Can a Christian stop being a Christian? Would God disown one of His children? Did Judas go to heaven? Once you are saved are you always saved?
There are two general views here. This view is that once you are saved you are always saved—nothing can ever end your relationship with God. The extreme view of unconditional security runs something like this:
"When I become a Christian I am adopted into the family of God based on Christ's death, and not on anything whatsoever that I have done. I can't save myself, only God can do this. When I was saved I was born into God's family. I did nothing to birth myself—God did it all. And I can do nothing to keep being a son or daughter—I have that right by birth, not behavior. There is nothing I could do which would make me quit being a son or daughter. Nothing whatsoever that I can do could separate me from God' love. I am a child of God by birth."
"True, I might get out of fellowship with God. I might even wander off into the far country like the prodigal son did. But even in a distant land of disobedience I am still a son. Just a son out of fellowship with the father. My relationship with God is fixed for all eternity, and even if I spit in the face of God I would still be His son. Once a son always a son. If I become a Christian as a teen, then drop out of all religious things for thirty years, living a life full of sin, then decide to get right with God again, this group calls it a "recommitment" not salvation, since they believe that I was a Christian all that time, just out of fellowship."
To those who believe unconditional security, nothing could make a Christian lose their salvation. If a little boy prays to receive Christ in a Good News Club at eight years old, he is permanently grafted into God's family. This sonship is permanent and unalterable no matter what he does from then on. If that little boy grows up to live a life full of drunkenness, drugs, immorality, rape, and murder, he still goes to heaven, for his salvation is not based at all on anything he did or does—but totally on what God did for him on the cross. This is the radical view of unconditional security. When a person is justified it is once for all. All the convert's sins—past, present, and future—are forgiven. So future sin is irreverent to his salvation—they have all been forgiven in advance 2000 years ago. As far as his salvation goes, sin is irrelevant.
People off this side of the road don't need to worry much about sin in their lives—they can simply rejoice that "there is therefore now no condemnation to those in Christ Jesus." Being in Christ is irrevocable insurance—the premiums were all paid in advance by Jesus death.
In its most radical forms, unconditional security proponents will argue that if the Lord returned today there would be thousands of people raptured right out of the arms of prostitutes or gay lovers, for their salvation is not based at all on any behavior, but only on something which happened in the courts of heaven.
This radical form of unconditional security follows a path far off the road on the left. But there is a path far off on the other side too.
These folk steer off the other side of the road, constantly anxious about their own salvation. They disbelieve unconditional security so much that they practice eternal insecurity. They believe "one sin and you're out" of God's family. This sort of insecurity leads to spiritual hypochondria as people constantly check their pulse to see if they're still spiritually alive.
If these eternally insecure people slip into sin, they feel they have to get born again, again . . . and again, and again. One single slip is grounds for expulsion from God's family. Any thought, word, or deed that is disobedient breaks the relationship with God and will damn the individual.
People on this insecurity path are never sure. They are not sure that they are in or out today, so they turn morbidly introspective trying to eliminate any vestige of wrong thoughts, words, or deeds. They reason that if they live a perfect life, totally free from any sin, then they will be saved.
Their mistake is focusing on themselves instead of Jesus, as if all responsibility for staying saved is theirs and God is somehow looking for an opportunity to kick them out of the family. In their preoccupation with human effort they are more humanist than Christian.
Both sides of the road are extremes, those who argue for unconditional security, and those who are eternally insecure about their salvation.
Is there a middle ground?
Perhaps, try these thoughts for starters . . .
1. God's love IS unconditional.
There is nothing that can separate us from God's love. In fact, God's love was extended to us while we were still sinners...even while we were yet unborn! There is nothing, nothing I can do to make God quit loving me. He can't not love me. His love is both unconditional and irrevocable. And it's not based in any way whatsoever on what I do. God loves because God is love.
2. My relationship with God is conditional.
While His love is unconditional, my relationship with God is two-way. Love can be unilateral. A relationship, however, is bilateral. For instance, I could insist that nothing my wife could ever do would change my love—I love her unconditionally and irrevocably, yet a true relationship is two-way. What if she were to walk out on me, and run off with another man, totally rejecting me and everything I stood for? Would I still love her? Yes, I could love her, if my love were unconditional. But would we still have a relationship? That's another question.
A relationship is bilateral—"it takes two." Love can go one way, but a relationship is two-way. Relationships are ongoing dynamic sort of things which take two (at least partially) willing persons. Someone might argue that this immoral wife still had some legal standing with her husband, but most of us would admit that a pattern of continual and repeated purposeful acts of rebellion would end the two-way-ness of the relationship. My love might live on, but my marriage relationship would be dead. Relationships are not unilateral.
3. But Christians have great security.
A two-way relationship does not mean that Christians have little security. On the contrary, the security of a believer is exceptionally high—almost absolute. The chances of a real believer walking away from God in rebellion and losing his own soul are remote. Remote, yet possible. There is no state of grace we can reach where we could not of our own free will decide to reject God and finally lose our own soul.
But the chances of a real Christian eventually losing his own soul are slim. Why? Because "His seed remains within us." At conversion we experienced a sort of "spiritual gene splicing." God's nature was planted inside us. We received a tendency to be Godly. Sure, it is possible for us to disobey Him. But spiritual rebellion—the hardened set-chin spiritual defiance that breaks a relationship—is a very unlikely happening for a truly born again Christian.
A continual pattern of purposeful premeditated disobedience will indeed eventually harden into an attitude of rebellion and defiance that can break off our two-way relationship with God. But the likelihood of someone doing this is low. Rather, we have a great security in Christ. High security. Immense security. Almost unconditional—but not quite.
4. Our daily relationship with God is the better focus.
The relationship we have with God is ongoing and dynamic, not just a legal covenant established long ago. The middle of the road regarding security focuses on a daily developing walk with God, not just a once-for-all event occurring years ago. Like a marriage, our daily relationship with God is quite as important as the initiating event. The marriage is quite as important as the wedding.
The practical middle of the road approach is to focus on a daily growing walk with God where the issue of security need never come up. Are you developing a loving growing bilateral marriage relationship? If so, the chances of such a relationship dissolving are remote. Are you developing a loving growing bilateral relationship with God? If so, the chances of such a relationship dissolving are also remote.
The security is not just in the initiating event—wedding or conversion. It is in a growing loving relationship. And, the best news yet: God is even more forbearing than your spouse!