So if that’s how we’re saved — by faith — then how might we fall away? Well, let’s not make this unnecessarily complicated. If faith is the path in, then losing one’s faith is the path out. We leave by going back on how we came in.
Now, “faith” as we’ve covered has these three elements:
1. Belief that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God. Jesus is Lord. God resurrected Jesus.
2. Faithfulness to Jesus.
3. Trust in Jesus to keep his promises.
So reversing any of these three will damn.
Logically, to continue to be saved, we need to at least continue to believe what we had to believe to be saved in the first place.
Hence, positively —
(Mat 16:16 ESV) 16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
(Rom 10:9-11 ESV) 9 because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. 11 For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.”
Hence, we’re not surprised to find those who deny this confession to be damned —
(1Jo 4:2-3 ESV) 2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.
(2Jo 1:7-8 ESV) 7 For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist. 8 Watch yourselves, so that you may not lose what we have worked for, but may win a full reward.
Several passages refer to the necessity that we continue to be faithful/penitent/obedient. The passage that explains it most clearly to me is —
(Heb 10:26-31 ESV) For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. 28 Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. 29 How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” 31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
Note v. 26 especially. We all continue to sin. We all sometimes sin deliberately. But when we deliberately continue in sin — live in rebellion against the known will of God — then we fall away.
This is in fact a recurring theme throughout Hebrews —
(Heb 3:7-12 ESV) Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, “Today, if you hear his voice, 8 do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness, 9 where your fathers put me to the test and saw my works for forty years. 10 Therefore I was provoked with that generation, and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart; they have not known my ways.’ 11 As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest.'” 12 Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.
The author compares our salvation to the Exodus. God saved the Israelites from Egyptian slavery and promised to take them to the Promised Land. But nearly all died in the desert because they rebelled against the will of God.
Plainly, there was no perseverance of the saints in the OT. The Israelites died in the desert. The Northern Kingdom was carried into Assyrian captivity. Judah was carried into Babylonian Captivity. Many of the Israelites who’d been redeemed from slavery were returned to slavery.
God was unspeakably patient with their sinfulness and idolatry. But his patience gave out. There came a time for consequences. And all Israel paid a high price for their sin. They did not persevere.
And when God went so far as to return to them in the flesh and walk among them and teach his will, even dying on a Roman cross for them, most rejected him and did not persevere.
And the Hebrews writer warns us not to be like them.
Perhaps the biggest challenge in the Churches of Christ is trusting God’s promises. We just can’t make ourselves accept salvation by faith in Jesus. We desperately want to earn our own way. But Paul writes,
(Gal 5:2-4 ESV) Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. 3 I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. 4 You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.
Paul could not be more plain. We have a choice. One choice is to be justified by obedience to law. If we do that, we are obligated to keep the whole law. We must live perfectly. And if we take on that burden, then Jesus’ death is no longer available to us — and because we’ll fail, we’ll be damned.
(Gal 5:5-6 ESV) 5 For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.
Our hope of righteousness — to be deemed righteous like Abraham — is “by faith.” If we reject works as our path to salvation, then the other option is to be “in Christ Jesus.” But in Christ Jesus, the only thing that counts (KJV: avails, meaning accomplishes its intended purposes) is “faith working through love.”
Paul isn’t saying it’s either faith or it’s works. He’s saying that only faith can save. Anything else fails. Therefore, because works aren’t faith, they fail.
The question, therefore, isn’t whether X or Y is works or faith. The question is whether X or Y is faith. If it’s not faith, it cannot avail. It cannot save. Even if X or Y is not works. Only faith can save because God’s covenant with Abraham was to treat faith as righteousness. Only faith.
The question that presents itself to the modern Churches of Christ, therefore, is whether we trust God’s promises? Are we willing to believe — accept as true — the numerous promises to save everyone who has faith?
Or will we persist in insisting that only those with faith — who also worship a cappella, worship on Sunday, have five and only five “acts of worship” in the Sunday assembly, are scripturally organized with a plurality of elders, don’t have deacons unless they have elders, have only male deacons, have only male elders …
I’m not sure how many commands there are that we must add to faith to be saved. I think it’s 613.
Oops. Sorry. That was the Law of Moses. I think the Churches of Christ have passed 1,000. After all, once you declare silences to be commands, well, there’s no limit on how many topics the Bible might be silent.
Al Maxey delights in asking his opponents to make a list of the essential commands that must be obeyed to be saved — in addition to faith in Jesus. No one will do it. No one will deny that there is such a list.
What a horrible, fearful, scary, terrifying way to live — believing that you must obey a long list of commands to be saved and being unable to even write down what you believe is on the list — much less agree with your fellow church goers on the list. And then believing you can’t be forgiven of an error unless you discover it, repent of it, and no longer do it. And believing that you’ll be damned for having the wrong list. This is, of course, an impossible way to live.