By Jonathan Brentner
While primarily a defender of biblical prophecy against the onslaught of false teaching, I see another point of confusion among the saints that I feel compelled to address. This teaching has led many believers astray with its assertion they can walk away from their faith and lose out on eternal life.
Many followers of Jesus are too savvy to accept teachings that suggest their sins can separate them from God’s redeeming love. They know this contradicts God’s grace as well as the clear teaching of Scripture in many places such as Ephesians 2:1-10. Our salvation stems from grace alone; works play no part from start to finish in meriting our salvation. We all agree on this, or do we?
If this is the case, how do pastors affirm that our salvation is all of grace apart from works and at the same time assert one can lose his or her salvation? They do so by saying something like this, “Our sins cannot separate us from God’s love, but we can walk away from our faith and thus lose our salvation.”
Does Scripture support such a contradictory and contorted statement? No, no it does not.
A true believer, one justified by the Father and regenerated by the Spirit based on the blood Jesus shed on our behalf on the cross, will never face God’s condemnation. Once securely in Christ, nothing can separate us from His love; that’s an absolute. We can never lose our salvation; it’s impossible.
Why am I so sure of this? Let me explain.
WE RELY ON GOD’S WORD, NOT EXPERIENCE
Those who say a believer can walk away from his or her faith base their assertion more on experience than the words of Scripture. Without fail, they cite real or hypothetical cases of those who appear to have walked away from their faith and thus lost their salvation. This, they say, proves their case.
We must reject arguments based on experience and rely solely on what Scripture tells us. Before doing that, I will add a few thoughts on why we cannot rely on what we see in this regard.
First, we do not know the end of the story of those who appear to walk away from their faith. Some return to a close walk with the Lord when they discover they cannot stay away from Jesus’ love. I know of a few stories like this. What we think we see on the outside may not at all constitute the reality inside one’s heart. We do not know what that person is going through at the time or the final result of their behavior.
Second, we cannot know the genuineness of the conversion for those who appear to walk away. We cannot see inside others to know if they ever trusted Jesus alone for eternal life.
Third, in the parable of the tares Jesus warned that the devil would plant his people among true believers. What better way for the devil to confuse the saints and sow seeds of doubt among those outside the faith than to have a high-profile pastor make a big splash in rejecting his faith?
In Paul’s day, Satan disguised his men as “false apostles” and “servants of righteousness” (2 Cor. 11:13-15). It should not surprise us that the devil continues to do this today. Could this not account for those who appear to give up their faith? Absolutely!
And fourth, departures from the faith are not new. Speaking of the many antichrists that come before the main one, John wrote, “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us” (1 John 2:18). The apostle characterized those who walked away from their faith in his day as those who “were not of us;” they never possessed genuine saving faith.
IF ABIDING IN JESUS IS NECESSARY FOR OUR SALVATION, IT ADDS WORKS TO GRACE
John 15:1-8 is a favorite text of those who claim we can walk away from our faith and as a result lose our salvation.
The emphasis of this text is not that of walking away from our faith, but of abiding in Jesus. If someone claims that such a failure results in one losing his or her salvation, he or she has added the work of abiding in Jesus to the basis of salvation and thus eliminated grace as the sole cause.
One cannot make “walking away” a seemingly passive activity and on that basis claim that it does not nullify grace. To say one is able to abandon one’s faith presupposes that such a person has failed to adequately abide in Jesus. And how can any believer ever know if they are walking close enough to the Savior to merit eternal life in the end?
If John 15:1-8 teaches that we can walk away from our faith, then we do so by failing to abide in Christ. This of necessity adds the work of staying connected to Jesus as a prerequisite for our final salvation. This totally negates sola gratia and directly contradicts what the apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:1-9, Titus 3:4-7, and in many other passages throughout the books of Galatians and Romans.
If we can lose our salvation by “not abiding,” how can we ever be confident we are walking close enough to Jesus so as to ensure our final salvation?
THE DOCTRINE OF JUSTIFICATION
For me, the doctrine of justification seals the deal in regard to eternal security. Those who claim one can walk away from one’s faith do not understand the implications of this important foundation of our faith.
The Greek word for “to justify” comes from the law courts of the first century AD. It signified a judge declaring the accused “not guilty.” Paul used the word to describe God’s declaration of righteousness on the life of a sinner at the moment of salvation.
Just like a judge looking at the evidence and declaring the accused “not guilty,” so God looks at our lives, covered with Jesus’ blood, and slams down the gavel declaring us “not guilty.”
We see the judicial aspect of our salvation again in Romans 4 where Paul describes justification as an imputation of righteousness to our account. God covers our sin with the blood of Jesus and forever assigns Jesus’ righteousness to our account.
Do you think anyone can overturn the verdict of the most powerful judge in the universe? Absolutely not! Can anyone bring further evidence before this omniscient Judge that He did not know when He declared us not guilty? That’s simply not possible. When God declares us righteous, He knows all about our lives from birth to the moment of our death or the rapture.
In Romans 8:33-34, Paul addresses the total absurdity of anyone attempting to overturn God’s “not guilty” verdict on our lives, “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.”
The most powerful and all-knowing judge in the universe has declared us righteous and Jesus acts as our lawyer continually interceding on our behalf.
God’s verdict will remain in place forever. Who can change it? Satan may try, but he will fail; count on it!!
THE ROMAN CATHOLIC DOCTRINE OF JUSTIFICATION
When one says people can walk away from their faith, that person unwittingly reverses a key aspect of the Reformation and adheres to a more Roman Catholic view of justification.
While in seminary, I wrote my master’s thesis on Roman Catholic Justification in the Light of Scripture. By the time of the Reformation, the Catholic church had moved God’s justification of the sinner to the end of his or her life. This kept the church in charge of administering grace to the sinner throughout their entire lives with God’s justification at the very end, at the time of death. This works-based system kept them uncertain of their salvation all through their lives.
You see, if one can walk away from their faith then the final outcome of one’s salvation remains unsettled until the end of life, just as with those in the Catholic Church ahead of the Reformation. When one says a person can walk away from his or her faith, they push any certainty regarding eternal life to the end of their lives, which in effect moves justification to that point as well.
The Reformers not only returned the church to justification by faith alone, but they also moved it back to the moment of salvation; the very place Scripture puts it. And if it happens then and it does, our salvation is a done deal, and it is.
SHALL NEVER PERISH
John 10 records some of the most comforting words in all of Scripture, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish, and no one will snatch them our of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one will snatch them out of the Father’s hand” (John 10:27-29).
Jesus promises that those who come to Him “shall never perish.” To claim we can walk away from our faith one must add a qualifier for Jesus’ words, which Jesus does not do.
Both Jesus and the Father holds us securely in their hands. If no one can take us away from their grip, how can anyone say we can possibly walk away? They must look at the experience of others, which as we have seen provides no basis for whatsoever for such an assertion.
Why am I so vigorous in opposing those who say one can walk away from his or faith and thus lose out on eternal life? It’s because such a stance negates the words of Ephesians 2:1-10 by adding the work of abiding in Christ to the basis for our salvation.
In addition, it insults the work of Jesus on the cross because it assumes that we must add the work of “abiding” to what He accomplished on our behalf in order to complete our salvation.
IT’S ALL ABOUT GOD’S LOVE FOR US
In Romans 8:31-39, the apostle Paul expounds on our justification by faith stating it from the standpoint of Christ’s love for us. J. I. Packer, who recently went home to be with Jesus, sums up what God’s amazing love means for us and why it guarantees our eternal security. Here is a quote from his book, Knowing God:
There is tremendous relief in knowing that His love to me is utterly realistic, based at every point on prior knowledge of the worst about me, so that no discovery now can disillusion him about me, in the way I am so often disillusioned about myself, and quench His determination to bless me.
The claim that we can walk away from our faith and lose our salvation bases our security squarely on our love for the Lord. This is a works-based approach to salvation that puts the responsibility for the completion of our salvation on our love for the Savior, on our human efforts to abide in Jesus.
The biblical doctrine of justification thankfully negates this false dependence. It makes our security totally dependent on God’s love for us, the very place it belongs. We are secure because of God’s love for us!
God’s justifying love cannot fail because it’s “utterly realistic;” no new evidence against us can hold up in God’s court. It’s impossible for that to happen. This is exactly what Paul affirms in Romans 8:30-39; our salvation is a done deal because of God’s love for us!!
The attempts of redeemed saints to walk away from the faith never surprise God; He justified them in spite of such behavior. And, they have the Holy Spirit who continually works in their hearts to draw them back to their walk with the Savior. (I could write another long post just on how the work of the Holy Spirit also negates the claim that we can walk away from our faith.)
The cross is enough; do not let anyone tell you any different by claiming you can walk away from your faith and thus lose your salvation.