Every device imaginable has been engineered and employed by the architect of evil and deception to prevent human hearts from hearing and obeying the gospel of Jesus Christ. Having avoided the basic snares and pitfalls that hinder many from completing the primary steps of obedience which issues in the forgiveness of sins, the assault by Satan only intensifies on the one becoming a New Testament Christian. Not only does the devil lay in ambush with every weapon of temptation drawn to arm, but he engages in psychological warfare by the relentless streaming of propaganda which asserts the war is over, and the Christian, having been saved from sin through initial obedience, has gained a salvation which can never be lost.
This unfortunate doctrine is widespread across the sectarian bodies of modern Christendom. Its roots, however, emerge from the teachings of John Calvin (1509-1564), not Jesus Christ. Many sincere people (and maybe you are one) have entrusted their souls under the banner of this hope, but “once saved always saved” is not supported by or grounded on scriptural truth. It is merely the repackaging of Satan’s oldest ploy of deception. It was first vocalized in the Garden of Eden when the serpent lied to Eve, telling her that disobedience to God would not result in death (Genesis 3:4; cf. John 8:44). The tragic consequences of believing that lie fills the annals of human history.
Eternal destinies hang in the balance today as the lie of Satan continues to permeate the thinking of sincere, but misguided individuals. While some may not believe this devilish doctrine casts its shadow within the church of Christ today, the actions of many of her members beg to differ. The constant “noise” of this doctrine as it circulates world-wide is obviously impacting the thinking of Christian men and women who ought to know better. The attitude of those who never attend Bible study with the church displays a confidence that never characterized the church of the New Testament (cf. I Timothy 2:15; 4:6). Farther along the way to apostasy are those who only intend to meet with the church for the Lord’s Day worship hour, often arriving late and/or departing early, and not infrequently absent even from this solemn assembly.
The sad truth is, Satan has secured a beachhead into the church, and the fact that the weakest Christians are often the ones who exhibit the greatest confidence in their own salvation is the evidence of the landing. Faithfully attending all the services of the church in order to edify the body, and being involved in the activities designed to strengthen devotion and encourage godly living, are flippantly cast aside in order to pursue the mundane affairs of earthly life and pleasures. The false idea that salvation is permanently bestowed at the time of initial obedience to the gospel is also manifest by those who, upon being baptized into Christ, are never seen in the assembly of the church again. The church must recognize and teach the ever present danger of apostasy, and become alert to the symptoms of approaching apostasy.
The decision to become a Christian is not simply accepting salvation; rather, it is a commitment of your life into the work of serving God. Christ plainly taught, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it” (Luke 9:23). That the decision to follow Christ does not guarantee salvation as a permanent fixture is seen in the words of Christ recorded at the close of this same chapter: “No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God” (9:62). In order for one to remain a faithful servant in the Lord’s kingdom, a Christian must never allow other matters to distract his attention and focus from serving the Lord (cf. Matthew 14:22-30).
The priority that Jesus gave to faithful service by undeviatingly complying with the will of God - even to the point of death on the cross - is an excellent example for us today. Jesus subordinated all earthly considerations – beginning at a very early age (Luke 2:41-49) – that He might always be found pleasing to God. How many Christians deliberately skip the assembly of the church for mundane excuses like food, family, or fun? Jesus never let these fleshly interests interfere with His faithful service to God. In fact, Satan used food as a means to tempt Christ with sin (Matthew 4:3, 4), but our Lord withstood the temptation, further explaining at a later time, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to accomplish His work” (John 4:34). Sadly, many Christians will only choose to meet with the church when “Dinner on the grounds” is planned.
Even the tender ties of Jesus’ mother and brothers became subordinated in His life to the family of God. On an occasion when His mother and brothers were seeking to interrupt a teaching session, Jesus responded, “Who is My mother and who are My brothers?’ And stretching out His hand toward the disciples, He said, ‘Behold, My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother’” (Matthew 12:48-50). How effective could the church be today if every Christian exhibited the faithfulness and devotion of our Lord?
Notwithstanding the opinion expressed by many, it is possible to sin and fall away from the place of safety in Jesus Christ. Jesus instructed His apostles on the great care to be exercised in order to remain “in Him.” The possibility of falling away was addressed when He stated, “If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch, and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned” (John 15:6). Choosing to follow Christ is an important step, but choosing to remain in Christ, faithfully discharging those duties He has assigned to the church is essential to salvation.
The Bible speaks of salvation in three distinct senses – past salvation, present salvation, and future salvation. Many exhibit a faulty view of salvation, but the Scriptures clearly delineate that salvation is received, maintained, and finally obtained. For example, Paul reminded Titus that as a result of His kindness and mercy, God “saved us, through the washing of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:4, 5). The verb “saved” is a past tense form. Paul points back to the salvation received when one humbly submits to the “washing (baptism – cf. Acts 22:16) of regeneration” (the new birth – John 3:3, 5). This salvation is a result of the “renewing” of the Holy Spirit accomplished through the word of truth (Ephesians 5:26; 6:17).
Contrary to the popular belief of many sectarian bodies - as well as some in the church - the salvation process does not end with the completion of some or even all the primary acts requisite to salvation. Human salvation is never a “done deal” that allows one to return to the former manner of godless living. In his first letter to the church at Corinth, Paul wrote: “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain” (I Corinthians 15:1, 2 ESV).
The majority of English translations render the phrase “are being saved” as merely “are saved,” but this insinuates a past tense form. The original Greek verb is a present tense form, and is properly translated by the English Standard Version as quoted above. Though writing to Christians who had completed the primary steps of obedience (cf. I Corinthians 12:13), Paul speaks of their salvation as a continuous process that is dependent on each one maintaining adherence to the teachings of the gospel. Salvation must be maintained by guarding the heart from evil and love of the world, faithfully worshipping with the church and serving others as Christ served us.
The future and final salvation of mankind is discussed when Paul tells Timothy, “The Lord will deliver me from every evil work, and will save me unto his heavenly kingdom: to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen” (2 Timothy 4:18 ASV). The verb “will save” translates the Greek future tense form, revealing the future salvation to be obtained at the end of time. The apostle Peter spoke about Christians “receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:9 ASV). The word “end” translates the Greek telos, meaning “the final issue or result” (Vine, 1996, p. 198). This word points forward to the goal, and in this verse, Peter looks ahead to the final Judgment when Christians will obtain the end or goal of their faith, i.e., “the salvation of your souls.”
It is very refreshing when a sectarian Bible scholar admits the truth pertaining to a wonderful verse of Scripture like I Peter 1:9. Internationally recognized Bible scholar, Peter Davids, gave the following exegesis of this passage: "Salvation, then, is a goal. It is what Christians are moving toward. According to 1 Peter it begins with baptism (I Pet. 3:21), but it is finally revealed only in "the last time" (1 Pet. 1:5). The mark of those who are "being saved" is their remaining firm in the faith under persecution" (see Kaiser, 1996, p. 710). All one can say to this simple acknowledgment of truth is "Amen!"
These examples confirm that salvation must be received through initial obedience, maintained through careful faithfulness to the instructions of the gospel, and ultimately obtained at the final Judgment when Christ welcomes the true Christian home, saying, “Well done, good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will set thee over many things; enter thou into the joy of thy Lord” (Matthew 25:21).
The Day of Judgment will be a day of great surprise for many, and Jesus did not fail to depict that surprise. Although many may be absolutely certain of their salvation in this life, Jesus said, “Many will say to me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy by thy name, and by thy name cast out demons, and by thy name do many mighty works?’ And then will I profess unto them, ‘I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity’” (Matthew 7:22–23).
Falling into apostasy is possible for an individual Christian, a single congregation of people, and even an entire conglomeration of churches. This truth is easily discerned from the Scriptures. After becoming a Christian through believing and being baptized (Acts 8:13), Simon, a former sorcerer of Samaria, desiring to possess power equal to the apostles, offered them money in the attempt to procure the ability to confer the Holy Spirit upon baptized believers by laying hands upon them as the apostles were able to do. Simon was in serious error in this matter, not only in disposition and attitude (v. 21), but in the act of bribery itself. Simon was sternly rebuked by Peter, being warned that he could “perish” on account of his wickedness (vv. 20-22). That this entailed a loss of salvation is attested by Peter’s call for Simon to “repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray the Lord that if possible, the intention of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bondage of iniquity” (vv. 22, 23).
A congregation or local church may also fall away from the faith so as to be lost eternally. The church at Ephesus was started when Paul baptized a dozen men in that city during his third missionary journey (Acts 19:1-7). He would later address that church in an Epistle, discussing the salvation they had received “by grace…through faith” (Ephesians 2:8), recalling the time when they were “raised…up with Him” (2:6) in their baptism. Less than two decades later, John would write this same church, communicating to them the words of the Lord Jesus who warned, “you have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at the first; or else I am coming to you, and will remove your lampstand out of its place - unless you repent” (Revelation 2:4, 5). Since the “lampstand” represented the church itself (cf. 1:20), removing it is equivalent to being disinherited by Christ. A single church can depart from the faith and teaching of Christ so as to be lost.
Paul also warned the infant church of “the apostasy” which loomed ahead (II Thessalonians 2:3ff). The use of the definite article identifies a specific movement within the church which would result in a major defection from the truth of the gospel. He goes on to describe some of the digressive acts that would characterize “the apostasy,” acts which are clearly evident in the developments witnessed in modern “Christendom.” The continued progression of the apostasy, although occurring in stages, is relentless, lasting even until the end as churches en masse depart from true Christianity, refusing to teach the simple plan of salvation or to worship in spirit and in truth as commanded. The exhortation Paul offered the infant church remains the only insurance against apostasy: “So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us” (2:15).
Remaining faithful is essential to salvation. We do this by honoring the gospel message as it relates to the plan of salvation, the worship of the church, and the personal conduct and devotion of the individual Christian. Paul told Timothy, “Holdfast the pattern of sounds words which you have heard from me, in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus” (II Timothy 1:13 NKJV). The church at Smyrna (one of only two congregations out of the seven churches that was found acceptable in the Lord’s sight) was promised by Jesus, “Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Revelation 2:10).
Belief in Christ and the gospel changes the heart; repentance changes the conduct; confession changes the Lord of life; baptism changes the status; and remaining faithful changes the eternal destiny. How serious are you about going to heaven? Does heaven mean more to you than other things, or are other things really more important? Your devotion will be exhibited by your service. As Jesus said so well: “for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6:21). What a man goes after here, determines where the man goes hereafter, and that decision is being made day after day. Have you remained faithful in your service to the Lord? If not, repent today, and assemble with the church at the next appointed time. Don’t let the Day of Judgment hold a surprise for you.
Kaiser, W., et al (1996), Hard Sayings of the Bible (Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press).
Vine, W. E., Merrill F. Unger, and William White (1996), Vine's Complete Expository Dictionary of Old
and New Testament Words: with Topical Index (Nashville: T. Nelson).