Can a person lose their salvation?
First of all, it's important to understand that God will never give up on someone who has accepted Jesus Christ as their savior. The Lord says in John 10:27-29 "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father's hand."
Jesus has promised that He "will never leave thee, nor forsake thee." (Hebrews 13:5) Paul assures us that "He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ." (Philippians 1:6) Friends, we need to believe these promises! Having faith that Jesus can save us is what the gospel is all about. Listen to what John wrote about this: "These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God." (1 John 5:13) This is wonderful news, wouldn't you say?
But is it possible for someone who was once a true believer in Jesus Christ to slip away from God and miss out on heaven? We know that God will never turn from us, but He does give us the freedom to turn away from Him. The Bible is clear: "God is love" (1 John 4:8). This means that He loves us enough to let us make our own decisions. Just like God let Adam and Eve choose whether or not they wanted to listen to Him or the serpent, the Lord allows us to decide whether we want to follow Him or the devil.
In Deuteronomy 30:15, God gave His people the freedom to select between one of two options: "I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live."
Jesus will never force a person into heaven. He says in Revelation 22:17 "let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely." Notice that He leaves the decision up to us. God's people have had this same freedom to choose all throughout the Bible. The Lord gave the Israelites the same liberty to decide for themselves in Joshua 24:15 "And if it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord."
Some believe and teach that once a person gives their heart to the Lord they can never fall from grace, but if that were true, then there wouldn't be any evil in our world today. The Bible describes how Lucifer was once one of the highest angels in heaven. Unfortunately, Lucifer chose to abuse the privileges that God had granted him as he sought to overthrow the Lord's dominion. (See Isaiah 14:12-20 & Ezekiel 28:13-19)
Don't you think that God would have forgiven Him instead of casting him out of heaven (Revelation 12:9)? I think it's safe to say that God would have since He is a merciful and forgiving God. But Lucifer choose to rebel and never return to God's way again, and the result: Satan, which was once one of God's main angels, fell from heaven. It's sad, but what could God do, force him to change? No, out of love, he allowed Lucifer to choose his own way and this is the same freedom the Lord gives to each of us. He's not going to force anyone to go to heaven that chooses that they don't want to, even if they once did. God doesn't make decisions for us, but He allows us to choose for ourselves. This has to be true, since sin entered the world because of bad choices made by Adam and Eve.
The Lord gave each of His created beings a free will. After we have accepted Jesus as our savior, we still have the freedom to turn back to a life of sin and to reject His grace. The Lord speaks about people being in danger of having their names removed from the Book of Life. (Exodus 32:33 & Revelation 3:5) Jesus also taught about those "which for a while believe, and in time of temptation fall away." Luke 8:13
Ezekiel 33:13 "When I shall say to the righteous, that he shall surely live; if he trust to his own righteousness, and commit iniquity, all his righteousnesses shall not be remembered; but for his iniquity that he hath committed, he shall die for it." The principle is repeated in verse 18, "When the righteous turneth from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, he shall even die thereby."
Consider what Paul wrote in Colossians 1:21-23 "And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled in the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight: If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven; whereof I Paul am made a minister." Here Paul says that there is a possibility that Christians can fall away from the Lord if they don't continue in the faith. Notice that he's talking to people that are "in the faith", meaning that they are believers in Jesus Christ.
A similar passage in 2 Peter 2:20-22 talks about those that "have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" and that they knew "the way of righteousness", which means that they knew Jesus in a personal way and gained victories through His abiding power; but Peter goes on to say that they had turned from this experience with Jesus and he says that they would have been better off never to "have known the way of righteousness". That is a strong statement. Paul also said that it's possible to "depart from the faith" (1 Timothy 4:1). You can't depart from something unless you were once there.
Again, the same idea is expressed in Romans 11:22 "if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off." And again in 1 Timothy 4:1 "Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils."
We don't have to maintain good works in order to remain in Jesus (although the Bible teaches that if we really are in Christ then our lives will show it and good works will be present, Titus 2:11-12, Titus 3:8, 2 Timothy 3:17). Nor do we "lose" our salvation each time we sin. But what I don't find in the Bible is the idea that after we accept Jesus, then we can live any kind of a sinful lifestyle that we want to and never repent and still expect to be in heaven. God won't forgive us unless we want Him to. Of course, we can only repent through the power of Jesus and He will forgive any sin that we confess to Him (1 John 1:9). So the only people who "turn their backs on Christ" are those that fully return to a life of sin and never seek to turn back and be forgiven.
So in conclusion, the answer is: Yes, a Christian can turn from God and miss out on the joys of heaven. Out of His love for us, God gives us all the power to choose our own course. Christians can choose to depart from Jesus just as sinners can choose to be saved. But here's the good news: Jesus Christ will never give up on anyone! "Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them." Hebrews 7:25 We can live a doubt-free life because we know that Jesus is on our side!
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