Can a Professing Christian be Lost?
By Nathaniel A. Urshan- General Superintendent of the United Pentecostal Church International
The security of believers, according to theologians holding extreme Calvanistic views, is unconditional and eternal. Such teaching has no foundation in God’s Word and its effect has been very harmful in its tendency to create looseness and carelessness in the lives of many believers. While I agree heartily with the fundamental precept that we are saved by grace through faith without works, I also believe the companion precept which states, “What cloth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? Can faith save him?” (James 2:14). “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also” James 2:26).
In other words, faith and works are the body and spirit of a true Christian life. The two working together constitute living, vital Christianity. Regardless of what the individual may confess, if Christ-like works are nonexistent in his life, saving faith is also nonexistent, according to the inspired apostle. This teaching does not in any way contradict Paul’s statement that a man is justified by faith apart from the works of the law. Paul is speaking of how we enter the door by grace into the spiritual kingdom of Jesus, but James tells us how we may test the genuineness of the faith that many profess but do not actually possess. Which test will decide the acceptance or rejection in the day of judgment of all professing Christians? We must also bear in mind that whenever a person possesses a true, living faith in Jesus our Lord, he will also bring forth acceptable works for God and man as the outward, visible evidence of such living, saving faith. Thus when a person possesses Christianity and does not show it by a life of godliness and holiness, it is positive proof that the vital faith which is necessary to ensure his eternal security is nonexistent in his heart. Therefore the Scripture can say with perfect truth, “To him that worketh not but believeth, God imputeth righteousness without works,” and with the same veracity state, “You see then how that by works a man is justified and not by faith only.” Paul himself stoutly supports this latter teaching, saying, “They profess that they know God; but in works they deny him, being abominable, and disobedient, unto every good work reprobate” (Titus 1:16).
The proponents of the doctrine of unconditional eternal security contend that a person once saved cannot be lost, that salvation is entirely of irresistible grace, that it is the gift of God to only a chosen few, and that it is by faith only. As I have already stated, man is not saved by a faith that does not include obedience to God’s Word, which is the evidence of real, living faith in Christ. “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21).
Advocates of the once-saved-always-saved theory frequently quote the following verses: “Neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand” (John 10:28). “For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39). While we should not minimize the value of these precious promises in any way, we cannot overlook other passages of Scripture upon which these promises are based. I am fully convinced that all of the devils in hell cannot separate me from God and His eternal salvation as long as I obey the Word of God with my heart, soul, mind, and strength. But any person may be drawn from God by his own will, his own lust, his own desire, and be lost. We are sometimes asked, “If we have been born again, can we become unborn?” The answer is that we can become spiritually dead by persistently practicing sin and failing to abide in the vine, in Christ. Do we not die physically if we take poison into our bodies? It is possible to die spiritually by poisoning our spiritual life with sin. Eternal life is in Jesus. “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23). So long as we are in Jesus we have salvation. When we cease to abide or remain in Jesus, we die spiritually and can no longer claim salvation.
Eternal life, therefore, is conditional and based upon some ifs:
If we want to see Him
(See Hebrews 9:28.)
If we abide in Christ
(See John 15:4, 6.)
If we continue in the faith
(See Colossians 1:23; I Timothy 2:15.)
If we continue in grace
(See Remans 11:22; Hebrews 12:15-17; Galatians 5:4.)
If we live in the Spirit
(See Galatians 5:25.)
If we keep our bodies under subjection
(See I Corinthians 9:27.)
If we are followers of God
(See Matthew 16:24.)
If we do the will of the Father
(See John 7:17.)
If we remain steadfast until the end
(See Hebrews 3:14.)
If we do not neglect our salvation
(See Hebrews 2:1-3.)
If we love the brethren
(See John 4:12, 20.)
These are found in the New Testament Scriptures and are plainly stated. Does this mean, then, that we are saved by works? No, we are saved by grace. No amount of works that we can do will ever be sufficient to bring about our salvation. A person cannot just be good and moral and be saved. He cannot just support missions and be saved. He cannot care for the hungry or help orphans, and by these deeds be saved. These are very worthy causes, and some people today may have the feeling that by doing all these, God will surely let them through the pearly gates. But doing these worthy deeds will not save us. Only obedient faith in Jesus’ atoning sacrifice on the cross will save a sinner from his sins.
At our very best we come short, but by the grace of God we have an advocate with the Father, and through His blood we have forgiveness and cleansing from our sins. The apostle John wrote, “If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (I John 2: 1). “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:10). Moreover, God demands that we be earnest and sincere, endeavoring by His help to obey His Word and live a Christian lifestyle in this world. The person who deliberately walks away from the Lord to live in sin, is following the path to perdition and damnation in eternity. The Bible teaches us that the state of a backslider is worse than before he was saved. However, if a backslider repents and returns to God, God will restore him to spiritual life, salvation, and fellowship with Himself and the church. A backslidden brother is saved from spiritual death when he turns to the Lord in repentance.
If a backslider, however, continues to reject the wooing of the Spirit and the call of God to return, he may become guilty of sinning “the sin unto death.” (See I John 5:16-17.) The Bible further indicates that the names of unrepentant backsliders may be blotted out of the book of life. (See Revelation 3:3-5.) If the name had not once been written in the book, it could not be blotted out. To the church at Sardis the Lord sent this message: “He that overcometh I will not blot out his name out of the Book of Life.” The inference is that if we fail to overcome He will blot out our names.
The Ephesian church was warned that unless they repented and did the first works, He would remove their candlestick, which was their right to be called a church. (See Revelation 2:5.) He warned the lukewarm backsliders in the Laodicean church that He would spew them out of His mouth if they did not repent of their lukewarm attitude and service. (See Revelation 3:15-19.) A backslider may be lost also by going so far as to openly deny Jesus Christ as the Son of the Living God: “For if we sin willfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries” (Hebrews 10:26-27).
Hebrews 6:4-6 warns that “it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.”
Some men say such persons were never converted or thoroughly saved. Of course, they were! A better description of thoroughly saved people on earth is not found in the Bible as it appears in this portion of Scripture.
1. They had full understanding of the things of God.
2. They had tasted of the heavenly gift.
3. The Holy Spirit was abiding in their hearts.
4. They had been feeding upon God’s Word.
5. The miracle-working power of God was operating in their lives.
If they shall fall away, this passage says it is impossible to renew them again to repentance. How could they fall away from something they had never attained and how could they be renewed if they had not come to repentance before? Most certainly, this is a description of souls who were once thoroughly converted but who deliberately turned their backs on the Son of God and His salvation.
The doctrine of unconditional eternal security is an abominable heresy. Turning the grace of God into lasciviousness is not according to the faith which was once delivered unto the saints. Yes, we can be eternally saved, eternally secure, but only as we abide in the Lord Jesus Christ and obey the Scriptures.
The plan of salvation that is found in acts 2:38 is not our works but our obedient faith to the gospel. I realize that repentance and baptism are things we do, but everything that we do in the natural in not work. A faith response to the gospel is not a work of the law. It is obedience, and it is pleasurable. When a person repents and is baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of his sins, and he is filled with the Holy Ghost, he will experience the greatest pleasure he will ever have in a lifetime.
An old song has a tremendous meaning:
Jesus is softly and tenderly calling,
Calling for you and for me;
See on the portals He’s waiting and watching,
Watching for you and for me.
Do not disappoint Him any longer. Today is the day of salvation. If you are without God, you need to surrender to Him right now. If you have sin in your life and yet claim salvation, do not continue in this delusion. Sin will never enter the city of God. When you are saved, if you walk with God and honor God and let your spiritual life lead you in the paths of righteousness, then you will continue in Him and enjoy His eternal salvation.
THE ABOVE MATERIAL WAS PUBLISHED BY THE PENTECOSTAL HERALD, MARCH 1999, PAGES 14-16. THIS MATERIAL IS COPYRIGHTED AND MAY BE USED FOR STUDY & RESEARCH PURPOSES ONLY.