How Saved Can a Person Be?
I have been reading Saved Without a Doubt by John MacArthur. In his book he mentions Hebrews 6, which is often cited as evidence for the idea that one can lose his or her salvation. Hebrews 6:4-8 reads as follows (ESV):
4 For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5 and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. 7 For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. 8 But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned.
At first glance this passage would see to indicate that if, once someone is saved, that individual turns from God, then his or her salvation is lost forever. Can this be true?
MacArthur Adds Clarity
With regard to those who believe it is possible to lose one’s salvation MacArthur writes in Saved Without a Doubt,
Because they believe that warning is addressed to Christians, some interpreters think Hebrews 6 teaches that salvation can be lost. If that interpretation were true, however, the passage would also teach that, once lost, salvation could never be regained – that the person would be damned forever. There would be no going back and forth, in and out of grace, as most people who believe you can lose your salvation seem to assume. But Christians are not being addressed, and it is the opportunity for receiving salvation, not salvation itself, that can be lost. It is unbelievers who are in danger of losing salvation – in the sense of losing the opportunity to ever receive it.
So what leads MacArthur to believe that it is not followers of Christ who are being addressed? Notice the language used in the passage: those, them, they. The author is no using inclusive language such as us or we. It sounds as though the passage is referring to individuals who have come close to being followers of Christ, but never made the full commitment thereby essentially remaining unbelievers.
Author and Pastor Bob Deffinbaugh offers a rather famous example of such a person in Judas Iscariot. Here is someone who was in Jesus’ inner circle, but still remained ignorant who Jesus really was, and what He came to do! This makes me think of the times I have heard non-believers spout “if only” statements to indicate the type of evidence that would be sufficient for them to believe in Jesus (“If only God would write his name in the sky…”; “If only God would appear to me, even if just for a moment…”; etc.). Judas had first hand witness to Jesus’ ministry, and he still missed the point.
Can a Christian Lose His or Her Salvation?
Billy Graham does a much better job of answering the question of whether or not a Christian can lose his or her salvation that I likely would, so I have provided his answer below:
Only God knows if someone has truly and sincerely repented of their sins and given their life to Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, but if they have, they now belong to Him forever, and their salvation is secure. The Bible says that nothing “will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:39).
Remember: When we come to Christ, He comes to live within us by His Spirit — and He will never depart from us. And when we come to Him, God adopts us into His family and we become His children — and He’ll never disown us or disinherit us. If He did reject us, it would mean our salvation depends on how good we are. But we can never be good enough, for God’s standard is perfection. Our salvation depends solely on Christ, Who died to take away all our sins.
Does this mean it doesn’t matter how we live? Absolutely not! If we live sinful lives, it may well mean that we haven’t given ourselves to Christ after all, and we’ve even deceived ourselves into thinking we are saved when we really aren’t. The Bible warns, “As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead” (James 2:26).
Make sure of your commitment to Jesus Christ, both as your Savior and as your Lord. Then thank Him that you now belong to Him forever — and ask Him to help you live a life that reflects His love and purity every day.
I really appreciate Graham’s perspective here, and I think there are a few key takeaways:
- Only God truly knows our hearts (God knows if we are committed, or just trying to fake it ’til we make it)
- Once His, always His
- Our salvation is evidenced by our fruits (Please do not misinterpret this to mean our salvation is because of our fruits or works)
You might notice some Calvanistic theology here (i.e. perseverance of the saints). At one time I was not a fan of Calvanist views; however, as I grow in my faith and understanding I admittedly find myself agreeing more and more with those views.
So How Can We Be Sure of Our Own Salvation?
How do we know? I mean how do we really know that we are saved? I offer as suggestive evidence of salvation the following criteria:
- The individual affirms basic Christian doctrine such as: The Holy Trinity, the death and resurrection of Jesus, inerrancy of scripture (John 8:24; 2 Timothy 3:16; 1 Corinthians 15:1-4)
- You can see it in an indvidual’s fruits (Ephesians 2:10; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Matthew 7:17)
- The individual is guided through conviction of the Holy Spirit (John 16:13)
This is not, of course, meant to be a checklist. As Graham mentioned in his writing above only God truly knows our hearts. God is perfect in his judgement. It occurs to me that if we are truly honest with ourselves we know what our true intentions are. Every time I sit to write a blog post I ask myself who I am writing for. Am I writing for myself? Or am I doing what I can to further His Kingdom? Pride can be tall tree, and truth a sharp ax (Hebrews 4:12).
We cannot be sure of our salvation if we are resting in our own deeds. We can only be sure of our salvation if we rest in Christ. As Graham mentioned, if we could lose our salvation then salvation would depend, at least in part, on how good we are. Here is the hard truth… we are all sinners. None of us is good. No, not one (Romans 3:10). That is the bad news. The good news is our salvation is not dependent on us. Christ is sufficient. It is in this fact that I take great comfort in knowing that I have been, am, and always will be saved.