The following sermon was delivered at Locust Grove Baptist Church in Murray, KY on the 12th day of November 2017:
A few years ago, a young man in our youth ministry asked me a stunning question. It was stunning because it just wasn’t a question I had prepared for. It wasn’t controversial, hotly debated, or impossible to answer – it was just different. I believe it was after our Wednesday night Bible study, and we were talking about spiritual matters when he asked me, “Is it a sin to doubt your salvation?”
He struggled with the assurance of his salvation at the time, and so he asked me if it was a sin to doubt your salvation or to have no assurance of salvation. You may have wondered about this as well. So, is it a sin to doubt your salvation, or to struggle with assurance?
The answer: It depends. It really depends on what brought about the doubt in the first place. What places doubt into the category of being a sin is dependent on what is causing the doubt itself. In other words, to determine the sinfulness of doubt, you need to find out where the doubt is coming from. The Scripture does command and imply that we should seek out assurance of our own salvation, and to rest in that assurance (John 3:36; 5:24; 8:31-32; 10:28; Hebrews 6:4-6; 1 John 5:11-13). If we are not discovering and believing those truths, we are being blatantly ignorant of the word of God. So in that sense, it would be sinful to doubt salvation which you already have because you are failing to seek out those Scriptures which concern assurance, and then gain assurance by reading and believing them.
However, if your doubt arises from a noticeable contradiction in your Christian life—then that is a good doubt to have! That is, if you see no evidence of salvation in your life whatsoever, then that’s a logical and good doubt to have. If you are doubting whether or not you are truly saved because you see no evidence from your life of salvation, then truly your doubt is good! If there is apparently no life change, then you have great reason to doubt your salvation. Why would you believe you are healthy when your body demonstrates that you are sick? And why would you believe you are saved when your life demonstrates that you are not?
Consider what the apostle Peter says in his second letter. In the first chapter, he lists off a range of godly qualities that should be present in our lives, if we are true believers. He names things such as “self-control, godliness, brotherly affection, love,” and many others (vv. 5-7). And listen to this—Peter says that the reason we should see these godly qualities in our lives is “to make your calling and election [salvation] sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall” (v. 10, KJV). In light of this, I then said to the inquiring young man, “The life you’re living should be enough evidence to confirm your salvation. If you see no transformation, you never had salvation.”
Keep it in mind that sometimes true believers do backslide – true believers fall into a backslidden state time and time again, but never totally nor finally. For those that believe, they will persevere until the end, never losing their salvation (John 6:37-47; 10:27-30; Rom. 8:28-39; Eph. 1:13-14; Phil. 1:6). And just as true is the fact that believers lapse in and out of certain sins from time to time, which may cause a true believer to have doubt or lack assurance. Thankfully, God will give us grace to move forward on His path as we seek His strength and power to do just that. But if you don’t see any transformation in your life, if you see no evidence that you have tasted and seen that the Lord is good (Psalm 34:8), then you can be sure you have no salvation.
Assuredly, it is no such sin to doubt a salvation which you do not have – perhaps it is the Holy Spirit convicting you of what is your own reality. It is a good thing to doubt a salvation if you have no reason to believe you have it! But it is certainly sinful to doubt a salvation which you do have. If you are a true believer, your life will demonstrate that. If you are doubting, endeavor to discover the reason for your doubt. Is it personal sin causing doubt? Is it lack of time with the Lord which is causing doubt? Is it ignorance of Scripture’s teaching on assurance?
I want to say from the start, I am not making the case here for the doctrine of the perseverance of the believer, even though I firmly believe it to be taught throughout Scripture. In fact, I could take up all the space on your screen with both a firm biblical argument for this doctrine, and a corresponding polemic against the opposite view if I needed to. At the present time, however, I am just looking for solid answers to some genuine questions I have for the individuals who do not believe in the doctrine of the believer’s perseverance. This doctrine is sometimes referred to as eternal security or the perseverance of the saints. I will not post any Bible verses or any of “my interpretations” whatsoever in this post – I simply want answers to a few questions.
It’s pretty crucial because if any doctrine is to be proven biblical, and therefore true, then it should be fully developed in Scripture. In other words, it shouldn’t just be one thing and nothing else. It should be the game of basketball and not just the ball or the goal. If you hold the view that a believer can lose his or her salvation, you should be able to explain the whole doctrine with all of its facets and implications. It’s not enough to just say, “You know the Bible teaches you can lose your salvation, right?” You should be able to explain how this teaching, if true, relates to every other teaching in Scripture – and that’s where my questions come in. I want to know what the implications are for some other areas in Scripture if this teaching is biblical. I also want to know how it relates to other areas of the believer’s life. These questions have to be answered clearly, with examples, and with plenty of Scripture, otherwise there can be no real case for this view. It has to be more than just the ball – it must be the whole game.
With that said, all of my questions are listed below with brief commentary. Feel free to answer these questions in the comment section, or however you wish.
- What must a believer do in order to lose his salvation?
In other words, what must take place for the believer to lose his salvation? If this teaching is true, then believers should definitely guard themselves against doing the very thing which causes him to lose his salvation. So what must the believer do to lose his salvation, what line must he cross, or what requirement must he fulfill to no longer be a believer?
- Can salvation be regained? If so, how?
If there are passages which mean that salvation can be lost, then equally there must be passages which speak to it being regained. I may be wrong, but if God clearly prescribes what one should do in order to be saved, and if Scripture teaches salvation can be lost, then surely it states in some way that it can be regained. If it cannot be regained, then just say so. But if it can be lost, then surely it can just as easily be regained.
- Can a believer lose their salvation multiple times, and can they regain it multiple times?
This is banking off the previous question, but if there is a way for the apostate to gain his salvation back, then can he lose it again? And if he can lose it again, then can he regain it again? Is there an endless cycle here, a certain number of times, or no such thing at all?
- How does a believer remain saved, so that he doesn’t lose his salvation?
This is probably the most pressing question – if salvation can be lost then what must a believer do to ensure that he doesn’t? In other words, what must a believer do to maintain his salvation so that it cannot be lost? Or is it an absolute mystery, where you cannot know whether or not you have lost your salvation?
- Who or what decides when a believer loses his salvation?
As an extension of the previous question, is there an action or person which decides that the believer becomes an apostate? Said another way, does the believer do something which causes him to lose his salvation or does God decide that unbeknownst to him?
- What are the mechanics of how a believer loses his salvation?
This is something I would really like to know. What actually happens when a believer loses his salvation? I have a lot of questions following this one because of how extensive the effects of the gospel are for the believer. Is the Holy Spirit withdrawn from him and is he now dead in sins again? What happens to the progress he made during his sanctification? Does God remove the righteousness of Christ from his account, and credit his sin back to him? Does he have any recollection of what his life was like when he was saved? What spiritual state is the once-a-believer in, now that he is once again unsaved? Is everything about his salvation now reversed, or is he better or worse off than he was before?
- What did Jesus actually accomplish through the atonement at Calvary if salvation can be lost?
Did Jesus die for all sins except for the one sin which causes the believer to lose his salvation (whatever it may be)? Is the atonement temporary, or eternal? What exactly is salvation for the believer who loses it? In my view, it is by all accounts a significant wreckage if salvation can be lost if it was purchased by Christ for the believer. Wouldn’t it be a waste of Christ’s crucifixion if the believer can lose what Christ bought for him?
- Where, specifically in Scripture does it state that a true believer can lose his or her salvation?
While all of these questions are pressing, this is probably the most significant. If salvation can be lost, there should be clear exegetical proof from Scripture as a whole. It shouldn’t be a few verses here, and a few verses there. This should be a clear message throughout all of Scripture. Additionally, there should be plenty of examples of this in the Bible – nothing occurs in Scripture without an existing personal account.
So if you hold this view that a believer can lose his salvation, then feel free to answer below or e-mail me.
A testimony is defined as “evidence or proof provided by the existence or appearance of something.” An example would be, “his blackened finger was testimony to the fact that he had hit it with a hammer.” But in the Christian realm, what we usually mean by testimony is our personal story of conversion, how we came to faith in Christ. It is our testimony of how we came to Jesus.
Many Christians share their testimony with their coworkers, family, and friends – recounting the events that led up to their salvation, and what their life is like now because of salvation. Some Christians aren’t sure how to share their testimony, and many simply do not because of fear of rejection. With that in mind, should we even share our testimony as an evangelistic effort? If we do share our testimony for evangelistic purposes, are there certain things we should keep in mind? Can a personal testimony be used for evangelism?
I would say, yes with certain qualifiers. A genuine salvation testimony will have in it the essential components of the gospel message. If it is a true conversion story, it will tell how conversion takes place. That is, how the gospel transforms sinners. It should include those basic elements of the gospel: realization of the need for Jesus, repentance from sin, and receiving Jesus as your Savior. For example, when I share my story, I make note of the fact that I realized I was a sinner, a turned away from sin once and for all and then placed my faith in Jesus and His finished work for my salvation and eternal life.
I understand, if we were to share our story in a hurry or with someone who we assume knows us personally, we may be tempted to leave out the gospel’s key elements for convenience. It might be a simple, “Jesus changed my life,” or “I gave my heart to Jesus.” However, it seems strange if we were to go through our testimony in a detailed manner with someone, and leave out the essential elements of the gospel message.
So then, a personal testimony “by itself,” should already have the key gospel elements included in it, but a testimony shared carelessly without those elements is not a good means of evangelism. It’s not evangelism at all if it doesn’t include the gospel.
And perhaps it is helpful to add at this point that while a personal testimony should already include the key gospel elements, I think it should lead one to share the key gospel elements as a separate conversation. We should use our own testimony as a bridge to sharing the truths of the gospel. We should begin with listening to someone’s story, sharing our own, and then sharing God’s story. With that being said, sometimes all we have time to share with someone is our own testimony, but if that is the case (and sometimes it will be), I believe we should place much more emphasis on God’s testimony about His Son: the gospel.
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