Can you lose your salvation?
This is a question which, for the most part, circulates within Wesleyan influenced churches (i.e. obviously the Wesleyan Church, Methodist of one kind or another, United Methodist, Pentecostal, Holiness, etc. et. el.). Contrary to the belief and understanding of John Wesley, there is simply no consensus of thought concerning this question among those of his heritage. Opinions are equally leveled from both sides of the argument, but it appears to me that sound logic, as well as Scripture itself, falls clearly on the one side. Concerning logic: If it is agreed (as I am assuming it is among Protestants) that one cannot earn salvation –but it is a gift of God – then it necessarily follows that one cannot lose it either. According to the Law of Opposites, if one does nothing to earn it how, then, does one do something to lose it? Though the phrase, “Once saved always saved” is undesirable, the sentiment is steeped in good theology.
Concerning theology, I think the confusion (on this subject, as well as others) comes when comparing the gospel accounts (especially the Synoptics – Matthew, Mark, and Luke) to the Pauline canon. In the gospel accounts salvation always has a physicality to it; that is, it is always about one’s active faith that strengthens salvation; there is almost always a physical healing with salvation, it appears to be based on individual faith and thus, almost always about our exercise of God given faith. Therefore, if one doesn’t use, then one loses it.
In the Pauline letters, there is usually a different aspect to salvation. For Paul, salvation is Christos-centric (Christ centered); it has everything to do with the act of the Cross of Christ. Salvation is the very purpose of the incarnation, almost exclusively (1Tim. 1:15). Salvation, in all of Paul’s letters addressing it, is an all-encompassing act that has rescued humanity – presently and eschatologically (in the ultimate “end”).
In Pauline Theology salvation originated in the Father and was executed in the Son (2Cor. 5:19), and established by the Holy Spirit who is given as a security deposit of the fact (Eph. 1:14; 2Cor. 1:20-22). We who were once enemies of God are now reconciled with Him (Rom. 5:10) “in Christ,” where salvation is held secure (2Tim. 2:10). As such, the salvation found in Christ is sufficient for all, but efficient only for those who believe.
Paul’s sense of salvation is always a past, present, and future event – each tense interconnected and interdependent on the other and always with the Cross of Christ in view. In other words, salvation is the act where God has saved, is saving, and will save those who believe on Jesus Christ.
Past: (Eph. 2:5, 8-9; Col. 1:13; Titus 3:5)
Present: (Rom. 1:16-17; 7:24-25; 10:10; 1Cor. 1:18; 2Cor. 2:15; 6:2; 7:10; Eph. 6:17; 1Thes. 5:8)
Future: (Rom. 5:9; 11:26; 13:11; 1Cor. 3:5; 3:15; Phil. 3:20; 2Thes. 2:10; 2Tim. 4:18)
Past, Present, and Future: (Rom. 8:24; Eph. 5:23)
Nowhere does Paul even allude to working to be saved, now working because we’re saved, or working to keep our salvation. In fact, he argues something altogether different! He argues that it is the ‘Cruciform’ (in modern terminology), the position of being “in Christ,” that one “works out their own salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12). [See my blog, ‘The Cruciform’ for more details about the subject.]
The argument that one can lose their salvation for lack of use presupposes that the certain one was “saved” to begin with. If you were to say that a certain person lost their salvation because of continuous sin, I would argue that this certain one was not “saved” in the first place. Incidentally, how does one go about knowing the heart condition of another? How does one know another is saved or not, anyway? Someone will say, “We will know by their fruits.” To which I will ask, “Oh, so we are called to be fruit inspectors? And who has established exactly what good (saved) and bad (unsaved) fruit looks like?” [Notice that the real issue here is not whether someone can lose his/her salvation or not, but works; a completely different argument.]
While there are personal and emotional “reasons” (I use that term loosely) to believe such a thing, there is simply no logical or biblical evidence for believing that one can lose his or her salvation. I am not unaware that there are Scripture texts used in an attempt to support the view that one can lose his/her salvation, but in each and every case they are used out of context. A text used without a context is a pretext; in other words, this non-contextualizing is brought by one who wishes to induce, rather than deduce, an opinion.