The short answer is that true Christians cannot lose their salvation! Period end of report!
Here is a key verse we should think about.
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. (Joh 10:27-29 ESV)
Recently there has been a lot of talk about Christians losing their salvation. This is normally caused by an increase of lawless and high handed sinning among people in the church. The idea is if you make people afraid of going to hell they will stop sinning and that their sinning is caused because they have an assurance that they are going to heaven. So the answer is take away their assurance of going to heaven and increase their fear of hell and their sinful lifestyles will stop.
The problem is that if my only motivation for stopping sinful behavior is to avoid hell then I am not doing this for out of love for God or for HIS glory. This means that while I am avoiding sin which is good, my actions are not “good works” because they fail to be done for the right reasons. So such teaching cannot really lead to faith filled works motivated for love of God but only fear full works motivated by a selfish desire to avoid hell.
So who has the promise of being given the eternal life by the Messiah Jesus? Those who He knows and who follow HIM. The Messiah Jesus knows HIS sheep and this personal relationship is what marks them off as being given eternal life. Now the mark of such a person is that they follow Christ.
What does is mean to follow Christ. It means that they have accepted the Messiah Jesus as their prophet, priest and king. This means that they they trust in Messiah Jesus to give them the ultimate truth about God, life, and eternity; rely upon HIM to reconcile them to God by HIS sacrifice on the cross, and depend on HIM as the ultimate ruler of every decision that they make.
They do not do this perfectly but significantly. They are learning to follow. They are growing in faith. They are weak, wounded, and wicked but wonderfully loved by the Messiah Jesus. They are not running from Messiah Jesus but running in the direction of the Messiah Jesus.
Now notice that eternal life is given to them freely as a gift by the Messiah Jesus. They cannot earn it or deserve it. It is what Messiah Jesus provides for them and that those to whom HE gives this gift will never perish. No power in heaven or earth can take Messiah Jesus’ people out of HIS hands. They are eternally secure because Messiah Jesus has claimed HIS people for HIMSELF. The FATHER and SON are united in keeping all Messiah Jesus’ people safe, secure, and saved.
This passage is very clear and should end all debate about anyone losing their salvation.
But what are we to do about all those sinful and lawless “Christians” who are using their faith that they are going to heaven to live in high handed sinful lifestyles?
First of all we can question if they have every accepted Messiah Jesus as their prophet, priest and king. To only accept Messiah Jesus as “eternal life insurance” is not to follow HIM or have true faith (James 2). Almost 79% of American claim to believe in Messiah Jesus but this is just a cultural faith. Only about 9% have orthodox content of their faith. Many profess faith in Christ but far few possess true faith in Christ. Many will claim to “know Christ” but HE will say HE NEVER knew them (Matthew 7:21). Messiah Jesus does not say that once HE did know them and then lost them but instead that they were wrong in their understanding of their spiritual state. They were not followers or believers but only psuedo believers. You cannot accept Jesus as Savior and reject HIM as LORD and be saved. Such faith is an illusion and has no positive impact on anyone’s spiritual life.
The Apostle Paul summarizes what our attitude should be in these words.
But God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity.” (2Ti 2:19 ESV)
The LORD Messiah knows who HIS people are and has chosen them. HE has given them a personal relationship with HIMSELF as a gift of grace. But if we claim to know HIM. If we claim the Messiah Jesus as our personal prophet, priest, and king then one of the fruits of true faith is that we are in the process of departing from sin and seeking first righteousness.
True faith always produces repentance. But this is never perfect in this life but always growing from one degree of understanding to another.
Our faith by the way in not in faith. It is not in our repentance. It is in the person and work of the Messiah Jesus. It is centered on HIM and not on us. It sees in the Messiah Jesus, God the Son who became the Son of God, lived the perfect life of love, died the perfect death of sacrifice, and was raised to give us the perfect assurance of salvation. In the light of seeing Messiah Jesus high and lifted up we are lead to love and worship HIM. This wonder of Messiah Jesus becomes the motivation for departing from sin and seeking righteousness not a mere fear of hell fire.
Only the gospel can motivate people to do good works on the basis of faith, love and hope (1 Cor 13). If our good deeds are not motivated by love they are useless and empty. Clearly if good deeds were motivated by mere fear of hell they could not give us merit before God’s righteous judgment throne.
If we hate the consequence of sin but not the sin itself we have not really repented of the sin. In the gospel we can see the sin as that which placed our beloved Messiah on the cross to suffer and this can then lead us to hate the sin and not just it consequences in our lives.
So on the one hand we must state clearly that the Bible does teach that Messiah Jesus will never, never, never, never, allow any of those whom HE has chosen to give a true personal relationship of HIS love to perish. They are given the free gift of eternal life and are safe, secure, and saved. Nothing can separate them from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:28ff).
On the other hand we must state clearly that to assume that one is a follower of Christ and try to exploit God’s grace while not accepting Messiah Jesus as LORD of your life is a road to hell. You cannot lose your salvation because you were never saved. Don’t think you will mock God by attempting to use HIS own grace against HIM on judgment day. If you seek to maximize sin in your life because you know about God’s grace then you will will reap the just punishment of such a dark desire before the throne of God. So you need to seek to depart for iniquity today.
Now dear sensitive believer who is quick to doubt if you are known by our precious Savior. Those of you who find yourselves quick to doubt your salvation because you know how weak your faith is and how fragile your repentance can be. Understand that Messiah Jesus has something very important to say to you.
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
(Mat 11:28-30 ESV)
There will be some who come before the judgment throne sure that they will be saved and who will be lost. Others will come before the throne sure that they lacked true faith only to be embraced by the Lord. Some will in humility come knowing they are known and will enter into the joy of their Lord. All those who the Messiah Jesus knows and loves will can never, never, never perish and have the gift of eternal life.
So rejoice today in Christ’s free gift to you and allow your joy to motivate you to fight immoral actions in your life and seek to live a sane, stable, and spiritual life for God’s glory, your good, and so that you may be of some good in a very broken world. Amen.
For further study See Robinson Word Studies on John 10:28
And I give unto them eternal life (kagō didōmi autois zōēn aiōnion). This is the gift of Jesus now to his sheep as stated in Joh_6:27, Joh_6:40 (cf. 1Jo_2:25; 1Jo_5:11).
And they shall never perish (kai ou mē apolōntai). Emphatic double negative with second aorist middle (intransitive) subjunctive of apollumi, to destroy. The sheep may feel secure (Joh_3:16; Joh_6:39; Joh_17:12; Joh_18:9).
And no one shall snatch them out of my hand (kai ouch harpasei tis auta ek tēs cheiros mou). Jesus had promised this security in Galilee (Joh_6:37, Joh_6:39). No wolf, no thief, no bandit, no hireling, no demon, not even the devil can pluck the sheep out of my hand. Cf. Col_3:3 (Your life is hid together with Christ in God).