THE NECESSITY OF CHRISTIAN PERSEVERANCE
Can a born-again Christian fail to enter heaven? The answer is 'Yes'.
3,500 years ago, God sent Moses to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt (see the book of Exodus). Their deliverance is symbolic of a Christian's salvation from the penalty and power of sin. The penalty of sin (death) 'passed over' Israelites as they sacrificed their Passover lambs. Then the power of sin (slavery) was broken in their escape from Egypt through the Red Sea. Their next destination was to be the land promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. But before they could enter that 'Promised Land', they had to travel through a wilderness. God would use this wilderness journey to test their obedience, and to determine whether or not they were truly committed to doing what's right.
There God made for them a statute and an ordinance, and there He proved them, and said, "If you will diligently hearken to the voice of the Lord thy God, and will do that which is right in His sight, and will give ear to His commandments, and keep all His statutes, I will put none of these diseases upon you, which I have brought upon the Egyptians: for I am the Lord that heals you.
Then said the Lord unto Moses "Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you; and the people shall go out and gather a certain rate every day, that I may prove them, whether they will walk in my law, or no".
And you shall remember all the way which the Lord your God led you these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you, and to prove you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments, or no.
Deuteronomy 8:2 (see also Exodus 20:20, Deuteronomy 8:16)
The Israelites were still in danger of the same judgments that fell upon the Egyptians, and were not home yet. God loved them very much, but it was necessary to determine their love for God. Though many Christians understand that Israel's exodus from Egypt is a picture of God's salvation, they often overlook the second phase of that salvation:
Let My people go, that they may serve Me in the wilderness.
Exodus 7:16, 8:1,20, 9:1,13, 10:3
Israel's rebellion against God is a matter of history. It is described in Deuteronomy 32, and Psalms 78, 95 and 106. God warns Christians that they need to learn from the experience of the Israelites (I Corinthians 9:24-10:14, Hebrews 3:7-4:13, Jude 5). Contrary to what many are taught, a Christian's entry into heaven is not a certainty:
Now all these things happened unto them for examples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come. Wherefore let him that thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.
1 Corinthians 10:11-12
The baptism of Jesus Christ (by John the Baptist, Matthew 3:13-4:11) is also a picture of the Christian life. Baptism is a symbol of the new birth through union with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection (see
For we have not an high priest (Jesus) which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.
This message, that a born-again Christian can lose his salvation, ultimately prompts the following question: 'Is it fair that one Christian, who might die soon after his conversion, would go to heaven while another Christian, who lives longer and experiences various temptations and trials, might stray from the Lord and go to hell?'
The Lord Jesus answered this question through the parable of 'The Workers in the Vineyard' (Matthew 20:1-16). He told the story of a landowner who went out at various times of the day to hire workers. Some were hired early in the day, for an agreed wage. Others were hired at midday, and some very late in the day. At sunset they were all paid the same wage. Those who worked little were paid the same as those who worked much. When those who worked longest complained about the seeming unfairness of this arrangement, the landowner replied that they had received the wage that they had agreed to.
This principle also applies to Christians. When a person becomes a Christian, he agrees to God's 'terms of employment'. A true Christian is one who has not only come to Christ for the forgiveness of his sins, but one who has also agreed with God about the wickedness of sin, and the necessity that he be delivered from the sin in his life. Whether we live long or briefly, we must continue to honor those terms. Some people become Christians at an early age, and must live out long lives of faithfulness to God. Others, like the thief on the cross, die soon after their conversion, and enter directly into heaven. The fact that God is more gracious to some workers does not mean that others are freed from the 'agreement' they reached with Him at the beginning of 'their day'. God's message is the same to all:
Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.
Genuine Christians already know the answer to the question posed in this web page. Why? Because every born-again Christian has already confessed that his sin is so wicked and evil, that he deserves to die. He has acknowledged that God must banish sin from His universe, and that there can be no compromising with it. When a sinner comes to agree with these things, the Bible calls it 'repentance'.
This is such an important and central truth, that I feel obligated to state it again. Sin is wickedness and rebellion against God, and hatred for one's fellow man. It is evil that merits death. This truth is repeated throughout the Bible:
The soul who sins shall die.
Ezekiel 18:4, 20
For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
This is a covenant understanding that every born-again Christian has reached with God before being united with Christ. God never saves anybody until they have agreed with Him about the horrid nature of sin. That is why, when Jesus was admonishing the church, He could say.....
Therefore let that abide in you which you heard from the beginning. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, you also will abide in the Son and in the Father.
1 John 2:24
Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent.
Both James and Peter describe unfruitful Christians as people who have forgotten the wickedness of their past sins, and as blind to what's most important in life.
For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.
For he who lacks these things (Christian virtues) is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins.
2 Peter 1:9
Though some might perceive this message as difficult and demanding, it actually describes a life that is very blessed and wonderful. A true Christian does not find God's commandments overwhelming. Because a Christian is indwelt by the Holy Spirit, 'God's commandments are His enablements'. Jesus is very patient and gentle with His people, and leads them as a caring Shepherd leads his sheep:
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures, He leads me beside the still waters, He restores my soul. He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name's sake.
Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.
No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.
1 Corinthians 10:13
Therefore, in all things He (Jesus) had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted.
Indeed we count them blessed who endure. You have heard of the perseverance of Job and seen the end intended by the Lord - that the Lord is very compassionate and merciful.
For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome, for whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world- our faith. Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?
1 John 5:3-5
When God brought the Israelites out of Egypt, He established the Mosaic Covenant with them. That covenant entailed more than a requirement that God's moral law, the 10 commandments, be obeyed. It also contained a priesthood and sacrificial laws by which people who had sinned in ignorance could find forgiveness and restoration to a right relationship with God.
The same twofold relationship exists between Christians and God today. We are obligated to fulfill God's moral law. But at the same time we have a High Priest in heaven, Jesus Christ, who can intercede for us when we come short. We must realize, however, that there are limitations to what that High Priest can do for us if we disobey God wilfully and knowingly.
Oftentimes newborn Christians are struck by the tremendous grace and mercy of God; a grace that led Him to give His only Son in order to save His enemies from destruction (Romans 5:10). From this great love they conclude that God's grace will cover all of their sins, regardless of what they do. They forget that this forgiveness and new life were given conditionally, upon repentance about their sins and belief of the truth (faith).
Someone might quote Romans 6:23, pointing out that salvation is a gift:
For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Yes, salvation is a gift, but it is not an unconditional gift. It is given upon our agreement with God about sin. His gift is deliverance from the penalty and power of sin, with the understanding that we will use that gift righteously, and in His service. People give gifts with 'strings attached' all of the time. It does not denigrate the generosity of the gift at all. When a parent gives his child a bicycle or car, he has the right to demand that it be used safely and wisely. When a governor sets an inmate free from prison or death, he has a right to demand that the prisoner be a decent citizen. God's salvation is just such a gift. A more noble and gracious gift could not be imagined; but to abuse it is to lose it. God's blessing comes hand-in-hand with His requirement that people turn from sin to righteousness. True Christians are both 'blessed' and 'holy':
When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her "Woman, where are your accusers? has no man condemned you?" She said "No man, Lord." And Jesus said unto her "Neither do I condemn you: go, and sin no more."
John 8:10-11 (see also John 5:1)
Blessed and holy is he that has part in the first resurrection: on such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.
The fact that God loves sinners, and has been willing to atone for their sins, does not mean that He can operate outside the requirements of the Law. The nature of God's love for His people is demonstrated in the story of Balak and Balaam (Numbers 22:5-24:25). Balak was the king of the Moabites, and he wanted to defeat Israel. He hired a prophet named Balaam as a consultant, and asked him to use his influence with God to curse Israel. But each time that Balaam approached God, God told him that Israel was blessed and loved. It was clear that God's love for Israel was great, and would not change.
Balaam loved money, but he could not obtain King Balak's gold unless he could figure out a way to bring God's curse upon Israel. Balaam knew that God would not change His mind about Israel, but that Israel might change its mind about God. So he told Balak how he could bring God's curse upon Israel. Balaam advised King Balak to tempt the Israelites to worship other gods, and to send attractive Moabite women into Israel's camp, seducing the Israelite men. Balak followed Balaam's advice, the Israelites turned away from God, and God's judgment fell upon them. Although God loved Israel, He could not overlook sin. He had to punish it.
The same thing is true today. Though God loves us, His love must operate within the demands of righteousness. Jesus has warned about those who follow in Balaam's footsteps, causing Christians to sin:
But I have a few things against you, because you have there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to cast a stumbling-block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication.
Revelation 2:14 (see also Revelation 2:20)
When most of us think about the Cross, we think primarily about God's forgiveness; about deliverance from the penalty of sin. But that is only one half of the Cross' purpose. The Cross also delivers people from the power of Sin by uniting them with Jesus in His death, burial and resurrection. The power of the Cross is to make new creations out of each one of us, enabling people to fully and properly obey the Law of God from the heart; through faith and the Holy Spirit.
Little children, let no one deceive you. He who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous. He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil.
1 John 3:7-8
Faithful ongoing obedience is God's requirement for salvation. We must be delivered from both the penalty and the power of sin in order to be saved. Are we talking about sinless perfection? No. Christians need the forgiveness of the Cross every day. But we must remember that God's grace is not unconditional. It is linked to our willingness to move away from our past sin, and toward the new life that He has given to us. The only way to continue in God's grace is to continue in His purpose; our sanctification (growth in holiness). Although He loves Christians, God cannot save them if they return to their old ways, and move themselves out of the safety of His love:
As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you: continue in my love. If you keep my commandments, you shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father's commandments, and abide in His love.
Now when the congregation was broken up, many of the Jews and religious proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas, who, speaking to them, persuaded them to continue in the grace of God.
Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in his goodness: otherwise you also shall be cut off.
But you, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.
Some will object to my use of the Vineyard parable above, pointing out that Christians are not saved 'through works', but through faith. Below are 3 verses that are frequently used to support this argument.
Now to him that works is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that works not, but believes on him that justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.
For by grace are you saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast.
Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, by the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit.
The important thing to realize is that, in these passages, the 'works' that Paul was talking about are 'works of the Law'; in other words, efforts to achieve righteousness through a knowledge of right and wrong (see
Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law (the works of the Law); you are fallen from grace. For we through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith. For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which works by love.
The fact that God rejects self-righteousness does not mean that He does not require real, personal righteousness. Forgiveness and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit are wonderful, gracious gifts from God. But they are also the tools God supplies for working in His vineyard. Once a person has received these gifts (or talents), God expects them to be used in His service, and has promised us a generous wage as a reward for our labors. After they are born again, people of faith must go to work for God, wanting to bless and enrich the One who has saved them, believing that the opportunity to proclaim the message of His grace to the rest of the world is the greatest privilege one can have.
Perhaps this transition 'from grace to work' is best seen in the Israelites. Their deliverance from death through the Passover, and from bondage to freedom through the Red Sea were purely of grace, and completely dependant upon the power of God. But having received this grace and liberty, they were commanded to apply them in God's service. They had work to do for God, and their refusal to do this work eventually led to their destruction.
Those who deny that eternal life is a reward for work should consider the following passages. Those who receive God's 'tools' or 'talents' and faithfully put them to use, will be rewarded:
After a long time the lord of those servants came and reckoned with them. And so he that had received five talents came and brought other five talents, saying "Lord, you delivered unto me five talents: behold, I have gained beside them five talents more." His lord said unto him "Well done, you good and faithful servant: you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things: enter into the joy of thy lord.
Those who have failed to put God's 'talents' to work will be cast out of His kingdom:
But his lord answered and said to him, 'You wicked and lazy servant, you knew that I reap where I have not sown, and gather where I have not scattered seed. So you ought to have deposited my money with the bankers, and at my coming I would have received back my own with interest'. So take the talent from him, and give it to him who has ten talents. For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
God's Kingdom is comprised of working Christians who strive for righteousness, and the reward that comes with it:
Do you not say, 'There are still four months and then comes the harvest'? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest! And he who reaps receives wages, and gathers fruit for eternal life, that both he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together. For in this the saying is true: 'One sows and another reaps.' I sent you to reap that for which you have not labored; others have labored, and you have entered into their labors.
Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.
1 Corinthians 15:58
I urge you, brethren - you know the household of Stephanas, that it is the firstfruits of Achaia, and that they have devoted themselves to the ministry of the saints - that you also submit to such, and to everyone who works and labors with us.
1 Corinthians 16:15-16
We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers, remembering without ceasing your work of faith, labor of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the sight of our God and Father.
1 Thessalonians 1:2-3
But, beloved, we are confident of better things concerning you, yes, things that accompany salvation, though we speak in this manner. For God is not unjust to forget your work and labor of love which you have shown toward His name, in that you have ministered to the saints, and do minister. And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope until the end, that you do not become sluggish, but imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.
"To the angel of the church of Ephesus write, 'These things says He who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands: "I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars; and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name's sake and have not become weary.
Then I heard a voice from heaven saying to me, "Write: 'Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.'" "Yes," says the Spirit, "that they may rest from their labors, and their works follow them."
Much more could be said about how Christians were once slaves of Sin, but are now slaves of God. The truth that a Christian is God's purchased possession, and is a 'bondslave' obligated to labor for Him, permeates the New Testament. But no one who understands the saving grace of God would describe Him as a cruel or unreasonable Slavemaster. To be owned by God is to be free from Sin, and to belong to the most wonderful, generous Slavemaster imaginable.
Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God's.
1 Corinthians 6:19-20
Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated to the gospel of God.
Romans 1:1 (Galatians 1:10, Titus 1:1, James 1:1, 2 Peter 1:1, Jude 1:1)
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.
Epaphras, who is one of your number, a bondslave of Jesus Christ, sends you his greetings, always laboring earnestly for you in his prayers, that you may stand perfect and fully assured in all the will of God.
Those who say 'Christians are not required to work for their salvation' are denying that God has bought us, and that we are His bondslaves, obligated to labor for Him.
But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction.
2 Peter 2:1
Below are 2 verses (among others) which are used to deny the necessity that Christians obey God's Law:
For Sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under Law but under grace.
But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law.
Many people have understood these verses to say that the Law no longer has authority over Christians, and that they are not obligated to obey it. This is a misunderstanding. Once again we must go back to the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve had a choice between achieving righteousness through believing God, or through learning right from wrong. When they chose to rely upon a knowledge of right and wrong (a knowledge of the Law), they put themselves under the Law in two ways:It was never a question of whether or not they were obligated to obey the Law, but rather of how to obey the Law. When Adam and Eve disobeyed God, they put themselves under the Law (rather than under faith) as their means of achieving righteousness, and as a result their hopes for eternal life were blocked in two ways:
When Paul says that the Christian is 'not under the Law, but under grace', he means that the Law 1) no longer condemns the Christian, and 2) that the Law is no longer the Christian's resource for achieving righteousness. Through the Cross the Law's righteous demand for punishment has been satisfied, and the Law's weakness as a means of achieving righteousness has been surpassed. While the Law is a picture of what we should be, it has no power to make us what we should be. Paul is saying that the grace of Christ takes us beyond the limitations of the Law, breaking the power of Sin over us and then putting the Holy Spirit (and His fruits) within us. While Paul says these things, he is always careful to point out that being taken beyond the judgment and limitations of the Law does not mean we are beyond the requirements of the Law.
For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the Law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: That the righteousness of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.
Therefore, brethren, we are debtors not to the flesh, to live after the flesh. For if you live after the flesh, you shall die: but if you through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, you shall live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. And they that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.
For this you know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no man deceive you with vain words, for because of these things comes the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience. Be not therefore partakers with them. For you were sometimes darkness, but now you are light in the Lord: walk as children of light. For the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth, proving what is acceptable unto the Lord. And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them. For it is a shame even to speak of those things which are done by them in secret.
Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He has consecrated for us through the veil, that is to say, His flesh; and having an high priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.
Obedience to the Law is God's essential requirement for eternal life; we cannot enter heaven without it. As I have pointed out in my web page titled
The essential message of the Bible is that faith (rather than a knowledge of right and wrong) is the starting point and foundation of all righteousness. Jesus defined this righteousness clearly. It is a heart-righteousness that not only does not murder, but also does not disrespect or insult one's fellow man. It is a righteousness that not only does not commit adultery, but also does not look at a woman to lust for her. It is a righteousness that goes beyond loving one's friends, to loving one's enemies. It is a real, practical, everyday righteousness that has, as its foundation, a reverential fear and respect for God and His word. Such righteousness is not optional. Jesus said that a Christian's righteousness must surpass the legalistic self-righteousness of the Pharisees, and made it a requirement for salvation:
Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no way pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say unto you that except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.
Such a righteousness begins with God-fearing faith and the acknowledgement of His glory, and is then completed by the Holy Spirit. It is a supernatural righteousness; we human beings are incapable of it. But we can experience this righteousness and make it our own, as we believe God and surrender to His rightful authority over us. For those who think that faith is some kind of amoral substitute for righteousness, I would simply refer you to God's description of faithful Abraham, and to the uniform testimony of the rest of His servants:
And when Abram was 99 years old, the Lord appeared to Abram and said unto him "I am the Almighty God; walk before Me, and be thou perfect. And I will make My covenant between Me and you, and will multiply you exceedingly".
And the Lord said "Shall I hide from Abraham that thing which I do? Seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment, that the Lord may bring upon Abraham that which He has spoken of him."
Abraham obeyed My voice and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws.
Then John the Baptist said to the multitude that came forth to be baptized by him "O generation of vipers! Who has warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance. And begin not to say within yourselves 'We have Abraham as our father'. For I say unto you that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. And now also the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore which brings not forth good fruit is cut down and cast into the fire". And the people asked him, saying "What shall we do then?" He answered and said unto them "He that has two coats, let him give to him that has none; and he that has meat, let him do likewise".
Then Peter opened his mouth, and said "Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: But in every nation he that fears Him, and works righteousness, is accepted with Him."
God will render to every man according to his deeds: To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life: But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish upon every soul of man that does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Gentile; But glory, honor, and peace to every man that works good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile: For there is no respect of persons with God.
But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, you have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life. For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more. And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; To them that are without law, as without law, (not being without law to God, but under the law to Christ) that I might gain them that are without law. To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.
1 Corinthians 9:19-22
Wherefore we labor that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted by Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that everyone may receive the things done in his body, according to that he has done, whether it be good or bad.
2 Corinthians 5:9-10
Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.
2 Corinthians 7:1
For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world; Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ; Who gave himself for us, that He might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works. These things speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no man despise you.
Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord: Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled; Lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright. For you know how that afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected: for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears.
And behold, I come quickly and My reward is with Me, to give to every man according as his work shall be.
Those who deny that we do not have to 'work' morally and spiritually to be saved, and that we do not have to be holy in order to be saved, are repeating the same lie that got mankind into our present difficulties. When mankind first strayed from God, it was the result of one simple lie. God had warned Adam that disobedience would lead to death.
And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, "Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die."
Satan directly contradicted God, telling Eve that she would not die. Satan's lie remains the spearhead of his approach to the world, including the Christian church, to this day.
Then the serpent said to the woman, "You will not surely die."
Those who insist that a Christian cannot lose his salvation are ignoring the fundamental truth which has been the foundation of God's relationship with us from the very beginning. God repeatedly warns Christians about being deceived on this point:
No, you yourselves do wrong and cheat, and you do these things to your brethren! Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.
1 Corinthians 6:8-10
Do not be deceived; evil company corrupts good habits. Awake to righteousness, and do not sin, for some do not have the knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame.
1 Corinthians 15:33-34
For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.
2 Corinthians 11:2-3
Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life.
But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. For this you know, that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.
But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren.
Little children, let no one deceive you. He who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous. He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning.
1 John 3:7-8
The devil, who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are. And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.
There is another group of people who would object to the notion that Christians are saved through what they actually do, or what they actually are. Their objection is based upon the idea that there is a complete separation between what we have done, and our 'legal status' before God.
They teach that God appointed Adam to be the 'representative' of mankind in Eden (voting on our behalf so to speak), and that after Adam sinned God chose to impute (or charge) his act of sin to each one of us, and to bring the penalty of death upon each of us as a result. They also teach that Jesus Christ, as the 'last Adam', is a second 'potential representative' for sinners, with the thought that Christ's righteousness can be 'imputed' to them apart from any moral change within themselves, just as God imputed sin to innocent people in Eden. The official terminology for this doctrine is 'The Representative Headship of Adam and Christ'. In some cases, instead of using the word 'Representative', some also refer to this concept as the 'Federal' headship of Adam and Christ.
I fear that this idea of imputing sin and righteousness, without consideration of our actual 'deeds' or actions, has been equated in the minds of many with Paul's notion of salvation apart from the 'deeds of the Law' (Romans 3:28). But Paul was not saying that God does not judge us according to our deeds. He was saying that we cannot be saved through 'the deeds of the Law'; in other words, through a knowledge of right and wrong. Throughout the Bible God consistently tells us that we always have been, and always will be judged according to our deeds, works or actions. But Paul is telling us that, in order to be accepted by God, our actions must flow out of sincere faith and the indwelling Holy Spirit
I have written about the error of imputation, and why Protestants embraced it, in my web page on
If we say that we have not sinned, we make God a liar, and His word is not in us.
1 John 1:10
John's censure of this false doctrine needs to be appreciated here. First John says that it calls God a liar. Why? Because God says 'All have sinned' (Romans 3:23, 5:12). This is the simple, straightforward meaning of the original Greek language that Paul used in each of these verses. Those who maintain this idea of imputation deny that 'all sinned'. But the promoters of this doctrine go much farther than simply contradicting God. They teach that God falsely accused all of us in Eden, bringing immeasurable suffering and death upon mankind. They portray Him as the most dishonest, unjust and cruel of tyrants. It is one thing to contradict God, calling Him a liar. It is another to call Him a lying murderer, and this is what the doctrine of imputation does.
This false notion, of Adam and Christ as our representatives, has a long history dating back to the early Protestant Reformation. It has been embraced by denominations that have produced some of the greatest saints in the history of the Christian church. I would maintain, however, that the greatness of these individual saints has been because their denomination's false doctrine has been played down in their thinking, while the notion of a just God, and our accountability to Him, has been in the forefront of their minds. All of the great outpourings of the Holy Spirit in the history of the Protestant church have come as men such as Whitefield, Edwards and Wesley have focused upon our practical need to come to terms with a God Who has promised to judge all of us according to our actual deeds (Revelation 22:12).
For the purposes of this web page, which is focused upon the necessity of Christian perseverance, my problem with representative headship is that it teaches people that there is a fundamental disconnect between what we actually are, and God's judgment of us. It tells Christians that there is no direct connection between our thoughts and behavior, and our position before God. Any church that holds this doctrine has built upon sand. This falsehood cannot help but poison the minds of Christians, and produce lawlessness. Why? Because it tells Christians that they can sin, and not be held accountable for it, because they can remain 'positionally righteous'. It is doctrinal leaven, certain to 'leaven the whole lump' of a church. It denies a fundamental principle of God's word; that 'righteousness is as righteousness does'.
Little children, let no man deceive you: he that does righteousness is righteous, even as He (God) is righteous. He that commits sin is of the devil; for the devil sinned from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil. Whosoever is born of God does not commit sin; for His seed remains in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever does not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loves not his brother.
1 John 3:7-10
Righteousness is not something that is 'imputed' to people. It is something that is given to people when they humbly and repentantly condemn themselves for their sins. Yes, it is a gift from God, by the grace of God. But it is a gift and a grace that changes us and makes us righteous, washing away the guilt of our sin through regeneration, and empowering our progressive sanctification through the renewing of the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5, also see
Those who teach 'imputation' deny that our ultimate, eternal fate will be based upon what is subjectively true of us. They derisively refer to this idea as 'subjectivism' (as though it was some dirty four-syllable word). Subjective truth, however, is the exact basis upon which God always has and always will deal with each one of us.
Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.
I would like to return to the central theme of this web page; that the Christian experience must be seen as following the pattern of the Israelites in the wilderness. Although they were warned that difficulties lay ahead, the Israelites desired to 'party'. The Bible describes them as a people in pursuit of a 'good time'. The apostle Paul warned about that same attitude in his own day.
The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.
Exodus 32:6 (1 Corinthians 10:7)
A few years ago I attended a prominent 'evangelical' church in my community for three consecutive Sundays. During my three visits only one church member greeted me (apart from the empty ritual of interrupting the church service so everyone can run around shaking everyone else's hand, that is). He was a man who told me that, if I wanted to get to know the men of the church, my best bet would be to become involved in their fantasy football league. He handed me a flyer explaining how to do that.
This evangelical church is like most; failing to realize that they are on a wilderness journey, to recognize that their faith must be proved, and ignorant of the fact that if they focus on food and entertainment they will be completely unprepared for the trials ahead.
I know also, my God, that You try the heart, and have pleasure in uprightness.
1 Chronicles 29:17
I, the Lord, search the heart. I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings.
If we endure, we shall also reign with Him. If we deny Him, He also will deny us.
2 Timothy 2:12
Blessed is the man that endures temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord has promised to them that love Him.
Wherein you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been put to grief in manifold trials, that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold that perishes, though it is proved by fire, may be found unto praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
1 Peter 1:6-7
For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end.
And so, after he had patiently endured, he (Abraham) obtained the promise.
He that overcomes shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son.
The fact that eternal life will be given "to him that overcomes" is proclaimed 8 times in the book of Revelation; in Revelation 2:7,11,17,26 and 3:5,12,21, and again in Revelation 21:7. Because God has repeated Himself eight times, no one will be able to claim that He did not express Himself clearly.
Today some preachers are telling people that God wants them to be healthy and wealthy. This message is filling churches with people and money, because it tells rich people that their wealth is a sign of God's approval, and it tells poor people that God will make them rich. But what does God say about it? He says the exact opposite. He says that a Christian's faith will be tested around the loss of his health and wealth.
Job is the classic example of being tested regarding health and wealth. God authorized Job's trials, and he passed them.
And the Lord said unto Satan "Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that fears God and avoids evil?" Then Satan answered the Lord and said "Does Job fear God for nothing? Have You not made a hedge about him, and about his house, and about all that he has on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his substance is increased in the land. But put forth Your hand now, and touch all that he has, and he will curse You to Your face. And the Lord said unto Satan "Behold, all that he has is in your power; only upon himself put not forth your hand". So Satan went forth from the presence of the Lord.
Job lost his wealth, including his family. Because he lost it all in one day, it was obvious to him that God had allowed it to happen. Yet Job did not rebel against God.
Then Job arose, and tore his clothes, and shaved his head, and fell down upon the ground, and worshipped, and said, "Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return: the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord". In all this Job sinned not, nor charged God foolishly.
After Job passed this first test, God and Satan talked again, about Job's health:
Again there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan came also among them to present himself before the Lord. And the Lord said unto Satan "From where do you come?" And Satan answered the Lord and said "From going to and fro in the earth, and from walking up and down in it". And the Lord said unto Satan "Have you considered My servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that fears God, and avoids evil? and still he holds fast his integrity, although you moved Me against him, to destroy him without cause. And Satan answered the Lord and said "Skin for skin, yes, all that a man has he will give for his life. But put forth your hand now, and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse You to Your face". And the Lord said unto Satan "Behold, he is in your hand; but save his life".
So Satan went forth from the presence of the Lord, and struck Job with sore boils from the sole of his foot unto his head. And he took a potsherd to scrape himself with; and he sat down among the ashes. Then his wife said unto him "Do you still retain your integrity? Curse God, and die!" But he said unto her "You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?" In all this Job did not sin with his lips.
Jesus' parable of the sower reminds us again of Job. Jesus said that when people hear the message of the Gospel, it is like seed being sown on the ground (Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23):
- Some people hear it, but soon forget it. The seed never germinates, and no life occurs.
Some people hear it and new spiritual life begins, but the new life is choked off by weeds (concern about worldly possessions).
Others hear it and new spiritual life begins, but that life dies out because of poor roots and intense sunshine (persecution and the possible loss of one's health or life).
Finally, some hear the Gospel and go on to bring forth much fruit.
Health and wealth surface again in the lives of Peter and Judas. Judas betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. He was a thief whose lust for wealth cost him his eternal soul (John 12:6). Peter tried to defend Jesus with a sword, but then denied Him three times when he had no sword. He was willing to attack the health of others, but was unwilling to have his own health jeopardized for Christ (John 18:10,25).
The two temptations that Judas and Peter succumbed to are a common part of the human experience. All of our lives are dominated by the issues of health and wealth. Many elections here in the United States and throughout the world are determined by economic and health issues. I have heard that when Latin American drug dealers approach a policeman or judge, they sometimes say 'Take my silver or take my lead'. In other words, take my bribes and get wealthy, or take my lead bullets and die. This is also the choice that Christians are confronted with; a choice that the Savior has already confronted and overcome.
Jesus began His ministry by being baptized by John. In doing this, Jesus was announcing symbolically that He had come to die for mankind. Immediately afterward Jesus was led into the wilderness where Satan tempted Him with possession of the entire world; all of its wealth, pleasure and glory. Jesus rejected the offer (Matthew 4:1-11). Throughout His ministry Jesus labored under the realization that He could 'have it all', and yet knowingly embraced a miserable death on behalf of mankind. When the time for His crucifixion came, Satan made sure that Jesus suffered as brutal a death as was possible, both physically and emotionally. Jesus could have 'called it all off' at any time, and yet He yielded Himself to His Father as a sacrifice for our sins.
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might be rich.
2 Corinthians 8:9
Because Jesus has endured death, atoning for our sins, He can turn the bitterness of our own death (even if at the hands of violent people) into something sweet and positive, just as He sweetened the bitter waters of Marah:
And when they came to Marah, they could not drink of the waters of Marah, for they were bitter. Therefore the name of it was called Marah. And the people murmured against Moses, saying "What shall we drink?" And he cried unto the Lord, and the Lord showed him a tree, which when he had cast into the waters, the waters were made sweet. There He made for them a statute and an ordinance, and there He proved them.
Fear none of those things which you shall suffer. Behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that you may be tried, and you shall have tribulation ten days. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you a crown of life. He that has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says unto the churches; He that overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death.
Much of today's 'western world' is dominated by eating, drinking and either playing games, watching games or betting on those games. This emphasis on food and entertainment flows out of an abundance of wealth, and a disregard for God. Obesity is a national epidemic in the United States. These traits also characterized the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah before their destruction:
Behold, this was the iniquity of your sister Sodom; pride, fullness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her and in her daughters. Neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy. And they were haughty, and committed abomination before me: therefore I took them away as I thought good.
The Bible says much about health and wealth, and directly links the salvation of our souls with these issues:
And Jesus looked round about, and said unto his disciples "How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God!" And the disciples were astonished at His words. But Jesus answered again, and said unto them "Children, how hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God".
And Zacchaeus stood, and said unto the Lord "Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold". And Jesus said unto him "This day is salvation come to this house, forasmuch as he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost".
For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing let us be therewith content. But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition.
1 Timothy 6:7-9
And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they loved not their lives to the death.
And he causes all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads: and that no man might buy or sell, except he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.
And the third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice "If any man worship the beast and his image, and receive his mark in his forehead, or in his hand, the same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of His indignation. And he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb".
Lastly, compare Jesus' words of praise and warning to the churches at Smyrna and Laodicea. True wealth is not what we often think it is:
I know your works, and tribulation, and poverty, but you are rich.
Because you say 'I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing'; and know not that you are wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.
The biblical definition of a Christian is a person in whom Jesus Christ lives. When Jesus was in the world He was hated and persecuted. If He is living and accomplishing His will within a Christian, that Christian will be hated and persecuted also. Suffering will always be present in a faithful Christian's life. It is only as a Christian is willing to endure this suffering that he can continue to have Christ supernaturally present within him, bringing forth the fruits of the Holy Spirit, evangelizing the world and leading the Christian to heaven.
And you will be hated by all for My name's sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved.
"If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you.
And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together.
Always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus' sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.
2 Corinthians 4:10-11
Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.
2 Corinthians 4:16-17
Being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ. Just as it is right for me to think this of you all, because I have you in my heart, inasmuch as both in my chains and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers with me of grace.
Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.
2 Timothy 3:12-13
God's plan was that, as the Israelites looked ahead to the wonderful country that He had promised to their forefathers (the land of Israel), they would patiently and faithfully follow Him through the wilderness, trusting Him, obeying Him and learning from Him along each step of the way. His expectation was that their hope of entering the 'land of milk and honey' would bring them to a successful conclusion. When God brought the Israelites to the edge of the promised land, however, and had them spy out the land in preparation for taking it, they became cowards and rebelled against God. They were unwilling to endure any dangers or hardships, and accused God of hating them and wanting to destroy them.
And all the congregation lifted up their voice, and cried; and the people wept that night. And all the children of Israel murmured against Moses and against Aaron: and the whole congregation said unto them "Would God that we had died in the land of Egypt! or would God we had died in this wilderness! And wherefore has the Lord brought us unto this land, to fall by the sword, that our wives and our children should be a prey? Were it not better for us to return into Egypt?" And they said one to another "Let us make a captain, and let us return into Egypt."
Today there are also many Christians who have been delivered from the tyranny and death of 'Egypt', but who reject the necessity of enduring trials and difficulties in order to enter heaven. They say that if the 'Christian life' is like this, they would rather return to their old life of sin than follow God. They teach that all Christians who have come out of 'Egypt' have a guaranteed ticket into the 'promised land'. This directly contradicts the word of God. God says that Christians are saved through a persistent obedience which is fueled by hope:
For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man sees, why does he yet hope for? But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it.
And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now has He reconciled in the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblamable and unreprovable in His sight: if you continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which you have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven; whereof I Paul am made a minister.
But Christ as a Son over His own house, whose house we are if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm to the end.
Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which enters into that within the veil; where the forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus, made an high priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec.
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. For by it the elders obtained a good testimony.
Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it does not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when He shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is. And every man that has this hope in him purifies himself, even as He is pure.
1 John 3:2-3
What is it that Christians are to hope for? Eternal life! And what is this eternal life? It is our resurrection from the dead to receive new God-given bodies and live forever. It is the hope of putting the hardships, sadness, and pain of this present life behind us, to enter a never-ending future of communion with God. Biblical hope is not simply a matter of sitting around and hoping that something will happen. It is the confidence and assurance that something will happen if we obey God, and which therefore motivates us to strive to obtain that hoped-for thing.
I have hope toward God, which they themselves also allow, that there shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust. And herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offence toward God, and toward men.
For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised. And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; you are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable. But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept.
1 Corinthians 15:16-20
The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling, and what the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
1 Peter 1:3
The apostle Paul wrote about men who taught that the resurrection 'is already past':
And their word will eat as does a cancer: of whom are Hymenaeus and Philetus; who concerning the truth have erred, saying that the resurrection is past already; and overthrow the faith of some.
2 Timothy 2:17-18
Obviously the resurrection had not yet occurred when Paul wrote to Timothy. So what did Paul mean when he said that these men taught that the resurrection had already happened? It may be that these men taught that the resurrection was a 'sure thing' for every Christian, and thus that every Christian should view themselves as already resurrected. With this teaching such men would be turning Christians away from seeking eternal life, to a false assurance that they already possessed it. This is what those who teach 'Once Saved, Always Saved' do; they deny that Christian's are on a wilderness journey, and instead tell them that they have already 'arrived'. Throughout the history of the church this message truly has destroyed like cancer, and has overthrown the faith of countless Christians.
Even the apostle Paul, late in his life, refused to assume that his resurrection to eternal life was certain, and encouraged other Christians to think the same way:
That I may know Christ, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable unto His death; if by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead. Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended,. But this one thing I do; forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are ahead, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded. And if in any thing you are otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you.
Paul described the Christian life in terms of a race (1 Corinthians 9:24-27). It was not until Paul had embraced his coming martyrdom and knew that his death was close at hand, that he could speak with confidence about having finished his race. Paul knew that the greatest of runners could become careless, stumbling and falling near the finish line:
For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love His appearing.
2 Timothy 4:6-8
Many in today's church teach that if a person has been truly born-again, it is certain that he or she will continue or 'persevere' in the faith. Then, as though they were saying something different, they turn their words around and say the same thing in a different way. This is their clever way of avoiding a very simple question: 'Did Jesus or His apostles warn people, who they knew were genuine Christians, regarding the danger of departing from the faith?' Was the necessity of continuance or perseverance a doctrine of the apostolic church? The answer is an absolute 'Yes'.
In all of the New Testament churches the necessity of continuance in the faith was the first thing that was emphasized. This is what all new Christians were exhorted to do in the book of Acts:
These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren.
And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.
Then tidings of these things came unto the ears of the church which was in Jerusalem: and they sent forth Barnabas, that he should go as far as Antioch. Who, when he came, and had seen the grace of God, was glad, and exhorted them all, that with purpose of heart they would continue with the Lord.
Now when the congregation was broken up, many of the Jews and religious proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas: who, speaking to them, persuaded them to continue in the grace of God.
Confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.
Having therefore obtained help of God, I continue unto this day, witnessing both to small and great, saying none other things than those which the prophets and Moses did say should come: That Christ should suffer, and that he should be the first that should rise from the dead, and should show light unto the people, and to the Gentiles.
The necessity of continuing in the Christian faith is found throughout the New Testament:
As He spoke these words, many believed on Him. Then Jesus said to those Jews which believed on Him, "If you continue in my word, then are you my disciples indeed; and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free".
As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you: continue in my love. If you keep my commandments, you shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father's commandments, and abide in His love.
God will render to every man according to his deeds: To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life. But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish upon every soul of man that does evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile.
Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness: otherwise thou also shall be cut off.
Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this mind; and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal even this to you. Nevertheless, to the degree that we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us be of the same mind.
And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now has He reconciled in the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblamable and unreprovable in his sight: if you continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which you have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven; whereof I Paul am made a minister.
And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression. Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety.
1 Timothy 2:14-15
But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived. But continue in the things which you have learned and have been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them; And that from a child you have known the holy scriptures, which are able to make you wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.
2 Timothy 3:13-15
I have fought the good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but also unto all them that love His appearing.
2 Timothy 4:7-8
Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God. But exhort one another daily, while it is called 'Today', lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast unto the end.
Let that therefore abide in you, which you have heard from the beginning. If that which you have heard from the beginning shall remain in you, you also shall continue in the Son, and in the Father. And this is the promise that He has promised us, even eternal life.
1 John 2:24-25
Christians must realize that the 'new birth' is the starting point in our journey toward salvation, not the end of it. It begins with repentance and faith, and continues with a willingness to follow God with each passing day. In Moses' day, Egypt was the greatest civilization on earth. It had all of the education, wealth, pleasure and glory that mankind was capable of producing at the time. Israel's choice was between 'the world', and following God. It is only as we are willing to move forward on this same journey, away from the world and toward God, that we can continue to abide in His love and blessings. The opposite of continuance, or perseverance, is turning back:
Yet they tested and provoked the Most High God, and did not keep His testimonies, but turned back and acted unfaithfully like their fathers.
I will hear what God the Lord will speak, for He will speak peace to His people and to His saints; but let them not turn back to folly.
Now the just shall live by faith; but if anyone draws back, My soul has no pleasure in him. But we are not of those who draw back to perdition, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul.
For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them. But it has happened to them according to the true proverb: "A dog returns to his own vomit," and, "a sow, having washed, to her wallowing in the mire."
2 Peter 2:21-22
Many churches and denominations teach that perseverance in the faith is necessary for salvation. In taking this position they are orthodox. But when we look further, we often find that such churches also teach that all those who have been born again are certain to persevere. With this addition of 'certain' to 'necessary', such churches turn from truth to heresy. They want to be given credit for proclaiming the necessity of perseverance, while undermining it at the same time.
The Bible also describes the Christian's life as a 'betrothal' or 'espousal' to Christ; two old-fashioned words meaning 'engaged to be married'. An espousal is a time when two people have pledged to marry one another, but have not yet 'tied the knot'. It is a time for making sure that they truly love each other, and will remain compatible in the future.
In the parable of the 10 virgins (Matthew 25:1-13), Jesus likened the Christian life to that of a virgin waiting for the groom to arrive. Those who are careless (believing and teaching OSAS) and refuse to take appropriate measures, will not be ready for Him at His coming, and will be rejected. Those who have waited fearfully and prepared thoughtfully and carefully, will enter into marriage with Jesus forever.
The apostle Paul told the Corinthians that they were betrothed to Christ:
For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.
2 Corinthians 11:2
A Christian is engaged, but has not yet been married to Christ. When that day comes, Christ's bride will be dressed in righteousness. The book of Revelation describes the Marriage Supper of the Lamb:
Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honor to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife has made herself ready. And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints. And he said unto me, "Write, 'Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb'".
QUESTIONS AND OBJECTIONS ANSWERED
So how does God determine whether or not a Christian can be forgiven? What is an unforgivable sin? How does a Christian sever himself or herself from the grace of God? God's pattern of forgiveness was first announced in the Old Testament laws of Moses:
If a person sins, and commits any of these things which are forbidden to be done by the commandments of the Lord, though he does not know it, yet he is guilty and shall bear his iniquity. And he shall bring to the priest a ram without blemish from the flock, with your valuation, as a trespass offering. So the priest shall make atonement for him regarding his ignorance in which he erred and did not know it, and it shall be forgiven him. It is a trespass offering; he has certainly trespassed against the Lord."
But into the second part the high priest went alone once a year, not without blood, which he offered for himself and for the people's sins committed in ignorance.
When He hung on the cross, Jesus said.....
"Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do".
The apostle Paul said.....
I was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief.
1 Timothy 1:13
Although we all sinned in Eden, mercy has been possible for us because we were partially deceived by God's great enemy, Satan. Many Christians quickly learn much about God and His ways, but in the early days and years of their Christian experience they remain ignorant of many things, and therefore many of the sins that they commit can be forgiven through the blood of Christ. But when God corrects us about our sins and ignorance of His word, He expects us to learn and not to repeat our mistakes. This was the apostle Paul's message to the church in Philippi:
Nevertheless, whereto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing.
God has a message of warning for those Christians who refuse His instruction:
For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning. For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them. But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb, "The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire".
2 Peter 2:20-22
For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remains no more sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries. He that despised Moses' law died without mercy under two or three witnesses. Of how much sorer punishment, do you suppose, shall he be thought worthy, who has trodden under foot the Son of God, and has counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and has done despite unto the Spirit of grace?
The message of these passages is clear; unforgivable sins are committed by people who stubbornly refuse correction. To return to a life of wickedness after being born-again, experiencing His grace and openly professing faith in Him, is to crucify Christ and shame Him before the world.
For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame.
The apostle Paul had much to say about the peace and joy that Christians experience through the grace of God:
For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.
2 Timothy 1:7
And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.
And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, "Abba, Father!" Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.
Someone might ask, 'How do you reconcile your emphasis upon the fear of God with these passages?'. The answer is simple. Paul is saying that God has not given us a spirit of fear concerning the world that we live in, or our earthly circumstances. Paul's essential message is that when we are fearing and obeying God, His Spirit reassures us that we are abiding in His love, and we can therefore say 'Who can be against us?' (Romans 8:31). The apostle John wrote the same thing (in 1 John 4:17-18 below). When the Holy Spirit is producing God's love within us, then we have confidence about our relationship with Him, and are enabled to be fearless. In such circumstances we can have confidence, though we walk through "the valley of the shadow of death" (Psalm 23:4). It's an ironic message, but the Bible is clear; the fear of God leads to fearlessness regarding everything else, while a refusal to fear God leads to overwhelming fear.
In the fear of the Lord there is strong confidence, and His children will have a place of refuge.
And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.
Then had the churches rest throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria, and were edified; and walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, were multiplied.
Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love.
1 John 4:17-18
The same things can be said about the presence of joy in a Christian's life. True joy comes from knowing that we are 'right' with God. Joy and fearlessness go hand in hand, and both are fruits of the Holy Spirit that God gives to us as we obey Him. The word of God always puts obedience ahead of joy:
Sing unto the Lord, O you saints of his, and give thanks at the remembrance of His holiness. For his anger endures but a moment; in His favor is life: weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you: continue in my love. If you keep my commandments, you shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father's commandments, and abide in His love. These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.
Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw nigh to God, and He will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double minded. Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He shall lift you up.
No, God does not require sinless perfection from His people. The Christian Church is a place where the grace of God encounters the needs of sinful man, and meets those needs. It is a place where "mercy and truth meet" (Psalm 85:10). In Old Testament times under Moses, as people obeyed God's laws, they were also instructed to offer animal sacrifices to atone for their shortcomings. God knew that His people were imperfect, and He provided forgiveness for the many sins which they committed in ignorance.
Today a Christian's entrance into heaven is just as dependent upon Jesus' intercession for us as our great High Priest, as it is upon our progress in holiness. That is why the apostle Paul opened every one of his letters with "Grace and peace....", or "Grace, mercy and peace to you". Jesus strongly emphasized the central role of mercy in our lives, teaching that Christians must show mercy, if they would receive mercy.
For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
Matthew 6:14-15 (see also Matthew 18:21-35)
For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.
My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment. For we all stumble in many things.
Some people will ask the question 'Must we be perfect?' because they really want to know the answer to that question. They want to learn about the will of God for their lives. For others it is a rhetorical question. In other words, it is not a question at all; it is an accusation. They are saying that the views expressed on this web page represent unreasonable demands or legalism. Then after knocking down this 'straw man' of legalism, they proceed to live their lives as if they were under no legal obligations whatsoever.
This 'all or none' approach was used by the serpent in Eden, who asked Eve if God had forbidden her to eat from all of the trees of the Garden (Genesis 3:1). Given what the serpent and Eve both knew about the goodness and generosity of God, it was a ridiculous question to pose. But because Eve was willing to entertain it, Satan was able to proceed from all of the trees, to focus in on one of them. In suggesting that God might be capable of ridiculous legalism, Satan was able to mount an attack on all legalism. That same mind-set permeates the Christian church today. 'Law' is a dirty word in many Christian circles, even though the Law merely requires us to love God and our neighbor.
Genuine Christianity lies somewhere between Satan's 'all' and his 'none', where God's gentleness and mercy meet the sincere faith of His people. God expects Christians to understand this, and to grow in their ability to discern His will for their lives (Hebrews 5:14). When John the Baptist and Jesus preached to the Jewish people, John was described as crazy because of his austere life, and Jesus was condemned for his liberty (Matthew 11:18-19). Satan has done much harm by convincing people to see things in terms of extremes, when God's way is a reasonable path down the middle.
While I say that God does not require us to be perfect, I must add that God does expect our spiritual fruit to be perfect. What do I mean by that? The Biblical message is that our righteousness must be the very righteousness of God Himself. If we are walking in the fear of God and are abiding in Christ, the Holy Spirit will bring forth His supernatural fruits of love and goodness within us. Some Christians will bring forth more fruit, and some less; but all Christians who are abiding in Christ will produce some perfect fruit.
This is the difference between worldly morality and Christianity. The world trusts in self-righteous human efforts, and sees righteousness as a 'relative' thing. In pursuing such a course, it also relies upon the ability to tempt others and prevent them from achieving anything better. It rejoices in the moral downfall of others. But a Christian's standard remains the very righteousness of God Himself. As he pursues this high calling, the Christian will walk in the fear of God, and exercise mercy and kindness toward his fellow man, knowing that the standard that he will be measured by is one that exceeds his own capabilities.
Faithful Christians are honest with themselves. They do not think more highly of themselves than they should. Given this fact, they know that divine mercy and the priestly intercession of Christ on their behalf is just as necessary to save their souls as righteousness is. This is what the Bible means when it says 'mercy triumphs over judgment'. Mercy lies at the very foundation of God's kingdom, and mercy in the heart of a Christian is every bit as necessary for salvation as righteousness. Jesus warned that merciless Christians will be shown no mercy (Matthew 18:21-35). From my own personal experience I can tell you that there are few things that quench the Holy Spirit, and deprive the Christian of fellowship with God, more quickly than mercilessness.
Some Christians, when they are born again, are given a clear sense that God has chosen them to be saved, and that He made that choice even before He began creating the universe. It is an idea sometimes referred to as 'unconditional election'.
Personally, that was the case with me. After I became a Christian, and was joyfully made aware of my election by God, I got so wrapped up in predestination that I threw the moral side of my experience out the window. I forgot that I had become a Christian, and had learned about election, only after I had acknowledged by moral freedom, responsibility and genuine guilt before God. My new focus on election put me in great jeopardy, and God chastened me about it. During this chastening I was deeply shaken as I read a particular verse in the Bible:
Jesus answered them, "Have I not chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil?" He spoke of Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon, for he it was who would betray Him, being one of the twelve.
I discovered that is not enough to be born-again, and one of God's elect. The fact that one has experienced these things is no guarantee that he will enter into heaven. It was then that I got in touch with a most-important fact: That it is one thing to be called and elected, but another thing to perseveringly make that calling and election sure. It is one thing to be 'called and chosen'; it is another thing to be faithful (Revelation 17:14).
Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you shall never fall. For so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
2 Peter 1:10-11
These shall make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them: for He is Lord of lords, and King of kings. And they that are with Him are called, and chosen, and faithful.
How are we to manage predestination and our moral freedom of choice at the same time? I will use an analogy which I also use in my web page on
If my child ran into the street and was killed, do you think God would hold me accountable? Of course He would. My moral accountability and freedom of choice are operational now, just as they always have been. To let God's sovereignty interfere in our minds with the truth that we are free moral agents, is to embrace criminality. And yet this is what many Christians do. Such thinking directly contradicts the instructions and warnings of God in His word.
The apostle Paul wrote about this dichotomy of predestination and our free moral agency, and he gave instructions about how Christians are to handle it:
Nevertheless the foundation of God stands sure, having this seal, "The Lord knows them that are His", and "Let every one that names the name of Christ depart from iniquity".
2 Timothy 2:19
The phrase "The Lord knows them that are His" is a poor translation of Paul's original Greek words. Paul wrote the word 'know' in the past tense. A better translation might be 'the Lord has known (from eternity past) those who are His'. Paul was talking about predestination. He meant that God knew who His people would be before He began creating the universe, and that He predestined those people to receive eternal life.
Paul went on to tell Timothy how we should respond to these two inscriptions:
But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; some to honor, and some to dishonor. If a man therefore purge himself from these (sins), he shall be a vessel unto honor; sanctified and meet for the master's use, and prepared unto every good work.
2 Timothy 2:20-21
In this passage Paul used the same word, 'vessels', that he used in his explanation of predestination in Romans 9:21-23. Paul was again describing God as a Potter using clay, predestinating some 'vessels' (people) for honorable uses, and some for dishonorable (some for eternal life and some for eternal destruction). But Paul went on to say that we have control over these things from our position as human beings. We can determine whether or not we have been predestinated (either to eternal life or to destruction) by purging ourselves of sin and thus making ourselves 'vessels' that God can use for 'honorable' purposes.
Paul was saying that the predestinating choices that God the Father has made in eternity past, are realized through the choices that we, as free moral agents, make in the 'here and now' of our everyday lives.
Did God predestine that I should repent of my sins, call upon the Lord Jesus to save me, and be born again? Yes. Thank God, yes! Can I assume, therefore, that God has also predestined that I will persevere and overcome until I stand before Jesus and am approved by Him? No. That is up to me. I can no more assume that I will persevere, than I can assume that my child will survive a trip into the street. We cannot, and we must not assume that every born-again Christian is going to enter into heaven.
It is this false doctrine, that every truly born-again Christian is certain to persevere unto eternal life (known as 'Once Saved, Always Saved') that is poisoning evangelical Christianity today and has done so for centuries. It flows out of a misunderstanding of how to handle the dichotomy of predestination and man's freedom of choice. And it flows out of forgetting the moral freedom and accountability that is the foundation of every true conversion and closure with Jesus Christ. It means embracing the lie that got us all into trouble in the first place: "You shall not surely die." (Genesis 3:4)
It is impossible to become a genuine Christian without fully acknowledging our true moral freedom and accountability before God. And it is impossible to remain a Christian without continuing fully in that truth. To stray from it is to lose our spiritual compass. For Christian leaders to stray from it is to let fellow Christians, God's own children, wander into the street.
During the past 60 years in the United States, particularly with the rise to prominence of Billy Graham, a phenomenon called 'decisionalism' has been in the forefront of the evangelical church. People have been told that, if they have made a 'decision for Christ', have walked down an aisle or have prayed the 'sinner's prayer', that they are Christians. This approach has served many evangelical churches well, because it has enabled them to 'water-down' Christianity, while also filling their pews and maintaining financial support for their buildings and programs.
The problem with decisionalism is that it is superficial; it overlooks what has actually taken place in a person's heart. Because many church members are not Christians, and feel a measure of unease about that, a response has evolved within churches that both 'explains' the lifelessness of these pseudo-Christians, while giving them a sense of direction. This response is 'Two-stage Christianity'. In fundamentalist churches, the two stages are the 'carnal' Christian and the 'spiritual' Christian. In Pentecostal churches, there are regular Christians, and then there are those who have received the baptism of the Holy Spirit (see
As a result, over time evangelical churches have been almost exclusively populated with people who have 'made decisions', but have never been born again. Many of these church members are the children of older church members. They were encouraged (and sometimes manipulated and pressured) to 'give their hearts to Jesus' when they were little children. Often they can tell you the day and time when they were supposedly 'born again'.
One of the practical results of this 'decisionalism', has been the rise of the so-called 'emerging church' of our day. There has been a strong backlash, on the part of many within evangelical circles, against a lifeless, 'Zombie' Christianity that is seen by many (and rightly so) as threatening to steal their lives from them. Hence the turning aside of so many, including prominent leaders within the 'evangelical' church, to the 'practical' purpose-driven Christianity of a Rick Warren, the 'occult' contemplative Christianity of a Henri Nouwen, or the 'Bible-attacking' Christianity of a Rob Bell. By being unfaithful in its definition of genuine Christianity and the new birth, evangelical Christianity is reaping what it has sown.
The Bible never mentions 'Carnal Christians'; it only refers to 'carnal' people. It describes two kinds of people in general; Carnal and Spiritual, describing them in terms of their birth. The word 'carnal' simply means 'fleshly', and is used to describe all 'natural' human beings as they are born into the world for the first time. This is how all of us begin life; we are all 'carnal' at first. As I have explained in my web page on
Then there are those who have become 'spiritual'; who have been born again, through the Holy Spirit. Jesus explained this to Nicodemus:
That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto you "You must be born again". The wind blows where it does, and you hear the sound thereof, but cannot tell from where it comes, and where it goes: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.
Some have used the following words of Paul to suggest that there is another class of people that are somehow carnal and spiritual at the same time:
And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for until now you were not able to bear it, neither yet now are you able. For you are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are you not carnal, and walk as men? For while one says "I am of Paul" and another "I am of Apollos" are you not carnal?
1 Corinthians 3:1-4
Paul was not saying that these Christians were 'carnal'; he said that they were acting like carnal people, and that he must speak to them as though they were carnal (in other words, not born again). He was conveying the same idea when he said that he had to speak to the Corinthians as though they were "mere men". He said this because they had been talking as if he or Apollos had saved them, rather than Christ Himself. This failure to focus on the Savior prompted Paul to say that they were acting as if they weren't even Christians. His words cannot be used to suggest that there is such a thing as a 'Carnal Christian'. There is not another single passage in the New Testament where 'carnal Christians' are ever mentioned.
There is a second passage from Paul that is also used to support the idea of the 'Carnal Christian':
Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, you which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering yourself, lest you also be tempted.
This passage does not even use the term 'carnal'. It is true that Paul speaks about 2 kinds of Christians; those who are spiritual and (by inference) those who are not. But Paul is not staking out some kind of 'middle ground' here, where it is possible to be a 'non-spiritual' Christian. Paul is directing 'spiritual Christians' (who are walking obediently with the Lord and being led by the Holy Spirit) to help Christians who are sinning and straying away from God.
Paul's emphasis here is upon the necessity that all Christians be 'spiritual', and that those who are sinning need to be restored to spirituality. Paul expressed this idea to other Christians, when he urged them to examine themselves, warning them that the alternative to being 'spiritual' is reprobation, or disqualification from the kingdom of God. James also expressed this same idea, that one is either spiritual or departing from God:
Examine yourselves, whether you be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know you not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except you be reprobates? But I trust that you shall know that we are not reprobates.
2 Corinthians 13:5-6
Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him, let him know that he which converts the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins.
I will inject an autobiographical note here. In June of 1967, at the age of 16, I was confronted by God in a home Bible study, put on by some of my fellow high school students. I was powerfully convicted of my sins, and of the fact that I was on a path to eternal damnation. I was terrified, and was willing to repent 'about' my sins, but unwilling to repent 'of' them (let them go). For the next four years I 'walked the aisle' many, many times, 'hiding within the church', and hoping that I could be saved without truly forsaking my sins. During that time many told me that they thought I was a Christian, including some well-known evangelists. I myself wanted to believe that I simply needed to progress spiritually, although my conscience would not let me be at ease about it.
Finally four years later, in exasperation, the pastor and leaders of the local church where I was attending, took my case before God. I had become something of a 'plague' upon them, I am sure, due to my frequent 'aisle-walking'. I believe that God answered their prayers, because shortly thereafter the pastor spoke with me, telling me to go and live my life, reassuring me that I would find out some day whether I truly loved God or not. It was one of the kindest things that any Christian has ever done for me; to let me go and give me 'permission' to live my life. So I left the church and 'did my thing'. Four years later, in the context of a broken marriage and a life of utter pride, deceitfulness, lustfulness, foolishness and hurtfulness toward others, I cried out to Christ to save me; and He did.
I believe that this is what many people within the evangelical church are looking for today; 'permission' to live their own lives, and to have a sincere encounter with God. But because they have lived so long under the influence of hypocritical Christians who are willing to let them waste their lives in dead religiosity, they cannot bring themselves to have anything to do with evangelical Christianity any more. I know this is true of me. I refuse to be a part of any such church, and haven't attended a church regularly for many years. Today most evangelical churches (and their pastors) are completely unwilling to reexamine where they are spiritually, and whether or not they need to do something about it. This is regrettable, and I fear that God will ultimately hold them responsible for it.
Both before becoming a Christian, and during the early years after I was saved, I studied the Scofield Bible. For those who are unfamiliar with it, the Scofield Bible is an old King James version of the bible, with commentary notes added by Dr. C.I. Scofield. This bible has been popular in conservative evangelical churches for many years. Scofield was a Dispensationalist, and I have commented on his Dispensationalism in my web page titled
Scofield taught the Christian's 'Eternal Security', or 'Once Saved, Always Saved' (OSAS), and insisted that a truly born-again Christian cannot fail to enter heaven. Scofield wrote about Christians possibly losing heavenly rewards for disobedience in this life, but insisted that it is impossible for a true Christian to be damned. This conviction colors and twists his comments upon every verse that touches on the subject of 'Eternal Security'.
In his notes on 'The Epistle to the Hebrews', Scofield taught that Hebrews was not written for Christians, but primarily for Jews. He began his notes on the Book of Hebrews with the following comments:
"The occasion of the Epistle was the need of special exhortation for Hebrew readers who had professed faith in Jesus as the Messiah, some of whom were wavering in their attitude. Hence, the exhortation is to "hold on" (3:6) and to "go on to maturity" (6:1). The purpose of the book, then, was (1) to confirm Jewish Christians by showing that O.T. Judaism had come to an end through the fulfillment by Christ of the whole purpose of the law; (2) to warn some who had identified themselves as Christians against (a) falling back into Judaism or (b) pausing short of true faith in Christ; and (3) to bring to the attention of Christians everywhere the pre-eminence of Jesus Christ."
What Scofield does not mention is that 'The Epistle to the Hebrews' is an anonymous book. No one knows with certainty who wrote it, to which congregation it was written, or when and how it received its title. Although the epistle itself is certainly divinely inspired, we cannot assume that its title is. Some commentators indicate that it wasn't given a title until many years after it was written. There is nowhere within the epistle itself where its comments are specifically directed to Jews. The first place where the writer personally addresses his audience is in Hebrews 3:1, where he calls them "holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling", and he proceeds to call them brethren throughout the rest of the epistle (10:19, 13:22). This is a title that applies to all Christians, whether Jew or Gentile.
Some have claimed that the Epistle is directed to Jews because it focuses upon Judaism, and upon how the old Mosaic priesthood, sacrifices and Covenant have been replaced by the death of Christ. It would have been just as important for Gentiles to receive this Epistle, however, because the Christian faith is built on the Old Testament, and secondly because the greatest confusion within the Christian church (at that time) came from the arguments of unbelieving Jews. All Christians were desperately in need of the doctrine and perspective supplied by this Epistle, especially given the fact that the Temple would soon be destroyed by the Romans, and this event would need to be put into perspective.
It must be remembered, also, that almost every Christian church in the world at that time was a mixture of Jews and Gentiles (even in Israel). It would have been totally uncharacteristic of Paul, or anyone who shared in his work, to write an epistle exclusively to Jews. This would have run directly contrary to his theme that Jews and Gentiles are all one in Christ. Apart from James or Peter, whose ministries were directed to the Jews, no one else would have written an epistle that observes such distinctions. Such an idea runs counter to the words of the Lord Jesus Himself:
And other sheep I have (the Gentiles), which are not of this fold (the Jews): them also I must bring, and they shall hear My voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.
Why am I making this point? Because the Epistle to the Hebrews is rich in warnings to Christians about falling away from the faith. Scofield mishandles these warnings, telling his Gentile readers that they were intended only for Jews, and not for them. I am not a scholar like Scofield, but I have memorized this Epistle, and have read several commentaries on it. To tell Christians that Hebrews was not originally intended for Gentiles, and thus that its warnings need not be taken to heart, is to effectively remove it from the word of God.
DO NOT LET THE TITLE 'THE EPISTLE TO THE HEBREWS' CONFUSE YOU.
THE TITLE IS NOT DIVINELY INSPIRED. THIS EPISTLE WAS WRITTEN TO ALL CHRISTIANS
There is nothing uniquely Jewish about 'Hebrews'. Every doctrine presented in the Epistle to the Hebrews is also found elsewhere in the New Testament. Gentiles who read this Epistle as though it were written to Jews are cheating themselves out of one of the richest and most important books of the Bible. It is interesting that Christians believe that the epistle of James, which was addressed to Jews (James 1:1), is applicable to themselves, whereas the epistle to the Hebrews, which is simply addressed to 'brethren', is not. As far as I am concerned, the title that has been attached to this epistle has been regrettable. It may have been given this title by Gentiles who saw the epistle as a potent Christian response to Jewish scepticism. But since being given this title, others have used it to steer both Jews and Gentiles away from God, because they use the title to suppress its clear warnings about failing to persevere in the faith.
Not only are Christians obligated to evangelize the world, but to continue evangelizing one another as well. This web page is an evangelical message to Christians; an exhortation to let God finish the work of salvation that He has started within us. Not only are Christians responsible for themselves; they are responsible for each other. The body of Christ is composed of many members, who are meant to provide strength and support to one another.
From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplies, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, makes increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.
Pastors who teach 'Once Saved, Always Saved' do not understand their own job description. Under-shepherds over God's flock are charged with its protection. Any pastor who does not believe that a Christian can be devoured by grievous wolves (Acts 20:29) or roaring lions (1 Peter 5:8) has failed before he begins. Leaders in the church need to approach this question with care, knowing that as teachers they will receive "a stricter judgment" (1 Corinthians 9:27, James 3:1). It is essential that we remind one another of how shameful and destructive sin has been in our lives, and of the impoverished and broken-hearted condition that brought us to repentance, forgiveness, and God's gracious new start in life. We must remember how horrid 'Egypt' was, and encourage each other along the 'journey to the Promised Land' that God has set before us.
Again, when a righteous man does turn from his righteousness, and commits iniquity, and I lay a stumbling block before him, he shall die: because you have not given him warning, he shall die in his sin, and his righteousness which he has done shall not be remembered; but his blood will I require at your hand. Nevertheless if you warn the righteous man, that the righteous must not sin, and he does not sin, he shall surely live, because he is warned; also you have delivered your soul.
Wherefore I (Paul) take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God.
Take heed unto yourself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them. For in doing this you shall both save yourself, and them that hear you.
1 Timothy 4:16
Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God. But exhort one another daily, while it is called 'today'; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.
Those who teach 'Once Saved, Always Saved' turn the grace of God into licentiousness (or lawlessness). Jude's response to such teaching was to remind his readers that the Christian life is a wilderness journey like that of the Israelites:
Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that you should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints. For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ. I will therefore put you in remembrance, though you once knew this, how that the Lord, having saved the people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed them that believed not.
In the book of Hebrews we are encouraged to persevere in the faith, and Abraham is held up before us as an example. Abraham did not receive unconditional promises from God. They were conditional, and Abraham had to prove faithful in order to obtain them:
And we desire that every one of you do show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end. That you be not slothful, but followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises. For when God made promise to Abraham, because He could swear by no greater, He swore by Himself, saying "Surely blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply you. And so, after he had patiently endured, he obtained the promise.
The author of Hebrews goes on, in his eleventh chapter, to list the many great saints of God who have had to endure many challenges as they also patiently pursued the promises of God. In the book of Revelation God sets before us the ultimate outcome of these servants of His who have been faithful:
And immediately I was in the Spirit, and behold, a throne was set in heaven, and One sat upon the throne. And round about the throne were 24 seats, and upon the seats I saw 24 elders sitting, clothed in white raiment, and they had on their heads crowns of gold. The 24 elders fall down before Him that sat on the throne, and worship Him that lives for ever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying "You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power; for You have created all things, and for Your pleasure they are and were created."
To hear some tell it, these elders are merely 'wicked sinners, saved by grace'. They cast their crowns before God because they owe everything to him, and because rather than strive to be righteous, they simply 'let go, and let God' throughout their lives. While it is true that all of God's people are 'sinners saved by grace', and that none of us can accomplish anything good in our own strength, there is more in view here.
God does not tell Christians to lay back and just ride some 'spiritual wave'. He commands us to pursue righteousness, and the honors and rewards that come with it. These elders are casting crowns before God's throne that they have earned. It is true that they are saying, by their actions, that they owe everything to Him. But there are two glories in view here; the all encompassing glory of God, and the glory and dignity of His servants. This is not an either/or proposition; there is plenty of glory to go around. One must be a person of dignity to sit in the presence of God, and these crowns are rewards that God has given for diligence, earnest labor and faithfulness. This vision of heaven is God's encouragement to us to 'selfishly' pursue glory, honor and immortality through 'well-doing' (Romans 2:7). He is telling us that selfishness is a good thing if it is in the sincere pursuit of virtue, of Himself and of His kingdom.
Christianity is a religion where the righteous are rewarded, and the wicked are punished, and where there is no middle ground to stand on. Jesus has said that He will spit lukewarm Christians out of His mouth (Revelation 3:16). Those who fail to get excited about the promises that God holds out before us, are those who will not obtain them in the end. Christianity isn't simply about avoiding damnation; it is also about striving for righteousness; the righteousness of 'Christ in us'. The blood of Christ does more than atone for sin; it creates new people who, by continuing on with Christ, bring immense glory to God. Those who reject this counsel, sneering at it because it encourages 'works', will find themselves spending eternity wishing they had worked for this most gracious, kind and thoughtful Master when they had the chance.