How Can Eternal Life Be Lost?


Dear gang:

I was wondering how to respond to a Protestant friend who says that 1) eternal life is posessed by the regenerated beleiver even before he ends up in heaven, and 2) this life cannot be eternal if in fact it can be lost through mortal sin or apostasy.

And so I am asked, “How can you posess eternal life, if inf act your spiritual life can be forefeited?”

How do I answer this?



Catholics and Protestants beleive differently about what redemption means. Go to C.A. home page and on the left you’ll see “salvation” tract. read this and at least you’ll have the right thing to say.



I’m not sure I fully understand where your friend is coming from but here would probably be my response:

The eternal part of us is our Soul. Yes, right now we have an eternal soul. The part that we’re concerned about is where we’ll end up with that eternal soul. In a sense, we do not lose our eternal life. When a believer says “eternal life” however, they usually mean “eternal life in Heaven”. Sin CAN and DOES seperate us from Heaven, so we can in fact lose our eternal life, when we understand that eternal life to be eternal life with God.

…someone else probably has a better answer, but this will give you a bump if nothing else. :smiley:


The point is that Scripture, particularly John’s Gospel, depicts eternal life as something already posessed by the beleiver, in the here-and-now.

All who are born again posess eternal life, even in this life.

But how is this salvation, this eternal life, “eternal” if in fact it can be lost?

The Catholic Answers tract(s) do not answer this.

I tried explaining to my friend that we posess eternal life in seed form, as a foretaste of future glory, but I was that was just my reading into the text(s) what isn’t already there.


Just ask him, “If, by no matter what we do, we have eternal life, why is Paul constantly chastising and admonishing christians that are straying from the faith?” I can kill a man, and still God will let me enter Heaven. That’s just stupid. “Hey there, I see you killed a man. No worry, you have faith, therefore my Commandments don’t apply to you. Here’s your reward.” See how stupid that is?


OK, think of it this way.

Eternal Life = the Holy Spirit, for God is Life Eternal.

When you have eternal life, the Holy Spirit dwells in your soul. Catholics call this a state of Grace. The Holy Spirit can not dwell in a soul that is corrupted by mortal sin, so we basically reject Him when we sin, thus are souls lose their Grace. What happens, we no longer have Eternal Life.

Luckily we do have repentence and the Sacrament of Penance. Then we can regain Eternal Life. Nobody can take it away from us, but we can give it up any time we want to.

Some faiths think that just be cause have Eternal Life, that we have it eternally. Sorry, but the games not over just because you’ve received his saving Grace. Like the previous poster said, Paul admonishes the Christians to stay the course and to continue to reject sin.


There are lots of examples of mortal sin in the bible.
Galatians 5:29 “Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, 20 Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, 21 Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.”

St. Paul had to warn these believers at least twice, that if they continued in these sins they would not enter heaven.

But, since everyone sins, why didn’t he say that no one would inherit the kingdom?
Because no all sins are mortal sins. Only mortal sins, deadly sins, exclude us from heaven

And in Galatians 3:26, he says, “For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ”

Therefore they all had faith, but not all were going to heaven. Faith alone is not enough. They had to repent and quit giving into mortal sin to enter heaven.


What you are saying is that the Holy Spirit indwells us…then leavesthen comes backthen leaves…etc…

And hopefully we die when He is indwelling us.

This is extremely problematic and incompatible with the Apostolic witness, IMO.

Eternal life that can end is, by definition, not eternal at all.


So many confuse Salvation and Redemption. When Christ died on the cross, he redeemed the world and saved not a soul. Redemption is by definition the giving of value to something. Jesus, at Calvary, made us “worth saving”: you might say, salvagable. All have been redeemed by Christ. Salvation is different. Just as St. Paul says in the scriptures, and I paraphrase, “Pray for me brothers, that after having preached the Gospel, that I may not be found unworthy…” Salvation is something that we all work towards (not that “works” can earn salvation), a crown we hope to be given one day, the prize we race to win. It cannot be lost once achieved, but none still on earth have “finished the race” and have the free will to stop running. Salvation is never lost, but, many times fallen short of…This is also what gives hope to those who do fall but still live. As long as they live on this earth they can go to confession and return to the state of grace, wherin they can know that, If they die in this state, they can rest assured that they will have died worthy (through the merits of Christ) of Heaven.
Protestants seem to think of salvation and redemption as synomonous and they are not.


I don’t think I said the Holy Spirit leaves us. I certainly didn’t mean to imply that.

I meant to say we reject the Holy Spirit. We basically kick Him out of our soul, by choosing this world (mortal sin) over the Holy Spirit (Life).

It sounds like, in your definition, Eterneal Life means, Once Saved Always Saved, and Assurance of Salvation.

This is extremely problematic and incompatible with the Apostolic witness, IMO.


Preferably, you receive the Holy Spirit and He indwells you for the rest of your life. But you sorta kind of have to live that Holy Life that Jesus, St. Paul, Peter, John, and James keep exhorting us to do.


The word “eternal life” is often used in the Bible to refer to the eternal life of God that he shares with is. In other words, “sanctifying grace”.

In the epistle of John, he speaks of a murderer not having “eternal life abiding within him”. This shows that eternal life is something that “abides within” us; not to be confused with eternal existence.

When God created man he made his soul immortal, which means it will exist for all eternity. In addition to this eternal existence, he added eternal life, which was a share in His own Divine life. This eternal life was lost when the first man sinned, and is regained through baptism.

That is the way I have always explained it to Protestants. It gives a good opening to explain to them what grace really is, since they do not know. They usually understand grace to simply mean “mercy”. They say “we are saved by the grace of God” and mean “we are saved by the mercy of God”.

Grace is more than mercy, and if you explain eternal life the way I did above (as meaning grace), it will give you a chance to explain what grace actually is.


To answer your question directly:

“Eternal” describes the nature of the life given, not the nature of the gift. Your friend is applying “eternal” to the nature of the gift: he’s saying “the gift cannot be eternal if it can be lost.” He might be right about that, but the Bible doesn’t say the gift is eternal in the first place: it says that the life given is eternal.

Ever seen Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory? Remember the “everlasting gobstopper”? Let’s call that, for the time being, the “eternal gobstopper” since both words connote the same meaning (and, indeed, are both valid translations of the Greek word aionion). Let’s say that I give you one of these “eternal gobstoppers.” It will never run out of flavor, it will never dissolve completely, it will always exist as a gobstopper. But this does not at all mean that you cannot lose this gobstopper, that you can’t give it away, that you can’t drop it on the street and watch it roll into the gutter. It’s an eternal gobstopper, and it will remain forever, but that doesn’t mean that you’ll possess it forever.

So it is with eternal life.



Excellent Point! Adam had Eternal Life (Sanctifying Grace… Indwelling of the Holy Spirit, etc.) . Adam sinned and lost it.
We can do the same thing. But… we have a Redeemer Who will helps us regain it.


This is pretty much what happened to King Saul:

1 Samuel 11:6 “And the spirit of God came mightily upon Saul”

1 Samuel 15. Saul sinned by not utterly destroying the Amalekites.

1 Samuel 16:14 “Now the Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the LORD tormented him.”

1 Samuel 19:23 “And he [Saul] went from there to Naioth in Ramah; and the Spirit of God came upon him also”

Although I could not find a later Scripture verse explicitly saying that the spirit of God again departed from Saul, it seems obvious that such was the case from his subsequent sinful behavior: his continued pursuit of David, his slaughter of the priests of the LORD, his consultation with the medium of Endor, etc.

In the Gospels (Matthew 12:43-45 and Luke 11:24-26), Jesus mentions describes similar departing and returning behavior in unclean spirits. The difference is that sin causes the Holy Spirit to depart and the power of Jesus causes the unclean spirits to depart.


The entire book of Judges is a lesson of the forgiving Love of God. The Israelites in Judges pre-figure our Christian journey to and from God’s Love and Mercy.


Ask your friend if people like this have eternal life now, or if they had it and lost it, or if they never had it.

It’s useless to argue whether eternal life can be lost, if nobody can ever know for sure that they have it in the first place.


Your soul will live eternally not matter what. The only question is where. A soul separated from God by sin at the moment of death will still live forever. Just not in heaven.


You might say - “We can experience eternal life now; and if we do nothing to lose it, we will experience it eternally.”

The first underlined “eternal” is eternal in the sense that it is a participation in the divine nature of God (cf 2 Peter 1:4) - who is eternal. It does not automatically ensure that we will experience this life eternally. In other words, “eternal” refers to the type of life, not the length of time we will experience it.

The second underlined “eternally” is a reference to our experience of length of time.



Well said, jemfinch!!:clapping:

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