Eternal Security & Apostasy:
Can a Child of God Fall from Grace and Be Lost?
One of the major points of Calvinism is "the eternal security of the believer" or perseverance of the saints."
Many people believe that, when a person becomes a child of God, afterward it is impossible for him to so sin as to fall from grace and be eternally lost.
This doctrine is one of the five major points of Calvinism. It is often called "the eternal security of the believer," "perseverance of the saints," "impossibility of apostasy," or simply "once saved, always saved The Westminster Confession adopted by most Presbyterian churches, states:
The Philadelphia Confession, adopted by many Baptist churches, is almost identical to the above.
Sam Morris, "Pastor" of the First Baptist Church, Stamford, Texas, expressed the doctrine in its most extreme form as follows:
"We take the position that a Christian’s sins do not damn his soul! The way a Christian lives, what he says, his character, his conduct, or his attitude toward other people have nothing whatever to do with the salvation of his soul … All the prayers a man may pray, all the Bibles he may read, all the churches he may belong to, all the services he may attend, all the sermons he may practice, all the debts he may pay, all the ordinances he may observe, all the laws he may keep, all the benevolent acts he may perform will not make his soul one whit safer; and all the sins he may commit from idolatry to murder will not make his soul in any more danger … The way a man lives has nothing whatever to do with the salvation of his soul." (Morris, A Discussion Which Involves a Subject Pertinent to All Men, pp. 1,2; via Handbook of Religious Quotations, p. 24)
What does the Bible says about falling from grace.
It would be very comforting if this doctrine were true. However, if it is not true, then it would be a very dangerous doctrine because it would give people a false sense of security. People would not be on their guard against sin, and may not see any need to repent of sins, if they thought they would still be saved eternally despite their sins. If however they will be lost for sins they do not repent of, then such people are in grave danger. Surely it is important for us to know what the Bible teaches.
We can all agree that there is security for those who serve God faithfully. If we study God’s word diligently and honestly, if we strive to overcome sin in our lives, and if we diligently repent and ask forgiveness for our sins, then we definitely have assurance and security regarding our eternal destiny. The question, however, is whether it is possible for a child of God to cease being faithful, to become disobedient, fail to repent, and so be lost.
Part 1: Evidence that a Child of God
Can Sin and Be Lost
A. Passages Warning Christians about the Danger of Sin
The Bible teaches that Salvation comes through faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ on the Cross. After we are “born again” we are to live after Christ or according to the Word of God.
Romans 8:12-13 - We must live according to the Spirit, not the flesh.
13For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.14. 14For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. 16The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together.
We are warned not to live according to the deeds of the flesh but be led by the Spirit. If we live according to the flesh, we will die (v13). This cannot be physical death since we all die physically regardless of how we live. This death is the opposite of the life we receive if we follow the Spirit.
To be heirs of Christ, we must be led of the Spirit (v14) and suffer with Christ (v17). It is conditional and depends on our life.
Galatians 6:7-9 - We must sow to the Spirit, not the flesh.
7Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. 8For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life. 9And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.
This is addressed to members of the church (1:2), sons of God by faith (3:26)
We will reap as we sow. If we sow to the spirit (i.e., if we produce the fruit of the Spirit - 5:22-25), we will reap eternal life (v8). If we sow to the flesh (do the works of the flesh - 5:19-21), we reap corruption (6:8), which is the opposite of eternal life. In this case, we cannot inherit the kingdom of God (5:21).
We reap eternal life if we don’t grow weary in doing good (v9). Note: "Be not deceived." Yet "once saved, always saved" is a doctrine that deceives many into thinking they will still reap eternal life even if they sow to the flesh.
Note that a person who believes in "once saved, always saved" thinks he cannot fall. This passage is addressed to just such people and shows that they are the ones in the very greatest danger that they will fall!
Hebrews 10:26-31,39 - We must avoid willful sin.
This is speaking to those who know the truth (v26) 26For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, and have been sanctified by the blood (v29We are warned not to sin willfully (v26).
As long as we go on sinning willfully (NASB - v26), there is no sacrifice for sin. (This is not discussing what will happen if such people repent and change but what our condition is as long as this conduct continues.)
2 Peter 1:8-11; 2:20-22 - We must grow in Christ instead of returning to the world.
1:8-11 - This is spoken to those who have obtained like precious faith (V-1(been saved), escaped the corruption of the world (v4), and been purged from old sins (v9).
Romans 6:12-18 - We must not let sin reign in our bodies.
12Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. The results would be death(v-16) 16Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey,--Sin will make us its slave
Living for God will set us free from sin 22But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life.
This is the result sin 23For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Hebrews 6:4-8 - We must avoid falling away.
This is addressed to those once enlightened, who tasted the heavenly gift and the good word of God and were partakers of the Holy Spirit (v4,5).
We are warned not to fall away (v6). If they continue in this pattern of life (implied), they cannot be restored. They are crucifying Jesus afresh and putting Him to an open shame (v6). Their destiny is to be burned like a field of thorns (v8).
Revelation 3:5- We must avoid having our names removed from the Book of Life.
5 He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels.
Those whose names are in the book of Life will enter the eternal city, but those not in it are cast into the lake of fire (Rev. 21:27; 20:12-15). But people whose names are in the book, may be removed because of sin (Ex. 32:30-33). Those guilty of sin CANNOT enter the city (Rev. 21:27). But those who overcome will not be blotted out of the book (Rev. 3:5). Rev. 22:18,19
Why would God continually warn of the danger of sin and being lost if it cannot happen?
God is not the author of confusion (I Cor. 14:33). Why waste time warning us about dangers that cannot happen anyway?
B. Bible Examples of Christians Who Sinned & Stood Condemned.
The Bible not only warns us to be on guard lest we fail to meet the conditions for remaining faithful, but it also mentions specific people who did fall.
This is not just a theoretical possibility. It is a practical reality. In fact, it has happened to many people, and could happen to us if we are not diligent.
Genesis 3:1-6 - Adam and Eve
God said if they ate of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, they would surely die (2:16,17).
3:4 - Satan said if Eve ate, she would not die. She ate and we know the result. This event is used in 2 Cor. 11:3 as an example to us of the danger of falling into sin. “…. as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the £simplicity that is in Christ.”
God stated the consequence of sin, but Satan denied that the consequence would follow. Today God has stated the consequences of sin, and Satan uses preachers to deny the consequences. The doctrine of "once saved, always saved" was originated and first preached by Satan himself.
Christians who lost their faith
Hebrews 3:12 12 Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God. This is warning of the danger of developing an evil heart of unbelief like Israel. Many New Testament examples show people to whom this very thing happened:
2 Timothy 2:16-18 - Hymenaeus & Philetus strayed and overthrew the faith of some.
1 Timothy 1:18-20 - Timothy should hold the faith and not be like Hymenaeus and Alexander, who made shipwreck concerning the faith and committed blasphemy.
Hebrews 11:6 - Without faith it is impossible to please God (the application in the context of this book is to those who had faith but turn from it - 3:12; 10:30).
Revelation 21:8 - Unbelievers will be in the lake of fire.
Acts 8:12-24 - Simon the Sorcerer
Simon believed and was baptized (v13).( Then Simon himself believed also: and when he was baptized,)
This is what the other Samaritans did (v12). Simon did "ALSO" the same things the others did. If they were saved, he was saved. If he was not saved, then none of the others were saved.
But Simon later sinned. His heart was not right (v21), ((21 Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right in the sight of God.) he was guilty of wickedness (v22), 22 Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee.) and was in the gall of bitterness and the bond of iniquity (v23). As a result, he would perish (v20) if he did not repent and pray (v22).
Galatians 5:1-4 - The Judaizers
1Stand£ fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage. 2Indeed I, Paul, say to you that if you become circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing. 3And I testify again to every man who becomes circumcised that he is a debtor to keep the whole law. 4You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.
These people were children of God (3:26;( 26 For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.)who had been set free by Christ (5:1). They had to be in grace if they fell from it (5:4). 4 Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace.
They sinned in that they desired to go back to the Old Testament yoke of bondage (5:1) and bound circumcision. As a result, Christ profited them nothing (v2), they were severed from Christ (v4), fallen from grace (v4). They were not obeying truth (v7).
These were children of God who were in God’s grace but then fell from that grace so that Christ profited them nothing and they were severed from Christ. Can one receive eternal life if he is severed from Christ (Eph. 1:3-7) and fallen from the grace that saves (Eph. 2:8)?
"Once saved, always saved" is a tempting doctrine because it is comforting. It tells people what they would like to hear. But it is a false doctrine because it clearly contradicts Scriptures in nearly every book of the Bible.
It is also a dangerous doctrine because it leads people to think they are safe even if they don’t examine their lives, don’t study the Bible, and don’t repent of sin. Furthermore, it leads preachers to not warn sinners that they need to repent.
Part 2: Evidence Offered to Show that a Child of God Cannot So Sin as to Be Lost
Folks are sometimes confused by passages that are used to defend "once saved, always saved." We need to understand the arguments and how to answer them. Some of these passages do offer hope and security to believers, but they are conditional passages, and these conditions are often overlooked. If we study the verses in light of what we have already learned we will see that, while they do give security to those who are faithful, they do not teach unconditional "once saved, always saved."
John 10:27,29 - 27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: 28 And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. 29 My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand.
This is a wonderful promise. But is it, as the preacher said, so unconditional that a person’s soul cannot be lost no matter how he lives?
The context gives conditions - v27,28.
Note the word "and" repeated. Receiving life and never perishing are tied to hearing Jesus and following him. These are conditions, exactly like we have been teaching.
As the Good Shepherd, Jesus protects His sheep so no one can destroy them, as long as the sheep hear Jesus and follow Him. But what if they cease to hear and follow, as we have learned else where they can?
"Pluck" refers to an outside force.
"Pluck" (KJV) or "snatch" (NKJV, ASV) means "to seize, carry off by force" , like the thief might do (v10,12). Neither Satan nor any outside force can steal you from the Lord, as long as you meet the conditions.
But we must "resist the devil," and then we have assurance he will flee from us (James 4:7).
What happens if, through negligence or willful rebellion,
We wander away from the protection of Jesus’ fold?
Sheep can stray from the shepherd’s protection.
Luke 15:3-7 - 100 sheep belonged to the shepherd (v4,6), but one became lost.
Acts 20:28-30 - that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you,
Wolves may enter among the flock, speak perverse things, and draw away the disciples. They cannot compel us to follow them and be lost. We may still choose to follow the Lord’s voice. But false teachers can lure us, attract us, and tempt us.
I Peter 5:8,9 - Satan is a roaring lion seeking to devour us. If we do not withstand him, he can capture and destroy us. But we can withstand him if we have faith and vigilance. This is what Jesus promised in John 10. (John 17; 6:37-40; I Pet. 2:25).
If sheep cannot possibly stray, even of their own free will, then this would deny our free moral power to choose. We could not become lost even if we wanted to!
1 John 3:9 - One begotten of God "does not sin … he cannot sin"
We must take all the Bible says on any subject (Matt. 4:6,7; Acts 3:22,23).
We have already shown many passages showing that it is possible for a child of God to sin. Many more verses, even in 1 John and addressed to these same people, show this is true:
1 John 1:8,10 - If we say we don’t sin, we lie and truth is not in us. This is exactly the condition of some folks who argue for "once saved, always saved"!
1 John 2:1,2 - John wrote so we would avoid sin. Jesus is our propitiation (the act of atoning for sin or wrong doing) if we do sin. If sin is impossible, why write, and why would we need propitiation?
1 John 2:15-17 - Love not the world. If we do, we don’t love the Father (cf. I Cor. 16:22). Why warn us, if it is impossible to be guilty?
1 John 5:21 - Guard yourself from idols. Why, if it is impossible to be guilty of sin?
2 Peter 2:14 - Some children of God (v1,15) "cannot cease from sin"! If I John 3:9 means children of God cannot possibly commit sin, then this passage means these children of God cannot possibly quit sinning!
Clearly 1 John 3:9 does not mean sin is impossible, else we have contradictions in the Bible. In fact, many people who believe "once saved, always saved," will admit sin is possible.
"Does not sin" refers to persisting in the practice of sin.
A true child of God may occasionally commit acts of sin, but he must repent, confess, and be forgiven by Jesus’ blood (1:9; 2:2). He must not continue in the practice of sin. Why not?
"God’s seed abides" in the child of God.
The seed that begets us, so we become children of God, is the word of God:
1 Peter 1:23-25 - We are begotten again by the incorruptible seed which is the Word of God.
James 1:18 - We are begotten by the word of truth.
1 John 2:14,24 - The word of God, which we heard, abides in us.
How does the this seed abide in us? Can it cease abiding in us?
1 John 1:10 - If we say we do not sin, His word is not in us. We may still know what it says, but we have rejected it.
John 5:38 - If we do not believe Jesus, God’s word does not abide in us.
Acts 2:41 - Those who gladly received the word were baptized. Receiving the word requires believing and obeying it. Otherwise we are rejecting it. (I Thess. 2:13)
To have the word abiding in us means to have a receptive attitude toward it, believing and obeying it, applying it in our lives. If this is our attitude, 1 John 3:9 says we will not continue in the practice of sin. Of course not, because to do so would be to reject the word so it no longer abides in us!
Note Psalms 119:11 - Your word I have hidden in my heart, That I might not sin against You! This is exactly what 1 John 3:9 says.
But can we cease believing the word, studying it, and striving to live by it? We have shown that we can. If we do, the seed no longer abides in us, so we practice sin.
"He cannot sin"
Does this mean it is humanly impossible under any circumstances to transgress?
"Can" (Gk DUNAMAI) means: "to be able, have power, whether by virtue of one’s own ability and resources, or of state of mind, or through favorable circumstances, or by permission of law and custom" (Thayer).
Examples elsewhere show it does not necessarily mean physical or human impossibility, but rather that law, state of mind, or circumstances do not allow it:
1 Corinthians 10:21 - You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons (it is not lawful).
Acts 4:20 - We cannot but speak the things we have seen and heard (law and state of mind do not permit it).
Mark 2:19 - Sons of the bridechamber cannot fast while the bridegroom is with them (circumstances make it such that no one would do it).
1 John 3:9 means that, when one has accepted God’s word into his heart and so becomes a child of God, his attitude and the principles of the word will not allow him to continue practicing sin. God’s word (the seed) has become the guiding principle of his heart, and it would be inconsistent with this to continue practicing sin.
For example, suppose an employer asks a Christian employee to tell a lie. The Christian replies, "I can’t do a thing like that." Is it physically impossible? No, but it is completely contrary to his nature as a child of God. As long as his attitude toward God’s word is right, he will not do it.
The Body Sins, but the Spirit Does Not
We are told that we may physically do things that violate God’s word, but He does not hold our spirit accountable for what the body does.
Those who teach this doctrine are obligated to produce Scripture to prove it.
It is not enough to make the claim. They must give Scripture.
Is the spirit responsible for the good deeds of the body? If so, why not also for the bad deeds?
If they cite
Rom. 7:25 25 I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.
Romans 8:1 There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.
Many Scriptures show that God holds the spirit (inner man) accountable for the sins of the outer man.
1 Corinthians 6:9,10,13,15,18-20 - Fornicators will not inherit the kingdom of God. But this is a sin of the body. The body is a member of Christ, a temple of the Spirit, and belongs to God so it should be used for His glory (this shows the people addressed are children of God, bought with a price, etc.). [cf. 3:16,17]
Mark 7:20-23 - Evil (done by the body) proceeds from the heart and defiles a man. [Prov. 23:7; 4:23]
2 Corinthians 5:10 - We will be judged for deeds done in the body. Our spirits will be held accountable for what the body does.
Romans 6:12,16,23 - People who have been baptized into Christ (v3,4) and made free from sin (v18), must not let sin reign in their mortal bodies. If we do, we are servants of sin and must die (v16,23).
1 Corinthians 9:27 - Paul buffeted his body to bring it in subjection, let he be a castaway.
Romans 8:13 - We must put to death the deeds of the body in order to live. Otherwise, we will die.
[2 Cor. 7:1; Rom. 12:1,2; Gal. 5:19-24; Acts 8:20-22]
Passages that Say We Have Eternal Life
Numerous passages are cited which say we have eternal life: John 10:28; 17:3; 5:24; 3:36; 6:47; 3:16; I John 5:12,13. Some argue that, if we have it, and if it is eternal, then we cannot lose it. If we do, it wasn’t eternal.
We have eternal life now only as a promise or hope.
1 John 2:25 - This is the promise He has promised us, even life eternal.
James 1:12 - The crown of life which the Lord promised to those who love Him.
Titus 1:2; 3:7 - The hope of eternal life, which God promised.
We receive eternal life, in the sense of a present possession, only after
earthly life is over and then only if we endure faithfully till life is over.
Luke 18:30 - We receive eternal life "in the world to come."
Romans 2:5-7 - Eternal life will be given at the judgment IF we continue patiently in well doing. [This is the same time that the wicked will receive eternal punishment - Matt. 25:46. Does this happen in this life?]
Revelation 2:10 - Be faithful until death and receive the crown of life.
In this life, we "have" eternal life in the sense of a promise or a hope based on faith. But we actually enter eternal life at the judgment if and only if we continue living faithfully till life is over. This is a conditional promise. We will be lost if we fail to meet the conditions.
The proof texts, used to defend "present possession" of eternal life, themselves state conditions to be met.
John 5:24 - He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; He who hears and believes. But we have shown that one can cease doing these.
John 6:47; 3:16,36 - He that believes. But one can cease believing.
1 John 5:13 - V11,12 speak of those who believe on the Son, and life is IN the Son. But we can cease believing and fail to abide in Him (John 15:1-8).
John 10:27,28 - Hear Jesus’ voice and follow Him.
Note also that saving faith requires obedience, and to cease to obey is to cease to have a saving faith - James 2:14-26; Heb. 10:39; chap. 11; Gal. 5:6; etc.
The fact life is "eternal" does not prove we cannot lose it. "Eternal" describes the nature of the life. It has nothing to do with whether it can or cannot be lost.