Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. -Hebrews 10:22-23
Let’s take a look at some of the different views on the possibility of losing salvation. Before looking at each view it helpful to note how we answer the following two questions:
1) How is Salvation “gained”? By works, by faith, or by decree?
2) How is Salvation “kept”?, By works, by faith, or by decree?
I’m going to propose 5 common views, that come about through the way we answer these two questions.
View #1) Salvation is gained by works, it is kept by works. Net result: Salvation can be easily lost. This view says salvation is dependent on what we do. If we do enough good and avoid enough bad then God gives us a ticket to heaven. This view is popular among nominal Catholics and Protestants. It is also popular among some heterodox groups like the LDS.
The main problem with this view is that it makes Jesus’ death unnecessary. If we can make it on our own, why did he need to die? A practical concern with this view is that one never knows how much work to do to obtain salvation. As a result there is no security. Scriptural support for this view is essentially zero.
View #2) Salvation is gained by faith in Jesus, it is kept by good works. Net result: Salvation can be easily lost. One can become a true Christian, but if he sins once he loses his salvation and must repent again to get it back. One must be in a “state of grace” to get to heaven. This view is common among Catholics and also some recent Arminians.
The problem with this view is there is no security for the believer. One accidental sin can cause you to forfeit your salvation. In its more extreme forms this view also leads back to a works view of gaining salvation. It envisions a “Santa Claus” type God, who’s making a list and checking it twice. This view leaves us open to deception from the enemy who is eager to convince us that we’re no longer saved. It can also actually encourage sin. Just confess it after the fact and you’re good to go again (Romans 6:1-2)
View #3) Salvation is gained by faith in Jesus, It is kept by faith in Jesus. Net result: Salvation can not be lost, but it can be forfeited. In this view losing Salvation is a possibility, but it only comes about by a deliberate choice and doesn’t happen by accident. It must be walked away from. This is the view of many Arminians.
Problems: this view must be reconciled with passages which seem to imply that salvation can not be forfeited (like John 10:28). And like view #2 it also potentially leaves us open to deception from the enemy who is eager to convince us that we have lost faith and committed the unpardonable sin.
View #4) Salvation is gained by faith in Jesus, It is kept by decree of God. Net result: Salvation can not be lost once we have believed. In this view we must believe to be saved, but once we have believed we are sealed by God, and there is no longer a possibility that salvation can be lost. This view is popular among some Arminians, Southern Baptists, and other groups like Calvary Chapel.
The strength of this view is that the believer has both full assurance and security in Christ. The weakness is that it discounts the many warning passages in scripture. It can also result in believers thinking they have a license to sin.
View #5) Salvation is gained by decree of God, It is kept by decree of God. Net result: Salvation can not be lost. Faith in Jesus is an inevitable result of God’s eternal decrees. It does not come from anything in the believer. Those whom Jesus died for will certainly be saved. This view is often called “monergism”, and is popular among Calvinists.
Problems with this view: First, it has the same weaknesses of view #4 (discounts the warning passages, gives a license to sin). Secondly it denies assurance. Those whom God decrees will certainly be saved, but no one knows what God has decreed. This view can cause us to doubt the good character of God, and can easily lead to a fatalistic attitude.
Works, Faith, and Decree: It’s important to note that while there are at least 5 views on the possibility of losing salvation, there are really only 3 views on how salvation is given to us by God, and only three views on how salvation is kept. In each case it is by works, by faith in Jesus, or by unconditional decree.
The Arminian distinctive – We all agree on question #1: Salvation is given by God through faith in Jesus to all who believe: For Arminians, we all agree that salvation comes through faith in Jesus, however, there is disagreement on how is salvation kept. It has often been assumed by Calvinists (and others) that all Arminians believe salvation can be easily be lost. This is an unfortunate misunderstanding. The heart of Arminianism is that salvation comes by faith in Jesus. However, there is diversity on the second question: How is salvation kept? As a result, out of the 5 views described, Arminians can logically hold to view #2, #3, and #4.
Some Christians prefer not to be labeled Arminian because they strongly disagree with view #2. This aversion is unnecessary. One can hold to view #4 and still be Arminian. The root issue for Arminians is that salvation is genuinely offered by God to all, and the means he has ordained for us to be saved is through our faith in Jesus Christ.
My point here is not that this issue of losing salvation is unimportant or irrelevant to Arminians. It clearly is very important. However, disagreement comes about because of the way we answer the second question, not the first one. As Arminians we need to allow room for differences of opinion on the matter, and we need to teach others that not all Arminians hold to view #2 or even view #3.
Conclusion: There are several scripturally reasonable positions that can be taken on this issue. And to be fair, none of the views are without difficulty. No matter what our understanding, may we show love to those believers who disagree with us.