Let me start by pointing out the false dichotomy that is usually presented when people begin to talk about this issue. There are those who believe once you become a Christian, even though you may struggle in your faith, you cannot lose your salvation. That is, if you have been regenerated then you have 100% certainty you are going to heaven. On the other hand there are those who believe Christians can lose their salvation. The false dichotomy is when the former is characterized as promoting security while the latter is characterized as promoting free-will. That is simplifying the issue a bit but we need to understand that the Bible promotes both Free-Will and Security.
But first lets look at the Biblical passages which say Christians can lose their salvation. We can't possibly look at all of them so we will just examine a few.
- John 8:31-32, "So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, "If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free." I want you to notice the conditional statement (if). What happens IF we do not continue in His Word? Then we won't receive the blessing of being truly his disciples and knowing the truth. Also see 1st Corinthians 15:1-2 and John 15:1-9 for more passages using conditional statements. Just ask yourself, "what happens if I do not do what is talked about in these verses?"
- Romans 11:20-23--"Quite right, they were broken off for their unbelief, but you stand by your faith. Do not be conceited, but fear; for if God did not spare the natural branches, He will not spare you, either. Behold then the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you, God's kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off. And they also, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again." In context Paul is discussing the Jews and Gentiles. The "they" (also called "natural branches") that were broken off were the Jews who rejected Jesus as the Messiah. The "you" who stand by their faith are the Gentiles who accepted Jesus as the Messiah. Paul's warning is that if God was willing to break the Jews off for rejecting the Messiah then He won't hesitate to break off the Gentiles if they turn from following Jesus. He also affirms that the Jewish unbelievers could be grafted in once again if they turned to Jesus in faith. Notice that Paul warns the Gentile Christians that they could end up in the same state as the Jews who rejected Jesus as the Messiah. Unless we want to claim that the Jews who rejected Jesus are saved, which I absolutely reject, then we have to admit Paul is warning the Gentile Christians away from the faith.
- 1st Corinthians 10:11-12--"Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall." Paul has brought up the topic of Israel wandering through the wilderness. As we all know God allowed a whole generation to wander and perish in the wilderness because they refused to believe in him. So Paul's warning for the Corinthians to take heed so they do not fall is a warning for them to not become like the Israelites who wandered in the wilderness. The Hebrew author said in Hebrews 3:12-19 that those Israelites did not enter into God's rest. Then he goes on to say in Hebrews 4:3 that Christians enter into God's rest. Therefore, if part of being a Christian is entering into God's rest and those Israelites are said to fall short of God's rest then if we are warned against falling from God's rest we are essentially being warned from falling away from the faith and losing our salvation.
- 2nd Thessalonians 2:3--"Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction" What will not come first? Paul is talking about the second coming of Jesus (2:1). Some of the Thessalonians were being taught that Jesus had already come back (2:2). Paul contradicts that teaching by saying something else must happen first. That something else is the great apostasy. The word apostasy means "falling away". This great apostasy will be lead by the man of lawlessness. We won't get into his identification but the point remains; Paul affirms people can fall away from the faith.
- Galatians 5:3-4--"And I testify again to every man who receives circumcision, that he is under obligation to keep the whole Law. You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace." I don't know how much clearer you can get than this passage. The Galatian church was struggling with legalism. People were teaching that you faith in Christ was not enough to be saved. They said you also had to become a Jew. This was manifested in a person receiving circumcision as a sign of them accepting the Old Testament Covenant. Paul clearly states that if you accept the Old Testament Covenant, aka receive circumcision, then you have fallen from grace. People who do not believe you can fall away from the faith will say that people only appear to lose their salvation but really weren't Christians to begin with. Well I think it is kind of hard to fall from a state you have never been in. Paul implies here a person is in grace, gets caught up in a false doctrine of legalism, and then falls away from grace.
There are many other passages we could look at. If you have been taught that you are "eternally secure" or can't lose your salvation I want to challenge you to reexamine your position. Meditate on these Scriptures and read your Bible with an open mind honestly asking God to lead you to the truth. Also, please remember you don't have to chose between security and free-will. I believe a Christian can lose their salvation but I also believe we can have wonderful assurance of our salvation when we truly understand what it means to be saved by grace through faith. If you have further questions please leave them as comments. If you want to know more about how we can have assurance despite the ability to fall away them click on the contact tab at the top of the page and email me.