Can we lose our salvation?

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Can we lose our salvation


“Can a Christian lose their salvation?” — Heather M., an ELCA Facebook follower

Rosanne: The question of who has salvation and who might not has long been debated. Your question seems to imply that there is something that we can do to earn or obtain salvation and, hence, “lose” it. However, we are reminded by Paul in Romans that Christ’s death for us was a gift freely given from the love of God to us. This was Luther’s “ah ha” moment when he read Romans — salvation is God’s free gift given to us in the death of Christ and cannot be earned or purchased.

We do, however, have the freedom to reject the gift. But rejection does not change the fact that God gave the gift, once and for all. Does that mean we lose our salvation? I don’t think so. Finally, in the end, who joins the heavenly hosts around the throne of God is not something you and I can determine. It is part and parcel of God’s mysterious way in the world. 

My pastoral internship supervisor once asked me, “Annie, why are you so afraid of messing up? What do you think is going to happen if you do?” Then he brought his hands together — palms up — to make a kind of bowl. “You are in God’s hands,” he said. “You are not going to fall out. And if you jump, God is going to catch you.”

I keep that image with me every day, and it reminds me that I’m not going to accidentally find myself outside of God’s love and salvation, even if I do mess up and even if I do sometimes willfully test God’s patience. 

The other image that I think of when I consider this question is one that a favorite professor used when I was in seminary. He talked about “incurvatus in se” — being curved or curled in on oneself. As he was talking to us, he curled himself up into a ball, almost into a fetal position with his chin tucked down to his chest and his eyes focused down and inward on himself. “This is what it’s like to cut yourself off completely from God,” he said. “This is hell.”

I don’t think we can lose our salvation. I think it might be possible to curve inward so much that we cut ourselves off from God, God’s love and God’s people. But I have to imagine that the God who holds us in hand and loves us no matter what is always, urgently and persistently, trying to lift our heads and help us stand and turn us outward again.

The Lutheran tradition has gone back and forth on this, at some times insisting that God’s grace is stronger than any action of ours, at other times saying that we can choose to reject God’s grace.

Here is where I am at. God’s grace is a gift — even the faith to receive God’s grace is a gift of God. Our salvation is wholly and completely dependent upon God. And I believe that God’s grace stands firm. In the face of my sinfulness, God’s grace stands firm, inviting me to be the person God has called me to be. In the face of my doubt, God’s grace stands firm, inviting me to bring my questions to God and live into a deeper relationship with God. St. Paul tells us that he is “convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39) — nothing! God’s grace stands firm. We can walk away from God. We can refuse the gift of grace.

And like the father in the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32), God will wait for us to return, running to us and welcoming us home. God’s love and grace are stronger than anything we can do or say or think.

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The challenge (and promise) of baptism
Christ alone
Separation from God

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