In the New Testament, Christians are encouraged to appreciate their security in Christ, but they are also encouraged to be careful. After obeying the gospel, we still possess the freedom of our will, and although leaving the Lord would be the ultimate tragedy, it is possible for us, as Christians, to abandon Christ and go back to being lost. There are always two sides to freedom: the freedom to say yes to God and the freedom to say no. Either we have both freedoms or we have none at all. So we find numerous passages in the New Testament urging us to continue making the choice to follow Christ.
The apostle Peter wrote, “For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them” (2 Peter 2:20,21). The last state has become worse for them than the first. These words would be meaningless if it were not possible for a saved person to return to a lost condition. So despite what the Calvinistic “once-saved-always-saved” doctrine teaches, it is necessary for those who have obeyed the gospel to remain faithful to Christ — or they will forfeit their eternal salvation.
It is sometimes argued that if a person appears to fall away from the faith, he or she was never really saved in the first place. But this doesn’t do justice to the New Testament. There are too many unequivocal texts where people who were in a saved relationship with the Lord either apostatized or were warned against doing so.
As examples, we might think of Simon the Magician (Acts 8:9–24), the heresy in Galatia (1:6–9), the exhortations in Hebrews (3:6,12–14; 4:1,11; 6:11,12; 10:23,29,35–39; 12:1; etc.), Peter’s concern for his brethren (2 Peter 1:5–15; 3:17,18), or Paul’s warnings while in Ephesus (Acts 20:31) — and these are just a few. It cannot be said that these warnings against apostasy were not really warnings or that the people to whom they were addressed were never in a saved relationship with Christ. The scriptural evidence is clear: after being saved from our sins, we will return to being lost if we do not remain faithful to Christ.
It is no wonder, then, that we see so many exhortations in the Scriptures to keep the faith.
- “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12).
- “Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it” (Hebrews 2:1).
- “Christ is faithful over God’s house as a son. And we are his house, if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope” (Hebrews 3:6).
These exhortations are greatly needed, and we are wise if we recognize their relevance to us personally. We should not be fearful, nor should we doubt our Father’s loving care, but as long as Satan is still in business, we can’t afford to be complacent (1 Peter 5:8–11).
As you can see, then, the bottom line is freedom of the will. We are free to choose whether we’ll obey the gospel or not. But having decided to obey, our freedom doesn’t stop at our conversion. At any time, we are free to change our minds and go back to being lost.
Freedom is, after all, a fearful gift. But apparently, God would rather have the love that we can give Him freely than the “love” of robots who have no choice but to do as they are programmed.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1,2)
“You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:17–18).