There seems a distinction between those who sometimes fail but
whose hearts are still for the Lord, and those who completely go against
the Lord. In the latter case the Scripture appears quite clear: “once
saved always saved” is NOT true. You may wish to suggest they never
were saved but it isn't always that clear. We hope these notes may add
a little opportunity to think about this subject.
The Scriptures are FULL of reassuring words about our salvation,
about the work of God in Jesus Christ on our behalf, about the grace
of God available for us, and about the wonderful future God has planned
for us. However if we are not careful, these words can lull us into
a complacent state where we are casual about the quality of life we
live “because we are saved”.
This is a state of affairs far from the Scriptural
pattern and we need therefore, to ensure we balance our teaching.
To that end we need to consider this serious subject with great care.
In what follows, we have sought to divide up the teaching for the sake
of ease of reading but we are aware that the headings overlap and many
Scriptures could come under several of them. The conclusions at
the end are important.
By Rejecting Righteousness
if a righteous man turns from his righteousness and commits
sin and does the same detestable things the wicked man does, will he
live? None of the righteous things he has done will be remembered. Because
of the unfaithfulness he is guilty of and because of the sin he has
committed, he will die .
Later apostasy (not merely backsliding) wipes out earlier righteousness.
Although there is no reference to eternity here, it must be implied
that he has lost any future hope.
The rest of the passage is about the wicked who repents and is saved
and is very much a passage where the emphasis is on grace and salvation.
It ends with the words, “For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone,
declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live!” (v.32) indicating the
Lord is more concerned to see life through repentance that death from
are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its saltiness, how can
it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to
be thrown out ad trampled by men.
This is spoken to his disciples, to those whose character completely
The warning is clear that disciples can lose their saltiness and can
be thrown out.
Again the emphasis should be on apostasy rather than an occasional fall.
if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away.
It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole
body to go into hell
Again this is spoken to disciples.
This is the second warning in as many verses saying you can sin and
fall away and end up, eventually after a gradual falling away, in hell.
While these should not be seen as key verses on the subject they do
back up the primary teaching found elsewhere in Scripture.
you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God ? Do
not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers
nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy
nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom
of God .
Here is a general list of those who sin and do not come into God's kingdom.
While it applies to unbelievers, where believers fall into AND CONTINUE
IN any of these sins, there must be a strong question mark over their
Gal 5:19-21 has a similar list which needs to be checked.
By Rejecting the Grace of God
my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised
Christ will be of no value to you at all..... You who are trying to
be justified by law have been alienated from Christ, you have fallen
Reliance on Christ alone is the means to salvation. If there is only
reliance upon self-works of the law, there is no salvation because this
The fact that they have been deceived into earnestly believing that
what they are doing is right, is of no help. Again this applies
to ON-GOING self reliance.
must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so
that we do not drift away. For if the message spoken by angels was binding,
and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how
shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation.
There is a possibility of drifting away (similar to “turning away” above),
meaning a complete moving away from the faith.
The warning of punishment is implicit and while the extent of that punishment
is not made fully clear, it is compared to what happened in the Old
Testament to those who refused the message and were destroyed.
therefore the kindness and sternness of God; sternness to those who
fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue
in his kindness. Otherwise you also will be cut off.
blessing of God is clearly shown to be CONDITIONAL on the believer continuing
in the grace of God.
Failure to continue (occasional fall not counting here) clearly means
a removing from the life of God which must include eternity.
now he has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to
present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation
- IF you continue in your
faith, established and firm, not moving from the hope held out
in the gospel
This is first a word of encouragement to show what Christ HAS made us
But it is also a word of warning for we are that as long as we continue
in faith to hold the hope that is presented to us, and not when we move
right away from it
The clear implication is that if we stray from it we lose all these
Rejecting the Son of God's work
is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted
the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted
the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, if
they fall away , to be brought back to repentance, because to
their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting
him to public disgrace.
The enormity of what is being rejected by a “falling away Christian”
is clearly shown.
It also shows the impossibility, apparently, of being able to repent
again when this happens. Repentance is a gift from God and God rarely,
if ever, gives it twice. Again though, this is not a temporary failure
but a complete moving away from the faith.
The passage continues with encouragement not to go this way and finishes
want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end in order
to make your hope sure
The previous passage is followed by encouragement including this verse.
Nevertheless, it is also a warning that we do need to persevere to the
am the vine; you (disciples) are the branches. If anyone does not remain
in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches
are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.
Disciples have to live close to, part of the Son.
The possibility is there of falling away and the result is also clear;
destruction. Not remaining in Jesus must, however, mean a complete moving
away, for Peter sinned and was restored, but Judas went completely away
and was lost.
they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and
Saviour Jesus Christ, and are again entangled in it and overcome, they
are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning. It would have
been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than
to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command
that was passed on to them.
This speaks about those who had clearly known the Lord and known the
way of righteousness but had then fallen away and become “entangled”
in sin and “overcome” by it, i.e. they allowed it to fully dominate
their lives. Again they go right away from the Lord.
Although their end is not specified in detail, it is clear that they
are back in a worse state than before they knew the Lord and it must
be assumed their end destination is now the same as it was before they
knew the Lord.
The words here are similar to those spoken by Judas to Jesus (Mt 26:24)
inferring what his end would be (also Acts 1:25 )
your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because IF you do
you will save both yourself and your hearers.
The call to Timothy is to persevere.
Perseverance seems to be the requirement to be sure of them.
The implication must be that failure to persevere puts his salvation
at risk, at the very least.
is a trustworthy saying: IF we died with him, we will also live with
him, IF we endure we will also reign with him, IF we disown
him, he will also disown us.
Here in this early church saying are various conditions
One of those is that we ENDURE i.e. go on with Christ.
This is followed by a warning that if we give up on him he will give
up on us - which is quite clear!
Rejecting the Son and His Spirit
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 judgement 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.
do not throw away your confidence, it will be richly rewarded. You need
to persevere so that when you have done the will of God you will receive
what he has promised.
A powerful warning that knowing the truth but carrying on as before
results in judgement.
This clearly is seen as rejecting and abusing both the Son of God and
his Holy Spirit.
Yet at the end again comes the word of encouragement to persevere.
Words of Assurance?
scriptures at first sight appear to give assurance of “once saved always
saved”, but a look at the context indicates that this is not so.
I am convinced that... (nothing) .. can separate us from the love of
God that is in Christ Jesus.
The list is a long and reassuring one.
But it doesn't include me! Nothing external to me can stop God's love
getting to me - but I can!
sheep listen to my voice; I know them and they follow me. I give them
eternal life and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out
of my hand.
The context is of sheep who listen (and keep on listening) and follow
(and keep on following) .
Although no one can snatch us out of God's hand, we can by an act of
will jump out!
know whom I have believed and am convinced that he is able to guard
what I have entrusted to him for that day
A verse that comes in the context of Paul calling Timothy to a holy
life, a life of suffering for the Gospel, and his assurance comes because
he has fought the fight and persevered.
A key word is “convinced” which is not the same as “guaranteed”. Another
key word is “able”, not “will”, which indicates that He will if I will.
The possibility of believers falling away appears quite clear in Scripture.
The possibility of a believer who has fallen away loosing their eternal
inheritance and ending up in hell also appears quite clear.
A clear distinction seems to need to be made between one who commits
apostasy and completely goes away from the Lord, and one who falls
to a single sin and who can be restored.
“Believers” who carry on wilfully sinning are in fact “unbelievers”
who are obviously no longer moved by the wonder of God's love and
grace towards them, that they carry on ignoring it and refuse to repent.
The first letter of John emphasises again and again that a true child
of God CANNOT go on sinning. (See 1 Jn 1;7, 2;3,6,9,17,26
A distinction between unwitting and wilful sinning should be observed,
and Scripture allows:
someone to be “caught" in a sin who wants restoring (Gal 6;1)
someone who wilfully walks into sin and remains in it (Heb 10:26 )
Cleansing, restoring and forgiveness is continually available (1 Jn
1:9 - all verbs in the present continuous tense) when we call on the
Lord to save us (1 Jn 2:1,2 - note IF not WHEN we sin).
If there is unconfessed ongoing sin then God will act, whether it
be unbeliever or “believer”
6:7 Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what
he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature
will reap destruction
Col 3:25 Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for his wrong, and
there is no favouritism
The Lord knows the heart of the individual and whether a current sin
is an aberration that will be dealt with by discipline (Heb 12:5-11)
or whether it is a sign of a falling away heart that results in a
lost inheritance (1 Jn 5:16,17)
Although the emphasis of these notes has been on the possibility of
falling away, the greater part of Scripture emphasises the grace of
God that is there to keep the Christian whose desire is to go on.
The final call of Scripture is to persevere (that is our responsibility)
and WHEN we do, God will provide the means and the place in heaven
(that is His promise). The “means” will ensure that we need nothing
more to help keep us, to enable us to go on to claim that crown that
is to be ours.