Some erroneously teach, in my opinion, that a saved regenerated believer in Christ can lose his salvation and become un-born-again, unregenerate, through some action on his or her own part. While discussing this one day with a Christian brother, who believes such is possible, I asked him for a biblical text in support of the idea. He gave me 2 Peter 2:19 and 20.
While they promise them liberty, they themselves are the servants [slaves] of corruption: for of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage [enslaved]. 20 For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning.
Reading that passage it does almost seem to support such a notion, except when you put it in its original context. And also it brings up a concept centred on the meaning of the word ‘overcome’ as used in the Bible. Since we are admonished (2 Timothy 2:15) to rightly handle the word of truth, let’s look into this matter a little more. (All bold are my emphases added. Square brackets [ ] indicate meanings of words. King James Version Easy-Reading Bible (KJVER) used.)
2 Timothy 2:15 Study [Be diligent] to show yourself approved to God, a workman that needs not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.
The Authorized version uses the word ‘dividing’ which I believe captures the point very precisely. We need to divide truth from error.
Let’s read the context of the passage in question. The Apostle Peter describes the power of God who delivered righteous Lot from the evil conduct of those who dwelt in the city of Sodom.
2 Peter 2:7-9 And delivered just Lot, vexed [troubled] with the filthy conversation [conduct] of the wicked: 8 (For that righteous man dwelling among them, in seeing and hearing, vexed his righteous soul from day to day with their unlawful deeds;) 9 The Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished:
The scripture tells us that it is the Lord who knows how to deliver the godly from all temptations. But also it is the Lord who has kept or reserved the ungodly to be judged and punished on the appointed day, which is at the great white throne judgment (Revelation 20:11). Then the Apostle goes onto describe some of the attributes of those who are damned.
2 Peter 2:10-14 But chiefly them that walk after the flesh in the lust of uncleanness, and despise government [authority]. Presumptuous are they, self-willed, they are not afraid to speak evil of dignities. 11 Whereas angels, which are greater in power and might, bring not railing [slanderous] accusation against them before the Lord. 12 But these, as [like] natural brute beasts, made to be taken and destroyed, speak evil of the things that they understand not; and shall utterly perish in their own corruption; 13 And shall receive the reward of unrighteousness, as they that count it pleasure to riot in the day time. Spots they are and blemishes, sporting [reveling] themselves with their own deceivings while they feast with you; 14 Having eyes full of adultery, and that cannot cease from sin; beguiling [enticing] unstable souls: an heart they have exercised with covetous practices; cursed children:
The Apostle Peter then gives us an apt metaphor for these who are damned in ‘wells without water’. They do not have the Spirit dwelling in them. So they cannot be saved.
2 Peter 2:17,18 These are wells without water, clouds that are carried with a tempest; to whom the mist of darkness is reserved for ever. 18 For when they speak great swelling words of vanity, they allure through the lusts [desires] of the flesh, through much wantonness [unbridled lust], those that were clean [truly] escaped from them who live in error.
It is these people who tempt and lure others to their destruction. It is because of these some who have not the Spirit dwelling in them are overcome and brought into bondage. We understand from the preceding text it is a discussion about the unsaved, and we read that God was able to deliver the godly from their clutches.
2 Peter 2:19 While they promise them liberty, they themselves are the servants [slaves] of corruption: for of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage.
The question remains then: Is this a reference to a saved born-again believer? I do not believe so. In verse 19 the Apostle is talking about the unsaved who are overcome of evil and brought into bondage. They do not have the power of the Spirit of God to resist such temptation.
2 Peter 2:20 For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning.
Then Peter continues with a hypothetical, which begins with ‘if’. For he is saying if it was possible that a saved person could be overcome of evil then their latter end would be worse than their beginning.
2 Peter 2:21 For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them.
It would have been better that they never knew the true way of righteousness than turned from it once having known it. But those who have turned away from truth, and been overcome by evil, because of their sinful hearts, never had the Spirit of God. If they had the Lord would have led them out of that temptation, like He did Lot. That is not to say that a saved person cannot fall and be tempted but that they cannot be lost or permanently overcome by evil.
There are those in the churches, those who have openly professed to be Christian but have turned away and been overcome by sins. Some have come out denying Christ and living a very ungodly life. They are those who may have experience some of the Lord’s grace while they were among the body of believers but they never gave their heart to Christ and are those who have turned back like the dog returns to his own vomit.
2 Peter 2:22 But it is happened to them according to the true proverb, The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire [mud].
Use of the word ‘overcome’ in the Scriptures
In Numbers 13:30 and 22:11 the word translated as ‘overcome’ in English is used in the context of battle, warfare. So it means to overcome your enemy, by defeating him, or to be overcome of your enemy, by the enemy defeating you physically in battle.
Now we read in the gospel according to Luke:
Luke 11:21-23 When a strong man armed keeps his palace, his goods are in peace: 22 But when a stronger than he shall come on him, and overcome him, he takes from him all his armor wherein he trusted, and divides his spoils. 23 He that is not with me is against me: and he that gathers not with me scatters.
At first use of ‘overcome’ the meaning is to physically conquer in battle and to ‘divide his spoils’ means to take goods and property. Then Christ makes it clear that He is using this as symbolism of spiritual warfare. If you are not with Christ you are against Him. There is no middle ground. He that is with Christ works to bring people into the kingdom (i.e. gathers) but those who are against Him scatter the unbelievers. They bring out the true heart of those who decide against Christ. In this sense ‘overcome’ has a spiritual meaning.
John 16:33 These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you might have peace. In the world you shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.
Here Christ is speaking to born-again believers telling them that they will have physical battle and trials in the world but he has overcome the world (i.e. tribulation). That means He has defeated Satan and sin. Thus their trials (and that means the associated temptations) have a foregone conclusion, which is victory through Christ. This means that when we come before the final judgment of God we have overcome all things through Christ. It is promised by God in His Word.
Romans 3:4 …, let God be true, but every man a liar; as it is written, That you might be justified in your sayings, and might overcome when you are judged.
The Lord tells us not to overcome evil ourselves but says that He will judge our enemies for us (Romans 12:19) and as such commands us to do the opposite of what the world would do. He says to show kindness to your enemy (Romans 12:20). And by doing that you will not be overcome of evil but will conquer evil with your actions by doing good.
Romans 12:21 Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.
Thus it is not a work of the flesh but a work of grace, by trusting in God. In the same way Lot was led out of Sodom physically Jesus Christ leads us out of the world of sin spiritually.
1 John 2:13,14 I write to you, fathers, because you have known Him that is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, because you have overcome the wicked one. I write to you, little children, because you have known the Father. 14 I have written to you, fathers, because you have known Him that is from the beginning. I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides [lives] in you, and you have overcome the wicked one.
Thus the Apostle John under inspiration can write that those who are saved believers have overcome Satan and sin. But the Apostle continues with:
1 John 2:15 Love not the world neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.
Those who love the world are not saved believers, but they are those who make an outward profession of faith without an inward change of heart. The “love of the Father” is not in them so they cannot be regenerate.
1 John 4:4-6 You are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is He that is in you, than he [Satan] that is in the world. 5 They are of the world: therefore speak they of the world, and the world hears [listens to] them. 6 We are of God: he that knows God hears us; he that is not of God hears not us. Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error.
So quite obviously by being saved and that alone is sufficient to overcome the world. It is not by any works we do but by our love for God.
1 John 5:4,5 For whatever is born of God overcomes the world: and this is the victory that overcomes the world, even our faith. 5 Who is he that overcomes the world, but he that believes that Jesus is the Son of God?
There can be no doubt that being born of God means we have overcome the world. The reverse is not the case. We may suffer greatly in this world (Hebrews 11) but we can be overcomers nevertheless. This is stressed through the book of the Revelation.
Revelation 2:7,11,17,26 He that has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches; To him that overcomes will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God. … 11 He that has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches; He that overcomes shall not be hurt of the second death. … 17 He that has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches; To him that overcomes will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knows saving he that receives it. … 26 And he that overcomes, and keeps my works to the end, to him will I give power over the nations:
From 1 John 5:5 it is clear that overcoming is achieved by believing in Jesus the Son of God. From 1 John 4:4 it is clear that overcoming is achieved by just having the Spirit of the Father dwelling in us.
Revelation 3:5,12,21 He that overcomes, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels. … 12 Him that overcomes will I make a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write on him the name of My God, and the name of the city of My God, which is new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from my God: and I will write upon him My new name. … 21 To him that overcomes will I grant to sit with me in My throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with My Father in His throne.
As a result he that overcomes through faith in Jesus Christ will be not only saved from hellfire (i.e. clothed with white raiment and name not removed from the book of life) but also will be granted the right to sit with God in His throne room. There is no suggestion because of some works one does not do that one fails to overcome and thus one’s name is removed from the book of life. God is telling the believers to be patient and persevere in this life because they will be rewarded in the end.
Revelation 11:7 and 13:7 And when they shall have finished their testimony, the beast that ascends out of the bottomless pit shall make war against them, and shall overcome them, and kill them. … And it was given to him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them: and power was given him over all kindreds, and tongues, and nations.
Notice here there is no suggestion that these saints of God have lost their salvation. They are physically defeated, even killed by the ‘beast'(antiChrist forces on Earth) but in the spirit they are victors. The final conflict describes Christ defeating the wicked.
Revelation 17:14 These shall make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them: for He is Lord of lords, and King of kings: and they that are with Him are called, and chosen, and faithful.
The wicked of the world are overcome or defeated by the Lamb, by Jesus Christ, even though the true believers, who follow Him, may lose their lives because they follow Him. But…
Revelation 21:7 He that overcomes shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be My son.
Overcomers are the sons of God. They shall inherit the kingdom that Christ has prepared. That certainly only comes by trusting in Jesus not by any works we may do or not do. There is nothing you can do to merit salvation. There is nothing you can do to keep it, but only by overcoming, which we have learned comes from believing in Christ and having the Spirit of the Father dwelling in you. Keep the faith!