The issue of whether a child of God can ever lose his salvation is one of the truly controversial topics within the community of “Christendom.” Frequently when the subject is broached, tempers flare and emotional reactions abound. But the issue is serious, and it calls for calm, serious study.
The idea that the believer in Christ is “eternally secure,” is so ingrained in the minds of the Calvinistic community, that it is most difficult to dislodge. Admittedly, it is a doctrine full of “comfort” (a deceptive comfort) — this idea that no matter what sort of evil the Christian does, or how long he does it, he never will be consigned to hell. Satan could not have concocted a more alluring teaching.
There are two common rationalizations Calvinists employ in an attempt to nullify a great variety of passages that unequivocally demonstrate that a Christian can apostatize and ultimately be lost.
The first contention is this: if the scriptures indicate that someone is condemned, that must imply the person has never been saved; he was only a disingenuous pretender. The other rationalization is that the child of God merely “falls away” from a temporal divine favor, but not “eternal salvation.” In this article, we wish to address these premises.
It is hardly disputed that Judas, the betrayer of Christ, died lost when he committed suicide over the anguish of disgracing himself. Christ himself described Judas as the “son of perdition” (John 17:12). This is a biblical expression signifying the destiny of a person — one “doomed to eternal misery” (Thayer, 71, 635; cf. 2 Thessalonians 2:3). In the same text, the Savior prophetically declared that Judas would “perish.” The inspired Peter specified that Judas went to his “own place” (Acts 1:25). Even the celebrated Baptist scholar, A.T. Robertson, who opposed the idea that a saved person could be lost, admitted there was “no doubt in Peter’s mind of the destiny of Judas,” one “worthy of Dante’s Inferno” (iii.18).
This leaves us with the issue of whether Judas ever was saved. The testimony of Peter is again definitive in indicating that once this apostle had been a saved person. Peter says that Judas “was numbered among us, and received his portion in this ministry” (Acts 1:17). Again, Robertson notes that the expression “received his portion” is used especially of one who receives a “divine appointment” (iii.16). Further, the apostle notes that the traitor “fell away.” One cannot fall away from where he never was, or into that in which always has been!
Then there is this matter. Judas accompanied the other apostles on what is commonly called “the limited commission,” as detailed in Matthew 10:1ff. He was given the same spiritual powers as the others, including the ability to “cast out demons” (v. 8). Now it was Christ himself, in a debate with the Pharisees (those who accused the Lord of casting out demons by the power of Satan), who denied that one under the control of Satan would be casting out demons. In that case, he said, the devil would be divided against himself. Surely, therefore, no clear-reasoning person would adopt such a position regarding Judas, thus placing the Son of God in an unfavorable light.
Simon the Sorcerer
In Acts 8, Luke records that Phillip went to Samaria and proclaimed Christ. Multitudes “gave heed” to his message, and “were baptized, both men and women,” having believed the gospel message (vv. 6, 12). The historian further observes that a man named Simon, a sorcerer, “also believed” and was immersed. There is not the slightest indication that the latter was less genuine in his conviction than the other Samaritans. But the common ploy that he merely “professed” belief is negated by the fact that Peter encouraged him to “pray” for forgiveness (v. 22); prayer is the privilege of the child of God (Matthew 6:9; 1 John 2:1; 3:22; 5:14) — not the sons of Satan.
However, when Simon observed that the apostles could impart the gifts of the Spirit, in a moment of weakness he sought to bribe them into bestowing upon him this ability. Such elicited a strong rebuke from Peter, who warned Simon that if he did not repent and pray for forgiveness, he would “perish” (apoleia – v. 20). The term is used of “the loss of eternal life, eternal misery” (Thayer, 71). Robertson notes that though there still was room for repentance, “Simon was on the road to destruction” (III.107).
In addition to the cases cited above, the one from the time of Christ, and the other from the book of Acts, there are numerous references in the balance of the New Testament that clearly demonstrate that a child of God can forfeit his salvation. A few examples will have to suffice for this study.
There are many warnings to Christians that they are to conduct themselves so as not to cause their kinsmen in Christ to fall and thus perish. To the Roman saints Paul cautions: “Destroy not with your meat him for whom Christ died” (Romans 14:15). Note the equivalent “overthrow not” (v. 20). If the weak brother is led to violate his conscience, he stands “condemned” (v. 23). The Greek term katakrino is a strong one, suggesting the idea of one who is worthy of punishment (Thayer, 332).
Similarly, in the 1st Corinthian epistle, the apostle warns against causing to “perish” the weak brother for whom Christ died (1 Corinthians 8:11). To “perish” is the opposite of being “saved” (see 2 Corinthians 2:15). Elsewhere in the first letter Paul commands the saints of the Corinthian congregation to discipline this fornicating brother, so that his “spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus” (1 Corinthians 5:5). Additionally, he admonishes these brethren to “hold fast the word” so that they would not have “believed in vain” (15:2; cf. 2 Corinthians 6:1).
The Galatian letter is punctuated with warnings against apostasy and the danger of being lost. Some of these Christians were in the process of “removing” themselves from him who “called [them] in the grace of Christ” unto “another gospel,” and to teach or accept an alien gospel was to incur the Lord’s “anathema” (1:6-9). The word “anathema” suggests the idea of being under a divine curse, doomed (Thayer, 37). To contend that they never were saved is to fly directly in the face of Paul’s testimony (3:26-27). And what of the apostle’s rebuke of Peter when the latter resisted fellowship with the Gentiles (Galatians 2:11)? See the article: “When Peter Stood Condemned”.
Who could possibly dispute Galatians 5:4? “You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you are fallen away from grace.” The apostle was very fearful for the fate of those Galatian saints who were digressing back to the Mosaic system; he was afraid he had bestowed labor upon them “in vain” (4:11). Does that not contain an implication?
One can scarcely read the book of Hebrews without seeing that the document is a warning against the danger of departing from the faith, with a dire consequence connected therewith. Early in the narrative the book warns of the danger of “drifting away” from the gospel. The writer cautions that just as those under the first covenant received a just punishment for their rebellion, even so “how shall we escape” if we neglect our salvation through Christ (2:1-4)? The peril is described more precisely elsewhere in the book.
How can one possibly meditate upon Hebrews 6:4-9 and not see the consequence of turning away from Christ, thus effectively crucifying him afresh? And what is the significance of the phrase, “whose end is to be burned”? The attempts to argue the case that these people were never truly children of God is one of the more ludicrous attempts at biblical manipulation to mar religious literature (cf. Wuest, III.113ff). And what of Hebrews 10:26-31?
“For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remains no more a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and a fierceness of fire that shall devour the adversaries. A man that set aside Moses law died without compassion on the word of two or three witnesses: of how much sorer punishment, do you think, shall he be judged worthy, who has trodden under foot the Son of God, and has counted the blood of the covenant with which he was sanctified an unholy thing, and has done insult unto the Spirit of grace? For we know him that said, ‘Vengeance belongs unto me, I will recompense.’ And again, ‘The Lord shall judge his people.’ It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”
How can anyone read this text and deny: (a) that genuine Christians are in view, or, (b) that they could be in danger of losing their relationship with the Lord and suffer an eternal consequence?
We will depart this study with one final example, of the dozens that could have been included. In his 2nd letter “to the elect” (cf. 1 Peter 1:1; 2 Peter 3:1), Simon Peter clearly writes:
“But there arose false prophets also among the people, as among you also there shall be false teachers, who shall secretly bring in destructive heresies, denying even the Master that bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction” (2 Peter 2:1).
The pertinent facts are evident. First, as noted already, “the elect,” i.e., the saved are in view — those whom the Master had “bought.” (Calvinists claim that Christ died for nobody but the elect!). Second, these apostates will be influenced by “destructive heresies,” i.e., false teaching capable of destroying the soul. Third, those receiving this teaching will “deny” the Master who “bought them.” Finally, the end of such defection will be their “destruction.” The destruction “consists in the loss of eternal life, eternal misery, perdition” (Thayer, 71).
We would encourage those who have been led to believe the erroneous notion that the Christian may never forfeit his redemption, to restudy this issue with the greatest of care. One does not lose his “freedom of choice” when he becomes God’s child. As he once chose to identify with the Lord, he may choose to renounce him. And if he does, and remains in an impenitent state, his destiny will be horrible and eternal.