Can You Fall Away and Still Be Saved?

Josh Watt / May 5, 2015
gospel of mark, q & a

The Bible is clear that salvation is a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8-10) given to repentant sinners (Acts 3:19) never to be taken back (John 6:37) by the God who gave it.

Why then do Christians still wrestle with the idea that a Christian can somehow walk away from Jesus and lose their salvation? 

I think there are two reasons. The first reason is a false understanding of tricky passages in the Bible. Some Christians read trickier verses, like Hebrews 6:4-6, and ignore the plethora of passages that speak to the assurance of salvation for believers.

The second reason is much more simple. Some people have seen others who were once “Christian” at some point and now they are no longer professing Christians. They have watched family members, church members, and friends disown the faith they once claimed. And now they are left trying to make sense of how a Christian can walk away from Christ.

How should we think about this dilemma? We don’t want to be ignorantly optimistic about everyone who claims to be a Christian and we don’t want to walk around callous and cynical refusing to give any credence to people’s faith. How do we strike a balance?

I think a few guiding principles may help.

Here are three simple guidelines to help guide you in assessing someone’s claim to salvation.

Don’t be too convinced of salvation because of a past decision.

“How do you know you are a Christian?”

  • “Well I was baptized when I was 15.”
  • “I gave my life to Jesus at my church when I was in 4th grade.”
  • “I prayed to ask Jesus into my life with my parents when I was little.”
  • “I repented of my sin after a church service in my twenties.”

A lot of people will answer this question with a decisive moment from their past. People look back on a prayer, an alter call, a baptism, a camp experience, or a moment when they first believed. Some of these answers are more in line with the truth of Scripture than others. For example, a simplistic “sinner’s prayer” is never mentioned in Scripture. Yet repentance and faith are always aspects of true saving faith. The point isn’t which of these decisions were actually true origins of salvation though.

Here is the point. The Bible NEVER tells us that we should look back to a past decision to assure ourselves of our salvation. NEVER. The Bible talks about the reality and assurance of salvation, but you will not find a single Scripture that points us towards a past decision for our assurance. The Bible talks about fruit and love in a person’s life as “proof” for a past salvation moment.

We would be wise to follow the Bible’s lead in this area. Assurance should never rest on a past decision.

Don’t be too convinced of salvation because of a present understanding. 

“How do you know you are a Christian?”

  • I believe that Jesus died for my sins.”
  • I believe that I am a sinner and Jesus saved me.”
  • I believe in Jesus.”

These are all good answers that the Bible would affirm. We want Christians to believe the right things and be growing in their understanding of their faith.

However, we can’t put complete trust in a person’s salvation based off their knowledge and understanding of Christianity.

Jesus warned us that the demons themselves were expert theologians who were never going to experience salvation. Similarly, people can always have right answers about Jesus without a right relationship.

We would be wise to not put a stamp of approval on anyone’s Christianity based off his or her correct answers. Assurance of salvation is much larger than getting the right answers.

Don’t be too convinced of salvation because of a future hope.

“How do you know you are a Christian?”

  • I don’t want to go to Hell.
  • I can’t wait to be in Heaven when I die.
  • I know God will prosper me because of my faith.

Nobody wants to go to Hell if it exists. Everybody wants to go to Heaven if it exists. This is a no-brainer. Do you want to suffer in Hell for eternity or spend eternity in a perfect place with a perfect God? My four year old can answer that correctly. Now as a Christian, I look forward to avoiding God’s eternal wrath and I dream constantly about my future life with Him. These are good thoughts for Christians.

The problem comes when people put too much weight on a “Christian’s” faith based off their hope for a better future. People can be scared into salvation with a good enough description of Hell. Likewise people can be drawn into a salvation decision based off the promise of a more prosperous, better life than they have now. Neither of these proves that salvation has actually come though.

The Bible talks a lot about a Christians growing desire to be “heavenly” minded. However, we would be wise to not put too much stock in someone’s very real desire for a better life as proof of his or her salvation.

So what should we look to for salvation assurance?

If we don’t put too much weight on any past decision, or a present understanding or even a future hope, how do we come to assurance of salvation?

You use all of the above.

Do you remember your life without Jesus and do you remember coming to him in repentance and faith at some point?

Do you love Jesus right now and are you growing in love for him in your heart, mind, and soul? And is this love spilling over in your love for others?

Do you long to be with Jesus? Do you long to be with him and experience an unhindered, face-to-face relationship with your savior?

Assurance of salvation is a marathon not a sprint. Don’t try to cut the race short with quick answers. Let the reality of salvation play itself out in time. The author of Hebrews has a good word for us. “Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith.” Hebrews 12:1-2