Salvation Can Be Lost (Forfeited) According to the Bible & the Early Church Writings

Ladder_of_Divine_Ascent_Monastery_of_St_Catherine_Sinai_12th_centurySome protestants / evangelicals hold to the view of ‘once saved, always saved’ and deny the possibility of one losing his or her salvation once he or she has come to have faith in Christ.  Catholics (as well as all other pre-‘Reformation’ Christians) have always seen the situation differently.  The Bible often warns all believers of the real possibility of wandering from the path of salvation in both the old and new covenants.  Therefore Catholics exercise the theological virtue of ‘hope’ in such a way as to avoid the sin of despair (doubting that God will offer all of the grace that is needed for salvation) as well as the sin of presumption (believing that one will be saved regardless of whether one continues to cooperate with God’s grace).

…In the Old Covenant:

  • Ezekiel 18:24:  “But when a righteous man turns away from his righteousness and commits iniquity and does the same abominable things that the wicked man does, shall he live? None of the righteous deeds which he has done shall be remembered; for the treachery of which he is guilty and the sin he has committed, he shall die.”
  • Ezekiel 33:18-19:   “When the righteous turns from his righteousness, and commits iniquity, he shall die for it. And when the wicked turns from his wickedness, and does what is lawful and right, he shall live by it.”
  • Exodus 32:32:  “But the LORD said to Moses, “Whoever has sinned against me, him will I blot out of my book.”

…The need for perseverance continues in the New Covenant:

  • John 15:6,10:  “If a man does not abide in me, he is cast forth as a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire and burned . . . If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.”
  • Matthew 24:12-13: “And because wickedness is multiplied, most men’s love will grow cold.  But he who endures to the end will be saved.”
  • Luke 8:13:  “And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy; but these have no root, they believe for a while and in time of temptation fall away.”
  • Colossians 1:21-23:  “And you, who once were estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds,he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him,provided that you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel which you heard, which has been preached to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.”
  • 1 Corinthians 9:26-27:  “Well, I do not run aimlessly, I do not box as one beating the air; but I pommel my body and subdue it, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”
  • 1 Corinthians 10:8-12:   “We must not indulge in immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put the Lord to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents;nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. Now these things happened to them as a warning, but they were written down for our instruction, upon whom the end of the ages has come. Therefore let any one who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.”
  • James 1:12:  “Blessed is the man who endures trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life which God has promised to those who love him.”
  • 1 Corinthians 15:1-2:  “Now I would remind you, brethren, in what terms I preached to you the gospel, which you received, in which you stand, by which you are saved, if you hold it fast — unless you believed in vain.”
  • 1 Timothy 2:25:  “But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.”
  • Hebrews 10:35-39:  “Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward.  For you have need of endurance, so that you may do the will of God and receive what is promised.  “For yet a little while, and the coming one shall come and shall not tarry; but my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him.”  But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and keep their souls.”

… If we do not continue in faith and repentance, we fall from God’s grace through our own choosing:

  • Galatians 5:1-4: “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand fast therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.  Now I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you.  I testify again to every man who receives circumcision that he is bound to keep the whole law.  You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.”
  • Hebrews 6:4-6:  “For it is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they then commit apostasy, since they crucify the Son of God on their own account and hold him up to contempt.”
  • Romans 11:20-22:  “…They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast only through faith. So do not become proud, but stand in awe.  For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you.  Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness; otherwise you too will be cut off.”
  • Matthew 19:16-21: “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will know them by their fruits. “Not every one who says to me, `Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, `Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name? ‘And then will I declare to them, `I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers.’”
  • 2 Timothy 2:11-13:  “The saying is sure: If we have died with him, we shall also live with him; if we endure, we shall also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful — for he cannot deny himself.”
  • 1 Timothy 1:18-20:  “This charge I commit to you, Timothy, my son, in accordance with the prophetic utterances which pointed to you, that inspired by them you may wage the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting conscience, certain persons have made shipwreck of their faith,among them Hymenae’us and Alexander, whom I have delivered to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme.”
  • 1 Timothy 3-2,6:  “Now a bishop must be above reproach… He must not be a recent convert, or he may be puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil;”
  • 1 Timothy 6:9-12:  “But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and hurtful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all evils; it is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced their hearts with many pangs.”
  • 2 Peter 2:20-22:  “For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overpowered, the last state has become worse for them than the first.  For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them.  It has happened to them according to the true proverb, The dog turns back to his own vomit, and the sow is washed only to wallow in the mire.”
  • Galatians 5:19-21:  “Now the works of the flesh are plain: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.”
  • Hebrews 4:1,11:  “Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest remains, let us fear lest any of you be judged to have failed to reach it . . . Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, that no one fall by the same sort of disobedience.”
  • Hebrews 10:26-29:  “For if we sin deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful prospect of judgment, and a fury of fire which will consume the adversaries. A man who has violated the law of Moses dies without mercy at the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment do you think will be deserved by the man who has spurned the Son of God, and profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and outraged the Spirit of grace?”
  • James 5:19-20:  “My brethren, if any one among you wanders from the truth and some one brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.”

…We are to wait for God’s judgment, not judge ourselves prematurely:

  • 1 Corinthians 4:3-5:   “But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. I do not even judge myself.  I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me.  Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes…”


Salvation Can Be Forfeited (Not ‘Once Saved, Always Saved’) According to the Early Church

didacheThe Didache

“Watch for your life’s sake. Let not your lamps be quenched, nor your loins unloosed; but be ready, for you know not the hour in which our Lord comes. But you shall assemble together often, seeking the things which are befitting to your souls: for the whole time of your faith will not profit you, if you be not made complete in the last time” -(Didache 16 [A.D. 70]).

hermasHermas, bishop
“And as many of them . . . as have repented, shall have their dwelling in the tower [i.e., the Church]. And those of them who have been slower in repenting shall dwell within the walls. And as many as do not repent at all, but abide in their deeds, shall utterly perish. . . . But if any one relapse into strife, he will be cast out of the tower, and will lose his life. Life is the possession of all who keep the commandments of the Lord” -(The Shepherd 3:8:7 [A.D. 80]).

pope st Clement1Pope St. Clement of Rome (c. 95 A.D.)

“Take care, dear friends, lest his many benefits turn into a judgment upon all of us, as will happen if we fail to live worthily of him, and to do harmoniously those things which are good and well-pleasing in his sight . . . It is right, therefore, that we should not be deserters of his will.”        (Letter to the Corinthians / First Clement, 21: 1, 4)

“Since, therefore, all things are seen and heard, let us fear him and abandon the abominable lusts that spawn evil works, in order that we may be shielded by his mercy from the coming judgments. For where can any of us escape from his mighty hand? And what world will receive any of those who desert him?” (Letter to the Corinthians / First Clement, 28: 1-2)

“Let us therefore make every effort to be found in the number of those who patiently wait for him, so that we may share in his promised gifts. But how shall this be, dear friends? If our mind is fixed on God through faith; if we seek out those things which are well-pleasing and acceptable to him; if we accomplish those things which are in harmony with his faultless will, and follow the way of truth, casting off from ourselves all unrighteousness and lawlessness, covetousness, strife, malice and deceit, gossip and slander, hatred of God, pride and arrogance, vanity and inhospitality.” (Letter to the Corinthians / First Clement, 35: 1-5)


St. Justin MartyrSt. Justin Martyr, apologist (c. 155 A.D.)
“[E]ach man goes to everlasting punishment or salvation according to the value of his actions.” (First Apology, Chapter XII)
“[F]or not those who make profession, but those who do the works, shall be saved, according to His word:”. . . (First Apology, Chapter XVI)
“So that if they repent, all who wish for it can obtain mercy from God: . . . not as you deceive yourselves, and some others who resemble you in this, who say, that even though they be sinners, but know God, the Lord will not impute sin to them . . . how can the impure and utterly abandoned, if they weep not, and mourn not, and repent not, entertain the hope that the Lord will not impute to them sin?” (First Apology, Chapter CXLI)


SaintIrenaeus- 2St. Irenaeus of Lyons, bishop

“[T]he ungodly and unrighteous and wicked and profane among men [shall go] into everlasting fire; but [he] may, in the exercise of his grace, confer immortality on the righteous, and holy, and those who have kept his commandments, and have persevered in his love, some from the beginning [of their Christian course], and others from [the date of] their penance, and may surround them with everlasting glory” -(Against Heresies 1:10:1 [A.D. 189]).

“God has given that which is good, and those who do it will receive glory and honor because they have done good when they had it in their power not to do so. But those who do not do it will receive the just judgment of God, because they did not do good when they had it in their power to do so.” (Against Heresies, IV, 37, 1; commenting on Romans 2:7)

TertullianTertullian, apologist

“[Regarding confession, some] flee from this work as being an exposure of themselves, or they put it off from day to day. I presume they are more mindful of modesty than of salvation, like those who contract a disease in the more shameful parts of the body and shun making themselves known to the physicians; and thus they perish along with their own bashfulness” -(Repentance 10:1 [A.D. 203]).


Clement_alexandrinSt. Clement of Alexandria, theologian (d. 215 A.D.)

“[W]hen we hear, “Thy faith hath saved thee,” we do not understand Him to say absolutely that those who have believed in any way whatever shall be saved, unless also works follow . . . No one, then, can be a believer and at the same time be licentious . . . those that have been glorified through righteousness.” (Stromata / Miscellanies, Chapter XIV)
hippolytusSt. Hippolytus of Rome, bishop (d. 236 A.D.)
“He, in administering the righteous judgment of the Father to all, assigns to each what is righteous according to his works . . . the justification will be seen in the awarding to each that which is just; since to those who have done well shall be assigned righteously eternal bliss, and to the lovers of iniquity shall be given eternal punishment.” (Against Plato, 3)

cyprian-of-carthage0012St. Cyprian of Carthage, bishop

“Of how much greater faith and salutary fear are they who . . . confess their sins to the priests of God in a straightforward manner and in sorrow, making an open declaration of conscience. . . . I beseech you, brethren, let everyone who has sinned confess his sin while he is still in this world, while his confession is still admissible, while the satisfaction and remission made through the priests are still pleasing before the Lord” -(The Lapsed 28 [A.D. 251]).

OrigenOrigen, theologian (d. 254 A.D.)
“[W]e may either lose that true and eternal life by our vices, or win it by virtue.” (Divine Institutes, 7:5)




Basil_of_CaesareaSt. Basil the Great of Caesarea, bishop

“In like manner they which have grieved the Holy Spirit by the wickedness of their ways, . . . shall be deprived of what they have received, their grace being transferred to others; . . . meaning complete separation from the Spirit.” (De Spiritu Sancto, chapter 15)


st-augustine-hippo2St. Augustine of Hippo, bishop

“[N]othing could have been devised more likely to instruct and benefit the pious reader of sacred Scripture than that, besides describing praiseworthy characters as examples, and blameworthy characters as warnings, it should also narrate cases where good men have gone back and fallen into evil, whether they are restored to the right path or continue irreclaimable; and also where bad men have changed, and have attained to goodness, whether they persevere in it or relapse into evil; in order that the righteous may be not lifted up in the pride of security, nor the wicked hardened in despair of cure” -(Against Faustus 22:96 [A.D. 400]).

“[A]lthough they were living well, [they] have not persevered therein; because they have of their own will been changed from a good to an evil life, and on that account are worthy of rebuke; and if rebuke should be of no avail to them, and they should persevere in their ruined life until death, they are also worthy of divine condemnation forever. Neither shall they excuse themselves, saying—as now they say, ‘Why are we rebuked?’—so then, ‘Why are we condemned, since indeed, that we might return from good to evil, we did not receive that perseverance by which we should abide in good?’ They shall by no means deliver themselves by this excuse from righteous condemnation. . . . since it may be said, ‘O man, in that which you have heard and kept, in that you might persevere if you want’” -(Admonition and Grace 11 [A.D. 426]).

“But those who do not belong to the number of the predestined . . . are judged most justly according to their deserts. For either they lie under sin which they contracted originally by their generation and go forth [from this life] with that hereditary debt which was not forgiven by regeneration, or they have added others besides through free choice: choice, I say, free; but not freed. . . . Or they receive God’s grace, but they are temporal and do not persevere; they abandon it and are abandoned. For by free will, since they have not received the gift of perseverance, they are sent away in God’s just and hidden judgment” (ibid., 13).

But if someone already regenerate and justified should, of his own will, relapse into his evil life, certainly that man cannot say: “I have not received’; because he lost the grace he received from God and by his own free choice went to evil. (Admonition and Grace [c. 427])

caesarius of arlesSt. Caesarius of Arles, archbishop

“Although the apostle [Paul] has mentioned many grievous sins, we, nevertheless, lest we seem to promote despair, will state briefly what they are. Sacrilege, murder, adultery, false witness, theft, robbery, pride, envy, avarice, and, if it is of long standing, anger, drunkenness, if it is persistent, and slander are reckoned in their number. Or if anyone knows that these sins dominate him, if he does not do penance worthily and for a long time, if such time is given him . . . he cannot be purged in that transitory fire of which the apostle spoke [1 Cor. 3:11–15], but the eternal flames will torture him without any remedy. But since the lesser sins are, of course, known to all, and it would take too long to mention them all, it will be necessary for us only to name some of them. . . . There is no doubt that these and similar deeds belong to the lesser sins which, as I said before, can scarcely be counted, and from which not only all Christian people, but even all the saints could not and cannot always be free. We do not, of course, believe that the soul is killed by these sins, but still they make it ugly by covering it as if with some kind of pustules and, as it were, with horrible scabs” -(Sermons 179[104]:2 [A.D. 522]).

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