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Bible Q&A: Can a believer lose their salvation?

Our Bible Q&A series explores the questions you’ve asked us about the Bible.

This article represents the author’s personal view. It accords with Bible Society’s values, but is not intended to express our position as an organisation.

Question:

Can a believer lose their salvation?​

Answer:

Many Christians have had the experience of a friend or family member leaving the Church, and seemingly the faith. This is why the question is sometimes pressing, and we want to know whether or not those friends are still saved. When people ask this question, most often what is meant is whether people will receive eternal life after death. 

The Bible talks both about the certainty of salvation and also the negative consequences of falling away from faith. Every passage interpreted as dealing with this issue needs to be read carefully.

For example, Hebrews 6.4–8 is often interpreted as saying that Christians can lose their salvation, as Paul talks about the negative consequences of turning away from God. Paul says that it is 'impossible' for those who have 'tasted' and 'shared' in the Holy Spirit to be restored again to 'repentance'. However, it depends on how you interpret what is meant by restoring someone to repentance – does this passage equate repentance with salvation, or does it simply mean that it is difficult to get someone who has changed their mind about Jesus to change it back again?

1 Timothy 1.18–20 is another passage that is often used to support the idea that Christians can lose their salvation, as Paul is talking about two people who have made a 'shipwreck of their faith'. Some think this means that though they seemed to have once had faith they are still going to be delivered to Satan, thought to mean a return to that original unsaved state. However, Paul’s next line is 'so they may learn not to blaspheme'. So why should Paul hope that two men who are condemned will learn something from it? Another way of reading this passage is that being 'delivered to Satan' is a figurative way of saying that these men are going to be disciplined here and now, in this life, in order that they might learn a lesson.

The Bible does give us several images to help us visualise the certainty of salvation or eternal life for those who those who have expressed belief in Christ. Crucially, these images evoke the idea that salvation, or the state of salvation, is like a change that God makes in us when we accept or believe in Christ.

In Ephesians 1.13–24, the word 'salvation' is explicitly mentioned. Paul states that because his audience 'heard' and 'believed' the gospel, it became their 'gospel of salvation' and because of this they were 'marked with a seal', the Holy Spirit. The seal is an image of a permanent mark, which, as Paul says, acts as a 'guarantee' of our 'inheritance' (eternal life). The question is, can anything we do, even losing belief or doing wrong, remove a permanent mark that God has made?

Secondly, he also changed our relationship to himself. The Bible says that those who have accepted Jesus have become 'heirs' (Romans 8.17) through a 'spirit of adoption' (Romans 8.15). This adoption, it says in verse 24, is the hope in which we are 'saved'. Again, this has important implications for our question because adoption is a permanent change that is based on the actions of the parent – once one has adopted a child, the adoption cannot be revoked, but the legal change is permanent. In fact, part of the message of the parable of the Prodigal Son is that God’s relationship as an adoptive father towards us is unchanging.

Furthermore, when we profess belief in Jesus, the Bible describes a transformation of our nature into something new, as the Bible says we become 'new creations' (2 Corinthians 5.17). By ourselves, we have a sinful nature (Psalm 51.5) that completely destroys our relationship with God and so by default leads to spiritual death (that is, hell after death). This is because God’s holy nature cannot endure sin – our sinful nature and his holy nature are incongruent. Hence, being a new creation enables us to be 'reconciled' with God and receive salvation. Again, this implies that a permanent change is made, as 'the old is gone, and the new has come'.

Personally, I believe the Bible teaches that salvation is conceived of as a permanent and transformative change, effected by God at the moment a person chooses to believe – and so we can conclude that there is nothing a person can do that can change what God has changed. However, many other people would be convinced otherwise through reading passages such as Hebrews 10.19–39. Either way, there remains a practical question of what our response should be.

If we believe that a friend who has left church has lost their salvation, should we feel worry, resignation or despair over that? Luke 18.1 and the following parable, encourage us to 'pray and not lose heart'.

Or, if we believe that a friend who has left church is still saved, should we no longer bother praying for them to regain their faith because we think they are still saved? 1 Thessalonians 5.14 says to 'encourage the disheartened', and verse 17 says to 'pray unceasingly' so it's clear whatever our theological belief about salvation is, the practical response to other people's discouragement should be the same.

Where someone appears to be struggling we can and should continue encouraging and praying for them. There is no need to pressure or persuade someone, as either way, what is required is faith that God will act in that person's life again. 

However, it should be said that while some people do worry about 'salvation' in the sense of our eternal destiny, a relationship with God is much more than what happens after death. There are incredible things that God wants to do with us here in this life, that can't be received without faith.


Have you got a question about the Bible? Let us know and we’ll do our best to answer it!

This article was written by Hannah Stevens, who works in our sales team​.

View more Bible Q&A articles

Author: Hannah Moyse, 21 October 2019 (Last updated: 8 November 2019)

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