Once Saved, Can I Be Lost?

by Bryant Evans on September 4, 2008

John was taught the truth many years ago and as a young adult he became a Christian. Since then he has begun to wander and now finds himself in a world of sin. As he ponders his condition he takes some comfort in his belief that although he persists in sin now, he was saved years ago and therefore cannot be eternally lost. Or can he?

The idea of the “Perseverance of the Saints” or “eternal security” is one of the cardinal points of a doctrine attributed to John Calvin during the Reformation period of the 16th and 17th century. Commonly called “Calvinism” this doctrine underlies the great majority of protestant faiths today.

“It is the truth that those who have been brought to faith in Jesus Christ – having been foreknown and predestined to faith by God from eternity past…never will and never can be lost.”(1)

Those who hold this doctrine will argue that our friend John (above) was either never saved to begin with or he was saved and will be saved in spite of his sin.

One can quickly agree that there are some people who try to fake their way through salvation. They seek the blessings of the gospel out of a desire to please someone else or to gain some advantage. These, who never truly come to the Lord are not saved and we all can so agree.

But are there people, genuinely saved and added to the church by God (Acts 2:47) and enrolled in the Lamb’s Book of Life (Revelation 20:11-15), who can be eternally lost? Can their names be removed from the Book of Life once entered?  The Bible answer is, tragically, yes!

Loraine Boettner, a defender of one saved always saved, argues that the story of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32) is a “thoroughly Calvinistic parable.”(2) Let’s examine that thinking.

The Bible tells us that the prodigal son was just that…a son. Although he separated himself from his father for a time, he was always a son. This is true. But notice Luke 15:13 as the son leaves, he chooses to separate himself from his father. His father does not chase after him but allows him to make his decision. No doubt the father is pained at the decision but it is the young man’s to make.

When the son leaves the home the father can no longer protect him. He has taken himself to a place the father will not go. Should the boy find trouble, which he does, the father will not save him.

Observe that a time comes when the boy chooses, of his own accord, to return home. Likewise, the prodigal Christian has every opportunity to return to the safety of his home so long as he lives.

We also see that upon his return, his joyful father calls for a grand feast to celebrate his return. When he does so the elder brother is resentful and is kindly rebuked by his father who says, “this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found” (Luke 15:32). The central terms here are dead and lost. Today, men formerly in the comfort of the Lord’s body are dead spiritually and lost in sin. Having separated themselves from God they will not be the guest of honor at a feast which shall never take place. It was the son who chose to leave and the son who chose to return. Only after his return was there reason to rejoice.

No, Boettner’s passage does not teach once saved always saved. In fact, it teaches the opposite.

Galatian Christians were being tempted to drift away from Christ and back into Judaism. Paul responded swiftly and sternly to their plight. His response is so strong that he writes of those who go back to the Law of Moses, “You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace” (Galatians 5:4) The “stock” answer from those who teach Calvinism is that these people only fell into legalism. However the text says they were “severed” from Christ. That’s more than tumbling into legalism! That is being separated from the only one who can save!

2 Peter 2:20-22 is likewise troubling to those who teach this doctrine for it pictures one who has come to know Christ and has turned away like “a dog returns to its own vomit and a sow, after washing, returns to wallowing in the mire.” As before, the simple answer is that these people were never changed internally – only cleaned up on the outside. The internal cleansing is sanctification which is done by God Himself (1 Thessalonians 5:23, 1 Peter 1:2) along with man. So who’s fault is it?

Let us now set Hebrews 10:29 before us:

How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of Grace?” (emphasis mine – JBE)

This person was sanctified by the blood of Christ! The internal cleansing occurred but yet they rejected Jesus Christ. The rhetorical question regarding their punishment links to verse 28 which speaks of those executed without mercy under Moses’ Law. The only thing worse than such a death is eternal death.

Hebrews 6:4-6 seems so clear that exposition is hardly needed. We would simply observe that a person who:

  • has been enlightened
  • has tasted of the heavenly gift
  • is a partaker of the Holy Spirit
  • has tasted the good word of God
  • has tasted the powers of the age to come

is certainly a saved person! Yet, according to verse 6 they have “fallen away.” Fallen away from what if not salvation.

Falling from grace is a real possibility. It cannot be done to you (John 10:29) but you can certainly do it to yourself. We do not here speak of weakness or inadvertent sin. Indeed even the faithful sin (1 John 1:5-10). However, when a man chooses to sin and chooses to remain in that condition, he, having been previously in a saved relationship with the Lord, will be lost.

Once saved always saved is a comforting, convenient doctrine. But it is also a false doctrine!

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  1. Boice, James Montgomery and Ryken, Philip Graham, Doctrines of Grace, 2002, Graceway Books, Wheaton, IL, pg.155(&#8617)
  2. ibid, pg. 156(&#8617)
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