The Lord Jesus Christ himself warns his people to beware: “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves” (Matthew 7.15).
The apostle Peter writes about the damnable heresies of false prophets and false teachers, and of their swift destruction from the Lord: “But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction” (2 Peter 2.1).
The apostle Paul also warned a group of church pastors: “For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them” (Acts 20.19-20).
Are true Christians here being warned, again and again, to cleave to the truth and to reject error, in order to not be drawn away from the Lord Jesus Christ? Yes. Is it possible for true Christians to believe in error? Yes. Is it possible for true Christian pastors and teachers to teach “damnable heresies”? Yes, sadly it is possible.
So then, do we find in these Scriptural warnings evidence that true Christians, including true Christian teachers (and preachers), can lose their salvation—even as in this case, by being led away from Christ by heresies? No, that does not necessarily follow.
Christians do not receive a complete, comprehensive, error-excluding knowledge of all truth all-at-once when they are born again. Biblical doctrines are learned, reading after reading, study after study, sermon after sermon, day after day throughout a lifetime.
Peter understood this: “But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3.18). And so did Paul: “For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding;…increasing in the knowledge of God” (Colossians 1.9,10).
Our grasp of Biblical teachings and their logical consequences and connections to each other is built up in our minds, piece by piece. Therefore, it is not only possible for true Christians to entertain errors in their thinking for a time, but it is inevitable that we will do so while we have an imperfect understanding of everything.
Moreover, as these solemn warnings of our Lord and his apostles clearly state, Christians can be confused by false doctrines, and they may struggle with them—and they may even be led astray by them—for a while. Furthermore, any deceived Christian can be instrumental in deceiving others (whether we are ordained pastors or not).
So, can true Christians lose their salvation by falling for false doctrines that denigrate the Saviour’s efficacy and sufficiency—that direct people to works-religion, self-righteousness, human potential, and personal development through self-help?
Those Arminians who deny that God totally preserves his saints say “yes” even while they hold to such a system themselves: for they believe that a person’s own free-will choice to believe in Christ (their own self-wrought faith) is the decisive factor in their salvation.
The Lord has redeemed his people, atoned for his people, saved his people from their sins (Matthew 1.21; Romans 5.10-11; Ephesians 1.7,14). And he cherishes and protects his purchased possession to the fullest. “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. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand” (John 6.27-29).
True Christians have been given eternal life. This being the truth, therefore it must not be true that all these solemn warnings carry within them an implication that those who are saved by Christ, and are kept safe in the hand of God, can lose their salvation. But they are nonetheless warnings, so consider yourself warned! You must beware false doctrines and those that teach them.
Do not think that God takes sinful doctrines any less seriously than he does sinful deeds.