ONCE SAVED, ALWAYS SAVED
There are many Charismatic Christians and other denominational groups who believe it is possible to lose one's salvation after having been saved. Then, others, mostly the more Conservative side of the Church, believe that once you are born again, it is a permanent thing.
I don’t like the idea of stating a mere opinion on this very important subject, for surely the Bible teaches that only one of these conclusions can be right. As Christians, we should not be easily swayed by any view which would set Scripture at odds against itself, as all erroneous doctrines invariably do. According to 2 Timothy 2:15, we are charged to:
"Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth." (My emphasis.)
There are a few Biblical passages that may seem to imply that a person is responsible to maintain his own eternal destiny once he has been saved. But when “rightly divided”, we’ll see this is not at all the case. Probably the most difficult-to-understand Scriptures relating to this subject, and yet the most often used by non-eternal-security (NES) believers to defend their position, are found in Hebrews 5 & 6. So, let's begin right at the heart of the issue:
"Though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered. And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him,..." (Hebrews 5: 8 & 9)
These verses tell us that the Son, Jesus Christ, learned to be perfectly obedient, and consequently became the “author of eternal salvation” for all those who would “obey Him”. Now, if we take this information and attempt to apply it to spirit salvation it may appear on the surface that a Christian must have unwavering obedience in order to maintain his heavenly destiny, which is what spirit salvation provides. But the Greek word which the translators call "eternal" means perpetual. That is, on-going, not simply forever as often interpreted. As was discussed at great length in book 1, soul salvation is a progressive matter. In the above text, "eternal salvation" pertains to the soul's salvation. It is on-going and any improvement in the soul life does indeed require obedience.
To understand what God's Word is really teaching here, we must keep the verses within the context of the passage as well as the overall theme of what the Bible says about salvation.
In the verses preceding 8 & 9 (see verse 6) and following in verse 10, we are taught that Jesus was made a perfect high priest for those who believe in Him, His priesthood being "according to the order of Melchizedek,..." Now this is not an easy concept to grasp and the writer is emphasizing this fact in verse 11:
"...of whom we have much to say, and hard to explain, (Why?) since you have become dull of hearing."
Based on the language, it appears clear that the writer (likely Paul) to these Hebrew Christians indicates that he was having a tough time getting his message across to them. He goes on to explain why this was so in verses 12 - 14:
12 "For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food.
13 For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe.
14 But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil."
So, what we have here are strong disciplinary words against the early Hebrew Christians who were, through disobedience, still at an early (milk stage) level of spiritual maturity. The writer was saying that he would like to be imparting deeper insight to them (i.e., strong meat), but that it was hard to get through because they had become 'dull of hearing'. The dullness was caused by not thinking and practicing Christian teachings and principles correctly, and obviously not understanding that productive faith required obedience as a way of life.
We are not being told that the milk-stage Christians could lose their spirit salvation. Rather, the emphasis is that they had failed to
become teachers because:
1. they did not themselves have the ability to understand deeper truths,
2. they were unskilled in the 'word of righteousness', i.e., they did not fully comprehend the fact that their right-standing with God was something they owned by being in Christ (the former English spelling of righteousness was right-wise-ness, which better conveys the real meaning of this text — i.e., correct wisdom),
3. they did not have the ability to discern 'good and evil' (i.e., to know things from God's perspective),
In short, their spiritual growth was stunted.
CONCLUSIONS OF THE MAIN EMPHASIS OF HEBREWS CHAPTER 5
If God had given chapter headings, this one might appropriately be, "THE REASON FOR LACK OF SOULISH SPIRITUAL MATURITY IS DISOBEDIENCE".
The main emphasis found here is that new Christians will remain at an immature level of spiritual growth if they do not exercise obedience to Christ and follow His ways as revealed in the Holy Scriptures.
Clearly, loss of the hope of spirit salvation (i.e., heaven being a Christian's destiny) after having believed and being saved is not the theme nor the implication of this chapter. There are many passages which plainly say that spirit salvation is assuredly permanent. Here are a couple of good ones:
"All that the Father giveth Me shall come to Me: And him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out." (John 6:37)
"And I give unto them eternal life: and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand." (John 10:28)
Jesus Christ made both these statements and they unmistakably reveal the permanence of salvation, once received. When an understanding is so plainly given as this, we must use it to establish our basic convictions before interpreting other Scriptures which may seem to say something to the contrary. Then we can more reasonably evaluate the more difficult-to-grasp passage to see what it is, in fact, saying. This is precisely what the admonition 'rightly dividing' the Word of God means. Approaching Scripture this way will invariably show the tougher passage to actually be teaching something entirely different than a mere glance taken out of context might seem to reveal.
Let me share another verse of particular importance:
"In whom ye also trusted (i.e., in Jesus), after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory." (Ephesians 1:13&14)
As covered earlier, a key word here is sealed. The Greek word is sphragizo. It means to stamp for security and preservation. It also implies that once sealed you are sealed forever! Whatever is inside the seal can't get out, and no evil can touch it. That which is sealed here into one’s spirit is the new man. And he is sealed into Christ! It is impossible for any human to break the seal of God, not even the believer himself.
Another key word here denoting permanence is earnest. The Greek word for earnest is arrhabon, which was a pledge of money, as in a down payment on a piece of property, which was to act as security until the whole amount would be paid later. Once God (the Guaranteer) is in you, spiritually you are a new person, a new man. And nothing anyone can do, including oneself, can disrupt this permanent transaction. The breaking of this seal is done only by Almighty God. The new man cannot reject himself because he is God’s son, actually similar to Jesus, God’s begotten Son. That which has been born of God could never reject God, for to do so would be the same as if God denied Himself. As covered earlier, the new man in one’s spirit (who is the positional representative of our new God-like nature) does not sin, whereas, soulishly, people can and do still sin.
Recapping previous chapters, you and I are triune in nature — spirit, soul and body. When one is born again, his/her spirit is sealed, not the soul or body. Imbedded in the spirit is the seed of God, referred to by the apostle Paul as the new man. No sin gets to this part of a saved man or woman. It is a truth that must be "reckoned" as so. The whole man — spirit, soul and body — becomes God’s property at initial salvation, but only the spiritual new man of a Christian is sealed and perfect from the very moment one is initially saved.
I think the reason folks who believe you can lose your salvation get so upset at us eternal-security believers is because the Bible is filled with commands for believers to be obedient. The Bible does teach that only by diligent faithfulness can one hope to be an 'overcomer'. So, they conclude, it must be possible to turn away from God, otherwise there would be no need for God to insist on our being obedient!
There is indeed a certain logic to this. However, the point that is missed is this: God's commands for us to be obedient are not for the purpose of us maintaining our eternal destiny once we are in Christ. God's design for being obedient is to make sure that we bring our souls and bodies into as close alignment as possible with our already-sealed and eternally-secured spirit!
Christian friends, absorb these last few paragraphs and you'll experience a whole new freedom and lack of worry insofar as where you are going when you die. It is very stabilizing and motivational for the soul-mind to become convinced about what God has already done in the born-from-above new man.
You can see that the guidelines followed in this brief analysis of the main points of Hebrews 5 are not complicated. Any Christian can do it. Read the verses again very carefully and look up the meanings of key words in a concordance and Greek dictionary. If what you discover goes against what you have been taught, don't worry about it. Just take what you learn, submit it to the Holy Spirit (Who is in you) and move on.
This may be hard at first because convictions are usually deep-seated, having been put there by believing the conclusions of the founding fathers of a particular group, who are often so revered that their followers find it difficult to believe they could possibly have been mistaken in their interpretations. Some people hold onto traditions of men rather than Spirit-led, Biblical evaluations. Believe what God's Word says and you won't go wrong, nor will you be easily led astray again. Be a Berean.
Now let's move on to Hebrews 6, a chapter which seems to be even more misunderstood.
The key passage under consideration are verses 1 - 6. I'll start with verses 1 - 3:
1 "Therefore, leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection, NOT LAYING AGAIN the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God.
2 Of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment.
3. And this will we do, if God permit."
The thrust here are commands to: move on --- don't quit --- keep at it --- don't give up, etc. Grasp this point from the outset and it will help you 'rightly divide' the rest.
I wrestled with this passage for years before arriving at what I believe to be a correct analysis. I've read and listened to numerous commentaries from both sides of the aisle on this passage and have yet to hear one that agrees exactly with my current view. It isn’t necessary to discuss all the details of how God led me through the maze to reach my present convictions but let me hit the highlights.
After many careful readings of this passage, I came to several, fundamental conclusions:
1. The people to whom the writer is speaking must have been Christians, because they had already experienced 'repentance from dead works' (which means a willing turn from self-motivated ways towards God's way of salvation — i.e., from humanistic self-worth — to Christ).
2. This chapter indicates that the writer was admonishing the Hebrew believers (the same group as in chapter 5) about wrong practices, followed by encouraging words on how to straighten things out. This is the pattern found in many of the epistles. (I’ve often been surprised to discover that it isn’t always easy to find all the details of why a biblical author was disciplining the believers. Sometimes it requires diligent digging in God's Word to uncover the revelation, as is true here in Hebrews.)
3. After many readings and meditation, I became convinced that the leaders of these Jewish Christians were insisting that when believers fell back into sin and their former ways, they must start over again from the very first step in the Christian life. It was the heart and thrust of the whole chapter that first formed the basis of this conclusion, not a specific verse or point in a passage. However, I hoped for something more specific to nail it down.
4. Then one day I saw three little words right in the very first verse which added great support to my conclusions. (I have no idea how I had missed it. Has that ever happened to you? You've read a section of Scripture hundreds of times and then one day — WHAM! — a verse just leaps off the page at you and the whole passage just comes alive with new meanings. That is what happened one day when, after many previous readings, I decided to take another look at Hebrews 6.)
The three words I saw were NOT LAYING AGAIN. Eureka! I suddenly realized that no longer did I have to lean only on an overall, general impression. What I had formerly believed was correct. But what had somehow escaped me was an exact confirming piece of the puzzle right in the context which had been there staring me in the face all along.
Now let me explain how potent this really is. The only reason that the writer to the Hebrew Church would issue the command "not laying again" is if they were in fact doing that very thing! Get it? The Church leaders had obviously been insisting that believers repent again, or re-do something — i.e., "laying again" some act or command that had already been accomplished. The Holy-Spirit-inspired author knew that this was a gross violation of God's principles-of-order in the Church.
Look again at verse 1. After saying, "let us go on to perfection...", the author tells of six specific things to not lay again relative to the foundation of the Christian faith:
1. repentance from dead works
2. faith toward God
3. doctrine of baptisms
4. laying on of hands
5. resurrection of the dead
6. and eternal judgment
What is he saying here? Very simple. He's outlining the Biblical Gospel, showing the customary, progressive steps a saved person learns and experiences as he moves into the normal Christian life. The writer could have gone on and described every aspect of Christian maturity. But he named these 6 just to give all believers in Christ an idea of where he was coming from (#s 5&6 are of course yet future). The purpose was to prepare us for what he is about to say in the next several verses. We need those verses now:
4 "For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Spirit,
5 And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the age to come,
6 If they shall fall away, TO RENEW THEM AGAIN unto repentance, seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame."
This is the passage which has been so terribly abused by many Christians. Ironically, the writer wrote these detailed instructions to get rid of heretical teaching, but it has continued on even to our day. Some people still mess this passage up so badly you would think they weren't even saved! [But that's not necessarily true. I'm convinced many Christians simply believe wrongly here.]
"For it is impossible...". This phrase has been the source of much stumbling and theological debate. Some use it as proof that it's possible for a person to be saved and then lose it forever due to some kind of disobedience or departure from God. They also pervert verse 6 which says,"If they shall fall away...", believing that the word “if” implies one could fall away permanently. This is not at all what is being taught here.
Now let me walk you through these verses, keeping strongly in mind what we have already learned in Hebrews, chapter five, and verses 1, 2, and 3 here in chapter six.
Notice how careful the author was to point out who he is talking about — "those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and made partakers of the Holy Spirit, And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the age to come,...". My friends, these are Christian people! Christians are the only ones who have "tasted" all these things. (A well-known, highly-influential, Bible scholar, a man I greatly respected, now deceased, taught that all these things can be experienced by the unsaved. I disagree. Please read again the above six points which these believers must not lay again. These are the very foundational principles of the Christian faith.)
For sure, the author IS saying that something is impossible to happen to believers who "fall away". But what exactly is impossible? Does it mean to save them again if they fall too far, as the non-eternal-security folks believe? They get hung up on the phrases “it is impossible" and "if they shall fall away". To them, this means believers can fall to the impossible-renewal-level, therefore, resulting in permanent loss of salvation.
We must look at these instructions very, very carefully. The writer has already laid out a sequence of statements before the "impossible" comment to make sure we follow his logic. Remember the six points in verses 1 & 2, of which he said "NOT LAYING AGAIN". Well, in verse 6, he picks out one of those 6 (the first one) to not lay again. Note it: "It is impossible for those who were once enlightened (i.e., saved) to renew them again to repentance...".
So what is he saying? Simply this: that it is impossible to take a person back to one of the first stepping stones (i.e., repentance) relative to the new birth. That is, after one has exercised faith and repented from his former ways, you don’t take him back to that same point again.
The writer could also have said it is impossible to renew a Christian to the level of baptism, laying on of hands, or any other act or ordination the believer has already experienced. He obviously chose to speak of repentance and faith because those are the initial steps that should occur soon after spirit salvation.
Seen in this light, the inference we should see is that the Hebrew leaders were obviously insisting that believers start their pilgrimage all over again when they sinned beyond what they decided was acceptable behavior. Well, this is absurd. And that is precisely what the author is saying. One shouldn't "lay again" something that has already been laid. In fact, the author said, “it's impossible”! Once again we see Biblical evidence of what happens by not understanding the difference between spirit and soul salvation.
This analogy is an exact parallel of what the writer of Hebrews 6 meant in verse 1 when he said, "let us go on unto perfection NOT LAYING AGAIN...". What's the message? "Don't be so foolish as to go back to door #1 when you are already at #3, #4, — or wherever. You should determine your present location, then move on."
But God's instruction doesn't stop there. He goes on to give us the net effect of attempting to go back to the level of 'repentance from dead works'. To do such a thing is to "...crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame." What does this mean? It is to count the crucifixion of Jesus as inadequate to save and to keep those who have trusted Him as Lord and Savior. That is, if one tries to be saved twice, in essence he is believing that Jesus Christ's crucifixion, plus his personal trust in it, is not good enough to maintain his spirit salvation. It's like saying, "Well, it didn't 'take' the first time (made obvious by continuing sin) so let's do it all over again. Maybe we can get it right next time."
Those early Hebrew Christians (and some today) had shallow understanding of God’s true salvation. They obviously thought sinful practices proved that salvation had been lost, and therefore must be regained. This belief totally misses the concept that perfection [in this life] is the seed of God, the new man, which is implanted into the spirit of a believer at the new birth. It is a spiritual grain. Rather than seeing that progression in the faith is from the inside out (i.e., growth sparked by the super-natural new man within the spirit, then fueled and worked out through the soul and body), they wanted to keep everything at the natural plane. So, when they saw unacceptable sin in a believer's life again, their mistaken idea was to start over 'from scratch'.
This was, and is, a return to legalism — a tendency that prevailed in the early Church and continues among some churches today. This is "dead works" at its best. It is just as wrong to assume we can live sinless after savingly encountering the cross, as it was to assume the Israelites could live perfectly under the old Law. The thing that is better now under the new Covenant is that God has now written His laws into our hearts. The spiritual new man of the Christian is perfectly-made and perfectly-kept — in Christ. The problem though, and the stumbling block for many, is that the newly-created man must live in the same body using the same brain (where memory and old ways reside) as he had before regeneration occurred in the spirit. This is precisely why Romans 12:2 says:
"...be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God."
Paul is saying here that one proves [in the natural] Who is living on the inside of him (the Holy Spirit) by manifesting things that reflect God's nature. But to do this requires a renewing of the mind, which is done by taking the Word of God through the mind on a continual basis. This is known as the washing of regeneration. It doesn't mean we wash away our sins; Jesus did that. The purpose here is to remove old tendencies, replacing them with new, Christ-like characteristics as much as possible. Anywhere God's Word flows, cleansing results.
Even though we can never achieve total perfection in our present bodies, we most definitely can improve our behavior sufficiently to exhibit outwardly what has already occurred inwardly. This is how we grow in wisdom. As man, even Jesus grew in wisdom (Luke 2:52). And our growth occurs exactly the same way as His did — taking true knowledge in through our minds. Except for His God-nature, the only functional difference between Jesus' human nature and ours (after the seed of God is in us) is that His flesh was innately-sinless.
So, the net effect of asking someone who has become backslidden and carnal to re-establish his spiritual foundation, is to reduce the sacrifice of Jesus and His shed blood to an insufficient level to remove sin. To do this, as the Scripture in Hebrews 6 plainly says, is the same as crucifying Jesus a second time. This is what puts Christ to an "open shame".
What is the "open shame"? Well, it’s exercising precisely what the Hebrews were doing: demanding that Christians go through the same ‘doors’ repeatedly. Whether they knew it or not, their error demonstrated to the whole world around them that slaying the Lamb of God was a failure. Obviously, this was, and is, of the devil. Satan is the culprit who spreads the lie that Jesus and His Gospel doesn't work and has no holding power.
BACK NOW TO HEBREWS 6: 4-6
It's a self-defeating argument to interpret this particular Scripture to mean one can become unsaved. If one takes that position, the language demands the conclusion that it is impossible to ever be saved again! And to believe that there is ever a time before death that anyone can't turn to Christ for salvation just won't stand up in light of all New Testament teaching. Whether regarding a person before initial salvation or a believer involved in sin, the requirement to be saved, or restored, is a repentant heart of the sinner who is looking with a believing heart only to the Messiah for His forgiveness, deliverance and salvation.
My friends, the whole saving message of Christianity is based on the grace of God. Remember, God's grace has two aspects: first, it is the unmerited favor of God (spirit salvation); second, grace also provides the desire and power to do His will (soul salvation). God didn't have to save any of us. He chose to do it and has worked out a plan to accomplish the task. Both types of grace are His to bestow, and ours to receive.
Jesus became sin in humanity's behalf. And when He did, it was a total and complete work demanded by God's Holy character. The deed was ample to represent the sins of all time, for all people. The sin which He was "made" at the cross covered (actually removed) every sinful act and every evil deed, but becomes effectual only to those who believe and receive the message and the Messenger.
God was so pleased with Jesus' obedience that He raised Him from the dead. He is now the exalted Savior-God who heads and leads all those who believe in Him. And He throws none back once they are His; not even the ones who sin after being saved. There is no possibility of cancellation of God's unmerited grace which has been accomplished inside the spirit. All spiritually-saved people will go to heaven. However, God's grace relative to the soul is another story. The power in our spirit is due to the presence of the "new man". This power comes alive as we exercise our will and faith to "work out our own (soul) salvation". Spirit salvation is permanent. It's a done deal. Spirit salvation leads to soul salvation. The believer participates in large measure in the salvation of his soul. Remember, the soul really refers to our very life which can be seen by others. Now, let's look at a few more confirming verses in Hebrews:
7 "For the earth which drinketh in the rain that cometh oft upon it, and bringeth forth herbs for them by whom it is dressed, receiveth blessing from God:
8 But that which beareth thorns and briers is rejected, and is nigh unto cursing; whose end is to be burned.
9 But, beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, and THINGS THAT ACCOMPANY SALVATION, though we thus speak."
What can be learned here? The rain symbolizes the Holy Spirit and the earth pictures the people on whom the rain falls. Let’s spiritualize what we know about earth, rain, grain and growth. Rain falls on the earth and provides nourishment for the good seeds (the spiritually saved) which are planted therein, and consequently, we would expect good fruits to result. But that same rain also falls on some earth in which there is found thorns and briers (the unsaved); naturally, no farmer would be interested in harvesting such a crop. Neither would God.
Yes, once the Holy Spirit seals a person, good fruits should result in his life. But, if instead his life is producing thorns and briers, he is acting the same as an unsaved person. The writer of Hebrews is saying how spiritually-abnormal it is for a Christian's life to bear the same kind of fruit as those whose "end is to be burned", i.e., the unsaved.
The author's point here is with regards to Christians who were living much like those who will be cursed. But it doesn't mean that wavering Christians were coming close to ending up in hell forever. The inference is that they were living like those who will. The unsaved (the "cursed") shall spend eternity in hell.
But it must also be recognized that the works of the saved, which is of "thorns and briers" quality, shall likewise be burned. The clear inference pictures the absurdity of Christian living which parallels that of the unsaved.
The actual time and place of these negative consequences will probably occur at the Judgment Seat of Christ. It is no small thing that the works of believers whose lives are bearing "thorns and briers" will be burned. (See verse 8. See also again 1 Corinthians 3: 9-17.) Both these passages indicate that a "burning" of some kind will affect unfaithful and carnal Christians. Is this possibly what is being described in Revelation 21:7&8?
"He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son. But the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and sexually immoral and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death."
We've all been taught that this refers only to the unsaved. But, let’s take a close look at the passage. It begins with "He who overcomes..." Overcoming is not altogether guaranteed subsequent to the new birth. It is accomplished through active faith. As we have noted in Philippeans 2:12&13, Christians must work out the salvation of their own souls. Is it not possible that those who don't and become "cowardly" and "unbelieving" (which means being unfaithful), or if they participate in any of the other abominations listed here, could have their works burned in this “lake of fire”? I’m not being dogmatic here, but we must note that it doesn't say that this group will be here forever; it says they will "have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone,...".
I realize the above understanding will shock many readers. But most of us have too often heard sermons and teachings that everything in the Christian life, including inheritance and rewards, etc., is altogether the result of unmerited grace extended to the believer. Actually, the result of this belief and teaching opens the door to slothfulness. (This subject will be discussed further in Part IV.) But, insofar as the spirit is concerned, to nail it down even further that the writer is also teaching eternal security here, look again at verse 9:
"But beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, and THINGS THAT ACCOMPANY SALVATION, though we thus speak."
The tone of the author is encouragement to those 'baby' Christians, not discouragement. He's not telling them that they had lost their eternal destiny, or that it is even possible to do such a thing. That's why he ends the sentence by saying “though we thus speak”. In today's lingo, we might say the writer had just made a 'tongue-in-cheek' statement. Surely he fully realized that what he had just said would put the fear of God in them, which was obviously part of his purpose. But regarding their salvation, he wanted them to know he was 'persuaded' that “things that accompany salvation” were already potentially residing in their "new man". True, the believers were being alerted as to their need to stimulate their spiritual lives through faithful activity. This is further spelled out in the next 3 verses:
10 "For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have shewed toward his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister.
11 And we desire that every one of you do shew the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end:
12 That ye be not slothful, but followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises."
Another key to understanding the overall thrust of Hebrews 5 & 6 is wrapped up in that last phrase “inherit the promises”. Even though one's spirit is sealed for eternity once he is in Christ, God will not be mocked by disobedient living. He will withhold the blessings in this life from those who refuse to be diligent with that which has been entrusted to them. All nine fruits of the Spirit (see Galatians 5:22&23) are already living on the inside of every believer. But they do not rise to the surface automatically (to expect that, according to this Scripture, is nothing more than being slothful). Fruits are made to come alive by faith, patience and diligent activity. Those who do this will inherit the promises in this age, as well as lay up treasures in the yet-to-come Kingdom age. And if we aren't faithful, our souls will reap the negative harvests, both now and in the coming age.
You see, God doesn't save us just to avoid hell, or just to reap the benefits in heaven some day. He wants us to act like covenanted children of His...NOW...even while still living in sin-prone flesh. Unfortunately, many Christians appear to not have the slightest idea of what this means.
Although some of their beliefs and actions may be off base, Charismatics often manifest a higher degree of zealousness than Conservatives do. This shows because of their efforts to see the fruits of the Spirit manifested among themselves. I believe God honors them in this area because of their desire to express joy in the Lord. However, the weak point among some Charismatics who have been taught wrongly, is that they have not yet seen the permanent thing that has already taken place in one's spirit man. The misunderstanding is made evident by their insistence that one's freewill allows him/her the ability to reject what he once possessed. This is utterly wrong and totally discounts the finality and completeness of Jesus' work on the cross of Calvary. Our will became subject to God's will in our new man when we were born from above. And that new attitude in the new man will never again go against God's will. It can't. God can be counted on to keep the new man which is a new creation in one’s spirit, which is His forever-sealed property.
In recent years, we have all seen the evidence of a few unshackled Charismatics (who shall remain nameless). I'm convinced that part of the reason for their downfall stemmed from the fact that they held onto the doctrine of non-eternal security for so long that God finally allowed their erroneous-bent to manifest itself: that is, their conviction that they personally hold the power of maintaining their security, rather than depending on the staying-power of Almighty God.
'SIN UNTO DEATH' & 'THE UNPARDONABLE SIN'
Non-eternal security folks will say that the Bible teaches that it is possible for a Christian to commit the 'unpardonable sin' (sometimes confused with 'sin unto death'). This has already been discussed in book one, but it doesn’t hurt to be repetitious, so let me summarize again what I believe these terms mean.
'Sin unto death' comes from this passage:
"If any man see his brother sinning a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it." 1 John 5:16.
In this passage, the apostle John is talking about how Christians should pray for other Christians who are discovered to be living in some kind of continual sin.
There are times when Christians sin ignorantly and they need to have their sin pointed out to them. This kind of sin is not 'unto death'. In fact, John tells us that prayers rendered by faithful-Christians for weaker brothers and sisters will result in life given to them. Now what does it mean for God to grant life to others because of prayers offered in their behalf by faithful Christians?
The answer to this is very simple and common. When we pray for the needs of others, or pray regarding the sins they are committing ignorantly, God gives a positive response to these prayers because of the right-standing of those interceding. For example, Jesus demonstrated this when He prayed for Peter, that his faith would not fail him in the end. Peter later rose up and was counted righteous for his faithfulness to the cause of Christ. Jesus' life-giving prayer worked. The promise in John's epistle here is the same for righteous [i.e., right-standing] Christians who pray for wavering saints.
But what about the statement which refers to the 'sin unto death' and that we shouldn't even pray for it? This refers to severe sin of which the believer is fully aware but refuses to repent of it. Paul also addresses this kind of situation in 1 Cor. 5:1-5. [I won't quote all of it here but the reader is advised to read the passage at this time.]
A Christian man in the Corinthian Church was having sexual relations with his father's wife (perhaps a young step-mother) and some of the members were actually boasting about it. Paul's instruction to the Church was:
"To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus." 1 Corinthians 5:5.
I believe that this is a perfect illustration of what John was talking about when he used the expression 'sin unto death'.
The Bible says that the wages of sin is death (see Romans 6:23). Paul is simply lining up his instructions with this spiritual law when he says to turn one over to Satan for destruction of the flesh. When a person is committing such awful sin as that man was, he is to be turned out of the local church so that his influence won't have a negative effect on others.
The purpose in turning one over to the devil is the hope that the sinning brother will eventually recognize his wrongdoing and repent. This is a last-measure, disciplinary action. Of course, initially, proper disciplinary warning and admonition should precede the last-stage 'turning over to Satan'.
Notice the word 'that' which precedes 'the spirit may be saved'. This seems to indicate that a certain self-imposed spiritual law of God would be violated if the person WAS NOT turned over to Satan. God has set up definite boundaries for both believers and Himself when Christians commit certain sins. This is what I believe to be the case described in this passage: God will allow Satan to attack a sinning Christian, but in return, will not allow the new man’s spirit to be affected. God knows very well that the eternal consequences upon one's sealed spirit are far more important than the temporal consequences are upon one's mind, will, emotions, and body in this life. In other words, Satan gets the privilege of attacking the sinning believer’s human life (the body and soul). But, according to this Scripture, God holds on to the spirit. Carefully read again 1 Cor. 5:5 above to see that this is exactly what it says. Once again, we see that God’s Word confirms that the doctrine of eternal security is true for the sealed spirit.
CONCLUSION: "Sin unto death" refers to death of the flesh in this life. That death may be partial — meaning sicknesses, accidents and/or mental turmoil; or it may be complete — meaning physical death. But it does not refer to spiritual death or have anything to do with loss of eternal destiny. It would also seem appropriate to see that death of the soul-life is in view here. We (the saved) can either reckon the old man as dead (as Paul instructs in many places) and turn from our sin, i.e., put to death the old-man’s sinful ways in the here and now, or wait and watch the soulish destruction at the Judgment Seat of Christ, which will be worse because at that time one's rewards will be diminished.
BUT ISN'T THERE AN 'UNPARDONABLE SIN'?
If a Christian can commit unforgivable sin, then the NES believers have the truth and the rest of us must bow the knee to their doctrine. But as has already been substantially shown, the seed of God which is in the spirit of a Christian could never deny Christ. Let's look at the passage which speaks of the unpardonable sin:
"But he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation. Because they said, He hath an unclean spirit." Mark 3:29&30.
Note, according to Jesus, the blasphemy which is unforgivable refers to sin against the Holy Spirit rather than against the Father or Son. Why would this be so? Certainly it doesn't mean that the Holy Spirit has sovereign authority over the Father or the Son. Indeed, in this age, it's just the opposite as shown in this verse:
"Howbeit, when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth; for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come." John 16:13.
Therefore, as is always true when a single verse seems to be contrary to the whole thrust of Scripture, we must look very carefully at the context of the passage to determine what is actually being taught. (Please read now, Mark 3:22-30.)
Let me summarize the scene: The scribes had accused Jesus of casting out demons by the power of the "prince of devils" (Satan). Jesus went on to explain that, if this were true, Satan would be fighting against his own household, which would be self-defeating. (Even Satan is not that stupid.) Jesus concludes by saying that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit cannot be forgiven. Now what does this actually mean?
The obvious, literal meaning is that if one says that Jesus was indwelt and empowered by an evil spirit, surely he is presently an unbeliever so cannot be forgiven this. But on the other hand, we know that the total thrust of Scripture indicates that God will always hear a truly-repentant heart. So, what then can we say to explain what other truth Jesus was really teaching here? There must be a deeper application of this mystery. Here's what I believe it means:
The only perfect, supernatural being in the universe today who speaks the mind of God is the Holy Spirit. The Father is on the throne. Jesus is at His right hand. But the Holy Spirit was sent here to convict the world of sin, righteousness and coming judgement, and to guide believers into all truth. Through Him, we have the Bible and access to Almighty God. Take away the Holy Spirit and we have nothing in this age that links us with God’s heavenly realm. So, if one denies the power of the Spirit, Who has been sent to teach and seal believers in Jesus, there remains no other authority to go for truth, forgiveness, or anything which can connect us to God.
We must remember that even though Jesus was fully incarnate-Deity, by His Own testimony He used His unction of the Holy Spirit rather than His Deity to accomplish miracles, etc. To deny this, or to attribute the work He did to the devil, is unforgivable. (See also John 5:19.)
Here's the bottom line of the picture which is set before us in this passage. To say that Jesus was using the power of Beelzebub (devil power) is the same as saying Jesus was a liar and that you believe there is no truth in Him. To say this is like any kind of unbelief — it will keep one in bondage to sin and from entering heaven.
This is not really complicated once it is thought through carefully. Unbelief comes in many colors. It thus appears that Jesus took the situation Mark describes and used it to teach a particular form of unbelief. Sustained unbelief is unforgivable. But, what if one changes his mind about what he formerly thought motivated Jesus (i.e., he repents)? Will God forgive him?
Look again at verse 29: Jesus ended the sentence with "...is in danger of eternal damnation". Now if there was no possibility of God changing His mind about this blasphemy, Jesus wouldn't have said 'in danger of'. To be in danger of something is a warning. The purpose of a warning is to cause one to turn around and go the other way. If it was impossible for one to repent who once said Jesus was operating in some supernatural power other than from God, Jesus would more likely have said something that implied 'one shall go to hell if this sin is ever committed and there is no changing that fact'.
But He didn't say that, did He? No, and the most likely reason He said 'in danger of' was to point out that if you don't change that attitude, you will indeed go to eternal damnation (hell). It's dangerous business to remain in unbelief. Jesus was pointing out just how severe unbelief really is. The fact is, any kind of non-reliance on Jesus and the work He came and did 2,000 years ago, is virtually the same as saying, "Jesus, your work is of the devil!" Unbelief like this, stated-outwardly or believed-inwardly, will send one to hell unless his/her mind and attitude is changed.
CONCLUSION: The 'unpardonable sin' does indeed refer to eternal consequences. Put in simplest terms, 'not trusting in Jesus as Savior will insure that one will avoid heaven and go to hell'. Part of trusting in Jesus is to believe that He operated through the power of the Holy Spirit. True believers must do likewise. And if one doesn't, he is personally keeping the Holy Spirit from saving and sealing him. If one refuses the Spirit of God, he has not believed the warning sign 'in danger of'. Yes, there is unpardonable sin. It means to not believe in Jesus. One way to demonstrate lack of trust in Jesus is to believe that He was not functioning in Holy Spirit power but rather in the power of God's primary enemy, Satan. It is impossible for a Christian to believe this because the Holy Spirit Himself already dwells in the believer. Thus, it is impossible for a Christian to commit the unpardonable sin. So, once again, we see eternal security confirmed. Praise the Name of Jesus!
OTHER CONFIRMING SCRIPTURES ON
I believe it is not merely a minor error but is actually a terrible heresy to teach that persons can lose their salvation permanently. There is only one individual who could possibly benefit from such thinking — the devil — whose doctrine I believe it is. Believing such unbiblical thoughts gives Satan the advantage of holding a person in spiritual bondage. How? By preventing him from simply confessing his sins in order to receive renewed spiritual vitality. Here's what God's Word says about a Christian who sins:
"If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." 1 John 1:8&9.
This instruction was given to believers; to those born-again persons who had received Jesus Christ as their Savior, just like you or I today. The Scripture plainly teaches that sin would remain a tendency in the lives of Christians, but that fellowship could be regularly renewed through confession of the sin. This verse is addressing one's current walk with Christ, not the new birth. When a Christian sins, the fellowship is disturbed, not the relationship. A person remains a child of God forever once he is one.
The permanence of salvation is also taught in the Old Testament. David knew this truth and expressed his awareness of it in Psalm 51:12. David had sinned terribly before the Lord, by committing adultery with Bathsheba and having set the stage for the death of her husband. But, Scripture makes it plain that the Psalmist had not lost his salvation when he cried:
"Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation: and uphold me with thy free spirit."
The key words here are 'joy' and 'thy'. David did not ask for his salvation to be restored, but that the joy of the Lord's salvation might be returned. Again, it was the fellowship which had been broken by David's sinfulness, not his hope of eternal life.
If we allow known sin to remain unconfessed in our lives, that makes us personally responsible for the loss of a joyful, abiding, daily-walk fellowship with God. This is the closest we can ever come to losing our link with God. I like the way Psalm 66:18 expresses this idea:
"If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me."
But, after true faith is exercised in Christ, and insofar as eternal spirit-salvation is concerned, God remains the Faithful One. That is not in our hands. Not now. Not ever. Psalm 3:8 says:
"Salvation belongeth unto the Lord..."
SUMMARY OF PART III
The message is clear. God's spirit salvation is perfect, pure, complete and permanent. The gospels teach it. The epistles teach it. Lastly [and more importantly], Jesus teaches it.
I do not want to leave the impression that since a Christian's eternal security is absolute, and totally in God's Hands, that one has some kind of license to sin with no need to worry about consequences. If one has this desire continually, this is strong reason for that individual to consider whether or not he has ever really made a sincere decision to believe in Christ and His Gospel. It just may be that God's wisdom in allowing this whole issue to be a bit hard to understand (i.e., eternal security, punishment and/or rewards at the Judgment Seat of Christ, etc.,) was to provide a strong stimulus for us to regularly appraise our fellowship with the Lord.
With these thoughts in mind, and with the knowledge that we are eternally secure in Christ, how foolish it is for us Christians not to faithfully obey God and, as a result, grow into the fullness of all that we can become, for both current and eternity sake.
Christians should praise the Lord for His strength, His obedience, His faith, His dependability, His righteousness, His holiness and His trustworthiness to hold and keep us, once we are in His hands. That's spirit salvation. Beyond spirit salvation lies soul salvation and we have plenty of work to do here, a lifetime of it. Remember, spirit and soul are not the same thing, nor are their salvations. God’s spiritual gift of life through the new man in our spirit can, at our option, lead to salvation of the soul, which is done through God-empowered, good works.