Can salvation be lost?



I was hoping you could shed some light on an issue that only seems to get more confused as I try to look into things from a biblical perspective. That issue is whether or not it is possible to lose your salvation following baptism.

My understanding and belief is that baptism is a choice made by believers who choose to follow God's instructions for humankind. Baptism is the beginning of a long journey, not the end. I also believe and understand that not all those who are baptized will necessarily reach their ultimate glorification. This, to me, is the underlying rationale in Mark 4:7 of the seed growing but being choked by thorns in the parable of the sower, Hebrews 6:4-12, Hebrews 10:26-39, Matthew 7:21-23, I John 3:6 and Romans 6 - which attests to the fruit of the spirit being obedience. The implication is that some who may be baptized may not necessarily result in their salvation as they 'fall away' or become apostates. For example, those who may have professed faith but may never really have been of the faith to begin with.

However, when speaking to someone who believes in the saying 'once saved, always saved,' essentially means that once baptized, you cannot lose your salvation. The reasons stated for this were that God's sovereign grace knows no limits (Jesus paid for all sin on the cross), and secondly, that if it was possible to lose your salvation following baptism, would this not mean that salvation is at least in part works based? References were to passages such as Titus 3:5, Romans 8:29-39, and Ephesians 2:1-10.

I wasn't quite sure how to respond to those points, especially the warnings against apostasy being referred to as being works-based salvation.

I was also hoping that you might elaborate on the terms salvation, justification, sanctification, and glorification, as I think that a lot of the disagreement would stem from what each side means by each of these terms, especially sanctification (as alluded to in earlier paragraphs).  My rudimentary understanding is as follows:

  • salvation comprises the three phases of justification, sanctification, and glorification.
  • justification is being saved through God's grace and Jesus' death on the cross, which pays the penalty for our sins,
  • sanctification is the present ongoing process of a believer's transformation to being more Christ-like in their lives and 'bearing fruit,'
  • glorification being a future state following judgment that results in our perfectly fulfilled state.

A thought that occurred to me here is that if salvation ends with glorification, no person knows how anyone else will be judged. In that sense, only God knows whose name is written in the Book of Life, so to say that salvation cannot be lost in this sense could be viewed as presumptuous. The counterpoint is that true believers will know of their salvation (I John 5).

I'd really appreciate your insight, as I've found your previous responses very enlightening. Keep up the good work.

God bless.


John Calvin's teachings influence many denominations to varying degrees. The core of his teaching is that God is so sovereign that there can be no contradictory choice. Thus, a person is lost unless God chooses explicitly to save the individual. If God chooses to save someone, then the conclusion is that he cannot be lost. It also follows that if God decides to save a person, they can't do anything to change God's choice. This is why Calvinists insist that you cannot do any works. To them, salvation is totally God's decision.

"And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God" (I Corinthians 6:11).

Paul states that being washed (baptized), being sanctified (being made holy), and being justified (being made right before the law) are things that happen at the same time. These three phrases refer to the time when a person is saved. They each look at different aspects of what it means to be saved from sin. Also, notice that Paul speaks of being washed, sanctified, and justified in the past tense. These are things that had occurred. Sanctification is not expressed as an ongoing process.

When we sin, we are guilty before God of breaking the law (I John 3:4). Thus, when we are saved, we are justified by God. "But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus" (Romans 3:21-26).

When we sin, we have corrupted our souls. "Nevertheless the solid foundation of God stands, having this seal: "The Lord knows those who are His," and, "Let everyone who names the name of Christ depart from iniquity." But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay, some for honor and some for dishonor. Therefore if anyone cleanses himself from the latter, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified and useful for the Master, prepared for every good work" (II Timothy 2:19-21). When we are saved, we are purified and set apart for a special purpose by God; that is, we are sanctified. "For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings. For both He who sanctifies and those who are being sanctified are all of one, for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren" (Hebrews 2:10-11).

When we sin, we have dirtied our souls. "But we are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags; we all fade as a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away" (Isaiah 64:6). By accepting the teachings of God, we are given a way to clean up our lives. "Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls" (James 1:21). Baptism is a part of this, not the removal of physical filth, but spiritual uncleanness. "There is also an antitype which now saves us--baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ" (I Peter 3:21). That is why baptism is referred to as washing. "And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord" (Acts 22:16).

Salvation from our sins is looked at and described from various viewpoints, but they all refer to salvation.

"For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified" (Romans 8:29-30).

Here, we have a different set of terms, but again, note that they are used in the past tense. My brother wrote a good response to the question, How can we conclude that a person is glorified? so I won't repeat it here. There is the ultimate glory of being in the presence of God in eternity, but in this passage, Paul states that God has bestowed glory on those who have been justified.

Yes, Jesus' death upon the cross was for everyone (II Corinthians 5:15), but everyone is not saved. God wants everyone to repent (II Peter 3:9), but everyone doesn't change. The fact that people are lost points to the problem that people are not choosing to do as God directs. If some choose to follow Christ, then they can change their minds later.

"But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons" (I Timothy 4:1).

"You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness" (II Peter 3:17).

Though we choose to follow the Lord by doing the works that God gave us to do (Ephesians 2:10), these efforts by no means earn us salvation (Luke 17:10). Every one of us falls short of what is required of us, yet God in His mercy chooses to save us (Titus 3:5). At the same time, we cannot be saved by remaining in sin and disobeying God (Romans 6:1-2). Nothing in this world can pull us away from God (Romans 8:31-39), but this does not mean a person cannot walk away from what God offers.

"By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. The one who says, "I have come to know Him," and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him: the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked" (I John 2:3-6).

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