We’ve seen from our first post on losing eternal life that eternal life itself is both a present aspect and future reality, according to the words of Jesus and others found in the Scriptures. There is an “already” dimension to eternal life (we have it now) and a “not yet” dimension (we will have it in the future).
In this post, I’ll tackle the million-dollar question: can you lose eternal life? The future reality of eternal life is a good clue as to how this post will answer the question, but if you still can’t guess the outcome, keep reading.
“Lose The Reward”
There is a statement in Scripture that suggests that you and I can lose eternal life: it is known as “lose (his) reward.” In Mark 9:41, for example, Jesus tells the disciples that no one who gives a cup of cold water to someone for simply being a Christian will “lose his reward”:
38 Now John answered Him, saying, “Teacher, we saw someone who does not follow us casting out demons in Your name, and we forbade him because he does not follow us.”
39 But Jesus said, “Do not forbid him, for no one who works a miracle in My name can soon afterward speak evil of Me. 40 For he who is not against us is on our side. 41 For whoever gives you a cup of water to drink in My name, because you belong to Christ, assuredly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward. (Mark 9:38-41, NKJV)
Notice that Jesus says “reward,” not “rewards,” which suggests that, contrary to the “Loss-of-Rewards” position (a view that posits that believers can lose rewards for service but not eternal life/salvation), there’s only a single reward the believer can receive.
In Second John, John the Beloved Disciple warns believers against listening to antichrist doctrine, teaching that denies Jesus Christ has come in the flesh (and thus, denies the Incarnation event):
7 For many deceivers have gone out into the world who do not confess Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist. 8 Look to yourselves, that we do not lose those things we worked for, but that we may receive a full reward.
9 Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son. (2 John 1:7-9, NKJV)
John mentions the phrase “a full reward” in 2 John 1:8, but in context, it appears to refer to eternal life. The reason pertains to the fact that he then goes into the one who “does not have God,” that is, the unsaved person, the one who doesn’t have eternal life. The person who doesn’t have eternal life is the person who “transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ” — that is, the person who lays aside the salvation he or she formerly professed for this antichrist doctrine that denies Jesus was both human and divine and that, in his humanity, He died on the cross for the sins of the world. In other words, the one that turns away from the doctrine he has been taught “does not have God,” does not have eternal life, and is an apostate. The full reward here seems to refer to eternal life, for that is all John talks about both here and throughout his epistles.
Throwing Away The Reward (Hebrews 10:32-39)
32 But recall the former days in which, after you were illuminated, you endured a great struggle with sufferings: 33 partly while you were made a spectacle both by reproaches and tribulations, and partly while you became companions of those who were so treated; 34 for you had compassion on me in my chains, and joyfully accepted the plundering of your goods, knowing that you have a better and an enduring possession for yourselves in heaven. 35 Therefore do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward. 36 For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise:
37 “For yet a little while,
And He who is coming will come and will not tarry.
38 Now the just shall live by faith;
But if anyone draws back,
My soul has no pleasure in him.”
39 But we are not of those who draw back to perdition, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul. (Hebrews 10:32-39)
Here in Hebrews 10, we see the words of Paul to Jewish Christians who are facing persecution and think it easier to go back to Judaism. This is why Paul compares Jesus to the angels, prophets (the angels and prophets comparison is in Hebrews 1), temple furniture (Hebrews 9:1-15), and the Old Testament sacrifices (Hebrews 9:23-28): to show that Jesus is superior in every way to those things found in Judaism.
Here in Hebrews 10, Paul tells the Jewish Christians “do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward” (v.35). Confidence is faith; if you have confidence in someone, you have faith in that person. So their faith has great reward: those who do the will of God and persist in faith, endure to the end, will receive the promise. What Paul is saying in Hebrews 10:35-36 is that one can throw away his or her faith in God and forfeit God’s promise of eternal life. And this is why Paul quotes Habakkuk when he writes in verse 38 that “the just shall live by faith; but if anyone draws back, my soul has no pleasure in him.” The issue at hand is faith, and to “cast away your confidence” is to cast away your faith in Christ. Verse 39 mentions believing “to the saving of the soul,” a reminder that the goal of faith is salvation, eternal life, not “rewards” such as crowns, jewels, gems, and whatever else tradition says we’ll receive for our labor here on earth.
What we see in Hebrews 10:32-39 is that one can lose eternal life because one can throw away the key to it: that is, faith. You can’t throw away something you never had to begin with.
With regard to salvation, Arminius says in his Works that, if one falls away from faith, he or she thus falls away from salvation. If one is saved by faith, one can fall away by throwing away one’s faith and “losing eternal life.” The phrase “lose eternal life” implies that one had it at some point in the past. It’s a phrase that refers to apostates, those who profess faith but then throw away the faith and salvation they once claimed as their own.
Sell The Birthright, Reject The Inheritance (Hebrews 12:16-17)
Another passage in particular that speaks to the idea of “losing eternal life” would have to be Hebrews 12:16-17, for in it we read of Esau who sold his birthright and was then robbed of his father’s inheritance. We read that Esau was a “fornicator” and “profane person” who “sold his birthright” for food. “Afterward, when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought it diligently with tears” (Hebrews 12:17). In other words, Esau disregarded his birthright, the birthright he possessed, by selling it for food. Jacob wanted it more than Esau and regarded it as far more valuable than Esau did. To him, it was less than nothing.
But in the end, he didn’t get the father’s inheritance either. He thought he could do away with the birthright and get the inheritance, but that makes no sense. The one who had the birthright in those days got the inheritance. According to the Old Testament law of primogeniture, which said the eldest or first-born received the inheritance unless he or she had died, the eldest was entitled to the birthright. What is a birthright? It is the “right of birth” that gives the eldest entitlement to his or her father’s inheritance. Esau was the firstborn of Isaac; he believed, then, that his birth alone was enough to guarantee him the inheritance, with or without the birthright. And then he watched as Rebekah plotted with Jacob to take his inheritance away from him. Esau tells Isaac that he was tricked out of the inheritance by his brother Jacob, that Jacob means “deceiver” and that Jacob lived up to his name when stealing Esau’s inheritance (Genesis 27:35-36).
Paul uses the story of Jacob and Esau in the context of not “falling short of the grace of God,” to “pursue holiness” which is necessary to gain eternal life and see eternity with Jesus. In this context, then, the story is about more than earthly inheritance and wealth; it is about the spiritual birthright (that is, salvation) and the spiritual inheritance — that is, eternal life. In the same way that Esau’s birthright was the ticket to his earthly inheritance from his father, salvation is the spiritual birthright that guarantees believers in Jesus access to the Heavenly Father’s inheritance (that is, eternal life).
Believers have a spiritual birthright: that is, salvation. As John says in his Gospel,
10 He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. 11 He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. 12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: 13 who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:10-13, NKJV)
According to John 1:12, those who receive Jesus, those who believe in Jesus, are given “the right to become children of God.” In other words, believers in Jesus are given salvation as their spiritual birthright. They have “the right” to “become children of God,” that is, the right to become “sons of God,” they have the right to inherit the promised inheritance. As spiritual sons, salvation is their spiritual birthright.
The Lord has given believers the Holy Spirit as a “down payment” or “pledge” of the promised inheritance (see Ephesians 1:14; 2 Corinthians 1:2; 5:5). The NKJV says the Greek word arrabon is translated “guarantee,” but this doesn’t make sense as a proper translation in light of the fact that the promise is conditional upon perseverance in faith. God cannot make the promise conditional, then “guarantee” the individual will receive the inheritance without regard for that individual’s perseverance in faith. Salvation isn’t unconditional but conditioned on faith until the end, as can be seen from the Israelites in the wilderness, who were given the promise of the Promised Land but then failed to enter therein because of their own unbelief/lack of faith (Hebrews 3:16-4:2).
The Greek word for “pledge,” arrabon, refers to a security pledge for something: that is, it is an initial payment that shows the commitment of the payee to deliver on the rest. When you’re preparing to rent an apartment and they ask for a “security deposit,” the apartment complex wants some initial money as a promise that you intend to occupy the apartment and pay your rent faithfully.
As we’ve seen from our discussion in this second part of the mini-series on whether or not eternal life can be lost, eternal life is something we have in a sense in the here and now and, in another, something that is a future anticipation and event to look forward to. Since eternal life is something we possess somewhat here and now, we can throw away what we have and throw away eternal life entirely. We can lose eternal life.
Based on Scripture, those that claim you cannot lose eternal life are the ones who’ve not done enough work in the study of the Scriptures. Eternal life can be thrown away because believers can throw away their confidence or faith (Hebrews 10), and they can throw away their spiritual birthright — that is, their faith in Jesus and their salvation. And if they throw away their faith and their salvation, then subsequently, they throw away their claim to the sonship inheritance, that is, the Holy Spirit (the down payment or pledge of the inheritance) and eternal life.