Can I Lose My Salvation?
1 John 5:9-13
Dr. Jim Denison
On Sunday morning, September 9, 1973, I asked Jesus Christ to forgive my sins and become my Savior and Lord. But when I finished praying, nothing happened. I saw no lights; I felt no weight lift from my shoulders. My first thought was, “Is that all there is to it?”
And my intellectual questions about God didn’t evaporate. I still wondered about creation and science, world religions, why God allows evil and suffering. And so I doubted for many months whether my salvation and faith were real.
Was I alone?
The renowned historian Will Durant mailed questionnaires about the meaning of life to a number of famous people. After reading their answers, he published them in a chapter he titled, “An Anthology of Doubt.” Who hasn’t written in that chapter?
Researcher George Hunter says, “The number one factor in the secular audience today is not guilt but doubt. Secular people doubt the claims of the Gospel, partly because of the plural truth claims confronting people today. They also doubt the intelligence, relevance, and credibility of the church and its advocates.”
And Christians are certainly not immune from such doubts. I was not. You’re not. What do we do when we doubt our salvation or our faith or our God? How can we help others else deal with their doubts? These are precisely the questions this part of John’s first letter was written to answer.
Trust God’s word (v. 9a)
Start with his promise: “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.” We can “know” with absolute confidence and settled assurance that we have eternal life. How?
First, by trusting the Bible, the “testimony of God” (v. 9). Why should you trust it? When doubts come regarding the Bible, what do you need to know?
The Bible is God’s word because it keeps its promises. For instance, the Old Testament makes at least 28 specific predictions about the coming Messiah, each one fulfilled completely by Jesus Christ. As you’ve heard me say before, the odds of Jesus’ fulfilling just eight of these predictions, as calculated by mathematician Peter Stoner, is 1 in ten to the 17th power. That’s a one followed by 17 zeroes. Get the picture in your mind: fill the state of Texas two feet deep with silver dollars, mark just one, and give me a chance to find it blindfolded. The odds are the same as those for Jesus’ fulfillment of just eight of the promises about the Messiah. The Bible keeps its promises.
The Bible is God’s word because it agrees with itself. 66 different books written over 1,500 years by at least 40 authors, with no discrepancies regarding doctrine or faith practice—clear evidence of the trustworthiness of God’s revelation to us.
And the Bible is God’s word because it has been transmitted accurately to us. The ancient world wrote on papyrus, a thin paper which disintegrated in time. So we have no originals of the Bible, or Caesar’s Gallic Wars, or the Histories of Tacitus, or the work of Aristotle, or any other ancient book. But we have copies. How accurate are they?
We have 5,000 ancient Greek copies of the New Testament, and 10,000 in other ancient languages. These copies go back to 40 years after the originals were written.
Compare the Bible to Caesar’s Gallic Wars, with only nine or ten manuscripts, none early than 900 years after Caesar. The Histories of Tacitus were 14 books; only 4½ remain, none closer than 900 years after Tacitus. Of Aristotle’s books, only five manuscripts remain of any one work, none earlier than 1,400 years after Aristotle.
Some scholars estimate that the Greek New Testament we have is 99.2% the original, and the remaining .8% affects no matter of faith or practice.
Trust the Bible because it keeps its promises, it agrees with itself, it has been given to you accurately. Examine your doubts in its light. Find what God says on the subject, and know that it is true. And many doubts will disappear in the light of the word of God.
Trust God’s Son (vs. 9b-12)
So first we trust the Scriptures. Next we trust the Son these Scriptures reveal. Verse 9 continues, “It is the testimony of God, which he has given about his Son.” Trust God’s word, and trust God’s Son.
Historians says you can. Ancient Roman and Jewish scholars such as Thallus the Samaritan, Pliny the Younger, Seutonius, Mara bar Serapion, Tacitus, and Flavius Josephus tell us that Jesus lived, died at the hands of Pontius Pilate, was believed by the first Christians to be raised, and was worshiped as God. Historians say you can trust in God’s Son.
Former skeptics say you can: C. S. Lewis, the brilliant atheistic literature professor who became the most important popular Christian writer of the twentieth century; Cyril Joad, the atheistic philosopher, converted by the truth of the Christian faith; Sir William Ramsey, the brilliant archaeologist, converted by examining the historical truth of Scripture; Josh McDowell, an intellectual skeptic who was changed by the truth of Jesus and now convinces crowds around the world. Former skeptics say you can trust in God’s Son.
You can experience him for yourself, right now. Verse 11 promises that you can have “eternal life” by meeting Jesus. John 3:36 makes the same claim: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life.” Whoever—anyone. No matter who you are, what you’ve done, where you’ve been. Anyone.
And verse 13 promises that you can know that you have this life.
A literal translation would be, “We can actually and with full assurance know intellectually and personally that we have eternal life.”
This phrase does not mean that we gradually grow into assurance, but that we can possess here and now a present certainty of the life we have already received in Jesus. You don’t need to wonder if Jesus is real and your salvation secure—you can ask him for yourself, meet with him personally, right now.
Deal with doubts in faith
So we stand on the sure foundation of God’s trustworthy word and his divine Son. Now, when doubts arise about our faith, what practical things can we do?
Be prepared for your doubts. According to C. S. Lewis’s Screwtape Letters, doubt is something we must expect to happen to us. The stronger your faith, the more likely you will be subjected to attack by doubt. Doubt is part of Satan’s strategy for paralyzing and crippling your faith and preventing your use by God. The stronger your faith, the greater a threat you are to the enemy. So be prepared for doubts to come not because your faith is weak, but because it is strong.
Be realistic about your doubts. Our doubts and questions about God so often come from asking questions whose answers we cannot understand. We want to know more about the nature of God, or his eternal plan and why this crisis fits into it. But our minds are finite and fallen. We want to know more than we can comprehend. Augustine was right: “If you can comprehend it, it’s not God.”
And remember that faith is a relationship with God, and no relationship can be proven. You cannot prove to me that someone loves you. Absolute, scientific, logical proof for love, friendship, or faith does not exist. As Tennyson wrote, “nothing worth proving can be proven.”
So be realistic about your doubts. Do you question what you cannot humanly comprehend? Are you asking for proof which cannot exist?
Be honest about your doubts. The only doubt which does permanent damage is the one we won’t admit. Isaiah 1:18 in the original Hebrew records God’s invitation, “Come, let’s argue it out.” God knows your questions, your doubts, your struggles. Be honest about them with him.
Be biblical about your doubts. Judge what you don’t know by what you do: God’s word is true, and Jesus is his Son and our Savior. Find the help of God’s word and his Son for your doubt, your question, your problem. Ask a trusted Christian friend to study Scripture with you and pray for you. Don’t let the doubt linger and fester in your mind. Bring it into the light of God’s word, now.
My favorite prayer in the Bible is recorded in Mark 9:24. After a father pleads with Jesus to heal his demon-possessed boy, Jesus says, “Everything is possible for him who believes” (v. 23). And the father exclaims, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” You can pray that prayer today, and Jesus will hear you and help you.
Go to him for the salvation he can give your soul. He will pardon your failures and sins, give you a new start and joyous life, and bring you to heaven when you die. Go to him to start your faith, and to live your faith. Name your doubt, your confusion, your question today. Give it to him. And listen for his answers. Ask him to help your unbelief, and he will.
I studied and taught philosophy of religion at Southwestern Seminary and in other schools precisely because I believe that we need to love God with our minds. We need to ask our questions with honesty, and find the help that Scripture and Christ give us.
I closed every course I taught with a prayer I invite you to share with me now:
From cowardice, which shrinks from new truth,From laziness, that is content with half truth,From arrogance that thinks it knows all truth,O God of Truth, deliver.