I don’t want to handle the word of God lightly or deceitfully – trying to manipulate the text to say what I want it to say – but to simply try to let the word of God speak for itself. I also want to finally get some solid answers to this question, “can we lose our salvation?”
Many believe that we can lose our faith and ability to repent. Does losing ability to repent mean we lose our salvation and seal our fate in hell? Or is it pointing to something else, that we might actually recover from?
Exploring this issue over the past week has become a watershed moment for me that changed the way I think about God, sin, and his discipline vs. his judgement. In my mind the difference between these two blurred and it colored my view and relationship with God with mistrust and suspicion and affected how I lived in the world. Fear still lurked in my heart and dampened my love for others (and myself), my freedom, and most especially my joy. (Joy, as a believer, is our strength and Paul writes that to rejoice in God keeps us safe).
My thinking has changed over the last few days of study and prayer. I took a look at many Scriptures that deal with this issue of “losing salvation” and found that many of them were speaking about a discipline from the Lord that people (may) eventually recover from. This was encouraging to me personally because I had gone through an experience of severe discipline from the Lord. At the time, I did mistake his discipline to mean everlasting eternal condemnation when I shouldn’t have.
God’s discipline is a very good thing! As Hebrews 12:6 says (NLT):
“For the Lord disciplines those he loves,
and he punishes each one he accepts as his child.”
Hebrews is a book that talks about the discipline and judgement of God. I came to realize that whatever the discipline may be that God gives us, he does it because of his love for us for our good, to save us from our pride, and to bring us to a place of brokenness and humility – where we can receive grace. James writes:
“You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us? But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says:
“God opposes the proud
but shows favor to the humble.”
Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. (James 4:4-10 NIV)
God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble.
When we are particularly proud and rebellious, as I have been, though it doesn’t please him to do so, our loving heavenly Father must use more extreme forms of discipline to break our stubborn pride and humble us.
When God did this in my own life eleven years ago, I became convinced that He had left me for good. I was doomed. Lost. An object of his wrath and loathing. I feared talking to pastors or others about this lest they simply confirm my worst fears that I was indeed going to hell.
It is a common belief for many to think that if you sin and die before you confess your sin, you will go to hell. But is this the truth? Does his grace only cover confessed sin?
For me, it wasn’t so much that I believed that I had out-sinned God’s grace, but that I felt that I was sin. I could never shake the feelings of self-loathing and guilt and shame about who I was. As I thought about this, a profound Scripture came to mind that talked about how God, in Jesus Christ, became sin on our behalf! God condemned sin in sinful flesh (Jesus) on the cross, so that every last one of us could be free from sin and the eternal wrath that sin brings with it.
“For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:3-4 NIV)
Besides all that, Paul writes in Romans chapter seven that when we sin, it isn’t us that does it but sin that lives in us. He draws the distinction right there between us and sin and frees our identity from being bound to sin. Check it out here. How awesome is that?
I found that what really happens in most of our lives is that if we persist in disobeying God and chasing after sin when we know better, we are disciplined (sometimes very severely) for it, but that doesn’t mean that he ever takes his love away from us.
“Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. (Galatians 6:7-8 NIV)
If God has given us his salvation, is it then ours to lose?
Being Born Again
God “gives birth to you” as his child when we believe in Jesus. You then become “born again” into the family of God, as Jesus spoke of in John 1:12 and John 3:3. If God is the one who makes us his children, then who or what could ever take that away? He makes, he saves, and he keeps us safe till the day of redemption. How could we ever cease being his children?
“Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” John 1:12 NIV
“Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again… Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. 6 Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. 7 You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ 8The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” (John 3:3, 5-8 NIV)
Once we are born again and firmly established on the foundation of Jesus Christ, who can take that away? For Jesus says, “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.”” (John 10:28-30 NIV)
For those of us who have embraced Jesus Christ, and are born again, we will one day have to give an account for what we have done with our lives. Paul writes that everyone’s work will be tested with fire:
10 “By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. 11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13 their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. 14 If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. 15 If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.
16 Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? 17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple.” (I Corinthians 3: 10-17 NIV)
Who of us want to barely escape through the flames into “heaven”? Who of us wants to completely miss our purpose in life and have all of heaven shaking their heads saying, “What a waste! They could have had it all but instead they squandered their inheritance on some cheap thrills”.
As Jonah once said, “Those who cling to worthless idols, forfeit the grace that could be theirs.” And the bible is clear, all sinful pursuits are idolatry.
Consider the story of the Prodigal Son. He squandered all his Father’s inheritance on partying and prostitutes. But when he has a change of mind and returns, the father throws a huge celebration and gladly welcomes him home. Jesus says that “all of heaven rejoices when one sinner repents”. (This includes you too – not just sinners out there, somewhere).
Hebrews 6 and 10 are difficult passages to wrestle with and I still don’t pretend to fully understand them. Yet, I think we ought not to hinder the intended effect and working of God by just explaining them away, as some do. Let them speak for themselves. I believe that the Holy Spirit will be faithful to shape our character and lead us into all truth and into the good news of the saving power of Jesus. We must not be cowards and just avoid it all until we die, (pretending it isn’t there until it is too late, and so possibly suffer enormous loss) but grapple with the truth, pray through it, discover the truth, pursue Jesus, faith, and righteousness. And like Jacob, WRESTLE WITH GOD!
We don’t need to somehow fear that God really jinxed himself and the cause of his Kingdom by what he chose to include in this holy book he wrote. Jesus tells us that all God’s words lead us to eternal life. Should we avoid difficult or hard passages altogether because someone might come away thinking that they lost their salvation?
I read today of 42 youths being mauled by a bear when the prophet Elisha called down a curse on them for mocking him. I had a friend who pointed to that story as the reason why he rejects God. “I can’t trust in a God who does that,” he would say.
Why did God include that story and thousands of others that cause us such discomfort? Why didn’t he portray himself in a better light so that my friend wouldn’t have refused to believe in him?
My wife and I were talking about how we seem to have more loyalty to other humans, no matter how wicked they are, than to the God who made humans. And think about it – he makes them pure every time, doesn’t he? Ever met a wicked baby? So if these humans grow up to be utterly corrupt and wicked and the God who made them says they are worthy of judgement and judges them, then who are we to judge God for that? Rather, it ought to cause us alarm that we permit things in our lives that are also worthy of judgement. But history shows us that a great many people we thought irredeemable, God redeems and makes them a trophy of grace. Take the Apostle Paul for example – murderer of God’s people to greatest Evangelist who ever lived!
I wonder if the author of Hebrews writes what he writes in chapter six to expose and weed out the rebels at heart… I don’t know. Whatever the case may be, he does offer some hope and he doesn’t seem to think that what he is writing applies to you the reader:
4 “It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5 who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age 6 and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance. To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace. 7 Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God. 8 But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned.”
The author of Hebrews has higher hopes for them than this! As his next words reveal:
9 Even though we speak like this, dear friends, we are convinced of better things in your case—the things that have to do with salvation. 10 God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them. 11 We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, so that what you hope for may be fully realized. 12 We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.
Do you see what is going on here? He says to you the reader, I have high hopes for you because of the love in your lives that display the activity of God in your life. Love is the evidence he points to. This is the evidence of God in our lives that we truly have been born again and the Holy Spirit is at work in us! After all, love is the fruit of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus said that the world will know that we are his followers if we love each other. Which leads us to the question:
Do we have that “love for others” in our lives to point to as evidence of being born again and that God is in our lives?
Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 13:
5 Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test? 6 And I trust that you will discover that we have not failed the test. 7 Now we pray to God that you will not do anything wrong—not so that people will see that we have stood the test but so that you will do what is right even though we may seem to have failed. 8 For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth. 9 We are glad whenever we are weak but you are strong; and our prayer is that you may be fully restored.
If we are his children, born of God, then the Holy Spirit’s job is to work in us to will and do of his good pleasure. (Philipians 2:13) The Spirit is the one conforming us to the image of Christ and there ought to be the evidence of love in our lives because he is the love poured out into our hearts when we truly believe in Jesus.
“God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:4 NIV)
But what if there isn’t any evidence?
Perhaps, then, you need to be born again just as Jesus said to the religious leader Nicodemus. Perhaps your even a pastor of an evangelical church and you need to be born again and have God’s love implanted in your heart by the Holy Spirit. Perhaps as a Christian, you need to be born again, again. God is a God of fresh starts and new beginnings!
Born Again, Again
(this is an article I wrote a while ago)
I was something of a daredevil when I was a kid. I would swing from ropes, make my own zip lines from old wires and ride down them hanging on a pulley 30 feet up into a tree, I would scale dangerous cliffs and race down mountains jumping from rock to rock – that sort of thing. One of my earliest daredevil misadventures happened when I was seven years old.
One day I was riding my banana seat bicycle, trying to do tricks on my bike while standing on the seat. I was not looking where I was going and happened to look up just in time to see the back end of a boat parked on the street. The ensuing collision knocked me unconscious. The next thing I knew I was at my front door held by some strange man as he was ringing the doorbell. My mom opened the door and the man asked, “Is this your kid?” My mom freaked, asking me how many fingers she was holding up and if I knew my name. All I knew is that I was feeling queasy and was secretly enjoying all the attention.
Later at the emergency room I was still feeling nauseous and I puked – which they say is a good response after a concussion. I felt so good after vomiting that I told my mom, “I feel like I’ve been born again, again.” She was quite amused by that.
Jesus once said, “You must be born again to enter the kingdom of heaven.”
If I am being honest, from time to time throughout my life I have found myself asking whether I still need to be born again. When I find it difficult to impossible to love even the most loveable people in my life and my heart and actions are saying, “You’re so selfish!” That is when I reevaluate, and ask the most basic questions:
“Am I even “saved”? Have I yet to experience what Jesus was talking about? Have I been born again?”
If this is the case, then I am ready to start over. To be born again. Because honestly, if what I thought I knew for the last 25 years isn’t really working for me, it’s time to abandon that and find out what does work. Most times I hardly feel like a “new creation” and it would be impossible to say that my life is one that is marked by love. It takes courage to say this… especially for someone who has “been in ministry” for the last 13 years.
Last Sunday, the pastor was talking about receiving a new heart from God. He mentioned the time when King David prayed in Psalm 51, “Create in me a clean heart O God, and renew a right spirit in me.”
Was David “not saved” when he prayed this? Clearly he had been on a journey with God for some time. And as I look at my own life I too can say that, yes, I have clearly been on a journey with God for some time.
So what is going on here?
I believe that for some of us, we need to be “born again, again”. We need a fresh start and a clean slate to move forward on our journey with God. We need to pray what David prayed and get back on track with the life God intends.
But what if you have been in ministry or even have been a pastor most of your life (like Nicodemas was) but you know deep in your heart that all you think you know about God isn’t producing the love of God in your life? You need to humble yourself and realize that you must be born again – start from scratch and live by God’s Spirit living in you with His love becoming the source of the love flowing from your life.
In other words start depending on God at work in you and forget about depending on yourself. It’s not the end of the world to realize you need a fresh beginning – how refreshing to know this is available? All that will suffer is a bit of your pride, but you will have so much to gain.
So as I took communion that Sunday, I paused for a moment saying to God, “I receive my new heart.” And now I simply trust God to work it out in me. That seems to work pretty good I have found.
Lord Heavenly Jesus, Give me a fresh start today. Fill me with your love. May my life be marked by your love.
Take some time to talk to God about this. Ask him to change your heart if you are lacking love in your heart and to fill you with his Holy Spirit and then wait in His presence expectantly for his reply.
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- Numbers, the Beauty of Repentance, the Gravity of Sin (66in66.wordpress.com)