Losing Your Salvation

Question
Recently, we have joined a church that a large number of people believe that you can loose your salvation. I need help in explaining eternal security. Could you please include backgrounds on the verse in Hebrews 6 where they have tasted and fallen away and the verse in Revelation where it says that you can be blotted out of the book of Life?
Answer
Eternal Security

There are two different doctrines that teach that you cannot lose your salvation. The first is generally knows as "eternal security." It states that you cannot lose your salvation no matter what you do. The second is the Reformed doctrine of "perseverance of the saints." This is the doctrine which we hold at Third Millennium. It states that a Christian cannot fall away from the faith because God holds him securely and will not permit him to fall away. The idea is that if Christians could fall away, they could lose their salvation. But for various reasons God works in them to guarantee their perseverance in the faith so that they do not fall away. There are many, many arguments and proofs for this doctrine, including:
  • Christians are predestined not just to initial salvation but to eternal salvation (Acts 13:47-48; Rom. 8:28-30; 9:18-24; Eph. 1:3-14; 1 Thess. 5:9-10).
  • Christ's death secured salvation for those for whom he died (Heb. 9:11-15).
  • Justification (being declared righteous and forgiven by God) cannot be lost or revoked (Rom. 5:8-10,15-19; 8:1-4,9-11,29-30; Heb. 9:11-12).
  • The saved/elect are given to Christ as a permanent possession (John 6:35-40; 10:25-29).
  • The saved/elect are kept secure in Christ by God (John 6:35-40; 10:25-29; Rom. 8:28-39; 1 Cor. 1:4-9; 2 Cor. 4:13-14; Eph. 1:13-14; 4:30; Phil. 1:6; 3:20-21; Col. 3:3-4; 1 Thess. 5:23-24; 1 Pet. 1:3-5; 1 John 2:19; 5:4; Jude 1,24-25).
  • Eternal life begins at conversion, and by definition may never end (John 3:14-16,36; 4:14; 5:24; 6:35-40,44-58; 10:25-29; 17:1-3; 20:31; Rom. 6:22-23; 1 Tim. 6:12; Heb. 9:15; 1 John 5:11-13,20).
  • God is sovereign in salvation, his will must be accomplished, and he wills the perseverance of the saints (Job 42:1-2; Isa. 14:24,27; 46:8-11; Matt. 18:12-14; John 6:35-40).
The passages you mention (Heb. 6:4-6; Rev. 3:5 [compare Exod. 32:32-33]), as well as others, sometimes cause people to think that salvation can be lost, or they cause people to think that they many never have been saved in the first place. While it is impossible to lose salvation, this second problem is not impossible -- some people we think are saved really are not saved.

Hebrews 6

Many people think that Hebrews 6:4-6 teaches that a person can lose his salvation, and then that he can never regain it. In reality, even though this passage talks about partaking of the Holy Spirit and tasting of the heavenly gift, it isn't talking about people who are saved. As Hebrews 6:9 says, "But, beloved, we are convinced of better things concerning you, and things that accompany salvation, though we are speaking in this way." That is, even though the author speaks in this threatening way, he means his words to apply to those in the church who are not saved and who despise Christ, not to those who are saved. Of those who are saved, he expects "better things ... things that accompany salvation."

The things which this passage mention that sound like salvation may legitimately describe unbelievers within the church. Unbelievers in the church hear the word of God preached. They see it in action in the lives of believers, and they even benefit from the spiritual gifts of the believers in the church as these believers minister to them. Unbelievers in the church are even sanctified or "set apart" as holy unto God (e.g. 1 Cor. 7:14). Moreover, the influence of the church restrains them from sin in many cases. These people experience firsthand the good things of God manifested in the church, but nevertheless are not saved. Even though they are "enlightened" they are not saved -- we are saved by means of receiving the gospel with faith, not merely by hearing or understanding the facts of the gospel, or by seeing God in action. As John wrote, "They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us" (1 John 2:19).

Revelation 3:5

Revelation 3:5 assures us that those who overcome will not have their names erased from the book of life. The implication seems to be that those who do not overcome will have their names erased. Exodus 32:32-33, assuming it talks about the same book (which would seem to be the case), indicates that names can in fact be erased from the book. Other places this book is mentioned include Psalm 69:28; Philippians 4:3; and Revelation 13:8; 17:8; 20:12,15; 21:27.

But what is the nature of this book? Is everyone who is written in the book saved as long as his name remains in the book? In fact, the Bible never answers these questions directly, but it does answer at least the second one indirectly. Since names can be erased from this book, we know that it cannot exclusively include God's eternal decrees. God's eternal decrees (such as predestination) are immutable. They are things that before the foundation of the world, God decreed must take place. Whatever he decrees must happen. Thus, the book must include at least some records of providence. God's providence is his governance of the world, and his actions in providence are mutable and do not always parallel his eternal decrees. For example, in his providence God often changes his mind (e.g. Amos 7:6).

Because providence is mutable, one's standing before God can change from a providential perspective. For example, even though from the perspective of God's eternal decrees the elect are always his beloved, from the perspective of providence they are his enemies before they come to faith. This does not mean that one can be elect at one time and not elect at another time -- election is an immuatable, eternal decree. Neither does it mean that any shift is possible in providence. For example, we cannot stop being accountable to God even from a providential perspective. It does, however, allow that some people may receive God's favor for a time even though they are not saved (e.g. Heb. 11:20; 12:16). It also allows that some people may be included for a time among the sanctified ranks of the church, even though they ultimately perish (e.g. 1 Cor. 7:14; Heb. 10:26-31).

It also appears that the book of life includes some record of God's eternal decrees -- the names of some people have been written in it "from the foundation of the world" (Rev. 13:8; 17:8). Since some people are listed in the book even before they are saved in the course of providence (i.e. the elect), from a providential perspective the book definitely contains some names of people who are not saved yet. This fact in itself defeats the suggestion that the book is a list of the people who are saved. It also demonstrates that some of the book's records are eternal decrees (those written before the foundation of the world, which may never be erased), even though others are records of providence (names erased from the book). While we do not have enough information in Scripture to tell us everything that is in the book, we do have enough to tell us that it is neither exclusively a record of those who are saved, nor exclusively a record of the elect -- at least it will not exlcusively be a record of the elect before it reaches its final form at the judgment (Rev. 20:12,15; 21:27).


Answer by Ra McLaughlin

Ra McLaughlin is Vice President of Creative Delivery Systems at Third Millennium Ministries.