Necessarily, this question is of interest to each of us. It would be most comforting and consoling if we could know that once we have been counted among the saved, we could never be lost. On the other hand, it should drive us to greater diligence and service to God if there is a possibility of later being lost. There are many who teach that once a person is saved he can never be lost. This doctrine is taught both publicly and privately. It is well for us to examine it in the light of the Scriptures. If it is true, we should like to embrace it. If it is erroneous, we should reject it and accept the truth. An honest investigation of the Bible will surely convince one of the possibilities of being lost.
First, the Old Testament History Illustrates The Possibility of Losing Our Inheritance. The deliverance of the children of Israel from the land of bondage in Egypt to the promised land in Canaan is spoken of as illustrative of our deliverance from the bondage and entrance into heaven. Approximately two million left Egypt under Moses’ leadership. Through disobedience, sin and unbelief, God refused to grant them entrance into the promised land. Only two (Joshua and Caleb) of all those who were numbered at the exodus actually entered into Canaan. Yet, “they were all baptized unto Moses” (1 Cor. 10:2). They all ate the same spiritual food, and drank the same spiritual drink (1 Cor. 10:3-4). Paul tells us that these things were written for our admonition and example (1 Cor. 10:11). Since it happened to them, then it can happen to us. If we had no other scriptures, then these would surely lead us to see the danger of falling. In 2 Chron. 7:14, God said, “If my people which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.” Furthermore, we learn in Isa. 1: 3,4,
The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib; but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider. Ah sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evildoers, children that are corrupters, they have forsaken the Lord, they have provoked the Holy One of Israel to anger, they are gone away backward.
Truly Old Testament history illustrates the possibility of losing our inheritance.
Second, The Construction Of The New Testament Implies The Danger Of Falling Away From Grace. One book in the New Testament, the book of Acts, informs us how to be saved. Twenty-one books (Romans through Jude) tell us how to remain a Christian. Four-fifths of the New Testament is for the purpose of encouraging us to continue steadfastly in the faith. If one could not fall from the faith and be lost, most of the New Testament would be meaningless and useless. The epistles are filled with warnings against unfaithfulness, backsliding, and going back into sin at the peril of our salvation. The New Testament even; tells of the way of return for the backslider.
Acts 8:13 informs us of the obedience of Simon, “And Simon also himself believed: and being baptized, he continued with Philip; and beholding signs and great miracles wrought, he was amazed.” This same man sinned, so Acts 8:22 reads, “Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray the Lord, if perhaps the thought of thy heart shall be forgiven thee.” Listen to 1 John 1:9-2:2:
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous; to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar and his word is not in us. My little children, these things write I unto you that ye may not sin. And if any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: and he is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the whole world.
If it were not possible to be lost, then why would John say, “I write unto you that ye may not sin…And if any man sin.” If It were impossible to lose our salvation, then one of two conditions would be necessary: God’s forgiveness will cover any and all sin that we might commit in the future, or we could never sin again after accepting Christ. Neither of these conditions is taught in the Word of God. Surely the construction of the New Testament should lead one to see that there is a danger in falling from grace.
Third, The Teaching Of Jesus And The Apostles Warns Against Falling Away From God. Jesus warned that a person should count the cost before becoming a Christian, lest he should make a start and not be willing to go all the way. In illustrating the danger of apostasy, Jesus warned “Remember Lot’s wife.” Jesus further stated that the man who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is not fit for the Kingdom of Heaven (Luke 9:62). Jesus said, “And ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake: but he that endureth to the end shall be saved” (Matt. 10:22). Paul realized the danger of being lost even after a life of service in the kingdom of God. He said, “But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway” (1 Cor. 9:27). Peter tells us that it is not only possible to fall from grace, but that when a person does go back from God, his last state is worse than the first” (2 Pet. 2:20-22). Peter also warns against our falling from our own steadfastness for in 2 Peter 3:17: “Ye therefore, beloved, seeing ye know these things before, beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own steadfastness.” Paul tells us that those who are in the greatest danger are those who think they are standing strong in the salvation of the Lord: “Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12). Paul again gives us a strong lesson when he compares our lot with the Jews (Rom. 11:17-23). When Jesus and the apostles warn us of the danger of falling, surely we should seriously consider the matter.
Fourth, The Bible Speaks Of Falling Away From God Not Only As A Possibility, But Also As A Fact. John spoke of falling as an actual fact when he said the church at Ephesus left its first love: Rev. 2:4 “Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou host left thy first love.” God promised He would not blot the names of the overcomers from the Book of Life: “He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out of his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels” (Rev. 3:5). The implication is that the ones who do not overcome will have their names blotted from the Book. In Jesus’ parable of the sower, He said that some receive the Word with joy, but in the time of temptation fall away. “They on the rock are they, which, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have not root, which for a while believe, and in time of temptation fall away” (Luke 8:13). Timothy was urged to hold fast to the faith for some had thrust it from them:
This charge I commit unto thee, son Timothy, according to the prophecies which went before on thee, that thou by them mightest war a good warfare; Holding faith, and a good conscience’ which some having put away concerning faith have made shipwreck (Tim. 1:18-19).
Hebrews 6:4-6 leaves no doubt that people can fall away from God. The writer of the passage gives this factual statement:
For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.
How could one question the truth that people may so sin as to be eternally lost after reading such truths? Paul says that the Galatians had been removed from the Gospel: “I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel” (Gal. 1:6). Surely those removed from the Gospel cannot be saved as long as they remain in the removed condition. As though Paul knew the terms in which this doctrine would later be couched, he made it forever clear that it is not only possible to fall from grace, but that the Galatians had done that very thing. Gal. 5:4 reads, “Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace.” If it were not possible to fall, how could they have done so? If they had fallen then it is possible to do so!
How we might wish that it were impossible to be lost once we have been saved! But contrariwise to the popular notion expressed in the hit song a few years ago, “Wishing Will Make It So,” all the wishing in the world cannot change the Bible truth that one can be lost after once being saved. We must continually give diligence to present ourselves approved unto God. The early Christians “continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine, the fellowship, the breaking of bread, and the prayers” (Acts 2:42). We are urged to build ourselves up in the most holy faith. If you are not a Christian, then you should obey the truth.
Jesus taught, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved” (Mark 16:16). If you are now a Christian, take heed lest ye fall; and grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Pet. 3:18).