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2 Peter 2:20-22 (ESV):

20 If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and are overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning. 21 It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them. 22 Of them the proverbs are true: “A dog returns to its vomit,” and, “A sow that is washed returns to her wallowing in the mud.”

Is Peter saying that it is possible for someone who was once saved and sanctified by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ to mess up and go back to their old ways, like a dog returns to its vomit, like a sow that is washed returns to her wallowing in the mud, thus losing their once-held salvation?


Relevant related question: What does “knowledge” mean in 2 Peter 2:20?

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  • This is going to be an awkward question to answer, and if I were going to answer a question with a question, I would ask, “What passage of the Bible describes salvation as something that can be held, and which may or may not be lost?” The general issue here is that if you frame your question language that the Scriptures don't use, you're going to get interminable disagreements like (I assume) the answers below illustrate. – adam.baker May 4 at 5:50
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    It looks like Ezekiel (ch. 18) taught that one can lose one’s salvation, regain it, lose it again, regain it again, etc. – Constantthin May 4 at 6:58
  • @Constantthin What you suggest is true. However, there comes a point at which you have to ask yourself whether this person is truly saved at all. Equivocation at the drop of a hat signals great danger -- and they will be known by their fruits. – Xeno May 4 at 7:13
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    @Xeno. According to Ezekiel, bad fruits is a sign of not being on the path of salvation, while good fruits is a sign of being on it. God does not hold past bad fruits against us if we turn around. – Constantthin May 4 at 8:21
  • What makes you think Peter is referring to people who have ever been saved? The whole chapter is describing unbelief. – aswine May 4 at 19:09
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Can a person lose their salvation according to 2 Peter 2:20-22?

The short answer is "Yes, most definitely."

The following response may be unpalatable to some. However, it is certainly not my intent to wound those who believe we simply cannot be lost once we receive salvation in Christ. The far greater imperative here is for the truth to be told, that which surpasses any sensitivities of those who may disbelieve it.

It is to the misinterpretation of passages like that of the OP which I speak. I would like to point out several instances where we are told that someone can, indeed, fall away from the faith. And, in doing so, they are in a perilous condition.

1. In the Gospel of John, Jesus proclaimed:

John 15:2, 6: “Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit." 6“If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned" (emphasis added).

Is Christ not warning his disciples that anyone who does not abide in Him -- that is, in all His commandments, will be "gathered and cast into the fire where they are burned"? Is that fire not Hell? How else can we read this? Is someone who accepted Christ and was baptized only to later decide to lead the life of an unrepentant criminal still saved? Has this person not, as with the OP's verses, metaphorically returned to "his own vomit" to "wallow in the mire"?

2. In Paul's Letter to the Galatians, the apostle warned that if these Christians continued to abandon their faith in favor of the Law of Moses, the Gospel would be useless:

Galatians 5:2: "Behold I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you" (emphasis added).

If Christ is "of no benefit" to Christians who looked back to the Old Law, how then can they be spared from eternal separation with God? This is followed by another stern warning from Paul:

Galatians 5:4: "You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace" (emphasis added).

Is it possible to ignore the words "severed from Christ" and "fallen from grace"? How can we be "severed from Christ" if we were never "in Him" in the first place? And, if we are severed or have fallen from Christ, does this not mean we are lost in eternal flames? Is there some "safety net" that will still catch the ex-Christian as they plunge headlong into Hell? If these admonitions are unconvincing, just what will ever convince someone that yes, we can fall away from the faith?

3. Perhaps the "go to" Book of the Bible in the matter of apostasy is the Letter to the Hebrews. There, we read several grave warnings:

Hebrews 2:1-3: For this reason we [Christians] must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it. For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just penalty [in the O/T], how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation [in Christ]?"

This passage is asking, if we "drift away" from the faith which we now possess, how will we escape the wrath of God? If I decide to denounce -- for life -- my Christianity, have I not "drifted away" from (indeed, jettisoned) my faith? If not, how so? Are we to actually believe that God will refuse my denunciation?

4. Again, in the Letter to the Hebrews, we are cautioned never to develop faithlessness:

Hebrews 3:12: "Take care, brethren [Christians], that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God" (emphasis added).

From this verse, the clear implication is that we can develop an evil, unbelieving heart that **falls away from God." And, if we do this, we will never enter into paradise with Him. It seems to me that to believe otherwise constitutes a certain spiritual blindness.

5. Later, in chapter 6 of the same Letter we read:

Hebrews 6:4-6: "For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame" (emphasis added).

If the clause of verse 6 above ("then have fallen away") does not mean what it says, how then do words have meaning? Clearly, this passage is speaking of those who received the Gospel. They "were made partakers of the heavenly gift [of Christ]," and have "fallen away" from Him. The writer then warns that it is impossible for someone in this state to be renewed as long as they persist in their present, fallen condition. Obviously, then:

Hebrews 6:8: "[If this person] yields thorns and thistles [produces worthless fruit to God], [they are] worthless and close to being cursed, and end up being burned."

How is someone in such a condition saved? Can we really employ textual contortions to somehow modify the meaning of the text? Or is it not the case that when someone turns to a life of willful disobedience, they are "putting the Son of God to open shame" (6:6)? As chapter 10 of the same Letter explains:

Hebrews 10:26-27: "For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and THE FURY OF A FIRE WHICH WILL CONSUME THE ADVERSARIES" (cf. Isa. 26:11, 1 Thess. 1:7, emphasis added).

There should be no doubt that if someone falls away from their faith in Christ, there is no longer any sacrifice for their sins unless they return to Him. All that is left is "a terrifying expectation of judgment."

6. Too often, we rely on the advice of those who seem to casually dismiss biblical texts of the clearest import. Everyone should understand the meaning of 2 Peter 2 in the OP:

2 Peter 2:20-22: "For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world by the knowledge of [Christ], they are again entangled in them and are overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first… It has happened to them [apostates] according to the true proverb, “A DOG RETURNS TO ITS OWN VOMIT,” and, “A sow, after washing, returns to wallowing in the mire” (emphasis added).

Those who fall away from the faith are in a much more severe state than they were before they received Christ in the first place. I suggest the text of 2 Peter 2 could not be clearer in this regard.

Conclusion

These passages only scratch the surface of the truth that saints can fall away. We should ask ourselves -- not based on someone else's opinion, -- not what we have been told, but rather on our own eyes: How do these passages (and many more) not speak directly to those who have received the gift of grace from God, and have then forsaken it? Is such a person, unrepentant in their denunciation of God, really saved whatsoever? If so, how?

It is truly a wonder that anyone cannot see this obvious "forest" for the trees.

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  • Your use of 2 Pet. 2 is very effective, and your comment "How can we be "severed from Christ" if we were never "in Him" in the first place?" is very well-said. Although I don't entirely agree with point 5, I think this is overall a very effective argument. Upvoted +1 – Hold To The Rod May 3 at 23:17
  • @HoldToTheRod - Thanks for your comment. I modified point 5, thinking I found the issue you may have disagreed with. But, I am not certain, since I cannot read your mind :-) – Xeno May 3 at 23:42
  • thanks, good thoughts on the edit. I also wasn't entirely sure what you had in mind with "there is no longer any sacrifice for their sins unless they return". My own understanding is the sacrifice was made for all, but some will reject what is offered. – Hold To The Rod May 4 at 4:29
  • @HoldToTheRod - I edited the answer further for clarification. – Xeno May 4 at 4:37
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    The only question I have about this is whether the person truly possessed salvation, since salvation is both a future state, and the guarantee of that state sealed with the Spirit (if indeed we have the Spirit and thus are saved). So the person who loses the salvation that was within their grasp in some sense never really possessed it. But regardless I think the point is still good: we can believe and repent for a little while and then fall away and not be saved, but rather face eternal judgement. To be saved we must persevere in faith and repentance (e.g. see the parable of the sower). – bob May 5 at 15:11
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Yes, of course, how otherwise? Moreover, it will be even worse for that person for "a servant who knows the will of his lord will be beaten more than a servant who does not know it" (cf. Luke 12:47).

To claim, upon a wrongheaded interpretation of 1 Corinthians 3:15, that a person who has been enlightened by Holy Baptism and has become a Christian will be saved no matter what, is a heretical claim that denies a reality of freedom in a Christian. Of course a Christian can plunder his calling and ruin his salvation. Exactly that's why Paul calls all Christians: "work your salvation in fear and tremble" (Philippians 2:12), for greater a responsibility, stricter a judgment for failing this responsibility. A Christian adulterer will be judged on stricter terms than a non-Christian adulterer, and one has not to be Isaak Newton or Albert Einstein to see this clearly.

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The short answer to the question is, "YES". It is possible for someone to loose their salvation, both according to 2 Peter 2:20-22 and many others. Here is a sample:

  • King Saul who was a statesman and prophet called by God (1 Sam 10:11, 12, 19:24), yet was ultimately lost when he consulted demons for advice and then committed suicide.
  • Ps 69:28 contains a plea for David’s enemies to be blotted out of the book of life!
  • Eze 18:21-28 also teaches that the wicked can reform and be saved, and the righteous can apostatise and be lost. Both situations are incompatible with Calvinism’s view of salvation and humanity.
  • Rom 11:17-21 discusses the warning that people who had been grafted into the “olive tree” of the Christian community could be broken off if they were unfaithful.
  • 1 Cor 9:27 Paul says he disciplines his body to keep it under control so that after preaching to others he does not become a castaway/disqualified. That is, Paul believed that it was possible that he could lose his way and become lost.
  • 1 Cor 10:12 also contains a stern warning from Paul, “If you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall.”
  • 1 Tim 6:10, For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.
  • Heb 2:1-3, We must pay closer attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. For if the message spoken by angels was binding, and every transgression and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?
  • Similarly, Heb 6:4-6 also teaches that some “who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit…” can fall away.

Heb 10:19-35 contains an extended passage on enduring. It contains some real gems about the possibility of losing one’s faith and confidence such as:

  • V26: If we(!) deliberately keep on sinning after receiving the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left
  • V29: How much more severely do you think someone deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them and who has insulted the Spirit of grace. This verse clearly shows that it is possible to be sanctified and subsequently lost.
  • V35: Therefore, do not throw away your confidence which has a great reward.
  • V36: You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God you will receive what he has promised.

Here are some further references:

  • Heb 13:9, “Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace …”
  • 2 Peter 1:10, “make your calling and election sure”. This clearly allows for the possibility of losing one’s election.
  • 2 Peter 2:21, “It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them.”
  • 2 Peter 3:17 contains a very stern and sobering warning to be on guard that we do not fall from our secure position. Verse 14 contains a similar warning.
  • Gal 6:9 says, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”
  • Jesus’ parable of the 10 virgins contains two classes of people called “wise” and “foolish”. All were invited to the wedding; All were virgins symbolising purity, see Rev 14:5; All had lamps, ie, lights symbolising Christ as the light of the world, John 1:4, 9, 8:12, 9:5, Matt 5:14-16; All, at least initially had oil - but this is the crux of the parable - five virgins had enough oil and five did not have enough because they complained that their lamps were going out. In the NT oil represents the gift of the Holy Spirit (Luke 4:18, Acts 10:38, 2 Cor 1:21, 22, 1 John 2:20). Thus, Jesus teaches that some who are called and have been given the Holy Spirit (see also Heb 6:4-6) can still be excluded from the Kingdom of God.
  • Jesus’ parable of the vine (John 15:1-8) says two interesting things: (a) that branches (connected to the vine of Jesus) that do not bear fruit are cut off (v2); and (b) the bearing of fruit is to prove that we are Jesus’ disciples.
  • Jesus’ parable of the sower, or perhaps the parable of the soils (Matt 13:1-23, Mark 4:1-20, Luke 8:4-15) contains several classes of people (soils) who start out well in the Christian life but lose their way. The conclusion is also significant: “by their constancy bear fruit”. (Luke 8:15)
  • Jesus’ parable of the banquet (Luke 14:16-24) contains a very good example of people rejecting the call (or “election”) of God as well as God having to ask some people more than once and begging them to the wedding banquet. Jesus’ conclusion is, again, significant, “not one of those men who have been invited shall taste of my banquet.” In the parallel passage of Matt 22:1-14, Jesus concludes by saying, “For many are called, but few are chosen.”
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+100

You will find strong Bible believing Christians arguing on either side. A view that settles the conflict within the scriptures is God knows who is saved and will endure to the end, but people can be mistaken about being saved and can turn away. We say the Sun rises and sets, but that is only from our point of view. It is the Earth that rotates, not the Sun going around the Earth. Thus, From God's view, once a person is saved they stay saved, but from the human point of view, people can think they are save but fall away.

Remember the parable of the wheat and the tares.

Understanding the Parable of the Weeds (Matthew 13:24-30)

The lost and the saved can look the same. It is true that a person who attends church, goes through the motions, and is exposed to the truth, yet turns away, is worse off than a person who never knew about Christ.

Senses of the word translated know in "know the Lord."

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The emphasis seems to be on people who understand what is required of them, but turning away rather than following.

I agree that "... the one who endures to the end will be saved." (Matt. 24:13, ESV) But, to argue over whether the person who does not endure was ever saved is purely academic. It might make sense from the human standpoint, but to God the argument is ridiculous. The reality is the same. The rest is hypothetical. God is all-knowing. Everything is reality. Nothing hypothetical. The hypothetical is empty logic to God. The hypothetical is of use only to us with incomplete knowledge.

Example of scriptures that show God knows who will be saved:

 and all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain. (Rev. 13:8, ESV)

29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. (Rom. 8:29–30, ESV)

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 (Eph. 1:3–6, ESV)

11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, (Eph. 1:11, ESV)

 though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— 12 she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” (Rom. 9:11–13, ESV)

But God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity.” (2 Tim. 2:19, ESV)

 And the LORD said to Moses, “When you go back to Egypt, see that you do before Pharaoh all the miracles that I have put in your power. But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go. (Exodus 4:21, ESV)

All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. (John 6:37, ESV)

No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. (John 6:44, ESV)

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. (John 10:27–29, ESV)

They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us. (1 John 2:19, ESV)

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    The question wasn’t will someone saved always be saved or they were never saved to begin with. It’s asking, when a person is saved for calling upon the Lord, can they neglect their salvation and lose it like the 5 virgins who were saved, with lamps and with oil but never bothered to gain more oil in their lamps and forfeited entry to the bridegroom. BUT had they bought oil they would have been allowed in. You can’t say they were never virgins in the first place – Nihil Sine Deo May 3 at 20:59
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    @Nihil But then you end up with scripture contradicting itself. Scripture interprets scripture. – Perry Webb May 3 at 21:16
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    That’s right! Scripture interprets Scripture. Not some extrabiblical philosophical presupposition! – Nihil Sine Deo May 3 at 21:33
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    This is, for me, the best answer to the question (+1). – Tiago Martins Peres 李大仁 May 8 at 6:36
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Yes, Christians that in full understanding accept God's holy spirit and then later reject it are worse off than if they'd never heard the name Jesus.

Those that die ignorant of the truth will be given their opportunity for salvation following the second general resurrection:

But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished. …
— Revelation 20:5

Those that reject the holy spirit cannot be forgiven:

“Assuredly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they may utter; but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is subject to eternal condemnation”
­— Matthew 3:28–29

It is they that will be permanently destroyed, burned to ashes at the final judgement following the Millennium.

And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.
— Revelation 20:15

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