Can truly converted people lose their salvation? What are we to think when we see people who make a profession of faith and join the church, only later to leave the church and reject the faith they professed?
The Roman Catholic Church teaches that Christians can lose their salvation by committing mortal sin, which is a sin that kills or destroys justifying grace in the soul, making it necessary for the sinner to be justified afresh through the sacrament of penance. If the sinner is not justified afresh, he or she can lose salvation and go to hell. Many other churches which deny total depravity believe that salvation can be won and lost by the exercise of freewill.
The Reformed believe in the perseverance of the saints as a logical deduction from the doctrine of election. If God elects people from all eternity, certainly the elect will remain elect forever. All those who were chosen by God, ransomed by Christ, and regenerated by the Spirit will persevere in the faith because God will preserve them in the faith (1 Peter 1:5). Jesus said, “I give My sheep eternal life and they shall never perish” (John 10:28). “He who began a good work in you will complete it” (Philippians 1:6). Christ is “the author and finisher of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2). “Nothing can separate us from God’s love” (Romans 8:38).
Those who “lose” their faith never had it (1 John 2:19; Matthew 13:3-8).
TEMPORARY OR FATAL FALL
Passages which warn against falling away (e.g. Hebrews 6:1-6) need to be understood in light of the fact that there is a difference between a temporary fall and a fatal fall. Any true believer is capable of a serious and radical fall (like David and Peter). But no true believer can have a final or fatal fall – because God always restores His chosen people when they fall. When Jesus foretold Peter’s denial, He did not say to Peter, “If you turn again;” He said, “When you have turned again” (Luke 22:31-32). As Charles Spurgeon once said, “A believer may fall on the ship but he does not fall overboard.”
“Our confidence in the perseverance of the saints does not rest in the flesh. We should not be like Peter, who had such confidence in his own strength that he protested that he would never deny his Lord. The only reason we can persevere is because God preserves us. If left to ourselves, we could fall at any moment; Satan could sift us like wheat. Our confidence in the final chapter of our salvation rests in the promises of God to finish what He has started. It rests upon the efficacy of our Great High Priest, who intercedes for us every day [John 17:11, 15, 24]. He will preserve us.”
[Adapted from R.C. Sproul, Everyone’s a Theologian]