Work with a Guarantee
So can a person lose their salvation or not? I have been asked this question and I myself have wrestled with this question for years. And honestly, I have found myself on both sides of this debate at on time. Today, I feel pretty confident in my response, but this question is one of those issues that will never be resolved in the Church on earth. Just because God and I have it all figured out doesn’t mean the rest of the church will get it! (Insert a playful chuckle here.) While this is debatable, I think it is a significant question that affects how a people live their Christian lives. So let me give you my answer…
The reason that I believe that a person cannot lose their salvation is in part because of the ministry of the Holy Spirit discussed in Ephesians 1:13-14: “And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession–to the praise of his glory.” There is a bit of irony here for me, because the majority of Pentecostal/charismatic Christians tend to agree with their Wesleyan/holiness grandparents who believe that a Christian can lose their salvation / fall from grace / sin away their day of grace / apostatize their faith / etc.
The Holy Spirit’s work of sealing my salvation is to me the clearest biblical reason why I cannot lose this work in my heart that we call salvation. These verses use words like “seal,” “promised,” “deposit,” and “guaranteeing.” This makes my inheritance, which I interpret to be salvation, to be a pretty sure thing. Furthermore, this question goes to the very heart of what we believe salvation is. From the Augustine-Pelagius debate of the fifth century we understand salvation to be completely God’s work of grace. We receive this work of grace through faith, but the faith we have is God’s gift to us and therefore not a religious work of our own. Our act of faith in receiving God’s work of salvation does not save us. Faith is necessary, but not efficacious (it is not the power by which we are saved). When we receive God’s work of salvation it is the Holy Spirit who comes into our hearts to make alive what was once dead. The coming of the Spirit is what we call conversion / new birth / being born again. Salvation is in part, the work of God in sending his Spirit through the Son to recreate our dead hearts. Yes we receive this by faith—but it is faith that God gives us. We have very little to do in this whole process.
As the Spirit enters our heart we are marked with a seal, guaranteeing God’s work. God’s work of salvation comes with a guarantee unlike the work of most used car salesmen. So because salvation is God’s guaranteed work there is nothing I can do to lose it. It wasn’t mine to lose in the first place. I cannot sin away my day of grace, because my “righteousness” never earned for me my salvation. To put it more succinctly: HOW CAN I LOSE BY MY WORKS, WHAT I NEVER EARNED BY MY WORKS? “Yeah, but what about repentance from sin.” This is the axe to grind by those who believe that you can lose your salvation. Repentance is an important part of the Christian life, but in regards to salvation, repentance is in the faith category. We demonstrate our faith by our repentance…it is that whole “faith without works is dead” thing. We cannot say that we receive God’s work by faith without repentance, but just as with our faith…our repentance does not in anyway earn for us our salvation. Repentance is both our act of reception and our loving response to God’s salvation. Repentance—like faith—is much more of a process that an experience.
“Does a person have to repent of all their sins before God will save them?” I don’t know if that is really possible. I think that there has to be a general turning from self to receive God’s work by faith, but I think truly repenting from all your sins is more of a life-long process. My issue here is that we do not see repentance as my work in pleasing God. My act of repentance is more of my loving act of worship in response to all that God has done for me.
At the end of the day, all of this must lead us back to God. This is what the Holy Spirit is doing—leading us back to the heart of the Father through Christ. This is the prayer I journaled today…Thank you triune God for the work you have begun in me. Father, you called me to Christ by the Spirit and now you have marked me in Christ with a seal, a guarantee who is your Spirit. May your seal preserve me in Christ—to the praise of your glory.