The Limits of Grace
Christians can and should have complete confidence in their salvation. However, salvation is a gift that can be “returned”. The bible is quite clear that we can relinquish our salvation, but only if we reject it willfully. We don’t “accidentally” lose our salvation each time we commit a sin nor even during periods of time when we relapse into sinful behavior. We can forfeit our salvation, but not as easily as many people think.
The writer of the Hebrew letter gives some very important information to help us in our understanding of the conditions under which a saved person rejects God’s gift.
(7) 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. (13) But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called "today," that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. (14) For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. (15) As it is said, "Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion." (16) For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? (17) And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? (18) And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? (19) So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief. Heb 3:7-19 ESV
The author of Hebrews is referring to the ancient Israelites when they were first freed from Egyptian slavery. They were supposed to leave Egypt and go straight to their promised land - the region of Palestine. However, they did not have confidence in God’s promises. They didn’t believe Him when He told them they were able to conquer and occupy the land. As we can see, their problem was more than mere disbelief, their hearts were hardened, they wanted to go their own way instead of God’s way (i.e. go astray). God would not allow them to enter His rest (that is, have eternal life) because of the condition of their hearts.
The Hebrew writer’s point is that just as God didn’t reward the ancient Israelites who rebelled in the desert, we Christians will also abandon eternal life if we rebel. If we are guilty of the same sins as these Israelites, we will suffer the same fate!
Traits of a rebellious heart
Pay special attention to the traits and actions of a person who is rebellious to God.
- hardened heart
- going astray from God
- departing from God’s ways
- turning away from God
- fall away from God
- evil, unbelieving heart
We must let the bible define what it means by rebellion! Rebellion is not a single deliberate sin. The Hebrew letter does not teach we lose salvation due to a deliberate sin. Also consider that rebellion is not defined as continuous sin; all Christians sin on a regular basis (Rom 7:15-8:1). What then, constitutes rebellion? The combination of deliberate AND continuous sins that amounts to choosing to reject Jesus. This is the opposite of repentance.
How do we avoid the fate of the Jews who sinned and fell in the wilderness? We simply do the opposite. What is the opposite of unbelief? It is faith. What is the opposite of rebellion? Being penitent - repenting of our sins.
What conclusion can we draw?
When does a Christian fall away and reject salvation?
- if he/she stops believing and never again believes
- if he/she ceases repenting and never again repents
Therefore, all Christians who continue to believe and repent are saved!
If we consistently indulge our fleshly appetites and neglect to repent of our wrong doings, we place ourselves in grave danger. Pay close attention to what Peter said in 2 Peter 1:5-10.
For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, (6) and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, (7) and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. (8) For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. (9) For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. (10) Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. 2Pe 1:5-10 ESV
By necessary inference Peter is teaching us that if we aren’t growing in our spiritual life, we are in a dangerous situation.
Do not be deceived, God’s generosity does have limits! If a Christian “forgets” that Jesus is Lord, then he is no longer concerned with doing Jesus’ will and is only concerned about his own desires. A Christian whose heart becomes hard due to unrepented of sin makes it difficult for him to notice he has a problem or even care that he has a problem. A “backslidden” condition is a dangerous situation that could become a fatal one. After a while, a heart that doesn’t repent, can’t repent. If a person loses faith in God and/or stops repenting of their sins they reject God’s gift of eternal life and give up their salvation.
Once a person is saved, he stays saved until he permanently ceases to believe or permanently ceases to repent.
This series of articles is not meant to be a rigorous or complete study of the subject, but merely a starting point. For a much more comprehensive study on grace I highly recommend Jay Guin’s free book, “The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace.”