Can Christians Lose Their Salvation?

By Adam Lloyd Johnson, Ph.D.

Most Christians will struggle, at least once, with the issue of losing their salvation. For some people this struggle becomes a lifelong trial of frustration and anxiety. Some protestant denominations, including Methodists and Lutherans, teach that it is possible to lose your salvation. But other denominations, such as Presbyterians and Baptists, teach that once you become a Christian, you can never lose your salvation. So who has the final say in such matters? We should always look to God and His Word as our first and final authority. He has given us His instructions in the Bible, and we’re responsible to study it diligently so we know the truth. In this article I will make the case that the Bible teaches that a Christian cannot lose their salvation.

What Does It Mean to Be a Christian?

First, let me explain exactly what it means to be a Christian. A Christian is simply someone who has been reconciled to God by repenting of their sins and placing their trust completely in Jesus Christ for their forgiveness. I’m using the term ‘repent’ here to mean when someone recognizes they’ve made moral mistakes and turn to God with a desire for Him to rescue them from their evil ways and transform them into a godly person from the inside out. In other words, a person needs to come to grips with the fact that they’ve sinned against a holy and righteous God. While they may not have committed sins as bad as some other people, repentance means recognizing your own internal rebellion against the God who created you. Our condition is hopeless, and if left alone we’d be completely lost and unable to make things right with God on our own. We should admit we deserve God’s punishment for our sin, which is eternal death, forever separated from the God of all good things. There’s nothing anyone can do on their own to fix their relationship with God, a relationship that’s been broken because of our sin. Every single person since Adam and Eve have been in this same unfortunate condition.

Just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned.

Romans 5:12

A Christian is also someone who has heard of God’s great love for them. Through a pastor, a close friend, a book, or some other means, they have been exposed to God’s solution to their sin problem. They’ve learned that, because God loved us so much, He sent His Son Jesus Christ to earth to become the sin bearer for the entire world. This Person, who was born two thousand years ago, was fully human and fully God at the same time. He lived the perfect life that we all failed to live. Then He died on the cross to take the penalty of God’s punishment for the sins of the whole world.

Having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.

Romans 5:9-10

Lastly, a Christian is someone who, after hearing this good news, placed their trust in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins. Instead of trusting in their own efforts to please God, they humbly admitted their sin and put their faith in Jesus alone to make things right between them and God. Trusting in Jesus isn’t a work or a task you do to earn forgiveness; it’s simply a way to receive God’s gift of forgiveness absolutely free. The Bible says when someone does this, they are immediately reconciled with God as He removes all the sins from their account, past, present, and future.

And may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith.

Philippians 3:9

Many other things happen at that instant in time someone trusts in Christ. The Bible calls it being born again because, at that moment, the Holy Spirit indwells you and gives you supernatural power. These powers won’t enable you to fly through the air or lift a car over your head; the supernatural powers from the Holy Spirit are actually much better than that! What the Spirit’s power does is enable you to live for God with your whole life, to turn from sin and selfishness so you can walk with Jesus every day and grow more and more like Him in all of His kindness and love. Christians still make mistakes, of course, but God works in their life to empower, teach, and correct them, preparing them to spend eternity with Him loving God, loving others, and being loved in return. Sometimes in the Bible this is referred to as the Holy Spirit producing “fruit” in a Christian’s life.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desire.

Galatians 5:22-24

I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.

Galatians 2:20

Four Reasons Salvation Cannot Be Lost

Now we come to the question of whether or not a Christian can lose their salvation. There are several places in the Bible that help explain why this is not possible. Below we’ll look at four of them:

1. Salvation Is a Free Gift

First of all, we need to remember that salvation is a free gift from God with no strings attached. Since a Christian didn’t earn salvation by performing good works to begin with, but by putting their trust in Christ, it’d be very strange indeed to think salvation could be lost based on performance. We can’t lose our salvation because of any sin or bad thing we may do because salvation is not by works but by faith. However, God tells us that after He saves us He then empowers us to do good works for others which He’s planned out before we were even born.

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.

Ephesians 2:8-10

2. You Can’t Walk Away

But couldn’t someone just stop trusting Jesus? No. The Bible teaches that once a person puts their trust in Jesus as their Savior, the Holy Spirit takes up residence in that person and supernaturally protects them from ending their faith in Jesus.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

1 Peter 1:3-5

To Him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy – to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.

Jude 24-25

The Holy Spirit that indwells you when you first become a Christian is described in the Bible as a pledge or “down payment” you receive from God here on earth. A person is often required to pay a pledge or down payment at the beginning of a loan as a promise that they’ll pay the rest of it later or else they’ll lose what they’ve already put down. The Spirit plays a similar role in that His indwelling of a Christian functions as a pledge or a promise of more things to come when we die and go to heaven. Surely we know God will give us what He’s promised, but He’s gone further in giving us a down payment to show He can be fully trusted.

In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of you salvation – having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory.

Ephesians 1:13-14

3. Satan Can’t Take Your Salvation Away

Could Satan or some demonic power take our salvation away? To do so they would have to be more powerful than God Himself!

My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.

John 10:27-30

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, “For Your sake we are being put to death all day long; we were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:31-39

4. The Elect Are Kept by God

This last reason is a bit deeper theologically, but the concept isn’t too hard to grasp if you think through it carefully. First, read these verses:

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.

Romans 8:28-30

The doctrine of election is a very deep subject, and good Christian theologians take different positions on how best to understand it. I myself affirm what’s called “conditional predestination” or “conditional election,” that God chooses to be saved those who meet the condition of putting their faith in Christ through the Holy Spirit’s empowerment. (To read more about that, see here: Election: God’s Right to Choose.) But regardless of what your position on election is, nearly all Christians agree that the Bible teaches that in eternity past God knew who would become Christians. It’s important to note that these people God knew would be Christians by putting their faith in Christ aren’t better than other people because faith isn’t something we can boast about. Faith doesn’t earn us salvation; faith is only a way to receive salvation. God desires all people to be saved (1 Tim. 2:4) and offers salvation to everyone, but only those who trust Jesus will have their sins forgiven. He knows who these people are and has predestined that they become like Jesus Christ in character and in love. These verses from Romans 8:28-30 are referred to sometimes as the “unbreakable golden chain” because those He foreknew, He then predestined, He then called, He then justified, and He will glorify. There is an unstoppable progression of events from faith to heaven (glorification) that nothing can stop because God orchestrates the process from beginning to end. We can be sure of our glory in heaven because the God who knows all things has predestined it.

Some “Problem” Passages

Now with all that said, there are some verses in the Bible that make it seem like Christians can fall away from the faith and lose their salvation. For example, consider the following:

Can People Partake of the Holy Spirit and Not Be Saved?

For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame.

Hebrews 6:4-6

A person like this may have experienced the mighty ministry of the Holy Spirit convicting them of their sin and encouraging them to trust Jesus, but if they resist and reject the Holy Spirit, then there is no other alternative but to pay for their own sins by being eternally separated from God forever. These warnings should be taken very seriously but not because they’re teaching that people can lose their salvation. Verses like this are warning people not to reject the Holy Spirit’s wooing and empowerment to trust in Christ. In other words, these verses are describing people who resist the empowerment of the Holy Spirit when God was drawing them to salvation. This empowerment from the Holy Spirit is described in Hebrews 6:4-6 as being enlightened, tasting of the heavenly gift, being partakers of the Holy Spirit, tasking the good word of God and the powers of the age to come. All of these descriptions helps us understand just how powerful the Holy Spirit’s empowerment is when the Spirit is drawing someone to trust in Christ. However, according to these verses, this empowerment can be resisted. If someone resists this empowerment from the Holy Spirit and refuses to trust in Christ, then there is no hope for their salvation. This is similarly described in Acts 7:51.

You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did.

Acts 7:51

Perhaps Someone Only Claimed to Be a Christian

The Bible also talks about people who claim to be Christians for a time but really aren’t.

The one on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, this is the man who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no firm root in himself, but is only temporary, and when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he falls away.

Matthew 13:20-21

Such people claim to have trusted in Jesus, but in reality they haven’t. Some people know that their claim is false and they’re just faking it. Others may have actually deceived themselves into thinking they trusted in Christ, but in reality they haven’t really put their faith in Him. This is a scary concept, and that’s why the Bible repeatedly tells us to examine ourselves to make sure we are in the faith.

Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?

2 Corinthians 13:5

But what do you examine? How can you measure faith? Faith is simply trusting Jesus, and that is what makes you a Christian to begin with. We can’t see this born-again experience take place because it’s a spiritual transformation, but we can see the effects of it in a person’s life. Jesus explained it to Nicodemus in John 3 using wind as an example. We don’t see wind itself, but we see the effects of it: bustling leaves, swaying branches, knocked over garbage cans! In the same way, we don’t see the new birth when someone becomes a Christian, but we see the effects of it in their life. This is caused by the Holy Spirit, who transforms them from the inside out by empowering them to change their sinful and selfish ways and instead live a life of serving and loving others.

The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.

John 3:8

Do We Have to Do Good Works to Maintain Salvation?

Does this mean we are saved by faith but to keep it we must do good things? No. We are saved by faith alone, but after we become a Christian the Holy Spirit changes our life from the inside out. It’s not about cleaning up our lives to look better on the outside. God gives us a new heart so that we want to live for Him and love other people. We should never look to good works in our life as things that earn or merit us God’s love but as evidence that Holy Spirit is really in us and transforming us. If you find that your life hasn’t changed at all since you became a Christian, then you should carefully consider if you’ve truly trusted in Christ as your Savior. It might be the case that you only said you trusted in Christ to impress others, to fit in with a particular group of people, or to alleviate peer pressure from friends or family.

James 2 discusses how our good works serve as evidence our faith is genuine. It’s important to start with James’ question: “What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him?” (James 2:14). It’s a rhetorical question, and the obvious answer is no, that kind of ‘faith’ can’t save him because, as James goes on to explain, it’s a ‘dead faith.’ The hypothetical person ‘says’ they have faith, but they really don’t, and this is evident because of a lack of good works in their life. James’ point throughout this section in James 2 is that this “false dead faith that can’t save” isn’t a real, true faith. He’s describing a false faith, and the evidence it’s false is that it hasn’t produced a changed life, that is, it hasn’t produced good works. So James is describing a faith that cannot save someone. He’s describing a false faith claim (someone who ‘says’ they have faith), a dead faith, and the evidence that it’s false and dead is that it doesn’t produce works. According to James, it’s that type of faith, a false, dead faith, that cannot save.

James here is explaining that if someone has no good works, then that’s evidence their faith is false and dead; they’ve ‘said’ they have true faith, but they really don’t. Conversely, the good works which a Christian does are evidence that their faith is true saving faith. Good works in the life a Christian are evidence of God’s empowering grace to live a godly life, which they receive only as a result of putting their faith in Christ for salvation. Paul said something similar in Galatians:

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

Galatians 5:16-23

When someone truly puts their faith in Christ, then God changes them from the inside out, and their life changes accordingly in that the Holy Spirit produces fruit in their life; that is, they engage in good works by God’s empowerment to live a godly life. That’s all that Paul meant when he wrote that what matters is “faith working through love” (Gal. 5:6). Jesus also talked about how we can know whether or not someone has true faith by their works:

Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits.

Matthew 7:15-20

Jesus taught that false teachers will be known by their bad fruit and true teachers will be known by their good fruit. Similarly, James 2 is saying that if someone is a Christian, if they have true saving faith, then there should be fruit that functions as evidence that the Spirit is working in their life. One of James’ main messages throughout his letter is that Christians should “prove yourselves doers of the Word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves” (James 1:22-25). Thus, we can be confident that he’s not talking about doing good works to earn salvation (or earn the right to keep salvation) but is explaining that how people live their lives will be evidence as to whether or not their faith is genuine, real, true faith or if it’s a dead, unreal, false faith.

James illustrates his point in James 2:15-16 with an analogy of someone who “says” they’re concerned about a person who doesn’t have proper clothing and daily food but yet doesn’t do anything to help the person. The fact that he doesn’t do anything shows that his verbal claim of being concerned is hollow, unreal, and false. Similarly, if someone’s life hasn’t been changed at all by God’s empowerment, that can show that his verbal claim of having faith in Christ is hollow, unreal, and fake.

It is in this context that James goes on to drive home the point that good works in the lives of Christians are evidence of true faith. In other words, good works are the way to prove, or “show” evidence of, someone’s true faith that saved them. That’s why James wrote that someone can “show” their faith by their works (James 2:18). He argued that “faith without works is useless” (James 2:20), not only because it’s false and dead and thus can’t save but also because it provides no evidence of someone’s salvation; it can’t “show” that their faith is real. However, if someone “says” they have faith in Christ and is doing good works, then those works can be seen by others and considered as evidence that their faith is genuine and real. James then uses Abraham and Rahab as examples of how this plays out in practice.

Does James Say that Salvation Is Not by Faith Alone?

First, James affirmed salvation by faith apart from works when he, like Paul, pointed out that the Old Testament taught that “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness” (James 2:23). However, James explained that Abraham’s faith was evidentially justified by his action of being willing to sacrifice his son Isaac. James isn’t using the term ‘justified’ in this context to talk about salvation or to mean ‘to be made righteous’ like Paul often uses the term ‘justified.’ No, James is using the term ‘justified’ here to talk about how evidence justifies a certain conclusion. For example, a judge in a courtroom may say that the large amount of evidence justifies his conclusion that someone is guilty. Similarly, James is saying that good works in someone’s life serve as solid evidence that justifies concluding that the person is a Christian, that they have true saving faith. That’s what James was getting at when he wrote that “faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected [evidenced]; and the Scripture was fulfilled [justified, i.e., shown to be true by the evidence] which says, ‘and Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,’ and he was called the friend of God” (James 2:22-23). In other words, Abraham’s good works were evidence that showed he had truly believed/trusted in God. James concluded that a person’s salvation is “justified [evidenced] by works and not by faith alone” (James 2:24), for we can’t ‘see’ a person’s faith, but we can see the works that a true faith will produce. In the same way, James explained that Rahab’s salvation was “justified [evidenced] by works” (James 2:25) when she protected God’s messengers. Both Abraham and Rahab showed evidence of their true faith, and the salvation that results from true faith, through their good works.

On the flip side, if someone ‘claims’ to be a Christian and yet there’s no evidence of good works in their life, then that might be evidence they’ve made a false claim about being a Christian. The reason this is the case is that when someone becomes a Christian by putting their faith in Christ, God then transforms them into a new, morally better person from the inside out. This transformation includes God giving them an inclination to do good works and empowering them with the ability to do them. So if I have a friend who claims to be a Christian, but I don’t see God’s transforming work in his life, it would be appropriate for me to be concerned and lovingly talk to him to make sure that he hasn’t falsely claimed to trust in Christ when, in fact, he really hasn’t. People make such false claims for various reasons: to get people to stop bothering them, to appease others, to impress folks for whatever reason, to get a job, to convince someone to date them, etc. Jesus talked about this in Matt. 7:15-23 when he warned of false teachers who claim to be Christians in order to take advantage of people. Jesus explained that we will be able to spot them by their bad works, i.e., their lack of good works. That’s the point James was making when he wrote that “faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself” (James 2:17). That is, if someone ‘says’ they have faith but there are no good works in their life, then that’s good evidence that their faith is dead, that is, that they have no true saving faith in Christ at all; it’s a ‘false, dead faith.’

Lastly, it’s important to note that false, dead faith might include believing some true facts about Christianity. This was the point James was making, that mere intellectual agreement on a set of facts isn’t true saving faith, when he wrote to his hypothetical objector that “you believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder” (James 2:19). This is a type of dead, useless faith; it’s merely intellectual assent, but since it’s not true saving faith/trust, it produces no good works in someone’s life. Real, true saving faith is not merely intellectual assent that certain facts are true; that would be a type of dead, useless ‘faith.’ As I noted above, faith is trusting in Christ, which includes repentance.

What If I Still Struggle with Sin?

In light of the four reasons we looked at above for believing someone can’t lose their salvation, it’s best to understand these falling away verses such as Hebrews 6:4-6 as referring to those people who pretended to be Christians but then later it became obvious they were faking it. Many of these verses are God’s way of trying to reach those who claim to be Christians but really are just faking it. However, these verses have also caused true Christians a lot of anxiety about whether or not they really are saved when they continue to struggle with sin. This can become a difficult and complex issue that we have to take seriously. We don’t want to be too easy on ourselves and not take our sin seriously. But at the same time we don’t want to be too hard on ourselves and question whether or not we’re really saved every time we struggle with sin. Overall, it’s best to evaluate our lives over the long run and see if there’s evidence the Holy Spirit is transforming us into a more godly person. This doesn’t mean that we’ll ever achieve perfection in this life, but there should be a steady growth in the fruit of the Spirit. And when we do sin, we should immediately recognize it as such, confess what we’ve done, pray to God for empowerment to do better, and consciously choose to trust that Christ’s work on the cross guarantees our forgiveness. At all times keep in mind that it is your faith in Christ that has fixed your relationship with God, not your good works, and you can never lose your salvation no matter how badly you mess up.

The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. …This is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as He commanded us.

1 John 1:4 and 1 John 3:23

Is it our responsibility to go around and examine other people to see if they are real Christians? No! The verse says to examine yourself, not others. And remember that Christians still sin and make terrible moral mistakes sometimes. There are certain times where it can be more obvious that someone was faking it when they claimed to be a Christian. For example, it can become more obvious if they completely turn their back on Christianity and go back to living their sinful lifestyle.

They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us.

1 John 2:19

But even true Christians can go through a period of strong rebellion. So when we see someone completely turning their back on Christianity, it might be that they never were a Christian to begin with, or it might be the case that they are truly a Christian but are just going through a time of strong rebellion. We can’t know people’s hearts for sure; only God can. But we can know for sure that if someone truly puts their faith in Christ for salvation, then they can never lose that salvation.


If you are struggling over whether or not someone can lose their salvation, go to the Bible for your answers. In His Word God explains you cannot lose what He has freely given you. The falling away verses such as those in Hebrews 6 come from God’s compassionate heart that desires all people to be saved. They are warnings to those who are pretending to be Christians but who haven’t really put their faith in Him yet. If that describes you, delay no longer! Trust in Jesus today and be fully confident that you rest secure in His love and forgiveness.

Convincing Proof