In this series of articles about the Biblical reasons supporting the security of the believer, we have already seen three reasons based in Ephesians 1 that we cannot lose our salvation: (1) because salvation is not ours to lose since God provides it, not we ourselves, (2) because it is based upon a life-changing salvation experience with God, and (3) because eternal salvation is a Scriptural promise. In this article we examine the fourth reason that we can have confidence that once we are genuinely saved, we are saved forever: because eternal salvation is a logical necessity.
We have seen that Eph. 1:13-14 describes the Holy Spirit as sealing and guaranteeing our salvation. On the basis of this Scripture and many others, we believe the Bible teaches that once someone has a genuine salvation experience is saved forever – sometimes described as “once saved, always saved.” However, other Christians disagree with this teaching. As evangelist Angel Martinez used to point out years ago, there are two logical alternatives to this view, both of which are held by other Christian groups. Besides the “once saved, always saved” view, there are those who believe (a) that you can lose your salvation once, and never regain it, or (b) you can lose and regain your salvation many times.
Which of these views is correct according to Scripture? We must ask a key question of those who believe that you could lose your salvation – “Where in Scripture does it say what would be required to lose our salvation?” More specifically, what Bible verse says which particular sins would be so heinous as to cause you to lose your salvation, and what Bible verse identifies how many sins would be required to lose your salvation? I challenge anyone to find a Bible verse with specific answers to these questions with clear reference to former Christians losing their salvation. Many verses tell us what it means to be lost, but none tell us the kind of sins or the number of sins that would be required for believers to lose their salvation.
We must assume, then, that the same standards for being lost in the first place pertain to believers losing their salvation. What does the Bible say about the number of sins and the kind of sins which make a person lost? James 2:8-11 gives us a clear answer to both of these questions:
“If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, You shall love your neighbor as yourself, and you do well, but if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressor, for whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all. For He who said ‘Do not commit adultery’ also said ‘Do not murder.’ Now if you do not commit adultery, but you do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law” (Jas. 2:8-11, NKJV)
What does this Scripture teach regarding how many sins would be required to be lost? It just takes one single sin, for no matter which sin we commit, if we “stumble in one point” we are essentially “guilty of all” sins (vv. 10-11). Sin is rebellion against God. It doesn’t matter which rebellion you commit; any rebellion is rebellion. All it takes to be a lawbreaker is to violate one law. Note that “stumbling” is not limited to the lost, because in the next chapter, James says that “we all stumble in many things” (Jas. 3:2, NKJV). James acknowledges that believers sin, but makes no reference to this causing us to lose our salvation.
What does this Scripture teach about which sins are so reprehensible to God that it would cause the loss of salvation? James has a rather surprising answer. Though he mentions adultery and murder, the sin that James mentions that would be sufficient to be guilty of the whole law of God is “partiality” (v. 9). Partiality is not being loving, but rather treating some people better than others. James was particularly concerned about wealthy people being treated better than poor people in the church (Jas. 2:1-7, 15-17). When we list the worst sins, we rarely think of partiality as a great sin. And yet partiality is a violation of the “royal law” (v. 8) of love for all persons that should characterize Christians (Matt. 5:43-45, 22:37-39, Luke 6:35, John 13:34-35, Rom. 13:8-10, 1 Cor. 13:1-13, 16:14, Gal. 5:13-14, Col. 3:14, 1 Thess. 4:9, 1 Pet. 4:8, 1 John 3:11-23, 4:1-21).
So we have our answers. It just takes a single sin to be lost, and it doesn’t even have to be what we might consider a terrible sin. Now let us apply these answers to the three views held by different Christian groups. First of all, how do these answers impact the position that believers could lose and regain their salvation multiple times? Nobody would be saved for very long! As James said, we would not go long before we “stumbled” and thus violated the “whole law.” So persons would have to get saved over and over again not only every day, but multiple times each day? Does that make any sense? No, it doesn’t.
What about the second view that believers could lose their salvation once but never regain it? Applying what James said, who indeed could be saved? Everyone will sin again before long and thus lose their salvation. The only persons who could be saved are those whom their pastor murders immediately upon their profession of faith and before they can sin again. (Of course, the pastor won’t be saved, but that’s another story!). Does this view make any sense according to Scripture? No, it doesn’t.
We are thus driven by sheer force of logic back to the view that we have believed all along is the Biblical perspective (John 10:26-28, Eph. 1:11-14, Phil. 1:6, Jude 1:24-25, 1 Pet. 1:3-5) – that once a person is genuinely saved, God provides and protects their salvation through eternity. We cannot lose our salvation, because it is not up to us or our behavior. Our salvation is sealed by the Holy Spirit and protected in the hands of our Lord Jesus Christ and God the Father. We have a reservation in heaven. We can therefore have bold assurance in our salvation.
Dr. Steve Lemke is Provost and Professor of Philosophy and Ethics at the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. This is the fourth of six articles originally published in the "Theological Thought" column in the [Louisiana] Baptist Message on this subject [vol. 125, no. 13 (June 24, 2010), 14].