Pastor John, this is a question we get almost every day via email: Can a born-again Christian lose his or her salvation?
The answer to that question biblically is a resounding, clear, emphatic, joyful, glorious “No.” A born-again person cannot become dead, cannot be unborn again. I will give some biblical thinking here, trying to be as textual as possible, and not just theological.
The life that is imparted in the new birth is precisely eternal life. “This is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life [has given us eternal life], and this life is in his Son” (1 John 5:11). So he didn’t give us temporary life. He gave us eternal life. We are already participating in the life of the age to come.
“If you are called, you cannot lose your salvation.”
Here is another crucial word: “Those whom he predestined.” This is from Romans 8:30: “Those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” Now, glorification is the final state of permanent salvation. This verse says that all the called — with nobody dropping out — are justified, and all the justified — with nobody dropping out — are glorified.
So the answer is this: If you are called, you cannot lose your salvation. And I am going to argue that being called and being born again are identical biblical categories. We will be justified, and we will be glorified, because we have been called — that is, we have been born again.
Beckoned to Life
The kind of call Paul is talking about in Romans 8:30 is the call of Lazarus, by Jesus, from the grave: “Lazarus, I know you are dead. Now come out” (see John 11:43). The call creates the life, and that is what happened to everybody who is a Christian: God’s sovereign call created the life. That means that there is a promise attached to the call.
Here are a few texts that show this connection. First Thessalonians 5:23–24 says, “May the God of peace himself sanctify you completely . . . at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.” So the logic here is: If you have been called, God is faithful. You will be kept for the last day.
Or here it is again in 1 Corinthians 1:8–9: Christ “will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son.” So now you can go back and see why (in Romans 8:30) all the called are justified, and all the justified are glorified — because God is faithful. There is nothing automatic.
Preservation of the Predestined
A lot of people think eternal security is like a vaccination. They think, “When I was 6 years old, I prayed, and God vaccinated my arm. Therefore, I can’t get the disease of damnation.” That is not the way it is. Rather, it is more like entering lifetime therapy with a doctor who says, “You are my patient. You will do what I say, and I will get you to the end, whole in the last day.”
Here is Jeremiah 32:40, which has to be one of my all-time favorite verses on perseverance: “I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me.” So the new covenant that Jesus bought with his blood is a covenant of preservation. It is not just security in some mechanical way. It is preservation in an active way. God is active in my life.
“Perseverance in faith is the evidence that we have been made part of Christ.”
When I ask people, “How do you know you are going to be a Christian when you wake up in the morning?” a lot of people are kind of shocked by the question. They respond, “Oh, because, you know, it is like being human.” No, it is not like being human. You will wake up a Christian tomorrow morning because God is faithful. God will wake you up and awaken in you his faith.
Faithfully He Keeps
Here are a couple more verses that highlight God’s faithfulness: “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion” (Philippians 1:6). The reason Paul talks like that is because of the way God’s faithfulness connects to his call, his new birth.
Or Jude 24: “Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling . . .” I preached on this verse a while back, because I was, at age 67, just finishing up my pastoral ministry. I am overwhelmed by the fact that God kept me.
He kept me. He didn’t let me fall down and bring reproach upon his name and destroy the church. I don’t look back on that and put my thumb in my armpits and say, “What a good boy am I.” I say, “Amazing! Amazing! Now unto him who kept me and will keep me . . .”
Anchor of Our Assurance
This leaves, I think, only one key question that people always have and should have: “Well, what about people who are in the church? They have been deacons or elders, and they look like they were saved in college. Here they are five years later, and they have thrown it all away. Some of them die in that condition. What about them?”
I think there are two key verses that people should think about long and hard. First John 2:19: “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.” The words of us in that verse surely mean “born again with us, grafted into Christ with us” — and they weren’t. They looked like they were. They said some of the right things. They had “tasted . . . the powers of the age to come” (Hebrews 6:5). But they were not born of God.
“You will wake up a Christian tomorrow morning because God is faithful.”
Additionally, Hebrews 6 is a big stumbling block for people about the kinds of spiritual experiences a person can have and still be lost. But Hebrews 3:14, I think, is an absolute key verse in that book: “We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.”
The author doesn’t say, “If you hold your confidence firm to the end, you will get a share in Christ.” He says, “We know that we have had — from the beginning of our lives with Christ — a share in Christ, because we endure to the end.” This means perseverance in faith is the evidence that we have been made part of Christ.
And when that perseverance doesn’t hold, then we were never in the assurance. Here is the key: The assurance, therefore, is not automatic. It is assurance rooted in our confidence in an absolutely sovereign, covenant-keeping God, who gave his Son on behalf of sinners so that, as we look to him, the Holy Spirit testifies to us that we are the children of God (Romans 8:16).