Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry. For it is because of these things that the wrath of God will come upon the sons of disobedience, and in them you also once walked, when you were living in them.
– Col 3.5-7
All good Baptists will tell you quickly that we are saved by faith, not by works (Eph 2.8-9). There is nothing we can do to earn God’s merit or favor and there is nothing we can do to make Him love us less. We cannot lose our salvation. Once saved always saved. We are the frozen chosen, for my more reformed friends.
The evangelical world is split on the topic, however, as more liturgical based denominations will consider the back-slidden, the worldly believer and the apostate as unsaved – though having once been saved (Heb 6.4, 10.26-27, Matt 6.15).
Both trains of thought have made a serious error, and that in dealing with the very nature of salvation. The faith of salvation has been divorced, in concept, from the faith that produces righteousness. The faith that gets you into Heaven has been voided of the holiness which earns us eternal rewards. To view salvation as a one-time experience that was secured by walking an aisle, raising a hand, or saying a prayer is simplistic at best and damnable at worst.
“But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved.”
– Matt 24.13
Salvation is an ongoing process. We do not earn it by obedience, but it is exemplified by obedience. If we are not being empowered by and convicted by the Holy Spirit to live lives that honor and glorify God, we did not have a true conversion experience and we are not on the road to eternal salvation. Remember the sower and the seeds? The Gospel can look appealing to people. They can even start out down the apparent road of obedience. But when it is of the flesh, the burdens of the world and persecution will cause them to fall away (Luke 8).
This is precisely why Paul encouraged the Philippian church to work out their salvation with fear and trembling (Phil 2.12). Why? Because eternity is at stake. If you are obeying in your own strength, you are seeking to earn God’s salvation by your works. There is no faith and consequently no salvation. If you are refusing to obey, then there is no fruit to prove that the Spirit is working out your sanctification no proof of your salvation. And it is for sin that God’s wrath comes upon people in eternal judgment: Hell.
When we come to a fork in the road between living a lifestyle prohibited by God and living a lifestyle of obedience, if we choose sin, we can rightly fear that the Spirit is not at work within us, and that we are not saved.
Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.
– Matt 10.28
Terrorists can kill our bodies. Disease, car crashes, old age, something will kill our bodies. But Jesus tells us to not fear those things, but to fear God who, after we are dead, can destroy us in Hell in punishment for our sins.
“If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell.”
– Matt 5.29-30
Jesus considered our personal war against sin so serious that He painted the picture of gouging out our own eyes which cause us to lust, and cutting off our hands that cause us to sin. The consequence of lusting after a woman, according to Jesus, is eternal damnation.
Does keeping ourselves from lusting earn us salvation? No, it most certainly does not. Faith in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of our sins and the power to die to sin and hope of eternal salvation alone saves us. But if we continue in sin, we prove that the Spirit is not saving us.
The one who perseveres to the end will be saved.
So let us confess to God that we cannot obey on our own. We are unable to persevere through trials and persecutions. We give in to our flesh and fall to the wiles of the world. Let us trust in His sacrifice of His life on the cross and resurrection to conquer death and sin. And let us stand in the victory of the cross, by the power of the Spirit, so that the Scripture can be true about us that sin will not be master over us (Rom 6.14).
Work it out. Eternity is at stake.