Salvation, pt 4
About a week ago, I received a text message with a striking question. I looked down at my screen, and here is what is said: Can a Christian go to heaven if he or she commits suicide?
My response was a simple: If a Christian commits suicide, he or she goes to heaven.
The person replied: How do you figure?... Basically, they wanted to know how I arrived at that conclusion.
My answer was basically something like this: Suicide is a sin. Jesus died for all the sins of a Christian: past, present, and future. So the sin is paid for... That’s a pretty straightforward way to think about it.
The reply was simply: Ok thanks... To which I was quick to add: Don’t kill yourself.
Today, we’re not going to have a discussion about suicide, but a question like that does bring up a very important issue for all believers. And the question is this: Can a genuine Christian lose his salvation? Can you, as a true Christian, do something that would undo the free gift of Jesus Christ?
In many cases, people’s answers are more tied to tradition than to what the Bible teaches. In our culture that means that many people’s automatic assumption is the Roman Catholic teaching. Roman Catholic theology states that salvation can be forfeited by committing a mortal sin. A mortal sin, they say, undoes the righteousness received at baptism, and therefore requires penance and confession to be fixed.
Well, that at least makes some sense, logically. It is consistent. If salvation could come by works, then it makes sense that it could be lost by works as well. But Catholics aren’t the only ones who believe salvation can be lost. I remember being in an FLG some years ago, and one of the parents said to the group, “If you commit a sin and you die before you get a chance to repent, you will go to hell. Because if you don’t repent, then there’s no forgiveness.” You might even hear similar things from famous preachers of the past or on the radio today. That is a confusion of the repentance of justification with the repentance of sanctification.
How are we supposed to think about this? What does the Bible teach? The clear teaching of the Scriptures is that every single genuine Christian will persevere to the end. They will be saved. The salvation from God cannot be lost. It cannot be forfeited. It cannot be cancelled. It does not expire.
Maybe you’ve had this experience. You go to a restaurant or a store with a coupon that says it’s already expired and you’re just hoping they’ll honor it anyway. Some people live their Christian life like that. They believe in Christ. And their desperate to make it to heaven before their salvation expires. And that’s a tragedy.
God calls us to live with joy. If you remember the words of Jesus in Luke 10:20, He said to His disciples: Rejoice that your names are written in heaven.
Well, how could you rejoice in that if there was the possibility of your name being erased? The level of your joy is directly related to how sure you were it wasn’t going to be erased. And God wants us to experience a full and abundant joy. And that joy come by knowing that all true Christians will be preserved to the end. They will persevere.
Now, just to be clear, there are two sides to what I’m saying. From God’s side, He will preserve all Christians. He enables them to continue in the faith. But from the believer’s side it means that they will persevere. They will not abandon the faith. They will not fall away. We call that apostasy. When someone understands the truth about Jesus Christ and the gospel, and appears to be a genuine Christian, and then falls away permanently, denying the faith, they have apostatized.
Today, I want to talk about each of the two sides, one at a time. First of all, there is the truth that God will preserve all believers. This is the starting point because, even though believers persevere, it is only by God’s doing, God’s initiative. Philippians 2:13 says: God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.
This is most clearly stated in the New Covenant, but let me just give you a couple Old Testament examples. Psalm 37:28: The Lord loves justice; he will not forsake his saints, they are preserved forever.
Jeremiah 32:40, pointing to the New Covenant, records God: I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me.
This is God’s promise of the New Covenant. He will preserve His saints. He will give them a heart that perseveres. A heart that stays faithful to the end. That’s part of God’s gift to His children. If you think God is incapable of keeping His children close to Him, then that means you think human sin is stronger than God’s power, which is the exact opposite of the gospel.
In theology, this doctrine is referred to as “the perseverance of the saints.” Others call it “Eternal Security.” This is set up against what is called “conditional security.” Conditional security. There is an oxymoron if I have ever heard one. What kind of security do you have if it is conditional? Is that what you’d want on a home alarm system, conditional security?
Turn with me to the gospel of John. This is a good starting point for the teaching of the perseverance of the saints. We’ll be looking at John 6:39. Repeatedly, Jesus refers to salvation as “eternal life,” a phrase which wouldn’t even make sense if it could be lost. And Jesus’ teaching was that those who belonged to Him would never fall away.
John 6 is the teaching of Jesus after He fed the 5,000. He uses that miracle to point to himself as the Bread of Life. Like the manna given to the Israelites, Jesus came from heaven to give life. John 6:38-40
Does that sound like something Jesus intends to do? He will lose nothing. Every Christian is part of the Father’s gift to the Son. We’re part of His Bride. And we will all be resurrected and partake of the great marriage supper of Revelation 19.
Skip over to chapter 10. Here now, Jesus is describing Himself as the Good Shepherd. He is the fulfilment of Ezekiel 34, where God promises to shepherd His sheep. John 10:27-30.
Does that sound like some kind of conditional security? Now some people come along and say: “Well, nothing can take you out of God’s hand, but that doesn’t mean you can’t walk out on your own!” That’s ridiculous because, again, it is God’ power that keeps us. It’s His Spirit within us that keeps us close to Him.
When I was only 10 years old, and I would take my dog for a walk, I knew that it meant I had to hold on tight to that leash. I couldn’t let it go, because our dog would go running off. If I came home without a dog, my dad wouldn’t be mad at the dog, he’d be mad at me. Why did you let her go? The same is true here. Even if a Christian wanted to leave God, the ultimate responsibility would go to God because He gives Him the faith.
God sustains us, not just in a passive way. But in an active way through the intercession of Jesus Christ. Hebrews 7 says that Jesus is a permanent priest. And because He’s permanent, He is able to save forever those who draw near to God. Why? Since He always lives to make intercession for them.
This is a perfect intercession. This is a prayer God hears and always answers. This is Christ’s ministry for you right now. The cross might have saved you, but it is Christ’s intercession that keep you here.
What does that intercession look like? Go to John 17. This is where we get a glimpse of it. It’s the only place. John 17:9. This is the prayer of Jesus in the presence of His disciples on the night He was betrayed. And he prayed in front of them so they would be comforted. John 17:9-12.
Skip down to verse 15. John 17:15-17.
And in case you’re thinking: Ya, but that’s a prayer for the Apostles. Look at Verses 20-21.
And look at Verse 24.
Are you in Christ? Have you repented of your sin and surrendered your life to the Resurrected Lord Jesus Christ? If so, you will be with Him in heaven.
This is the same comfort Paul wanted to give Christians. Turn with me to Romans 8. It starts with that very familiar verse. After describing the hope of salvation in Christ: There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
Skip down to verse 28. Romans 8:28-30.
Our discussion of election is for another week, but Paul’s point here is clear. Nobody gets lost. If God foreknew you, if God predestined you, if God called you to salvation, if God justified you, you will be glorified.
I enjoy watching TV shows where these large machines are being used to make food or materials. And often what you see in these machines are shakers. They’re sorters. They pass potatoes through various tests to get rid of the ones that aren’t the right shape or the right color. And at the end, only the good ones make it into the bags.
Some people think Christianity is like that. A whole bunch of people get saved, and then they go through the trials of life. And at the end, whoever comes out good enough makes it into heaven. No. That’s not it. What matters is that your faith is real. Not how good it looks.
J.C. Ryle compared faith to money. Some people’s faith is like a penny. Other people have a hundred dollar bill. But what matters is that it’s real. If it’s real, it counts. If you have ten dollar faith, but it’s a fake bill, it’s worthless.
Paul says: Look, every single person God picks makes it into heaven. This life does refine. That’s the process of sanctification. But if God chose you, if God justified you, you will be glorified. Nobody get lost or thrown away. That’s what Paul repeats in verses 38-39.
First Corinthians 1:8 says God will sustain (confirm) you to the end, blameless (guiltless) in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Philippians 1:6. I am confident that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.
And just so we’d know it was true, He gave us the Holy Spirit as a seal, a pledge, a guarantee.
One last passage, and then we need to switch over to the second side of this doctrine. We looked at the preservation of God, and we also need to understand the perseverance of the believer. Go to 1 Peter 1. We’re just going to look at the first few verses. Peter understood what Jesus taught. Peter agrees with what Paul teaches. Look how he describes the salvation and glorification of a believer. 1 Peter 1:3-4.
He piles it on thick. You can’t lose your inheritance. God Himself is holding that reservation. But how do we know it’s happening? How does God keep it? Look at verse 5.
We are protected through faith. This is a word that talks about HOW something is accomplishes. It’s talking about instrumentality. God did miracles THROUGH the Apostles. God spoke THROUGH the prophets. God saved us THROUGH the blood of Christ. And God preserves us THROUGH our faith. The expression of God’s preservation is our faith.
Our faith doesn’t preserve us. God preserves us. And He preserves us through faith. He sustains our faith so that we do not fall away. And this is a great way to transition to the second aspect of perseverance. Number 1, God preserves. But number 2, we are called to persevere. Perseverance is ultimately God’s work, but we are called to act as well.
No matter how tightly I hold my son’s hand when we cross the street, I still tell him to hold my hand. And this is what we also see throughout the Bible. We are all called to persevere in the faith.
Matthew 10:22 calls us to endure to the end.
First Corinthians 10:12 says: Let anyone who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.
First Corinthians 16:13: Be watchful, stand firm in the faith.
Hebrews 10:36 says You have need of endurance.
There are so many more, but I think you get the point. There is assurance for all believers. But there isn’t any room for laziness or negligence. Like the men in Nehemiah who built the wall of Jerusalem, the victory against the enemy is guaranteed, but we are still called to fight.
And that’s how we need to understand the warning passages of the Bible. The warnings are legitimate. We need to draw near to Christ. We need to cling to the Head of the Body, the Head of the Church. Some people will say “once saved, always saved.” That’s a true statement. You just better be sure they were really saved to begin with. This doesn’t mean you get to live however you want just because you said a prayer or got baptized. This doctrines means you need to fight the good fight, by the grace of God’s Holy Spirit.
Listen, this doctrine doesn’t mean that believers won’t sin. There are plenty of examples of knucklehead decisions by people who trusted in God. One of the most famous is Peter’s denial of Jesus. But His denial was not final. He was restored. You will sin. You will sin grievously. But no amount of sin can cancel your salvation. You are secure forever.
But what about those people who left the faith? What about those people who walk away from Christ and the gospel? Aren’t they proof that salvation is not eternally secure? No. They’re not. They are examples of people who never had saving faith to begin with.
It’s not that Jesus let them go. It’s that Jesus never really had them. All they had was human faith. They had phony faith. In their heart, they rebelled against Christ. All they wanted was the external benefits of salvation. But they never drew near to Christ. They are like the seed on the rocky soil or among thorns. No real root. No fruit. No salvation. And in the end Christ says to them: I never knew you. Depart from me.
This is exactly what John says in his first epistle. Turn their with me, and we’ll finish up. First John 2:19. This church saw people come and go. And they didn’t leave because they moved away. They left because they abandoned the faith. They followed the false teachings of the world. And it was a little disheartening for the group, as you can imagine. But look what John says. 1 John 2:19.
Some of these people maybe even thought they were saved some time ago. But they walked away. Which just goes to show an important point, that needs to be said with a lesson like this. We all rejoice in the eternal security of the believer. But you need to be reminded that your assurance doesn’t save you. Eternal life is not dependent on assurance. Some people struggle with doubt. They’re not sure they are going to heaven, but they go anyway. And some people are so certain they are going, but fail to enter by the narrow door.
Your assurance doesn’t save you. You are only saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. So as Paul says to the Corinthians: Test yourselves to see whether you are in the faith. Examine yourselves.
Don’t assume you will be saved. Don’t presume on God’s grace. Repent of your sin. Receive His complete and unending forgiveness. Ask Him for a new spirit, a new heart. Stop giving your life over to worthless pursuits that only gratify for the moment. Surrender your life to the great and glorious Lord, the Risen Lord Jesus Christ. Go to Him in serious prayer. Beg him to have mercy on your sinful soul.
And He will receive you as his own. He will protect you keep. Keep you. Watch over you. And guide you until you leave this broken world and enter into the eternal joy of the new creation. Away from all sin and danger. And forever with your glorious and beautiful Creator and God. Let’s pray.