When we try to describe who someone is, there are certain qualities that are transitory and some that are permanent. I could describe a person as a teller at a bank. That's a transitory quality because he may not always be a teller. Next week, he could be working at a department store.
It's not always easy to decide if a quality is transitory or permanent. Take apples, for example; there are some varieties that are green, like Granny Smith. In that case, being green is a permanent characteristic of the apple. However, we sometimes use the word “green” to describe fruit that isn't ripe. So the phrase, “That apple is green,” is ambiguous. It could mean the apple isn't yet ripe – a transitory quality that could change as the fruit ripens or it could mean the apple is a Granny Smith – a permanent quality that will not change.
If we say that someone is saved, we must determine if that is a transitory or permanent condition. We can do this by examining passages in the Bible that describe the nature of salvation. We'll start by considering 2 Cor 5:17:
Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.
In light of this verse, it's hard to imagine how salvation could be transitory or temporary. When we become saved, our old self ceases to exist. How then can we go back to being that person? This verse describes salvation as a fundamental change to who we are. It gives the strong impression that salvation is a permanent condition rather than temporary. Of course, we should never take a single verse as a proof text on matters of doctrine. Instead, we should always interpret any passage in the context of the entire Bible. Consider also the following verses:
Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life. (John 5:24)
Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever. (1 Peter 1:23)
Salvation is clearly being described as a change to our essential nature. We have passed from death to life. We are born again of incorruptible seed. These verses, and many others like them, see to affirm that the most obvious understanding of 2 Cor is indeed the correct one. Being saved means a fundamental change in our very nature. Jesus Himself described salvation as being “born again.” Read His conversation with Nicodemus regard the subject:
Nicodemus scoffed at the idea a person could be born a second time. He was right in a sense because a second physical birth is impossible but Jesus wasn't talking about a second physical birth but a new birth – a birth from the Spirit. What would it mean to be born a second time of the flesh? You're already born so it would mean nothing new or different. Furthermore, how could a person ever become “unborn” of the flesh or “lose” his birth of the flesh? It doesn't make sense. When Jesus compared our spiritual birth to our physical birth, I believe He intended many of these parallels. If we could lose our salvation, what does that say about our spiritual rebirth? Do we become “unborn again”? It doesn't make any sense.
Are we agreed that salvation is a description of who we are? Next we will consider some passages that describe the permanency of our salvation:
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. (John 10:27-28)
Think about that verse for a moment. Jesus gives us eternal life and says His sheep will never perish. If you received eternal life, then lost it and perished, you have made Jesus a liar. There are many more verses along these lines.
And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst. (John 6:35)
As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies for your sake; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs, for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable. (Romans 11:28-29) You might want to look up the definition of “irrevocable.”
Take special note of the words the Bible uses: eternal life, you will never hunger, God's gift is irrevocable. How can have eternal life and then not have it? It's like saying I used to be immortal but now I'm going to die. The use of these kinds of words suggests permanency of our salvation.
I believe people who think we can lose our salvation have the understanding that salvation is like a status, a condition that can change. It's as though being saved is like being a bank teller – you're a teller until you quit or until the bank fires you. I think this is an incorrect view that is contrary to Scripture.