Faith: Will You Lose Yours?

Dr. Brian Allison

Can a professing Christian lose his or her salvation? Perhaps one of the most difficult passages in the New Testament to interpret, as well as one of the most disturbing for Christians seeking assurance of salvation, is Hebrews 6:4-6, which reads:

For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucified to themselves the Son of God, and put Him to open shame. For ground that drinks the rain which often falls upon it and brings forth vegetation useful to those whose sake it is also tilled, receives a blessing from God; but if it yields thorns and thistles, it is worthless and close to being cursed, and it ends up being burned.

This passage indicates at least three basic points concerning the experience of salvation. First, a professing Christian can have an experience of salvation, and then reject it. This passage very succinctly outlines the various aspects entailed in, and identified with, a person's salvation experience. First, one has become spiritually enlightened, that is, one has received Biblical instruction and has gained knowledge concerning the truth of Jesus Christ. Second, one has tasted of the heavenly gift, that is, one has received the forgiveness of sins and the imputation of righteousness, resulting in justification. Third, one has partaken of the Holy Spirit, that is, one has entered into, and now shares in, the life of God's Spirit, and thus has received the Spirit's gifts, operations, and influences. Fourth, one has tasted of the good Word of God, that is, one has experienced the impact of Biblical preaching and teaching which should result in transformation of conduct and behaviour. Fifth, one has tasted the powers of the age to come, that is, one has experienced the effects of the Holy Spirit which are demonstrated particularly in miracles and wonders, and even in personal strengthening and enabling.

Now this Scripture indicates that those who have entered into a salvation experience, with its various aspects, can subsequently fall away from that experience; he or she can reject that salvation - "For in the case of those who have once been enlightened...and then have fallen away..." The emphasis of this passage is not on those who have simply made a verbal confession of faith, but rather on those who have had an actual experience of faith. The recipients of this epistle were not unbelievers, nor were they merely nominal Christians; that is not the import of the language. We dare not water down the language. The language used refers to the essential elements of the salvation experience.

Further, the original Greek underlying this Scripture is not a conditional statement (i.e., If they should fall away, then it is impossible to renew to repentance), but rather a declarative one (i.e., since it is a fact that they fall away, it is impossible to renew to repentance). A hypothetical situation is not indicated here, but rather a very real possibility, and that is why the author of this epistle wrote – to warn these believers of the necessity to persevere in their faith. Philip Hughes is correct when he writes in his commentary:

Certainly, it seems scarcely credible that one who has in some definite sense experienced all this should then fall away from this state of blessedness. Yet this is the dreadful possibility that is envisaged in this passage. The situation is hardly eased by suggesting, as some (including Spicq) have done, that the author is expressing himself in a merely hypothetical manner: "If anyone should become apostate, it would be impossible to restore him," with the implication that a defection of this kind actually never happened...What, in any case, would be the point of warning them of the danger of apostasy and then assuring them that, after all, they are in no danger of falling into apostasy? Any such procedure would be self-defeating. The confidence expressed in 6:9 and 10:39 arises from the certitude that a true work of God has taken place in their midst; but this does not exclude the possibility that some of their number are rebellious at heart and, unless there is a radical change will find that they have reached the point of irremediable apostasy. Hebrews, p. 212.

In their lukewarmness, in their state of indifference, they were in danger of slipping into unbelief, with the final result being that of apostasy, that is, falling away from the faith. Hence, this epistle has such stern warnings as: "Take care, brethren, lest there should be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart, in falling away from the living God" (Hb. 3:12). The recipients of this epistle were professing believers who apparently had entered into salvation's blessings, and were on the verge of rejecting them. The consequences of rejecting this salvation would be catastrophic. Now one may argue that these people were not really saved. That conclusion does not come plainly from this passage, but rather from one's particular brand of theology. We must be careful not to prefer and defend our theology at the expense of the plain, direct teaching of God's Word. We should not try to shave off the edges of the text in order to fit it into our theology.

We have Biblical examples of people who accepted salvation and then eventually rejected it. Demas is one such example. The apostle Paul wrote to the Church at Colosse that Demas sent his greetings (Col. 4:14). Demas apparently was a Christian, aligned with other believers and fellowshiping with them. Paul mentioned him again in his epistle to Philemon as one who was a fellow labourer; he apparently was working for the advancement of the Gospel. (Phm. 23). Yet we discover that this Demas eventually abandoned the faith. Paul wrote to Timothy, "Demas, having loved this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica" (2 Tm. 4:9).

Some professing Christians are resting on a false assurance, a false hope. They typically refer to the time when they walked down the church aisle or filled out a conversion card; and having done these outward acts, they believe that they now are eternally saved – "once saved, always saved." The truth of the matter is that assurance of salvation rests on perseverance in the faith. Hebrews 4:1 reads, "Therefore, let us fear lest, while a promise remains of entering His rest, any one of you should seem to have come short of it." The author of this epistle is not simply employing scare tactics in order to manipulate or unjustly upset, really knowing that falling away from the faith by these believers could never happen; that was the problem, he knew that it could happen, and thus he attempted to divert them from that miserable end.

Second, a professing Christian who has had an experience of salvation, and then rejects it, does not have another opportunity to experience it again - "and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance." Once you have abandoned the faith, having accepted it, you are barred from receiving it again. You have only one personal opportunity to be saved. Once you have become a Christian, you must remain a Christian, for there is no second chance. Salvation is not something that you can decide for one day and then leave the next, thinking that you can again return to it. You may receive it once, and only once. If you have professed faith in Christ and have identified yourself with His Church, there can be no excusable turning back . In the mid-seventies, Richard Nixon was impeached; he was removed from the Presidential office. Having been removed, he had no opportunity to be reinstated. Having become disqualified, he was barred from entering the office again. Such is true with the Christian faith.

Now, a qualification at this juncture may be in order. 'To fall away' does not mean mere backsliding; 'to fall away' does not mean experiencing spiritually cold or dark periods in your life. Rather, as John Brown says, "This does not consist of an occasional falling into actual sin, however gross and aggravated; nor in the renunciation of some of the principles of Christianity, even though these should be of considerable importance; but in an open, total, determined renunciation of all the constituent principles of Christianity, and a return to a false religion, such as that of unbelieving Jews or heathens, or to determined infidelity and open godlessness" (Hebrews, p. 289). 'Falling away' is a total recanting of belief in the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. It is the total renunciation of Christian doctrine and principles. It is the total rejection of the Christian Church.

Now one can leave the Christian Church, for a season, while still believing in God and Christ. Disobedience to one of Christ's commands is not necessarily a 'falling away.' The 'falling away' in view here is a total abandonment of the faith, a personal declaration that the faith once embraced is a lie, an error, or a deception; the result being eternally disastrous. So the apostle Peter wrote, "For if after they have escaped the defilements of the world by the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they again are entangled in them and are overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would be better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn away from the holy command that delivered them. 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'" (2 Pe. 2:20-22). You can know the way of righteousness, that is, salvation, and then deliberately reject it, incurring a greater damnation than if you had not accepted that salvation in the first place. Repentance to salvation again is impossible.

It is impossible to renew a former Christian to repentance unto salvation again because of divine judgement. It is impossible to renew these apostates, not because the apostates will never be open to the instruction and rebuke of church teachers, nor because the church will have nothing further to do with such a persons again, though these two situations may be true on an individual basis, but because those who have abandoned the faith will have evoked God's abandonment of them. When one, having known Christ, says 'no' to Him, God, in return, says 'no' to him; and His 'no' is eternal. Hebrews 12:15-17, which is a commentary on this very point, reads, "See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God [this implies that some may come short of the grace of God]; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled; that there be no immoral or godless person like Esau, who sold his own birthright for a single meal [he disqualified himself]. For you know that even afterwards [when he came to his senses, believing that he had made a mistake], when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought for it with tears." The man was broken, realizing that he had done wrong, that he had made a mistake, that he had turned his back on the blessing; but it was too late, and all his tears, all his grief, and all his sorrow meant absolutely nothing before God. Esau had a change of mind, but that change in no way altered his situation. Esau's failure to find or experience repentance did not lie on the human side, but on the divine side.

The case of Judas Iscariot is similar to that of Esau. Judas Iscariot was one of the disciples of the Lord, invested with apostolic authority. He had experienced fellowship with Christ. He had heard the teachings of Christ. He had enjoyed an intimate relationship with Christ, but he eventually betrayed and forsook Him. When he finally came to his senses, Judas broke down and wept. He regretted that he had betrayed Christ. He even tried to correct his actions by returning the betrayal money. Yet Christ said that it would have been better for the one who betrayed Him to have never been born. For all his weeping and crying, the man was eternally lost. In his misery, he went out and hanged himself. It is absolutely impossible to come to repentance again, once you have accepted Christ as Saviour and then have rejected Him.

Third, a professing Christian cannot have another opportunity to experience salvation because a second repentance is a sin and an offense against the very merits of Christ's saving work - "since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God, and put Him to open shame." The bearing of shame by Christ, the exposing to shame of Christ, relates to His crucifixion. In His death on the cross, the Lord was put to shame; crucifixion and shame go hand in hand. Hebrews 12:2f., for instance, reads, "Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." To accept Christ as your Lord and Saviour, and then to reject Him, and then to want to accept Him again, says, in effect, that His atoning work on your behalf was not sufficient the first time. The power of the cross was apparently ineffective to save you the first time when you believed in His death. To seek to personally accept Christ's death to save a second time, after once rejecting it, is an offense against the very worth or merit of that death. What one does, in effect, is to crucify Christ again for himself in his experience, and thus expose Him to open shame again by having Him 'die twice.' Christ is to be "publicly portrayed as crucified" (Ga. 3:1) only once in one's experience. Christ died once, objectively, on the cross; therefore, He can only die once, subjectively, in your experience; and if the death was not sufficient the first time, why should it be any more effective the second time? If He could not save the first time, He will not save the second time. The rejection of the death of Christ by a professing Christian is a grave offense; it is the unpardonable sin. So Hebrews 10:29 states, "How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know Him who said, 'VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY.' And again, 'THE LORD WILL JUDGE HIS PEOPLE.' It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God."

You must count the cost. Do not start building, if you think that you will be unable to finish. Better to not start at all, than to start and not finish. My professing Christian, what do you think about the death of Christ? Do you understand its merits? Do you appreciate its worth and its value? Your rejection of the Gospel and the saving merits of Christ's death will result in God's rejection of you.

Now though a professing Christian can reject his or her salvation experience, and hence be eternally barred from further relationship and fellowship with God, the Scriptures do teach the perseverance of the saints, the doctrine of eternal security. God's elect will never be lost. No one or no thing can pluck the true believer out of the hand of God. Though this fact may sound contradictory to the above teaching, we now turn our minds to consider this truth.

At least three practical questions arise thus far from our study of Hebrews 6:4-6: 1) How is it that one can apparently experience salvation, and then reject or lose it? 2) Who are the ones who are in danger of rejecting or losing their salvation? 3) How may one be assured of his or her salvation? Five points or principles can be articulated in order to provide a foundational understanding in response to these questions.

First, faith is the instrument with which one receives the saving, miraculous, or general blessings of God. Hebrews 11:6 reads, "And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him." In Matthew 9, we have an illustration of the instrumentality of faith, for instance, receiving the miraculous blessing of God. It states, "And behold, a woman who had been suffering from a hemorrhage for twelve years, came up behind Him [Jesus] and touched the fringe of His cloak; for she was saying to herself, 'If I only touch His garment, I shall get well.' But Jesus turning and seeing her said, 'Daughter, take courage; your faith has made you well.' At once the woman was made well" (vss. 20-22) The issue here is not personal salvation; the issue is healing, and Jesus healed this woman in response to her faith. Further, we read, "And as Jesus passed on from there, two blind men followed Him, crying out, and saying, 'Have mercy on us, Son of David!' And after He had come into the house, the blind men came up to Him, and Jesus said, 'Do you believe that I am able to do this?' [Belief is at the heart of faith] They said to Him, 'Yes, Lord.' Then He touched their eyes, saying, 'Be it done to you according to your faith'" (vss. 27-29). In summary, Jesus said that anything is possible if one has faith (Mk. 9:23). So faith receives the saving, miraculous, and even general blessings of God.

Second, God is pleased to honour faith regardless of its source or origin, though He is not necessarily disposed to respond to it. God is pleased to manifest His goodness in response to faith, for faith implies trust, which honours God. In Matthew 15 we have the account of the Syrophoenician woman, a foreigner to Israel. It states:

And Jesus went away from there, and withdrew into the district of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman came out from that region, and began to cry out, saying, "Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is cruelly demon-possessed." But He did not answer her a word. [He was trying to evoke her faith] And His disciples came to Him and kept asking Him, saying, "Send her away, for she is shouting out after us." [You see the prejudice on the part of the disciples] But He answered and said, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." But she came and began to bow down before Him, saying, "Lord, help me!" And He answered and said, "It is not good to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs." But she said, "Yes, Lord; but even the dogs feed on the crumbs which fall from their masters' table." Then Jesus answered and said to her, "O woman, your faith is great; be it done for you as you wish." And her daughter was healed at that moment (vss. 21-28).

Jesus responded to the woman, even though she was not an Israelite, simply because she showed faith. God is pleased to honour the faith of the heathen or non-Christian because the personal expression of faith underscores the Creator-creature relationship, clearly evidencing that the creature is wholly dependent upon the Creator. Jesus honoured this woman's faith because her faith honoured Him. Faith is not the sole possession of the Christian. Even non-Christians evidence faith; and the essence of faith, whether Christian or non-Christian is the same – belief and trust.

Third, a professing Christian can have a self-rooted faith or a Spirit-generated faith. What is a self-rooted faith? A self-rooted faith finds its origin in the person himself; it is essentially a natural belief springing from personal interests, needs, or desires. For example, one may believe in Christ simply because he or she needs to feel loved. Having heard the Gospel of love, realizing that Jesus can comfort and provide, one may respond to the Gospel invitation on purely emotional or psychological grounds. One's faith in Christ, in this case, stems from one's needs. It has a personal and natural character, rather than a spiritual and supernatural one

What is a Spirit-generated faith? A Spirit-generated faith finds its origin in the work of the Holy Spirit. It is what John Owen calls a supernatural faith; it is essentially a supernatural belief springing from the illuminating, regenerating ministry of the Holy Spirit. Having heard the Gospel of salvation, one may come to clearly know, and deeply feel, the truth about Christ; and through conviction of sin and repentance of heart flee to Christ from the coming wrath of God. Now, in terms of appearance, a self-rooted faith and a Spirit-generated faith look the same. The difference is in their origin. For instance, the Scriptures record, "Many therefore of His [Jesus] disciples, when they heard this said, 'This is a difficult statement; who can listen to it?' [Notice that they were disciples; they apparently had been taught by Jesus and had decided to follow Him] But Jesus, conscious that His disciples grumbled at this, said to them, 'Does this cause you to stumble? What then if you should behold the Son of Man ascending where He was before? It is the Spirit who gives life, the flesh profits nothing...But there are some of you who do not believe'" (Jn. 6:60-63). Some of these disciples believed, but they did not really believe. They were disciples, following and even obeying Christ up to this point, but they did not know the work of the Holy Spirit in their life; they did not have spiritual life. Their belief in Christ was a natural one. Jesus thus made a distinction here between those who believe, yet are still in the flesh, and those who believe, and are true benefactors of the Spirit. Accordingly, there are professing Christians who are governed by the flesh, as well as professing Christians who are governed by the Spirit; but only those who have the Spirit really possess (eternal) life. Those believers governed by the flesh are the ones who may eventually depart from the faith. So this Johannine account continues, "As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew, and were not walking with Him anymore" (vs. 66). However, those believers governed by the Spirit will say, even as the apostle Peter, "You [Jesus] have words of eternal life. And we have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God" (vs. 68). Those who have a natural, personal faith are the ones in danger of slipping into unbelief and, hence, of rejecting their salvation.

Now the practical point of this truth is this: the Church consists of two kinds of believers, namely, self-motivated believers and Spirit-regenerated believers; or if you like, false believers and true believers; people with an intellectual faith and people with a heart or dynamic faith; people with a natural faith and people with a spiritual faith. Scripture uses such language as: the wheat and the tares (both are growing side by side in the kingdom) (Mt. 13:24); the sheep and the goats (both are required to perform good works) (Mt. 25:31ff.); the wise virgins and the foolish virgins (both are waiting for the bridegroom) (Mt. 25:1ff.); the good, faithful slaves and the wicked, lazy slaves (both are supposed to be working for the Lord) (Mt. 25:14ff.). Self-motivated believers are Christians in appearance and name; Spirit-regenerated believers are Christians in essence and heart; they are the elect of God.

All the elect are believers, but not all believers are the elect. All may truly believe, but not all are true believers. The self-motivated believers are the ones in danger of falling away from the faith. The parable of the sower and the seeds is particularly helpful at this point. The Scriptures record, "And He [Jesus] spoke many things to them in parables, saying, 'Behold, the sower went out to sow; and as he sowed, some seeds fell beside the road, and the birds came and ate them up. And others fell upon the rocky places, where they did not have much soil; and immediately they sprang up, because they had no depth of soil. But when the sun had risen, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away. And others fell among the thorns, and the thorns came up and choked them out. And others fell on the good soil, and yielded a crop, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty. He who has ears let him hear" (Mt. 13:3-9). Jesus proceeded to interpret this parable. He said, "Hear then the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom [the preached Gospel], and does not understand it, the evil one [Satan] comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is the one on whom seed was sown beside the road. And the one on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, this is the man who hears the word, and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no firm root in himself, but is only temporary, and when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he falls away" (vss. 18-21). We are given here one category of professing Christians. These ones, no doubt, 'look' saved. They receive the truth with excitement, zeal, and fervour; and yet they have no personal steadiness or perseverance in themselves. That is the problem. They live the Christian life for awhile, and when affliction or persecution comes because of their witness, immediately they apostatize. Did it look like they had an experience of salvation? Yes! Did they profess Christ? Definitely! Did they identify themselves with the Church? Absolutely! Yet they eventually fell away.

Further, "And the one on whom the seed was sown among the thorns, this is the man who hears the word [and apparently receives and believes it], and the worry of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful" (vs. 22). That is the problem. This second category of professing Christians evidence no spiritual productivity. The virtues of Christian behaviour and the graces of Christian conduct are conspicuously absent. They are Christian in name, but not in power. "And the one on whom seed was sown on the good soil, this is the man who hears the word and understands it; who indeed bears fruit, and brings forth some a hundred fold, some sixty, and some thirty" (vs. 23). This last category of professing Christians produce the fruit of the Spirit and engage in good works. The Word has changed their thinking, and thus has transformed their heart. They are those who really understand. Now as the parable of the wheat and tares (Mt. 13:24ff.) teaches, false and true believers will co-exist, almost indistinguishably, until the end of this age.

Fourth, a person can evidence faith, and thus experience salvation's blessings, without being truly or spiritually regenerated. One can believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour and not possess a new spiritual nature, that is, the person has not been spiritually regenerated. One can remain essentially unchanged internally, although he or she has embraced the Christian faith personally. Now, because of the expression of faith, which is the instrument for receiving salvation, one can be saved in principle, though not in essence. One can enter into salvation's blessings, on the basis of his or her faith, though it be natural and self-rooted (God honouring faith for His own name's sake), devoid of an internal, spiritual transformation. The account in Acts 8:9ff., concerning Simon, illustrates this fact. The Scriptures record:

Now there was a certain man named Simon, who formerly was practicing magic in the city, and astonishing the people of Samaria, claiming to be someone great; and they all, from smallest to greatest, were giving attention to him, saying, 'This man is what is called the Great Power of God. And they were giving him attention because he had for such a long time astonished them with his magic arts. But when they believed Philip preaching the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were being baptized, men and women alike. And even Simon himself believed; and after being baptized [and joining the church], he continued on with Philip; and as he observed signs and great miracles taking place, he was constantly amazed. Now when the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent Peter and John, who came down and prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Spirit. [It seems that everyone here would receive the Holy Spirit] For He had not yet fallen upon any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they began laying their hands on them, and they were receiving the Holy Spirit. Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was bestowed by the laying on of the apostles' hands, he offered them money, saying, "Give this authority as well, so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit." But Peter said to him, [seeing the true condition of his heart], "May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! You have no part or portion in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. Therefore repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray the Lord that if it be 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."

Now Simon apparently had believed the Gospel, and had been baptized. He had identified himself with the Church of Christ. He had aligned himself with workers of the Gospel. He had entered into salvation's blessings, and yet he was not spiritually regenerated, his heart was still bad. Simon was the man at the wedding feast without wedding clothes (Mt. 22:1ff.).

Fifth, a Spirit-generated faith, that is, a living faith, as opposed to a self-rooted or dead faith, results in doing the will of God and performing the works of Christ. This point brings us to the question of the assurance of salvation. Matthew 7:21ff. states, "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.'" This presents a most heart-wrenching scene of future judgement. Many self-deceived Christians will be exposed. Many professors will be shocked on that day. Again, these ones are not unbelievers. They will have thought that they were saved, that they were in a right relationship with Christ. They will have enjoyed salvation's blessings through faith. Yet mere belief, empty profession, and subjective experience are not enough. The acid test of salvation requires, first, obedience to the will of God; that is, a life in conformity to God's righteous standards. The will of God concerns becoming holy just as God is holy. So Scripture teaches, "For this is the will of God, your sanctification" (1 Th. 4:3).

The acid test of salvation requires, second, a performing of the works of Christ. Jesus said, "Believe Me that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me; otherwise believe on account of the works themselves. Truly, truly, I say unto you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works shall he do; because I go to the Father...If you love Me, you will keep My commandments" (Jn. 14:11ff.). Spiritual union with Christ, which is brought about by the presence of the Holy Spirit, results in performing the works of Christ. A sample of the works of Christ are listed in Matthew 25: feeding the hungry, giving water to the thirsty, welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked, visiting the sick, and going to the imprisoned one.

In similar language, Jesus taught, "I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it, that it may bear more fruit...If any one 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" (Jn. 15:1,2,6). One can sustain a relationship with Christ and fail to produce Christian virtues. He will eventually receive damnation. One can fail to sustain a relationship with Christ, and he or she, in turn, will also receive damnation. A true Christian reflects and reveals the very character of Christ.

The emphasis in Hebrews 6:4-6 is on receiving salvation, but the important issue is on working out salvation. The problem with the Church at Sardis was that many received and heard the Gospel but failed to keep it. They had 'garments', but they were soiled. Bearing spiritual fruit confirms true salvation. Hebrews 6:7f. interestingly states (illustrating 6:4-6), "For ground that drinks the rain which often falls upon it and brings forth vegetation useful to those for whose sake it is also tilled, receives a blessing from God; but if it yields thorns and thistles, it is worthless and close to being cursed, and it ends up being burned." The salvation blessings of God come to both false and true believers alike, but only true believers will bring forth spiritual fruit; false believers bring forth no fruit, and hence will be subject to damnation.

One may ask, "Then are these self-motivated believers really saved or did they just think that they were saved?" In response, these ones, on the basis of their faith, enter into a saved state. Again., they are saved in principle. However, one's saved state must be confirmed by doing the will of God and performing the works of Christ – "things that accompany salvation" (Hb. 6:9). We receive salvation by faith; we keep salvation by obedience. Indeed, we are saved by faith alone, but not by faith which is alone. By faith, one is saved in time; by faith's obedience, one is saved for eternity. On judgement day, God will judge believers on the basis of faith and faith's obedience; and faith's obedience will determine one's eternal future. One may retort, "If the initial salvation experience is not eternal, for through faith one receives eternal life, then one is not really saved to begin with; and if it is eternal, then one cannot lose it." Through the act of faith one is eternally saved provisionally. The act of faith results in the act of justification, but one must remain in a state of faith in order to remain in a state of justification. So the Scriptures say, "For in it [the Gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, 'BUT THE RIGHTEOUS MAN SHALL LIVE BY FAITH'" (Rm. 1:17). Insofar as one continues to express faith, one continues in a justified or saved state. Remaining in faith to the very end results in confirmed or eschatological justification. The apostle Paul could say at the end of his life, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness" (2 Tm. 4:f.).

Salvation is unto eternal life, but the initial embracing of salvation does not automatically guarantee the final embracing of that life. Salvation involves human responsibility, as well as divine sovereignty (whose relationship will ever remain a mystery). By faith, one begins now to partake of eternal life; through faith's obedience, one ultimately secures that life. Though one has entered into salvation's blessings, that, in itself, does not guarantee the experience of full salvation. Salvation is presently realized, but eschatologically confirmed. The Scriptures state, "Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge...For he who lacks these qualities is blind or short-sighted, having forgotten his purification from his former sins. Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble; for in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom...will be abundantly supplied to you" (2 Pe. 5,9-11). The self-motivated believer experiences salvation's blessings truly, but not ultimately. There is a faith without works, and there is a faith with works. Both bring one into a saved state, that is, a relationship with Jesus Christ. Only 'faith with works' ultimately justifies unto eternal life. As James states, "But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; and Scripture was fulfilled which says, 'AND ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD [faith plus faith's obedience], AND IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS,'...You see that a man is justified by works, and not by faith alone" (Jas 2:20ff.). The language of the apostle Paul is similar to that of James – "faith working through love" (Ga. 5:6). Faith alone tends to hell; the faith plus faith's obedience secures heaven. Now it is possible for one who has a dead faith to eventually experience a living faith, but such a experience lies solely in the hands of the sovereign Lord. God alone can give true saving faith.

Having entered into a saved state, one's faith is then tested and tried to determine whether he or she is worthy of eternal life. Only the elect will ultimately be found worthy, for they are saved in essence, and through their obedience. The necessity of obedience, of course, presupposes the importance of exhortations. Thus the author of the Hebrew epistle exhorted continually his Christian audience. Election does not exclude the need for exhortation. God ordained that one would realize his election through his obedience. It is true that believing in Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord results in eternal life, but again it is a particular belief that is in view, a belief that is tested and tried, and found genuine, issuing forth into good works and conformity to God's will. So the Scriptures read, "Who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time...if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ...obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls" (1 Pe. 1:5ff.).