SECTION 1: ‘Have you found salvation?’
This is a question which often troubles Christians, especially when they have seen people who identified as Christians but then go off and do something entirely contrary to the Christian faith or lose interest and stop attending any Christian fellowship. This then raises the question, ‘Where do these people stand in relation to the Lord and His salvation?’ ‘If they are now lost is it possible that I too could lose my salvation?’
First of all we have to ask the more basic ‘Have you found salvation?’ Since you can’t lose what you have not got, first of all you need to be able to know that you are saved. I remember when I first accepted the Lord in 1970 being asked ‘Are you saved?’ I found the question rather irritating but we do need to know that we are saved. Being saved means that we have accepted God’s offer of eternal salvation through repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. We know that our sins are forgiven through His once and for all sacrifice at the cross and that our names are written in the Book of Life. Therefore we know that we have eternal life and will be with God forever after our death. The alternative is to be lost and to face eternal separation from God in hell after our death. Since these alternatives are so enormous in their implications for our future well being it is absolutely vital that we are sure about our salvation.
Clearly there is a huge amount of confusion with regard to what is salvation in churches today. There are those who are leading churches who have absorbed teachings at Bible colleges or at conferences or from books which are in conflict with the basic teaching of the Bible about salvation. Some of these are in liberal churches which make no claim to believe the Bible to be the inspired word of God, but increasingly there is confusion in churches which profess to be Bible believing and evangelical.
Let us look at some very basic things which we learn from the Bible about salvation. By definition if someone believes or teaches something contrary to these things it is doubtful that they are saved.
No other name
Salvation is to be found through Jesus Christ alone. In Acts 4 Peter explains the power by which the lame man at the gate of the Temple has been healed and explains that this is by the name of Jesus Christ who has been crucified and raised from the dead and says: ‘Nor is there salvation in any other for there is no other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved.’ The whole teaching of the Apostles focuses on the uniqueness of the life, death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus and that it is only through repentance and faith in Him that we can receive salvation. Therefore any church which preaches that you can come to God through any other way is a false church and leading people astray. Mostly the churches which are preaching this are liberal and ecumenical churches who say that all roads can lead to God if the person is sincere.
Christ died for our sins
Believing in the name of Jesus Christ involves believing in that He died on the cross as a sacrifice for the sins of the world and rose again from the dead. ‘For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures and that He was buried and that He rose again according to the scriptures.’ 1 Corinthians 15.3-4. Paul writes that the qualification for salvation is a personal faith that Jesus died and rose again and a willingness to acknowledge this: ‘If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that He rose again from the dead you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.’ Romans 10.9-10.
The basic message of the Gospel is that Jesus died for our sins and rose again from the dead. Anyone who denies this cannot be saved.
When He died on the cross He took the punishment that we deserve. In the prophecy of the suffering servant Isaiah foretold the coming sufferings of the Messiah and the meaning of those sufferings. ‘He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities, the chastisement of our peace was upon Him and by His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned everyone to his own way and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.’ Isaiah 53.5-6. Peter relates this passage to the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus by saying that Jesus as the Messiah ‘Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we having died to sins might live for righteousness.’ I Peter 2.24. Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5.21: ‘For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin (a sin offering) for us that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.’ 2 Corinthians 5.21.
1 John 2.1 tells us that Jesus Christ Himself is ‘the propitiation for our sins.’ The word propitiation carries the basic idea of appeasement, or satisfaction, specifically towards God. Propitiation is a two-part act that involves appeasing the wrath of an offended person and being reconciled to him. Jesus Christ bore the wrath of God against sin on the cross, and through Him we are reconciled to God, who would otherwise be offended by our sin and would demand that we pay the penalty for it.
All of these passages confirm the whole teaching of the Apostles that the Lord Jesus was our substitute taking the punishment for our sins on the cross so that we can be forgiven. Technically this is known as the doctrine of ‘penal substitution’ and it is basic to our understanding of our salvation – that we do not deserve salvation because of our own goodness but God was pleased to accept the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus as the atonement for the sins of those who accept salvation in His name. Yet today we find that this basic teaching of the New Testament is being rejected by some of those who call themselves evangelical.
Repent and believe
Receiving salvation involves a personal commitment to all of this by repenting and believing the Gospel. After explaining the meaning of the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus on the Day of Pentecost those who heard the message said, ‘Men and brethren, what shall we do?’ Peter replied ‘Repent and let every one of you be baptised in the name of the Jesus Christ for the remission of your sins and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’ Acts 2.37-8. Throughout the book of Acts the pattern of repentance, baptism in water and receiving the Holy Spirit is followed. Since the Bible teaches that we are all sinners and Christ died for our sins, there must be repentance, a change of mind and a change of direction in order to receive salvation in Jesus Christ.
Baptism is a sign that we have repented and believed and now identify with the Lord Jesus in His death and resurrection. Generally in the book of Acts it happened soon or immediately after receiving the Lord as Saviour. But it never happened before this so there is no way that baptising babies can be valid in the eyes of the Lord. This is also accompanied by being born again of the Holy Spirit and being baptised into the body of Christ which is the true church. ‘For as the body is one and has many members but all the members of that one body being many are one body so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptised into one body – whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free – and all have been made to drink into one Spirit.’ 1 Corinthians 12.12-13.
This raises a question over one of the main methods of evangelism in today’s church – the Alpha Course. While emphasising the uniqueness of Christ and believing in His death and resurrection, Alpha is very weak on repentance and says nothing about believers’ baptism. As it comes out of the Anglican Church and also seeks to be acceptable to the Roman Catholic Church, it does not wish to create controversy by emphasising the importance of believers’ baptism after receiving salvation. In fact one of the high points of Alpha is the ‘Holy Spirit weekend’ where people are encouraged to have an experience with the Holy Spirit involving speaking in tongues and other charismatic gifts, without being taught about the necessity of repentance and believers’ baptism. With such a weak foundation in the faith it is not surprising that many people then fall away. I would not say that no one is saved through doing Alpha but the course on its own is deficient in fundamental aspects of the Gospel, so that it is by no means certain that Alpha converts really have found true salvation. Therefore it is likely that they will in time fall away.
Salvation is by faith not works
In Ephesians 2.9-10 Paul writes: ‘For by grace you have been saved through faith and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works lest anyone should boast.’ We cannot earn our salvation by religious rites or good deeds but receive it as a gift of God through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. There will be evidence of the change in our lives that has come through receiving this salvation and God has works for us to do but these works are the fruit of our salvation not the cause of it. ‘For we are His workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.’ Ephesians 2.10.
All of these issues are foundational to what salvation is. If people who claim to be Christians have not believed in these fundamental issues relating to salvation we should not be surprised if they later fall away from the faith. It may not be that they have lost their faith, but they never had saving faith in the first place. In John 6 we read of a number of would be disciples who ‘went back and walked with Him no more’ saying of His teaching, “This is a hard saying; who can understand it?” (or who can accept it?). Jesus turns to His disciples and asks, “Do you also want to go away?”
But Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ (Messiah), the Son of the living God.”
Peter has understood the fundamental truth that the Lord Jesus is bringing to the world. He knows and believes that:
1. Jesus has the words of eternal life. There is no one else to go to who can offer what Jesus offers.
2. Jesus is the promised Messiah. There is no other coming (although He is coming a second time).
3. Jesus is the Son of the living God. As such He is equal with the Father and the Holy Spirit, being God from eternity to eternity, who became man, died for our sins and is risen from the dead, ascended, glorified. He is alive today and able to meet our needs. (Obviously at the time of making this statement Peter did not fully understand all of this, as it was before the crucifixion and resurrection of the Lord, but he did thereafter).
SECTION 2: What is on offer in the Christian faith?
This is a key question in relation to our salvation. The basic offer of the Apostles as they taught people the Christian faith was that people could know their sins are forgiven and that they have been ‘born again’ to eternal life through repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. There was no guarantee that all their material needs would be met and that they would have no troubles or sicknesses in this life. A number of times the Lord emphasised that those who followed Him would suffer persecution and trouble in this life. Many of the Apostles themselves and members of the early church would pay for their faith with martyrdom.
When I first became a Christian in 1970 I was greatly inspired by people like Richard Wurmbrand, Aida Skripnikova, Georgy Vins and others who had suffered for their faith under Communism. However I found that much of the church looked to America for inspiration and imported one thing after another from across the Atlantic.
Many of the things which I have seen happening within the churches have been based on teachings which are either not in the Bible at all or are a distortion of the teaching of the Bible. I also observed that if people base their faith on things which are not promised in the New Testament rather than what is promised they are liable to fall away. They may reject Christianity because they have not received what they were promised by some preacher. They might then be seen to have lost their faith, but if their faith was based on a delusion to start off with then it is not surprising that they would lose it. This is somewhat like the people who today are disillusioned with the promises of politicians who fail to keep their word.
Some of the major issues I have come across are these.
Signs and wonders teaching
When I first became a Christian in 1970 I went with my late wife Nikki to a highly charismatic fellowship which was a pioneer in the house church movement. There was a great emphasis on signs and wonders. As both Nikki and I had been involved in the radical left during the 60s we used to go and hand out leaflets about the Lord and share our faith at communist demonstrations in central London. We were invited to share about what we were doing at a meeting of this fellowship and although we got some encouragement I was personally devastated when a man stood up and asked if we were seeing signs and wonders taking place in what we were doing. He meant we should be seeing miracles happening as in the book of Acts and went on to say that he became a Christian because he saw a miracle. He implied that if you don’t see miracles happening your evangelism is a waste of time.
I was a fairly young Christian at the time and went into a bit of a crisis over this. I could not say that we were seeing anything on a level with Apostolic miracles although we did see answers to prayer. Fortunately we did not give up although we did leave that fellowship after they took a man out of hospital claiming he was healed. The leader of the church then required us all to stand and claim his healing with the implication that if we did not believe for this we were responsible for the man’s death. In fact he did die and the last I heard of the person who challenged us about signs and wonders was that he had lost his faith.
Since that time the signs and wonders movement has taken over huge areas of Christianity with claims that this was going to be the means of evangelising and converting the world in a sceptical generation. I have attended healing meetings, but I have noticed that I never actually saw anything remotely like a New Testament miracle taking place. People who arrived in wheelchairs left in wheelchairs and blind people may have fallen to the floor under the ‘power of the anointing’ but they remained blind. The best anyone could testify to was something impossible to prove like a backache being healed or a leg lengthened. I also realised that I was not the only one noticing this. Secular journalists attended mass meetings by famous evangelists claiming to be performing signs and wonders in order to check out the results and found no lasting cures taking place apart from what could be explained by natural healing processes.
I do not doubt that God is able to work in the healing of the sick this is according to His sovereignty. This is best done through the local church as taught in James 5 whereby there can be follow up by the elders of the church and the real situation has to be faced (i.e. you can’t claim someone is miraculously healed when they are still sick in front of you). Equally it is absolutely clear that all churches (whether they preach signs and wonders or not) have people within them who have long term illnesses and are not healed of these. John Wimber, one of the main teachers of ‘signs and wonders’ evangelism, died at a relatively young age having spent his last years in a wheel chair.
It is clear from the New Testament that signs in themselves did not convince everyone to believe in Jesus as Saviour (see John 9, John 11, Acts 3-4, Acts 14). Paul wrote, ‘For the Jews require a sign and the Greeks seek after wisdom but we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block and unto the Greeks foolishness; but unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.’ 1 Corinthians 1.22-24.
Today there are huge claims being made of signs and wonders but the evidence of genuine miracles as in the book of Acts is negligible. At times this appears to be deliberate fraud and as such it is bound to create disillusion in those who are led to believe that they will see miracles, experience miraculous healings and then don’t. If their faith is in the preachers claiming miracles rather than in ‘Christ crucified’ it is no wonder they later fall away.
Revival / Kingdom and dominion
If I had £100 for every time I have heard a prophecy of revival coming I would be a wealthy man. Year after year ‘prophets’ give out ‘words from the Lord’ about great revival coming with huge numbers of people turning to Christ and every aspect of society being affected – government, media, education, etc. And year after year more and more people in western societies turn to yoga and New Age meditation, more mosques than churches open, prisons fill to overflowing, teenage pregnancies increase and our society is filled with violence. One can only conclude that what has been given are false prophecies and yet multitudes of Christians believe them.
The Bible actually says that in the last days there will be apostasy, false prophets and false messiahs, increasing wickedness and a time of great tribulation. Many people will be saved out of this and turn to the Lord, but the kind of revivalism preached by ‘Kingdom and dominion’ preachers is a myth based on a misapplication of prophecies about the Messianic kingdom or Millennium which will exist after the return of the Lord Jesus. These prophecies are applied to the church in the present time rather than to the Millennial period when the Lord Jesus reigns from restored Jerusalem.
The New Testament encourages us to share the Gospel and to believe that people can be saved from the ‘wrath to come’ by repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus. However until He returns those who make this commitment will always be a minority going through the ‘narrow gate’ that leads to life rather than the broad way that leads to destruction (Matthew 7.13-14). The message of the Gospel will go to the ends of the earth and in these days we should expect to see individuals turning to the Lord. However the idea that the world will be ‘Christianised’ before the second coming of Christ is a delusion. The prophetic scriptures warn us that the majority of people in the world will turn to antichrist not Jesus Christ and that followers of the Lord will face persecution and rejection. Those who are trusting in ‘prophecies’ of great revival saving the world from destruction will be disappointed and disillusioned.
Some time ago I met a young couple who went to a church which preached the ‘prosperity gospel’. They were struggling financially and having a hard time making ends meet to look after their two children. The husband believed he was going to make a lot of money through some investment scheme which would provide for all their needs. He was convinced that the Lord had told him that this would succeed and received encouragement from his church. The church also encouraged him to give what he did not have to the church as a statement of faith and then he would receive this money. Of course the money never turned up and the last I heard of them they had divorced and gone away from the faith.
The prosperity gospel is the mainstay of God TV today. If you flip on to almost any ‘Christian’ TV channel you will almost certainly hear some preacher telling you that God wants you to prosper. In order to receive this prosperity you should give large amounts of money to their ministry with the promise that you will receive it back (even 100 times more according to some preachers). I remember turning on to one channel and heard the preacher telling people to ring a certain number and give by credit card to his ministry. He promised that those who were in debt and had faith would see their debts cancelled if they gave him money even if they did not have it. I was so incensed at this that I rang up the number and said they were practicing blatant fraud and exploitation of people. The lady who answered the phone said what was being said on the programme was nothing to do with her, she was just instructed to take the donations.
These preachers are an absolute disgrace to Christianity. I know an unsaved Jewish man who says if he wants a real laugh he turns on to the God TV networks and watches the scams taking place there. He does a very good imitation of the preachers in action, which is entertaining but also tragic in that it is hardening him in his unbelief.
The New Testament makes no promises of wealth to those who follow Jesus. In fact it says that those who wish to be rich ‘fall into temptation and a snare and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.’ 1 Timothy 6.9-10. The letter to the Hebrews commends those who ‘joyfully accepted the plundering of your goods, knowing you have a better and enduring possession for yourselves in heaven.’ Hebrews 10.34. The church which receives no commendation from the Lord in the letters to the seven churches in Revelation is the Laodicean church which corresponds to the church in the west today: ‘Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy and have need of nothing’ – and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind and naked – ‘I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich…’ Revelation 3.17-18.
Of course a true conversion to the Lord Jesus should result in a responsible attitude towards money. I once heard a man give a testimony in which he said, ‘I have never seen the Lord turn water into wine but I have seen him turn wine into furniture.’ What he meant was that before he came to the Lord he was a drunkard and wasted his money on alcohol. After he came to the Lord he stopped drinking and worked hard and provided the necessities of life for his family. There are many things which make people poor in our society – gambling, abuse of drink or drugs, sexual promiscuity – which must go from the life of a person who truly turns to Christ. They should then be motivated to earn an honest living and as a result have a better standard of living than the person who does little or no work and wastes what he has on the corrupt things of the world. In that sense the Lord does give prosperity and He certainly does bless those who give to the cause of the Gospel. However this should never be seen as a deal in order to ‘get rich quick.’
Today’s prosperity gospel is a fraud made in the rich countries of the world and now being pushed even in countries where the majority live in poverty. Those who follow it are likely to be disillusioned and to fall away because they are trusting in something God never promised in the first place.
Self esteem / meeting our ‘felt need’
Much of contemporary preaching is geared to making people feel good about themselves and building up their self esteem. ‘Mega churches’ in America seek to find out what are people’s ‘felt needs’ – what do they want – and then provide for these needs to be met. Most people’s needs are to be well thought of, comfortable and happy. So the aim of the church is to try to make them feel good about themselves and make the services as entertaining and friendly as possible.
Successful preacher Joel Osteen has written a book on this subject called ‘Your Best Life Now.’ Here are some quotes from it:
‘You will produce what you’re continually seeing in your mind. If you foster an image of defeat and failure, then you’re going to live that kind of life. But if you develop an image of victory, success, health, abundance, joy, peace, and happiness, nothing on earth will be able to hold those things from you.’ (page 5)
‘You must conceive it in your heart and mind before you can receive it.’ (page 6)
‘You must look through your ‘eyes of faith’ and start seeing yourself as happy, healthy and whole.’ (page 15)
‘What you will receive is directly connected to how you believe.’ (page 22)
‘God sees you as a champion. He believes in you even more than you believe in yourself!’ (page 56)
‘God has confidence in you.’ (page 110)
Not one of these statements can be backed up by Scripture. Success, health and abundance may be the experience of some middle class American Christians (though I would not count on them being their experience for much longer). But there are millions more whose daily life includes struggling to make ends meet in an increasingly difficult economic climate in the West. In much of the rest of the world it is infinitely more difficult and many Christians experience the ‘plundering of their goods’ (Hebrews 10 32-35), imprisonment and even death in countries around the world where persecution is the norm. To Christians in North Korea, most of the Middle East and among the unregistered House Churches of China their daily experience is suffering for their faith, for many to the point of death.
Commenting on this Brannon House writes:
‘Osteen does not provide a single Bible verse to back up these statements…because there are none. Nowhere in the Bible do we read that God believes or has confidence in us. He loves us, but does not believe in us. On the contrary, He knows all too well how unbelievably fickle and untrustworthy we humans actually are. It’s not like Joel describes on page 57:
‘Believe it or not, that is how God sees you, too. He regards you as a strong, courageous, successful, overcoming person.’
Furthermore, God does not define our success in materialistic terms as Joel does. God is interested in our obedience above all. On page 63, Joel writes:
As long as you are pressing forward, you can hold your head up high, knowing that you are a ‘work in progress,’ and God is in the process of changing you. He’s looking at your last two good moves.
Joel, where in the Bible do you read that God is not looking at our last two bad moves but our last two good moves? Isaiah 64:6 says that even our righteous deeds are like filthy rags or wickedness to God because He is so holy. Even if God did look at our last two good moves, He would still see filthy rags.
Or how about this Osteen gospel gem from page 95:
‘Be the best you can be, then you can feel good about yourself.’
Where in the Bible do we find this teaching? What if your best is getting drunk just once a week instead of twice a week? Should you still feel good about yourself?
But wait. I’ve saved Joel’s most outrageous statement for last. On page 144, Joel elevates us to the heavenlies by pointing out that ‘You may even need to forgive God.’
And exactly what would we be forgiving God for? As I recall, forgiveness is for sins – or at least mistakes. But which of those has God made? Not one according to any Bible I’ve ever read.
Oswald Chambers offers a perspective on the kind of thing the Osteens of the world do to Christians:
‘Satan’s great aim is to deflect us from the centre. He will allow us to be devoted to the death to any cause, any enterprise, to anything but the Lord Jesus.’
Hebrews 13:9 instructs us to not be carried away by all sorts of strange teachings (deflected from the centre) but sadly, that is exactly what is happening for many at the hand of Joel Osteen.
Instead of pursuing our best life now, we should pursue the things of the Lord so we can have our best life later. I fear that for many who follow Joel’s false teaching, this life is the best they will get. The false gospel proclaimed by Joel Osteen and accepted as truth by millions may allow many to achieve what they can conceive of the things in this world, but true to Jesus’ promise, they may lose their souls in the pursuit.
If we make the motivation for people coming to churches that they will be entertained, made to feel good about themselves, be successful in their jobs or even to improve their social life in the end they will be disillusioned because none of these things is promised in the Gospel.
Submission / control systems
Back in the 1980s we went to a new charismatic fellowship which turned out to be run along the lines of the ‘submission’ doctrine of the ‘shepherding movement’. At one time I was being considered for a leadership role in this fellowship but I blew my chance of that when I disagreed with what the ‘apostle’ who was ‘covering’ the fellowship taught about the church and Israel. Afterwards I went round to his house and his first words to me were ‘You publicly disagreed with me.’ I soon realised that this was the unforgivable sin in these circles. The need to submit to the authority of the leaders whatever they said was very important because we were told (by a word of prophecy) that we were going to a stepping stone towards ‘taking London for Jesus.’ As I became convinced they were wrong on a number of points of Christian doctrine we left. Not long afterwards, far from taking London for Jesus, the fellowship fell apart. There were a number of casualties from this as people trusted that this fellowship was going to be a power house of the Gospel then found that it came to nothing.
Since that time I have come across a large number of Christian dropouts who have left churches in disillusion after coming under some kind of control system which sought to programme their lives. Usually the carrot for this was participation in the coming revival. The stick was being left behind and cast out of the kingdom. Leaders were given powers never found in the New Testament to direct people in their lives – how they spend their money, what jobs they do, what friends they have, who they marry etc. I accept that people often need guidance in these issues but not control. In essence this becomes like another form of priesthood in which the church leader becomes your mediator to God rather than the New Testament pattern which is that the pastor and teachers in the church should be helping their people to develop a relationship with the Lord rather than dictating how they should live. In effect the ‘shepherding movement’ is very like the Roman Catholic hierarchy with its pyramid structure of power. One man who had come from the Roman Catholic church to join the fellowship I have described above then left saying to me, ‘I have left behind one pope and I don’t want another.’
Inconsistent lives of church leaders
Reading the personal testimony of one of the members of our fellowship is to study a catalogue of disasters taking place in the name of Christianity. He describes how it began with an exploding fellowship of mainly young people and a heavy emphasis on being ‘baptised in the Holy Spirit’ with speaking in tongues and prophecies. It ended with one pastor leaving after having a nervous breakdown after which a leadership elite emerged crushing any dissent. There was a lot of singing with a highly talented band leading it and most of the teaching was motivational on how to be a success rather than inspirational Biblical exposition. One lady introduced the book ‘The Seduction of Christianity’ by Dave Hunt which my friend describes as being exactly what was needed to correct some of the excesses going on. She and her family were thrown out and the book was banned. There was a lack of Bible teaching and a heavy controlling spirit which caused him to leave that fellowship. He describes how many members of this fellowship backslid. One divorced his wife to form a new cult in which he gave himself seven wives, a former leader died of AIDS, while another leader died as a recluse several years after the fellowship folded.
He then attended another fellowship which also fell apart after the leader ran off with a woman from the congregation and divorced his wife. At least in this situation the pastor ceased to lead the church, but I also know of situations where a pastor enters into what is an adulterous relationship as far as the Bible is concerned and continues as pastor in the church. There are also accounts of abuse of money in churches with failure to produce accounts and disclose how much money is being given to those in leadership.
Abuse of sex, power and money are the three most common forms of inconsistency in the lives of church leaders. Those who are in churches where these things happen are likely to end up disillusioned and lose their faith. If their faith is in the church or its leader then this can lead to falling away. However if they have come to a genuine faith in Jesus as Saviour despite the failings of the church they will continue in their faith and find somewhere where they can grow as Christians. In his testimony my friend writes:
‘Salvation can be viewed as past present and future. I am saved (past tense), redeemed by the blood of Jesus. I am delivered from the penalty of sin. The next phase is I am being saved (present tense), being sanctified daily by the cross of Christ and delivered from the power of sin. The next phase is I will be saved (future tense). I will be glorified with a new body for eternity.’
Causes of stumbling
Within the professing church today many things which are being taught and emphasised which do not line up with the Word of God. Christians who receive these teachings even though they may be saved are liable to be disillusioned when the things they have been promised fail to materialise. There is also a huge attack on the Christian faith in the media and the educational system which generate ideas which are anti-Christian and cause many to stumble in their faith. Those who truly know the Lord and are grounded in the Word of God will be able to withstand this attack but those whose faith is based on the weak foundation of much of contemporary evangelicalism may well founder as a result of this attack. These are some of the main areas of attack. I have written on all these subjects in my book ‘Countdown to Calamity or Hope for the Future’ which is available for £10 including postage.
- Inter faith. Teaching that all roads lead to God and that Jesus is one of many saviours / prophets / avatars. The Bible shows us why Jesus is the one way to God who alone can save us from our sins.
- Evolution / atheism. Attack on our faith in God as Creator which leads to a rejection of the Word of God and the central truth that Jesus died for our sins. According to evolutionary view death existed for millions of years before humans appeared on the scene therefore there is no meaning in the death of Christ for our sins. There are scientific reasons for disbelieving the Big Bang theory and that life could have come out of non life or that evolution (apart from variation within species) has ever taken place. There are good reasons to believe in God as Creator and that through His death on the cross Jesus has delivered us from sin and death.
- Islam. Denies that Jesus is the Son of God / equal with the Father and that the Bible account is reliable. There are very good reasons to reject the claims of Islam on the basis of the inconsistencies in the life of Mohammed and in the Koran. Its accusation that the Bible is a forgery can easily be refuted by reference to documents which pre-date Islam by centuries. Comparison of the portraits of Jesus in the Koran and in the New Testament reveal the Koran to be in error and the New Testament to be the truth.
- Liberal theology / Da Vinci Code / attacks on the Word of God. On the subject of Christianity and the Bible the kind of ‘experts’ who are given a platform by the media are always those who will attack the foundations of the Christian faith. There are answers to their attacks by those who take the time and trouble to search for them. For example the Da Vinci Code says it is researched on historical facts as it denies that Jesus is a divine person and that the four Gospels we have in the New Testament are the authentic account of the life of the Lord Jesus. In fact it is based on the most fraudulent research which can easily be discredited.
- Jehovah’s Witnesses and other cults. There are multitudes of cults which go around today undermining biblical Christianity. Ignorant Christians may be swayed by doorstep evangelists who persuade them that the New Testament we read is unreliable. JW’s tell them that Jesus is not God, equal with the Father, but a second in command, created being who is actually the Archangel Michael. JW’s use a fraudulent translation of the Bible, the New World translation, which changes the meaning of the text in order to make it fit in with their teaching. This applies especially with verses which point to the divinity of the Lord Jesus like John 1.1. In the New World translation we read that the Word was ‘a god’ not God. The Greek text supports the Authorised Version: ‘In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.’ There are answers to all the different claims of cults which can be found by those who look for them.
- Occult / Yoga / New Age / Astrology / Reincarnation. Today we see a fascination with all kinds of spiritual forces which oppose the true faith in Jesus as Saviour. To go into detail on these issues would take far too long. Common ideas associated with the New Age are these:
- We are on the threshold of a New Age of enlightenment.
- God is an impersonal force of which we are part. We are god and our divinity is within.
- There is no death. We are endlessly reincarnated.
- Good and evil are only illusions and one side of the same coin.
- Jesus is just a great teacher and all roads lead to God.
All of these are wrong.
- We are not on the threshold of a New Age of enlightenment, but on the edge of the Great Tribulation.
- God is not an impersonal force, but a loving heavenly Father who can be known through faith in Jesus the Messiah. We are certainly not gods but created human beings who will one day die (unless Jesus comes first). When we look within us we find a sinful human nature which we need to be saved from through faith in the Lord Jesus.
- We have one chance to get it right in this life. After death we face the Day of Judgement when we give account of our lives to God.
- God is the Creator of all things and wholly good. The Bible teaches us the difference between good and evil and how to live in the light of God’s truth. Satan is a created being who is the source of evil and who is doomed to spend eternity in the lake of fire.
- There is one way we can avoid joining him in this fate – through repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus the Messiah who died as a sacrifice for our sins and rose again from the dead to give eternal life to all believers. Jesus is a great teacher, but not just a great teacher. He is God made flesh who revealed the ultimate truth to all mankind.
All of the above, plus the pressure of our materialistic and self centred society, put pressure on the believer to turn away from the faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. The person who is truly grounded in the faith and has received salvation will not be swayed by the antichrist forces in our world but will stand firm for the Lord. The person who has never truly repented and believed the Gospel but has gone through the motions of attending church meetings may well be blown off course by these or other ideas which attack the faith.
SECTION 3: Eternal Security and the Believer
Can we lose our salvation?
There are two main views on this subject.
- We cannot lose our salvation and once we have accepted Jesus as Saviour we are eternally secure. Once we are saved we are always saved.
- We can lose our salvation and if after professing salvation we backslide and lose our faith we are lost. Some say that only ‘overcomers’ will be saved and so those who do not measure up to their definition of an ‘overcomer’ will be lost and end up in hell even if they have accepted Jesus as Saviour.
There are problems for both views. Those who believe that we cannot lose our salvation have to explain how there are people who at one time in their lives have professed to be Christians, may have been baptised, even been active or leading churches, who no longer follow the faith. Those who believe we can lose our salvation have to deal with scriptures which say we are eternally secure (see below ‘Verses which speak of eternal security’).
Now as we have seen in the previous section of this booklet, if our faith is based on something which is not true we may well lose our faith. If our faith is based on the truth as revealed in Jesus and we are redeemed and born again, there are many passages (some of which are listed below) which teach that God is able to keep us for eternal life. If people have been genuinely saved and then backslide it is God’s will to bring them back into fellowship. Sin in the life of the believer will cause a break in fellowship with God and with others until it is dealt with. However it does not cause us to lose our salvation. After David sinned with Bathsheba he confessed his sin and said to God, ‘Restore to me the joy of Your salvation,’ (Psalm 51.12) not ‘Restore to me my salvation.’
It is sometimes claimed that believing in eternal security gives people a licence to live carelessly and sin because they imagine they are saved no matter how they live. According to this view Christians need to be told that they will lose their salvation if they sin, otherwise they will live carelessly. Now it is very clear that God wants righteousness in our lives and the idea that it does not matter how much we sin because we can always confess our sins and find forgiveness is absolutely wrong. The person who thinks like this has not really accepted the Lord Jesus as Saviour: ‘What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not!’ Romans 6.15.
Nevertheless all the verses in the Bible which call for holiness in our lives do so because of the grace of God working in our lives, not the threat of losing our salvation. For example: ‘For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works.’ Titus 2.11-14.
‘Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! Therefore the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.’ 1 John 3.1-3.
God wants our sanctification as we understand how great is our salvation and what it cost the Lord Jesus Christ to die for us and rise again from the dead. When we understand how great the Father’s love for us and how wonderful the sacrifice that the Lord Jesus made for us, we should want to show our gratitude to Him by allowing Him to purify us. Also when we have the hope that we will see Jesus as He is in glory, either when we die or He comes again to take us to Himself, then we will have the desire to be changed into his likeness. In these verses and many others like them (for example Ephesians 2.8-10, Romans 6.11-15, 1 Corinthians 6.15-20, 1 Thessalonians 2.10-12) the motivation to holiness is positive. It is being thankful for the grace of God in our lives, knowing that our bodies are Temples of the Holy Spirit, not fear of losing our salvation and going to hell.
Those who believe Christians may lose their salvation are left with the possibility that even after accepting Christ we may still end up in hell. This means that we are insecure for as long as we are alive because no one can be sure of going to heaven. Today I may be full of faith, but tomorrow I might weaken under some pressure or trial and so be lost. In general this view does not actually create a desire for holiness and certainly not any joy in our salvation. It does create a fearful approach to God and in many cases may lead to depression, condemnation and even nervous breakdown.
Scriptures are quoted to support both views and so we will look at the main verses use and come to a conclusion. Much of the teaching that follows is taken from talks given by the late Roger Price on eternal security (available from CCF Tapes, 30 Crescent Road, Bognor Regis, West Sussex, PO21 1QG). Roger shows how one or other of the above views must be wrong, as the Bible is without contradiction. The verses which speak of eternal security (View 1 above) can only have one interpretation, whereas those which are used to support the view that we can lose our salvation (View 2 above) can have different interpretations.
Verses which speak of eternal security
When we accept Jesus as Saviour we enter into the new covenant, as prophesied in Jeremiah 31.31-4 and quoted in Hebrews 8.7-13. As a result we are ‘born again / born of the Spirit’. Jesus said to Nicodemus ‘Unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ Our natural birth is not enough, we need a spiritual birth when we call on the name of the Lord Jesus for salvation. According to Hebrews 8.7-13 there will be three results of this:
1. ‘I will put My laws in their minds and write them on their hearts.’ Hebrews 8.10. In practice this means that the Holy Spirit within us will convict us of our sin and God’s righteousness and put within us the desire to keep God’s laws in order to be saved from His judgement.
This does not mean we will never sin. 1 John 1.8-10 tells us: ‘If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.’
It does mean that the Holy Spirit within us will convict us when we sin and put within our hearts the desire to turn from sin and put right what we are doing wrong. The more that we take time to be with the Lord, to read His word and to pray and have fellowship with other believers, the more we will have victory over sin. The person who has no conviction of sin in their life cannot be born again, because the work of the Holy Spirit writing God’s laws on our minds will cause us to want to do what is right in the eyes of the Lord.
2. ‘They shall know Me from the least of them to the greatest of them.’ Hebrews 8.11. We will come to know the Lord, not as a theory or a doctrine, but as a person. Because God is a living God and Jesus is risen from the dead and is alive today, He is able to come into our lives by the Holy Spirit. Just as in a human relationship, we need to grow in this relationship by taking time to be with the Lord in prayer and study of His word.
3. ‘For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.’ Hebrews 8.12. God promises that through repentance and faith in Jesus our sins are forgiven.
The Lord knows those who have made this step of faith and entered into this covenant. Clearly there are many who profess to be Christians and have never actually done so. ‘Nevertheless the solid foundation of God stands, having this seal: ‘The Lord knows those who are His,’ and, ‘Let everyone who names the name of Christ depart from iniquity.’’ 2 Timothy 2.19.
Some major things which happen to us when we accept Jesus as Saviour
- We are born again. Peter describes Christians as those who are ‘born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever’ 1 Peter 1.23 (see also John 3.3-8) we are born again by Holy Spirit, not of corruptible seed (i.e. something which will go wrong or die), but incorruptible. We are born into the family of God and become His children with a kindred relationship with the Father. When a child is born, can it become unborn at a later date? Obviously not.
- We are adopted as sons and daughters into the family of God. Galatians 4.4-7: ‘But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, ‘Abba, Father!’ Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.’ If a child is adopted into a family, will he be kicked out again if he does something wrong? He may be disciplined but not expelled. In God’s family we are disciplined but not rejected. ’ My son, do not despise the chastening of the LORD, nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; For whom the LORD loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives.’ If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons. Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness. Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.’ Hebrews 12.4-11. When a believer gets into sin God will discipline him. This is not a sign that He has rejected us but that He loves us. A good father will discipline his children so that they will know right from wrong.
- Jesus is interceding with the Father for us. ‘I pray for them. I do not pray for the world but for those whom You have given Me, for they are Yours. … I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word.’ John 17.9, 20. ‘Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.’ Hebrews 7.25.
- We have a citizenship in heaven. ‘For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself.’ Philippians 3.20-21
- God promises never to leave or forsake us. ‘For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So we may boldly say: ‘ The LORD is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?’’ Hebrews 13.5-6.
On the basis of all these scriptures and the fact that salvation is a gift, not something we earn we can have confidence that God will keep what we have committed to Him. ‘I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day.’ 2 Timothy 1.12.
The work of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in salvation
According to Ephesians 1.3-7 the Father has chosen us to be adopted into his family: ‘Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved.’ Ephesians 1.3-7. He has blessed, chosen and redeemed us in the Messiah from before the foundation of the world.’ God is going to bring to completion the work he has begun in us. ‘He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.’ Philippians 1.6.
He died for all our sins. ‘For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures.’ 1 Corinthians 15.3-4. Jesus knows everything (omniscient) therefore knows our sins past, present and future. He is our advocate with the Father. ‘And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.’ 1 John 2.1. The purpose of the new birth is that we do not sin, but if we do (and we do not have to) He is our advocate (defence counsel). Jesus tells us that believers possess eternal life now and in world to come. ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life. Most assuredly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live.’ John 5.24-25. He will receive anyone who comes to Him in faith: ‘All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out.’ John 6.37. Not one person who comes to Jesus in repentance and faith will be cast out or lost. It is the will of the Father and the Son to give eternal life to all who come to God through Son. He also said He will keep those who believe in Him: ‘My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand. I and My Father are one.’ John 10.27-30.
Here we have the promise of the Lord that He will accept and keep all who come to Him. He promises that He and the Father will give eternal life to all who come to Him and no one is able to snatch them out of His hand. This is a very strong statement to give us faith in the eternal security of the believer. We have come into a covenant relationship with God which cannot be broken from His side.
The Holy Spirit
We are sealed with the Holy Spirit of Promise. ‘In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory.’ Ephesians 1.13-14. In the world of the New Testament a seal would be put on something to show ownership when a business transaction was finished. It would be unique to the person who owned the possession and show that what had been bought belonged to him. In two cases in the Bible the King’s seal could not be undone: ‘You yourselves write a decree concerning the Jews, as you please, in the king’s name, and seal it with the king’s signet ring; for whatever is written in the king’s name and sealed with the king’s signet ring no one can revoke.’ Esther 8.8. ‘Then a stone was brought and laid on the mouth of the den, and the king sealed it with his own signet ring and with the signets of his lords, that the purpose concerning Daniel might not be changed.’ Daniel 6.17.
So the seal of the Holy Spirit is given to all those who trust in the Lord and believe in the Gospel of salvation. In this case the ‘redemption of the purchased possession’ will be our entrance into our eternal inheritance. So this scripture also speaks of the power of the Lord to keep all those who call on Him for salvation. The word used is ‘earnest’ (AV), ‘guarantee’ (NKJV), the word for an engagement ring or down payment in Greek.
God is able to keep us by His power
‘Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.’ 1 Peter 1.3-5. Here we are told that we are born again to an inheritance that is reserved in heaven for us and that we are kept by the power of God.
In Hebrews 12.2 we are told that Jesus is the author and finisher of our faith. In other words if He has started it He will complete it. Jude 24-25 tells us that He is ‘able to keep you from falling and present you faultless before the presence of His glory.’
All of these verses point to the power of God to keep those who have trusted in Him for the salvation of their souls. This is a very heavy weight of testimony pointing to the eternal security of the believer.
Verses used to say that you can lose your salvation
Generally these are verses which are misapplied, misinterpreted or quoted out of context. There are four major principles at work here.
Passages dealing with fruit and judgement of believers’ works
When we are born again God’s purpose is that we should produce good works. The Parable of the Sower is about such production (Matthew 13). The seed by the wayside is the only one which is definitely not productive and corresponds to the unbeliever who hears the word and it takes no root because the ground is hard and the Devil comes and snatches the seed away. The seed in the stony places falls into the ground but has no root and when persecution or difficulties arise it withers. This corresponds to the person who stumbles in his faith when difficulties arise and is unproductive. The seed which falls among thorns is the one who is unfruitful because of cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches. The seed on the good ground is productive and brings forth fruit. The primary issue in this parable is not salvation but production of good fruit as a result of salvation.
The same applies to John 15, where Jesus talks about the vine and the vinedresser. In this parable Jesus is the vine and the believer is the branch. The purpose of the branch being in the vine is to bring forth fruit. The vinedresser comes to lift up and prune the branches so that they will bear fruit. Only the branch that abides in the vine can bear fruit, otherwise it will wither. When the passage speaks of gathering ‘them’ and casting them into the fire, it is speaking of the unproductive works in the life of the believer, the fruit of his life, rather than the believer himself. A believer who is out of fellowship with the Lord cannot produce good fruit in his life. So it is an encouragement to stay in fellowship in order to produce good fruit.
1 Corinthians 3.9-15 describes the judgement of believers’ works: ‘For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.’
Here we see that the believers’ works come in two categories:
- Gold, silver and precious stones.
- Wood, hay and straw.
The difference between these two categories is that when you put the first through fire they are refined, but when you put the second through fire they are burned up. When we produce works which are in the will of God and pleasing to Him we are producing gold, silver and precious stones. When we are out of fellowship we are producing wood, hay and straw and these things will be burned up on the Day when we pass before the Judgement Seat of Christ for our works to be judged: ‘For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.’ 2 Corinthians 5.10. The judgement seat of Christ is for believers only and is not the same as the Great White Throne Judgement of Revelation 20 in which the wicked are judged and thrown into hell. At the judgement seat of Christ our works are judged (‘the things done in the body’). Concerning the person whose works are burned up, Paul writes, ‘he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.’ 1 Corinthians 3.15. In other words he will be saved but have nothing to show for his life.
The passage in Hebrews 6.7-8 describes the same process: ‘For the earth which drinks in the rain that often comes upon it, and bears herbs useful for those by whom it is cultivated, receives blessing from God; but if it bears thorns and briers, it is rejected and near to being cursed, whose end is to be burned.’ Here again the passage is about production not salvation. The earth which receives the rain that often comes upon it is a picture of the believer in fellowship who often receives the refreshing of the Word of God and the Holy Spirit and therefore is blessed by God by producing good crops. The one who is out of fellowship produces ‘thorns and briers’ and is ‘near to being cursed’ – but not actually cursed and thrown into hell. The passage is an exhortation to stay in fellowship. We will come back to this passage later.
Passages that deal with discipline of believers
When we are saved we become children of God. God like a good father will discipline his children. The fact that believers are disciplined does not mean they have ceased to be saved, in fact it implies that they are still God’s children. You don’t discipline someone else’s children, but you should discipline your own children. The main passages which deal with this are Hebrews 12.5-15 and 1 Corinthians 11.29-31. The purpose of discipline for a believer is that it should yield the ‘peaceable fruit of righteousness.’ (Hebrews 12.11).
In 1 Corinthians 11.27-32 we read: ‘Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep. For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world.’
Paul here tells the Corinthians to examine themselves before they eat the bread and drink the cup in the Lord’s Supper. Jesus told us to take the bread and wine to remember his death. This is a sign of our acceptance of the New Covenant through which our sins are forgiven and we receive eternal life. If we continue in sin and take the bread and the wine we will be ‘chastened by the Lord.’ This chastening may involve a weakness in our life and the maximum discipline is that we will ‘sleep’ (die). The call of the scripture then is to judge ourselves so that we will not be judged. As a result of judging ourselves we are not ‘condemned with the world.’
Those who do not judge themselves may face the maximum discipline of losing their lives. This is what John is talking about when he speaks of the ‘sin leading to death.’ The example of Ananias and Sapphira who lied to the Holy Spirit in Acts 5 is of the ‘sin leading to death.’
Passages taken out of context or misapplied
‘But he who endures to the end shall be saved.’ Matthew 24.13. In the context this verse is speaking about the believers who are alive in the Great Tribulation period just before the Second Coming of Christ. A superficial interpretation could apply this to mean that those who do not ‘endure’ will not be ‘saved.’ Now ‘saved’ can mean ‘receive eternal salvation’ or it can mean simply ‘survive.’ The ones referred to here are those who ‘endure’ by staying alive to the end of the tribulation period and are saved from death when Jesus returns from heaven and delivers them. They then go on into the Millennium (1000 year reign of Christ) and re-populate the world during that time.
‘He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels.’ Revelation 3.5. The opposite is said to be true – he who does not overcome, I will blot his name from the Book of Life (although there is no verse which actually says this). In other words the ‘non overcomer’ will lose his salvation and have his name removed from the Book of Life.
A lot depends here on who is an ‘overcomer.’ In all of the messages to the 7 Churches in Revelation there is a word to the ‘overcomer’ from the Lord. So some preachers use this to say there are two classes of Christians, the overcomers who will go to heaven and those who are not overcomers who will not go to heaven. Since the Bible only gives two places to go, this means that they teach that a large number of Christians will go to hell. One rather quaint view I have come across is that the Christians who are overcomers now live a life that is holy and blameless and will qualify to be the Bride of Christ, while the rest will spend the Millennium in outer darkness learning the sanctification that they failed to learn on earth, so they will be ready for eternity when the 1000 years of the Millennium are over.
The Bible actually describes who are the overcomers. First of all Jesus is the overcomer who says of Himself: ‘These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.’ John 16.33. Jesus overcame sin and death and the Devil when He died and rose again from the dead. We overcome by faith in Him. ‘For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?’ 1 John 5.4-5.
We overcome the evil one and the world in its rebellion against God and the spirit of antichrist which is in the world by our faith in Jesus. Because of this we are saved from the penalty of sin (judgement). Not by our behaviour which could never qualify us. When we look at the seven churches of Revelation we see that the ‘overcomers’ are those who have faith in Jesus. Jack Kelly in an article ‘Who are the Overcomers?’ (http://gracethrufaith.com) shows how this principle operates in all the seven letters to the churches. ‘These seven letters give us seven examples to show that we overcome by faith alone. From the church in Ephesus we see that we overcome by worshiping the Lord and thanking Him for doing all the work of our salvation. From Smyrna we see that it’s by remaining faithful to the point of death that we overcome and receive life. The overcomers in Pergamum rejected the pagan rituals of Babylon that obscure and pervert the Gospel Story. Those in Thyatira refused to add to the simplicity of gospel, while in Sardis they refused to let its power be taken away. Overcomers in Philadelphia hold on to His Name, His Word and His Promise, and Laodicean overcomers are admonished to listen for His knock at the door, and open their hearts to him when they hear it.’
The overcomers are not a special breed of Christian who are exalted above all others, but those who hold on to the truth of salvation by faith while facing persecution or infiltration of the professing church by false doctrines. In the ‘mixed’ church there are those who are truly saved and those who are not.
Passages exhorting believers to stay in fellowship
‘Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits. For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame.’ Hebrews 6.1-6.
This passage is probably the most used one to argue for the loss of salvation of the believer. It appears to say categorically that if someone who has been saved ever falls away, it is impossible to renew them again. In his talk on the subject Roger Price points out that logically this should mean that anyone who backslides can never be restored to fellowship, so it is a waste of time going after them. In reality people who are concerned about this usually spend a lot of time trying to persuade such backsliders to return.
There are two ways of looking at these verses. Firstly we could say that this passage is not written about Christians but about unbelievers who have had the basic truths of the Gospel explained to them, but who have not placed their faith in Jesus Christ as Saviour. According to this interpretation, the phrase “once enlightened” (verse 4) refers to some level of instruction in biblical truth. However, understanding the words of scripture is not the same as being born again by the Holy Spirit. For example, John 1:9 describes Jesus, the “true Light,” giving light “to every man”; but this cannot mean the light of salvation, because not every man is saved. Through God’s sovereign power, every man has enough light to be held responsible. This light either leads to the complete acceptance of Jesus Christ or produces condemnation in those who reject such light. The people described in Hebrews 6:4-6 are of the latter group—unbelievers who have been exposed to God’s redemptive truth and perhaps have made a profession of faith, but have not exercised genuine saving faith. This interpretation also sees the phrase “tasted the heavenly gift” (Hebrews 6:9) as referring to a momentary experience, akin to Jesus’ “tasting” death (Hebrews 2:9). This brief experience with the heavenly gift is not seen as equivalent to salvation. This interpretation sees the “falling away” (Hebrews 6:6) as a reference to those who have tasted the truth but, not having come all the way to faith, fall away from even the revelation they have been given. The tasting of truth is not enough to keep them from falling away from it. They must come all the way to Christ in complete repentance and faith; otherwise, they in effect re-crucify Christ and treat Him with contempt. Those who sin against Christ in such a way have no hope of restoration or forgiveness because they reject Him with full knowledge and conscious experience. They have concluded that Jesus should have been crucified, and they stand with His enemies. It is impossible to renew such to repentance.
The other interpretation holds that this passage is written about Christians, and that the phrases “partakers of the Holy Spirit,” “enlightened,” and “tasted of the heavenly gift” are all descriptions of true believers. According to this interpretation, the key word in the passage is ‘if’ (verse 6). The writer of Hebrews is setting up a hypothetical statement: “If a Christian were to fall away . . .” The point being made is that it would be impossible (If a Christian falls away) to renew salvation. That’s because Christ died once for sin: ‘Now, once at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment, so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation.’ Hebrews 9.26-28. If His sacrifice is insufficient, then there is no further sacrifice and so no hope of forgiveness at all. The passage, therefore, presents an argument based on a false premise (that a true Christian can fall away) and follows it to its senseless conclusion (that Jesus would have to be sacrificed again and again).
In the context the writer is addressing Hebrew Christians who may have come to an intellectual belief that Jesus is the Messiah, but who continue to go to the Temple to offer animal sacrifices for sins. Anyone who does this is like someone putting Christ to death again and is saying that His once and for all sacrifice is not sufficient to cover our sins.
In Hebrews 10.26-29 we read: ‘For if we sin wilfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries. Anyone who has rejected Moses’ law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace?’
This means that there is no more sacrifice for sin and that if we reject Jesus as the final sacrifice for sin we are committing the unforgivable sin and can only expect a coming judgement. For those Hebrew Christians who were still offering the sacrifices in the Temple in Jerusalem they would experience a ‘fiery judgement’ in just a few years after this letter was written (most likely in about 67 AD). In 70 AD the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple and killed those who remained in the city. History records that Jewish believers in Jesus when they saw the Roman armies gathering around Jerusalem obeyed the words of Jesus to flee from the city and so saved their lives (Luke 21.20-21).
There are of course other verses which are used to say that Christians can lose their salvation. However they all have some issues about them which can be questioned. The verses which speak of the power of the Lord to keep all those who come to him in faith are unquestionable:
‘And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written: “ For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.”
Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.’ Romans 8.28-39.
Once we have been born again, we cannot be unborn. Once we have been saved, we cannot be unsaved. What God does want of us is to produce good works in our lives, to turn from sin and to be sanctified by the Holy Spirit. With confidence in our salvation through Christ let us go forward into all that He has to give us by the Holy Spirit.
Tony Pearce, Light For The Last Days, Box BM-4226, London, WC1N 3XX.