith through which they are saved.

Those who think that a one-time decision makes a person's salvation eternally secure often reason that individuals who fall away were never really saved in the first place. But if they were not really saved, what did they "fall away" from? You cannot fall from a height where you have never stood. And it is impossible to depart from Chicago if you have never been there!

Let's imagine an emergency room doctor who believes it is impossible to fall from a cliff. As his patient lies on the examining table with broken bones, multiple lacerations, and bruises, the doctor shakes his head in disbelief. "I'm afraid I cannot help you," he tells the rock climber. "You say your injuries were sustained by falling off a cliff. But if you had ever really been on that cliff, there is no way you could have fallen. My professional opinion is that you were never actually on the cliff. Consequently, you are discharged."

Follow this line of reasoning to its logical conclusion. If it were impossible to fall off the cliff, and if there were no danger at all of a fall taking place, then there would be no need for warning signs or guardrails. Likewise, if those who are saved can't fall away, there would be no need for so many warnings against falling away or departing from the faith. The admonitions of Jesus and Paul would be false alarms, warnings without substance.

Clearly, the Bible warnings are for those who have believed and accepted the gift of salvation. In fact, Paul did not even consider himself exempt from the danger of losing salvation. He wanted to make sure that he was prepared for the attacks of the enemy, lest when he had "preached to others" he himself "should be a castaway." 1 Corinthians 9:27. The language of Scripture is too plain to be misunderstood.

In John chapter 6, Jesus called Himself the Bread from heaven. He said, "Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you." Verse 53. Jesus did not mean that His followers should eat and drink His literal flesh and blood, but rather that they should partake of His words. "The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life." Verse 63. However, even after Jesus explained His meaning, "many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him." Verse 66.

Paul warned believers that this could happen. "Now the just shall live by faith: but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him. But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul." Hebrews 10:38, 39. If a saved individual can draw back to perdition, that means it is indeed possible for him to lose his salvation.

Peter gives another example. "Ye therefore, beloved, seeing ye know these things before, beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own stedfastness." 2 Peter 3:17. When someone who knows the truth is led away by an error of the devil, he falls from his steadfastness and, eventually, departs from the faith. "Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall." 1 Corinthians 10:12.

Another cause for departing from the faith is returning to the lifestyle of the world. "For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning. For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them." 2 Peter 2:20, 21. Here Peter tells us that it is possible for those who have known Christ-and knowing Him is eternal life-to become entangled again with the world and, in doing so, deny their Lord.

Demas had accepted Jesus as his personal Saviour and was listed among the fellow-laborers of Paul (Philemon 24), who had their names written in the book of life (Philippians 4:3). Yet Demas was apparently an example of what Jesus called a thorny-ground hearer. The seed began to grow in his heart, but the things of the world, like thorns, choked out the life of the growing seed so that it produced no fruit (Mark 4:18, 19). Demas, "having loved this present world," forsook the apostle (2 Timothy 4:10). Once a devoted Christian who labored with Paul, he became entangled again in the things of this world and left not only Paul, but Jesus also.

Separated From the Saviour
If Christians who turn back from following Jesus don't turn around, seek forgiveness, and follow Him again, they will find themselves classed with unbelievers when Christ returns. Jesus Himself made this clear in the parable of the "faithful and wise steward" (Luke 12:42-48), who represents those who follow Him just before the second coming. He said, "If that servant say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming; and shall begin to beat the menservants and maidens, and to eat and drink, and to be drunken; The lord of that servant will come in a day when he looketh not for him, and at an hour when he is not aware, and will cut him in sunder, and will appoint him his portion with the unbelievers." Verses 45, 46.

Some believe that willfully disregarding God's Word may affect our fellowship with God, but does not affect our relationship to God. However, Isaiah 59:2 says that sin separates us from God. In John chapter 15, Jesus taught that our connection to Him, which He compared to the relation of the branch to the vine, can be severed. "I am the vine, ye are the branches." Verse 5. A branch has life only as long as it is connected to the vine. "Without me ye can do nothing," Jesus said. Just as the branch that is connected to the vine is able to bring forth fruit, the Christian who is connected to Jesus will produce the fruit of the Spirit. However, branches that bear no fruit are severed from the vine by the husbandman. Having no source of life, they wither and "men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned." Verse 6.

While we should not live in constant worry that we might make a mistake, yet it is true that the willful commission of a single known sin can begin to set our feet on a downward path. If not checked, this course will ultimately lead to perdition. Thus "when the righteous turneth away from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, and doeth according to all the abominations that the wicked man doeth, shall he live? All his righteousness that he hath done shall not be mentioned: in his trespass that he hath trespassed, and in his sin that he hath sinned, in them shall he die." Ezekiel 18:24.

It was a long chain of wrong choices that changed King Saul from a Spirit-filled young man entrusted with the gift of prophecy (1 Samuel 10:9-11) into a man with whom God refused to speak. In this desperate condition, the king stooped to seek the counsel of a witch. Eventually he committed suicide (1 Samuel 28:6, 7; 31:4, 5).

There is hope that the one who has become separated from the Saviour will see the folly of such a course and begin following Him again. Paul taught this in Romans chapter 11, where he gave the experience of the nation of Israel. Some had been severed from the olive tree because of unbelief, but they could be grafted back in if they renounced their unbelief. It was their own course of action that caused them to be severed, but through the mercy of God they could be reinstated. God is seeking to save people, and whatever may have been our past experience, we may choose to give ourselves to Christ today.

But didn't Jesus say that no man can pluck us out of His hand? Yes, He did. And in the preceding verse Jesus identified those who are held securely in His hand. "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand." John 10:27, 28. The ones who cannot be plucked out of Christ's hand are the sheep who hear His voice and follow Him. They are obedient to His teaching.

Those who are trying to secure the gift of eternal life without following Jesus are thieves and robbers (John 10:1). Jesus warned, "Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven." Matthew 7:21. Jesus made it very plain that it is not those who just hear the Word that will be saved, but those who hear and follow it.

If there were no possibility of losing one's salvation, a judgment would be unnecessary for Christians. Yet Paul said, "We shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ" to "give account of himself to God." Romans 14:10, 12. The inevitable conclusion is that Christians can choose to fall away from Jesus just as surely as they can choose to follow Him. Receiving Christ does not take away our freedom of choice. In fact, knowing Jesus, the Truth, will make us more free than we were before! Because we are free and not forced to follow Jesus, we can choose to be lost just as surely as we can choose to be saved.

Why, then, is the teaching of eternal security so prevalent? The idea that our eternal life is secure solely because we have accepted Christ as our personal Saviour at some time in the past-regardless of whether we now follow Him or not-is based on a false idea of the gospel. It is not the gospel presented in the Bible. Biblical salvation is not merely a profession of Jesus as Lord and Saviour, but the possession of Jesus in the daily life.

How to Have Assurance
The sweetest music to the ear of a repenting sinner is the voice of Jesus saying, "Be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee." Matthew 9:2.

Jesus said, "For verily I say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast unto the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith." Mark 11:23. What "mountains" do you suppose the Lord was talking about? The prophet Micah says, "He will subdue our iniquities; and thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea." Micah 7:19, emphasis added.

Isn't that exciting? Just for fun, I did some research and learned that the highest peak in the world, Mount Everest, is 29,028 feet above sea level. And the Mariana Trench in the Pacific Ocean, which is the deepest sea-floor depression in the world, is about 36,198 feet deep. That means you could easily cover the very highest mountain of sin with the deep ocean of God's mercy.

When we confess our sins and receive the pardon offered us so freely, yet at such an infinite cost, the death of Christ provides full atonement for our sins. In heaven's eyes we appear as if we had lived the perfect life of Christ, never having sinned in thought, word, or deed. We are accepted by God through our faith in Christ. Even a new Christian taking his first breath is "complete in Him." The glorious fact is that "He that hath the Son, hath life"-eternal life (1 John 5:12). Should anything happen to end his mortal life at that moment, salvation would be sure for all eternity. That is amazing grace.

So how can you really know if Jesus is in your life? How can you have the assurance that you are in a saving relationship with Him?

There is nothing you can do to change your own heart. You may not be able to tell exactly when or where the Holy Spirit began a new life in you. The Spirit, like the wind, cannot be seen. But His presence is known by its results. If your heart has been changed and renewed by the Spirit of God, your life will testify to that fact.

Who has captured your heart? Whom do you love to talk about? If you have given yourself to Christ, your sweetest thoughts will be of Him. All that you have and are will be surrendered to Him. You will long to be like Him, to act as He would act, and to please Him in everything you do.

Do not put your trust in what you can do. In all your helpless unworthiness, trust in the merits of Jesus alone. Continually give yourself to Christ, and stay in constant communion with Him. Be willing to follow wherever He leads, and do not wound your Saviour by stubborn, willful disobedience.

You may not always have the joyful feeling that you are accepted by God. But as you come to Him, believe that He accepts you because He has promised. Learn to lean upon His Word even when the feeling of assurance is absent (see Philippians 1:6). Grasp the promises you find there, for you can never perish while you do this. When Jesus returns to give you the gift of immortality, absolute assurance will be yours. Your life in Him will be eternally secure.

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