Can a Christian Ever Be Lost?
A prominent Baptist preacher, Dr. Charles Stanley of Atlanta, Georgia, alleges that a child of God can never so sin as to be lost. In his book advocating this theory, Stanley writes: “As a believer, you will never be judged for your sins” (Eternal Security — Can You Be Sure?, Nashville: Oliver Nelson, 1990, p. 39).
The proof-text he cites is John 3:18, “He who believes on him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”
What shall we say to this argument?
First, the author has neglected to consider the force of the verbal tenses of the original language that reveal the fuller picture. Blackwelder summarizes the data by the following expanded rendition of John 3:18:
“The one who continues trusting [pisteuon, present participle] in him is not condemned; the one who does not continue trusting [same construction but with negative particle] is already condemned [perfect passive, is in a state of condemnation] because he has not believed with abiding results [pepisteuken, perfect tense, indicating permanent attitude of unbelief] in the name of the Son of God” (Light From the Greek New Testament, Anderson Press: Warner, IN, 1959, p. 105).
One does not come under the sentence of judgment so long as he continues his active faith in the Lord. The promise is conditional. The implication otherwise is as clear as can be.
A Biblical Case
Second, there is unequivocal inspired testimony that a believer can lose his soul on account of personal sin.
There was a brother in the Corinthian church who was living in fornication with his father’s wife (1 Corinthians 5:1). Paul, by inspiration, states that he had “judged” this wayward man (v. 3). Further, he admonished the saints at Corinth to “put away the wicked man from among yourselves” (v. 13), which was a command to exercise church discipline. They were to expel the offender from their fellowship. The design of the discipline was to bring the wayward brother to repentance so that his “spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus” (v. 5; cf. 2 Thessalonians 3:6,14-15).
The implication is quite plain — if the fornicator did not abandon his evil, he would not be saved in the day of the Lord. If it was impossible for him to be lost, the function/goal of the discipline was misstated.
Here is an interesting thought: can one become so wicked that he is unfit for church fellowship, yet still fit for God’s fellowship?
Charles Stanley is not unaware of the weakness of his argument. He raises this question: “If our salvation is gained through believing in Christ, doesn’t it make sense that salvation would be lost if we quit believing?” (p. 73).
He concedes that such arguments sound “convincing,” but he believes he has a solution to the problem, and he spends several chapters in his book struggling with it.
As suggested in our discussion of John 3:18 (above), the promise of security is conditioned upon our sustained belief. The present tense form pisteuo (believe) is found several times in John’s Gospel within this type of context (cf. 3:14-16,18; 5:24; 6:29; 6:40).
Now what is the significance of the present tense in Greek? Dana & Mantey (two Baptist scholars) note that the “principle tense” for representing “action as continuous” is the present tense (A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament, New York: Macmillan, 1968, p. 178). A.T. Robertson, the greatest Baptist grammarian ever, wrote: “the present tense expresses incompleted action” (A Short Grammar of the Greek New Testament, New York: Hodder & Stoughton, 1908, p. 140).
Quotations of this nature could be multiplied many times over.
I introduce this matter to emphasize that it is incredible that Mr. Stanley, in attempting to avoid the force of the present tense, should say: “The normal use of the present tense does not denote continuous, uninterrupted action” (p. 85).
The gentleman introduces John 4:13 in attempting to sustain his point. Jesus said, “Everyone who drinks [present tense] of this water [from Jacob’s well] shall thirst again.” He declares that it is ridiculous to suggest that those folks were “continuously drinking from Jacob’s well” (p. 86).
He will have to dispute the matter with one of his own spiritual kinsmen — a top Baptist scholar whose scholarship considerably eclipsed that of the Atlanta “Pastor.” Professor Kenneth Wuest translated John 4:13 in this way:
“Whosoever keeps on drinking of this water shall thirst again” (his emp.). He then comments: “Continual drinking at the wells of the world never quenches the soul’s thirst for heart satisfaction” (The Practical Use of the Greek New Testament, Chicago: Moody Press, 1946, p. 43).
Of course the people of Sychar were not drinking in an “uninterrupted” fashion; they were, however, drinking on a sustained basis. And that is what we must do. In spite of temporary lapses of faith due to weakness, we must progressively persevere — if we expect to enjoy eternal life. The tenses make this certain.
What is the point of all this? Mr. Stanley is trying to prove that one does not have to keep on believing in order to make his salvation secure. He advocates the notion that a Christian can completely abandon his faith in God and Christ, become a rank atheist, and the Lord will save him anyhow. Hear him:
“Even those who walk away from the faith have not the slightest chance of slipping from His hand” (p. 74). Is this not an incredible statement?
What a tragic error this is. Contrast it with the testimony of an inspired writer.
“Take heed, brothers, lest haply there shall be in any one of you an evil heart of unbelief, in falling away from the living God: but exhort one another day by day, so long as it is called To-day; lest any one of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin: for we are become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our confidence firm unto the end: while it is said, To-day if you shall hear his voice, Harden not your hearts, as in the provocation. For who, when they heard, did provoke? No, did not all they that came out of Egypt by Moses? And with whom was he displeased forty years? Was it not with them that sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? And to whom he swore that they should not enter into his rest, but to them that were disobedient? And we see that they were not able to enter in because of unbelief” (Hebrews 3:12-19; emp. added).
The point being made is this. If the Christian does not remain faithful, he will not enter into the eternal rest that God has prepared for his people (cf. 4:1ff). The doctrine of the “impossibility of apostasy” is a human dogma that has no support in Holy Scripture.
About the Author
Wayne Jackson has written for and edited the Christian Courier since its inception in 1965. He has also written several books on a variety of biblical topics including The Bible and Science, Creation, Evolution, and the Age of the Earth, The Bible on Trial, and a number of commentaries. He lives in Stockton, California with his dear wife, and life-long partner, Betty.