Husband. Dad to 5. Student Ministry Pastor. Follower of Jesus. Yatta yatta.


QUESTION: In our Bible Study we are having a debate on whether or not a person can lose their salvation. One gal is taking the position that a person can loose their salvation and I am taking the position that a person cannot loose their salvation. Do you have any advice to point me in the right direction? Off the top of your head, I’m curious to know if their are denominations that strongly feel one way or the other. Any direction you can give me is appreciated!!!


Ok… so everyone comes to the table with a history that influences what they believe: family, culture, scripture, etc. I’m no different, and my response below is shaped by that- so you’ll have to factor that in as you read. My experience comes from the fact that I’m the spiritual equivalent of a denominational mutt. I mean I grew up in a Methodist church, I became an “official follower of Jesus” my freshman year in high school through a Christian Missionary Alliance church that I attended through high school, while at college I attended a First Baptist Church, I took my first job as a youth pastor at an Evangelical Free Church and now I’m serving in a “non-denominational” church with Calvary chapel roots. So, I’ve had a lot of various teaching about salvation and such through the years. In your reading on the subject, you may run across the word “soteriology”, which basically is a big word for your belief about salvation is. And there are lots of “soteriologies” that people teach, all of which they believe are rooted in the “correct” understanding of the Bible’s teaching on the subject. But you can basically boil all of them down into one of two categories.

1. Those who teach salvation in a single event.
2. Those who teach salvation as a process.

Of those two categories, you could also generalize what those two groups believe about whether salvation can be lost.

1. Event people teach salvation cannot be lost.
2. Process people teach salvation can be lost or taken away.

Ok… so now let’s break down some main proofs each grouping uses.


Basically those who claim that salvation is an event treat it as a “spiritual birthday” and look for confirmation that one is “saved” based on the precise ability to name a day when they were spiritually reborn (John 3). They would argue that even if the record has been lost by bad memory, all Christians have a spiritual birthday when their names are written in the “lambs book of life”. (Rev.13:8) Like a physical birth, it is an event that is permanent and in the past for every soul that has been promised eternal life. This realization places great confidence in the Christian that all their sins were paid by Jesus and no matter how they live from this day forward, they have an inheritance guaranteed by the deposit of the Holy Spirit in them. (Eph 1:13-14) This is the message preached in evangelical sermons all over the world, many of which (including the church I’m currently serving at) also offer a chance for an individual who is listening to “receive salvation” by praying a prayer of repentance and accepting Christ’s shed blood as payment for their sins.

If you’ve ever seen or read or used the “Four Spiritual Laws” gospel tract put out by Campus Crusade for Christ, then you know a classic example of this kind of teaching. Basically, Humanity is Sinful. Sin separates us from God. Jesus died to do what we could not- which is pay the penalty due to us for that sin and reunite us with Jesus. We receive this gift, and ultimately become “saved” by praying a prayer, asking Jesus to forgive us, and then forever more you are now a Christian. The Holy Spirit has put his deposit on you, guaranteeing what is to come . (2 Cor 1:20-22) and you’re good for all of eternity.

(as a side note: this is the dominate position of most churches that would call themselves “evangelical” and it is the basic premise that I grew up under for most of my early years as a “Christian”)


By way of a word picture, for those who see salvation as a process, they see it less like a legal transaction or spiritual birth date and more like the constant adjustments one makes while driving to stay on the road. There may very well be a distinct day when a teen gets their drivers license that one could point to as the first day they got behind the wheel and started to officially drive (or it may be a series of moments starting with just watching Dad drive as a kid), however the act of driving- like the act of being a follower of Jesus- itself is made up not of one decision, but of many. They site examples like: Jesus called His disciples to, “take up their cross daily”. (Luk 9:23) Paul’s challenge to the Philippian church was to, “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose” (Phil 2:12-13). Peter, speaking to “believers” scattered around the Roman world, tells them, “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation.” (1Pet. 2:2)

Even famously chosen verses by the “salvation is an event” group like 1 John 1:9 are in the context of a bigger plan of salvation. 1 John 1:9 tells the reader that sins are forgiven upon a prayer of confession. However, 1 John 1:7 reminds the reader that, “if we walk in the light, as [God] is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.” The question becomes, “Which piece of this sentence is it here that produced a purity from sin?” Was it the blood of Jesus? Was it the life lived in fellowship of other believers? Was it the walking in the light with God? Can we dump one of these three character traits of a believer as optional?


So, if you’re going to say one cannot “lose their salvation” then you have to decide when one officially becomes “saved”. For the event folks, this is easy. A classic example is the apostle Paul. He was living against God. Jesus met him on the road. He changed. (Acts 9) Or take Abraham. God met him. Offered him a covenant. He agreed. Faith was initiated. (Genesis 17)

For process people, it’s more complicated than that. Like when do you have enough salvation in you to be “saved beyond a doubt”? And what do you do with the varied experiences of believers in the New Testament? Take Peter as an example. Like when did he finally officially become saved? Was it sometime in childhood growing up as a young Jew- waiting for the Messiah and preparing him to be ready to answer the call when Jesus came around? Was it when his brother introduces him to Jesus and Jesus promises he’ll get a new name? (Matt 4) Was it when Peter confesses he’s a sinner in the presence of God after Jesus gives him a huge catch of fish one morning when he was done fishing and throws down his nets just because Jesus says to do so? (Luke 5) Was it when Peter correctly answers Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am” at Caesarea Philippi? (Matt 16) Was it only after Jesus dies and is resurrected and calls Peter to return to feeding and loving Jesus’ sheep? (John 21) Was it on the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came upon him? (Acts 2)


I’m a process person. Here’s why:

  1. I believe, like a marriage, there is value in knowing the day and time this commitment began. I’m a fan of an official vow and making it public. I have no problem with offering people a chance to declare an “event” and pray a prayer and decide to start following Jesus. I have no issue with getting baptized and think people should as the scripture commands to make this commitment you have made to Jesus public. Like I mentioned in my own “denominational mutt” description of me… I can tell you a basic time when I think I really started “following Jesus” and a day subsequent to that where I was baptized.
  2. I don’t think that’s the whole picture. Jesus came to not just for “justification” from our sins, but for “sanctification” for our souls as well. Both are part and parcel to salvation. And with regards to the “justification piece”: It’s not always so easy to name a date and time, nor was it the goal of salvation for the early church fathers. They were seeking disciples, not merely decisions. As long as the prayer is the beginning of a life of change; Awesome. But too often it’s a prayer; Period. I feel this great pressure as a parent to help ensure that my kids have this “day and time” when they “officially began their life in Jesus”. Like the salvation prayer. I even tried to initiate it once at a family devotion. That’s a long story… but it resulted in my kid crying for no good reason. My problem in my own family is this: Take my oldest son TJ as an example. TJ is striving to follow Jesus. Ask him and he’ll tell you he is. As best as he can at 9 years old. However ask him when that “officially began” and he can’t tell you. Does that mean he’s unsaved? Every morning that I take Jake to school, his brothers leave and we have like 10 minutes of us time before he goes. We read a passage of the bible in my car. We pray. Should I be trying to make sure during that time that he has prayed a prayer asking Jesus into his heart? Lots of 4 year olds do. Shouldn’t I make sure he does this as a parent? Especially as a pastor parent?
  3. As a youth pastor, I’m not primarily interested in giving students confidence they are “saved”. That, for me, is a fear based soteriology I don’t think is the essence of the gospel. This is really the reason we feel that we need to give people a “guarantee”. It says that I have to help you know you are saved so you can be confident, that no matter how bad you screw up, God won’t remove his blessing from you. (However, this is not what God told the nation of Israel through Moses. Deut 30:15-18) I don’t think that’s why Jesus died on the cross to give us confidence, that no matter what we do, God will always save us, even if we stop serving him. Yes, I think his death guarantees something for those who place their faith in Jesus. However, the process of becoming holy is a life long one. I’m not supposed to cross a line and stop. I think this is what the teaching that “salvation cannot be lost” does.
  4. What do you do with verses like Matt 7:21-23? There are a lot of people evidently living a life that looks like they made a decision for Jesus, that are not really following Jesus. That scares me to death. God only knows how many people over the centuries have “prayed a prayer” to commit their life to Jesus and never done another thing about it- maybe even confident that they were good with God because of the words of well intentioned pastor. I don’t think this is what the Scriptures have in mind when they speak about salvation.
  5. Personally, I’m trying to live with a healthy Fear of the Lord in my life. I don’t live fearing that God will send me to hell if I screw up. The life of David should set that fear to rest. He royally screwed up a grip of times and yet the scriptures claim that he had a “heart after God’s very own heart”. However, I also don’t want to claim that I’m invincible. I think that I have a long ways to become like Jesus, and I need to be careful every day, to make sure that my heart is devoted to God. Like my marriage- no, I don’t live in fear that my wife and I will get a divorce. But I also don’t take that as an impossibility- I think Satan loves it when people let down their guard based on a false belief that they will never ever do what others have done. It’s not a one time decision that I live with in total confidence could never be undone. It’s a daily commitment to purity, devotion, and relationship that I need to daily reaffirm. I think it’s a scary thing, an even an unbiblical thing, to decide that my salvation is so secure, that my obedience to Jesus is now optional.

[Final note: If you happen to have read this post this far and you would like to have a paper I wrote on this subject, just leave a comment asking for it with your e-mail address and I’ll send the full 11 page word doc to you that some of this post comes from.]

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