Once Saved, Always Saved? Part 2
by Karl Kemp
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We'll continue this study of Once Saved, Always Saved? where we stopped in Part 1.
Hebrews 10:32-39, especially verses 35-39. "Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. [He is speaking of the heavenly reward that all Christians who stay faithful to the new covenant will receive.] (36) For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised. [Heavenly glory was promised for all believers who endure in faith to the end (to the end of their lives or to the time of Christ's return).] (37) For yet in a very little while He who is coming will come, and will not delay. [The Lord is coming to save and to judge at the end of this age.] (38) BUT MY RIGHTEOUS ONE SHALL LIVE BY FAITH [That is, those who endure in faith (the "righteous ones") will be rewarded with the fulness of eternal life - THEY SHALL LIVE.]; AND IF HE SHRINKS BACK, MY SOUL HAS NO PLEASURE IN HIM. [That is, if he does not endure in faith, he will be rejected by God.] (39) But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul." To preserve the soul is to not lose it to eternal death. See below under James 1:21, 22.
Hebrews 12:14-17, especially verses 14, 15. "PURSUE PEACE WITH ALL MEN, AND THE SANCTIFICATION [HOLINESS] WITHOUT WHICH NO ONE WILL SEE THE LORD. [To miss seeing the Lord is to miss heaven. See Matt. 5:8. Holiness is required of Christians.] (15) SEE TO IT THAT NO ONE COMES SHORT OF THE GRACE OF GOD [[Hebrews 4:1 speaks of coming short of God's (heavenly) rest. To come short of the grace of God means to miss heaven. See Gal. 5:4. The NIV translates "misses" instead of "comes short of," and there is widespread agreement on the meaning of these words in the commentaries.]]; THAT NO ROOT OF BITTERNESS SPRINGING UP CAUSES TROUBLE, AND BY IT MANY BE DEFILED...." Deuteronomy 29:18 helps us understand the meaning of these words: "lest there shall be among you a man or woman, or family or tribe, whose heart turns away today from the LORD [Yahweh] our God, to go and serve the gods of those nations; lest there shall be among you a root bearing poisonous fruit and wormwood." Apostasy tends to spread, and it certainly is defiling. To the extent that it spreads, it destroys holiness and causes God's people to come short of His grace.
James 1:12-15. "Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved [having completed his life on the earth], he will receive the crown of life [In other words, he will receive the fullness of eternal life of the age to come], which the Lord has promised to those who love Him. [To love God includes living in His will (cf., e.g., John 14:15, 21, 23).] (13) Let no one say when he is tempted, 'I am being tempted by God'; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. (14) But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. [[One major point here is that God is not the source of temptation. He is against all sin and has provided salvation from sin (including victory over all sin) for those in Christ Jesus. His grace (with the emphasis on sanctifying grace) is sufficient. Cf., e.g., James 1:2-8, 16-18; 4:6; 1 Cor. 10:13. Every Christian has trials, and every Christian has the all-to-real potential to be tempted and to sin, but grace is provided which will enable us to resist temptation and to avoid getting into temptation in such a way that we are being "carried away and enticed by...lust" that results in sin.]] (15) Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and WHEN SIN IS ACCOMPLISHED [COMPLETED], IT BRINGS FORTH DEATH." James is not denying the possibility of repentance and restoration, but there is sin unto SPIRITUAL DEATH. See, e.g., James 1:21; 5:20; and 1 John 5:16 (these verses are quoted and discussed below). Any sin that is repented of will not lead to spiritual death.
James 1:21, 22. "Therefore putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness [These things are incompatible with the righteousness and holiness provided by, and required by, the new covenant.], IN HUMILITY RECEIVE THE WORD IMPLANTED, WHICH IS ABLE TO SAVE YOUR SOULS. [To save your soul is to not lose your soul to spiritual (eternal) death. Note James 1:15 above. James 5:20 speaks of repentance that "will save [a] soul from death [spiritual death]." In Matt. 16:24-27, Jesus speaks of losing one's soul by not being ready to stand before Him on the day of judgment. In Heb. 10:35-39, we hear of the need to endure in faith "to the preserving of the soul" rather than "[shrinking] back to destruction" and losing your soul. To "receive the word implanted" is to take God's word into your heart and live in line with it (by grace through faith).] (22) But [AND] PROVE YOURSELVES DOERS OF THE WORD, AND NOT MERELY HEARERS WHO DELUDE THEMSELVES." "Doers of the word" live righteous lives, as required by God's word, by grace through faith.
James 5:19, 20. "MY BRETHREN, IF ANY AMONG YOU STRAYS FROM THE TRUTH [This includes straying from being a doer of the word. Faith without works is dead], and one turns him back, (20) LET HIM KNOW THAT HE WHO TURNS A SINNER FROM THE ERROR OF HIS WAY WILL SAVE HIS SOUL FROM DEATH [James is speaking of spiritual (eternal) death, as he was in 1:15 and 21. See under 1:21. The only answer for one who has strayed from the truth of God's word is to repent.], and will cover a multitude of sins." For one thing, the sins of the one who repents will be forgiven and "covered." We could also think of all the future sins of the one who repents that will never be committed. And, since sins tend to multiply in the lives of those touched by one living in sin, we could further think of all those sins that will never be committed.
2 Peter 2:20-22. "FOR IF AFTER THEY HAVE ESCAPED THE DEFILEMENTS OF THE WORLD BY THE KNOWLEDGE OF THE LORD AND SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST [They had escaped the defilements of the world through becoming true Christians.], THEY ARE AGAIN ENTANGLED IN THEM AND ARE OVERCOME, THE LAST STATE HAS BECOME WORSE FOR THEM THAN THE FIRST. (21) FOR IT WOULD BE BETTER FOR THEM NOT TO HAVE KNOWN THE WAY OF RIGHTEOUSNESS [Christianity is "the way of righteousness" in that we are made righteous through the atoning death of the Lord Jesus as we walk by the Spirit of God through faith.], THAN HAVING KNOWN IT, TO TURN AWAY FROM THE HOLY COMMANDMENT DELIVERED TO THEM. (22) It has happened to them according to the true proverb, 'A dog returns to its own vomit,' and, 'A sow, after washing, returns to wallowing in the mire.' "
Throughout this epistle, the apostle Peter exhorts his Christian readers to be diligent to live righteous and holy lives, as required by the gospel, and as enabled by the grace of God, or he is warning them not to follow the false teachers to apostasy and destruction. The verses I have quoted constitute a strong warning against apostasy.
The first part of 2 Pet. 2:20 confirms that Peter is speaking of those who had become true Christians. Not only does he say that "they have escaped the defilements of the world," (cf. 2 Peter 1:4), but he also says "by the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." Peter speaks of the knowledge of God (the Father) and/or Jesus Christ in 2 Peter 1:2, 3, and 8, using the same Greek word for knowledge ("epignosis") that is used in 2:20. All true Christians have something of a personal, experiential knowledge of God and His Son.
In verse 21, "the way of righteousness" emphasizes the righteous lifestyle required of Christians. "The HOLY commandment" is the gospel of the new covenant, which provides for, and requires, HOLINESS. See, e.g., 1 Peter 1:13-2:1; 2:11-25.
1 John 5:16, 17. "IF ANYONE SEES HIS BROTHER [The word "brother," along with the fact that they had to have life to commit a sin unto death, confirm that the apostle John was speaking of those who had become born-again Christians.] COMMITTING A SIN NOT LEADING TO [unto] DEATH [spiritual (eternal) death], HE SHALL ASK AND GOD WILL FOR HIM GIVE LIFE [spiritual (eternal) life; the Greek noun is "zoe." It is assumed that the brother repents.] to those who commit sin not leading to [unto] death [spiritual death]. THERE IS A SIN LEADING TO [unto] DEATH [spiritual death]: I DO NOT SAY THAT HE SHOULD MAKE REQUEST FOR THIS. (17) ALL UNRIGHTEOUSNESS IS SIN [All unrighteousness is serious business. If we sin we need to be quick to repent and to ask for forgiveness, and we must make it top priority to walk in victory over sin. God knows the heart.], and there is a sin not leading to [unto] death [spiritual death]."
A primary reason for the apostle John to write this epistle was to warn his Christian readers that they must not follow the heretics who were trying to deceive them (see 1 John 2:26; cf. 3:7). The heresy in view was an early form(s) of Gnosticism, which was in such great error that it denied the blood atonement, a doctrine at the heart of Christianity. The heretics denied that they were sinners and the reality of the atoning blood of the Lamb. For a born-again Christian to turn from the truth and accept the Gnostic "gospel" was obviously a very serious (deadly) sin.
Apparently the primary "SIN leading [I prefer skipping this word "leading," which was added in italics by the NASB] TO [UNTO] DEATH [SPIRITUAL (ETERNAL) DEATH]" that John was concerned with here, in the context of this epistle, was the abandoning of the gospel (by which the Christians had found life) and the acceptance of the Gnostic "gospel." God knows the heart. John didn't say that it was impossible for such Christians to repent (those who truly have a heart to repent can repent), or that other Christians could not pray for their restoration. But he did make it clear that such sin is very serious and that there was no guarantee that prayer for their restoration would be heard and answered by God (see 1 John 5:14, 15).
Revelation 2:1-7. "To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: The One who holds the seven stars in His right hand, the One who walks among the seven golden lampstands, says this: (2) 'I know your deeds [works] and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot endure evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false; (3) and you have perseverance and have endured for My name's sake, and have not grown weary. (4) But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. [Their "first love" refers, at least for the most part, to their former love for God, which is now at a lower (unacceptable) level. And as the next verse shows, their love for God was reflected in their works (cf. John 14:15, 21, 23). Works reflect what is in the heart.] (5) REMEMBER THEREFORE FROM WHERE YOU HAVE FALLEN, AND REPENT [Repentance is a word you don't hear much today, whether dealing with those in the process of becoming Christians, or dealing with those already Christians. But the gospel hasn't changed, and it is mandatory that we repent where repentance is required.] AND DO THE DEEDS [WORKS] YOU DID AT FIRST, OR ELSE I AM COMING TO YOU, AND WILL REMOVE YOUR LAMPSTAND OUT OF ITS PLACE - UNLESS YOU REPENT. [In Revelation, a "lampstand" is a symbol for a Christian church (see 1:20). For the Lord Jesus to remove the lampstand from Ephesus means that the church there would no longer be part of His church, even though they might continue to consider themselves to be Christians and might continue to meet as a church. These words are of awesome significance and are somewhat surprising (even shocking), especially when you consider all the positive things said about this church. These words are so powerful that I assume they met with a repentant response in many at Ephesus. We must remember that the things that the Lord Jesus said to the seven churches about AD 95 apply to every church of every generation that is in the same situation. I have to assume that many Christians today need to repent more than those former Christians at Ephesus.] (6) Yet this you do have, that you hate the deeds [works] of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. [We don't have to know what particular sins are referred to here, but it is probable that (at least some of) these sins are spelled out for us in 2:14, 15: "to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit acts of immorality."] (7) He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes [The Lord says these words about hearing and overcoming to each of the seven churches, and thereby to every Christian. To be an overcomer means to stay faithful to the end, which is required of all Christians.], I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the Paradise of God.' " To miss eating of the tree of life means missing eternal life and God's New Jerusalem (cf. Rev. 21:7, 8; 22:14, 15, 19). It is very clear that the Christians that Jesus was speaking to in these verses were true Christians. Essentially everything Jesus said to them confirms that point, and the fact that they had a lampstand (which the Lord said that He would remove if they did not repent) proved that they were a true Christian church (cf. Rev. 1:20).
Revelation 3:1-6. "And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: He who has the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars, says this: 'I know your deeds [works], that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. (2) WAKE UP, AND STRENGTHEN THE THINGS THAT REMAIN, WHICH WERE ABOUT TO DIE, FOR I HAVE NOT FOUND YOUR DEEDS [WORKS] COMPLETED IN THE SIGHT OF MY GOD. [The fact that the many Christians at Sardis who desperately needed to repent still had some of the life of God (note that Jesus exhorted them to wake up and strengthen THE THINGS THAT REMAIN, WHICH WERE ABOUT TO DIE) proves that they had become true Christians.] (3) REMEMBER THEREFORE WHAT YOU HAVE RECEIVED AND HEARD; AND KEEP IT, AND REPENT. IF THEREFORE YOU WILL NOT WAKE UP, I WILL COME LIKE A THIEF [IN JUDGMENT] and you will not know at what hour I will come upon you. [On Christ's coming after them in judgment as a thief, compare, for example, Matt. 24:50, 51; Luke 21:34-36; and 1 Thess. 5:2-4.] (4) BUT YOU HAVE A FEW PEOPLE IN SARDIS WHO HAVE NOT SOILED THEIR GARMENTS; AND THEY WILL WALK WITH ME IN WHITE [The "white" goes with the righteous lives required of Christians (by grace) and with resurrection glory (cf. Rev. 6:11; 7:9, 14; 19:8, 14). To miss the white garments is to miss heaven.] for they are worthy [by the grace of God]. (5) HE WHO OVERCOMES SHALL THUS BE CLOTHED IN WHITE GARMENTS; AND I WILL NOT ERASE HIS NAME FROM THE BOOK OF LIFE [[On "the book of life," see Rev. 13:8; 17:8; 20:12, 15; 21:27. All those whose names are in the book of life will partake of eternal life in God's eternal kingdom. To have your name erased from the book of life is to miss God's eternal kingdom. The Lord Jesus strongly infers that many (even the majority) of the Christians at Sardis are on the verge of having their names erased from the book of life. Note that their names were in the book of life, which further confirms that they were true Christians. Note that Rev. 13:8 and especially 17:8 show that not all names have "been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world." Only the names of the elect were written in the book back before man was created. (Note that Rev. 13:8 and 17:8 just speak of the non-elect of Antichrist's generation.) This involves God's foreknowledge (cf. Rom. 8:29; Eph. 1:4, 5), not that we are competent, or have enough information, to fully understand such things. I should point out that the Bible also makes it clear that Christ died for all and calls for all to repent and believe the gospel (see, e.g., Mark 16:15, 16; Acts 17:30, 31; 1 Tim. 2:3-6; 1 John 2:2). It seems clear that there was still room for repentance at Sardis, and I assume that some did repent after hearing these awesome words. All such persons will be among the overcomers. Surely we should all take such warnings seriously, and be motivated to repent, as required.]], AND I WILL CONFESS HIS NAME BEFORE MY FATHER, AND BEFORE HIS ANGELS. [If He doesn't confess our name before His Father, we aren't His people.] (6) He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches."
Revelation 3:11. "I am coming quickly; HOLD FAST WHAT YOU HAVE, IN ORDER THAT NO ONE TAKE YOUR CROWN." Everything that the Lord Jesus says to this church, the church in Philadelphia, is positive (for a pleasant change). However, here in verse 11, He exhorts them (and all like them who are prepared for His return) to stay faithful to the end. To lose your crown would be to lose your place in God's eternal kingdom. In Rev. 2:10 He spoke of giving the faithful ones (we must all be in this category) "the crown of [eternal] life." All true Christians will reign with Christ in glory forever (cf., e.g., Rev. 2:26, 27; 3:21; 5:9, 10; 20:4, 6; and especially 22:5).
Revelation 3:14-22. "And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: The Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginning [i.e., the Origin or Source; cf., e.g., John 1:1-3] of the creation of God, says this: (15) 'I KNOW YOUR DEEDS [WORKS], THAT YOU ARE NEITHER COLD NOR HOT; I WOULD THAT YOU WERE COLD OF HOT. (16) SO BECAUSE YOU ARE LUKEWARM, AND NEITHER HOT NOR COLD, I WILL SPIT YOU OUT OF MY MOUTH. [The Lord Jesus says He will not tolerate "lukewarmness" (complacency; lack of commitment/faithfulness) in His people. Of course He will not tolerate "coldness" either. But, at least if they were cold it would be clear that they were not really right with God, and some might have seen a need to repent. Persons spit out of His mouth (what awesome words!) would cease to be His people. But there is still room for these Christians to answer this powerful warning and call to repentance, as verse 19 shows.] (17) Because you say, 'I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,' and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked [God's people have often wrongly assumed that material prosperity necessarily proves that all is well in their relationship with God. And those prospering in the world tend to become complacent, making a place for God at the edge of their lives, a place He will not accept.], (18) I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire [that is, true gold, heavenly gold (things like truth, righteousness, and holiness), that we might have a true (heavenly) reward], that you may become rich [that is, truly rich (rich in the things of God)], and white garments [garments that go with righteous and holy lives], that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and eyesalve to anoint your eyes, that you may [really] see. [In other words, repent and begin to live in line with the reality of the gospel.] (19) THOSE WHOM I LOVE, I REPROVE AND DISCIPLINE, BE ZEALOUS THEREFORE, AND REPENT. [For these Christians to be zealous and repent will convert them from their lukewarm state. Throughout these verses Jesus spoke to them as those who had become true Christians but who were about to lose that status if they didn't quickly repent. The fact that Laodicea is one of the seven churches that had a lampstand confirms that Jesus He was speaking to them as Christians, but Christians on the verge of losing their lampstand (cf. Rev. 2:5).] (20) Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door [with a repentant heart, in faith], I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me. [In this context, these words were an invitation for the Christians at Laodicea (and all other Christians with the same need to repent) to repent and begin to fellowship with the Lord Jesus Christ, putting Him first place in their hearts and lives.] (21) He who overcomes [and again, we must all be overcomers], I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne. [See Rev. 22:3-5. All overcomers will reign with the Lord Jesus Christ forever. To miss this reign is to miss the destiny of all the members of God's true Israel.] (22) He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches."
FIVE PASSAGES OF SCRIPTURE THAT EMPHASIZE THE NEED FOR CHRISTIANS TO BE RIGHTEOUS, AND WARN THAT THE UNRIGHTEOUS WILL NOT HAVE A PLACE IN HEAVEN:
Rom. 8:12-14. "So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh ["To live according to the flesh" means to live in sin, doing the works of the flesh. To live according to the flesh means to not live according to the Spirit.] - (13) FOR IF YOU ARE LIVING ACCORDING TO THE FLESH, YOU MUST DIE [The apostle Paul is speaking to born-again Christians. They have spiritual life. As Rom. 8:1-11 show, it is only born-again Christians who can avoid living according to the flesh. They can, and must, live in/by the Spirit. If Christians do not walk by the Spirit of God and appropriate the life, righteousness, and holiness He provides, there is nowhere else to go but back into spiritual death, which culminates in eternal death - [THEY] MUST DIE.]; BUT IF BY THE SPIRIT YOU ARE PUTTING TO DEATH THE DEEDS [WORKS] OF THE BODY YOU WILL LIVE. [[Christians are required to walk by the Spirit on a continuous basis. As they do, they are putting to death the deeds [works] of the body. The "deeds [works] of the body" equals the "deeds [works] of the flesh" of Gal. 5:19-21, which equals all sin. For a Christian to put to death the works of the body means that the Christian, by the enablement of the Spirit, doesn't sin. "But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you [most certainly] will not carryout the [sinful] desire of the flesh" (Gal. 5:16). (If a Christian should sin, forgiveness and restoration are provided through the atoning death of the Lord Jesus Christ when we confess our sins and repent.) By living in the Spirit, the Christian stays in spiritual life, and, at the end of this age, they will inherit eternal life in its full glory - "[THEY] WILL LIVE" (Rom. 8:13).]] (14) FOR ALL WHO ARE BEING LED BY THE SPIRIT OF GOD, THESE ARE THE SONS OF GOD." Part of the definition of what it means to be a Christian is to be led by the Spirit of God on a continuous basis. In this context, all the emphasis is on being led by the Spirit to "[put] to death the deeds [works] of the body"; that is, to live in the righteousness and holiness of God. All such persons - THESE ARE THE SONS OF GOD.
1 Corinthians 6:8-11. "On the contrary [But], YOU YOURSELVES WRONG [Greek "adikeo"] AND DEFRAUD, and that your brethren. [[In verses 1-7, the apostle Paul rebuked the Christians at Corinth for taking their disputes with one another before the non-Christian courts. But in verses 8-11 he deals with a much more serious problem. He speaks to the Christians who had sinned against their brethren in the first place. (These sins had led to the court cases previously mentioned.) He sternly warns them that such sinning (and not just because they were sinning against other Christians) was totally incompatible with the Christian lifestyle. The apostle writes from the point of view that all his readers had become born-again Christians. I assume that most of them had. In verses 9-11, he says that those characterized by sin will not inherit the kingdom of God. Hopefully such strong words met with a repentant response in many Christians at Corinth. We must take such warnings seriously, but I'm afraid that many Christians of our day don't understand the awesome significance of these words.]] (9) OR DO YOU NOT KNOW THAT THE UNRIGHTEOUS [The Greek adjective translated "unrighteous" here is "adikos." The Greek verb used in verse 8 (adikeo) is closely related to this adjective, being derived from it. This helps confirm that Paul intends to include the ones doing wrong (and defrauding their brethren) in verse 8 with the unrighteous of verse 9, thereby issuing a powerful warning and call to repentance.] SHALL NOT INHERIT THE KINGDOM OF GOD? DO NOT BE DECEIVED; NEITHER FORNICATORS, NOR IDOLATORS, NOR ADULTERERS, NOT EFFEMINATE, NOR HOMOSEXUALS, (10) NOR THIEVES, NOR THE COVETOUS, NOR DRUNKARDS, NOR REVILERS, NOR SWINDLERS, SHALL INHERIT THE KINGDOM OF GOD. (11) AND SUCH WERE SOME OF YOU; BUT YOU WERE WASHED, BUT YOU WERE SANCTIFIED, BUT YOU WERE JUSTIFIED IN THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST, AND IN THE SPIRIT OF OUR GOD." Verse 11 shows that Christians, by definition, are to have left these, and all other sinful things, behind. This is a big part of what the good news of new covenant salvation is all about, not to minimize forgiveness. Paul's words include the message that every Christian that has not left these things behind, or has picked them up since conversion, must repent and put them off now, with the highest priority.
We will continue this study in Part 3. God bless you!
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