Can A Christian Lose Their Salvation?
By Rev. D. Earl Cripe, Ph.D.
Can A Saved Person Be Lost?
Here is the most troubling question in the history of the Christian Church. I will mention several reasons why this issue is so difficult (and I am sure there are many).
First, it is difficult because thorough, sound, contextual, expository teachings on this subject are virtually non-existent in the Christian Church. The subject is present in the Bible all right, along with the answers; but many heresies and false doctrines have confused the issue. There are the Eastern heresies from Alexandria; the mistaken ideas of St. Augustine which were taken up in almost exact form by Arminius; the foolishness of Luther; and the Enlightenment theology of Calvin. There was the change from faith to reason as a means of knowing truth brought on by the Age of Reason. Now we have the materialism and higher-education-cult reeking from the modern Church like smoke from a burning house. All of these (and more) have so confused this subject that it would take virtually a lifetime of teaching to straighten it out.
This truth is not learned intellectually and scholastically. The Holy Ghost reveals it in the Scriptures. It requires a heart that has given up on the old creation with its false values and pride, and is open to the Holy Spirit and to truth. Jesus said that truth is free to all takers, but there are relatively few who find it.
So, What About It?
Can a saved person lose his salvation? The answer, which is startling to many who think they know me, is “yes and no — depending on what you mean.”
Remember that in orthodox doctrines, man is tripartite. He exists in three parts. He is spirit, soul, and body. The Great Salvation, which is in three parts, answers to those three parts of man.
Justification has to do with the dead spirit. When a man comes to Christ initially, it is not his soul (or his life) that is saved, but his spirit is quickened and made alive. This is what reunites him to God and makes all that follows possible. Justification is briefly described in the following way.
We are Justified, or saved from the penalty of sin.
Justification is judicial.
It has to do with crime, punishment, the court, and the judge.
Justification is the quickening of the dead spirit.
It is a past salvation: we have been saved.
It relies exclusively on the sole and finished work of Christ.
Man can do no works, and may not do works to receive it.
It is a finished work. Man does no works to maintain it.
From Justification, there can be no death because the complete and perfect righteousness of Christ is declared for us fully and immediately. Without this imputation of Christ’s righteousness, the guilt is not taken away and there is no resurrection and new life.
This salvation cannot be lost since it was accomplished by the life and death of Christ and it is maintained by the High Priestly ministry of Christ.
Glorification has to do with the body. God pronounced death against the body in the Fall. The mortal body must die. Nothing — scientific discovery, miracles or any other — can halt this process. Yet Christ’s Cross and resurrection has provided for us a new body which we will get upon Christ’s return, according I Corinthians 15, and I Thessalonians 4. (It is implied in II Peter 3, though the body is not specifically mentioned.) It is an immortal and glorious body that is physical but not corruptible. It is not subject to degradation, decay, pain, or death. It is born in immortality as a result of the resurrection from the grave by Jesus Christ.
This is a future salvation; we will be saved.
This has to do with salvation from the presence of sin.
The giving to us by God of the Holy Spirit is the “Earnest” of this physical salvation to comfort and assure us that when the time arrives and the escrow closes, we have a deal. There is a spiritual body and we shall have it. The Bible does not tell us much about it. St. John said simply, “We do not know what we shall be, but when He shall appear, we shall be like Him.” St. Paul said that it exceeds in glory the natural body as the sun exceeds in brilliance the stars. Just as the stars are bright at night, so this mortal body has glory now. Yet as the stars disappear into insignificance when the sun comes up, so the glory of the natural body will fade and disappear in comparison to the unspeakable glory of that great body, which is like His. It is not the one that was crucified in dishonor. In the New Creation we know no man after the flesh anymore, not even Christ, said St. Paul in II Corinthians 5. The body that Chris has now is the one that the Apostles got a glimpse of on the Mount of Transfiguration. It is the body that the eternal Son had with the Father before the world was.
From that physical salvation there can be no death.
This physical salvation cannot be lost.
Sanctification has to do with the life, or the soul. The Greek word for soul is psuche (psoo-kahy’).
In: Matthew 2:20, 6:25, 10:39, 16:25, 20:28; Mark 3:4, 8:35, 10:45; Luke 9:24, 12:22,28, 14:26, 17:33; John 10:11, 13:38, 15:13; Acts 20:10, 27:22; Romans 11:3, 16:4; Philippians 2:30; I John 3:14; Revelation 8:9, it is translated life.
In Matthew 16:26; Mark 8:36; Luke 12:19-20; Acts 3:23; Romans 2:9, 12:1; I Corinthians 15:45; I Thessalonians 5:23; Hebrews; 4:12, 6:19, 10:39; James 5:20; I Peter 2:11; II Peter 2:8; III John 2, and some twenty other places in the New Testament, it is translated soul.
It is not to be confused with the somewhat different concept of zoe (dzo-ay’), which means the state of being quickened or of being alive. You have your life (or your soul) because you are alive; but the fact of being alive does not grasp all that is comprehended by your life.
After physical death and before the resurrection, you will not have a soul or a body, though you will have a spirit. Biblically speaking there can be no soul where there is no living spirit in a living body. Thus, Adam became a living soul when the spirit was breathed into his body. Death was pronounced upon the soul by God because of sin (the soul that sinneth, it shall die). Like all other parts of tri-partite man, the soul can only be redeemed and made immortal in Christ. Therefore God, through Jesus Christ, has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel (II Tim. 1:10).
Sanctification is salvation from the power of sin.
It is a present salvation: we are being salved.
It too is based upon the Cross and the Resurrection. In this present, daily salvation, we seek to be made conformable to his death so that we might be in the likeness of His resurrection — today.
It is an issue of life in the present phase of the Kingdom of God.
Like the other two aspects, it has to do with the righteousness of Christ by faith and grace.
But there are some differences.
Unlike the other two, the outworking of this aspect of salvation is not finished, though the works of Christ that make it possible are (Heb 4:1-3).
It is a salvation in which we are to become involved by our works. As St. Paul said in Galatians 2, they are the works of Christ in me, but still they are my works by faith and His power.
In this salvation from the power of sin, the grace is in the provision. God has given us the means, but (contrary to Luther), God will not live our lives for us. It is up to us to use those means and save our lives from the power of sin and the death that would result from sin.
This is what makes the whole thing relevant to you and me today.
It is this salvation that 95% or more of the New Testament is about.
We can lose this salvation by dereliction. In this salvation you can be saved and lost and saved again. It was this danger of the loss of our lives, or our souls (the two words being identical in the Greek), that the Apostles warned us about constantly.
Since this salvation calls upon us to save our lives and work the works of God, it is this salvation about which St. James spoke when he said that “faith without works is dead and faith alone will not save us.” The reason why this differs from Justification, is that in Justification the work was Christ’s alone in which no man can become involved. In Sanctification, a provisional gift of grace has been given, but the works of salvation are ours.
It is the earning of rewards.
It is the inheritance of the saints in light.
It is our opportunity to participate in the adornments of eternity.
In Historic Orthodox Christianity, a man will be Glorified because he is Justified. Sanctification is of Justification and toward Glorification, but it is not a sequential link in the chain. That concept is an Old Testament proposition. The issue is rewards and joy in the Day of Christ. The Apostle speaks of this salvation and says that if any man’s works shall abide, he shall receive a reward, but if any man’s works shall be burned, he shall suffer loss.
What Will a Man Give in Exchange for His Life?
Let us be clear what this loss is. It is more than just some adornments. It is more than things. It is the loss of all or part of our lives. Therefore, when you have determined how important your life is to you, then you will know how important Sanctification is.
Many young people have an extravagant idea about their mortal lives. They are young and tough; they have lots of time to do important and useful things. Some of us who have grown long in the tooth would like to be able to point something out to them about the deceitfulness of that kind of thinking, but all we can do is warn them. They will have to make their own decisions, just as we made ours.
“Salvation” in the Bible
One of the problems in dealing with this issue is the shallow, narrow, and inadequate way we use, understand, and teach the term salvation in today’s Church. We usually have a very singular idea in mind when we do it; but the Great Salvation is broad and many-faceted. Those who over-simplify it are not satisfied with their understandings. They have many unanswered questions (some they can admit, and some they cannot), but they are always there in the backs of their minds.
So, when somebody asks me, “Can a saved person be lost?” I have to know what they mean before I answer. We need to be able to listen to the stern and frightening warnings of Hebrews 10:29-32, and 12:25-29. We need to know what it means for the Christian to draw back unto destruction and incur the displeasure of God. It is not enough to just repeat the verses, we need to know why and how we are of those who believe to the saving of the soul. We need to know that we can lose our souls through dereliction. We need to know that because it is true.
But we first need to know that we cannot lose our Justification or our place in Glorification.
A child will thrive under the stern disciplines of a sober father if those disciplines are properly oriented and presented. I know that because one raised me and I did thrive. I thank God for my father’s disciplines. I would not trade anything that I now posses for that heritage, even if I could. But if a child is fearful that if he does something wrong, his father may step out on the back porch as he nears the house and blow his head off with the shotgun, or beat him to death with a garden hoe, that son will not develop in a normal and wholesome way. He will go into emotional shock; he will become stunted, warped, and paranoid. He will live in terror. If that kind of grotesque and distasteful image of a natural father makes us feel like crying out and demanding that we stop talking about such things, how much more our Heavenly Father? Hebrews tells us not to despise His chastening because it is always out of love and for our good. It is a major crime and sin to distort the wholesome and wonderful relationship of the family of God into a sadistic tale of a maladjusted family where frightened children huddle in their beds and wonder, each time they hear a creak in the night, if dad is coming in to beat them unmercifully.
We do not have that same scandalized and horrible feeling if we are talking about a judge sentencing a criminal to prison or death. Yes, there is some sadness, but what is the alternative? To be overrun with hooligans? So it is with the Gospel. There is one message to the man who is not Justified; but another to the man who is Justified, but not Sanctified. There is a loss to be suffered and a reward to be gained in either case; but it is not the same reward and it is not the same loss.
Saved, But Not Saved
But how can a man not lose his gift and lose it at the same time? Is that not too confusing? It is not confusing at all if you have a proper understanding of it. Let me see if I can illustrate it so you can get some light on the matter.
Let us say that a man, by his death, leaves his son a rich, magnificent farm. That farm now belongs to the son. It is his legacy by the inheritance left to him by his father. Along with that title to the farm comes a potential; that of working the farm and reaping the harvest. If the son plows in the plowing time, plants at seedtime, weeds, cultivates and waters, that farm will produce him many wonderful things. But if he idles in the plowing, does not plant anything, builds no levees for watering, and does not weed, what will he have? His crop will be a bunch of old briars and thorns which are only good to pile up and burn. If the farm grows over with weeds, it will still belong to the son because the father gave it to him. It is his by the death of the testator. It will still have just as many acres and just as great a potential. Even so, he will have lost the harvest; that part of his inheritance that could have been his if he had acted responsibly. He did not act responsibly, so he lost his inheritance — not the real estate, but the potential. Or maybe he only did half the work and got half the potential, and so on.
That is the way it is with salvation. We are born into the family of God and are given Justification and Glorification by the death of the Testator. By that same death of the Testator we also are given the potential of saving our lives and laying up treasures in heaven (Heb 9:13-19). We also have the option of squandering our inheritance and losing them. Which we do is up to us. The salvation of the life is not an option to the man who is not Justified and born into the family of God.
Justification Cannot be Lost
If the question is whether a man can lose his justification, the answer is no. He did not get it by works, he did not contribute to it by works, and it is not in any sense his work. It was and is the work of Christ. The question of the loss of Justification does not raise the issue of your failure or mine, but a question of Christ’s failure. That is an impossible issue to contemplate for the Orthodox Christian. The man who can raise that question had best go back and read Romans 3 and 4, and examine upon what he is resting the hope of his Justification. I will now give you some scriptures that bear out what I have just said.
John 1:12 To as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them which believe on His name:
John 1:13 Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.
John 10:11 I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.
John 10:12 But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth: and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep.
John 10:13 The hireling fleeth, because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep. I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine.
Here Christ is not talking about the Cross. He tells us that He stands between the sheep and all that would hurt them. The only way anything or anyone is going to get into that fold and hurt or scatter is to kill Him first. I do not know about you, but that makes me feel pretty safe.
John 10:27 My sheep hear my voice and I know them and they follow me:
John 10:28 And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.
John 10:29 My Father, which gave them to me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand.
John 10:30 I and my Father are one.
Here Jesus says that the sheep are His, not because they came to Him, but because the Father gave them to Him for a possession. If anyone tries to take them from Him, they cannot get them out from under His control. Yet Jesus recognizes the dangerous world He is in and the subtleties of the devil. “Even if they could get them away from me,” He says, “they could not get them away from my Father. They are mine; He gave them to me. Nobody is going to take them from Him because He is the greatest of all. And since they cannot take them from Him, they cannot take them from me, because I and my Father are one.”
Romans 5:8 But God commendeth His love toward us in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
Romans 5:9 Much more then, being now justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him.
Romans 5:10 For if when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.
Here the Apostle is talking about Justification and starting to explain the doctrine of the Atonement. His argument is simple and pointed. God went to all this trouble to find us and save us, even by putting His Son to death, because He so much wanted to save us out of love. Our Justification was a work of God and of Christ, not of us. Reconciliation was by His blood. God loved us when we were enemies, enough to be put to the trouble of the death of His Son. Now that we belong to Him, Christ is in His presence as our Intercessor, a much more desirable ministry than suffering and dying.
God, who did so much to get us, is not going to let us go. We shall be preserved by Christ’s life. What the Apostle has said here is very hard to mistake, but you can do it if you are determined to do it. Wisdom is justified of her children. If a man wants to believe something badly enough, he will find a way.
Romans 9:16 So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy.
Romans 9:22 What if God, willing to shew his wrath and make his power known, endured with much long-suffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction:
Romans 9:23 And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory,
Romans 9:24 Even us, whom he hath called, not of Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?
I Peter 1:2 Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through Sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: grace unto you, and peace be multiplied.
I Peter 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,
I Peter 1:4 To an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you,
I Peter 1:5 Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
I Peter 1:23 Being born again not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth forever.
Here we see that we are secured by the very power of God Himself. The inheritance that we have already acquired is immortal and incorruptible. This is in full consistency with the new man, born to the New Adam. In the old Adam, we had life that was corruptible. Adam proved this by behavior that resulted in his corruption; but the life and nature of the Second Adam is not corruptible. Christ established this by His perfect life, His death, and His Resurrection from the dead.
Some believe that even from this new life we can die. If this were true, then we are not born of incorruptible seed. It is either corruptible or it is not. If it is corruptible, then the eternal existence of Christ Himself is at risk because it is His life and nature that we have. It is of His seed that we have been born.
Justification is a matter of birth, not reformation. Those who are really Christians in the orthodox sense need to resolve in their minds whether they believe that St. Peter was right when he said that we are born again of incorruptible sperm that lives and abides forever. Incorruptible is the same in kind as infinite, eternal, and immortal. Nothing that is infinite, eternal, and immortal has ever corrupted or died. If we do not believe that, then our words about “eternal life” are hollow and meaningless, projecting nothing more than a desperate hanging on and hoping for the best throughout eternity. I pity anyone whose concept of incorruption exists on such a humanistic, unbiblical, and unsatisfactory plane.