When asked the question, “Can you lose your salvation?” A wise and godly Bible study teacher by the name of Nancy Littlefield replied, “Even if you believe you can’t lose your salvation, you should live as if you could.”
That simple wisdom, spoken by a backslidden-Baptist-turned-Nazarene (her joke, not mine) turns the age-old, deal-breaking, denomination-splitting question on its ear and places the focus of the dilemma at the foot of the cross.
“In the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we find God’s justice, God’s mercy, and God’s grace extended for the sole purpose of offering you and me salvation.” Says Clarence L. Haynes Jr., in Why Is Salvation through Christ Alone?. Our salvation is not only through Christ—it is in Christ—and that’s where all the answers to every age-old question can be found.
No matter where you’re from or what you believe, everyone understands the concept that birth ushers in new life. That’s why Jesus used the metaphor of birth, in John 3, to describe true salvation. We can learn a lot about what true salvation is—and what it’s not—by examining Jesus’s short encounter with Nicodemus in this chapter.
Nicodemus was a Pharisee, which meant he knew God, professed love for God, and strived to live a devout life (John 3:1). Like the other Pharisees, he obeyed God’s laws to the letter—and to a fault (Matthew 23:23). Being a respected leader of his time, Nicodemus was heavily involved in religious teaching and activity (John 7:50–51). He also made a simple profession of faith in Jesus by announcing, “Rabbi, we all know that God has sent you to teach us. Your miraculous signs are evidence that God is with you” (John 3:2).
But seeing his heart, Jesus couldn’t allow Nicodemus to continue to believe the lie that his piety, obedience, religious work—or even Nicodemus’s off-handed profession of faith— could ever merit true salvation. “Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again” (John 3:3).
Nicodemus was taken aback by the bizarre proclamation. How could a person return to their mother’s womb and be reborn? When Jesus further explained that He was referring to the miracle of a supernatural birth mirroring that of physical birth, Nicodemus still had trouble grappling with the concept; he was so fixated on trying to comprehend what he must do to be saved that he neglected to see true Salvation staring him in the face.
“He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God--children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God” (John 1:11-13).
True salvation is not a what, it’s a Who. When we believe and receive Christ, as our salvation, we are “born of God.” Just like we have zero power to initiate our own natural birth, there’s nothing we can do to achieve this rebirth. God draws us (John 6:44). God gives us the ability to believe (Hebrews 2:2). God fills us with His Spirit (John 6:63). And He keeps us secure—in Christ—till the end (1 Corinthians 1:8-9).
A hallowed, multi-layered transaction of epic proportions takes place the instant we’re born again. Not only are we born into a new identity in Christ, we’re born into an inherited position in Christ. Here’s what takes place when salvation delivers a believer into their new in-Christ existence:
In Christ, we are a new creation. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
In Christ, our relationship with God is reconciled and restored. “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:13).
In Christ, we are free from the law of sin and death. “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:2).
In Christ, we are children of God. “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (Galatians 3:26-27).
In Christ, we gain eternal life. “Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 John 5:12).
In Christ, we have a new calling and mission. “For we are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10).
In Christ, we are sealed with the Holy Spirit. “And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit” (Ephesians 1:13).
Based on these powerful scriptures, someone in Christ could only lose their salvation if they were: made old again—which can’t happen (Hebrews 8:13); thrust away from God—which He won’t do (Hebrews 13:5); rejudged by the law—except that’s impossible (Romans 10:4); unadopted—but nothing can separate us (Romans 8:38-39); fired from their calling—yet those are irrevocable (Romans 11:29); and finally, someone in Christ could only lose their salvation if they become unsealed by the Holy Spirit—yet scripture says we are sealed “for the day of redemption” (Ephesians 4:30).
This in-Christ inheritance, bestowed upon us at rebirth, is an “inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God's power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:5).
Just like a newborn baby cannot return his mother’s womb, it’s impossible for a born-again believer to be unborn. If it were possible for believers to render our salvation void, no doubt we would find a way. But Christ is our salvation. We are in Him, He in us, and together we are cocooned in the Father for safekeeping (John 17:21).
Although the Bible presents a solid scriptural ground for the security of the believer, there are biblical passages that have caused the newest baby Christian and the most educated theologian to tread carefully. These verses offer strong warnings about apostasy and the hazards of “falling away” from the faith (1 Timothy 4:1, 2 Peter 2:20-22, Hebrews 3:12, Hebrews 6:4-8, Luke 8:13, Matthew 24:10).
Many believers have hung their hats on these scriptures as proof that we can lose our salvation. Others contend that these verses refer to those who made a simple profession of faith but were never born again. “No easy answer exists for many of these questions. Scripture does, however, make it clear we need to study the Word without ceasing so as not to be swayed by teachings that could pull us away from our faith,” explains Hope Bolinger in What Is Apostasy?
To take these challenging verses lightly or explain them away haphazardly would be a mistake. We’re told in 2 Timothy 3:16 that “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,” not just the passages that affirm our doctrinal beliefs. Throughout history, great men and women of the faith, skilled in hermeneutics and devoted to rightly dividing the Word of God, have vehemently disagreed about the interpretation of these scriptures. In fact, the verses in question have become the ink by which denominational boundary lines are drawn.
While I won’t try to tackle these scriptures with the limited time and space of this article, I will challenge the reader to ask a different question. Why?
If a born-again believer’s position in Christ is Biblically secure, why did God allow such challenging and seemingly contradictory passages to exist in the canon of Scripture?
So often when we’re given a gift of extreme value, the passage of time tends to fade the initial awe we felt upon receiving it. Our salvation is the greatest gift we’ll ever know. In fact, this gift is so costly and so undeserved that nothing else in our lives is worth keeping once we receive it. We are to guard this gift (2 Timothy 1:14), we are to live for it (2 Corinthians 5:15), and we are to die for it (Galatians 2:20).
When we diligently study the scriptures, especially the passages that challenge our preconceived understanding, the exercise solidifies our faith and provides us with the spiritual muscles we need to fight for (1 Timothy 6:12), wrestle over (Philippians 2:12), contend with (Jude 1:3) and defend (Titus 1:9) this sacred deposit entrusted to us.
One day we’ll see our salvation face to face, until then let’s live as if our own lives would not be worth keeping if we ever lost Him. For more information about what it means to be a born-again Christian check out David Jeremiah’s 5 Birthmarks of the Born Again Christian.
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Annette Marie Griffin is an award-winning author and speaker who has managed and directed children’s and youth programs for more than 20 years. Her debut children’s book, What Is A Family? released through Familius Publishing in 2020. Annette has also written curriculum for character growth and development of elementary-age children and has developed parent training seminars to benefit the community. Her passion is to help wanderers find home. She and her husband have five children—three who have already flown the coop and two adopted teens still roosting at home—plus two adorable grands who add immeasurable joy and laughter to the whole flock.