Can A Christian Lose His Salvation? (Arminian Perspective)

The issue of eternal security may be the most complex theological issue I've ever come across. It takes first place of all the difficult theological issues, in my opinion. Second place goes to discerning just what the “Blasphemy Of The Holy Spirit” is. Just when I think I've got the seemingly contradictory proof texts figured out, I discover a passage which causes me to doubt my current interpretation.

How do we reconcile passages which seem to suggest that apostasy for those who are truly saved is impossible, and yet we have lines like that in Revelation which talks about people having their names "blotted out of the Lamb's book of life"? Moreover, what about those who seem to be Christians, and seem to produce all of the fruits of The Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) and yet turn to atheism or some other non-Christian worldview? Obviously, as Christians, we accept the whole word of God. God’s Word says what God’s Word says, and we know that what it says is true. So if The Bible teaches that apostasy is impossible, we must believe it. If it says its entirely possible for a Spirit-filled Christian to reject the Holy Spirit, then we must believe it. The problem is, it seems to be saying both. How are we to make sense of this. Well, first, let’s look at what scripture has to say about this issue, and then I’ll provide an interpretation that seems to best reconcile all of the biblical data on this subject.

Eternal Security proof texts

First, let’s look at some of the passages used by those who believe that salvation cannot possibly be lost. The passages that seem to suggest this are as numerous as those on the other side which seem to suggest that salvation can be lost. What do these passages say?

Well, the one that most commonly comes to my mind is John 10:28-29. In this passage, Jesus says “I give them eternal life and they shall never perish. No one can pluck them from my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.” This seems to suggest that once you’re given eternal life, that’s it! You’ll never perish! No one can cause you to lose your salvation. Satan, all the demons of Hell, or the flesh or the world, all of them are completely impotent in causing you to become an unsaved, Hell-Bound sinner like you used to be. I believe this is true. No one, not Satan, not the world, or the flesh, or any of Hell’s demons can snatch you away from God. Therefore, we don’t have to worry about our adversary, the devil, dragging us to Hell. Jesus said he can’t drag us to Hell. We are in His hand. Satan cannot pluck us from it.

Then there’s that beautiful passage in Romans. Romans 8:38-39 says "For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."

“To Him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy—to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.” – Jude 24-25

Apostasy Proof Texts

On the other side of the coin however, there seem to be verses which suggest that even those given eternal life can possibly fall away and thus cancel out their status as one of the redeemed. The text which seem to suggest this are abundant. Very abundant.

1 Peter 1:5 gives insight into the nature of Christian security of salvation—it is conditional on faith. For it speaks of us “who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” Hence, the biblical doctrine of salvation security is best described as conditional rather than unconditional or inevitable. As the believer trusts in God, the Lord guards his salvation. But as we will see, if the believer stops trusting in the Lord, then the Lord will revoke his salvation. Thus, Peter exhorted his believing audience, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world” (1 Peter 5:8-9).

In 2 Peter 1:5-11, the Apostle exhorted his audience of believers to grow in godly virtues because doing so would keep them from falling and so failing to enter the eternal kingdom of Christ. It is in this context that Peter gives the remarkable exhortation, “Therefore, brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure” (2 Peter 1:10; NIV). The wording of this exhortation is not to make ourselves sure about our calling and election, but to make our calling and election themselves sure/firm, which is then tied to not falling and indicated as being accomplished by practicing the Christian virtues that were already said to be what would keep Peter’s readers secure: “for if you practice these qualities you will never fall” - 2 Peter 1:10b.

Peter goes on to spend a good deal of his second epistle warning his believing audience of false teachers and their spiritually destructive teaching (2 Pet 2-3), who had forsaken “the right way” and had “gone astray” (2 Peter 2:15). “They entice by sensual passions of the flesh those who are barely escaping from those who live in error” (2 Peter 2:18b). That implies the enticement of genuine believers since they are escaping—even if barely—from those who live in error. Sadly, Peter warned “many will follow their sensuality” (2 Peter 2:2a). Peter’s warning is grave indeed:

"For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them. What the true proverb says has happened to them: The dog returns to its own vomit, and the sow, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire." - 2 Peter 2:20-22

This warning refers to believers who go astray, since they had “escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet 2:20; cf. 1:4, 8).

Then there’s Hebrews 6:4-6 which says “For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame.” – Here, we see that the people the writer of Hebrews is talking about are “partakers of The Holy Spirit” and “have tasted the good word of God”. The writer here is saying if these people fall away, “it is impossible to renew them to repentance”

What makes me think this passage is talking about genuinely saved, born again Christians is the “impossible to renew them to repentance” part. If these people “weren’t truly saved to begin with” as those who advocate “once saved, always saved” say, then it makes so sense to say that they can be “renewed” to repentance. If they weren’t truly saved, then they never repented in the first place! How can they be “renewed” or “brought back” (as the NLT puts it) if they never truly repented in the first place? They can’t repent a second time unless there was a first time. Moreover, it says they were “partakers of the Holy Spirit”. How can you partake of The Holy Spirit and not be saved all the while?

[Luke 8:13 NIV] "Those on the rocky ground are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away." (emphasis mine). Jesus' parable of the seeds, seem to suggest that some who hear the word of God genuinely believe it for a while, but then fall away.

To see more passages on this, read this article -->

These warning passages make no sense unless true apostasy is possible. If it is not possible to turn away from God after receiving Him, then what is the point of all these numerous passages warning us about it? It must be possible or else The Holy Spirit would not inspire His writers to put these warnings in there. It would be like me warning you not to go into my closet because a giant flesh eating mantis is in there that will devour you if you let him out. Such a thing does not exist, is not in my closet, and is therefore impossible. Therefore, my warning to you about it is completely useless. Unless there really was a giant man eating mantis in my closet would my warning to you not to open the door make any sense.

So, what view should we hold?

How should we interpret these seemingly contradictory passages? It seems to me that we should affirm with the many above passages that salvation can indeed be negated. If we don’t, then these passages make no sense. They’re essentially warning us of something that can’t happen. On the other hand, we shouldn’t disbelieve John 10:28-29 or Romans 8:38-39 either. So, what do we do with this biblical data?

Now, this view may have its problems, but in my opinion, if it has any problems, it is much less then the full blown view of “Once Saved, Always Saved”. I am open to being corrected. This is an extremely complex and confusing issue. I seem to be tilting back and forth in uncertainty all the time.

But it seems to me, the best way to harmonize these passages is to say that Salvation can be given up, but it cannot be lost.

When Jesus says "no one can snatch them out of my hand" the focus is not on the sheeps ability to lose themselves, rather it’s on others. Jesus already made it clear that He gives them eternal life and they will never perish. The emphasis on that verse is on an outside force. Jesus mentioned a wolf coming to attack the sheep. This is the guarantee that the wolf cannot prevail. Just like when Jesus said to Peter that Satan wanted to sift him like wheat, but Jesus had prayed that Peters faith does not fail, and went on to tell him that he would not fail. Its like in Romans 8 when Paul says that nothing can separate us from God's love. Having already made it clear that salvation is by Grace and that we don't earn it and are guaranteed glorification (Romans 8:30) he merely reinforces the statement. Thus not only can you not lose it, no one else can take it.

I don’t believe anyone can “lose” their salvation in the sense that some outside force took it away from you. If I did, my belief would contradict scripture. You can’t “lose” salvation in the same sense that a person “loses” their car keys. However, we can freely give it up. If I ever stop being a Christian, scripture implies that I have no one else to blame. No outside force can pluck me from His hand, so I must have freely left on my own volition.

Here’s an analogy. A person who is murdered by another has “lost his life”. A person who commits suicide “loses his life” as well, but in a different way. The person who was murdered had his life forcefully taken away from him. He had no say in the matter. He died against his will. The person who commits suicide freely chose to kill himself. He and he alone is to blame for his death. No one else. Though certainly other factors influenced his decision to commit suicide, he wasn’t determined to commit suicide. He alone is responsible for his death.

In the same way, I think the best view is; that we can’t have our salvation taken from us by outside forces, however we can give up our salvation of our own free will. And though Satan and his demons may influence our decision to commit apostasy, ultimately its up to us whether or not we go in the direction of that influence. The Holy Spirit will try to get us to choose to stay. So, we can’t lose our salvation like a homicide victim “loses” his life, but we can freely give it up. We can only lose it in the same way a suicidal person chooses to end his life. On judgment day, the apostate has no one but himself to blame.

Perhaps this interpretation is flawed. I’m still dwelling on the issue. But it seems to me that at the present time, this is best way to harmonize all of the biblical texts. If I ever change my mind some day, I'll just come delete this blog post.