An individual’s hope of salvation is only by the grace and mercy of God. Once saved, can that individual lose his or her salvation? This issue has been debated frequently throughout the history of Christianity.
The answer to this question lies in an understanding of what Jesus did through the cross.
We have no hope of salvation apart from Christ. Only the righteous may enter God’s presence, and our sin leaves us permanently and irreconcilably stained. When Jesus died on the cross, He paid the penalty for every sin committed by all humans who ever lived and ever would live. That means that Christ already atoned for every past, present, and future sin for as long as I live.
Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.
– John 5:24 ESV
The attribution of eternal life is not a future hope but a present reality. This verse clearly states that those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ have eternal life, now, even while still living. When an individual places his or her faith in Jesus for the forgiveness of sin, God no longer sees him or her as unrighteous but clothed in Christ’s righteousness. We can never do anything for which Jesus’ death has not already atoned.
Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life.
– John 6:47 ESV
1 John 5:13 further emphasizes the believer’s security in Christ, that we can know that we have eternal life.
I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life.
– 1 John 5:13 ESV
The notion that an individual can lose his or her salvation contradicts the nature of God. It would make God fickle and untrustworthy, as if God could say, “I know I gave you eternal life and all your sins are covered, but I changed my mind and am taking it back.”
He knows our future, so nothing we do catches Him by surprise. So any change of mind would reflect poorly on Him alone and detract from His character, greatness, and glory. Those He saves He knew from the foundation of the universe.
Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them.
A person losing his or her salvation would mean that he or she committed a sin that Jesus’ death could not cover and that God did not know about at the time of his or her salvation, which is absolute nonsense. Christ’s death was all-encompassing and more than sufficient to pay the full price for our forgiveness, no matter what anyone does.
The only exception to God’s granting of forgiveness is to blaspheme the Holy Spirit and willfully relinquish one’s claim to salvation. John Piper explains it well.
For Christians today, we need not fear a specific moment of sin, but a kind of hardness of heart that would see Jesus as true and yet walk away — with a kind of hardness of heart incapable of repenting. Again, it’s not that forgiveness isn’t granted, but that it’s not sought. The heart has become so recalcitrant, and at such odds with God’s Spirit, that it’s become incapable of true repentance.
But once an individual recognizes his or her sinful nature and places his or her faith fully in the the finished work of Jesus for the forgiveness of sin, he or she has eternal life. The gift of the indwelt Holy Spirit seals the destiny of that person under the love of God. He adopts us as His children in a permanent transaction that He will never undo.
We cannot by any means save ourselves. But once God has worked in us such that we recognize His complete sovereignty and our humble position before Him, having confessed and repented from our sins, we can know that we have guaranteed salvation in and through Him.
Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by
permission. All rights reserved.