How secure is salvation? Part 3

People frequently ask me if I think that a person (usually a friend or relative who has turned away from God) can lose his or her salvation. In this series of posts, I am responding to this question by studying what the Scriptures say on this extremely important subject.

In my last post, I listed some passages that seem to teach that salvation is not secure, that we can lose it. We’ll explore these a little more over the next couple of posts. Here is the first one.

But false prophets arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. These false teachers will infiltrate your midst with destructive heresies, even to the point of denying the Master who bought them. As a result, they will bring swift destruction on themselves. 2 Peter 2:1

At issue here is the phrase “denying the Master who bought them.” Does “bought” mean the same thing as “saved”? Or can a person be “bought” but not “saved”? What do the Scriptures say?

1. Jesus’ death satisfied God’s wrath for sin for all people.

He himself is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for our sins but also for the whole world. 1 John 2:2

The traditional word, translated here as “atoning sacrifice,” is propitiation. A main definition of this word is the concept that God’s wrath on people because of sin is turned away or satisfied by Jesus’ death. Notice that Jesus’ took care of sin’s penalty, not only for those who believe, “but also for the whole world.”

2. Every sinner – whether they will ultimately be saved or not – is under God’s wrath until the point of salvation. This is what Paul taught the Ephesians.

And although you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you formerly lived according to this world’s present path, according to the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the ruler of the spirit that is now energizing the sons of disobedience, among whom all of us also formerly lived out our lives in the cravings of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath even as the rest… Ephesians 2:1-3

So even though Jesus’ death turned away God’s wrath for sin for the whole world (“bought”), that wrath remains on people – even on those who will believe – until the point of salvation (“saved”).

This is Peter’s point: the false teachers could have had salvation. On the cross Jesus had “bought” salvation for them just like everyone else. But they denied him and his work, opting for their own plan instead. Because of this, they had no other options, and they brought “destruction on themselves”. God’s plan is salvation, not destruction.

This leads into the point the writer of Hebrews made in two other sometimes-confusing passages:

For it is impossible in the case of those who have once been enlightened, tasted the heavenly gift, become partakers of the Holy Spirit, tasted the good word of God and the miracles of the coming age, and then have committed apostasy, to renew them again to repentance, since they are crucifying the Son of God for themselves all over again and holding him up to contempt. Hebrews 6:4-6

For if we deliberately keep on sinning after receiving the knowledge of the truth, no further sacrifice for sins is left for us, but only a certain fearful expectation of judgment and a fury of fire that will consume God’s enemies. Hebrews 10:26-27

The writer wasn’t making the case that a person could have salvation then lose it. His point was that, because Jesus’ death was once for all (all time and all people), it’s impossible to jump in and out. If you could fall away (“committed apostasy”) – which was not his point – you couldn’t be saved again. This goes against the teachings that you have to constantly make sure you’re saved. If you could lose it, you could never get it back.

Additionally, if a person claims to believe and even becomes a part of the community of God’s people, but never has the genuine life change that God provides at salvation (“deliberately keep on sinning”), there is no hope for him.

Because Jesus’ death is the only acceptable payment for sin, if someone plays with it then rejects it, or rejects it outright, what else is there? They have nowhere else to go.

We’ll tackle a couple more confusing passages in the next post.

How secure is salvation? Part 2

open vault door
Open Vault Door (Picture by Eric Rice)

One of the most important discussions I have with people has to do with the concern about their salvation. Many people believe that they can lose salvation, or have it taken away, depending on how they live, what sins they may commit, or what good things they never do.

In this post, I’d like simply to show the Scriptures most frequently used to support their beliefs, emphasize a phrase or two, and give some questions I’ve been asked.

For those who believe “once saved, always saved”, these passages can be troublesome and are often called “problem passages”. In the following posts, we’ll explore them a little further and see if they accurately represent the teaching of the rest of the Scriptures.

But false prophets arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. These false teachers will infiltrate your midst with destructive heresies, even to the point of denying the Master who bought them. As a result, they will bring swift destruction on themselves. 2 Peter 2:1 Does this mean that I could deny God and lose my salvation?

Now I want to make clear for you, brothers and sisters, the gospel that I preached to you, that you received and on which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message I preached to you– unless you believed in vain. 1 Corinthians 15:1-2 What if I don’t hold firmly to the message?

You who are trying to be declared righteous by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace! Galatians 5:4 I can fall away from grace if I return to my old ways?

So I do not run uncertainly or box like one who hits only air. Instead I subdue my body and make it my slave, so that after preaching to others I myself will not be disqualified. 1 Corinthians 9:26-27 Could I be disqualified?

“I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in me– and I in him– bears much fruit, because apart from me you can accomplish nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is thrown out like a branch, and dries up; and such branches are gathered up and thrown into the fire, and are burned up.” John 15:5-6 If a person doesn’t remain in Jesus, he is sent to hell? How can I be sure that I am “remaining”?

For if God did not spare the natural branches, perhaps he will not spare you. Notice therefore the kindness and harshness of God– harshness toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness toward you, provided you continue in his kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off. Romans 11:21-22 Again, how do I know if I have continued enough to be spared and not cut off?

For it is impossible in the case of those who have once been enlightened, tasted the heavenly gift, become partakers of the Holy Spirit, tasted the good word of God and the miracles of the coming age, and then have committed apostasy, to renew them again to repentance, since they are crucifying the Son of God for themselves all over again and holding him up to contempt. Hebrews 6:4-6 What if I left the church for a long time and lived a sinful life? Is that apostasy? Is it impossible for me to be saved?

For if we deliberately keep on sinning after receiving the knowledge of the truth, no further sacrifice for sins is left for us, but only a certain fearful expectation of judgment and a fury of fire that will consume God’s enemies. Hebrews 10:26-27 But I thought we would never stop sinning until we got to Heaven. How are we supposed to be perfect after we’re saved?

I testify to the one who hears the words of the prophecy contained in this book: If anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. And if anyone takes away from the words of this book of prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city that are described in this book. Revelation 22:18-19 What if I have misquoted the Bible to someone – does that count as adding or taking away? Is that big enough to lose my salvation over?

Stay tuned, and we will study these and the rest of the Scriptures together.

How secure is salvation? Part 1

Question mark by Marco Bellucci.

A friend of mine asked a question on his Facebook page last week. It’s an important question. A matter of life and death really.

It’s a question that I have answered innumerable times – for people who just lost a friend or family member, for people whose marriages are falling apart, for people who can’t seem to get control over the sin that continues to dominate them.

It’s a question that everyone asks at some point. My friend asked,

“Salvation: is it eternal or can you lose it?”

I am going to write a series of posts on this extremely important topic. Together you and I will explore the Scriptures – those that seem to say salvation is forever and those that seem to say it’s not.

Before I do that, though, let’s open the comments on the question itself.

  • Has someone ever asked you? What was your response?
  • Have you ever asked someone else this question? How did they respond?
  • What passages can you think of that seem to contradict each other?

And then stay tuned as we ask and answer: “What does the Scripture say?” (Romans 4:3)

What is salvation without heaven? (response)

Several weeks ago I started what turned out to be a great conversation on this blog and my Facebook page when I asked:

Heaven is good incentive, but it’s not salvation. Without using Heaven as a hook, if I were not a believer, how would you approach me with your faith?

Don’t promise me something in the future. Give me something now. What does your faith have to offer me?

I want to thank everyone who contributed to that conversation. You all made some great points. So, let me show you where I stand here.

I think the question has a built-in mis-lead. Asking, “What is salvation without heaven?”, led many people down a track on heaven itself. But what if we just drop the last two words: “What is salvation?” It doesn’t change the question, just the focus.

So, what is salvation? I believe the Scriptures give us the answer using four prepositions: from, by, through, and for. Let’s take a look.

From what?

The most basic form of the gospel (good news) is in 1 Timothy 1:15, where Paul wrote, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” That’s the essence of God’s good news – Jesus saves sinners.

That automatically gives us the “who” – Jesus does the saving; sinners are saved.  The word “save” means “to preserve, rescue, keep from harm, deliver”. But from what did Jesus come to save sinners? The answer is two-fold:

“She will give birth to a son and you will name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” Matthew 1:21

“Because we have now been declared righteous by his blood, we will be saved through him from God’s wrath.” Romans 5:9

Sinners are saved from their sins and from God’s wrath. Honestly, even if heaven weren’t in the picture, that’s a great place to start. Anyone who is honest with themselves knows that it’s hard to break the habits and patterns of personal sin. What if there were something or someone who could truly deliver us from our sins?

And no one who at least acknowledges that there could be a God out there somewhere wants to be on his bad side. I mean, who wants to stand across from an all-powerful God, especially if we don’t know what he’s mad about? If there were only a way to get on his good side, out from under his wrath.

By what?

OK, so Jesus came to save sinners from their sins and God’s wrath. That must be an expensive transaction. It would take something pretty big to absolve me completely before God, to move me from a position of an enemy against God to become his friend.

That’s exactly how Paul describes it: “While we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son.” (Romans 5:10)

What could I possible to do earn that? Paul gives us that answer, too:

“For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so that no one can boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9

How many times can he say it in one breath? “By grace…gift of God…not from works…” Can it be any clearer? This salvation – this deliverance from sin and wrath (which means certain judgment) – is not available for purchase. It is a gift, given by grace. In this context, grace is “a beneficent disposition toward someone”.

By it’s very definition “benevolence” is not bought; it can only be given. And, just to make sure we don’t miss it, Paul clarifies that the reason it is given as a gift is “so that no one can boast”.

One of the defining characteristics of this ungodly world system in which we live is “pride in our achievements and possessions” (1 John 2:16, NLT), which is clearly not from God. If there was anything we could do to earn this deliverance from sin and wrath, we would have grounds for arrogance before God. But that option is not on the table. It’s not for purchase – it’s a free gift from a benevolent God.

“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 6:23, NLT

Through what?

OK, so if I can’t earn it – if this salvation is given solely as a gracious act from a benevolent God – how do I get it? Is there a drive-through window, a coupon I have to redeem? And where would I go to redeem it? Church? Which one? And why doesn’t everyone just have it automatically?

Paul answers that in the same thought: “For by grace you are saved through faith…” (Ephesians 2:8) Faith is the key. While we cannot earn God’s salvation gift through something we can do, not everyone receives it because it comes through a channel of faith on the part of each individual person. Faith in what?

“If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Romans 10:9

In this section in his letter to the Roman Christians, Paul was quoting from the Old Testament prophet, Joel. In his prophecy, Joel was telling his audience how to be delivered from God’s coming judgment. His solution? Cry out to God, using his personal name, confessing their sins, and asking for deliverance (see Joel 2:32).

By referring back to this old prophecy, Paul identified Jesus as the God of the Old Testament – “the LORD” – and said that salvation from sin and wrath happens the same today as it did back then. The only difference is that now, instead of anticipating a coming Savior, we can look back to the Savior who has already come – God in the flesh, Jesus the Christ.

The faith part comes in when a person acknowledges that Jesus was more than a mere man, a good teacher, a miracle-worker. When you and I recognize Jesus for who he really is – God himself – truly believe that his death was the cure for sin, and that his resurrection was genuine (not just a made-up story), “you will be saved”.

Why? Because there is not enough evidence in all the world that can prove it to be true. It must be taken “through faith”. And when a person is willing to trust God to the extent that he or she stops trying to fix themselves and submits completely to God’s deliverance, his gift comes freely.

For what?

The last part of salvation is also found in Ephesians 2. Here’s the whole section together:

“For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so that no one can boast. For we are his workmanship, having been created in Christ Jesus for good works that God prepared beforehand so we may do them.” Ephesians 2:8-10

So, salvation is a free gift given by a benevolent God to sinners who trust him entirely to deliver them from their sins and his wrath. And there’s more? Yep!

Not only are we reconciled to God (changed from enemies to friends), not only are our sins removed from us, not only is God’s wrath for our sins removed from us, but we are given something in place of all of that – a reason to live.

With salvation comes a brand new purpose in live – “good works that God prepared beforehand”.

Too many people walk through life with no purpose, no direction, searching for meaning beyond work and home. God offers that meaning. With salvation from sin and wrath comes purpose.

Notice that it is not “good works for salvation”; it’s “salvation for good works”. The difference is night and day.

Conclusion

So what is salvation without heaven? If heaven were not a part of the picture, if you couldn’t count on that, what do you have?

  • Deliverance (freedom) from sin
  • Deliverance from God’s wrath (judgment) hanging over you
  • A free gift from a benevolent (gracious) God
  • A brand new standing with this God (friends, not enemies)
  • A whole new meaning and purpose to your life

Even without heaven, even without an afterlife of paradise, that sounds like a pretty good deal to me.

Heaven? Well, that’s like the icing on the cake.

Is your salvation all about heaven, or do you have something more? Have you experienced the true salvation that Jesus has to offer? If not, will you place your trust in him completely today?

What is salvation without heaven?

I’ve been quiet here for the last week for two main reasons. First, I finished the books that I needed to review and posted those reviews the previous week. Secondly, I was focused on spending time together with the family and finishing my first work project.

But there was a lot of news made this past week in the deaths of four well-known celebrities – Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett, Michael Jackson, and Billy Mays. Also last week, I re-tweeted a question by a pastor that I follow. @fuelshane asked,

If heaven wasn’t part of the plan, and you were saved for God’s glory alone – would you still want salvation?

My re-tweet posted to my Facebook status, and a few people made some great comments about God’s love and glory.

But I want to go a little further.

Too often what we call “evangelism” is focused more on Heaven than anything else. Think about it:

  • “If you died right now, do you know for sure that you would go to Heaven?”
  • “When you stand at the Pearly Gates, and God asks, ‘Why should I let you in?’, what would you say?”
  • “If you ask Jesus into your heart, you will go to Heaven when you die.”

My question is: since when is salvation all about Heaven?

Frankly, the three people mentioned above pretty much had Heaven on earth. Other than the sicknesses that killed them (and debt caused by some of their foolish decisions), McMahon, Fawcett, and Jackson lived above the rest of us for the majority of their lives. They had money, friends, and fame. Michael Jackson was even called “the King of Pop” and lived like royalty.

If someone had tried to “witness” to them using the Heaven approach, would it have accomplished anything? I sincerely doubt it. They had heaven. They needed salvation.

I’ll finish this in another post, but for now, let’s talk about this.

Heaven is good incentive, but it’s not salvation. Without using Heaven as a hook, if I were not a believer, how would you approach me with your faith?

Don’t promise me something in the future. Give me something now. What does your faith have to offer me?