21“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 7:21)
In the third of five articles discussing the, “Five Salvation Myths of Evangelicalism,” we will explore the myth: Salvation is guaranteed.
In the previous articles we looked at the myths of salvation being “free” and “easy.” The focus on the latter was the necessity of a “baptism of repentance” for salvation. This phrase suggests in all but extreme cases, I.e., pre-baptismal martyrdom, repentance was contemporaneous with baptism and signified the moment salvation took place, hypothetically speaking.
**These articles are written purely as hypotheticals. I do not believe in the Christian concepts of heaven or hell, or the afterlife as depicted in the Bible. However, for the sake of evaluating American evangelicals claim to biblical inerrancy and infallibility we will treat the Bible as “factual.” By doing so we can critique evangelicalism’s authenticity as reflecting the strictest allegiance to biblical standards it purports.
You can’t loose something you never had
Myth #3: Salvation is guaranteed
Most evangelicals would shudder at the idea their prized heavenly destination could be in doubt. Their salvation is as certain as Jesus’ death on the cross and incapable of being undone. Well, yes and no.
I have touched on this before and it is the impetus for these articles. If the Bible was divinely inspired and literally true, most evangelicals would not be going to heaven. Their representation of biblical Christianity has drifted so far off the center as to be doctrinally heretical. They have created a comfortable, convenient and complacent version which is an affront to New Testament teachings beginning with, “How one is saved.”
First, the bad news
In the previous article we discussed how the New Testament emphasizes righteous deeds or “fruit” as indispensable proof salvation has taken place. Jesus spoke repeatedly of sacrifice and suffering as marks of his followers. The Bible abounds with exhortations to believers to live exemplary lives under the power and control of God’s holy spirit. Therefore, if one is not living up to these standards, he or she was never truly saved in the first place. A lackluster languid life is evidence of dead faith or “bad fruit” (Mt. 7:17). And like a fig tree that does not produce fruit, it will be cut down and thrown into the fire (see Mt. 3:10 and Lk. 3:9).
After my conversion, I expected to feel different. I actually thought when the holy spirit entered my heart, I would feel supernaturally empowered and energized. I remember repeating my prayer several times to make sure I got it right. Later, I realized being saved was not a feeling it was an attitude leading to action.
As I began to live out my faith in a powerful way, it was evident to me I was different. A transformed life was unmistakable proof to everyone, and me especially, I had been born-again.
During the fifteen years I was immersed in the evangelical culture, I met hundreds of fellow believers through school or ministry. One thing that was apparent everywhere I went was most evangelicals were incredibly average believers. There was nothing spectacular about their faith. In fact, after I left the faith and began interacting with non Christians, I realized in many ways they were no different and in some ways even worse.
Evangelicals are notorious for their unabashed religiosity. Those who profess to be so righteous and demand others conform to their standards, but compromise when it suits them are the model of modern day Phariseeism.
One final note on this topic. Evangelicals tend to pick and choose the verses they like and avoid the ones they don’t like. Preachers tend to avoid controversial or offensive texts to avoid alienating or losing parishioners. Mega-churches and large churches are particularly adept at staying away from controversy for fear of the repercussions. For instance, church discipline is seldom practiced but could be performed regularly in most churches. Speaking out against divorce, premarital sex, overeating, materialism, gossip, pride and other sins is not popular. Today’s evangelical wants to feel good and know how to gain God’s blessings. Admonishing congregants to devote their lives to fasting, prayer and Bible study and resist cell phones, laptops and vacuous television shows would be met with disapproval.
Now, the good news
If you are earnestly living each day as God commands through his holy word, your salvation is guaranteed!
38For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor heavenly rulers, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”(Romans 8:38,39)
Most evangelicals are familiar with this verse. It is considered the classic text on “eternal security.” And like most popular verses, its contextual significance is usually ignored.
Paul offers this passage as a direct answer to this question:
35”Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?”(Romans 8:35)
The question in the mind of the Roman church was whether the tribulations they were experiencing were evident of God’s displeasure with them. I have yet to hear an evangelical wonder if the suffering they are enduring is a threat to their eternal well being. Usually, the reason is the exact opposite.
Evangelicalism is teeming with those who want to know “how far they can go” before it’s a sin. Young believers want to test the limits of sexual exploration. Older believers want to indulge in other questionable vices like drugs, drinking, gambling, materialism etc…
Evangelicals refer to this as “spiritual liberty” which may defined as biblically “grey” areas with no clear explicit teaching. And while there may be some topics which fall into this, the Bible is shockingly clear on many issues which evangelicals either ignore or rationalize as acceptable. One of the most popular being, “If we are planning to get married, is it okay to have sex?” A common one is, “God wouldn’t want me to stay in an unhappy marriage.” Or, “God wants me to make a lot of money so I can help others.” This last one never results in the person being financially inconvenienced by their generosity.
Salvation is forever only insofar as you are diligent in your commitment. But what if you backslide or “fall away” from the faith? Are you still technically saved? Because we are dealing with hypotheticals, not only doesn’t it matter but also it is impossible to know. However, it all goes back to where we started.
If someone does drift away from the faith, returns and repents, they can assume they were always saved provided they demonstrated the fruits of repentance before leaving. However, if they become apostates and refuse to repent, they either were never saved or lost their salvation. On the latter, the writer of the book of Hebrews is clear (see below).
From a Judaistic perspective, “salvation” was never guaranteed because the obedience of each Israelite was ever changing. Also, salvation was not eternal but physical. It might be described as “deliverance.” The most famous Hebrew text is Psalm 22:1 which Jesus cried from the cross.
1”My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me,
so far from my cries of anguish?”
Many of the Psalms reflect a similar sentiment of praying for physical deliverance from a threatening enemy. Often these incidences were viewed as evidence of divine disfavor. On a larger scale, i.e., a national captivity or enemy invasion, Israelites considered this punishment for sins past and/or present.
Jesus sacrificial death was viewed by Christians as securing eternal deliverance from death. It was considered an immense privilege to partake in this promise as the expense of Jesus’ life. Therefore, if a believer committed a gross sin, it was inexcusable.
4”It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age 6and who have fallen c away, to be brought back to repentance. To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace. 7Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God. 8But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned.”(Hebrew 6:4-8)
26”If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, 27but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. 28Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29How much more severely do you think someone deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? 30For we know him who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” [Deut. 32:34] and again, “The Lord will judge his people.” [Deut. 32:35] 31It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”(Hebrews 10:26-31)
Those evangelicals who seek to deny the clear and unmistakable import of these passages do so in an attempt to preserve a biblically unwarranted belief. Which is not to say, the writer of Hebrews and Paul may have disagreed on this matter. But in light of the Levitical sacrificial system which was foremost in this writer’s mind, Christians who deliberately and consistently engaged in sinful practice could be certain of God’s merciless judgment and “in the end will be burned.”
If Christianity were true: A cynical look at a sinister faith
If the teachings of the New Testament were truly inspired by God and a Christian was a “new creation” whose sin nature had been crucified and who now was living under the control and power of the holy spirit, I would not be writing this article. Christians would be spiritual superheroes dazzling the world with feats of unbelievable kindness, justice, generosity, love and service to better mankind. Poverty, crime and prejudice would be virtually eliminated by their super human efforts as divine agents of righteousness. People would be converting by the hundreds of millions in light of what could only be described as indisputable evidence of Jesus’ resurrection. Wars would cease. Inequality would not exist. Crime would plummet. Sadly, this is hardly the case.
Instead American evangelicalism is marred by a spirit of apathy and complacency the likes of which its brief history has not witnessed.
I realize I am preaching mostly to the choir when I say, evangelical Christians are the laughingstocks of the world. I am tragically aware they relish the world’s scorn because they interpret it as persecution of the righteous — they really do!
Evangelicals are conditioned to think the world is supposed to hate them because that is exactly what Jesus said it would do.
18“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. 19If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.”(John 15:18,19)
A few months ago I wrote an article entitled, “What would an evangelical-less world look like.” Here I tried to highlight evangelicals hyper exaggerated view of their own contribution to society. They sincerely believe, if they were all to suddenly leave the planet, like say via “The Rapture,” those societies where they once were would spiral into moral chaos. Murderers would own the streets, people would be having sex with farm animals and Pedophiles would be prowling the public schools. Evangelicalism traffics in delusional thinking at the best of times.
I offered the counter argument, the world would improve exponentially. Science could move forward unhampered by the anchor of creationist thinking. The LGBTQ community could finally let down its guard and take a well deserved rest. Women’s advocacy groups could finally be unimpeded in setting up pregnancy crisis centers and providing abortion services to those in need. Environmental initiatives previously rolled back by the influence of Christian Dominionism minded politicians would be reinstated and perhaps other faith groups would not feel threatened and marginalized by evangelical nationalists. Politicians would not be forced to cow-tow to Christian Zionists who endeavor to inflict their misguided apocalyptic perspective on foreign policy. Society would finally not be bound by pre Enlightenment thinking once those who embrace a book of ancient superstition and fantastical thinking were gone. Good riddance!