On April 27, 1989, a law went in to effect in Italy that made the use of seatbelts mandatory. Claudio Ciaravolo invented a "security shirt" and cashed in on the new law. What is a security shirt, you ask? It consists of a white T-shirt with a diagonal black stripe designed to deceive the police into believing that the motorist is buckled up. Now that is some very interesting deception! First of all, the police are deceived. That is the obvious deception intended by the shirt. But, secondly, the motorists wearing such a shirt are deceiving themselves into thinking that they are safe. Yes, they might be safe from getting a ticket, but a black stripe on a shirt does not provide the protection a seatbelt would in the event of an accident.
You might be wondering right now: "So what? Why do we care if some Italians wore a shirt with a black stripe and were tricking themselves into thinking they were safe. What does that have to do with us?" Listen carefully: What some Italians did physically, many Christians are doing spiritually! That is, they deceive themselves into thinking they are safe, when in fact they are not!
Some have been fooled into thinking that once they are saved they will always be saved--no matter what. Friends, what does the Bible teach? One who has obeyed the gospel has the hope of eternal life from the Lord. Such a one has heard the saving gospel message and believed it (Rom. 10:17 - "So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God."). Such a one has been convicted in his heart of sin by the word of God. His sorrow has led him to repent (i.e., to turn from his sinful ways) and be immersed in water for the remission of his sins (Acts 3:19 - "Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out..."; 2:38 - "Repent and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins..."). Those who have done such have obeyed the gospel. They are Christians. They are children of God. They have been added to the body of Christ, His church (Acts 2:47). Their sins have been washed away. But, is that all that it takes to get to heaven?
Some would say "yes." Their opinion is that once an individual becomes a Christian then there is absolutely no way for him to fall from God's grace. They believe that one who is saved will always be saved and there is nothing he could do to jeopardize his eternal home. But, once again, we must ask: What does the Bible say?
Today we will prove from God's word that becoming a Christian is just the beginning of one's journey to heaven! Please do not misunderstand me on this point. When one comes up from the waters of baptism, he is a Christian and has the hope of eternal salvation from that moment forward. But, in order to continue to have that hope, God requires something else of His children. What is it, Stephen? He requires endurance! God expects us to persevere as Christians. Jesus said in Matt. 10:22 - "And you will be hated by all for My name's sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved." Did you hear that? He who endures to the end will be saved! Well, what about those Christians who do not endure to the end? The implication is simple: Those who do not persevere to the end faithfully as followers of the Lord will not be saved. Friends, if that is not the implication of Jesus' teaching here, then why would our Lord say anything at all about the need to endure in order to be saved? This conclusion is consistent with the rest of the New Testament, which we will demonstrate shortly. Nowhere in the New Testament is anyone ever instructed to begin the Christian walk and then relax, knowing that it would be impossible for him to be lost. What we do see repeatedly are exhortations to finish what we begin as children of God. If you are a Christian, then your life belongs to God. You are His servant and He expects you to live faithfully for Him. He requires us to be faithful unto death, and then He will give us the crown of life (Rev. 2:10).
At this time, let us focus our attention upon various New Testament passages that apply to our topic at hand. My intent is to prove to you without a shadow of a doubt that the Bible affirms that it is possible for someone who is saved to fall away from God and be eternally lost. There are dozens of passages that we could look at to prove this point, but we will only consider eight of them at this time.
I CORINTHIANS 9:27
"But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified." One would be hard pressed to find an example of a finer Christian than the apostle Paul, but even he admits that it was possible for him to be lost or "disqualified." What is he talking about, if not his salvation? Contextually, 9:25 makes it clear that Paul is pursuing "an imperishable crown" (i.e., eternal life in heaven). He did not want to lose this crown, so he practiced self-control. If Paul could be lost for not disciplining himself, who would be so arrogant as to affirm that Christians today cannot lose their salvation? Are those who believe such better than the apostle Paul?
II CORINTHIANS 6:1
"We then, as workers together with Him also plead with you not to receive the grace of God in vain." Paul exhorts the Corinthian Christians not to receive God's grace "in vain." This passage does great harm to the notion that one cannot lose his salvation. The Scriptures declare that salvation comes by God's grace through man's faith (Eph. 2:8). Thus, to receive the grace of God is to receive the hope of salvation. Now, if one cannot be lost, how could he ever receive God's grace in vain? If God's grace will save him no matter what, how could it ever be received futilely? What does Paul mean here if he is not warning against the possibility of losing one's salvation?
"You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace." Some of the first-century Christians were attempting to be justified by the law of Moses. In so doing, they had fallen from God's grace. Notice the past tense is used here. Not only is it possible for Christians to fall from grace, but these brethren actually had fallen. In their current state they were lost and without hope because they were without God's grace.
A common response to this passage from those who hold the "once saved, always saved" position is that these Galatians were never really saved to start with. Now friends, let's be reasonable. Paul said that these Christians had fallen from grace. Can someone fall from a place where he has never been? Can I fall from the roof if I have never been on the roof? Of course not! Likewise with those to whom Paul is writing. They could not have fallen from grace unless they were in God's grace at one time in the past! According to Romans 5:1,2, it is through faith that we have access into God's saving grace. It cannot be denied that these Galatian Christians were formerly in God's grace but had fallen from it because of sin. Such can (and does) still happen today!
I TIMOTHY 4:1-3
"Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron, forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth." Did you hear that? Paul predicted that some would depart from the faith. It is understood that these individuals had the faith at one time or else they could not have departed from it. Admittedly, this passage does not address the consequences of leaving the faith, but it does affirm the fact that such can take place.
"Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins." Observe that James is addressing Christians (i.e., brethren), and he states that it is possible to wander from the truth. He goes on to say that if a Christian wanders from the truth, his soul is in danger of death unless he is turned from his error. Thus, it is possible for believers to wander from God's truth and be in danger of spiritual death (which would include the loss of eternal life).
II PETER 1:10
"Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble." What things, Peter? The things mentioned in the five previous verses. A Christian must be diligent to add faith, virtue, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love to his life because if he does, he will never stumble spiritually--that is, he will never fall from God's grace. Friends, do you see the implication in this verse? If a child of God does not add these qualities to his life, then he will fall! Peter tells us to make our salvation "sure" or secure, which implies that such can be lost. This is a warning to all Christians!
Those who affirm the false doctrine of "once saved, always saved" may try to claim that Peter's reference to stumbling has to do with sinning, not falling from God's grace. However, such an interpretation cannot be substantiated. Scripture affirms elsewhere that no one lives sinlessly--not even faithful children of God (I John 1:8). Peter is certainly not saying that one who develops these characteristics will never sin; such would contradict I John 1:8. What Peter is declaring is that one who develops these qualities will never fall from God's grace; he will continue walking in the light even though he will not live sinlessly.
II PETER 2:20-22
"For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning. For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them. But it has happened to them according to the true proverb: 'A dog returns to his own vomit,' and 'a sow, having washed, to her wallowing in the mire.'" There are three things that should be noted in this context pertaining to our study today: (1) These people had escaped the defilements of the world (i.e., by becoming Christians). (2) They then became involved with the sins of the world again and were overcome by them. (3) Peter says the latter state is worse for them than the first. In other words, becoming a Christian and then falling away (the latter state he described) is worse than never becoming a Christian at all (the former state).
Now, my question to you is: "Why?" Why is the latter state worse than the first? According to the theory of "once saved, always saved", the person who becomes a Christian and is again entangled in sin is still saved and the one in the former state (an unbeliever) is lost. How can anyone affirm that the latter state of making it to heaven as an apostate is worse than the former state of being eternally lost as an unbeliever?! Such a position is ridiculous. Dear listeners, the reason why the latter state is worse than the first is because one who obeys the truth and then forsakes it will receive an even stricter judgment than one who never believed (cf. Luke 12:47,48). Do not think for a minute that the one who has become entangled again in sin will make it to heaven. He most certainly will not, and his suffering in hell will exceed that of those who never obeyed the truth. That is how the latter state (of apostasy) is worse that the former state (of unbelief). The theory of "once saved, always saved" can make no sense of this passage!
"So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold not hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth." It is evidently possible for Christians to be metaphorically spewed out of Christ. What else could this mean other than they had fallen from His favor and were no longer in a saved state? If they were still in a saved state, why would the Lord spit them from His mouth? If one is vomited from the Lord's mouth and does not repent, would it be logical to think that he, in an offensive state before God, will live eternally in heaven?
There is so much more biblical proof we could look at. Some other notable passages to consider on this subject include: Ezekiel 18:24; Matthew 13:20-22; 25:14-30; John 15:1-6; Romans 11:20-22; I Timothy 5:12; Hebrews 3:5,6; 6:4-8; 10:35-39. The New Testament is literally filled with warnings and exhortations to live faithfully to God. Friends, are you confident that you are living for God as you should be? Are you giving Him 100% or just trying to sneak by (Matt. 6:33)? Do you have any doubts or concerns about your salvation at all? If you do, then we want to help you.
I John 5:13 declares - "These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God." One can know whether or not he is saved. If you are following God's word and giving Him your very best effort, then you can know that you are saved. If you are not following His word or not giving Him your best effort, then your soul is in jeopardy!
The "once saved, always saved" doctrine makes a mockery of God's warnings for Christians. If a disciple can never lose his salvation, then he may as well throw his Bible away, never worship Almighty God, and live every moment to please himself. Why should anyone bother to live righteously and suffer for godliness here on Earth if he can become a Christian, live in sinful rebellion, and still go to heaven? This false doctrine of "eternal security" implies that I, as a believer in Christ, could commit adultery, murder, lie, steal, etc., and never repent of any of these sins and still go to heaven! Allow me to be clear: The Bible does not teach this concept. Galatians 5:19-21 calls the activities I mentioned "works of the flesh" and declares that those who practice such things "will not inherit the kingdom of God" (whether they are a child of God or not). How much plainer can it be? Jesus is "the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him." (Heb. 5:9)! If a child of God begins to rebel against the Lord, then he will be lost unless he repents.
Friends, take great care to "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling" (Phil. 2:12). Your salvation is only as secure as your faithfulness to the Lord. We must "walk in the light as He is in the light" if we expect "the blood of Jesus Christ" to cleanse us "from all sin" (I John 1:7). Thank you for listening, and may the Lord bless you as you strive to do His will.