Does 2 Peter 2 Say You Can Lose Your Salvation?

In this world of anxiety and fear, it is a radical thing to proclaim the eternal security of the believer: One with the Lord, your future is the same as his. No one can snatch you from his hand; nothing can separate you from his love.

Yet every time I say things like this, someone will point to 2 Peter 2 as though this one chapter could undo the many promises of God and make Christ’s saving work of no effect.

“Peter describes Christians who forsook the Lord and were condemned,” they say. “So much for once saved, always saved.”

Hardly a month goes by when I don’t have occasion to talk about 2 Peter 2. In this chapter, Peter warns about false teachers who deny the Lord and teach heresy. Let there be no doubt he is not referring to Christians. These people are slaves of depravity (v.19) who never stop sinning (v.14). They are not saints but brute beasts who are condemned to perish (v.12).

But were these sinners once saints? Were they Christians who lost the way, and fell beyond the reach of grace?

This is an important question, because if they were once saved, then you can lose your salvation. Just as these false teachers were doomed to reap “swift destruction,” you too could be headed for hell – if you don’t take care.

Is Peter talking about backslidden Christians?

According to nearly every commentary I have read, the answer is yes. “These were genuine Christians who turned their back on God and will now get a worse punishment than the one who never met Jesus.”

Oh happy day.

Even certain grace teachers are convinced that Peter is describing former Christians who are now damned. But were these people ever saved? At first glance, the evidence seems clear enough, for Peter says these false teachers:

– have left the right way and gone astray (v.15)
– have escaped the defilements of the world only to become entangled again (v.20)
– once knew the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (v.20) and the way of righteousness (v.21)
– have returned to the muck like a pig (v.22)

So there you have it. Close your Bibles and get busy working out your salvation because if you don’t stay on the right way you’re doomed, like these guys. “Blackest darkness is reserved for them” (v.17). And for you too, if you’re not careful.

And yet, don’t you find it interesting that Peter never says, “Be warned, dear friends, what happened to them could happen to you”? He never says it because it can’t happen. The very idea that our sins could outlast God’s grace is absurd.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: You may shipwreck your faith, and go astray, but your heavenly Father will never abandon or forsake you. What the Lord begins he finishes.

So how do we read 2 Peter 2?

The key to unlocking this passage is Balaam:

They (the false teachers) have left the straight way and wandered off to follow the way of Balaam son of Bezer, who loved the wages of wickedness. (2 Peter 2:15)

Balaam the prophet was recruited by the king of Moab to curse the children of Israel (Numbers 22-24). But after encountering the Lord three times – one encounter famously involved a talking donkey and an angel – Balaam blessed the children of Israel.

Unfortunately for Balaam, that wasn’t the end of the story.

The Moabite king was furious that Balaam had not done what he asked. So Balaam, perhaps realizing he was about to be sent home empty-handed, taught the king how to defeat Israel (Rev 2:14). Long story short, the men of Israel were seduced by Moabite women and turned away from the Lord (Num 25:1-3). They were on the doorstep of the Promised Land yet they almost never entered, all because of greedy Balaam.

In the end, the Israelites repented and pressed on to Canaan. And on the way they killed the false prophet Balaam who had done them so much harm (Num 31:8).

When Peter says, “These false teachers are just like Balaam,” he’s saying they are on the wrong side of God. “By perverting the gospel, they are trying to curse what God has blessed. And like Balaam, they will come to a bad end.”

With this key in hand, we can now unlock the difficult verses of 2 Peter 2.

Who are the followers of Balaam?

Verse 15: They have forsaken the right way, and gone astray, following the way of Balaam who loved the wages of unrighteousness…

Peter is not describing Christians but people who have known the right way – as Balaam did – and rejected it. Balaam had a personal encounter with the Lord. He heard God speak and he knew his heart. But when the money was put on the table, Balaam made the wrong choice. He opposed what God was doing, just as false teachers do whenever they pervert the gospel.

Verse 20: For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world by the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and are overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first.

Balaam initially stood up to the king of Moab, yet he never aligned himself with the Lord. His behavior was strange: If the Israelites were as blessed as he said, why not join them? Why stay with the cursed king of Moab?

The prophet was like those Hebrews who escaped the defilements of Egypt but did not enter the Promised Land. They came out but never went in. They died in the wilderness on account of unbelief.

Verse 21: For it would be better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn away from the holy commandment handed on to them.

The one who rejects the way of righteousness (the gospel) is worse off than the one who has not heard it because he has hardened his heart to that which could save him. He has refused the Lord’s holy command to “repent and believe the good news” (see 1 John 3:23).

I hope you can see that a follower of Balaam is not a follower of Jesus. It is someone who has heard and rejected the gospel. They’ve had an encounter with the Lord but turned their back. They’ve tasted the bread of life and spat it out. They have not responded with faith to the grace of God.

Verse 22: It has happened to them according to the true proverb, “A dog returns to its own vomit,” and, “A sow, after washing, returns to wallowing in the mire.”

A Christian is not a dog or a pig! A. A washed sow remains a sow, but a Christian is a brand new creation.

If you don’t know about your union with Christ, you may fall for the lie that says you can lose your salvation. You may even think that Peter is describing condemned Christians.

Fear not; there’s no such thing.

___________

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52 Comments on Does 2 Peter 2 Say You Can Lose Your Salvation?

  1. Shari Easton // May 11, 2017 at 12:37 am // Reply

    From the young age of 9 till I was in my late 30’s, I was so afraid of missing the rapture, and was so uncertain of my salvation. I loved God, but I was rebellious and unhappy due to my parents constantly fighting, and my unhappiness continued well into my adulthood. In my second marriage, when I was close to my 30’s, God showed me a vision of lifting me up in His hand, holding me close to His heart. He said there wasn’t any power that existed that could remove me from His hand, and that I was His princess. I’ve never doubted again. Our sin means nothing compared to His love for us and our love for Him back, and Jesus took care of our sin. It’s just AMAZING GRACE!

  2. It’s the strangest thing – on some level, I thought this was exactly what this passage meant.. Bless you!

  3. It was the reference to Balaam. That immediately explains the kind of person it’s talking about.

  4. Mark Cain // May 11, 2017 at 1:07 am // Reply

    Good word Paul. IT is also important to remember that Peter is speaking to Jews who had clearly seen that Jesus was the Messiah–the Lamb of God–and had returned to the sacrifices and rituals of Judaism. Rejecting the grace of God for the works of the law… It is also worth noting that Peter is talking from personal experience (see Gal 2:11-21).

    • Thanks Mark. However, I wouldn’t put Peter in the same group as these condemned teachers. Peter acted like a schmuck for a bit – he even denied the Lord – but he never lost his salvation. There’s a difference between a follower of Balaam and a confused follower of Christ.

  5. Thank you, this passage of scripture has been difficult to discern, and I’ve encountered great anxiety over it, almost afraid to breathe. I pray you are correct in your estimation.

  6. Great stuff. Continue to expound of The Lord’s word, friend.

  7. Hebrews 6:4-6 is a better one for the “losing your salvation” discussion. It’s pretty clear that it’s speaking of someone who has been saved, recieved the spirit, etc.

    That or the passage about having your name erased from the book of life. I think its one of the letters to the church. Revelation 3:5 it looks like. To the one who is victorious God said he would never erase their name from the book of life. But what about those who weren’t. They’re part of the church(and God won’t judge a church by a building), so it stands to reason some could have that.

    I’d be curious on your thoughts on these.

  8. This is really good. Thank you

  9. I was born again when I was ten years old but I was never taught about a relationship with God but just that now you are expected to be good. So never knowing God as good and merciful I was mentally tormented for my whole life until learning of God’s grace through you and Joseph Prince a few years ago. I am sixty years old and know now the torment was not God condemning me but Satan destroying me to keep me from the truth of God’s unconditional love for me. Thank you and God bless you for teaching the truth. I always thought this verse described me and my family because we went to church and quit and life was pure hell. Thank you for making the good news truly good.

    • Thanks Grace. I wish stories like yours were rare, but they are not. Thank God you have had a revelation of his sweet grace and been set free from the unholy torment. Be blessed.

  10. Hi Paul can u pls comment on what type of ppl Paul is talking abt here? Is that the same u said above or Christians now denied faith Hebrews 10:26-29, 2 Tim 2:12, Matthew 10:33

  11. Good points. The people of God are never referred to as hogs or dogs. You know even if a believer got entangled in sin or bad behavior, the worst they can expect is the obvious play dumb games (sin is always dumb) win dumb prizes. But loss of salvation or not having fellowship with God are not the consequence of any sin because we are eternal saved and forgiven.

    • “The Dumb Prizes of Sin” – that’d be a good title for an article. I like it.

      • Seriously, the more I grow in grace, the more I marvel at how sin has been rebranded and accepted as fun. It’s the greatest con job in history.

      • I so agree. When I saw from the Grace gospel that we are new creations we begin to see sin is not “fun”. It’s contrary to our nature, so how can it be “fun”? Religion wants to use the threat of loss of salvation, broken fellowship, prayers going unanswered to try and deter sin. Why not just preach the truth that sin is contrary to our nature instead of threats?

  12. Tina Goosen // May 11, 2017 at 3:39 am // Reply

    At last! I understand this verse now! This makes perfect sense! Thank you, Paul.

  13. Paul, I suffered decades of fear & even developed severe depression and OCD as a result of horrible, false doctrines such as the one you have eviscerated here. Please don’t get discouraged when modern Christian theology adherents slam you for telling the truth – their pitifully bad doctrines hurt real people every day and turn people away from the truth. Thank you for sharing the grace and love of God.

  14. Amen brother Paul!! Once again, your post is a pair of scissors to cut the puppet strings of religion off the sons and daughters of God. Freedom! Joy! Love! These are the fruits of Christ’s people – and religion can never produce them.

    Dogs and pigs – How crafty the evil one is that he would have Christians seeing themselves in this context. Let us behold how perfectly God has integrated us with Jesus, the beloved, and see that those garments just don’t fit anymore.

  15. weren’t the Israelites who came out of Egypt all under the blood of the lamb? They died in the wilderness because of unbelief. Were they all saved of that first generation?

    • Hebrews 3-4 makes it fairly clear that the Israelites who died in the wilderness were not saved in any sense. The Lord calls them hard-hearted rebels who “have not known my ways” (Heb 3:10). They serve as an example of the dangers of rejecting the gospel: “For we also have had the good news proclaimed to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because they did not share the faith of those who obeyed” (Heb 4:2).

  16. This kind of messages gives me assurance of God unconditional love and strength to keep on. Thanks pastor

  17. Todd Chapman // May 11, 2017 at 10:02 am // Reply

    Hi Paul love your blog have you did anything on 1 John 5 verses 16 and 17 those are confusing to me .thanks

  18. Thanks for putting this verse into perspective. Salvation is from our good God’s side n He will never take it away. Christ in me the hope of glory n hope in God does not disappoint \0/.

  19. I think Peter is describing 2 groups of people in 2 Peter 2: the false prophets (not born again) and the Christians that they want to mislead and misled forever saved but in danger of losing out on the blessed live of maturity in Christ. In 2 Peter 1:4 you see that Peter writes to and describes people who ESCAPED the corruptions of the world just like he is describing in 2 Peter 2… As a christian it is possible to behave just like a pig or dog that doesn’t mean that you are one (-: You don’t loose your salvation but you loose out on God’s blessings that he has for you (the promised land). The holy commandment in this context is the commandment Peter referred to in his first letter be holy for I am holy says the lord…

    In the letter to Hebrews God warns those Hebrew Christians not to go back to Judaism because by doing that they make it impossible for themselves to grow up it is like they crucify Jesus again when they go back to Judaism and miss out on the blessings (blessed ground Hebrews 6:7) Of Course they have eternal live and don’t loose it they just miss out on the blessings God has for them of Growing up to perfection ( maturity) But just like most Israelite’s died in the wilderness and never entered the promised land they would never grow up and bear fruit!

  20. This is a brilliant piece. I was going to say, can you imagine what it must be like to live with the uncertainty of wondering if you’re going to make that slight slip, that fatal error, that will send you crashing into the chasm of Hell? But I don’t need to ask that because I can see from the other commentators that this is indeed what people think. But it’s a load of nonsense and you have captured the heart of this Scripture really well, Paul. Thank you. Personally, I had a revelation from God that I am His child, so I have never had these fears. But I can understand what it must be like. Geez, what a way to live…

    And there’s also the ludicrous idea that you can be ‘in again, out again’. So great, now you’re safe. But you do something wrong next week, and you’re not safe. But then you somehow regain the forgiveness and you’re ok again. Life like a yo-yo!

    And the really sick thing about people who claim that certain behaviours or whatever are sufficient to qualify someone for the Fiery Pit (lol) is that usually the people who ‘curse God’, the people who really feel that God doesn’t exist, care, or whatever, these are the people who are so damaged and despairing from life’s events – loss of a loved one, marriage breakdown, whatever – and paradoxically are those to whom God is actually closest. A bruised reed He will not break…but yet these harsh people who quote this 2Peter Scripture heap even more cares and worries on them, telling them they are backsliding…it’s disgusting, really.

  21. I just found your blog today as searching for some interpretation in the word during my devotional time. There are lots of teaching which seem to distort the truth of God. I found the answer in your blog as a great source of radical grace teaching. Thank you for your courage to response to the call of God. Your article will help our Christian’s life to stay close to the truth in the Word, not by the interpretation of man.

  22. Stella Emmanuel // May 14, 2017 at 12:16 am // Reply

    Thanks so much i sleep and wake up knowing that nothing can take me away from My Father.

  23. True, every word is true.
    I like is.

  24. Kindly explain to me are their levels of Christianity, like their those who are on a higher platter than others. Thank you

  25. I agree and love your blog and I’m Thankful for all you share. I do have a question though, not as opposing, but for clearer understanding. What does it mean to fall from Grace? To Fall from a place means you must have been there at one point. I don’t think we randomly because of mistakes or shortcomings loose salvation as Jesus IS our Salvation. How do you explain Galatians 5:4 which says you are severed from Christ and have fallen from Grace? (AMP) 4 If you seek to be justified and declared righteous and to be given a right standing with God through the Law, you are brought to nothing and so separated (severed) from Christ. You have fallen away from grace (from God’s gracious favor and unmerited blessing).
    I know some argue about the separated or “severed” from Grace but the NASB says the same. KJV says Christ has become of no affect and you fallen from Grace. NIV says “alienated from Christ”.
    So it would seem to me if you can be separated/severed from Christ who IS our salvation, i.e. Salvation means Yeshuah, you can be separated/severed from “Salvation”
    Also no matter how you slice this or what version you read “falling from Grace” is stated in everyone of them and its clearly NOT a good thing and it can and does happen. It happened to the Galatian church.
    The important part also is its not from mistakes, falling short, missing the mark but it happens when one attempts to be Justified through the Law.
    Thoughts?

  26. Thank you Paul. In that article you state; Who cut them off? It wasn’t Christ. Who did the separating? Not Jesus. The point on “who” is understood, it wasn’t Jesus. But the point remains, they WERE cut off, separated, severed from Christ and Fell from Grace when they turned back to the Law.

    • Indeed, that’s what Paul says in his letter, before spelling out the awful consequences of their actions. What is particularly comforting for the believer, is that none of those consequences included the loss of their salvation. As Paul explains many times (such as here and here), the Lord remains faithful even when we are unfaithful. I’m sure you will agree this is very good news!

      • Roshan J Easo // May 24, 2017 at 10:34 am //

        Paul, I am glad the good news is always better on second look as you are doing here. But I find that it’s confusing to me because I wonder sometimes if I’ve fallen into sin as I’ve tried to walk in unconditional love of God. Usually it’s because of some form of law put on those who should be under grace (thank you for your article on never being able to be separated from God’s love). Freedom writer Jeremiah Johnson says it’s good to know God’s love is unconditional but as we grow confident of our security we should learn to walk away from sin (as you say is like texting on the freeway – very dangerous). But if not through self-effort then how do we overcome sin? maybe I’m whining about small sin, but all sin is the same. I know that one answer is to be conscious of God’s continual eternal forgiveness. Is that enough?

  27. “And yet, don’t you find it interesting that Peter never says, “Be warned, dear friends, what happened to them could happen to you”? He never says it because it can’t happen. The very idea that our sins could outlast God’s grace is absurd.”

    Not so absurd after all as Peter ends his epistle with this warning to the believer:
    “Therefore, dear friends, since you have been forewarned, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of the lawless and fall from your secure position” (2 Pet 3:17). This verse directly contradicts your claim that dear friends…it can’t happen to you. If our salvation is so secure as you assert, why did Peter warn that we can fall from our secure position? Furthermore, if these followers of Balaam were not really believers as you maintain, how can they possibly fall from their secure positions? By definition only a believer can be said to occupy a secure position.

    • It never ceases to amaze me how quick some are to disregard the many clear promises of God over half a verse that – if you change the words – can be twisted to suggest you can lose your salvation! If such a thing were truly possible, don’t you think the apostle would (a) have said so and (b) provided a stronger warning?

      In the previous verse Peter talks about ignorant and unstable people who distort the scriptures to their own destruction. (These are the false teachers he has already warned us about.) His dear friends (the believers) need to be vigilant so they don’t become unsteady themselves. This has nothing to do with losing your salvation (salvation is never mentioned) and everything to do with not being “tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming” (Eph 4:14). The opposite of secure is insecure. The opposite of stable is unstable. It is not damned and lost for eternity.

      In short, Peter and Paul are giving the same warning. They are not preaching a perverted message where you stand and fall on your own performance. We are saved and kept by grace (1 Cor 1:8), not vigilance, hence Peter’s closing exhortation to “grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (v.18). More here.

  28. Your reply is based on an argument of silence which is one of the weakest forms of argumentation that one can put forth. There are many strong warnings in Scripture (including this passage) which you manage to interpret differently hence you maintain a silence exists. Silence depends upon one’s interpretation so your interpretation deserves closer scrutiny. In your reply you state that becoming unsteady has nothing to do with losing your salvation. Yet, you don’t posit an alternative explanation of what becoming unsteady or losing one’s secure position refers to. If it does not mean what I interpret it to mean, what exactly then does falling from one’s secure position mean?

    • I guess you didn’t click the link. Or read my response.

    • Stuart,
      You should also look at Herman Vrijenhoek’s post earlier. It is not an either/or in the sense that the only consequences of our behavior is go to heaven/don’t go to heaven. Eternal life is a settled question. Eternal life IS knowing God (John 17:3). It’s not something we get later (heaven), or lose if we don’t keep the faith. Know God: Know life. No God: No life.
      But as Herman notes, there are consequences for getting off track. Peter doesn’t say you will lose your salvation. Those who know that, realize that Peter is warning of other consequences that have to do with the quality of spiritual life and your usefulness to Him. The problem I see is that if you believe that you can lose your salvation, you read that into any warning the epistles give. You fail to see that how you live matters greatly to you and the people in your sphere of influence.
      For those who love Him, heaven is a settled question. Time to move on; there is so much more to Christianity. I hope that getting to heaven is not the only thing, or even the most important thing on your agenda.

      • If a Christian can’t lose their salvation then who is Peter warning that they can fall from their own secure position (2 Pet 3:17)?

      • Stuart, I have answered your question above. You are welcome to disagree, of course, but to keep asking it suggests a desire to stir up dissension.

    • 2 Peter 2 20-21
      • New believers becoming entangled again by the corruption of unbelieving false teachers
      • This was to the detriment of the new believers’ progressive sanctification (2 Pet. 3:17-18)
      Two groups
      – Unbelieving false teachers (2 Pet. 2:1,9,12,14,17,19)
      – Believing victims (“escaped, again entangled”)of false teachers
      There are Three Tenses of Salvation you can loose the middle part of salvation by becoming entangled again by the corruption of unbelieving false teachers
      Three tenses:
      Phase Justification Sanctification Glorification
      Tense Past Present Future
      Saved from sin’s: Penalty Power Presence
      Scripture Eph2:8-9;
      Titus 3:5 Philip2:12 Rom 5:10

  29. Worrying that I may lose my salvation is liken to standing at the bottom of a tall mountain, looking up at it, and for some reason worrying that I might FALL UP to the top. Reality would have to literally flip upside down for that to happen. Salvation is a change of who you are at the core – not something you hold onto and pick up or put down according to your will. Our salvation, who is Jesus, is like a giant ocean sized river that we are floating in – you are not going to fall out! The thing to do is embrace the current, learn to flow and swim with it. He (the current/Christ’s Spirit) is more incredible than we can comprehend. Quit staring at the mountain and enjoy a good swim.

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