People frequently ask me if I think that a person (usually a friend or relative who has turned away from God) can lose his or her salvation. In this series of posts, I am responding to this question by studying what the Scriptures say on this extremely important subject.
In my last post, I listed some passages that seem to teach that salvation is not secure, that we can lose it. We’ll explore these a little more over the next couple of posts. Here is the first one.
But false prophets arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. These false teachers will infiltrate your midst with destructive heresies, even to the point of denying the Master who bought them. As a result, they will bring swift destruction on themselves. 2 Peter 2:1
At issue here is the phrase “denying the Master who bought them.” Does “bought” mean the same thing as “saved”? Or can a person be “bought” but not “saved”? What do the Scriptures say?
1. Jesus’ death satisfied God’s wrath for sin for all people.
He himself is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for our sins but also for the whole world. 1 John 2:2
The traditional word, translated here as “atoning sacrifice,” is propitiation. A main definition of this word is the concept that God’s wrath on people because of sin is turned away or satisfied by Jesus’ death. Notice that Jesus’ took care of sin’s penalty, not only for those who believe, “but also for the whole world.”
2. Every sinner – whether they will ultimately be saved or not – is under God’s wrath until the point of salvation. This is what Paul taught the Ephesians.
And although you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you formerly lived according to this world’s present path, according to the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the ruler of the spirit that is now energizing the sons of disobedience, among whom all of us also formerly lived out our lives in the cravings of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath even as the rest… Ephesians 2:1-3
So even though Jesus’ death turned away God’s wrath for sin for the whole world (“bought”), that wrath remains on people – even on those who will believe – until the point of salvation (“saved”).
This is Peter’s point: the false teachers could have had salvation. On the cross Jesus had “bought” salvation for them just like everyone else. But they denied him and his work, opting for their own plan instead. Because of this, they had no other options, and they brought “destruction on themselves”. God’s plan is salvation, not destruction.
This leads into the point the writer of Hebrews made in two other sometimes-confusing passages:
For it is impossible in the case of those who have once been enlightened, tasted the heavenly gift, become partakers of the Holy Spirit, tasted the good word of God and the miracles of the coming age, and then have committed apostasy, to renew them again to repentance, since they are crucifying the Son of God for themselves all over again and holding him up to contempt. Hebrews 6:4-6
For if we deliberately keep on sinning after receiving the knowledge of the truth, no further sacrifice for sins is left for us, but only a certain fearful expectation of judgment and a fury of fire that will consume God’s enemies. Hebrews 10:26-27
The writer wasn’t making the case that a person could have salvation then lose it. His point was that, because Jesus’ death was once for all (all time and all people), it’s impossible to jump in and out. If you could fall away (“committed apostasy”) – which was not his point – you couldn’t be saved again. This goes against the teachings that you have to constantly make sure you’re saved. If you could lose it, you could never get it back.
Additionally, if a person claims to believe and even becomes a part of the community of God’s people, but never has the genuine life change that God provides at salvation (“deliberately keep on sinning”), there is no hope for him.
Because Jesus’ death is the only acceptable payment for sin, if someone plays with it then rejects it, or rejects it outright, what else is there? They have nowhere else to go.
We’ll tackle a couple more confusing passages in the next post.