I had a request from a reader to write an article in regards to what it takes for one to forfeit their salvation. Of course, this presupposes that a Christian can indeed forfeit their salvation. Therefore, I first wanted to lay the groundwork to show that the Bible teaches that a Christian can give up their salvation; I will then write a follow-up article in regards to what it takes for one to do such.
Some teach that once someone becomes a Christian, then they are once saved, always saved. This doctrine is also known as “Perseverance of the Saints.” This simply means that a Christian will never and can never forfeit their salvation. If someone was a believer and they ended up falling away, then advocates of this doctrine would say that they were never true followers of Jesus. I disagree with this conclusion and believe that the Bible teaches that someone can truly be a follower of Christ and then fall away.
That being said, I believe we have to be very careful with our wording when discussing this issue as to not let semantics be a barrier. When I say that a Christian can forfeit their salvation, I do not mean to imply that anyone can separate us from God and His salvation. Paul makes this explicitly clear in Romans 8:31-39. Jesus taught that no one can snatch His followers from His hand (Jn. 10:27-29). We must remember, salvation is a gift (Rom. 6:23). Just like any accepted gift, it can always be rejected in the future. Some have argued that we have eternal life when we become Christians. This is inaccurate; we have the conditional promise of eternal life when we become followers of Jesus (1 Jn. 2:25). We must hold fast and continue our relationship with Jesus until the end to actually receive eternal life (Heb. 3:14; Rev. 2:10; Mt. 10:22; 1 Tim. 4:15-16; etc.). Crowns are given at the end of the race, not the beginning (2 Tim. 4:8).
There are many passages that could be pointed to in order to show that one can forfeit their salvation. For example, Paul tells Timothy to guard the faith because many have strayed from it (1 Tin. 6:20-21). There is no need to guard something that can’t be forfeited, nor can you stray from something you never had. Paul told Timothy that Demas forsook him because he loved the world (2 Tim. 4:10).
In 1 Corinthians 5:1-11, Paul instructs Christians to withdraw their fellowship from other Christians who rebelliously persist in immorality. Paul makes it clear that he is not just speaking of people “in the world.” Instead, Paul is speaking of those who were once followers of Jesus but forfeited their salvation by giving into continued sin (1 Cor. 5:10). Otherwise, Paul could have simply said: “These were never true Christians to began with.” Instead, former followers of Christ are held to a higher standard because they once had a relationship with Jesus but decided to leave it. Furthermore, Paul tells the Christians at Rome that they can’t “continue in sin that grace may abound” (Rom. 6:1-2).
When Paul wrote to the churches of Galatia, He reminded them that they are not saved by the law but by faith in Jesus. Those who would leave Jesus in attempts to be justified by the law would lose their salvation. Paul wrote, “You have become a stranger to Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace” (Gal. 5:4).
Paul also wrote to the church at Corinth and used the Israelites who strayed as a warning. “You who think you stand, take heed lest you fall” (1 Cor. 10:12). While it is true that God never gave up on Israel as a nation under the Old Law, one must remember that only a small remnant was saved and that the majority fell away.
Peter told Christians to be sober and always on watch because Satan is like a roaring lion trying to devour anyone he can (1 Pet. 5:8). Why would Satan be trying to devour Christians if it was impossible and why would Peter be warning Christians to be on guard if it was impossible to forfeit one’s salvation?
One of the very clear and plain biblical illustrations that teach that one can forfeit their salvation comes from the concept of the Book of Life. The Bible teaches that only the saved are in the Book of Life and if you are not saved then your name is not in the Book of Life (Rev. 21:27; Rev. 20:15). When writing to the Church in Sardis, Jesus taught that one can have their salvation blotted out from the Book of Life. “He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life” (Rev. 3:5). This statement is unequivocal. One can have their name blotted out from the Book of Life.
While there are many other verses that teach one can forfeit their salvation, the aforementioned should be sufficient in laying the groundwork that one can indeed give up their salvation. Now, the question is how? What does it take? How do I know I’m saved? How do I know if I have forfeited my salvation? These questions and more will be examined in my next article.
– Kevin Pendergrass