A popular question is – can a Christian lose their salvation? Church denominations and Christian movements often create doctrinal statements to summarise their beliefs. There is nothing wrong with this as it’s important to provide an identity with regard to doctrine and theology although it is very important that the content of a statement centres on issues that are crystal clear in Scripture. It is very unwise, unnecessary and misleading to declare doctrinal positions on issues that are a little ambiguous in Scripture. We would suggest that the traditional ‘once saved, always saved’ (OSAS) doctrine falls into this category. In order words, we would question whether it is true to say that once a person makes a profession of faith in Jesus Christ, that it is impossible for them to ‘lose’ their salvation.
Let us be very clear about this – we are NOT saying that Christians definitely can lose their salvation – we are just not convinced that Christians cannot lose their salvation either. A strong case can be made for each position from Scripture and because of this, it is wise and sensible to refrain from making dogmatic assertions that may not be correct.
OSAS is a very attractive doctrine and it MAY be true – however, how does it account for people who genuinely made professions of faith in Christ Jesus and then later in life consciously and methodically renounced their faith and in some cases requested the Holy Spirit to leave them – would the Holy Spirit forcibly stay in the life of someone who ordered Him out? The Bible is absolutely crystal clear in reassuring believers that no-one can snatch their salvation away from them – this, however, is very different from a person who becomes saved and then at some point in the future consciously and freely makes a decision to walk away from Christ.
The problem many of us have in Western culture is that we are hardwired and conditioned to look at the Bible through the lens of a modern humanistic worldview and logic – Scripture is not always that simple. Jesus Christ lived and taught in a cultural setting that was very different to ours and it is important to recognize the limitations of being unable to fully understand the Hebraic mindset and culture in which the Jesus first delivered the gospel. Whilst the gospel itself never changes and it’s timeless message applies to any culture, our modern minds naturally struggle with some concepts describes in Scripture. For instance, our Greek minds often see contradiction where the Hebraic mind may see that two seemingly irreconcilable views complement each other. In God’s economy it MAY be true to say that whilst God does indeed preserve us in our faith, it is ALSO true to say that believers can intentionally and willingly abandon their faith in Christ if they choose to. With discussions like these, there are no simple black or white answers and we should confess that where there is an apparent conflict, this is down to our own inability to understand God’s perspective in our fallen condition and it is NOT because there is indeed a contradiction.
Wherever we stand on this issue, either view can lead to other dangerous positions we need to be careful to avoid. The OSAS position can obviously lead to a passive licentious approach to one’s faith which is clearly a bad thing and may lead to a false sense of security if wrong. Equally, if you believe salvation can be lost, it is possible to fall into the trap of a legalistic ‘works-based’ gospel. It is better to hold this issue in the same tension it is presented within Scripture and air on the side of caution and being careful not to take a dogmatic stance.
For believers, this means dearly holding on to our faith and the promises of God and walking with Jesus Christ in a living, dynamic relationship that demonstrates the fruits of salvation.
Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation–if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant. (Colossians 1:21-23 NIV)