Can a Professing Christian Who Has Turned Away from Christ Be Saved?
I believe that once a person is authentically redeemed, is truly in Christ, that person will never be lost to Christ. That person has what we call eternal security—not because of the person’s innate ability to persevere, but I believe that God promises to preserve His own and that we have the benefit of our Great High Priest who intercedes for us every day. Now, at the same time, Christians are capable of gross and heinous sin. They’re capable of very serious falls away from Christ. They’re capable of the worst kind of denial and betrayal of our Lord.
Consider, for example, Exhibit A—the apostle Peter, who denied Jesus with cursing. He was so emphatic that he uttered profanities to underscore the fact that he never knew Jesus. If you talk about somebody who didn’t seem to want to repent and who had turned away from Jesus, Saint Peter is your classic example. Yet his fellow disciple Judas also betrayed Jesus and turned away from Him, and of course, both of the betrayals were predicted by Jesus at the Last Supper. When Jesus spoke of Judas, He said, “What you have to do, do quickly. Go.” And He dismissed him to his treachery. He mentioned in the Scripture that Judas was a son of perdition from the beginning. I think it’s clear in Jesus’ High Priestly prayer that He understood Judas was never a Christian. So Judas’s betrayal was not the case of a Christian turning on Christ.
When He announced to Peter that Peter would also betray Him, He said to him, “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked for you. He would have you and sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you so that your faith should not fail; and when you turn, strengthen the brethren.” And then Peter says, “Oh no, Lord, not me. I’ll never betray you.” Then, of course, he did. But notice that when Jesus predicted it, He said, “When you turn”—not, “If you turn” but “When you turn, strengthen the brethren.” Because Jesus had prayed as He did in His High Priestly prayer, no one would be able to snatch His people out of His hand.
The New Testament promises that He who has begun a good work in you will perfect it to the end (Phil. 1:6). I know there are many Christians who believe that a true Christian can lose his or her salvation. I don’t. I’d say with the apostle John, “Those who went out from us were never really with us.” I think a Christian can have a gross and serious fall but not a full and final fall—that he or she will be restored even as David realized his sin, as the Prodigal Son came to himself, as Peter ultimately repented.
“Is there salvation for a Christian who has turned away from Christ and does not seem to want to repent?” and other questions can be found in our Questions Answered section.