A common question for many is, "Can I lose my salvation?" I've heard both sides of the argument, and only God truly knows a person's heart, but I can share a few thoughts. One thing is for certain, salvation is a gift from God that cannot be earned.
One school of thought suggests that salvation cannot be lost, as in losing your car keys, but that it can be left, as in walking away from it. This may be why Jesus spoke of the man who said in his heart "my master delays His coming; therefore, I will turn from living a godly life". When the master returned unexpectedly, the servant was banished because he chose to turn from what he knew to be right.
In another passage, Jesus said, "You have left your first love," when speaking to the church in Ephesus (Revelation 2:4). James 5:19-20 adds, if anyone wanders from the truth and someone turns him back, a soul is saved from death. If anything, these Scriptures, and many more, reinforce the fact that we have certain responsibilities. We should never turn from what we know to be right. Jesus encouraged His followers to be watchful, prepared, and ready for His return. Are we watchful? Are we prepared? Are we ready? (Read Matthew 24:45-51; Luke 21:34.)
The other school of thought suggests that some of those passages are dealing with people who never fully surrendered to Christ. As a result, they fell away. They heard the gospel, but never fully embraced it and turned from their sins; they only had "intellectual" knowledge of salvation. According to this view, the real question isn't, "Can a person lose their salvation?" but, "Was the person really saved to begin with?"
Titus 1:16 and James 2:14 both conclude that many people "say" that they know God, but deny Him by their lifestyle. I John 2:19 suggests that those who acknowledge Christ initially, but deny Him later, are not saved to begin with: "They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us."
When it comes to salvation, it is my very firm belief that God gets all the glory and all the credit. Salvation is His work. We are never outside of His sovereignty and control: "It is God who makes us stand firm in Christ" (2 Corinthians 1:21). I am convinced, like Paul, "that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:38-39). Nothing can separate us.
When we believe the gospel and repent of our sin we "are sealed with the promised Holy Spirit who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God's possession" (Ephesians 1:13-14). These promises are not based on anything that we do to maintain our salvation; they are based on what Christ did. John 3:36 says, "Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life." Jesus adds, "I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand" (John 10:28). Again, "It is God (not us) who makes us stand firm in Christ."
Our salvation is guaranteed based on the assurances found in Scripture. My goal is to be faithful to the command to preach, witness, and proclaim while understanding that God does the drawing, saving, and sealing.
But what about Hebrews 6:4-6, "It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace."
Based on my understanding of terms such as "enlightened," "tasted," and "shared," they are not necessarily words linked to salvation. Judas Iscariot was enlightened-he knew a great deal. He also tasted and shared in the ministry of Christ, but we all know his fate. When he fell away, repentance was elusive. His fate was sealed.
We all sin and fall short, but the important question to ask is what is the condition of your heart-have you truly repented and believed in Christ as your Lord and Savior, or are you trusting in false assurance? This may be why Paul said in II Corinthians 13:5, "Examine yourself as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?"
Our actions reveal a great deal about our relationship with Christ. A.W. Tozer said: "When people find that after being in the church for years they are not making much progress, they ought to examine themselves and wonder whether they have been truly converted."
Has your heart become so hard as to reject Jesus Christ? If so, you can change that today. I'm aware that I'm driving this point home, but I'd rather err on the side of speaking too much about a committed relationship with Jesus than too little. It's never too late to get back on track: "Return to me, and I will return to you," says the Lord (Micah 3:7).
By Shane Idleman
Shane Idleman is the founder and lead pastor of Westside Christian Fellowship, in Lancaster, Ca. His sermons, books, articles, and radio program have sparked change in the lives of many. For more, visit WCFAV.org, or ShaneIdleman.com.