Many Christians believe in a doctrine that asserts, “Once saved, always saved,” which means that a Christian can never forfeit or otherwise lose their eternal salvation. However, there are several scriptures that seem to contradict this doctrine.
Before continuing, we want to clarify the meaning of several terms that we use in this article.
First, we will define the term Christian. We believe that the Bible indicates that a Christian is a person who, at some time in their life, contritely (i.e., with an attitude of repentance) confesses their sins to God and sincerely trusts in Jesus Christ for eternal salvation. We believe that nothing else is necessary to be a Christian. Therefore, a person is not a Christian because they were born into a Christian family or because they are a church member or even because they live by high moral standards. We are not insinuating that God does not care if a person is a church member or if they do not have high moral standards. The Bible clearly indicates that God wants everyone to lead a holy (i.e., righteous) life. [For a discussion regarding a holy life, clink on “Can Anyone Except God Be Holy?”]
We use the term forfeit with regard to the possibility that God may not allow some people to have eternal salvation, even if these people previously trusted in Jesus Christ as their Savior at some time in their life. The term forfeit suggests that Christians can lose their salvation if they choose to consciously divorce themselves from Jesus Christ as their Savior.
And, the term apostasy refers to more than just temporarily losing faith or having doubts. According to Webster’s Dictionary, the term apostasy involves “abandoning of what one has believed in.” As for the term abandoning, Webster indicates that it refers to giving up something completely or forever.
Also, we want to make it clear that many of the quotations that we include from various sources are condensed versions of what those sources state with regard to the scriptures that we are discussing. Our reason for condensing these quotations is to minimize commentary that is not pertinent in our attempt to answer the primary question posed by this article.
The Affirmative Point of View
We will now consider six scriptures that we think support the belief that Christians can forfeit their eternal salvation.
[Note: When we quote Scripture in this article, we use the wording in the New King James Version of the Bible, except when we are quoting a source that uses a different translation.]
First Three Scriptures
Matthew 10:22b: [Jesus Christ said to His disciples,] “But he who endures to the end will be saved.”
Matthew 24:13: [Jesus Christ said to His disciples,] “But he who endures to the end shall be saved.”
Mark 13:13b: [Jesus Christ said to His disciples,] “But he who endures to the end shall be saved.”
[Note: Since the three preceding verses are virtually identical, what is subsequently stated about one is applicable to the other two also.]
Strong’s Concordance indicates that in many instances where the term “saved” is used in the Bible, it refers to temporal, rather than eternal, deliverance from danger, suffering, etc. However, in regard to the three previous scriptures that we have cited, enduring to the end would be axiomatic (i.e., self evident), if “the end” pertains to the termination of danger and suffering applicable to the temporal body. These scriptures would be axiomatic because, when the danger and suffering cease, there obviously will no longer be danger and/or suffering from which the temporal body would need to be saved.
Furthermore, if the temporal bodies of Christians will not be saved until after the dangers and sufferings have ceased, the three preceding scriptures do not provide any meaningful hope or comfort for the Christians living when the dangers and sufferings still exist. In any case, all the following sources indicate that the three aforementioned scriptures attest that Christians who fail to faithfully persevere can forfeit their eternal salvation.
Barnes’ Notes on the Whole Bible says, “He that bears . . . unspeakable sufferings, and who does not shrink and apostatize, will give decisive evidence of attachment to me, and shall enter into heaven.” Thus, Barnes implies that anyone who does apostatize will not have eternal salvation.
Adam Clarke Commentary has a similar opinion. Clarke says, “[T]hey who do not hold fast faith and a good conscience till death have no room to hope for an admission into the kingdom of God.” Although Clarke does not make clear what is meant by “[T]hey who do not hold fast faith and a good conscience,” he seems to be alluding to people who apostatize.
John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible likewise infers that Christians who do not “stand fast in the [profession of their] faith” will not have eternal salvation, as indicated by the following comments:
But he that endureth to the end, shall be saved – [S]uch persons are happy, who patiently endure the hatred of men, and all manner of persecution, for Christ’s sake; who are not moved by the afflictions they suffer, but stand fast in the faith, hold fast the profession of it, go on in their Christian course, and hold out to the end; for such shall be saved, not only with a temporal salvation, as the Christians were at the destruction of Jerusalem, but with an eternal one.
Peter Pett’s Commentary on the Bible emphasizes that although Christians may sometimes not have an ardent faith, they must not “remain cold” lest they forfeit their eternal salvation, but he does not explain what is meant by “remain cold.”. Pett asserts,
[T]hose who would finally be saved must persevere. Endurance is required of [Jesus Christ’s] followers. This does not mean that all who grow cold are lost, for at times all, even the best, grow cold. It is those who remain cold because the work of the Spirit is not taking place within their hearts . . . who will be lost.
Matthew Poole’s English Annotations on the Holy Bible also indicates that Christians need to persevere in order to have eternal salvation, but fails to explain what this entails. Poole declares,
There shall be an end of these sufferings, if they end not in your lifetime they will end with your lives, and if you continue to the end you shall be saved. It is neither true patience, nor will it be profitable, if it holdeth not out to the end.
The Pulpit Commentaries similarly states, “[There is both] the absolute necessity of endurance and the certainty of blessing to him who shows it. . . ,” but does not make clear what is required to demonstrate endurance.
In our opinion, the first three scripture verses are sufficiently clear that Jesus Christ was stating that Christians will have eternal life only if they endure in their faith (i.e., continue to trust in Christ).
Fourth Scripture Passage
Matthew 10:33: [Jesus Christ said to His disciples] “[W]hoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven.”
With regard to this scripture, all the following commentaries indicate that people who deny Jesus Christ (i.e., do not associate themselves with Christ and His teachings) will not be regarded by Him as His faithful followers and, as a result, He will deny them (i.e., He will not be their Savior and Mediator) before God the Father. This implies that the sins of those who deny Christ will not be forgiven and, as a result, they will not receive eternal salvation. Three of these commentaries postulate that, unlike the behavior of Peter, whose denial of Christ was only temporary, the behavior of the people addressed in this scripture is ongoing.
In regard to Matthew 10:33, Barnes declares,
We must be ashamed neither of the person, the character, the doctrines, nor the requirements of Christ. If we are; if we deny him in these things before people; if we are unwilling to express our attachment to him in every way possible, then it is right that he should “disown all connection with us,” or deny us before God, and he will do it.
Gill offers the following comments in regard to the same scripture:
But whosoever shall deny me before men – Deny that he is a disciple of Christ, and that Christ is his Lord and master, act contrary to him. . . .
Some regard may be had here to Peter’s after denial of Christ; and this proviso be supposed, “except he repent”, as he did. Moreover, to deny Christ, is to drop, or oppose any of those truths which regard his person, office, and grace; or to hide and conceal them from men, through fear, shame, or cowardice of mind: and even not to confess him, through fear of men, is interpreted, by Christ, a denial of him; and such who deny him in any form and shape, either by words or deeds. . . .
will I also deny before my Father which is heaven – he [Jesus Christ] will deny them to be disciples, or that they belong to him; he will deny that he ever knew them, loved or approved of them; he will declare in the presence of his Father, his disapprobation of them, his indignation against them, that they are workers of iniquity; yea, he will do more, he will banish them from his presence, and send them into everlasting burnings.
Henry, in reference to Matthew 10:33,, asserts,
It is a dangerous thing for any to deny and disown Christ before men for they who so do will be disowned by him in the great day, when they have most need of him: he will not own them for his servants who would not own him for their master. . . .
With regard to the same scripture, Poole declares,
Christ requireth of us not only a believing on him, but [also] an external profession: nor that only, but [also] a confession of him, which signifieth a profession of him and his gospel in the face of opposition and enemies (see Romans 10:10; 2 Timothy 2:12). It is dangerous, either through shame or fear, to withhold our public owning and acknowledgment of Christ, and his truths, when we are called to it; much more to deny them; but the guilt is greater when it is through shame, for where fear is the cause the temptation is more high [sic]. This text must be understood of those who persist in such denial, for Peter denied his Master, yet was graciously upon his repentance received by him.
The Wycliffe Bible Commentary says in reference to Matthew 10:33, “The Greek tense . . . refers not to one moment of denial (e.g., Peter’s), but to the life in its entirety, which Christ is capable of assessing precisely.”
Although some people may argue that Matthew 10:33 pertains to people who never were true Christians, neither this scripture nor any other scripture clearly supports such a point of view and, therefore, this viewpoint is no more than an unfounded assumption. In fact, the previous verse states, “[W]hoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven,” which suggests that Jesus Christ was referring to Christians in general and explaining that they needed to continue to be faithful if they wanted to be sure that they would have eternal salvation.
Fifth Scripture Passage
Colossians 1:21-23a: And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight – if indeed you continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel which you heard. . . .
With only one exception, all of the following sources indicate that Colossians 1:21-23a attests that Christians who fail to faithfully persevere in their faith in Jesus Christ can forfeit their eternal salvation.
Barnes says it is impossible for Christians to be saved if they do not remain faithful to the gospel, but he does not provide an explanation of what is necessary to “lead lives becoming the gospel.” According to Barnes,
If ye continue in the faith – In the belief of the gospel, and in holy living. If this were done, they would be presented unblameable [sic] before God; if not, they would not be. The meaning is, that it will be impossible to be saved unless we continue to lead lives becoming the gospel.
Likewise, John Calvin’s Commentaries on the Bible does not explain what is required to persevere “in the purity of the gospel” so that a Christian will not forfeit eternal salvation. Calvin states,
If ye continue. Here we have an exhortation to perseverance, by which he admonishes [the Colossians] that all the grace that had been conferred upon them hitherto would be vain, unless they persevered in the purity of the gospel. . . . Now he paints in lively colors assurance of faith when he bids the Colossians be grounded and settled in it. . . . He afterwards takes notice also of a relationship which subsists between faith and the gospel, when he says that the Colossians will be settled in the faith only in the event of their not falling back from the hope of the gospel; that is, the hope which shines forth upon us through means of the gospel, for where the gospel is, there is the hope of everlasting salvation.
Clarke takes the position that continuing faith, rather than continuing good deeds, is necessary for Christians (“those who already believed in Christ Jesus”) to have eternal salvation. Clarke says,
None can enjoy heaven who have not been reconciled to God here, and shown forth the fruits of that reconciliation in being made holy and unblamable [sic], that, when they come to be judged, they may be found unreprovable [sic].
This will be the case if you, who have already believed in Christ Jesus, continue in that faith, grounded in the knowledge and love of God, and settled – made firm and perseveringly steadfast, in that state of salvation.
Gill agrees with Clarke, as indicated by the following:
If ye continue in the faith – In the doctrine of faith which they had received and embraced; and in the grace of faith, and the exercise of it which was implanted in them; and in the profession of faith which they had made: not that the virtue and efficacy of Christ’s blood, sufferings, and death, and reconciliation of their persons to God thereby, depended upon their faith, and abiding in it; but that faith and continuance in it were necessary means of their presentation in unblemished holiness and righteousness; for if they had not faith, or did not abide in it or if the good work of grace was not wrought upon their souls, and that performed until the day of Christ, they could not be presented holy and blameless: this shows the necessity of the saints’ final perseverance in faith and holiness. . . .
David Guzik’s Commentary on the Bible also emphasizes the necessity of continuing faith for Christians to have eternal salvation. Guzik declares,
Those truly reconciled must truly persevere. . . . It is important for Christians to continue in godly conduct, but we are not saved by our godly conduct. So it is even more important for Christians to continue in the truth of the gospel because we are saved by grace through faith.
Poole is another source that asserts that Christians (“believers”) must persevere in their faith in order to have eternal salvation. According to Poole,
If ye continue in the faith grounded and settle – [T]his if doth not import the believers’ continuance in faith to depend merely upon their own free-will, or a carnal doubting of being kept to salvation, . . . but infers that they are then reconciled to God when they do indeed persevere in the faith; implying that by reason of the seducers amongst them all and every one might not really have that sound faith they would be thought to have.
And, on page 4 of a pamphlet entitled “Falling from Grace,” James M. Tolle also expresses the belief that continued faith is necessary for Christians to have eternal salvation. Tolle argues,
For the Christian to be presented as finally approved of God, Paul states that it depends upon his continuing in the faith. If, however, it is impossible for a child of God to lose his faith, then the foregoing exhortation is needless, even ridiculous. But the apostle exhorts us to continue in the faith because it is entirely possible for us to give up the faith.
In contrast to all of the previous sources, Pett indicates that Colossians 1:21-23a does not apply to genuine Christians. According to Pett,
Final perseverance is the test of the genuineness of faith and the resultant salvation. . . . [T]heir assurance rests on two things. It rests on their faith in the reliability of the Saviour, and on the evidence of their continuation in ‘the faith’, the truth as revealed in Jesus, firmly grounded, and faithful and steadfast. Those who move away from ‘the hope’ of the Gospel, the expectation of their final presentation in unreproachable perfection, and cease to live lives approved unto God, only prove thereby that they had never truly believed.
In our opinion, Pett is unrealistic in his thinking. Even people who were at one time in their life true Christians may, for one or more reasons, turn away from their former Christian beliefs. There are a number of circumstances that could lead to a continuing loss of faith for a genuine Christian. Most of these circumstances probably involve anger at God, disappointment with God and/or with other Christians, or an inability to understand why God allows certain things to happen, such as the death of someone they dearly love. This will not necessarily be reflected by a change in such a person’s moral behavior, since at least some of these people may seek to live what other people generally regard as a moral life, even after rejecting Jesus Christ.
As with the first three verses of scripture, we believe Colossians 1:21-23a is sufficiently clear that the apostle Paul was stating that Christians will have eternal life only if endure in their faith (i.e., they continue to trust in Jesus Christ as their Savior).
Sixth Scripture Passage
Hebrews 10:26-27: For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries.
All of the subsequent sources indicate this scripture passage attests that Christians who fail to faithfully persevere can forfeit their eternal salvation.
The following explanation by Barnes states clearly that Hebrews 10:26-27 indicates that formerly “true Christians” who deliberately abandon their religion (i.e., apostatize) can forfeit their eternal salvation:
For if we sin willfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth – If after we are converted and become true Christians we should apostatize, it would be impossible to be recovered again, for there would be no other sacrifice for sin; no way by which we could be saved. This passage, however, like Hebrews 6:4-6, has given rise to much difference of opinion. But that the above is the correct interpretation, seems evident . . . from the following considerations:
It is the natural and obvious interpretation . . . .
It is in accordance with the fair meaning of the language – the words “after that we have received the knowledge of the truth,” referring more naturally to true conversion than to any other state of mind.
The sentiment would not be correct if it referred to any but real Christians. It would not be true that one who had been somewhat enlightened, and who then sinned “wilfully,” [sic] must look on fearfully to the judgment without a possibility of being saved. . . .
It is true . . . that if a sincere Christian should apostatize he could never be converted again. . . . The reasons are obvious. He would have tried the only plan of salvation, and it would have failed. He would have embraced the Saviour, and there would not have been efficacy enough in his blood to keep him, and there would be no more powerful Saviour and no more efficacious blood of atonement. He would have renounced the Holy Spirit, and would have shown that his influences were not effectual to keep him, and there would be no other agent of greater power to renew and save him after he had apostatized. For these reasons it seems clear . . . that this passage refers to true Christians, and that the doctrine here taught is, that if such a one should apostatize, he must look forward only to the terrors of the judgment, and to final condemnation.
Whether this ever occurs, is quite another question. . . . The word rendered “wilfully” [sic] . . . properly means, “willingly, voluntarily, of our own accord.” . . . It is not to be construed here strictly, or metaphysically, for all sin is voluntary, or is committed willingly, but must refer to a deliberate act, where a man means to abandon his religion, and to turn away from God. If it were to be taken with metaphysical exactness, it would demonstrate that every Christian who ever does anything wrong, no matter how small, would be lost.
But this cannot, from the nature of the case, be the meaning. The [writer of Hebrews] well knew that Christians do commit such sins. . . . [He] here . . . means to speak of a decided and deliberate purpose to break away from the restraints and obligations of the Christian religion.
There remaineth no more sacrifice for sins – Should a man do this, there is no sacrifice for sins which could save him. He would have rejected deliberately the only atonement made for sin, and there will be no other made. . . .
But a certain fearful looking for of judgment – The word “certain” here does not mean “fixed, sure, inevitable,” as our translation would seem to imply. . . . The idea is, that if there was voluntary apostasy after having embraced the Christian religion, there could be nothing but an expectation of the judgment to come.
Calvin also takes the position that the scripture in question pertains specifically to apostate Christians. According to Calvin,
Those who sin . . . are not such as offend in any way, but such as forsake the Church, and wholly alienate themselves from Christ. . . . [T]here is a vast difference between particular fallings and a complete defection of this kind, by which we entirely fall away from the grace of Christ. And as this cannot be the case with anyone except he has been already enlightened, he says, If we sin willfully, after that we have received the knowledge of the truth; as though he had said, “If we knowingly and willingly renounce the grace which we had obtained.”
And that the [writer of Hebrews] here refers only to apostates is clear from the whole passage; for what he treats of is this, that those who had been once received into the Church ought not to forsake it, as some were wont to do. He now declares that there remained for such no sacrifice for sin, because they had willfully sinned after having received the knowledge of the truth. But as to sinners who fall in any other way, Christ offers himself daily to them, so that they are to seek no other sacrifice for expiating their sins. He denies, then, that any sacrifice remains for them who renounce the death of Christ, which is not done by any offense except by a total renunciation of the faith.
God invites to daily reconciliation those who abide in Christ; they are daily washed by the blood of Christ, their sins are daily expiated by his perpetual sacrifice. As salvation is not to be sought except in him, there is no need to wonder that all those who willfully forsake him are deprived of every hope of pardon. . . .
Hereby is also confirmed . . . that the [writer of Hebrews] speaks not of particular sins, but of the entire denial of Christ; for the Law did not punish all kinds of transgressions with death, but apostasy, that is, when any one wholly renounced religion. . . .
Clarke emphasizes that Hebrews 10:26-27 refers to Christians who have “utterly rejected Jesus Christ and his atonement” after having been “convinced that Jesus is the promised Messiah,” and has “nothing to do with backsliders.” Clark says,
If we deliberately, for fear of persecution or from any other motive, renounce the profession of the Gospel and the Author of that Gospel, after having received the knowledge of the truth so as to be convinced that Jesus is the promised Messiah; . . . for such there remaineth no sacrifice for sins; . . . Jesus being now the only sacrifice which God will accept, those who reject him have none other; therefore their case must be utterly without remedy. . . . [T]he case is that of a deliberate apostate – one who has utterly rejected Jesus Christ and his atonement, and renounced the whole Gospel system. It has nothing to do with backsliders in our common use of that term.
Gill expresses the belief that the Christians to whom this passage refers are those who after having “embraced and professed the truths of the Gospel,” resolutely and obstinately not only engage in voluntary sins, but also reach the point where they stubbornly deny that Jesus Christ is the only Savior. Gill explains,
For if we sin willfully – Which is not to be understood of a single act of sin, but rather of a course of sinning; nor of sins of infirmity through temptation, or even of grosser acts of sin, but of voluntary ones; and not of all voluntary ones, or in which the will is engaged and concerned, but of such which are done on set purpose, resolutely and obstinately; and not of immoral practices, but of corrupt principles, and acting according to them; it intends a total apostasy from the truth, against light and evidence, joined with obstinacy.
There remaineth no more sacrifice for sin – [M]eaning, not typical sacrifice; . . . but the sacrifice of Christ, which will never be repeated; . . . there will be no other Saviour; there is no salvation in any other, nor any other name whereby we must be saved. . . .[T]he true sense of the whole is this, that after men have embraced and professed the truths of the Gospel, and particularly this great truth of it, that Jesus Christ is the only Saviour of men by his blood and sacrifice; and yet after this, against all evidence, all the light and convictions of their own consciences, they wilfully [sic] deny this truth, and obstinately persist in the denial of it; seeing there is no more, no other sacrifice for sin, no other Saviour, nor any salvation in any other way. . . .
The perspective of Matthew Henry’s Complete Commentary on the Bible regarding what causes Christians to forfeit their eternal salvation is similar to that of Gill, as indicated by the following:
From the description [the writer of Hebrews] gives of the sin of apostasy. It is sinning willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, sinning willfully against that truth of which we have had convincing evidence. . . . The sin here mentioned is a total and final apostasy, when men with a full and fixed will and resolution despise and reject Christ, the only Saviour — despise and resist the Spirit, the only sanctifier — and despise and renounce the gospel, the only way of salvation, and the words of eternal life and all this after they have known, owned, and professed, the Christian religion, and continue to do so obstinately and maliciously.
From the dreadful doom of such apostates. (1.) There remains no more sacrifice for such sins, no other Christ to come to save such sinners they sin against the last resort and remedy . . . . [T]hose under the gospel who will not accept of Christ, that they may be saved by him, have no other refuge left them. (2.) There remains for them only a certain fearful looking for of judgment. . . .
Likewise, Guzik states that “a knowing deliberate rejection” of Jesus Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross, not backsliding, is the reason why Christians can forfeit their eternal salvation. According to Guzik,
For if we sin willfully – To sin willfully is defined in Hebrews 10:29. It speaks of someone who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace. It is a knowing, deliberate rejection of Jesus’ great work for us on the cross.
It has nothing to do with backsliders in our common use of that term. A man may be overtaken in a fault, or he may deliberately go into sin, and yet neither renounce the Gospel, nor deny the Lord that bought him.
There no longer remains a sacrifice for sins – If Jesus’ sacrifice for sin is rejected, there remains no other sacrifice that can cleanse.
Poole indicates that Christians who renounce their previous profession of the truth of the gospel will forfeit their eternal salvation. According to Poole,
If we sin willfully – [I]f we by a free and spontaneous desertion of Christ, and his ordinances, . . . and this after we had professedly in our judgments, wills, and affections, with faith and reverence, acknowledged a love and subjection to the true gospel doctrine. . . which was made known to them by Christ and his apostles. . . .
After that we have received the knowledge of the truth – [A]fter all this, to renounce the profession of it, and to forsake the assemblies where it is held forth; this is the spontaneous and willful sinning (see Hebrews 6:6).
There remaineth no more sacrifice for sins – [T]his is unpardonable by the just constitution of God in the gospel, because no sacrifice can atone God for them, without which they cannot be pardoned; and the sacrifice of Christ, which only could do it, they renounce and desert; and so this, nor any other they can bring, can procure pardon for them. . . .
The Contrary Point of View
There are Christians who believe that true Christians cannot apostatize for any reason (i.e., it is not possible for a person to completely reject their Christian faith). However, people who have previously given convincing evidence that they were true Christians have committed all kinds of sins, so why would it not be possible for them to commit apostasy?
Apparently, the main reason why those believe that true Christians cannot apostatize is because they think that believing otherwise would be contrary to their belief that true Christians cannot lose their eternal salvation, regardless of what sins they subsequently commit. Therefore, they believe that if a Christian has been truly saved by trusting in Jesus Christ as their Savior, that person will not do anything that would result in the loss of their salvation.
Nevertheless, the belief that true Christians cannot apostatize does not seem to be supported by biblical scripture and, therefore, such a belief is evidently just an unfounded supposition. [Note: The Appendix that follows the Conclusions of this article provides brief comments on a number of scriptures that are cited by those who believe that true Christians cannot apostatize.]
Many Christians cite certain scriptures to support their belief that genuine Christians cannot lose their eternal salvation. However, we have considered most, if not all, of those scriptures and do not regard them as convincing in support of such a belief. Insofar as we can determine, there are no scriptures in the Bible that clearly support the belief that genuine Christians cannot completely lose their trust in Jesus Christ (i.e., that a genuine Christian’s loss of trust in Christ as their Savior would be only temporary, not permanent).
The scriptures that we have discussed provide compelling reasons to believe that Christians can forfeit their eternal salvation if, after having previously been genuine believers they subsequently completely and permanently reject Jesus Christ as their Savior. And, with only one exception, the sources that we checked with regard to each of the six scriptures discussed in the main text of this article are in agreement that Christians who apostatize can forfeit their eternal salvation.
We believe that the most important factor in retaining eternal salvation is whether or not a person who has been a Christian completely rejects Jesus Christ as their Savior, rather than whether or not they persistently live a moral life. Consider the following reasoning in this regard.
The Bible provides no indication as to which types of sins and/or how many sins would cause a Christian to lose their eternal salvation. As a result, there would be no way for a Christian to have assurance of their eternal salvation. This would be contrary to what the Bible teaches in this regard, as discussed in our article entitled “What Must a Person Do to Be Assured of Eternal Salvation?” [To read that article, click on its title.]
In contrast, people who are genuine Christians can know if they are on the verge of completely losing their trust in Jesus Christ. And, if they realize that they are losing their trust in Christ, it is crucial for them to do what is necessary to restore their trust. This does not mean that true Christians will be in jeopardy of losing their eternal salvation if they have doubts about basic Christian doctrines. True Christians may have such doubts, but they will remain Christians as long as they do not stop trusting in Jesus Christ as their Savior.
The Bible seems to indicate that there is only one unpardonable sin, and that sin is not associated with losing faith in Jesus Christ after having previously trusted in Him for eternal salvation. Therefore, although Hebrews 6:4-6 states that it is impossible for Christians who apostatize to truly repent for having previously lost their trust in Jesus Christ, the term impossible may be hyperbole and, therefore, it may indicate that such repentance is virtually impossible, rather than completely impossible.
Therefore, there seems to be valid reason to believe that a person who temporarily loses their trust in Christ can be forgiven for committing that sin, if they truly repent in that regard (i.e., they confess that sin and resume trusting in Christ). [For a discussion of the unpardonable sin, click on “What Is the Unpardonable Sin?”]
People who have trusted in Christ for eternal salvation, but are concerned about whether or not they have lost their eternal salvation, should take comfort in the following comments by The Pulpit Commentaries: “[T]he very state of mind of those who entertain such fears is a sign that they are not of those to whom [the biblical text on this matter] applies. They cannot have entirely fallen from grace, if they have the grace to repent and long for pardon.” Likewise, Pett asserts, “To any who fear that they might be in this sad situation we can only say that the very fact that you fear it suggests that you are not in it.”
[Note: For anyone who thinks they need assistance in restoring their Christian faith, several of our other articles under the broad heading of “Biblical Matters” may be helpful.]
Scriptures that Allegedly Support Belief that Christians Cannot Forfeit Salvation
Matthew 24:24: For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.
This verse of scripture does not state clearly that it is impossible to deceive the elect (i.e., Christians). It may just indicate that deceiving the elect is unlikely. In any case, the scripture pertains to deception, which does not necessarily result in apostasy.
John 5:24: [Jesus Christ states] “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life.”
This scripture assures everlasting life to people who believe in God and follow the teachings of Jesus Christ. The verse does not specifically address whether or not people who apostatize after having previously believed in God will continue to have assurance of everlasting life. Instead, it infers that those who do not believe in God and follow the teachings of Jesus Christ will not continue to have such assurance.
John 6:37-40: [Jesus Christ asserts] “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day. And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day.”
There is no logical reason to think that Jesus would ever do anything that might drive a true believer away from Him, but He might cast out (or disown) a believer who apostatizes.
John 10:28: [Jesus Christ declares] “And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.”
People have free will to become a Christian or not become a Christian, and then to remain or not remain one of Christ’s followers. No other being – human or otherwise – can make that decision for them or snatch them away. This scripture says nothing about a person’s own decision to apostatize and does not provide any reason to believe that Jesus will not allow a person to remove themselves from His hand (i.e., surrender their salvation) by apostatizing.
Romans 8:38-39: For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
These verses indicate that no external force can separate a Christian from the love of God, but the verses do not provide any reason to believe that a person who has been a Christian cannot choose to apostatize.
Romans 11:29: For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.
Whereas God does not revoke His spiritual gifts to a person, someone who apostatizes does give back to God the spiritual gifts that he (or she) previously received from God, particularly God’s gift of eternal salvation.
1 Corinthians 1:8: [Jesus Christ] will also confirm you to the end, that you may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.
This statement by Paul seems to be a generalization made with the assumption that although the Corinthian Christians would sin, advertently or otherwise, they would not apostatize.
2 Corinthians 1:22: [Jesus Christ] also has sealed us and given us the Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.
The presence of the Holy Spirit in a Christian’s life is a guarantee of eternal salvation, but only if that person continues to trust in Jesus Christ. If God removes the Holy Spirit from a person because they apostatize, that person no longer has a guarantee of eternal salvation.
Ephesians 1:13-14: In Him [Jesus Christ]you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory.
Our comments regarding this scripture are the same as for 2 Corinthians 1:22.
Ephesians 4:30: And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.
Even if God does not break the seal that assures redemption to someone, this does not necessarily mean that the person who has been sealed cannot themselves break the seal (i.e., reject the indwelling of the Holy Spirit) by apostatizing.
Philippians 1:6: [Paul states that he is] confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ. . . .
Paul is addressing a specific group of Christians and is almost certainly assuming that they will not apostatize.
1 Thessalonians 5:23-24: Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it.
Paul does not state that God will preserve Christians to be blameless. Instead, Paul expresses hope that they will be blameless. These verses certainly do not indicate that all Christians will persevere in their faithfulness (i.e., not apostatize).
2 Thessalonians 2:13-15: But we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth, to which He called you by our gospel, for the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle.
These verses state that the Thessalonian Christians to whom Paul was writing were chosen for salvation, but the verses do not address whether or not these Christians could lose their salvation by becoming apostate.
2 Thessalonians 3:3-4: But the Lord is faithful, who will establish you and guard you from the evil one. And we have confidence in the Lord concerning you, both that you do and will do the things we command you.
Although Paul indicates that the Lord will protect the Thessalonian Christians from Satan (i.e., the evil one), there is no reason to think that they and other Christians will not continue to be free to decide what they are willing to believe. There is no indication in these verses that all Christians will persevere in their faithfulness (i.e., not apostatize).
2 Timothy 2:19a: [T]he solid foundation of God stands, having this seal: “The Lord knows those who are His.”
Certainly, God knows who is a genuine Christian, but this scripture states nothing about apostasy.
Hebrews 3:14: For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end. . . .
It is unclear what the meaning of the word “shared” or “partaken” is in this verse of scripture. In any case, if people fail to hold firmly in their faith to the end, that does not prove that they were not true Christians. Their faith may just not have been strong enough for them to remain faithful.
Hebrews 6:4-6: For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame.
If the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in a person is the pledge or assurance that a person will have eternal salvation, as indicated by Ephesians 4:30, which we discussed previously, then it is reasonable to conclude that only genuine Christians are indwelled by the Holy Spirit. Therefore, Hebrews 6:4-6 pertains to genuine Christians who “fall away.”
Hebrews 10:26-29: If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think someone deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?
This scripture passage does not necessarily allude to apostasy. There is no incontrovertible support in the Bible for the belief that the people who sin deliberately are only those whose previous profession of faith in Jesus Christ was false. Even genuine Christians may sin deliberately, at least occasionally, without apostatizing.
1 Peter 1:3-5: Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
Although the inheritance of Christians is “incorruptible and undefiled,” this does not mean that those who apostate cannot lose their inheritance. Notice the inference that Christians need to maintain their faith for salvation. Furthermore, these verses do not support the belief that that God’s power protects Christians from unbelief.
Jude 24-25: Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy, to God our Savior, Who alone is wise, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and forever.
These verses indicate that God is able to help Christians to keep them from sinning,. However, there is no inference that God will prevent Christians from apostatizing.
What about scriptures such as John 1:12 and Romans 8:16, which indicate that people who become Christians also become children of God? Isn’t a person who becomes a child of God always a child of God?
Both Romans 8:15 and Ephesians 1:5 indicate that Christians are adopted children of God. And, an adoption can be rescinded for various reasons. [To learn more about who are children of God, click on the title of our article “Is Every Person a Child of God?”]