30 November 2021
You asked me earlier about losing your salvation. I wanted to send this letter to you to give a fuller, clearer answer on the subject. I know this will probably be more than you’re looking for, but I felt I needed to hammer this out in order to both do justice to your question and to give you a framework for answering future “big” questions like this.
The best questions don’t have black and white answers. They require more thought and care than a quick response. Almost all great theology questions (like this one) fit well into this category. Furthermore, since theology questions always relate to both God and people, it is fitting to consider who the question impacts and how. To give you a non-theological example, consider this Black Friday/Cyber Monday question that every red-blooded American couple has to wrestle with at this time every year: Is this a good deal? You can’t answer that question once and for all in your first year of marriage and then never revisit it again. You have to answer that question anew every year, and usually with a series of related questions like:
What are our finances like this year?
Are we saving for something in particular?
Are we trying to pay off something in particular?
Do our kids need new shoes?
Do we really need this right now?
You get the idea. While it may be a great deal for a retired couple with no kids living comfortably, it may be a terrible deal for a young couple with three kids who are struggling to get by. And, from year to year, each of them have to consider their new context and circumstances before deciding whether it’s a good deal or not.
Your question is similar: I believe that the question is best answered by a series of related questions, and that these questions must be considered each time the question is asked. Now, remember: you asked me. So, this is my framework and approach to answering this question and others like it. But, my thought process would look something like this:
Am I asking this question for myself? For me personally, this question has never been an issue. Since I have come to know Christ, I have never personally struggled with whether or not I can lose my salvation because I have, thus far, always felt a closeness with Jesus. I haven’t wondered if I lost it along the way or whether I may in the future. I can easily identify with the Psalmist who says “for me it is good to be near God” (Psalm 73:28) and with James when he says “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” (James 4:8). I am immeasurably thankful that I know the peace that surpasses understanding and guards my heart and mind in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:6). I feel correction and rebuke from God’s Spirit all the time - indeed, more often than I would like - but that is all part of God’s sanctifying work in me as I offer myself to Him (Romans 12:1-2). It doesn’t make me question whether or not I am His and He is mine. In fact, by hearing His voice I am reminded that I am known by Him and know Him in an intimately personal way.
So, while I don’t personally wrestle with this question, there are a great many who are deeply and honestly troubled by it...and there are others who are looking to trouble others with it. So, my next question would be something like this:
If not me, who is asking this question and why? There are many reasons someone asks a question, and the person and motivation behind the question are crucial to giving a right answer. For example, consider that the Pharisees asked Jesus questions all the time but their motivation was almost always evil. Matthew 22 is the best example of this. Verse 15 says that they “laid plans to trap Him in His words”. But, Jesus knew this (v. 18) and answered accordingly. He answered their question with a question rather than answering directly. He knew they didn’t care about Him or His answer.
Then there’s the story of the rich, young ruler. He asked Jesus, “what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (Matthew 19:16). His intent behind the question wasn’t evil like the Pharisees, but he seemed to have his own struggles with possessions. So, Jesus answered directly but also addressed the issue he was personally struggling with by telling him to sell everything he had and give the money to the poor.
There’s also the instance of the disciples asking Jesus, “Lord, is it at this time you are restoring the Kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6). Even after the resurrection, these guys still didn’t seem to grasp the idea of “The Kingdom of God” but were still seeing everything through worldly eyes and in worldly terms. So, again, Jesus didn’t answer their question but rather directed them to what was most important: waiting on the Holy Spirit and being faithful to His mission now.
Then, you have those sincerest of questions born out of a desperate sense of conviction. Peter’s Pentecost sermon in Acts 2 caused people to ask the greatest of questions: “What must we do?” (Acts 2: 37). The same thing happened again in Acts 16:30. Those honest, desperate questions were rewarded with straight-forward answers full of the truth of the Gospel: repent and believe, every one of you. Those dear questioners were cut to the heart with conviction, and the answers they received were life-giving to weary souls.
I know that you can’t always (or sometimes often) know or judge someone’s intent when asking questions. But, of course, knowing the person and their situation is most helpful to giving them an answer close to what Jesus would give them. So, with your question about salvation, I would consider questions along these lines:
Is this person asking me because they are looking for a debate?
Is this person asking me because they are theologically curious?
Is this person asking me because they are afraid?
Is this person asking me because they need reassurance?
Is this person asking me because they are concerned about a family member or friend?
As you can gather, I usually ask more questions than give answers when people ask me these most serious of questions. I want to give them the best answer for their situation, and knowing their need is the most helpful part of this. Which brings me to my last question I would consider:
What is their need? Why has God put me with this person today? What need does this person have that can be met by Jesus today? If the Holy Spirit and/or their answers to my questions can help shed light on their need, then I feel I can give them the best possible answer to show them to Jesus and help them experience His provision. If they are looking for a debate, and they know where they stand on an issue, then I will not give it to them. Truthfully, Scripture is offered on both sides of this issue and I am never interested in theological ping-pong with these people. People cite passages like Romans 8 and John 10 to “prove” that you cannot lose your salvation. People cite passages like Hebrews 3 and Romans 11 to “prove” that you can lose your salvation. However, I would encourage you to resist the urge to “take a side” or be placed into a particular camp and rather pray to see the need of those asking the question.
If someone is theologically curious, I will often give the entire spectrum of answers and note that theologians have been all over the spectrum for millenia. If someone is afraid or needs reassurance, I will often go to the promises of God that He will never leave or forsake His people and that He knows them that are His. I will try to remind them that the Holy Spirit dwells inside the believer, and He is personally leading and guiding them into truth and righteousness. If someone is asking for a family member or friend, I will try and get that person into the conversation. If I can’t, then I will try my best to speak the truth of Jesus into what I know of their circumstance.
I know that was more than you bargained for, but I foresaw us hashing through many questions and issues like this and I wanted to lay a foundation that would help you understand my approach to answering these questions. John Adams once said of our government that it is a “government of laws and not of men”. Many would take that same idea and apply it to theology: God is a god of laws and not of men. We should just read what He said and broadly and universally apply His laws equally to all people in all stations for all of time. I just so happen to believe that is not only a lazy approach to theology, but also one that doesn’t consider how Christ engaged others. I try to live by the philosophy that “God is a God of men and not of laws”. That is not to say that I ignore His laws, but rather that I understand that one man needs reassurance and hope from God’s laws, while another needs to feel the weight of his sin, and yet another needs encouragement to keep up the good fight.
So, in seeking to answer big theological questions like “Can I lose my salvation?” this is my approach. Draw near to Jesus and He will draw near to you. That answer can take many shapes depending on the person and situation, but my goal is always to be personally drawn near to Jesus in my questioning and draw others near to Him through my answers.
Hope that helps!
Just a man trying to save his thoughts and correspondence