Lately, we’ve been having some wonderful discussion on the topic of salvation! My previous post, Can You Lose Your Salvation? introduced this subject, while this post serves as a follow up. I have received some deep, thought-provoking comments from my sisters in Christ, and greatly appreciate how they were faithful to share their ideas. Thank you so much for taking the time to post your comments!
Now, I have seen the need to define terms in order to facilitate more conversation on this issue. We need to define what makes a TRUE Christian before continuing. It is essential not only for the sake of this friendly discussion, but is also absolutely necessary for each and every person out there who calls herself by the name “Christian” to consider what makes a TRUE Christian, and if she really is one! Our fate is in the balance. It is a life and death matter.
Let’s take a look at what I consider to be our key verse as we analyze this:
“Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?”
2 Corinthians 13:5
Our Lord Jesus forewarned us about the danger of being fake, and instructed us how to know the fake from the real. Look at what He prophesied regarding the end times:
“When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me not meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not. Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee? Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.”
This is an intriguing passage, and gives us much to think about! Here are some of the points which stand out to me, as I read this text:
- The identity of Jesus Christ
- Jesus is the Son of man
- Jesus is the King
- Jesus is the Judge of all nations
- Jesus is the Great Shepherd
- Jesus knows everyone’s works
- Jesus has the right and the power to cast into everlasting fire, or to rescue to life eternal
- How Jesus relates to those gathered before Him
- He separates all the people of the world into two groups only (no in-betweens): good and bad
- He places the good on his right hand
- He places the bad on his left hand
- He refers to the good as sheep
- He refers to the bad as goats
- He addresses Himself first to the righteous (good)
- He addresses Himself next to the cursed (bad)
- His word is final
- The criteria of the King
- Did you give me food when I was hungry?
- Did you give me something to drink when I was thirsty?
- Did you give me a place to stay when I needed it, even though I was just a stranger to you?
- Did you give me clothes when I was naked?
- Did you visit me when I was sick?
- Did you visit me when I was in prison?
- Doing these things “unto one of the least of these my brethren,” is the same as doing it for Jesus; while NOT doing it for one of the least, is the same as NOT doing it for Jesus
- Did you do it unto ONE, at a minimum?
- Did you do it unto the LEAST?
- Did you do it unto MY BRETHREN? (Who are Jesus’ brethren?: “My mother and my brethren are these which hear the word of God, and do it” [Luke 8:21]–so, Jesus’ brethren are those who are obedient to God. Jesus tells us that the distinguishing mark of His disciples is their love for each other: “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” [John 13:34-35]. Think about it; Jesus’ criteria is based on the demonstration of love toward His brethren [true followers]. If people can be shown to have loved His followers, then it can be reasonably concluded that they belong to Him, for “If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also” [John 15:18-20].)
- The reaction of the people gathered before the King
- It is the same both for the sheep (righteous) and for the goats (cursed)
- They are plainly not able to form an excuse or a justification for their behavior before the piercing eyes of the King of Kings–they are only able to blurt out a confused plea for clarification
- We don’t see the righteous spouting out praises in their own honor–they are clearly stunned
- They both call the King “Lord” (I don’t know that this is convincing proof that the two groups are both believers, since Philippians 2:10 says, “that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Looks like even unbelievers under the earth–in hell–will confess that Jesus is Lord. In 1 Corinthians 12:3, we read, “no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.” How do we reconcile these two verses? It seems to me that though everyone will have to acknowledge at some point that Jesus is indeed God, it is a special gift of insight given to those who will be saved to be able to recognize and accept Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior.)
- The result
- Those who did not meet the criteria are banished into everlasting punishment/fire
- Those who did meet the criteria are blessed with life eternal
Wow! Friends, this passage has so much for us to learn from it! As I ponder these verses from the Word of God, I am struck with the realization that I hadn’t really given this text a lot of thought before; but now I’m seeing so much that I didn’t see previously!
First of all, this passage viewed in isolation, almost seems to justify a works-based salvation, doesn’t it? Did you do this? Did you do that? DO. Something we DO. Where’s the grace of God in that?
However, other texts clearly and boldly declare that salvation is only through God’s grace! Why don’t we look at a few of them?:
“…knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.”
“But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? No, but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law.”
So, if I could summarize these verses, I would simply say: Keeping the Law of Moses does not save; only faith in Jesus Christ saves. Jesus kept the law for us, because nobody in the whole world is capable of obeying God’s law perfectly. Nobody.
Now, let’s go back to the Matthew 25 passage. Does Jesus reference the Law when He verbalizes His criteria? Not at all! He doesn’t say, Did you keep such and such law, and did you make sure to never break this other law over here? He seems to be looking for some sign of goodness in their lives. I noticed that He doesn’t even bother with the question of whether or not the two groups had committed any sins. At this point, He only cares to see if they had performed any GOOD. Interesting, don’t you think? Did you show other people that you loved them? is His question.
Do you recall how Jesus likens people’s works to fruit on a tree? Look at this short parable:
“He [Jesus] also spoke this parable: ‘A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. Then he said to the keeper of his vineyard, “Look, for three years I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree and find none. Cut it down; why does it use up the ground?” But he answered and said to him, “Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and fertilize it. And if it bears fruit, well. But if not, after that you can cut it down.” ‘ “
I notice that first, an attempt was made to get the tree to bear fruit, before it was cut down. It’s like Jesus is showing us that He will do everything He can to get people to change before it’s too late. But, if they’re stubborn, and refuse to listen to Him, the only option left is to cut them down. Is Jesus referring to Christians who don’t bear fruit, or is He referring to people who can’t bear fruit because they were never Christians to start out with? What does it mean when He says, “Cut it down”? Is that the same as being thrown into hell?
Here’s another place that talks about fruit:
“For a good tree does not bear bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. For every tree is known by its own fruit. For men do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they gather grapes from a bramble bush. A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.”
Looks to me like it’s rather easy to tell a true follower of Jesus apart from a fake one: look at the fruit–do their lives produce good things, or do their lives produce bad things? That’s why Jesus used what they DID as His criteria in the Matthew 25 passage; because what you DO speaks volumes about what you’re like on the inside. Come on, let’s get real. If you say that you’re a Christian, yet you could care less about other people, what does that make you? A liar.
A true follower of Christ produces the fruit of the Spirit in his/her life:
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.”
Let’s not forget to mention the other end of the spectrum:
“Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”
Bad fruit, right? There is definitely forgiveness for all of those things, for those who are truly repentant! But, it you are living an unrepentant lifestyle of habitually sinning in any of those areas, it’s proof that your heart is far from God.
“What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,’ but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, ‘You have faith, and I have works.’ Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe–and tremble! But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?”
Powerful words, straight from the Spirit of God! In conclusion, then, here’s how we know what makes a TRUE Christian: Your lifestyle. Before we come back to our discussion of whether a Christian can lose his/her salvation, I think it is essential that we ask first, “What makes one a TRUE Christian?” Yes, it’s extremely important to believe in Jesus, but, “What kind of belief are we talking about?” Even the demons believe! True, saving belief, is evidenced by our deeds! By our actions! So, yes, works are important! Not in order to earn our salvation, but as proof that our belief is genuine. So then, let’s come back to our original question, “Can a GENUINE believer in Christ lose her salvation?” More on this in the next article!
Please, do share your thoughts and join in on this friendly discussion! I want to know what you all think! What makes a true Christian? Can a genuine believer lose her salvation?