Salvation, Part 2

There are many Christians who wrestle with this same “apparent” dilemma. And too often, they arbitrarily choose one side of the coin while simply ignoring the other. The side they choose usually depends on the opinion of their pastor, or majority of Christian friends.

To put it bluntly, this reveals shallowness within much Christian theology these days. The influence of Arminianism in Christianity doesn’t help resolve issues like this – or provide real answers. It only invites more questions, such as:

If you can “lose” your salvation after “getting it” when you professed Christ as Savior then does it mean you, or anyone else, has the “power” to pluck themselves from the hand of God? If so, then where did this power come from? (What Scriptures teach this?)

If you think you can live any way you want to because you once professed Christ as Savior then why do the Scriptures say holiness is a necessary part of a believer’s life?

If you can “lose” your salvation after “getting it” then can you “get it back” again if you repent? (What Scriptures teach this?) At what point does someone “lose” their salvation? (What Scriptures teach this?)

This is where the strength of Reformed theology is clearly evident. If you begin truly understanding what the Bible teaches about the total depravity of man, man’s unconditional election, the limited atonement of Christ, and God’s irresistible grace, then you have a conceptual framework to help you understand why some Scriptures speak of “eternal security,” while others give warnings to those in the Church about “falling away.”

The Reformed position recognizes two points of view being taught in Scripture: one from the divine side of things, the other from the human side. Both points of view reflect different aspects about the reality of salvation.

From the divine side of things we possess an assurance. Not one of God’s elect can be lost. Reformed theology teaches eternal security – for the elect. An elect person cannot “lose” their salvation because it was never theirs to “get” in the first place. God imparts salvation to undeserving sinners by His sovereign grace.

No mortal human being can undo what God does. No mortal person can decide their own destiny apart from what almighty God has decreed their destiny will be. No true believer can “lose” the salvation God has decreed for them, purchased for them with Christ’s blood, and sealed for them by the power of his Holy Spirit.

Of course, none of this means a true born-again believer will not be challenged in their faith, or escape wrestling with sin. The Bible teaches sin still dwells in the mortal bodies of God’s elect while they’re living on this earth. The struggle with sin is a part of every Christian’s earthly existence (Matthew 6:12-13; Philippians 3:12-13; 1John 1:8-10).

The Reformed doctrine of perseverance recognizes that Scripture speaks of God’s indwelling presence within His chosen ones as causing them to persevere in their new life of faith. This means those whom God has chosen from the foundation of the world to be saved will persevere in their faith to the end of their lives, despite any setbacks or trials they encounter while in this life.

Now we come to the other side of this issue – the human perspective. The Bible admonishes Church members to live pure lives and do good works, and warns about the evils of falling away. These are warnings given to those who profess to be Christians because the Bible teaches that not everyone who professes to be a Christian really is a true believer (Luke 8:9-14; 1John 2:19).

The Bible teaches true believers will persevere in holiness. Scriptures declaring holiness as necessary for salvation do not mean we somehow earn our way to heaven through good works or by living clean, moral lives. They indicate holiness and works are bi-products within a true believer’s life, and as such, they’re a reflection of true saving faith.

If someone is truly born-again (if they’re truly one of God’s elect) then they are responsible for living a life of moral uprightness and good works. Born-again members of God’s Church are responsible and capable of living morally upright lives filled with good works as admonished in Scripture (Luke 10:25-28; 2 Timothy 2:19).

Human beings have a scary capacity for self-deception. If you doubt this just pick out an unbeliever living a life filled with sin and ask them if they think they’ll go to heaven when they die (assuming they admit believing in heaven). “Sure,” they’ll say, “I’m basically a good person… and I’m not a murderer or anything.”

This same kind of self-deception exists within Christian church congregations all over the earth. I (Rev. Charles Betters), frequently points out in my sermons that there is a “true” Church and there is a “show” Church present in any worship service. There are many people who come to church on Sundays out of duty, habit, custom, personal gratification or other reasons. But they’ve never been spiritually born- again. They’ve never experienced a change in their inward nature due to God’s saving grace.

The Bible teaches a life of good works and holiness are necessary requirements for believers because they spring from saving faith in Christ – which God sovereignly grants to individuals. A professing faith void of good works or holiness is in reality a “dead” faith (James 2:14-17). Jesus said a good tree (one that has a good inner nature) bears good fruit (Matthew 7-17). But such an inner nature only comes from God. The Lord divinely imparts this nature to us in the new birth (which He foreordained); then inspires the good works (which He has also foreordained) resulting from the new nature within us (Ephesians 2:8-10). God gets all the credit.

The young woman I spoke to years ago was ignoring Paul’s warning that God’s grace doesn’t grant anyone a license to sin (Romans 6:1-4). She was also casting aside Scriptures regarding holiness and moral uprightness as divine requirements. While good works and holiness aren’t the root of eternal life; they’re a fruit of eternal life. And if you don’t experience these in your Christian life right now you may want to question whether or not you’re a true believer.

One of the most misinterpreted Scriptures in the Bible is Romans 10:9, which says “…if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.“ Many people read this and think, “Well, there it is… all a person has to do is make a profession of faith in Christ to be saved. That’s it… just a one-time confession and they’re on their way to heaven.” This, however, is NOT what the verse teaches.

The word used for “confess” in Romans 10:9 means much more than a simple one-time profession of faith in the Greek language. It actually means to “confess and keep on confessing.” And this confession doesn’t include mere words. Its meaning implies a “confession” built upon a person’s whole life. Truly “confessing” Christ means Christ is a part of every aspect of your being, including your thoughts, your words, and your deeds.

Pay attention to your thoughts, words and deeds. Then be encouraged. God promises if you are one of His elect He will give you the grace to persevere in your faith until the end. You’ll persevere, not because you have the ability within yourself, but because He will enable you to persevere. He will call when you stray. He will forgive when you fall. He will uphold you when you feel like you can’t go on. This is God’s redeeming love at work. And to Him be the Glory!

Digging Deeper

  • How is the term, “Once saved, always saved” often used in Christian fundamentalism? Explain why many Christians think it’s possible for a believer to “lose” their salvation. Explain why the notion of anybody “losing” their salvation is wrong.
  • Does the Bible teach anybody can get into heaven (through their own efforts) by being “holy” or practicing good works?
  • Explain how Arminianism influences Christians today who believe: a) that a person can’t lose their salvation after they make a one-time profession of faith AND b) it’s possible for someone to be saved yet later lose their salvation.
  • Why does the Bible emphasize holiness and good works as being requirements for a true Christian profession of faith? Explain what the article means when it says people have a high capacity for “self-deception.”
  • What are some evidences from scripture that a person who professes to be a Christian may not really be a true believer? Explain what Rev. Betters means when he talks about the “true” church and the “show” church.
  • What does the word “confess” mean in Romans 10:9?

Wirtten by: Dr. Charles F. Betters and Joe Farinnaccio