Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
October 8, 1964
NUMBER 22, PAGE 1,3b,7b,9b,11b-13

Can Eternal Life Be Forfeited?

By Hoyt Houchen

The Issue Stated

There is a doctrine in the world today that is known as the doctrine of the impossibility of apostasy, or the unconditional security of the believer. It means that a child of God, one whose sins have been washed away by the blood of Christ, cannot so sin as to finally be lost. Simply stated, it is the doctrine "once saved always saved" or "once in grace always in grace." This conception stems from the old doctrine of predestination and foreordination, the theory that God decreed before the world began that a certain elect number should be saved and a certain fixed number could not be saved. It is the idea that the sinners cannot do anything to be lost. As to the matter of salvation, it has been expressed in this way: "If you seek it you can't find it; if you find it you can't get it; if you get it you can't lose it, and if you lose it you never had it."

This tract has to do with the child of God. We are not discussing God, but the child of God. Can a child of God so sin as to finally be lost? Can the child of God forfeit his eternal life? We readily admit that God can do all things.

We do not question His power, His mercy, His love, His goodness, or His faithfulness. God has the power to keep one saved, but does he exercise that power? Is man a free moral agent, or is he a mere object in God's hand only to be moved by God's impulse? Is salvation conditional or unconditional? Is there anything that man himself can do so as to be lost? These are the questions that challenge our thinking at this time.

Origin Of Unconditional Security

The doctrine of "once saved always saved" is not new. It originated in the garden of Eden when the serpent came to Eve and said, "Ye shall not surely die" (Gen. 3:4). God had already pronounced that the curse of death would be upon Adam the day that he would eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. (Gen. 2:16, 17). Adam did not die physically on the day that he ate of the tree because he lived several hundred years after that, but he died spiritually. The word "death" that is translated from the Greek word "Thanatos" is the separation of the soul from the body, but it is also used in the scriptures as "the separation of man from God." (W. E. Vine, An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, p. 276). Before people are converted to Christ they are said to be "dead in trespasses and sins" (Eph. 2:1, 2); that is, they are separated from God, they are lost. Spiritual life is union with God; spiritual death is separation from God. From the account in Genesis 2 we learn that when Adam and Eve sinned they separated themselves from God. They were not born sinners, nor are we. Sin is the transgression of the law. (I Jno. 3:4). Adam and Eve became sinners when they sinned and that is how we become sinners. It was man who separated himself from God. God had the power to prohibit man from sinning but the fact is, God did not exercise that power because man was created as a free moral agent. "The soul that sinneth, it shall die." (Ezek. 18:20).

Can A Believer Cease To Believe?

We are agreed that salvation is dependent upon faith, but can a child of God depart from the faith, can he cease to be a believer and thereby forfeit his eternal life? The child of God is one who is in covenant relationship with God by obedience of the gospel. He is a new creature (2 Cor. 5:17) and made such because he was baptized into Christ (Gal. 3:27). He is a saved believer, but what may happen to his faith? His faith may fail. Jesus said to Peter in Lk. 22:32, "but I made supplication for thee, that thy faith fail not." The child of God may depart from the faith. (I Tim. 4:1). Here the Holy Spirit through Paul predicted that men would apostatize from the truth. The child of God may throw away his faith and his good conscience and make shipwreck concerning the faith (I Tim. 1:18). Faith and a good conscience were once possessed but they were thrust away and shipwreck was made concerning the faith. The child of God may deny the faith (I Tim. 5:8). He may cast off the faith (I Tim 5:12) He may turn after Satan (I Tim. 5:15). He may err concerning the faith (I Tim 6:20, 21). His faith may be overthrown (2 Tim. 2:1618). The word "faith" in these scriptures is the word "pistil" in the Greek, the same word that is used in Rom. 5:1 where Paul writes that we are "justified by faith." The faith that saves then, can be denied, overthrown, shipwrecked, and cast off. As a result one is turned over to Satan, condemned.

Can a child of God become an unbeliever? The writer of Hebrews in chapter 10, verse 32-39 describes a certain class as those who had been enlightened, endured, and had a better possession. They were exhorted to remain faithful; however, there were some that "shrink back unto perdition." The child of God may go back into perdition and thereby become an unbeliever.

The Child Of God Can Sin

That the child of God can sin is very evident from the Scriptures. It is argued, however, that a child of God cannot sin, that it is impossible for him to sin and I Jno. 3:9 is referred to in an effort to prove this contention. "Whosoever is begotten of God doeth no sin, because his seed abideth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is begotten of God." In the first chapter of 1st John. verses 8 and 9, we find the following: "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all sin." In view of the fact that John tells his readers that if they say that they have no sin they deceive themselves, and because he tells them that if they will confess their sins God will forgive them of their sins, he could not be teaching that it is impossible to sin in I Jno. 3:9. Then John wrote in I Jno. 2:1, "And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous." If it is impossible for a child of God to sin why this assurance? How could John be saying that it is impossible to sin when he had already told his readers that if they would confess their sins God would forgive them and that if they sin they have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ?

The word "cannot" does not always mean "impossible" as is seen in the following instances. Judah said of Benjamin, "The lad cannot Ieave his father" (Gen. 44:22) Was it impossible for Benjamin to go down to Egypt? No, because later he did go down to Egypt. Jesus said that the sons of the bride-chamber cannot fast as long as they have the bridegroom with them. (Mk. 2:19). Was it impossible for them to fast in the presence of the bridegroom? When certain ones were invited to a great feast, they made excuses and one said, "I have married a wife, therefore I cannot come" (Lk. 14: 20). Was it impossible for him to attend the supper?

A child of God cannot make a practice of sin and continue to be like Christ. He is to exhibit the life of Christ but the practice of sin will prohibit him from doing it. Charles B. Williams, a Baptist scholar, translates I Jno. 3:9, "No one who is born of God makes a practice of sinning." (Translation of the New Testament, p. 533).

If a child of God cannot sin, why did Paul command the brethren at Colossae "lie not one to another; seeing that ye have put off the old man with his doings" (Col. 3:9)? They were children of God, they had put off the old man, and they were told not to lie. If a child of God can lie, he can sin. Paul wrote to his brethren at Rome, "thou that preachest a man should not steal, dost thou steal? thou that sayest a man should not commit adultery, dost thou commit adultery? (Rom 2:21, 22). It is possible for a child of God to steal and commit adultery. A child of God can get drunk. Paul wrote to his brethren at Ephesus, "And be not drunken with wine, wherein is riot, but be filled with the Spirit" (Eph. 5:18). The child of God can lust. Peter wrote to his brethren, "'Beloved, I beseech you as sojourners and pilgrims, to abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul" (I Pet. 2:11). The scriptures affirm that it is possible for a child of God to lie, steal, get drunk, and lust.

It is contended by those who subscribe to the doctrine of the impossibility of apostasy on the part of the child of God that when he sins it is only his body that sins; he sins outwardly but not inwardly. Jesus said, however, in Mk. 7:21-23, "For from within, out of the heart of men, evil thoughts proceed, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, covetings, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, pride, foolishness: all these evil things proceed from within, and defile the man." The body is the instrument of sin and the outward acts of the body within. Paul wrote to the brethren at Rome, "neither present your members unto sins as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves unto God, as alive from the dead, and your members as instruments o f righteousness unto God" (Rom 6:13). That the spirit of the child of God can sin is seen in this verse: "Having therefore these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilements of flesh and spirit" (2 Cor. 7:1). Paul was addressing his brethren at Corinth. If their spirits could not be defiled, why were they urged to cleanse themselves of all defilement of flesh and spirit? Why not the flesh only if they could not sin inwardly? Were they commanded to cleanse themselves of that which could not be defiled?

The Child Of God Can Be Lost

Jesus told his disciples to "rejoice because your names are written in heaven" (Lk. 10:20). He wrote the Philippians that their names were "in the book of life" (Phil. 4:3), and the inspired writer referred to the church in Heb 12: 23 as 'the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven." To the angel of the church at Sardis in Rev. 3:5. the Lord wrote: "He that overcometh shall thus be arrayed in white garments; and I will in no wise blot his name out of the book of life." It is possible for a child of God to have his name blotted out of the book of life. Those whose names remain are those who overcome. Salvation is conditional.

A child of God can sin; it is possible for him to lie, steal, get drunk, and lust. Now the question is: if a child of God should die while guilty of these sins or any other sin, will he go to heaven or will he be lost? Paul says in Rom. 8:13. "For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die." These readers are addressed as "brethren" in the preceding verse. The epistle was written to "saints" (Rom. 1: 7), members of the church. Spiritual death is meant here because men die physically regardless of how they live. A child of God can die in his sins, die spiritually.

Paul wrote in 1 Cor. 6:9-10, "Or know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with men, nor theives, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God." Fornication was a sin that was committed by a member in the church at Corinth (I Cor. 5:1). Paul wrote the following to this church in his 2nd epistle: "lest again when I come my God should humble me before you, and I should mourn for many of them that have sinned heretofore, and repented not of the uncleanness and fornication and lasciviousness which they committed" (2 Cor. 12: 21). Paul stated in I Cor. 6:9, 10 that those who were guilty of those sins could not inherit the kingdom of God. There were some of those sins prevalent in the church at Corinth. Paul feared that he would come to Corinth again and find that some had not repented of those sink. If they did not repent they would not inherit the kingdom of God. They would be lost, and language could not be made any plainer. W h o were they? They were sanctified people (I Cor. 1:2), children of God, Paul feared that he, a child of God, might lose his reward. He wrote in I Cor. 9:27, "but buffet my body, and bring it into bondage: lest by any means, after that I have preached to others, I myself should be rejected." Paul recognized that his body could become the instrument of sin; therefore he says: "I buffet my body." Paul realized that he might be rejected, and that he might lose his reward.

James refers to the erring brother in Jas. 5:19, 20 where he writes: "My brethren, if any among you err from the truth, and one convert him; let him know, that he who converteth a sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall cover a multitude of sins." The book of James was addressed to Christians. In this passage being considered he has in mind those who were in sin because of past actions. The child of God who errs from the truth is a backslider and he is in a serious condition. James says that if an erring brother is converted, that is, turned back to the truth, a soul is saved from death. This can only mean eternal death because repentance will not save a person from a physical death. It is plain that the erring brother who does not repent, turn back, is lost.

That a child of God who sins will be lost is evident from 2 Pet-2:20-22. Here we read, "For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein and overcome, the last state is become worse with them than the first, For it were better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than after knowing it, to turn back from the holy commandment delivered unto them. It has happened unto them according to the true proverb, the dog turning to his own vomit again, and the sow that had washed to wallowing in the mire." Peter draws an ugly picture of apostates. Here were those who had once obeyed the gospel, they had "escaped the defilements of the world," but they were overcome. It cannot be argued that these people never were saved because we are told that they had escaped the defilements of the world." They had lapsed into their former manner of living and their last state had become worse with them that the first. The dog and sow illustration is given and the point of the proverb is not that the dog remained a dog and the sow a sow, but that each returned to its former state of defilement. A man was a man before he became a Christian and he is still a man but he is a washed man (I Cor. 6:11; Heb. 10:22). A washed sow can return to her wallowing and a washed man can return to his former life. The child of God is one washed by the 'blood of Christ but if he returns to his former condition he will be lost unless he repents.

Warnings Against Falling

To the church at Corinth Paul warned these brethren against falling when he gave the Israelites in the wilderness as an example. (I Cor. 10:1-12). The Israelites had passed through the sea, they had been delivered from bondage, a type of our bondage from sin. They fell. "Howbeit with most of them God was not well pleased: for they were overthrown in the wilderness" (vs. 5). Why did they fall — why were they overthrown? They (1) lusted after evil things (vs. 6), (2) they were idolaters (vs. 7). (3) they committed fornication (vs. 8), (4) they made trial of the Lord (vs. 9), and (5) they murmured (vs. 10). Some of those Israelites lost their reward. Paul states that "these things happened unto them by way of example; and they were written for our admonition..." (vs. 11). What is the admonition? That we do not fall. They lost their inheritance and we can lose ours. "Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he FALL" (Emphasis mine, H.H.) I Cor. 10:12.

The book of Hebrews was written for the purpose of preventing apostasy. As there was a danger that those Christians to whom the letter was addressed might return to their condition before their conversion, warning after warning is given. "Take heed, brethren, lest haply there shall be found in any one of you an evil heart of unbelief, in falling away from the living God." (Heb. 3:12). See also Heb. 4:1 and Heb. 6:4-6. Language cannot be plainer that a child of God can lose his reward.

The major portion of the New Testament is written to Christians, teaching them how to live. If a child of God can be lost, why all of this teaching? Why the many admonitions and warnings against falling?

Examples Of Falling

As we have learned, the first man, Adam, who was made in God's likeness (Gen. 1:26) sinned and as a result he was separated from God, dead spiritually. (Rom. 5:12)

The Israelites sinned and perished in the wilderness; they lost their reward. (1 Cor. 10:1-12).

Saul, the first king of Israel, was God's anointed (1 Sam. 10:1). He had God's spirit in him (vs. 10) and he was God's chosen (vs. 24). It cannot be said, therefore, that Saul was not a child of God. In I Samuel 15 we are told of Saul's disobedience. As a result he was rejected. (I Sam. 15:23). God's spirit departed from Saul (I Sam. 16:14) and Jehovah became Saul's enemy and departed from him. (1 Sam. 28:15, 16). Saul fell from Grace.

Judas Iscariot was a disciple of Christ (Matt. 10:1); he was an apostle (Matt. 10:2); and, he was given to Christ (Jno. 17:12). Luke tells us in Acts 1:25 that he "fell away." The scriptures do not teach that Judas was "a devil from the beginning." The devil is not a disciple of Christ, but Judas was. From what did Judas fall? He fell from his apostleship. (Acts 1:25). As a result he went to his own place. That place could only be perdition because Jesus said in Jno. 17:12 that none of his apostles had perished except "the son of perdition" and that was Judas. Judas, a child of God, fell away and was lost.

Ananias and Sapphira were members of the church at Jerusalem. They lied to the Holy Spirit and they died (Acts 5). We read in Rev. 21:8, "But for the fearful, and unbelieving, and abominable, a n d murders, and fornicators, and sorcerers, and idolaters and all liars, and their part shall be in the lake that burneth with fire and brimstone; which is the second death." ALL liars will be punished in the lake of fire. Are we to suppose that the lying child of God is exempt? Ananias and Sapphira lied and ALL liars will be punished.

In Acts 8 we have the record of Simon the sorcerer. Simon heard Philip preach Christ and he believed and was baptized (Acts 8:13). It cannot be argued that Simon was never saved because Jesus said in Mk. 16:16, "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved." and we read in Acts 8:13, "And Simon also himself believed: and being baptized, he continued with Philip." Simon sinned and he was told by Peter to repent and pray (Acts 8:22). This is the law of pardon for an erring child of God. Not only are children of God warned against falling but God has given the terms of pardon if they do fall. They are to repent and pray. The case of Simon is a plain example of apostasy, a child of God who fell. When Simon attempted to buy the gift of God with money Peter told him, "Thy silver perish with thee" (Acts 8:20). Pardon or forgiveness could only be obtained by complying with the conditions that God set forth — repentance and prayer.

Paul wrote to the Christians at Galatia, expressing surprise that they had been so quickly removed from the truth (Gal. 1:6-9). False teachers, Judaizers, had led these brethren astray, insisting that circumcision was necessary in order to be saved (Acts 15:1). In the letter to the Galatians Paul w a s emphasizing that justification is not by the works of the law of Moses but by faith in Christ, and to those who insisted upon circumcision of the law as a necessary condition of salvation, Paul wrote; "Ye are severed from Christ, ye who would be justified by the law; ye are fallen away from grace" (Gal. 5:4). To be severed from Christ means "cut off" or separated. In spite of the contention that a child of God cannot fall from grace, the Bible not only teaches that he can, but here were some who did. "THEY ARE FALLEN FROM GRACE."

In the parable of the sower, Lk. 8:1-15, Jesus describes the seed that fell upon the rock as "they who, when they have heard, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, who for a while believe, and in time of temptation fall away" (vs. 13). Here are those who once believed. They are represented as saved believers because they "fall away." This parable plainly teaches the possibility of apostasy.

How To Keep From Falling

The apostle Peter addressing Christians, wrote in 2 Pet. 1:4-11, -whereby he hath granted unto us his precious and exceeding great promises; that through these ye may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world by lust. Yea, and for this very cause adding on your part all diligence, in your faith supply virtue; and in your virtue knowledge; and in your knowledge self-control patience; and in your patience godliness; and in your godliness brotherly kindness; and in your brotherly kindness love. For if these things are yours and abound, they make you to be not idle nor unfruitful unto the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he that lacketh these things is blind, seeing only what is near, having forgotten the cleansing from his old sins. Wherefore, brethren, give the more diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never stumble: for thus shall be richly supplied unto you the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ." These brethren had "escaped from the corruption that is in the world" (vs. 4) and they had been cleansed from their old sins (vs. 9). By the very fact that Peter admonished his brethren to make their "calling and election sure" is clear that there was a possibility that they could fail to enter the eternal kingdom. They were urged to add those things mentioned in verses 5 and 6 and if they failed to do so they are described as "blind, seeing only what is near, having forgotten the cleansing of his old sins."

Peter also wrote in I Pet. 5:8. "Be sober, be watchful: your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion walketh about, seeking whom he may devour." If there is no possibility of a child of God being lost, why this admonition?

That children of God may avoid falling, James wrote in Jas.5:12, "But above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by the heaven, nor by the earth, nor by any other oath: but let your yea be yea, and your nay, nay; that ye fall not under judgment" "THAT YE FALL NOT UNDER JUDGMENT."

Also, to prevent falling, Peter admonished, "Ye therefore beloved, knowing these things beforehand, beware lest, being carried away with the error of the wicked, ye fall from your own steadfastness" (2 Pet. 3:17). What would be necessary to make language any plainer that a child of God can fall? "BEWARE LEST . . . YE FALL FROM YOUR OWN STEDFASTNESS."

From the above consideration, conclude that a child of God can sin, that he will be lost in sin if he does not repent; therefore, a child of God can sin as to 'finally be lost. Eternal life CAN be forfeited.

Reader, why not obey the gospel (I Pet. 4:17) by believing (Rom. 10:17; Heb. 11:6), repenting of sin (Acts 17:30, 31), confessing that Jesus Christ is the Son of God (Rom. 10:10) and being baptized for the remission of your sins (Mk 16:16; Acts 2:38)? You then will be a member of the Lord's church (Acts 2:47) and you can worship, work, and live as God has authorized you to do. At the end of a faithful life. heaven will be your home (2 Tim. 4:7, 8). If you are an erring child of God, repent and pray before it is too late (Acts 8:22).

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