Does 1 Timothy 4:16 teach that Christians can lose their salvation?
Are you are worried that you might lose your salvation because 1 Timothy 4:16 says, “you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you”?
Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you. 1 Timothy 4:16 (NASB)
Meaning of Some Greek Words
The book of 1 Timothy was a letter sent by the apostle Paul to Timothy who was, we believe, pastor of the church in the city of Ephesus. The purpose of the book was to give Timothy instruction about how to organize and manage the church. In 1 Timothy 4:11-13 Timothy is urged to read, exhort and teach the Word. In verse 14 Timothy is urged to improve his gift of teaching. In verse 15 Timothy is urged to be absorbed or immersed into these things and in verse 16 he is commanded to faithfully give himself to teaching Scripture.
Then Timothy is given the benefit of doing these things, “you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you.” The phrase “ensure salvation” is translated from one Greek word which is sozo. This Greek word simply means “to save,” “to keep safe,” or “to rescue.” The word has a wide semantic range or breadth of meaning. It does not always mean “to be saved” in a theological sense. It can refer to be cured of an illness (Luke 8:36; Acts 4:9) or to be rescued from death (Acts 27:20, 31).
Another important word is the word “ensure” which should not be in the NASB because it adds a concept that is not in the Greek text. The English Standard Version Bible (ESV) is a better translation of the verse and it eliminates the word “ensure.”
Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers. 1 Timothy 4:16 (ESV)
The meaning of the verse is that there is a benefit to Timothy’s faithful teaching of the Word of God. The text says that he will be saved and so will those who hear him. But as we have discovered sozo does not necessarily mean saved in a theological sense.
Timothy Was Already Saved
It is important to understand that Timothy was already saved when Paul wrote the epistle of 1 Timothy. For example, in 1 Timothy 1:2 Paul states,
To Timothy, my true son in the faith. 1 Timothy 1:2 (NASB)
Here Paul refers to Timothy as a “son in the faith.” Paul was Timothy’s spiritual father and Timothy was like a spiritual son. That is, Paul is saying Timothy was already saved. In 2 Timothy 1:5 Paul writes,
For I am mindful of the sincere faith within you, which first dwelt in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am sure that it is in you as well. 2 Timothy 1:5 (NASB)
Again Paul refers to the faith within Timothy. The message is that Timothy was already saved when Paul wrote this book.
Meaning of 1 Timothy 4:16
Therefore, the meaning of 1 Timothy 4:16 is not that Timothy will finally become saved if he faithfully teaches Scripture. Therefore, how should we understand 1 Timothy 4:16? The answer is that Scripture teaches every believer how to grow in sanctification. For example, the book of Philippians is written to saints who are also called Christians or believers. Notice that in verse one Paul calls the believers in the church at Philippi saints.
Paul and Timothy, bond-servants of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi . . . Philippians 1:1 (NASB)
The Greek word for saints is hagios, which means “holy ones.” They are believers. Then later in Philippians 2:12-13 Paul writes,
So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. Philippians 2:12-13 (NASB)
Here the apostle urges these saints to work out their salvation. Then in verse 14 he starts explaining what he means. Here is Philippians 2:14-16.
Do all things without grumbling or disputing; so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I will have reason to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain. Philippians 2:14-16 (NASB)
The message of Scripture is that every true saint or believer is not saved by works but by faith.
For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. Ephesians 2:8-9 (NASB)
Romans 8:13-14 teaches that the Holy Spirit performs the transforming work in every true believer. Yet, Christians are urged to live a holy life (1 Peter 1:15-16). That is, true believers are called “holy ones.” God has already declared believers to be hagios or holy ones because Romans 5:1 says that by faith every believer is justified. They no longer have to worry about going to hell (Romans 8:1). The proof that a person is a believer is that they want to be holy and they strive to be holy. That is, they “work out their salvation” as they live in obedience to the Word of God and thereby demonstrate that they are Christians.
Timothy Will Save Himself
Therefore, Paul urges Timothy to faithfully teach Scripture so that he, himself, will grow in respect to salvation. That is, he will grow in holiness. Paul is not saying that Timothy will become saved. Timothy was already saved and now he is to grow towards perfect holiness. You are encouraged to read “Can we know that we are forgiven and going to heaven?” Therefore, Paul was not telling Timothy he would save himself by working but to workout his salvation–be obedient and do God’s will.
Timothy Will Save Others
Paul also tells Timothy that if he will faithfully do as Paul has urged him, others will 1) become believers and 2) grow in the faith. In theology it is said that when a person is saved, they are granted positional sanctification. The New Testament teaches that then the Holy Spirit begins the process of transforming true believers since He dwells or lives within (Romans 8:13-14; Galatians 5:16-25; 1 John 2:4-6).
1 Timothy 4:16 is about progressive sanctification of both Timothy and his hearers. Those who think this passage is about earning one’s salvation must remember that salvation is by faith and not of works (Romans 3:20, 28; 4:3-6; Galatians 2:16; Ephesians 2:8-9; 2 Timothy 1:9). Passages such as Matthew 7:17-20 teach that one’s behavior reveals if a person is a true believer who is going to heaven.
So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits. Matthew 7:17-20 (NASB)
Remember we do not attach real fruit to an apple tree; the apple tree will naturally produce apples. It is the Holy Spirit who causes the believer to produce righteousness. Works do not save us, nor do works create saving faith.
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