The Most Important Question
There are multitudes of questions on thousands of different topics that flood our world and minds. But despite the many and varying questions today, there is one that stands out supreme. The most important question that has even been asked or will ever be asked was asked nearly two thousand years ago by a common guard at the local jail. “And he brought them out and said, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’” Acts 16:30. Paul and Silas had been put into prison for preaching the Word of God, and instead of groaning and complaining like many of us would be tempted to do, they praised God. All the way until midnight they were praying and singing hymns. The prisoners and jail keepers had never heard such noises come from that prison before. It was an amazement to them, that these two preachers could praise their God even with lacerated backs in stocks. Then as the night wore on an even stranger event occurred; a great earthquake opened the doors and loosed the chains of the prisoners. The guard fearing that his captives had escaped, drew his sword to slay himself, when the voice of Paul rang out freezing the sword in mid-air. Paul assured him all of the prisoners were there. As the events of the night flashed through the jailer’s mind, he became convicted that the God of heaven was with these unusual prisoners. Now instead of taking his own life, his thoughts were turned in the most important channel that the mind can run, “What must I do to be saved?” This is the most important question ever asked, and is the question above all others that we must know the answer to. This heart searching question is so important because our destiny is at stake. If we do not know the correct answer to this question, we will be lost. The Bible has sadly depicted that this will happen to the majority of this earth’s inhabitants. (Matt. 20:16; 22:14; Rev. 12:9; 13:3)Therefore since this is such a serious and important topic, we will search the Word of God to find the answer.
Paul’s gives a simple answer to the question in the very next verse, “So they said, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.” Acts 16:31. It is an easy answer. It is not hard for us to understand, but is there more involved to Paul’s answer than what most people realize? As we search the rest of the Bible, we emphatically see that there is much more involved. Paul gave us the basic simple answer, but there is a voluminous amount to study in His few simple words. A few questions immediately come to our mind. Do we simply believe that Jesus walked the earth and that will assure us of salvation? Must we believe in His atoning merits for salvation? Is all that we have to do is say a simple prayer of belief and go on our way? Or must there be a constant abiding relationship? Once we have believed on Jesus are we saved from that point on no matter what we do? Or must there be a continual belief in Him throughout our daily walk? Once we are saved are we always saved? Or is it possible to loose our salvation?
How am I Saved?
In order to answer our questions on this subject and the underlying question that is the title of this booklet, we must understand clearly what the Bible teaches about how it is that we are saved. There are actually three different phases of being saved. These three phases can easily be remembered as past, present and future.
We see how we are initially saved in Eph. 2:8, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.” This verse clearly teaches us that we are saved through grace. There are no works that we can do in order to save ourselves. Paul gives us no room for doubt by saying, “not of works” (vs. 9). If we think that we are going to be able to do some work in order to be saved we are sadly mistaken. No matter how many good works that we can do, it will not atone for our past sins. The only way that we can be relieved from our burden of guilt and sin is by coming to our Lord in confession and repentance and asking him to forgive us for our sins. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” I John 1:9. “He who covers his sins will not prosper, But whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy.” Proverbs 28:13. When we come to Him in this step, he forgives us our sins and we are saved from penalty or guilt of sin. “Because in his forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed.” Rom. 3:25. It is at this step that our past or previously committed sins are forgiven. Because of God’s grace, forbearance, and love, he passes over our sins that we have previously committed and we are saved from the penalty of our past sins. This is what is referred to in the Bible as justification by faith. (See also 1 Corinthians 15:2; Ephesians 2:5)
There is yet another step in the path of being saved though. The Bible does not just end with those that have been saved from the penalty and guilt of their past sins. There is another equally as wonderful step in the ladder of salvation. “That the offering up of the Gentiles might be acceptable, being sanctified by the Holy Ghost.” Rom. 15:16. It is essential that we have the experience of being sanctified by the Holy Ghost. If we are not having this sanctification process take place in our lives, we are not continuing in the process of being saved. This is why Paul says, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” I Cor. 1:18 NKJV. Paul knew that salvation does not end with confession and repentance for our sins. He says that the cross is the power of God to those who are being saved. This denotes a continual process, not simply a one time experience. We are not just “saved,” after having been saved from the guilt and penalty of our past sins we must experience the “being saved. Jesus speaks to all who have accepted Him as He spoke to the woman in John 8, “Neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more.” John 8:11. The Lord gives us pardon, full, free and complete, but then he tells us that we must have the experience of “being sanctified,” of “being saved.” After having been saved from the penalty of our past sins (justification), there is the need of being saved from the habits and tendencies of sin (sanctification). Sanctification is the process in which our lives are molded into the likeness of our Savior. When we are saved from the power of sin in our lives. (See also 2 Corinthians 2:15)
The final step of salvation is yet in the future. It is this final step that the majority of texts in the New Testament are pointing forward to. It is when we shall be saved. Peter makes it very clear in his speech to the elders and apostles who were assembled together that there is still a final step. He says, “But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved in the same manner as they.” Acts 15:11. Even though Peter and the apostles had fully accepted Christ as their Savior and as Paul said, they were being saved, they knew that there was yet a third step. There must be the being saved from the presence of sin before the plan of salvation is complete, which does not occur until “this corruptible must put on incorruption and this mortal must put on immortality.” I Cor. 15:53. (See also Matthew 10:22; 24:13; Mark 13:13; Romans 5:9, 10)
Thus we can see from the Scriptures that there is not just one step in being saved, but three distinct steps. Having been saved from the penalty of sin, being saved from the power of sin, and will be saved from the presence and surroundings of sin. It is unsafe to think that because we have experience one of the steps that we are secure. All three are equally important and not one can be isolated by itself.
Paul says in Eph. 4:15, “but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ.” Clearly we are not to remain stagnant in our Christian life, we are to grow up into Christ. Growing is not something that happens overnight. We do not plant a garden and then expect to harvest it the next day. We know that in gardening, it is going to take some time. First the seed must sprout, grow to maturity and then produce its fruit and then the fruit must grow to complete fruition. It can take one to two months or it can take years, but if we expect that one time act of planting the seed to be enough, we are in for a disappointment. It is the same way in the Christian life. “As newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby, if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious.” I Peter 2:2, 3. Peter tells us that we are to desire the milk of the word in order that we may grow thereby. When a baby is just born it is not ready for the trials of life. It must grow up under the nurturing of its parents. It is a very sad thing to see grown adults who only have the mental capacity of a child. It is even sadder spiritually. When we have first come to him, we are not to keep the spiritual level of an infant, we must grow up. Peter again exhorts us in the last verse of His second epistle, “but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” II Peter 3:18. It is obviously something that is highly important in our Christian walk. It is essential that we accept Jesus as our Saviour. That we confess our sins to Him and fully repent, but that is not enough, we must “grow up.” If we are not growing we are in danger of dying. Being saved is more than a one time decision it is a growing process.
Jesus himself amplified on this important truth in His parable of the sower. “Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. Those by the wayside are the ones who hear; then the devil comes and takes away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved. But the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, who believe for a while and in time of temptation fall away. And the ones that fell among thorns are those, who when they have heard, go out and are choked with cares, riches, and pleasures of life, and bring no fruit to maturity. But the ones that fell on the good ground are those who, having heard the word with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience.” Luke 8:11-15. Jesus is here presenting the different ways that the gospel can be received into the heart. Unfortunately, the majority do not receive the gospel, but allow some other considerations to block the way. This parable teaches us an important principle about “growing up” that we need to consider. The first class of hearers, hear the word, but instead of believing, the devil snatches it from their hard and they do not receive the gospel. According to verse 12, though, if they would have believed, they would have been saved. They would have experienced that first part of salvation, of confessing and believing in Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins. They would have been saved from the penalty and guilt of sin, but alas, they refused. The next class did make more progress, though, not only did they hear, but they believed as well. (vs. 13) They did believe in their sin pardoning Savior, they did receive that forgiveness and they were saved from the penalty and guilt of sin. This precious experience did not last, though. They had it for a time. They believed for a while, but then trials and persecutions came and their faith gave out. Even though they heard, received with joy, and believed and were saved, they fell away. They did not continue to grow and thus they brought forth no fruit. The third class fails to bring forth fruit to maturity as well. The last class is the class that each one of us need to make sure that we are in. This is the good ground, with “noble and good hearts.” Not only do they hear, not only do they believe, but they “keep it and bear fruit with patience.” Vs. 15. This is the only class of hearers that is blessed. It is only those who “grow up” and “bear fruit” that are blessed. None of the others, no matter how good their beginnings looked are accepted. As Jesus said in another parable, “And if it bears fruit, well. But if not, after that you can cut it down.” Luke 13:9. If we do not bear fruit we will be cut down. Growing up and bearing fruit is not something that is optional, if we do not do it we are going to be cut down and will not enjoy the reward of the righteous. The reward of the righteous is only for those is only for those who, “follow on to know the Lord” Hosea 6:3 KJV.
Abiding in Him
Jesus uses a great number of parables to help us understand this most important question of what we must do in order to be saved. In John 15, He teaches beyond a shadow of a doubt that if we do not abide in Him, we will have no hope of salvation. Jesus this time uses the representation of a vine and the branches. “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.” John 15:4. Jesus is not just giving us good counsel, he is giving us a direct command. The verb “abide” is in the imperative. It is something that we must do if we are going to obey Jesus. Abiding does not just mean that we accept Him and go on with our life. Abiding is a constant, remaining. The Christian life involves not just believing on Him; it involves abiding in Him. If we do not abide in Him, we are not following Jesus direct command, and the sentence pronounced upon those who do not abide in Him will be our lot. “If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned.” John 15:6. There is absolutely no mistaking what Jesus is saying here. If we do not have that constant abiding relationship with Him, we will be cast out, thrown into the fire and burned. Once again it doesn’t matter how sincere and fervent our relationship with Him may have previously been. It does not matter if we have truly confessed our sins, believed on Him and accepted him. If we loose that connection with Jesus, we are as a branch that is separated from the vine, and have no hope of the blessed hereafter.
How do we abide in Him? Jesus makes it crystal clear that unless we are abiding in Him, our religion is in vain, but what does it mean to abide in Him? “He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked.” I John 2:6. If we are going to abide in Him, we must walk as he walked. We must follow the example that our Lord has given for us. He came to this earth and as the Son of Man, he gave us an example of how we should walk. “For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps:” I Peter 2:21. We are to follow the steps of our loving Lord. The call was not given to Peter and Andrew, James and John alone, but to each of us Jesus says, “Follow Me,” Matt. 4:19. This is indeed a “high calling,” but it is a “high calling” that each of us are to “press toward.” Phil. 3:14.
The object of the Christian life is not just to make a profession, but to bear fruit. “By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.” John 15:8. Our father is glorified, if we bear much fruit. Our bearing fruit is how it will be known that we are His disciples. Throughout the Bible, it is only the ones that bear fruit that are commended. “Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away;” John 15:2. If the branch (representing us vs. 5) does not bear fruit it is taken away. A religion that is only a profession, is not true religion at all. True religion is to glorify God by bearing much fruit, and this can only be done by maintaining a constant abiding relationship. (vs. 5)
Strive for the Narrow Gate
There are many sincere and honest proponents of the theory that once you are saved, you are always saved no matter what you do. It is not our purpose to enter into controversy over this question, but simply to see what God’s Word says. This is a topic that we must be certain that we understand correctly from the Word of God. This is a question that could determine our destiny, and the last thing that we want is to find out to late that we were wrong in our ideas as to what we must do to be saved. Unfortunately, the majority of the world are going to come to this unhappy realization, too late. Jesus told us that, “Narrow is the gate, and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” Matt. 7:14. There are going to be very few that will be saved. It is a tragic fact, but it is a fact none-the-less because Jesus Himself said it. Why are few going to find it? Because it is narrow and difficult. Most of the world will not want to endure the narrowness and difficulties that are involved in the Christian walk.
Since there are few who find it we are urged to strive for this narrow and difficult way. “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able.” Luke 13:24. Striving does not denote a one time confession and repentance. It brings to mind the most vivid pictures of toil and effort. If you are striving, it doesn’t just happen. It doesn’t come easy. There is an effort that must be put forth, and if we don’t put forth this effort, we are not worthy of being His disciple. “And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot by My disciple.” Luke 14:27. This striving is referred to in many places as lifting our cross and following Him. We all have a cross to bear. Our Lord bore that cruel cross for us, and as the song says, “Must Jesus bear His cross alone?” No, Jesus does not bear His cross alone. We each one have a cross that we must lift and Jesus has told us that if we don’t lift that cross, we cannot be his disciple.
There is even more about this striving to enter the straight and narrow gate. It is something that must occur everyday. If it doesn’t occur everyday, we are not following and believing in Christ. “Then He said to them all, ‘If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.” Luke 9:23. If we desire to come after Christ, if we desire to be a Christian, it requires us to deny ourselves and take up our cross daily. It is not something that occurs once in our life. It is not something that happens now or then. It is something that we must experience every single day. Daily we must take up our cross and follow Him. If we are not doing this, we are not really following Him at all because this is what He has told us to do. The Apostle Paul knew this. He said, “I die daily.” I Cor. 15:31. Neither Paul nor Jesus were talking about physically dying, for it would be impossible to physically die everyday. They were talking spiritually. Every single day it is necessary to die to our own sinful wants, desires, etc. and live and “walk in the newness of life.” Rom. 6:4. To be dead to our habits of sin and walk in the footsteps that Christ has tread for us. This can seem to be overwhelming and we can even be tempted to think that it is impossible. “For with God nothing will be impossible.” Luke 1:37. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Phil. 4:13. Let us never forget the power and strength of our God. If He has said that through Him we can do it, it is entirely possible by faith in Him.
Faith and Works
As we have all ready noticed, there is repeated counsel throughout Scriptures of the need of maintaining a living personal relationship with our Lord. This is true belief in Him. If our belief does not lead us to a personnal daily relationship with our Lord, there is something amiss. A deception that plagues our world today, is that all you have to do is have a superficial, unacting belief. James dealt a death blow to this theory. “You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble!” James 1:19. It is true that there must be the mental assent that there is one God and that Jesus is indeed our Savior, but that’s not enough. James tells us that even the demons have more than simply a mere mental assent—they tremble as well! Obviously more is required than mental assent and trembling, for we all know that there will be no demons in heaven. What else must appear in our lives in addition to belief? “But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you by faith by my works.” “But do you not know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?” James 2:18, 20. Our belief and our faith must lead to action or else in reality, we are devoid of true faith and belief.
Constantly throughout the Scriptures we are urged to be diligent and make sure that our title to the mansions above is clear. “Therefore, my beloved, [he is writing to church members] as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” Phil. 2:12 “But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue,… Therefore, brethren, [once again, writing to church members] be even more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble; for so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” II Peter 1:5, 10, 11. Paul urges the saints, bishops and deacons (see Phil 1:1) to work out their own salvation with fear and trembling. He is not talking to unbelievers who have never given their hearts to the Lord; he is talking to church members that have already started on their Christian walk. Obviously there is more to the Christian walk then simply starting. Paul apparently feared that the Philippian brethren, would not continue and thus be found wanting. It is becoming clear that Paul (nor the other Bible writers) did not believe that once a person was saved, they are always saved. Peter is even more emphatic than Paul on this issue. He urges the believers to give all diligence. This was not something that they were to try at once or twice. This was not something that they were to haphazardly attempt. This is something that they are to put all of their effort and strength into. He gives an entire list of Christian virtues that they are to put forth an effort to obtain, and then says to be even more diligent (even more diligent than giving all diligence? That is what he says!) to make their calling and election sure. Peter knew that if the believers were not diligent enough, they could miss out on their calling and election. Even though, they had previously had a precious experience in the Lord (vs. 1), if they did not put forth that diligence, they could fail of being received into the kingdom of heaven. He states in verse 11 that if they are giving this diligence, though, an entrance into Christ’s kingdom will be supplied. Obviously, neither Peter nor Paul believed that once a person is saved, afterward they are always saved.
Does this mean that salvation is obtained by works? Absolutely not! All of the good works in the world could not save a person. We are saved by grace through faith and NOT of ourselves. Salvation is a free gift from God. (Eph. 2:8) But, Paul is careful to balance out his statement by saying that “we are created in Christ Jesus for good works.” Eph. 2:10. Although good works will never save one soul, good works are important for faith is revealed by good works (James 2:14-26), and “without faith it is impossible to please Him.” Hebrews 11:6.
Is it Possible to Lose our Salvation?
A region that had been very privileged with the labors of Paul was the churches of Galatia, but in Paul’s absence false teachers had come in and were wrecking havoc upon the good work begun by Paul. Paul is trying to correct the terrible influence of these false apostles by the rather rebuking letter of Galatians. Paul laments over the fact that they are apostatizing from the truth that they heard from his lips. “I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ to a different gospel.” Gal. 1:6. They were turning away from Christ to another false gospel. No longer where they believing in and following Christ wherever he led them. “O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth” Gal. 3:1. Paul was fearlessly rebuking them for their apostasy. No longer where they obeying the truth. We must note, though, that it was not that they didn’t know or hadn’t obeyed before. It was that they had turned from the truth and their experience and were going in another direction. They had backslidden from the truth from God. “Before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed among you as crucified?” Gal. 3:1. They had seen in their minds the love of Christ in being crucified for us. They had had a true conversion experience, but alas, no more. As Paul continues to rebuke and instruct he makes a most revealing statement. “I am afraid for you, lest I have labored for you in vain.” Gal. 4:11. Paul was afraid that he had bestowed the most tiring labor for a group of churches all in vain. If he was afraid that he had labored in vain, he must have known that they were in danger of loosing their salvation. If they had truly been saved from the penalty of sins before, and once you are saved you are always saved, he would have had nothing to worry about. They would have still been in the kingdom of heaven and everything would have been fine, but this is not what he said. He was afraid for their salvation. He was afraid that they would lose their salvation by apostatizing from the truth. He was afraid that they would be lost because of their failure to continue in the way of life.
One of the greatest character in all of sacred history is the Apostle Paul himself. The majority of the books of the New Testament were written my this great man (14 out of the 27), and even the second most voluminous writer of the New Testament was his traveling companion, Luke. He has probably never been equaled as an evangelist, pastor, writer, theologian. There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that Paul had a true conversion and a deep experience with the Lord. If anyone disagrees that Paul was not truly converted, they are disagreeing with the Bible itself. Yet even though there may never have been a greater man in spiritual attainments, Paul knew that if he lost his connection with the Lord, he would be as judged guilty as the vilest sinner. “But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lets that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.” I Cor. 9:27 KJV. According to Gingrich’s Shorter Lexicon of the Greek New Testament, this word translated “a castaway” (adikomos) means, “failing to stand the test, unqualified, worthless” “disqualified” “unworthy” “useless.” This same word is used in Hebrews 6:8 saying that this state is “near to being cursed, whose end is to be burned.” Without a doubt this is a lost condition. If those who become this castaway’s future is to be burned, they obviously won’t be saved, and Paul himself, that great apostle, knew that if he didn’t keep his connection with the Lord, that would be his lot. Even though, he had preached to others, even though, he had done many great things for the Lord, even though, he had been saved from the penalty of His sins, he could be lost. If even the apostle Paul could be lost, there is no one who is exempt. No matter if we have given our hearts fully to the Lord, no matter if the Lord has used us mightily in His cause, if we loose our connection with him, we will become a “castaway.”
God’s Promises are Conditional
A principle is given that can be seen interwoven all throughout the Bible. This principle is that God’s promises and threatening are conditional. “The instant I speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, to pull down, and to destroy it, if that nation against whom I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I thought to bring upon it. And the instant I speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it, if it does evil in My sight to that it does not obey My voice, then I will relent concerning the good with which I said I would benefit it.” Jeremiah 18:7-10. We can see this again in Deuteronomy 28:45, 46, 63, “Moreover all these curses shall come upon you and pursue and overtake you, until you are destroyed, because you did not obey the voice of the Lord your God, to keep His commandments and His statutes which He commanded you. And they shall be upon you for a sign and a wonder, and on your descendants forever…. And it shall be, that just as the Lord rejoiced over you to do you good and multiply you, so the Lord will rejoice over you to destroy you and bring you to nothing; and you shall be plucked from off the land which you go to possess.” When God gives a promise, if that nation is disobedient and rebellious, God cannot fulfill that promise for them. Likewise, if God threatens judgment and the nation turns from its wicked ways, God can and will bless and do good to that nation. We can see this very forcibly illustrated in the story of Jonah and Ninevah. God gave Jonah the message to proclaim that Ninevah would be destroyed in forty days. Jonah boldly proclaimed this message. (Three days in the fish’s belly had taught him the lesson he needed to learn.) At the end of the forty days, the judgment predicted did not fall. Why? “Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it.” Jonah 3:10. The curse was conditional and since they turned from their wickedness, God turned from the curse he had put upon them.
This same principle is true in our spiritual lives as well. “But if a wicked man turns from all his sins which he has committed, keeps all My statutes, and does what is lawful and right, he shall surely live, he shall not die.” Ez. 18:21. What a precious promise this is! No matter the wickedness that a man may have committed, if he turn from that wickedness which he has done, he shall live. He will be forgiven and will escape the sentence of death. (Not the first death that all men die, but the second death. Rev. 20:14) The opposite is also true. “But when a righteous man turns away from his righteousness and commits iniquity, and does according to all the abominations that the wicked man does, shall he live? All the righteousness which he had done shall not be remembered; because of the unfaithfulness of which he is guilty and the sin which he has committed, because of them he shall die.” Ezekiel 18:24. If a righteous man loses his connection with the Lord and does wickedness, his previous righteousness, shall be forgotten. He will die. This verse is perhaps one of the clearest verses on the topic of, once we are saved, are we always saved. It is clear, plain, and unmistakable. No matter how righteous a person is, no matter if they have been saved, no matter how good a person has been, if he loses his connection and does wickedly, he shall die. Nothing good that he has done before will be remembered. He has turned his back on the Lord, and the Lord does not give to him the promises that he before enjoyed. God’s promises and threatening are conditional. Conditional upon our continued connection with Him. If we lose that connection, we have lost the promises as well.
In discussions that I have had on this topic with other fellow Christians, it has been urged upon me that God would not take back something that he has given. It is said that God would not give salvation and forgiveness and then take it back. The verses above from Ezekiel clearly explain that God would and does do that, but Jesus has given us a parable to illustrate this point very clearly. In Matthew 18, we find a parable about a servant who owes his king a great debt. The servant has no way to pay this great debt, and pleads with the king for mercy. The king is moved with compassion upon his servant and forgives the entire debt. The wicked servant then goes out and demands that another servant pay him a much smaller debt. He is unable to pay and the wicked servant whose great debt was forgiven has him thrown into prison until he can pay every penny. When the king hears of what has transpired, he reverses his decision and throws the wicked servant into the prison until he can pay all that is due. Jesus then draws the conclusion, “So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.” Matthew 18:35. Will our Father take back something that he has freely given to us? Jesus said he would. If we do not forgive others, our sins will not be forgiven, regardless of what we may think or if we have been saved previously. God’s promises and threatenings are alike conditional.
It is claimed by others that salvation is eternal, that it is for ever, that it is once and for all, and because of that once you are saved, you are always saved. The truth that we have been studying about in these verses, though, is that God’s promises are conditional. Yes, Jesus promises us eternal life. Yes, Jesus is the author of eternal salvation. But we are not to take that and make it contradict the hundreds of verses that clearly teach that it is possible to stumble, fall, and lose our salvation. God’s promise of eternal life is conditional, just like his promises to the nations. God’s promise of eternal salvation is conditional, just like the kings mercy in the parable was conditional upon right actions. But God’s threatening of wrath to the sinner is conditional. If the sinner turns from his wicked ways, God will turn from the wrath he has threatened to pour upon him. (See Ezekiel 18:30-32)
Has a Saved Person Been Lost?
There are a couple of examples given in the Word of God that testify to us that it is possible for one who was at one time saved, to turn and be lost. The first one is found in the New Testament and was at one time one of Paul’s co-laborers. The man who made the wrong choice that will cost him his salvation is Demas. “Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, greets you, as do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, Luke, my fellow laborers.” Philemon 23, 24. There was a group of five people who were sending their greetings to Philemon. One was a fellow prisoner, while Mark Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke were Paul’s fellow laborers. Demas was at this time a fellow laborer with Paul. Did Paul’ fellow laborers have a true conversion experience? Paul had a reputation for only having the best of quality of workers. There was division earlier in Paul and Barnabas’s ministry because Barnabas wanted to take on a fellow laborer who Paul did not think had the grit and the Christian experience that it takes to be a worker in God’s cause. Paul further states that, “the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the Book of Life.” Phil. 4:3. Paul’s fellow workers were honest Christians, whose names were in the book of life. Surely then Demas did indeed have a true conversion and his name was registered in the Book of Life. Did it stay that way? “Luke the beloved physician and Demas greet you.” Col. 4:14 This time to commendation or anything is said regarding Demas. Luke was indeed beloved, but Demas just greeted them. Was it possible that Paul had just forgotten to mention anything about Demas. Yes, but the next verse gives us the mournful account of what happened to Demas. “Be diligent to come to me quickly; for Demas has forsake me, having loved this present world, and departed for Thessalonica—Crescens for Galatia, Titus for Dalmatia.” II Timothy 4:10. In probably the last book that Paul wrote, he states that Demas had forsaken him because he loved this present world. Did he preserve his connection that he at one time had? No, he loved the things of this world. “If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” 1 John 2:15. Although at one time Demas’s name was written in the book of life, he let go of his connection, loved the things of this world, and thus the love of the Father was not in him. Without the love of the Father, he no longer had the promise of eternal life, for, “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” John 17:3. Demas is a tragic example of a one time worker for the Lord, who lost his connection and thus lost his promise of eternal life as well.
Probably one of the saddest cases in all the Bible is the case of the first king of Israel. He had such a good beginning and then ended in hopeless despair. In the beginning Saul was little in his own eyes and the Lord was able to abundantly bless him. (I Sam. 15:17) Shortly after Saul was anointed as king, he had a true conversion and new birth experience. We read, “Then the Spirit of the Lord will come upon you, and you will prophesy with them and be turned into another man.” I Sam. 10:6. It happened all as Samuel had told Saul, “God gave him another heart; and all those signs came to pass that day…. Then the Spirit of God came upon him, and he prophesied among them.” I Sam. 10:9, 10. Saul had a conversion and new birth experience that none can deny. The Scriptures say that another heart was given him. God fulfilled his promise of Ezekiel 36:25 on Saul. He was baptized with the Holy Spirit and was changed into totally another man. That miracle of transformation took place in Saul’s life. He was saved from the guilt and penalty of sin, but tragically it went downhill from there. When Samuel delayed coming at the request of Saul, he went ahead and officiated at the sacred altar. Samuel said, “You have done foolishly. You have not kept the commandment of the Lord your God, which He commanded you.” I Sam. 13:13. Instead of keeping his connection with the Lord, he broke the commandment of God, but it still got worse. When Saul transgressed God’s commandment again, the Lord said, “I greatly regret that I have set up Saul as king, for he has turned back from following Me, and has not performed My commandments.” I Sam. 15:10. Saul’s apostasy had gotten so bad that the Lord repented that he had ever made Saul king of Israel. As a result of Saul’s backsliding from God, the kingdom was torn from Saul and given to his neighbor who was better than himself. I Sam. 15:28. Still Saul stubbornly followed his own sinful course despite God’s continued pleadings until, “the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and a distressing spirit from the Lord troubled him.” I Sam. 16:14. The Lord had pled with Saul until finally the Spirit of the Lord was forced by Saul’s own stubborn course to depart from him. That is the most dreadful thing that can occur to any human being, for without the Spirit of the Lord we are lost. “Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His.” Romans 8:9. For Saul the story continued to get worse. “And when Saul inquired of the Lord, the Lord did not answer him,” I Sam. 28:6. When Saul pled with the Lord, there was no answer, for Saul had rejected the voice of mercy and God could do no more. Having received no answer from the Lord, Saul turned to what God declares to be an abomination—he consulted one with familiar spirits. The next day was to be Saul’s last. The Spirit of the Lord had left him, he had been tormented with evil spirits, and now his life was to end in despair and misery. Saul, with his own sword, took his own life. (I Sam. 31:4-6) So ended the life of one who had such a good beginning. As a young man he had followed the Lord. He was born again and became a changed man, but he didn’t keep his experience. He “lost his first love” (Rev. 2:4), and the Lord “removed his lampstand” (Rev. 2:5). It has been asserted that all backsliders will return to the Lord at a later date, but the story of Saul sadly disproves that theory. Saul had been saved from the guilt and penalty from sin, but he “turned away from his righteousness and committed iniquity” and thus “all the righteousness which he has done shall not be remembered.” Ezekiel 18:24. Saul, although he had a saving experience at one point, died apart from the Lord, a lost man. We must never fool ourselves that just because we were saved at one point, we will be saved no matter what. That is what Saul did and it cost him eternity.
No Man Can Pluck Him Out of His Hand
I was talking to a friend one time about what our beliefs were. We were going through many different Bible doctrines when we came to the topic of once saved, always saved. We realized that we did not understand the Bible the same on this point and decided to individually study it out and relate our findings to the other. As I studied this, I compiled many verses and brought my list back and gave them to her. Her research had uncovered one verse that supported this theory. To this day, this is the only verse that has been put forth to me in support of this theory that once we are saved, we are always saved. I have brought up this fact to other Christians that I have discussed this topic with and it doesn’t seem to bother them that there are hundreds of verses that point to the realization that it is possible to lose our connection with the Lord and be lost to the one verse that is used in support of the theory that you can never be lost no matter what you do. And even this verse rightly understood, fits in with the overwhelming majority of other Scriptures.
The verse that is used as proof that you cannot possibly be lost is John 10:28, 29, “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.” Jesus plainly said that no one was able to snatch us out of our Father’s hand, but does that mean that it is impossible to be lost once we have a saving relationship with our Lord? It is important to read verse 27 along with verses 28 and 29, “My sheep Hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish” Jesus is talking about those true followers who hear His voice and follow Him. The promise is only to those who are hearing and are following. What a precious promise this is! If we are hearing and following Jesus, we will receive eternal life and there is nothing the devil can do about it. He cannot snatch us out of His hand. Praise God! As long as we are continuing to have that relationship with Him, the devil is powerless to do anything. That does not mean however that the sheep cannot decide to stop following Jesus. God’s hand is not some sort of jail, that it is impossible for us to get out of. If we make the choice to stop following Jesus and get out of our Father’s hand, God does not stop us. We are not automatically turned into robots that have no power of choice by accepting and following Jesus. God continues to give us free choice. He does not take our free choice away when we choose to follow him. It is like the lost sheep. When the shepherd finds the sheep and the sheep chooses to go with the shepherd, it is totally safe. As long as the sheep stays with the shepherd, the faithful shepherd will rather lay down his life than allow his little sheep to be lost. With the shepherd the sheep have no fear. It is safe. No one can pluck it from the shepherd’s care. But if the sheep decides to wander away from the shepherd’s side, the sheep is in danger again. The shepherd cannot protect the wandering sheep while it is out of his care. So likewise no one is able to take us from our Father’s hand, but we can make the choice to get out. Just as a lost man can choose to be saved, so a saved man can choose to be lost.
We Must Endure
There is a theme that is repeated throughout the Bible and that is that we must endure. “And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved.” Matt. 10:22 “And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold. But he who endures to the end shall be saved.” Matt. 24:12, 13 Jesus in no uncertain terms says that those who endure to the end will be saved. What then about those who don’t endure to the end? The only logical conclusion is that they will not be saved. It was after Abraham “had patiently endured” that “he obtained the promise.” Heb. 6:15 It is the same for us. We are not going to receive the promise unless we patiently endure.
The writer of Hebrews (most probably Paul) urges us again and again of the necessity of enduring and continuing that abiding relationship with our Lord. (Heb. 2:1-3; 3:6; 6:4-6; 6:15; 10:23, 26-27, 35-38) In these verses there are fearful consequences ascribed to those who fail to abide and endure. In 10:23 it says, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.” He urges us to hold fast our profession. Why? “For if we sin willfully 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.” Heb. 10:26, 27. He is not talking about others, but himself and the believers. He knows that if they do not “hold fast” and endure they will meet the fearful judgment of devouring fire. He does not say that they will be saved, but that their reward will be less. He says that they will be lost. A believer can choose to be lost, just like an unbeliever can choose to be saved. Paul is very concerned over this matter and continues on, “For you have need of endurance so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise:” Heb. 10:36. We have need of endurance for Paul knew the Master’s word’s that “he who endures to the end shall be saved.” Mark 13:13.
Why the Necessity of Endurance?
When a person comes to the Lord in contrition and humiliation, the Lord registers his name in the Book of Life. (Phil. 4:3; Luke 10:20; Heb. 12:23) When a person experiences the first part of salvation and is saved from the penalty and guilt of his past sins, the Lord accept him and puts him in the book of the living. (Ps. 69:28) There the names of all who have experienced the new birth are recorded, but that does not mean that they are there forever. The names are not written in stone, until the final part of salvation occurs. “And the Lord said to Moses, ‘Whoever has sinned against Me, I will blot him out of My book.” Ex. 32:33 “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.” Rev. 3:5. If we do not overcome the world and sin our names will be blotted out from the book and the ones who are going to enter through the pearly gates are “only those who are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.” Rev. 21:27. There are going to be many precious souls who have been saved from the guilt of their past sins, but will not continue walking with Him and the Lord will have no other choice, but to blot their names from the book of life. If we do not endure to the end, if we do not grow up into Christ, if we do not abide in Him, if our faith is not shown by our works, if we do not overcome our sins and the world, our name will be stricken from the records of heaven. The doctrine that once were are saved we are always saved is a perilous doctrine with no foundation in the Scriptures. It is leading precious souls to think that they have nothing to worry about because they are saved, but if we do not have that continuing abiding in Christ, we have everything in the world to worry about. Our name will be smitten from the book of life and we will be left outside the Holy City.
The Lord does not want one soul to be lost, but “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne:” Ps. 89:14. The Lord in His great mercy has provided a way that we can be rescued from the pit and degradation of sin that we have sunken into, but God is “just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” Rom. 3:26. God is still going to be just. Those who have made the choice to rebel against his government will have to receive the just reward of their deeds. Not that we are saved by our works. There is only one way of salvation and that is through the merits of our crucified Savior, but we must make the daily choice to allow Him to work out His good pleasure in our lives. We must allow the Master Potter to shape and mold us into His image. If we refuse for this process to take place in our lives, we are rejecting our Lord, and there will be a sentence to meet. It is only those who allow this work of grace to take place in their lives that will have an inheritance among the faithful. If we do not endure to the end, we are as verily rejecting Him as if we had never accepted Him. May the Lord help each of us to not only accept Him as our Savior, but also continue to abide and grow up into Him that we need not be ashamed at that day.
Can a Man Choose to be Lost, by Joe Crews
All references from the New King James Version unless otherwise indicated.