You may be aware of a theological debate about the nature of salvation. Once you accept Christ, is it possible to “lose” that salvation in the future?
Consider the hypothetical example of someone incredibly involved in church. We’ll call him John. John has been around the message of Christianity his entire life. He remembers inviting Jesus to live in his heart at a young age. It seems as though John is all set, right? However, fast forward a few years. What if things take a turn for the worse for John? What if he stops reading scripture, worshipping God regularly, and eventually gives in to sinful desires without remorse? What if John begins to act out violently, mistreating his neighbors and living an utterly cruel life? What if John even arrives at a point where he utterly denies Jesus in word and action?
Would John have “lost” that original salvation? Or would John still be “saved?”
To further parse out the question, consider the following: (1) How is salvation given, and (2) how is salvation kept? Most agree on (1), that God grants us salvation through grace by faith. But Christians often disagree about (2) above. How does one “keep” a relationship with Christ, and likewise, can someone “fall away?” If God keeps salvation eternally, despite deliberate human rejection and blasphemy in the future, then it seems as though our “friend” John can do whatever he wants with impunity.
On one hand, there’s the belief that “once saved, always saved.” God reminds us in scripture that God does not neglect the salvation covenant. On the other hand, however, there’s the view that one may eventually reject that original relationship. God also reminds us in the bible that people can fall away and change for the worse.
To put it simply, Methodists do not believe in “once saved, always saved.” We have a lifelong calling and choice to pursue a Godly relationship and live into God’s grace. The important thing to do after accepting God is to continually nurture and grow it with God’s help. Rev. Taylor Burton-Edwards, a pastor who once worked for our denomination’s discipleship ministry, has this to say about the matter:
A short, but very incomplete answer, is that [the UMC] teaches we can end up “losing” the salvation God has begun in us, and the consequence of this in the age to come is our eternal destruction in Hell. God freely grants us new birth and initiates us into the body of Christ in baptism. The profession of our faith and growth in holiness are necessary for God’s saving grace to continue its work in us, and both of these are things we must do for our love to be genuine and not compelled. We thus remain free to resist God’s grace, to revert to spiritual torpor, and possibly experience spiritual death and Hell as its consequence.
Burton-Edwards further explores the complexities of this issue, too, noting that there is a lot more to the question and possible answers.
I mention this issue because it connects perfectly with our sermon yesterday about recommitting oneself to God. Since we have a lifelong calling, it is so important to seek God after times of sinfulness and giving into temptation. We have that choice to make to continue following Christ.
If you ask me, I think that if someone has truly has an encounter with God, I think the chances for later “rejecting” God go drastically down. To know God and to experience the life-changing power of Jesus Christ will absolutely change your life. And to recommit yourself to God will further reveal the truth that God always welcomes us back, despite our failings.
Burton-Edwards sums up this ideal perfectly in the link above: Instead of “once saved, always saved,” how about a different saying?
“God is out to save us, one and all.”