Salvation Once and For All?
Last fall, our church worked through the book of Hebrews in Sunday School. In addition, we recently have been working through John 3 and John 4 during our Sunday morning sermons.
We see in Jesus's relationship with Nicodemus, and the woman at the well that to have a new life, one needs to do more than just know a little something about Jesus.
Consider this equation: Know a little something about Jesus and you'll be fine - compared to - Jesus died on the cross for you.
There should be a transformation in your life upon the realization and trust that Christ died for your sins and you have been made new (2 Cor 5:17).
J.D. Greear in his book, "Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart," stated, "the mark, however, of someone who is saved is that they maintain their confession of faith until the end of their lives" (p, 5). He further writes, "salvation is a posture of repentance and faith that you begin in a moment and maintain for the rest of your life" (p. 5).
This idea of maintaining the posture of their confession of faith is important to separate from the legalism of obeying the law in order to achieve salvation.
In explaining the concern of having a fear of losing salvation, Greear asserts,
"The established Church of Martin Luther's day believed that people would only obey when they were threatened with harsh consequences for rebellion. Luther decried this as the 'damnable doctrine of doubt.' Being afraid of judgment will indeed produce a surface-level adherence to the law, he said, but beneath that thin veneer of obedience will rush a river of fear, pride, and self-interest. The only way to develop real love for God is to have fear removed. As the apostle John said, God's great love for us is what produces love for God in us." (p. 22).
"These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may KNOW that you have eternal life." 1 John 5:13
In Hebrews, as the author honors the great heroes of the faith, he identifes them with an action:
"Noah constructed an ark; Abraham left his home; Jacob blessed his grandsons; Joseph gave instructions concerning his bones; Moses chose to be mistreated; and Joshua circled the walls of Jericho. The great 'chapter of faith' is all about actions. Faith is belief in action. In fact, there is no noun for faith in Hebrew, because faith does not exist apart from its action. Faith starts with mental assent, but if this mental assent does not lead to obedience, it is not yet 'faith.'" (Greear, p. 40). Essentially, conversion is not completing a ritual, "it is commencing a relationship" (p. 42). This action shows that we are once saved, forever following.
"God warns us about the dangers of falling away because He wants to rouse the falsely assured out of their slumber before it is eternally too late. He also wants to compel believers onward to the finish line. Perseverance in the faith assures us we are saved.
We must be careful not to believe that the law can provide a solution that only faith in the gospel can provide. "On your very best of days, you must rest all your hopes on God's grace. On your worst days, His finished work should be your refuge. Your posture should always be one of dependence on His finished work and hope in His indwelling Spirit" (Greear, p. 106).
Knowing that His finished work is our refuge, and that our posture should always have the dependence mentioned by Greear, Scripture provides several ways this can be measured to help keep the Christian on track.
The book of 1 John gives several confirmatory 'tests' that show the Spirit is at work in our hearts. These 'evidences of grace' are what made the write of Hebrews 'feel sure of better things - things that belong to salvation' for his readers (Heb. 6:9). Seeing these evidences of God's work in us help us gain confidence that 'He who has begun a good work in [us] will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ" (Phil 1:6). They help us know we will persevere because we see the evidence of God's work in us, and we know that what He started, He will finish." (Greear, p. 92-93).
As we continue to wrestle with the idea of salvation and in addition to the evidence of God's work in us, we must also consider the significant role of the local church to the sanctification and examination process:
"I can't stress enough that this important process of examination can only be properly done in the context of a local church. You need other Christians who are committed to your spiritual well-being. They are the ones who will be able to get to know you and identify the fruit of the new birth in your life...We are not good judges of our own hearts. Some people are entirely too easy on themselves. They imagine that they give evidence of genuine regret and repentance for their sin when in reality there is none. Others with a tender conscience are far too hard on themselves. They take every weakness and failure as evidence that they are hypocrites and false Christians. Being involved in a local church is immensely helpful for both kinds of people" (McKinley, Am I Really A Christian?, p. 38-39, 72).
Finally, in relation to God,
"Salvation is according to the goodness of God and is an expression of his grace (Eph. 2:4-5). Because he loves us, he saves us (John 3:16; Rom. 5:8; 1 John 3:1). Undoubtedly, one of the most influential theologians of the twentieth century was Karl Barth (1886-1968). Near the end of his life, the German neoorthodox theologian was asked at a panel discussion to sum up his life's work. He replied, 'Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.'
God is glorified by every aspect of salvation. Election is according 'to the praise of the glory of His grace' (Eph 1:5-6); the death of Christ procures God's glory (Heb 2:9-10); the conversion of the lost glorifies God (Acts 21:19-20); the believer's present enjoyment of salvation brings to God 'glory in the church' (Eph 3:20-21); and God will ultimately be glorified in the final day (Phil 2:11).
In sum, salvation is in Jesus Christ, and we are saved when we are united with him by faith. Everything about salvation we enjoy in the Lord Jesus Christ - redemption's origin, the gospel call, our justification and sanctification, and the bestowing of the benefits of salvation - all are graciously given to us in Jesus Christ to the glory of God (1 Cor 15:24-28; Eph 1:10-12)" (A Theology for the Church, p. 600).
Ultimately, my concern in thinking salvation could be lost, is believing that this would mean that Christ's work on the cross was not permanent...therefore our sin would need something stronger to overcome it. If Christ was not enough, then Christianity would be pointless. As Greear writes, "salvation comes not because you prayed a prayer correctly, but because you have leaned the hopes of your soul on the finished work of Christ."
"It is finished." - John 19:30