Can a Christian fall from grace?
This question is somewhat misleading. Perhaps a better way to ask it would be to inquire this way: “Can someone who does not enter Heaven be called a Christian?” Looking at it in this manner the obvious answer would be “no – someone who does not enter Heaven is obviously not a Christian.”
Herein lies the complication and misunderstanding. Who among mankind has the ability to see which people truly have faith in Christ and who merely live among true followers? Psalms 44:21 says about the Lord that, “he knows the secrets of the heart…”
The example of Judas clearly shows how followers of Jesus can be mistaken for the “real deal.” But this is still a problem even after the Holy Spirit gives Spiritual discernment to individuals. In Galatians Paul 4:2 says that “some false brothers had infiltrated our ranks.” Paul is not alone. The Apostle Peter says, “there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you” (2 Peter 2:1) warning us of the fact that not all who we come into contact with will truly be Christians.
Perhaps the clearest example comes from the Lord Jesus himself. Speaking of people who claimed to follow him, and possibly even do miracles, Jesus gives this piece of information:
21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’
(bold added by me)
Note that these people claim to have done miracles in Jesus name! Even though these people would clearly be considered Christians today because of their actions Jesus casts them away.
Also note that Jesus does not say, “I knew you, but you fell away.” Jesus himself clearly states: I NEVER KNEW YOU. We can see here why it is more important to ask, “Can someone who does not enter Heaven be called a Christian” rather than “Can a Christian lose their salvation.” These people do not enter Heaven and Christ says that he never knew them. It was not a matter of gains and losses in Spiritual life, but a matter of what is reality: did Jesus know them?
That truly is the only question that matters. Does someone have a saving relationship with Jesus Christ?
Similar to the earlier question let us not ask, “can someone who followed Christ stop following Christ?” Instead we should inquire this way: “could someone who does not follow Christ really be considered a true follower of Christ?” James obviously would say no: “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him?” (James 2:14) A true Christian will have works that back up his Salvation.
Jesus agrees with James. He gives no concept of a true follower not living like a Christian. Instead in John 8:31 Jesus says, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.” The opposite of this must be true as well: You are not really Jesus disciple, if you do not hold to his teachings. If someone does not hold to Jesus’ we should not say that they fell away, but rather what Jesus would say: “the were not really his disciples.”
Just so we understand that this is a clearly taught Biblical concept once more, examine 1 John 2:19: “They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.”
Verses like this show clearly that those who are Christians do not shrink away. They remain. If someone does fall away from Christ, this verse emphatically states that their leaving would show that they did not truly belong to Christ.
The above verse also makes verses like John 10:28 more understandable: “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.”
If we believe that Christians can gain and lose Salvation this verse should perplex us. How is it that Jesus would claim that no one can snatch them out of his hand, when the people themselves can jump out?
If however, we look at this from 1 John’s perspective it becomes unclouded. If someone really has given themselves to Christ, than no one can snatch them out of Christ’s hand. It is only those who are not in Christ’s hand who are in danger.
Further evidence of this is seen in the seal placed upon Christians.
Ephesians 1:13-14 says:
Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession — to the praise of his glory.
When looking at the Greek word for “guaranteeing” we gain an amazing understanding of our assurance of Salvation. This Greek word was used for deposits, where someone would fully pay ahead of time for an item to be picked up later. It is a payment guaranteeing ownership of the purchaser!
Therefore, each person who truly believes is marked with a seal – the Holy Spirit. This seal guarantees the true Christians entrance into Heaven because they have paid for already: there is no going back on the contract.
Too often we focus on whether or not people can lose their salvation. We must instead focus on whether or not we would call someone a Christian who does not follow Jesus and will not enter Heaven. We can clearly answer “no” to that question, while knowing that Jesus is our protector and savior who has sealed us with a guarantee.