Some Thoughts About Salvation

By James L. Morrisson

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The Continuing Process of Salvation

     "Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose" (Philippians 2:12). We work and God works. As in most areas in our Christian life, we are "God's fellow workers" (1 Corinthians 3:9). This theme runs through most of the Scriptures discussed in this section. We are saved by grace. We cannot earn or deserve our salvation. But we must do our part to receive and keep it.

     After having come to initial salvation (Paul is writing to believers) we must "continue" to work it out. "Work out," katergazomai (Strong's #2716), means to work, to toil, to apply energy (ergs); the prefix kata often implies opposition. We are to toil, to apply energy, against opposition. We do it with fear and trembling. In this, as in much else in our Christian walk, "we are God's fellow-workers" (1 Corinthians 3:9). God's part is not in doubt."He who began a good work in you will carry it to completion until the day of Christ Jesus" (Philippians 1:6; see also Jude 24). God "is able to guard" what we have entrusted to him (2 Timothy 1:12). "If we are faithless, he remains faithful" (2 Timothy 2:13). But our part is not assured unless we "continue", and keep continuing, to "work" at it. If we who believe, and have made an initial profession of faith, must continue to "work out" our salvation with "fear and trembling" there would seem to be little room for easy formulas that say or imply that the only thing needed is an initial profession of faith.

     The model for the process of continuing salvation was given us by Jesus. He spoke of a gate and a road. The wide gate and road lead to "destruction"; the narrow gate and road, which few find, lead to "life" (Matthew 7:13-15). (I believe this passage is talking about spiritual salvation, since it contrasts eternal destruction and eternal life.) It is not enough to enter the narrow gate by a profession of faith. We must also stay on the narrow road.

     Staying on the narrow road is not just a casual stroll. It involves a struggle. It is part of "working out" our salvation. It usually requires persistence and determination in the face of obstacles. It involves a daily choice of life over death (compare Romans 8:13). Paul said he died to self daily (1 Corinthians 15:31). Paul also said, "We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22). It is remarkable how many vigorous, and even martial, words Scripture uses to describe our Christian walk, words like "wage war", "struggle", "contend", "resist", "strive", "pursue", "press on", "make every effort", "run with perseverance," "stand your ground" and the like. It is "forceful men" who lay hold of the kingdom of God (Matthew 11:12).
There is an enemy who seeks to draw us off the narrow road, and we must repeatedly stand against him. Peter warns believers, "Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith..." (1 Peter 5:8-9). Being devoured is the opposite of being saved; I think Peter is dealing primarily with spiritual destruction. Paul tells us to stand "when" the day of evil comes (Ephesians 6:13). "When", not "if". It will come and when it does we must have on the full armor of God, our full panoply of weapons, so that we can stand.

     There are other passages that talk about this continuing process of salvation. (Note that these are all from letters written to believers, that is, to those who had already received their initial salvation.) Romans 13:11 tells us "Our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed." Paul says we are "saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth" (2 Thessalonians 2:13); the "sanctifying work of the Spirit" is something that continues throughout our life as Christians. Peter tells us to "grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good" (1 Peter 2:2). He tells us to add various qualities to our faith in order to "make your calling and election sure" (2 Peter 1:10). And he tells believers, "You are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls" (1 Peter 1:9). James tells us "humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you" (James 1:21); he is talking about a salvation which has not yet been completed. Our initial salvation is not enough; it needs to be completed.

     The following are some elements which Scripture indicates may be relevant to our entering into eternal life with God. I think it is helpful to consider them, not as hard and fast tests which must be met, but as a variety of evidences of the genuineness of our faith. These are some of the ways in which our faith, or the lack of it, may be made manifest. But the ultimate and only test is faith. I see them as falling (with some overlap) into two general categories: (1) As the process of salvation continues our faith must continue. (2) As our life as Christians continues, we should increasingly look to what we do as evidence of what we believe.

Continuing

Continuing To Believe

     "Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free of accusation - if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel" (Colossians 1:21-23). I believe "reconciled" in this passage is another word for salvation; we were enemies of God but now have become accepted by him. But this reconciliation exists only so long as we "continue" in our faith and are "not moved" from the hope held out in the gospel.

     Romans 11:22 is similar: "Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God; sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off." If we do not "continue" we will be "cut off", i.e. separated from God. Just as the kingdom of God was taken away from those Jews who rejected Jesus Christ (Matthew 21:43), so we, if we do not continue in the gospel, may find that we have lost the kingdom of God.

     Paul wrote the Galatians to express his dismay that they had departed from the gospel he taught them. "After beginning with the Spirit are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?" (3:3). He asked why they were "turning back" to false principles and said "I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you" (4:9,10). He said that they "have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace" (5:4). By failing to continue in the gospel he had taught them they were running the risk of losing everything.

     The basic theme is set out clearly in John 15:1-8. If we abide in Jesus and he in us, we will bear much fruit. But every branch that does not abide in him is "cut off", "thrown away", and "thrown into the fire and burned" (see also Matthew 3:10). A believer, who was once connected to Jesus but does not abide in him, is cut off and burned. Is not this talking about eternal salvation?

     1 John 2:24-26 is similar. "See that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father. And this is what he has promised us - even eternal life. I am writing these things to you about those who are trying to lead you astray" (See also 1 John 2:28, 3:7, 4:1). 2 John 7-9 warns "watch out that you do not lose what you have worked for."

     Perhaps the most familiar Scripture dealing with salvation is John 3:16. It tells us that "whoever believes in him [Jesus] shall not perish but have eternal life." I believe Colossians 1:21-23 and the other Scriptures discussed above make it clear that what is required is, not just an initial profession of faith, but a continuing faith. I am told that the tense of the Greek verb in John 3:16 implies a continuing belief, "whoever believes and continues to believe" (See J. Rodman Williams, "Renewal Theology", Zondervan, 1990, vol 2, p.129.) The context confirms this. John 3:18 says, "whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son." If someone does not now believe, is he not condemned, regardless of whether he once believed?

Standing Firm

     "He who stands firm [KJV "endures"] to the end will be saved." (Matthew 24:13). Jesus said that many "will turn away from the faith" (Matthew 24:10) and only those who stand firm will be saved. Matthew 10:22 is similar. "Hold on to what you have so that no one will take your crown" (Revelation 3:11).

     Paul wrote to believers in Corinth, "By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise you have believed in vain" (1 Corinthians 15:2). Paul admonished Timothy to "Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called" (1 Timothy 6:12), be "holding on to faith and a good conscience"(1 Timothy 1:6-7). Those who failed to do this have "shipwrecked their faith" (1 Timothy 1:19). The author of Hebrews writes, "We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly to the end the confidence we had at first" (Hebrews 3:14).

Perseverance

     "You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God you will receive what he has promised. For in just a very little while, 'He who is coming will come and not delay. But my righteous one will live by faith and if he shrinks back I will not be pleased with him.' But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed but of those who believe and are saved" (Hebrews 10:35-39).The author of Hebrews contrasts those who "shrink back" and those who "believe" (i.e. persevere in believing); the former are destroyed and the latter are saved. Paul told Timothy to "persevere" in his life and doctrine; "if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers" (1 Timothy 4:16).

Evidencing Our Faith By Action

Obedience

     Paul's evangelical calling was to "call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith" (Romans 1:5). Hebrews 5:9 declares that Jesus is "the source of eternal salvation for all that obey him." Jesus said, "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 7:21). Paul tells us that, when Jesus comes again in blazing fire, he will punish "those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus"; they will be "punished with everlasting destruction" and shut out from the presence of the Lord" (2 Thessalonians 1:8-9). In Ephesians 2:2 he speaks of "the (evil) spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient" In Romans, Paul tells all believers that we have a choice; we can be "slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness" (Romans 6:15-16). He continues "Now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefits you reap lead to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 6:22-23). The whole argument of Romans 6 is that obedience to sin leads to eternal death and obedience to God leads to eternal life. Is not this talking about salvation?

     Hebrews 3:12 says "See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God." The unbelief that turns away from God, which is also called "disobedience" (Hebrews 4:6), was their failure to believe and act on the promise of God that he would give them the land of Canaan. So disobedience can, in some circumstances, be seen as a turning away from God.

     True obedience comes when we live by the Holy Spirit. Peter says we have been chosen, "through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 1:2). In Galatians 5:16, writing to believers, Paul tells us to "live by the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh." He lists the "acts of the sinful nature" and says "those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God" (verse 21). Similarly in Ephesians he lists actions which are "improper for God's holy people", and says, "For of this you can be sure. No immoral, impure or greedy person - such a man is an idolater - has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God... because of such things God's wrath comes on those who are disobedient" (Ephesians 5:5-6; see also Colossians 3:5-6). Romans 8:6 tells us, "The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace." Verse 8 adds, "Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God." And verse 13 says, "For if you live according to the sinful nature you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God." I suggest that these passages are speaking of salvation - entering into the kingdom of God, life versus death - and are saying, to those who consider themselves believers, that certain ways of living, certain kinds of habitual behavior which are based on the flesh and not on the Holy Spirit, lead to a loss of salvation.

     Scripture refers to the struggle between the flesh and the spirit as "warfare" going on within us. The flesh and the Spirit "are in conflict with each other" (Galatians 5:17). They are "waging war" (Romans 7:23). Our sinful desires "war against" our soul (1 Peter 2:11). The outcome of that war is spiritual life or death (Romans 8:13-14). Part of working out our salvation with fear and trembling, I believe, is to keep constantly alert and watchful in this war. Each day, and many times a day, we need to make the right choices so that we will live by the Spirit and not by the flesh.

     I am, of course, not saying that every sin leads to a loss of eternal life. That would be impossible; we all sin (1 John 1:8-10). When Paul, in Galatians and Ephesians, talks about "those who live like this", he is talking, not about individual actions, but about a way of life. Romans 6 and 8 are talking about where our allegiance is. But I suggest that these texts are saying that true faith leads to, and is evidenced by, a life of obedience, and if we do not see that obedience in a life we may well question the genuineness of the person's faith.

     I want also to reiterate that in speaking of obedience I am not speaking of legalism. The law cannot save us (Romans 8:3). True obedience arises out of love for Jesus Christ, who said, "if you love me, you will obey what I command" (John 14:15). We obey, not out of fear or even duty, but because we love Jesus and want to please him. True obedience comes from allowing the Holy Spirit, which dwells in us, to control us, so that our "whole spirit, soul and body [may] be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Thessalonians 5:23). The goal of our Christian life is to become like Jesus. We "put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness" (Ephesians 4:24). As we do, we increasingly find ourselves living in accordance with God's will.

Forgiveness

     "If you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive you your sins" (Matthew 6:15). We can enter into eternal life with God only because our sins have been forgiven and are no longer held against us. We are justified, and enabled to enter into eternal life, only because our sins have been forgiven, canceled, and washed away by the sacrifice Christ made on the cross. But if our sins cannot be forgiven because of our own unforgiveness, how can we claim to have been justified? Jesus explained this teaching more fully in the parable of the unmerciful servant (Matthew 18:21-35). Because the servant did not forgive his fellow servant, the master "turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed." We can never pay back all we owe to God. So this parable is saying that the fate of those who do not forgive their fellow-men is eternal punishment. Is not this dealing with salvation?

     Again, I am not speaking of a single act of unforgiveness. I am speaking of an attitude of unforgiveness, a spirit of unforgiveness. But I think we have to recognize that our unforgiveness of others may have a good deal to do with our own salvation.

Being Born Again

     Jesus said that unless a man is "born again", "born of water and the spirit", he cannot see or enter the kingdom of God (John 3:3,5). Much could be said about what this means, but Jesus tells us we cannot enter into the kingdom of God without it.

Knowing God

     Jesus has told us, "This is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent" (John 17:3). He also said, "Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers'" (Matthew 7:22-23). I do not think these are people who merely used the name of Jesus as a formula for success, like the sons of Sceva (Acts 19:13-16). It seems to me this passage at least suggests that if our faith does not result in our having some measure of personal relationship with the Father and the Son, it may not be sufficient to save us.

Other Factors

     Jesus said that unless we "become like little children" we will "never enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 18:3). The context suggests that he was referring both to the trust and the humility of a little child. In the parable of the talents, in which one servant did nothing with what had been given him and expressed a false conception of God, he said "throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth" (Matthew 25:30). In the parable of the wedding banquet, where a man came who was not wearing wedding clothes (i.e. not showing proper respect to the Lord), he again said, "Throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth" (Matthew 22:13). The first passage seems clearly to refer to salvation ("enter the kingdom of heaven"), and the other two may. It is not clear to me how these passages fit in to the concept of salvation, but I think we cannot ignore them in considering the subject.

In Our Continuing Salvation We Are
Totally Dependent on God's Grace

     Throughout the continuing process of salvation we are totally dependent on God's grace and not our own efforts or merits. We need to put forth effort, but it is only by God's grace and God's power that we can succeed. "He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Jesus Christ" (Philippians 1:6). God began a good work in us (initial salvation) and he will carry it to completion (process of salvation). In both cases it is God's work. It is God who is "able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy" (Jude 24). Paul said, "The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom" (2 Timothy 4:18). It is Jesus Christ who is both the "author" and the "finisher" of our faith (Hebrews 12:2 KJV). It is in God's "mighty power" that we are able to stand against the enemy (Ephesians 6:10). "Through faith [we] are shielded by God's power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time" (1 Peter 1:5). F. F. Bruce comments, "If it is the grace of God that sets a man's feet at the entrance of the pathway of faith, it is equally the grace of God that enables him to continue and complete that pathway." ("Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews", Eerdmans, Grand Rapids MI, 1964, p. 365). As in most other things we must co-labor with God, but without God's part in it we could not succeed.

     Hence Paul begins almost every letter with a prayer for grace to be among his flock. Scripture encourages us to "grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (2 Peter 3:18). It tells us to "stand fast" "in the true grace of God" (1 Peter 5:12) It warns us, "See to it that no one misses the grace of God" (Hebrews 12:15).

 

Ultimate Salvation

     Peter speaks of the "coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time" (1 Peter 1:5). Jesus will appear a second time "to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him" (Hebrews 9:28; see also Jude 21; Revelation 12:10).

     Our salvation is not complete until we attain eternal life in heaven with God. The Scriptural texts that deal with the basis for this ultimate salvation are those that deal with final judgment. While they do not use the word sozo, they speak of eternal life and eternal punishment, which, as we have seen, is at the heart of the concept of salvation. And they speak exclusively in terms of our deeds.

     Jesus said, "A time is coming when all those who are in their graves will hear [Jesus'] voice and come out - those who have done good will rise to live and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned" (John 5:28-29). In explaining the parable of the wheat and the tares Jesus said that at the end time his angels "will weed out of the kingdom everything that causes evil and all who do evil." They will be thrown in the fiery furnace while "the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their father" (Matthew 13:41-43; see also verses 49-50). In describing the separation of the sheep (who go to "eternal life") from the goats (who go to "eternal punishment") the test is what they "did" or "did not do" for one of the least of these (Matthew 25:40, 45). Mark 9:42-48 tells us to cut off any member (hand, foot or eye) that "causes you to sin"; it is better to lose a part of your body than to "be thrown into hell"; this passage also is dealing with actions ("causes you to sin") and not with professions of belief. At the great white throne judgment every one is judged "according to what he had done" (Revelation 20:13). In Revelation 21:8 it is men's evil deeds that keep them from entering the New Jerusalem.

     Does this mean that we are judged by our deeds? I do not think so. I think these passages must be read in the light of Ephesians 2:8 and similar passages. We are saved by our faith, and only by our faith. Without faith, no deeds can save us. "Whosoever does not believe stands condemned already" (John 3:18). But at the end of our life the best evidence of what we have believed is to be found in what we have done.

 

Can We Lose Our Salvation?

     There are some who would be shocked at any suggestion that we could ever lose our salvation. They say that once we have received initial salvation, we are always saved. I believe, however, that Scripture says quite clearly that there are circumstances under which those who were once saved can lose their salvation.

     I have pointed out that in our continuing salvation God works and we work. God's part is secure; he is faithful. He will not take our salvation from us, nor can anyone or anything else take it from us (compare Romans 8:38-39; John 10:28). Jesus "is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always intercedes for them" (Hebrews 7:25). He is "able to guard" what we have entrusted to him (2 Timothy 1:12). But I think Scripture does say that we can lose our salvation by our own actions or inactions. Just as we can fail to receive initial salvation by the choices we make, so, I believe, we can lose our salvation by the choices we make. God "wants all men to be saved" (1 Timothy 2:4). But he will not take away our freedom to choose.

     God has "set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts, as a deposit guaranteeing what is to come" (2 Corinthians 1:22, 5:5; Ephesians 1:13-14). God is faithful and his faithfulness endures forever (Psalm 119:89-90). But if we do not live by his Spirit, and allow his Spirit to rule over our spirit, soul and body, how can we claim this guarantee?

     That we can lose our salvation by our own action or inaction is implied in many of the Scriptures relating to the continuing process of salvation. When Paul tells us to work out that salvation "with fear and trembling" I think he is speaking of a possible loss of salvation. We are reconciled to God "if you continue in your faith" (Colossians 1:21-23). Is not the implication clear that if we do not continue in our faith we will no longer be reconciled to God? Paul says that if we do not "hold firmly" to the word he preached, we have "believed in vain" (1 Corinthians 15:12). Does not this mean that we lose our salvation? Hebrews 10:35-39 warns us that if we "shrink back" we will be "destroyed." Etc. But there are a number of passages in which it is made quite explicit.

     Scripture prophesies that there will be a great apostasy in the end times. Matthew 24:10-13 says, "At that time many will turn away from the truth and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved" Is it not clear that those who "turn away" lose their salvation and those who "stand firm" are saved? 2 Thessalonians 2:3 says that in the end times a "rebellion" (KJV "falling away") will occur. 1 Timothy 4:1 tells us, "The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons." I read these passages as talking about those who once believed but then fell away from or abandoned their belief. We can only turn away from or abandon a faith if we once had it.

     This falling away, or abandonment, is not limited to the end times. Both Peter (2 Peter chapter 2) and Jude speak of apostasy in their own day. In the parable of the sower, Jesus speaks of those who "receive the word with joy ... believe for a while but in the time of testing they fall away" (Luke 8:13). They are initially saved, they believe for a while, and then they fall away. 2 Peter 4:17 warns, "Be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of lawless men and fall from your secure position." Hebrews 3:12 warns, "See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God." Hebrews is full of warnings against falling away (see 2:1-3; 3:6, 12-14; 4:1, 14; 6:4-6, 10-12; 10:26-31, 35-39; 12:15, 25-28; 13:9). While most of these texts speak of a deliberate falling away or rejection, there can also be a drifting away which goes on unnoticed. Hebrews 2:1,3 warns."We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away... How shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation?"

     Let us take a closer look at Jesus' parable of the sower. (Luke 8:11-15; see also Matthew 13:18-23). The text makes it clear that it deals with salvation. Jesus gives four types of soil. (1) "The ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved." These people are not saved initially. (2) Those who receive the word "with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away." (Matthew says, "When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away"). This seems to describe those who are initially saved, "believe for a while", but then "fall away" and lose their salvation If you say that they were never saved, how do you distinguish them from the first class of soil? (3) Those who receive the word, "but they are choked by life's worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature." (Matthew says they bear no fruit.) I think these are probably saved. (4) Those "who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop" These are saved.

     In Revelation 3:5 Jesus says, of the one who overcomes, "I will never blot out his name from the book of life." The implication is that there are those whose names, having once been written in the book of life, can later be blotted out. This is made explicit in Deuteronomy 9:14, Psalms 69:28, 109:13; and Romans 9:3.

     Two texts, I believe, make the point quite clear. "It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace" (Hebrews 6:4-6). Peter says the same thing: "It would be better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed to them" (2 Peter 2:21). These texts are talking about those who once were enlightened, who once knew the way of righteousness, who once genuinely believed, and then turned away.

     Many would explain away these passages as involving people who never genuinely believed. They say, these people may have seemed to us to be saved, but in God's eyes they were not. I don't think this is what the texts say. They speak of those who have "once been enlightened", who have "known the way of righteousness", and who then "fall away" or "turn their backs". It is not legitimate to impose on the texts an explanation which their words do not support, in order to make them fit a preconceived theory.

     There are those who say that if our faith is genuine it is impossible to lose it. I do not find this stated in Scripture, and I believe the Scriptures discussed above show clearly that it is possible for those who once genuinely believed to fall away and even to drift away.

     Paul said, "I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified" (1 Corinthians 9:27, NKJV). (The word translated "disqualified" literally means "not accepted, rejected"; KJV translates it "castaway") I think he is talking about losing his salvation, being "rejected" or "castaway." If Paul - who wrote much of the New Testament, founded many churches, received direct revelations from God, and was "caught up into paradise" and received "things that man is not permitted to tell" (12 Corinthians 12:4) - if such a man as Paul was concerned that he might lose his salvation, how can any of us assume that we could never lose it? Paul wrote Timothy to "persevere" in his life and doctrine so that he "will save yourself and your hearers" (1 Timothy 4:16). Timothy was Paul's disciple and the head of the important church at Ephesus. If Timothy needed to persevere in order to keep his salvation, how can we take ours for granted?

     Even if the point of interpretation were more doubtful than I think it is, I would not want to be the test case to find out which interpretation is right! I think all these passages are saying very clearly that we should not take our salvation for granted, we should not presume on God. God has given us a great gift and we need to treasure and protect it. We need to be diligent and watchful so as not to fall away or slip away.

     I want again to make it clear that I am not saying that we lose our salvation by committing a sin. 1 John 1:8-10 makes it clear that believers will sin, and that if we confess our sins God is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from unrighteousness. These passages are talking about something else. They are talking about a "falling away," either a deliberate rejection of Jesus Christ, or a careless drifting away which ends up in the same place. They are talking about hearts which once were committed to Jesus Christ but have now lost that commitment. As long as our hearts continue to be committed to Jesus Christ we need have no fear for our salvation. There is total security for those who continue to believe.

     Scripture gives some examples of people who fell away or abandoned their faith. Judas Iscariot was one of the twelve disciples, one of those specially selected from among Jesus' followers. With the other eleven, he was commissioned to heal the sick, raise the dead, cast out demons and preach the gospel; we must assume that he did so. He was one of those in whose hands the loaves and fishes multiplied. Peter said of him, "he was one of our number and shared in this ministry" (Acts 1:17). Would anyone suggest that Judas' initial salvation gave him eternal life? John 6:66 tells us that at one point "many of [Jesus'] disciples turned back and no longer followed him." Hymenaeus, Alexander and others "shipwrecked their faith" (1 Timothy 1:19). Demas deserted Paul "because he loved this world" (2 Timothy 4:10).

     In this area, as in much of Scripture, balance is necessary. The enemy is happy to see us carry any principle too far. I believe it is wrong to take our salvation for granted, to assume that once we have made an initial profession of salvation we will live eternally in heaven no matter how we have lived here on earth. It is equally wrong to be in constant fear of losing our salvation. I suggest we need to be like well-trained soldiers, who are constantly alert and watchful, but not fearful.


Conclusion

     My main purpose in this paper has been to reject any idea of easy salvation. Salvation is not a one-time formal act. It is not like signing a paid-up insurance contract. It is a lifetime of surrender and obedience to Jesus Christ. It is not enough to enter by the narrow gate; we must also stay on the narrow path. This will often take work and struggle, because there is an enemy who tries to get us off the path.

     There is a cost to salvation. This is obvious in many Muslim and communist countries, where those who have converted to Christianity run a heavy risk of execution, imprisonment, torture, persecution and rejection. We do not see that cost so easily in this country, but a time may come when Christians here will face persecution. Jesus told us we must be willing to carry our cross. He told us to count the cost (Luke 14:25-33). If we should have to face persecution, will we be among those who "fall away" when "trouble or persecution comes because of the word", or will we be willing to pay the cost of salvation? If we are not willing to pay the cost, can we claim to be saved?

     Paul tells us to work out our salvation "with fear and trembling." I suggest that, in this area, as in much else of Scripture, there are no easy answers. Scripture does not give us formulas or pat answers; it gives us living principles to reflect on and grow by. God has given us "everything we need for life and godliness" (2 Peter 1:3) but at the same time we must recognize that God's judgments are unsearchable and his paths beyond tracing out (Romans 11:13). Our understanding of Scripture is, of necessity, imperfect and partial. We can be confident of some things. Our salvation is based on faith, and if we continue in our faith and our commitment to Jesus we can be secure in our salvation. God is faithful, and we can be confident that, as long as we do not turn or drift away from him, he who has begun a good work in us will carry it on to completion.

 

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Copyrightę 2001 by James L. Morrisson
  

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     08/19/2007