Can Christians Lose Their Salvation?

Some of my fellow “fellows” over on Boar’s Head Tavern (the group blog run by the mighty Internet Monk) were discussing the Christian doctrine of perseverance. To this conversation about the possibility of a Christian losing his salvation (an issue I once addressed via my The One Unforgivable Sin), I added this:

As to salvation/perseverance: The truths underlying these kinds of discussions aren’t complicated; if there’s one thing we can say about Christianity (or certainly should reaffirm every so often), it’s that it’s profoundly uncomplicated— which is exactly why it’s as efficacious as it is.

God/Jesus left behind for each one of us the Holy Spirit within us, because we’re morons and otherwise within three weeks of his having gone back into heaven everyone would have totally forgotten he was ever here on earth at all.

We who are still here on earth sin because we’re stupid and weak and selfish and mean; we sin because we’re human, which means we have free will, which means we must make a zillion decisions a day, which means a good number of those decision are bound to end up wrong. To be alive is to hurt ourselves and others. You live; you screw up. Period.

Screwing up makes us feel bad. One way or another, sooner or later, we all end up acutely aware of our essential, enduring isolation: our ineptness, our loneliness, our shame. We become (to whatever degree) desperate for solace.

We who are Christian then turn to the Holy Spirit! There’s the entirety of God within us, a mere thought away! We listen to the Holy Spirit; it comforts us; it guides us; it puts us back in the game. And voila: we’re again good to go. We feel strong. We feel confident. We feel we can do no wrong.

Which, of course, leads us in very straight order directly back into the land of Oh God What Have I Done?

And so back we turn to God, and the cycle begins again. Rinse, repeat; rinse, repeat; rinse, repeat.

The only way to finally and ultimately lose salvation is to deny the savior. If you’re a Christian, that means denying Christ. Which would mean you’re not a Christian anymore—which would render Beyond Moot any question or consideration of whether or not you’ve lost your Christian salvation. You just wouldn’t care. You’d be off playing a whole other game.

There’s no way to hold as true the story and reality of Christ and lose salvation, just as there’s no way to be in a pool and not get wet. We’re all perfectly free to climb in and out of that pool whenever and however we want. But once we’re back in, we’re back in all the way.

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About John Shore

John Shore (who, fwiw, is straight) is the author of UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question, and three other great books. He is founder of Unfundamentalist Christians (on Facebook here), and executive editor of the Unfundamentalist Christians group blog.  (In total John's two blogs receive some 250,000 views per month.) John is also co-founder of The NALT Christians Project, which was written about by TIME,  The Washington Post, and others. His website is JohnShore.com. John is a pastor ordained by The Progressive Christian Alliance. You're invited to like John's Facebook page. And don't forget to sign up for his mucho awesome monthly newsletter.

  • http://sharpiron.org Christian Beyer

    I think a question that needs to be asked first is this; what do we mean by 'salvation'. Is it primarily focused on the concepts of heaven and hell, the big question of where we go after we die? Is it about being saved from our own tortuous inclinations here on the ground? Is it a combination of both? Is salvation primarily a personal issue or is it one that addresses our culture and societies?

    Depending upon how we answer those questions brings up another one? How were we 'saved'? What did we do to effect this salvation? What did God do? Were these acts mutually exclusive or was some sort of cooperation necessary? Are the 'saved' already 'saved' or are they always in the process of working out their salvation, that perhaps the journey is what it's all about? And if that's the case where on this axis of travel do we draw the line between the 'saved' and the 'unsaved'?

    You probably can guess that think the original question of your post, obviously one that doesn't cause you to lose much sleep, is a non question. Real faith is about trust and so real faith would make this question a waste of time.

  • Diana L. Avery

    “Where on this axis of travel do we draw the line between the “saved” and the “unsaved?” We don’t. That’s God’s job. Our job to love our neighbors as ourselves, saved or not. Our job is to love one another as Christ has loved us. Our job is to remember that what we do to the least of these, whoever they are, is what we are doing to Jesus and since Jesus is God, what we do to Jesus is what we are doing to God. If, as Christians, we spent more time loving and less time judging, those who are offended by the mere thought of Christianity as it is currently practiced by too many people, might even come to know the Savior and become (gasp!) Christians. Hey, it could happen.

  • http://sharpiron.org Christian Beyer

    Amen, sister.

  • http://sharpiron.org Christian Beyer

    Diana, you probably guess that this was precisely my point. Just making sure.

    Although I would like to hold out the possibility that a few or perhaps even billions of people might come to know the Savior without ever becoming Christians.

  • Diana L. Avery

    Christian, thank you for your kindness in overestimating my intelligence. No, I didn’t actually guess that what I was saying was precisely your point. My bad.

    To me, coming to know the Savior is synonymous with becoming Christian. A person can call themselves a Christian and be no place close to actually following Christ. A person can also eschew the label of Christianity and yet still be a better follower of Christ than some of us who call ourselves “Christians.” It all depends upon whether we actually listen to the Holy Spirit whom “God/Jesus left behind for each one of us…within us” or not. And the Holy Spirit doesn’t let little details like what religion a person claims to follow get in the way of his/her work.

  • http://printkeg.com Eric McLendon

    @ Diana,

    You say, "To me, coming to know the Savior is synonymous with becoming a Christian." As Christian Beyer said previously, " I think a question that needs to be asked first is this; what do we mean by ’salvation’," I would have to ask you what you mean by "coming to know the Savior?" Just knowing God/Jesus exists is not enough to be a Christian. We must believe that Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins, was buried for 3 days and then was resurrected. That is the way to salvation and becoming a Christian.

    Everything else I agree with to the T. But please do not misinterpret what salvation is. There are a lot of people out there that know God exists that aren't Christians yet. Operative word there is yet. I believe that if someone believes that God/Jesus Christ does exist that they will eventually question the way to salvation, at which point we'll plant the seed with the gospel and voila, God takes care of the rest. But you must believe in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ to earn your spot in eternal life with Christ after our worldly death.

  • Diana L. Avery

    Eric,

    When I say "coming to know the Savior," I mean that it is one thing to know of Jesus, another thing to call oneself a follower of Jesus, and yet another thing to actually know Jesus. All relationships take time. Our relationship with the Lord is no exception to this.

    I can look from afar and say to myself "I know who Jesus is and I respect him." But this is from a distance and qualifies as little but a bare acquaintance. So, maybe I then say "I am a follower of Jesus." This is better, although the proof is in the actual following. One can claim to be a follower of someone or something and in fact be doing the exact opposite. But really following Jesus is a step in the right direction.

    But ultimately, it is only in the daily walk that one comes to know Jesus–as Friend, as Brother, as Savior–and this takes time.

    "We must believe that Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins, was buried for 3 days and then was resurrected."

    Okay, again, anybody can say that this is what they believe. To me, that doesn't make them followers of Jesus. Why does it matter that Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins? What is sin anyway and why did Jesus have to die for it? Buried for 3 days? Why not for 2.5 or 9 days? Resurrected? So Jesus was resurrected. Big deal. Has anybody been resurrected since then?

    The point is, sometimes Christianity just comes across like a bunch of gobble-dee-gook–a bunch of stuff that we have to claim to believe or else we're going to go to Hell. To me, that's not faith.

    Jesus is the way to salvation–not belief in Jesus–Jesus himself. Jesus is a way that we follow by faith and not by sight. This is where belief comes in–in following Jesus even when it is painful and makes no sense whatsoever–even unto death.

    "you must believe in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ to earn your spot in eternal life with Christ after our worldly death." Earn? We don't earn salvation. We can't earn salvation. That's why we need a Savior–Truly God and Truly Humankind. Salvation is beyond us–but not beyond God.

    God took our sin upon His shoulders and gave Himself as a pure and holy sacrifice so that we who are unworthy might be saved. There are two kinds of people in this world–people who know this with everything they are and accept it with the joy and gratitude such a sacrifice deserves and those who don't. The evidence of our acceptance of this gift (faith, if you will) is when we pick up our own crosses and follow Him (Jesus aka God in Flesh).

    It is not the acceptance of this truth that saves us, nor the picking up of our crosses that saves us. It was God's sacrifice that saved us–all of us, even those who appear to be beyond God's reach (it's an optical illusion, folks. Nothing is beyond God's reach. Not even The Adversary himself.) Yet it is in the acceptance of this sacrifice that we are born again to New Life, God's Life, the life of following Jesus, sharing this Gift with others that they too might be born again to New Life. (Sharing: not synonymous with shoving it down their throat.)

    And, it is my belief that the day will come when "at the name of Jesus, every knee shall bow, in heaven, and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." And on that day, we will see the New Heaven and the New Earth–and not one day before.

    I hope this clarifies, though I understand if you find my beliefs to be in error.


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