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There is a plethora of verses that say that people can not cause a saved Christian to lose his salvation, such as

John 10:29 (NLT)

29 for my Father has given them to me, and he is more powerful than anyone else. No one can snatch them from the Father’s hand.

However, this does not exclude the possibility of a Christian choosing to turn away from God, as in

Hebrews 6:4-6 (NLT)

For it is impossible to bring back to repentance those who were once enlightened—those who have experienced the good things of heaven and shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the power of the age to come— and who then turn away from God. It is impossible to bring such people back to repentance; by rejecting the Son of God, they themselves are nailing him to the cross once again and holding him up to public shame.

So, my question is: is it possible for a saved Christian to choose to walk away from Christ and thus lose their salvation?


Related:

While this question is rather similar to others, I think it's focused enough to not count as a duplicate. In particular, this one is focused on the ability or inability of the Christian to choose, not so much whether losing one's salvation is possible.

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How about Philippians 1:6? –  user1539 Apr 26 '12 at 8:37
    
Or Jude 1:24, not sure if that is relevant, but sounds like it could be. –  user1539 Apr 26 '12 at 8:38
    
So, this nice question is about the "P" in the Calvinist "TULIP". –  user1539 Apr 26 '12 at 8:39
    
One more offspring in the family of "Protestant soteriology" questions: How does Reformed theology interpret 1 Corinthians 9:27? –  Pavel Nov 22 '12 at 19:50

7 Answers 7

up vote 20 down vote accepted

This isn't a question that can be resolved indisputably here, as there are different views amont Christians about this. These views are generally in a range of:

  • Pelagianism - the idea that a man's salvation is an act of his free will only.
  • Synergysm - the idea that a man needs grace, but has to freely cooperate with it.
  • Irresistible grace - that grace saves even against human will.

Orthodox christians put more emphasis on free will than Roman Catholics (they are even sometimes called semi-pelagians by them). Jansenism (vide Blaise Pascal) and Calvinism share a belief in irresistible grace, while other Reformed churches vary here (somewhere between Calvin and RC doctrine).

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Welcome to Christianity.SE! –  Caleb Apr 26 '12 at 12:57
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...please stay! :) –  Thomas Shields Apr 27 '12 at 3:20
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Just adding a note (no down votes), your point regarding irresistible grace is so blunt that it is inaccurate. The point is that the recipient of the grace is given a new heart and out of this new heart their desires change so that they want to please God. The point is not that God saves a person who all their life, until their death, stomps their feet and shouts "But I don't want to be saved!" I'm not sure which you meant because of the ambiguity of the wording. –  San Jacinto Nov 20 '12 at 12:49
    
@SanJacinto, but isn't that what "irresistible" means...you can't "resist"? -- it might miss the "point", but given a half dozen words, is seems an accurate summary. –  Paul Draper Jun 1 at 6:19
    
@PaulDraper The dictionary definition doesn't do the doctrine justice. One can say that the doctrine is poorly named, but the terse definition given by the poster inaccurate. The Calvinists would say that the person is given a new will. Read the rest of my comment above. The doctrine is that the creature is re-created, not that the person is saved even though they don't wish to be, and this is the definition that I was disputing 1.5 years ago (and for the record, I'm not longer a Calvinist. I'm now a Confessional Lutheran.). –  San Jacinto Jun 2 at 1:00

Salvation is not a gift but a choice. No where in the bible says we are saved by faith only. In fact the bible says the exact opposite. It was only James that ever said faith only or faith alone. James 2:24 Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.

Paul never said we are saved by faith alone or by faith only. People are adding to his words. Paul even said we are justified by being doers of the Law not hears only. What Paul had said was we are not saved by our works. Isaiah said our righteousness are as dirty rags in the sight of God. Paul said we are saved by doing works that are according to the will of God, this proves we have fellowship with God and are saved.

When you are born again you have submitted your whole will to that of God's will for your life. In order to do this you must listen to what Christ said about becoming His disciple. We must pick up our cross (crucify our flesh)and die daily (deny yourself daily). The only way to submit to God's authority is by submitting to the Law of God. Keep His commandments like He said to do, that includes the Sabbath law. (friday sunset to saturday sunset)

The best example of a person being born again is when Jacob wrestles the angle. Hosea tells us just how Jacob over came the angel in Hosea 12:3-4. He took his brother by the heel in the womb, and by his strength he had power with God: 4. Yea, he had power over the angel, and prevailed: he wept, and made supplication unto him: he found him in Bethel, and there he spake with us;

When we truly become born again then nothing could cause us to lose our salvation because God will send us angles to keep us in all of His ways. Paul even said its impossible to return to a life of sin after we are born again (Hebrews 6:4-5) from above. Until you are born again from above you are not saved and are living in sin. Walking in darkness.

Amos said can two walk together except they be agreed. Can you walk with God while being a sinner? Totally unscriptural to say so. Remission of sins does not just constitute of shedding blood. I mean just because He shed His blood for you does not mean you are saved. You are redeemed but not saved from the wrath of God. In the old testament God tells Isaiah (1:11) that He is sick of all the sacrifices the people are doing. There has to be repentance of the heart in order for the sacrifice to count towards to your sins.

The word repent was created in 1611. It is a translation of two Greek words. One means to change your mind or thinking and the other means to change your attitude. Repentance is a change of mind and attitude towards to what ever God tells you to repent from. In our case its sin. God rejects the proud but accepts a broken and contrite heart. Like that of David's and Jacob's.

Christ commanded us to be sinless or be ye perfect as the Father in heaven is perfect. John told us in his first epistle [I John 3:4-10] he who sins is not of God because God does not sin.

Remember what Christ had said, "Many are called but few are chosen." He also said those who do not produce fruit or are not faithful till the end, will not be saved from God's wrath. This church God said He would rather it be hot or cold but because it is neither (lukewarm) He is going to spew it out of His mouth.

The cross had redeemed all of mankind and the earth from satan's authority but that won't save you from the wrath to come. Only by your choice to submit and to obey Him will He have anything to do with you or have fellowship with you.

To whom much is given much is required.

What all this means is, if you sin then you have not been born again or are saved yet.

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So, would you say that you personally have no sin? –  Narnian Jan 2 at 15:26
    
Interesting... I am a bit late commenting on this but as the bible indicates: –  Tab Jul 8 at 18:24
    
Interesting... I am a bit late commenting on this but as the bible indicates, you can lose your salavation. The Bible is not gray but black and white as God is: Matthew 10:32 Confess Christ Before Men 32 “Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. 33 But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven. Matthew 12:31 The Unpardonable Sin 31 “Therefore I say to you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven men." –  Tab Jul 8 at 18:30

I answered a question that was marked as a duplicate of this one so I thought I would offer this up here.


Since you did not specify a denomination that you preferred an answer from I will simply point to a part in the Bible that I think is self explanatory. Whether a certain Christian group will follow it or not is a different story entirely.

This is best answered by Matt. 18 starting vs. 15. Simply called the Matt. 18 principle. As a christian your desire should be to not sin, however, being in a sinful world, it is entirely possible to sin and not know it (which opens more questions, but never mind that for now). Therefore, the church (body of believers you worship with) may notice your sin an you not. Or because of pride refuse to admit it.

Matt. 18 says to forgive, however, is quite clear that you give a christian 'sinner' a few chances to repent and if he does not then separate him from the body and call him a fellow believer no more.

So the answer is this: A sinner who claims Christianity and repents is still a Christian. A sinner who claims Christianity and does not repent at the pleadings of the Church is not a christian in the eyes of the Church and according to the doctrine of Matt. 18.

Now we must note that the parable of the unmerciful servant immediately follows the principle described above, therefore, I think we can assume that once repentant all are accepted into the fold of Christendom.

Whether saying the unrepentant 'Christian' is no longer Christian or never was Christian is really semantic. We can agree that he is not Christian, right?

http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+18&version=NIV

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The doctrinal position is that believers are judged by the last state of their faith, confession, loyalty, and it is a multidenominational position as these adherents of the view exist in all denominations, identified by using a biblical theology, rather than systematics. It is popularly represented by the originators of the New Perspective on Paul, but the people who have carried out scholarly research of a high standard of historical documents have not received the same publicity. Coherent views, more coherent than those found in the mainline denominations have been produced by these authors in their respective books:

On the general culture of New Testament times:

Honor, Patronage, Kinship & Purity: Unlocking New Testament Culture by David A. deSilva

On the life of Jesus:

Jesus and Empire: The Kingdom of God and the New World Disorder by Richard A. Horsley

Beyond the Passion: Rethinking the Death and Life of Jesus by Stephen J. Patterson

On Judaism and Paul:

Paul and Palestinian Judaism by E.P. Sanders

Judgment & Justification in Early Judaism and the Apostle Paul by Christ VanLandingham

On Paul's theology and Atonement:

Paul on the Cross: Reconstructing the Apostle's Story of Redemption by David A. Brondos

Problems with Atonement by Stephen Finlan

On Romans:

Rereading Romans by Stanley K. Stowers

On the Doctrine of Atonement:

The Idea Of Atonement In Christian Theology by Hastings Rashdall

However, like many other views, there is room for improvement.

The NPP caused great discomfort amongst the Reformed denominations as a result of its dismantling of Luther's views. Dr Daniel Wallace wrote against it on his site, and later withdrew the article.

The RCC, on the other hand, positively rubs its hands in glee:

Quote from Thomas D Stegman SJ ARTICLE

Overall, there is much to commend in Wright's analysis. He emphasizes the importance, for Paul, of God's faithfulness to the covenant with Israel - a covenant established for the rescue and restoration of all creation. In doing so, Wright appropriately insists that God's saving action through Christ be understood within the larger story of Israel. He also appreciates the wide scope of "Paul's vision."4 Wright, who is often associated with the "new perspective" on Paul, brings together elements in his letters that zealous adherents of the "old" and "new" perspectives tend to keep apart.5 He convincingly demonstrates that Paul's theology focuses both on the forgiveness of sins and on the formation of a renewed people (consisting of Jews and Gentiles); in other words, on both soteriology and ecclesiology.

The situation is rather like this:

Quote from Andrew Wilson article

(3) Splitting people into teams has become much harder, and this is a good thing. So: is Tom Wright a good evangelical, for defending the historical Jesus and his bodily resurrection, or a liberal scallywag, for denying imputed righteousness? Is Tim Keller the next CS Lewis (hooray), for his brilliant apologetics and credibility with the world, or is he the next CS Lewis (boo), for fudging hell, baptism, church government and evolution? And when I’m caught up in a debate between paedobaptist complementarians and credobaptist egalitarians, whose team am I on: the papists or the feminists? Both, and neither. Which is just as it should be.


Original Question

So, my question is: is it possible for a saved Christian to choose to walk away from Christ and thus lose their salvation?

A good way to study the issue is by defining the terms in use:

Saved Christian: person depending on Christ and being blessed.

Choose: a situation arises, while depending on Christ, requiring the person to decide if the blessing is still a blessing.

Salvation: blessing.

In the OT, Abraham believes God will protect him and obeys His command to leave his birthplace. He learns that God has intervened and saved him from danger in several situations. Finally God asks him to sacrifice his son. Abraham must choose: is God Himself dangerous? Erratic? Inconsistent? Unreliable?

He must chose between depending on his own resources or depending on God. He has seen that depending on himself for results has led to unsatisfactory outcomes (the Abimelech and Hagar incidents) , while when depending on God, it has always been beneficial. Abraham chooses to depend on God, and his choice is rewarded.

In the NT, Peter believes Jesus will bless him and leaves everything to follow Him. He ”has tasted the goodness of the word of God and the power of the age to come”. But some words are hard to swallow, and some disciples decide to leave:

John 6:66 NET After this many of his disciples quit following him and did not accompany him any longer.

Following Jesus will label Peter a lunatic! What does Peter do when Jesus asks for a decision?

John 6:68-69 NET Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God!”

What were the factors to be considered by Abraham and Peter?

  1. Were the things they saw same as having ”experienced the good things of heaven and shared in the Holy Spirit”?

  2. Was the god they followed the one true Holy God who was above all things?

  3. Could it be that the command God gave them, which seemed uncharacteristic of a Holy God, actually holy, justifiable in the future, able to reconnect (re-ligare) Man with God, but incomprehensible immediately?

Judas viewed these things differently and left, spiritually. He should have left physically, before he was publicly identified. Why did he decide wrong? It irked him to see that he would not be replacing the Pharisees, who lorded it over everybody. He looked for an opportunity to betray Jesus, cast aside this messiah who did not meet his expectations.

John 6:70 NET Jesus replied, “Didn’t I choose you, the twelve, and yet one of you is the devil?”

The one influenced by the devil sees rewarding situations and tries to harness it to forward his unholy ends. Bad call doing it at the celebration of the union of a Holy God with His Holy People:

Matthew 22:11 NET But when the king came in to see the wedding guests, he saw a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes.

God called His own, people who knew He existed and rewarded right behaviour. He gave them to Christ. Christ never lost those who came to Him, because God knew those who really feared Him:

Genesis 22:12 NET “Do not harm the boy!” the angel said. “Do not do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God because you did not withhold your son, your only son, from me.”

Those who were evil, responded to the invitation, learnt about the requirements, but repented, like Nineveh, could stay. They believed Jesus, abided in Him and were cleansed:

John 15:3 NET You are clean already because of the word that I have spoken to you.

Those who wavered left room for the devil to enter:

John 13:10 NET Jesus replied, “The one who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean. And you disciples are clean, but not every one of you.”

Those who stayed and tried to further their selfish ends were judged and served as a negative example.

Acts 5:13-14 NET None of the rest dared to join them, but the people held them in high honor. More and more believers in the Lord were added to their number, crowds of both men and women.

Better to leave before you are found out and used as a vessel of dishonour, meet for ignoble use.

The devil can't take you, because God is stronger. All He requires is your unforced decision, not your performance. Good thing, that...

Luke 22:31-32 NET “Simon, Simon, pay attention! Satan has demanded to have you all, to sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. When you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”

Before the host comes around to welcome the wedding guests, they must decide to commit or not:

Luke 14:32 NET 32 If he cannot succeed, he will send a representative while the other is still a long way off and ask for terms of peace.

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I've removed the post notice and cleared comments, since they are obviously obsolete. This is a much more complete answer with quite a bit of explanation. –  Caleb Nov 25 '12 at 8:38
    
New issue: (and this is a content issue not a site format / answer format issue, so this is me as a community member not me as a moderator writing) I think your first paragraph is way off track. First of all, this view does NOT exist in all denominations and there are very distinct differences between this and the views of many/most denominations. You might be able to represent this as NPP (not sure on that either, but it's at least close). However you cannot write this off as truly cross-denominational. –  Caleb Nov 25 '12 at 8:40
    
I find the NPP authors have a few things wrong and the Old Perspective have a few things right. NPP is finding acceptance many places. Thats why I call it multidenominational: Matthew 13:52 NET Then he said to them, “Therefore every expert in the law who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his treasure what is new and old.” –  Footwasher Nov 25 '12 at 8:56
    
Furthermore, you go on to seemingly contradict even that introduction by saying that this is better than (and the original authors are more coherent than) what most denominations teach. The thing is, what those guys teach is relevant here as long as its' identified, but it should be identified that this is NOT exactly what denominations teach. (And specifically which do/don't would be nice). –  Caleb Nov 25 '12 at 9:13
    
NPP cannot be called multi-denominational at this point. It's found in-roads into quite a few, but it is by no means widely accepted yet and in fact is outright rejected my several major traditions. Others are still working out where they stand. –  Caleb Nov 25 '12 at 9:19

I will venture a simple answer - we discuss this issue in bible study and this is what I have found most important to me, two scriptures which are similar but one deals with denying Jesus and the other deals with denying the Holy Spirit. Of the 2 the latter is final while the first is simply telling you consequence of denial of Christ which I believe that can be rectified. I do not believe the second can be rectified. Just my take for what it's worth

Matthew 10:32 Confess Christ Before Men

32 “Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. 33 But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven.

Matthew 12:31 The Unpardonable Sin

31 “Therefore I say to you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven men. 32 Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come.

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As Eric and Zefciu note, this is a highly controversial question in Christian circles, so even if we on this forum somehow all come to a concensus, I don't think the rest of the Christian world will accept our decision as authoritative. :-)

My humble opinion: I've heard many preachers quote verses such as John 10:29 that you cite above, and say, See, you can't lose your salvation. But there's a difference between saying, "You can't lose it", "It can't be stolen from you", and "You can't give it away." I don't carry around large amounts of cash: I put my money in a bank. That way I can't lose it or be robbed of it. But I can still give it to other people.

The plain reading of Hebrews 6 is that it is possible to abandon your salvation. A comon reply from believers in Eternal Security is, as Eric says, that this is referring to people who were never saved to begin with. Well, I don't want to get into an argument, but I think such an interpretation is imposing what you want to believe on the text, rather than reading what the words say. I don't know of any Bible passage that clearly and specifically says that you cannot abandon your salvation, so it's not like we have to reconcile apparent contradictions. Granted, though, while the plain reading should be the PREFERRED interpreation, it is not always the only possible interpretation.

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Absolutely agree that we should not impose our pre-selected ideas on the text. I think we only disagree on one thing - I do think that there are apparent contradictions with regard to eternal security. In my opinion, neither side is (knowingly) reading what they want into the text. I believe in eternal security, because I personally find that the eternal security verses are much more difficult to come up with alternate interpretations for. I assume the conditional security folks are doing the same thing, just with different results. –  Eric Apr 27 '12 at 3:36

Many Christians disagree on the topic, but as my personal view is that Christians can not walk away from their salvation, I will make a case for that here.

You are correct that John 10:29 does not necessarily preclude the possibility walking away from ones own salvation. And you are also correct that one interpretation of Hebrews 6:4-6 is that believers may walk away from their salvation.

However, other natural interpretations for Hebrews 6:4-6 exist that do not lead to this. For example, none of the terms used to describe those who fall away are used anywhere else in scripture to refer to the saved. So a possible interpretation is that the people described may not have been saved to begin with. Furthermore, the rest of Hebrews 6 goes on to seemingly make a strong case that the saved cannot lose their salvation. Much could be said about this passage, but that's probably better for a separate question.

In order to make the case that believers cannot walk away from their salvation, I would point to 1 John. 1 John deals a lot with authentic vs. inauthentic salvation, and how to know whether you have authentic salvation. It also teaches, in my opinion, that people with authentic salvation will always remain. For example:

1 John 2:19 (NIV)
19  They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.

The people that John is referring to (antichrists) left of their own free will. John uses this leaving to demonstrate that they had never really belonged to the church. Even more, he says that if they had really belonged to the church, they would have remained. If people could walk away from their salvation, John would not have said this, because it would be quite possible to really belong, and then not remain.

A common argument for the ability to walk away from one's own salvation is that we can use our free will to abandon it. This is based on the assumption that our free will remains intact once we are saved. But the Bible does not support this assumption. In fact, we are told that we don't exactly have free will to do some things:

1 John 3:9 (NIV)
No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God.

God's seed remains in us, and we cannot go on sinning[1]. Something changes in us when we are born of God, and we cannot live a lifestyle like the one we had before. Though this verse doesn't necessarily preclude it, it does remove the basis for the assumption that we should be able to abandon our salvation by our free will.

Lastly:

1 John 3:6 (NIV)
No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.

Someone who once was saved and abandons his faith has the following characteristics:

  • He keeps on sinning
  • Does not know God, but he has seen/known God in the past (otherwise he was not born of God to begin with)

This verse tells us that those two characteristics cannot be harmonized. No one who continues to sin[1] has either seen him or known him (past tense). Thus, a saved person who abandons his salvation is a walking contradiction to this verse.


[1] That Christians will not "continue to sin" does not mean that they will never sin. If this were John's meaning, he'd be contradicting himself from just a couple chapters earlier (1 John 1:8). What it means is not necessarily agreed upon by all Christians, but one thing is certain - it does not mean that Christians will never sin, as 1 John 1:8 makes quite clear. I would say that it means Christians will not continue living in unrepentant sin. As Christians, we will still sin (as Paul describes it in himself in Romans 7:14-25), but we will wrestle with it, and the Spirit will compel us to hate it where we recognize it in our lives.

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