Can Someone Fall From Grace?

Introduction

Rooted in the doctrines of Calvinism, the idea that "once one is saved, then he is always saved", is often used to comfort Christians and give them confidence towards their final salvation.  However, while the Bible does provide a basis for confidence, it does not teach that Christians cannot fall from grace.  Moreover, the teachings of Jesus and His apostles actually warn Christians to beware the danger of falling away.  The Bible even contains examples of people who did fall away.

Warnings Against the Possibility of Apostasy

Several passages in the Scripture warn against the possibility and danger of one becoming an apostate, or falling away.  The Bible uses several different phrases to refer to a Christian's action of falling away from the faith, both in their practices and in God's judgment.  These passages speak clearly of not only the possibility, but the looming danger of falling away.  Please read the following passages:

"Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; but exhort one another daily, while it is called 'Today', lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin."  Hebrews 3:12-13

"Therefore we must give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest we drift away.  For if the word spoken through angels proved steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just reward, how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? ..."  Hebrews 2:1-3

"Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.  Therefore, let him who thinks he stands, take heed lest he fall."  I Corinthians 10:11-12

All of these warnings would be meaningless if Christians could not fall away.  Therefore, the very existence of these warnings proves that Christians can fall from grace.  But, this point is made even clearer when we investigate examples of Christians who struggled against falling away, and some who actually did.

Examples of Apostasy

The most powerful example of a Christian struggling to remain faithful is the example of the apostle Paul.  Considered by many to be one of the strongest and most active apostles, Paul not only felt the danger of becoming apostate, but he also wrote about it to help warn those who were over-confident:

"But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified."  I Corinthians 9:27

If the apostle Paul had not achieved a state of permanent perseverance, then how can we expect to remove ourselves from the danger of becoming "disqualified"?  Shortly after writing this statement, Paul warned the Corinthians with the statement, "Let him who thinks he stands, take heed lest he fall."

In addition to these warnings, the New Testament contains examples of other Christians who actually did fall from the faith.  The Christians at Galatia had succumbed to a false doctrine that was rampant during the early New Testament era.  This doctrine involved binding parts of the obsolete Old Testament, such as circumcision.  Consequently, the apostle Paul cautioned the Christians in Galatia that they had actually fallen away by accepting this false doctrine.

"You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by the law; you have fallen from grace." Galatians 5:4

Not only had the Galatian Christians become apostate, they had become apostate by what may seem to us a small thing.  This is a lesson to us about God's judgment upon those that add to, or take away from His Word.

Besides this example, the Scriptures contain other cases of individuals who were overcome by sin and no longer in fellowship with God.  The following statement was issued by the apostle Peter to a new convert, Simon, who had just recently sinned:

"Repent therefore of this your wickedness, and pray God if perhaps the thought of heart may be forgiven you.  For I see that you are poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity." Acts 8:22-23

"... Having faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected, concerning the faith have suffered shipwreck, of whom are Hymaenaeus and Alexander, whom I delivered to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme."   I Timothy 1:19-20

In this last passage, we learn of two Christians that had suffered spiritual "shipwreck".  From these cases, we can understand that Christians can and do indeed sin so that they may fall away, and no longer be in relationship with God.  How severe is this separation?  From the passage in Galatians 5:4, we discover that they had actually become "estranged from Christ".  This is a terrible condition because only those who are "in Christ" will be saved (Galatians 3:26-27; Ephesians 1:3-7). Therefore, one can and will forfeit salvation by practicing sin or by adopting false doctrines.

The Good News

While the Bible does teach that we can fall from grace, it does not teach that this condition must be permanent.  The entire book of Galatians is evidence to this fact.  The book was written to encourage and call to repentance those who had become "estranged from Christ".  So, what are we to do if we find ourselves in this condition?   The Bible teaches a clear course of action for any and every sin:

"If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." I John 1:9

The verse corresponds with the instruction that we examined earlier, which was given to the new covert, Simon.

"Repent therefore of this your wickedness, and pray God if perhaps the thought of heart may be forgiven you.  For I see that you are poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity." Acts 8:22-23

These passages teach a clear promise from God:  If we will but simply confess and repent of our sins through prayer, then God will forgive us.  However, this process of repentance towards forgiveness should not be confused with the initial conversion process.  In each of these cases, the people given the above instructions were already Christians.  The Bible teaches a different plan for salvation for becoming a Christian and receiving the initial forgiveness of sins.

Conclusion

Although the idea of "once saved, always saved" provides comfort and confidence in our ultimate salvation, it is an empty hope that deceives its believers into a false sense of security.  As with any question or teaching, we must be sure to examine the Scriptures to see if it is true (Acts 17:11).  When we do turn to the Bible, we learn of numerous warnings against over-confidence, and to take caution against falling from the faith.  Besides this, we see examples of great Christians, like Paul, who struggled to remain faithful; moreover, we sorrowfully read of Christians who failed in this struggle.  

Fortunately, God offers a means of being forgiven when we do stumble.  He has promised to forgive us if we through prayer, repent and confess our sins to Him.  However, the very fact that Christians who sin, need to ask for forgiveness is another proof to the Bible's truth:  Sin, both before and after our conversion, separates us from God.  If we do not repent in either case, then we can and will forfeit our salvation and God's grace.

Unless otherwise noted, all quotations are from the New King James Version, copyright © 1994 by Thomas Nelson Publishers.

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