By Jordan Burgen
"You said to email you with any questions, and I have one.
You’ve [Jim] mentioned several times that you can’t be unsaved. My husband and I have had many conversations about this. We get that that means, once you’ve accepted Jesus Christ and have the Holy Spirit, if (when) you sin, you’re still forgiven, and won’t be “unsaved”.
But our question is, what happens if someone who was previously a believer, accepted J.C., and was saved, (and even had a VERY strong faith life), not only turns AWAY from Christ, but completely denounces Him, stops believing in God altogether, says Christians are crazy for believing in “the spaghetti monster in the sky,” and/or stops believing Jesus Christ died and rose again so that our sins would be forgiven, or that maybe He was just a good teacher but not the Messiah? Are they still saved? Can you lose the Holy Spirit? Or does the Holy Spirit stay with you no matter what? Or if you completely stop believing in Jesus and God, do you become unsaved that way?
Obviously this question comes from a personal situation. My husband’s brother, and TWO of my brothers have all done this. As “outsiders,” it’s obvious to us that the reason our brothers turned away from Jesus and God and the church was because of bad experiences they had with, or behaviors of, other human beings, and has nothing to do with Jesus Christ Himself, or His teachings. And unfortunately, that also means it’s affecting their families as well.
So – can you become unsaved that way?
Thanks for any advice on this."
I’m not Jim, but due to his busy schedule and sermon prep, he is unable to answer many emails, so he hands them off to people like me, whom he trusts, to answer them thoroughly.
Your question is a good one and I will do my best to address it! The short answer is no, people cannot lose their salvation. However, it can appear that someone has lost their salvation. When it appears this way – when someone denounces their faith and becomes adamantly opposed to it, as you have described – we must assume the hard truth that they were never saved in the first place. Please allow me to elaborate.
The Bible is clear on the fact that if God starts a work in you, He will see it through to the end (Philippians 1:6; 1 Corinthians 1:4-9). However, in Hebrews 6, people are described as having “once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and have fallen away…” This would then seem that it is indeed possible to lose your salvation. However, the “key” to this verse is a couple chapters before in Hebrews 3:12-14 where it says
“Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.”
This does not mean that we get our share in Christ only IF we hold our confidence firm to the end, but instead, holding our confidence firm to the end is proof that we have a share in Christ. In other words, if confidence is not held to the end, then that person never had a share in Christ to begin with. God is faithful and does not just abandon someone he started a work in. So, if that is what seems to have happened with your brothers, we are not to assume that it is God’s abandonment that is the issue, but that He never began the work to start. This is a very hard truth to accept, but truth nonetheless.
Now, I want to say that I know this is a very personal issue for you all and I don’t want to make it seem like I am not being compassionate. I am simply reporting on what the Bible says. My heart is heavy for you in the midst of this. I am also not saying that this is absolutely the case with your brothers, as I do not know them and cannot, in good faith, pronounce that judgment on them. Romans 2 makes it clear that we are not qualified to make those kinds of judgments on people, no matter where they appear to stand with God. God judges people based on criteria above our pay grade. We cannot presume to know how God is working in each person’s life. God works very differently in different people, and perhaps this is just a step in how He has decided to work in them. I pray that is the case and that God leads them back to Him. We all have doubts and times when our faith fails. My experience with people who have “fallen away” is that they still have that voice in the back of their head (aka the Holy Spirit) that is calling them back, and it could be tomorrow or years from now when they finally listen. My advice to you all is to continue to pray for them and show them that Christians are not all bad like the ones they have experienced. Be the light in their lives that they have not seen in others. Continue to love them and have grace for them, like Christ has for you.
This is a heavy topic, especially when there are people close to us that we are thinking of. I pray that this helps you in your understanding and please let me know if you have any more questions. Thanks again for reaching out.
A good resource where I got a lot of good language for this response can be found here on John Piper's blog: https://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/can-a-born-again-christian-lose-salvation