Today I’m going to give a couple of passages that deal with the possibility of the forfeiture of salvation. Tomorrow I will again look at some passages that are used to support the doctrine of eternal security.
The book of Hebrews contains five separate warnings about the falling away of the believer from the faith. What I think is the strongest of these is found in Hebrews 10:26-31:
If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
This warning shows it is possible for someone who has received the truth (meaning, they have received salvation) to continue in their old way of life (that is, before they were saved), and goes on to say what will happen to that person. They have only hell to look forward to, being under God’s judgment with wrath which consumes those who are against him. How could this be true if you can’t forfeit your salvation.
Many people argue that these warnings in Hebrews do not apply to the Christian, but to one who has never believed at all. I have two things to say about this argument. Firstly, the first warning found in Hebrews 6:4-6 begins “those who have once been enlightened…” (It then goes on to describe the things that enlightened person knew.) That person is described as one who is saved, and the warning applies to that person. This is true of the rest of these warnings as well. I know this because the letter to the Hebrews is written to Christians. Allow me to illustrate: Suppose I send you an email – a really long email. Could you say that a couple paragraphs of that email don’t apply to you? Of course not, because I wrote and sent you that email. The same goes for these letters in the New Testament. You can’t take a letter written to a Christian and tell them that an express warning in the letter does not apply to them.
Another verse that points to the possibility of someone falling away from their salvation is Matthew 24:13, “He who stands firm to the end will be saved.” Here we see that it is necessarily for someone to continue in the faith until the end of their life to be saved. (And this is not the only place where it says something to this effect.) To say that you must stand firm until the end provides the possibility that someone may not stand firm. If this were not true then it wouldn’t have to be said this way. Some argue that if someone is truly saved then they will stand firm and not fall away. But verses like these show the possibility of falling away. Just as salvation is an act of the will (you choose to receive salvation), you may also, by an act of the will, choose to fall away from that faith you had previously received.