I had someone email me with a question on what the Bible taught about losing one’s salvation. Of course, I couldn’t think of the question in any ordinary way, and the thought popped into my head, “That’s just like asking about flying pigs!”
“Sweet niblets! How is losing your salvation like flying pigs!? What was he thinking?” Hmm…. What I was thinking was: if you haven’t been taught what a pig is, then the question as to whether a pig can fly is a perfectly reasonable one. But once you really understand what a pig is, you don’t even think to ask the question, because it’s obvious a pig could never fly.
In the same way, many people wonder if a Christian can “lose their salvation”– can stop believing in Jesus or do something evil enough to go to hell. My answer is that once you thoroughly understand what the Bible teaches about what a Christian really is, then the question becomes meaningless— you know that a Christian by their inherent nature could not possibly lose their salvation.
Unfortunately, many people can spend their whole life going to a church without developing a complete understanding of what being a Christian really means. Some believe it means that they have “given their heart to Jesus” or that they belong to a church or that they once prayed for God to forgive their sin. It’s hard to even come up with a good word to use— sometimes we’ll use the terms “Christian” or “born again” or “saved” or “follower of Christ” or “child of God” without stopping to think that each of those terms may mean very different things to different people.
There’s a good reason for the confusion, actually: salvation in Christ is not just one single thing, but many. Salvation is not just having one’s sins forgiven, is not just being granted eternal life, is not just having a personal relationship with God, is not just being adopted as a child of God, and is not just spending eternity with God— it is ALL of those things and many more. God pulls out all the stops and pours on the blessings when he saves a soul. (You can find my chart of the major aspects of salvation here.)
But of all the different facets of what God does for us in salvation, there is one that often gets pushed to the side in our thinking, that of regeneration. Regeneration is the theological term for what Jesus referred to as being born again in John chapter 3. It is God bringing our souls from spiritual death to spiritual life (Ephesians 2:5). Theologian J. I. Packer states, “The regenerate man has forever ceased to be the man he was; his old life is over and a new life has begun; he is a new creature in Christ.” John Piper in his book Finally Alive writes:
What happens in the new birth is not getting new religion but getting new life. What happens in the new birth is not merely affirming the supernatural in Jesus but experiencing the supernatural in yourself. What happens in the new birth is not the improvement of your old human nature but the creation of a new human nature— a nature that is really you, and is forgiven and cleansed; and a nature that is really new, and is being formed by the indwelling Spirit of God.
When I study the Bible texts about the new birth, it is abundantly clear that this radical transformation and recreation that God gave to me is irreversible; it cannot be undone anymore than a butterfly cannot return to being a caterpillar. I am now spiritually alive: nothing that I did caused it (Ephesians 2:9) and nothing that I do or don’t do can un-cause it. By its very nature it is a glorious eternal change; there is no way it can be “lost.” Praise God, pigs can never fly, and I can never lose my salvation.
I was taking communion last night. As I held the bread in my hand and heard my pastor say what I held symbolized Christ’s body I thought, “I’m not worthy to partake of these elements, how could I ever be worthy? I’m not worthy of any of Christ’s mercies or His forgiveness.”
I wasn’t thinking of it at the time, but Martin Luther had a similar thought, the first time he administered the elements. He was so overwhelmed at his sinfulness and utter unworthiness that he froze and was unable to go on.
What makes me worthy to partake of the Lord’s Supper? Honestly, there is nothing in me or about me that makes me worthy, no action, no prayer, no penance that will make me fit to be in the presence of Christ.
But the things which are impossible with men are possible with God(Luke 18:27). It is God who makes me worthy to take communion and enter His presence. I think of the story of the prodigal son:
And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. (Luke 15:21-22)
Notice how the son freely admits that he is not worthy to be a son. And what does the father immediately do? He puts a robe, a ring, and shoes on him— all the signs of a son and heir. The father does more than say mere words, he takes action to demonstrate his decision of granting sonship to this wayward child. The son not only feels the embrace of his father and the kind words of his father, he has a robe on his back, a ring of authority on his hand, and shoes on his feet to prove to himself and everyone that he really is a son.
In the same way, communion is God’s visible token, God’s physical proof that I am a partaker in Christ’s body and blood, that God has extended forgiveness and adoption to me. I can take the wine and the bread with comfort and joy that through God’s mercy and grace I am His child.
As Christians, we have many blessings bestowed on us by God, such as forgiveness of sins, having Christ’s righteousness accounted to us, eternal life, and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Each of these aspects of our salvation stands on its own in that God could have chosen to give us some, but not all, of these blessings. For instance, God could have chosen to forgive us our sins, but not to give us the additional blessing of the indwelling of the Spirit.
Each individual blessing of our salvation shows God’s love and grace and mercy and glory more sweetly. One blessing that continually astounds me, that makes me marvel at God’s great grace, is that He chose to Adopt us, to declare that we, rebellious sinners, are now children of God. And so Adoption is the A in our continuing acrostic theology series on how we are C.H.A.N.G.E.D. by God.
For anyone who saw or read Ben-Hur, you remember how Judah’s life was changed when he was adopted by the Roman general Quintus Arrius. He went from being a slave, locked in chains and darkness to having unrivaled wealth, power, and influence. Judah’s physical transformation from his physical adoption prefigured his spiritual transformation from his (and ours) spiritual adoption as children of God.
God was not compelled to adopt us by some good that we did or deserved:
Having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will. (Ephesians 1:5)
As the verse above states, God chose before time began that through Jesus he would adopt a people to Himself, purely because of His love and mercy, by “the good pleasure of His will..”
And how do we receive this adoption? How do we become children of God? Purely through receiving Christ by believing Him as Savior and Lord:
But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name. (1 John 1:12)
So what difference does this make in our lives? How are we changed because of our new identities as children of God? Let’s briefly look at our new privileges, new responsibilities, and new inheritance as children of God:
Being an adopted son of God means we have the privileges of calling God our Father, of God calling us His children, of God blessing us as His children, and of God disciplining us as His children:
We may call God our Father:
In this manner, therefore, pray: Our Father in heaven (Matthew 6:9)
For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.” Romans 8:17)
To be able to address the infinite creator of the Universe as our “Abba”, literally “Daddy” or “Papa”, is an incredible privilege and joy. Yes, He is our God, our Lord, our Master, our King, and yet He also condescends to be our Papa as well. Incredible!
God calls us His children:
and I will be a father to you,
and you shall be sons and daughters to me,
says the Lord Almighty.” (2 Cor 6:18)
See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. (1 John 3:1)
What more tender way could we be addressed, what more hopeful name could we be given, than to be called the children of God? In every trial and storm, we should be able to look up and hear God lovingly call us His children.
God blesses us as His children:
What man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, wil give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him! (Matthew 7:11)
All of God’s gifts to us come from the heart of a perfectly loving Father. We never have to doubt or be concerned about whether we will receive a stone or a serpent— no, our Father only has our good in His heart.
God disciplines us as His children:
For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:6-11)
The Lord loves us enough, loves us as His own children, to discipline us. He will not leave us in our selfish immaturity, but will do whatever is necessary, even trials, even suffering and pain, to strip away our self-centeredness until we can perfectly love and enjoy and obey Him.
Along with our new privileges, sonship entails new responsibilities. As sons of our Father we have the honor to obey, imitate, and represent our Father.
as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct. (1 Peter 1:14-15)
As any Father, God expects our loving obedience to His commands.
Therefore be followers of God as dear children. (Ephesians 5:1)
All of us have stories of children picking up the mannerisms of their parents. So should it be with us: as we spend time in God’s presence we should come to resemble our Father ever more closely. Notice that this is more a heart transformation than mere outward obedience; a rebellious child will still sometimes obey to get what he wants or avoid punishment, but as “dear children” we desire to be followers of God.
Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:16)
…children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world. (Philippians 2:15)
And what is the goal of our obedience? That we represent our glorious and loving Father, that our good works reflect His grace and transforming power to others.
Lastly, we can rejoice that as children of God we have a new inheritance. We have this new inheritance because God predestined it for us, because we are children of God, and because we are joint heirs with Christ.
Because God predestined it for us:
in whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will, (Ephesians 1:11)
Because we are children of God:
But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!” Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God. (Galatians 4:5-7)
Because we are joint heirs with Christ:
The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer wtih Him, that we may also be glorified together. (Romans 8:16-17)
The Nature of our Inheritance:
And what sort of inheritance has God bestowed on His children? O, we have caught the barest glimpse so far, but the Scriptures promise that is is a kingdom, that it is eternal, and that is will be glorious:
Then the King will say to those on His right hand, “Come you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:” (Matthew 25:34)
…that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance. (Hebrews 9:15)
and if children, then heirs— heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. (Romans 8:17-18)
May you live as a child of God today, rejoicing in your privileges, mindful of your responsibilities, and looking forward to your inheritance.
Ok, scenario time:
Scenario 1: three people: a Mormon, a Buddhist, and a Christian, all devout, moral people. All lose their beloved spouses in a tragic accident. All are equally overcome with grief and sorrow, yet there is something different with the Christian—a comforting, a peace, that he can’t really explain yet he experiences. What makes the difference?
Scenario 2: Same three people: discussing one of the parables of Jesus and what Jesus meant when He spoke. All three are equally intelligent and equally knowledgeable about the passage in question, and yet the Christian grasps the true meaning of the passage in a way the other two cannot. What makes the difference?
Scenario 3: Same three people: off on a business trip, staying at the same hotel, all three tempted to sexually compromise, all equally desire to remain true to their moral convictions, yet the Christian manifests a power to remain true to his convictions that the others do not. What makes the difference?
This is rubber-meets-the-road theology: we say that a Christian is different, that God has changed us, but do we really mean it? And if we do mean it, then what’s the Bible-grounded reasons, the theology, behind it? And it we know the theology, then are we living out that theology?
The theology I’m talking about with the above three scenarios is not a “what” making the difference, but a “who”— the Holy Spirit indwelling us. This is the second in my series on the nature of salvation, how God c.h.a.n.g.e.d. us and saved us, Holy Spirit Indwelt (that’s the H in c.h.a.n.g.e.d. for those acrostically challenged out there).
There are many fine books on the nature of the Holy Spirit’s work within us and His indwelling (an excellent introduction is God in You : Releasing the Power of the Holy Spirit in Your Life by David Jeremiah), but I would like to briefly focus on the above three scenarios that illustrate three very core and very practical aspects of the Spirit’s indwelling.
First, the Spirit is a comforter, a parakletos “one called alongside” literally in the Greek. Jesus knew that during this age while He was not physically present with us that we would need someone to comfort us, to emotionally and spiritually support us while living in this sin stricken world.
Everyone recognizes John 14:27, “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” But what was Christ meaning when he said, “not as the world gives”— how does He give us this comfort? The verse before gives the answer— “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name—” When we have a supernatural need for comfort, like the death of a spouse, God has a supernatural answer— the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
The second scenario illustrates the Holy Spirit as teacher. Three times in the gospel of John Jesus calls the Holy Spirit “the Spirit of Truth.” Teaching and guiding us is a pivotal ministry of the Holy Spirit. In 1 John 5:6 the apostle bluntly states, “The Spirit is truth.” Paul says in 1 Cor 2:13 that believers learn “not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches.” God is willing and eager to teach His children, if they but ask (James 1:5), and the channel of that supernatural teaching and understanding is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
But, simply knowing the truth does not change us, does not give us the power to live in holiness, as the third scenario illustrated. Even with our new nature we are but human; our flesh, as Jesus reminded us, is weak. God in His love has given us the Spirit to empower us to live in holiness. Jesus told the disciples that they would receive power for service (when?) when the Holy Spirit indwelt them (Acts 1:8). Walter K. Price writes:
Christian characteristics are never the product of self-effort. They are the fruit of the Spirit. For self-effort can no more produce holiness in the Christian than it can produce a Christian itself. We begin our Christian life in…the Spirit. We are brought to spiritual maturity by means of the same Holy Spirit through His infilling power. It must be clearly understood, then, that one is no more able to live the Christian life in self-effort than he can save himself initially by self-effort. We are enabled to live a life of holiness by the infilling of the Holy Spirit, for he does in us that which we are unable to do for ourselves.
So, where are you depending (or needing to depend) on the indwelling of the Spirit? As your comforter? Where can the Spirit minister to you? As your teacher? Have you specifically asked the Spirit for wisdom in decisions you are facing? As your empowerer? Look to the source of your strength today.
God can no more leave your life unchanged than a mother can leave herr child’s tear untouched. It’s not enough for God to own you; He wants to change you. He refuses to settle for any dwelling short of a palace. After all, you are His house. (Max Lucado in Just Like Jesus)
God Chooses to Change!
The foundation of understanding how God changes lives is in realizing that God chooses to do so. So our first look at how we are Changed by God will deal with the topic of God’s choice.
God is sovereign— meaning that God is in control of everything and what He wills to do, He does. God makes a deliberate choice to change a person’s life. The fact that God chooses to change lives is theologically called election. Let’s examine five basic questions about election and the answers that the Bible gives:
Question 1: Did God Specifically Choose Me?
I know whom I have chosen. John 13:18
You did not choose Me, but I chose you. John 15:16
Now when the Gentiles heard the gospel, they were glad and glorified the word to the Lord. And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed. Acts 13:48
No one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father. John 6:65
I believed and responded in faith to be saved, but it was God who chose me and gave me the ability to believe and respond in faith. My inability to respond to God in faith without Him first directly working in my life is theologically called total depravity.
Answer: God specifically chose Me.
Question 2: When Did God Choose Me?
Just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world… Ephesians 1:4
God from the beginning chose you for salvation. 2 Thessalonians 2:13
Then the King will say to those on His right hand, “Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” Matthew 25:34
To put it another way, when did God decide, “John Hollandsworth will be saved.”? God chose everyone who will ever be saved before He created the universe. Redeeming sinners was not God’s plan B— it was His whole intent from the start. Our salvation, redeeming humanity, to glorify His name is the reason that God created the universe. The fact that God chose me to be saved before I was born, before I had ever done anything good or right in His sight, without any conditions that I had to fulfill, is called unconditional election.
I know I don’t deserve a part in this romance
Still You turn Your gaze to me and take me as I am
Said You knew my heart was Yours before the world began
It’s not a chance, not just a whim, no conditions and no what if’s
Not a chance, not just my luck, just Your choice, Just Your love
(“Not A Chance” by Scott & Christine Dente and Charlie Peacock)
Answer: God chose me from the foundation of the world
Question 3: How did God make His choice from the foundation of the world happen in my life?
All that the Father gives Me will come to Me. John 6:37
My sheep hear my voice John 10:27
Whom God predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified… Romans 8:30
And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins Ephesians 2:1
Before I was saved, God in His mercy worked in my life to bring me to Himself. The Greek word “come” in John 6:37 actually means to compel, to bring by force. God called me to Himself and called me to salvation. God’s merciful calling to bring me to salvation is theologically called His irresistible grace.
And even in my youth You were chasing me
Whispering in the dark and running through my dreams
Each day I’ve lived You were calling me
(“Even in My Youth” by Erin O’Donnell)
Answer: God called me to Himself
Question 4: Will God ever change His mind about me?
Jesus said, “All God has given Me I should lose nothing.” John 6:39
“no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand.” John 10:29
(Nothing) shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:39
For the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable. Romans 11:29
Once God chooses us, we stay choosed! Since our sin, past, present, and future, didn’t have anything to do with God’s choice, and it was God who brought us to Himself, nothing will change God’s choice. Theologians call this the perseverance of the saints.
Answer: God chose me for all eternity.
Question 5: Why did God chooose Me?
All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out. This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing. John 6:37, 39
You (The Father) have given Him (Jesus) authority over all flesh, that He (Jesus) should give eternal life to as many as You have given Him. John 17:2
My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand. John 10:29
This last question is the most important one—why did God choose Me? What is the reason that God allowed Christ to come to earth and redeem a fallen humanity? The Bible is clear: we are the Father’s loving gift to His Son. God has made Christ the first born among many brethren, so that the church, the people God chose to be redeemed, might become the bride of Christ, a gift beyond all gifts to glorify Christ.
The Bottom Line: God chose me from the foundation of the world, called me to Himself, to be a gift to His Son for all eternity.
What should my response to knowing I am chosen be?
Humility—We can claim nothing of ourselves in our salvation, only God’s mercy and grace
Love toward God– We love Him because He first loved us. 1 John 4:19
Peace– I am a chosen child of the omnipotent God John 14:27
Joy– “Rejoice because your names are written in heaven” Luke 10:20
(many thanks to John MacArthur for the basis of the structure of this teaching)
For the next several Thursdays I will recap selected lessons from a “practical soteriology” series I did years ago which I entitled “Changed by God.” I have found that many Christians understand they are saved from hell, and some understand that they “have been born again” or have the Holy Spirit living in them, but relatively few have a “big picture” view of all that God worked in their lives as a result of their salvation.
In typical evangelical style, I used a mnemonic, with a little creative coercion getting the seven letters of C.H.A.N.G.E.D. to stand for seven principal facets of God’s saving work in the lives of His children.
Here is the outline for the entire series:
Changed by God
Next Thursday I will cover the “C”— Chosen.
I was reading this passage from the autobiography of George Mueller the other day and noticed that he used the word “unconverted” for someone outside the faith. And I thought, there’s a word you don’t hear much in 2006, the word “conversion” to describe our passage from death to life. I believe it was a common term a century ago, but then people started getting “saved” instead of “converted”, then people started having a “personal relationship with Christ” instead of getting “saved”, and if you’ve been scanning the blogosphere lately apparently some people don’t even want to use the name “Christian” anymore. It seems to me that there is a pattern here: each term is a little less radical, a little more “seeker friendly”, a little less life transforming and a little more flesh accomodating.
I wonder if part of this change in phraseology could be caused by a watering down of our soteriology, our understanding of the nature of salvation. What do most evangelicals really think happens at “conversion”? How is a converted person different than an unconverted? Are they merely “saved” from hell? Do they just have a “relationship” with Jesus? Or are they converted, transformed, totally regenerated, given a new birth and a new life?
Which, for someone disturbed reason, made me think of your friendly neighborhood Spiderman. After his encounter with a certain radioactive spider, what happened to him was a total transformation of every part of his being—not one cell was left untouched, might I even say that “all things were made new”? I wonder if he would describe what happened to him as merely being saved from an old life? I wonder if he would describe what happened to him as a personal relationship with the spider? Might he even want to call himself “smallinvertebrateman” so not to offend or scare anyone that had a thing against spiders?
If Jesus Christ has brought us from death unto life, let us kindly but clearly voice it as His ambassadors and witnesses. But if we do not yet clearly understand the incredible, miraculous nature of justification, adoption, & regeneration, let us first get that straight before we attempt to share the gospel with others.