The belief that salvation cannot be lost is known as "eternal security" and "once saved always saved". However, whilst we are saved by believing in Jesus (John 3:16), in order to keep our salvation, we must keep on believing in Jesus. This is evident from the use of the words "if", “firm to the end” and "continue" in the following verses (I have capitalised to draw attention to them):
“21 And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled 22 in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight—23 IF indeed you CONTINUE in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel which you heard, which was preached to every creature under heaven, of which I, Paul, became a minister.”
(Colossians 1:21-23 NKJV)
“6 but Christ as a Son over His own house, whose house we are IF we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope FIRM TO THE END.”
(Hebrews 3:6 NKJV)
“20 Well said. Because of unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by faith. Do not be haughty, but fear. 21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, He may not spare you either. 22 Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, IF YOU CONTINUE in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off.”
(Romans 11:20-22 NKJV)
These verses clearly condition salvation on continuing in the faith. The consequence of not continuing is stated in these words by Paul: “otherwise you will be cut off”. See also Luke 12:42-46 where the servant is appointed “his portion with the unbelievers” and 2 Peter 2:20-21 where Peter mentions backslidden false teachers who had “escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ”, of whom he says that they would have been better off not to have been saved in the first place! All of these verses would make no sense if salvation could not be lost.
The importance of continued faith is also evident from the original Greek. For example, in our English translations, John 3:16 reads:
“16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. “
(John 3:16 NKJV)
The verb “believes” is in the present participle in the Greek, which expresses continuous or repeated action. Therefore, the latter part of this verse is more literally translated “that whoever continues believing in Him should not perish but have everlasting life”. It is not enough for us to have believed in the past. We must go on believing in Jesus. In other words, we much continue in the faith if we wish to escape hell. As Jesus Himself said: “But he who endures to the end shall be saved.” (Matthew 24:13). In John 5:24, “believes” in the Greek is again in the present participle:
“24 “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes [present participle] in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life.”
(John 5:24 NKJV)
We are saved on the basis of our present faith. If we used to believe in Christ, but have now decided not to follow Him, then we forfeit our salvation. The assurance of possessing eternal life is only given to those who presently have faith in Jesus Christ:
“These things I have written to you who believe [present tense] in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God”
(1 John 5:13 NKJV).
Conclusion: salvation can be lost. We can know we are saved based on our present faith, not because we used to believe in the past.
Dr. Stuart Pattico
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Verses marked NIV are from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. Verses marked HCSB are taken from the Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2009 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission. Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Holman CSB®, and HCSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers. Verses marked NKJV are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Verses marked NLT are from Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved. Quotations marked NEB are from The New English Bible: The New Testament © ‘The
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