I have heard that Lutherans believe it is possible for a believer to fall from faith and the WELS web site has confirmed this (This We Believe IV. Justification #9). However, I have also heard that Lutheran doctrine teaches that Christ gives assurance of salvation in a way that implies some sort of "once saved, always saved" doctrine. Is this true and if so, how does it not contradict the belief that a Christian can fall? Also, does the belief that we are saved by baptism or by election mean that there is more than one way to be saved?
It is clear from Scripture that people can fall from faith (Luke 8:13; 1 Corinthians 10:12; Galatians 5:4; 1 Timothy 1:19-20; 2 Peter 3:17).
While God’s law warns us about falling away from faith, God’s gospel assures us that we are safe and secure in God’s hands (John 10:28-29). While we definitely pay attention to the warnings of the law, we cling all the more in Spirit-worked faith to the gospel of Jesus Christ. The gospel is “the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16). The gospel is God’s message of eternal life (John 3:16).
If God has elected a person to salvation, God will bring that individual to saving faith and preserve that individual in saving faith. None of the elect are lost; all the elect enjoy eternal life. In figurative language Revelation 7 describes all the elect on this earth, and Revelation 14 describes all the elect in God’s presence in heaven.
If a person at one point in life professed Christian faith but then distanced himself or herself from God and died without saving faith, that person was not among the elect.
There is only way to be saved: that is through faith in Jesus Christ (Acts 4:12; 17:31). God works saving faith through the gospel (Romans 1:16). God can work saving faith through the gospel in word alone or through the word and water—baptism. Because baptism connects people to Jesus Christ in saving faith, Scripture can rightly say that baptism saves (Titus 3:5; 1 Peter 3:21). When people are brought to saving faith in Jesus and leave this world with saving faith in their hearts, God was responsible for that through his gracious election (2 Timothy 1:9).