Does a person lose their salvation because of their continued sin? If someone who had accepted Christ as his personal Savior (e.g., a Christian) but is still willfully fornicating sinfully, when he dies, so far as salvation is concerned is he still saved?
First and foremost, it’s important for us to understand how we become a Christian, that is, how we are saved. While I won’t list all references here, the following verses are very clear and explicit. They tell us in no uncertain terms that salvation is an act of God, not of man. Put another way, God is completely sovereign over who is and is not saved.
Romans 9:16-18 (NKJV)
16 So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy. 17 For the Scripture says to the Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth.”18 Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens.
Ephesians 1:3-6 (NKJV)
Redemption in Christ
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, 4 just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, 5 having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, 6 to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted (bestowed grace upon us) in the Beloved.
Ephesians 2:8-9 (NKJV)
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, lest anyone (so that no one) should (may) boast.
Again, there are many more Scriptures that testify to God’s sovereignty in salvation, but these make the point very explicitly and clearly. Furthermore, Scripture makes clear that Jesus did two things for Christians. First, in His death on the cross, Jesus took God’s wrath upon Himself, the wrath that every Christian deserved because all mankind sins. By His death, all of our sins (past, present and future) have been forgiven. Second, Christ’s own righteousness is imputed, or credited, to the Christian by faith. The following Scriptures make this clear:
Romans 5:8-11 (NKJV)
8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. 10 For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. 11 And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.
Romans 4:1-8 (NKJV)
Abraham Justified by Faith
4 What then shall we say that Abraham our (fore)father has found according to the flesh? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted (credited) to him for righteousness.”4 Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt.
David Celebrates the Same Truth
5 But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted (credited) for righteousness, 6 just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works:
7 “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven,
And whose sins are covered;
8 Blessed is the man to whom the Lord shall not impute sin.”
Romans 4:22-25 (NKJV)
22 And therefore “it was accounted (credited) to him for righteousness.”
23 Now it was not written for his sake alone that it was imputed to him, 24 but also for us. It shall be imputed to us who believe in Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead, 25 who was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification.
Romans 5:19 (NKJV)
19 For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous.
Hebrews 10:10-14 (NKJV)
10 By that will we have been sanctified (set apart) through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
Christ’s Death Perfects the Sanctified
11 And every priest stands ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God, 13 from that time waiting till His enemies are made His footstool. 14 For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified (set apart).
So, summarizing, we see that we are saved by God’s grace, not our own will or works. In addition, our salvation is not contingent on what we do even after we have been saved because we are counted righteous by what Jesus did. Finally, all of our sins have been forgiven by Christ’s death and resurrection. In this sense, we have already been “perfected” (Hebrews 10:14) in that God has already punished our sin in Christ on the cross, and we are made perfect by Christ’s obedience, with His righteousness credited to the believer.
Clearly, this means that if we have truly been saved, we cannot lose our salvation. Remember, Ephesians 2:8 says that salvation is the gift of God. Romans 11:29 says, “for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.” Therefore, if God has saved us, we are saved forevermore.
Now, let’s apply all of this to the question. If a person has truly received God’s gracious gift of faith, then that person will go to heaven. His actions after becoming a believer do not determine his salvation because, as we’ve shown, salvation is totally due to actions taken on God’s part, not man’s. Scripture also gives us examples of believers who sinned in major ways. Consider the following:
- Peter, when he denied he even knew Christ (Luke 22:55-62). Of course, Jesus restored and forgave Peter.
- Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-10).
- The unnamed believer in 1 Corinthians 5:1-5.
Having said that, our actions as Christians do have consequences, both here and in eternity in heaven. As the examples above attest, God requires that we discipline those in the church who continue in a life of sin. Matthew 18:15-20 gives clear instructions as to how sinning believers are to be handled. Ultimately, if they refuse to stop sinning, we are to put them out of the church. This is for the destruction of their flesh, not that they would lose their salvation (see 1 Cor. 5:1-5), with the ultimate goal of restoring them to fellowship (as Jesus did with Peter). Sadly, this is rarely done in today’s church.
The Lord makes clear that He will discipline those He loves. Therefore, if we continue in sin, we can expect to be put out of fellowship with the church, as well as God’s chastisement. Hebrews 12:4-7 makes this clear:
Hebrews 12:4-7 (NKJV)
4 You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin. 5 And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons:
“My son, do not despise the chastening (discipline) of the Lord,
Nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him;
6 For whom the Lord loves He chastens (disciplines),
And scourges every son whom He receives.”
7 If you endure chastening (discipline), God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten (discipline)?
We also face consequences in heaven in eternity for what we do here on earth as believers. Again, our salvation is not in question, but the level of rewards we will receive in heaven depend on how we serve God while on earth. This is made most clear in 1 Corinthians 3:9-17:
1 Corinthians 3:9-17 (NKJV)
9 For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, you are God’s building. 10 According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it. But let each one take heed how he builds on it. 11 For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, 13 each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. 14 If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.
16 Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? 17 If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which is the temple you are.
Note that in this passage, believers are compared to a building. The foundation of our salvation is Jesus Christ. What we do in this life to serve God (the building) will be tested when we go to heaven. If we have not served God, which would include a believer continuing in sin, then our works will not pass the test. They will be like wood and straw, useless and burned up in the testing fire.
With nothing to show for our lives in service to God, we will still be saved (verse 15), but we will lose any potential rewards. If we have lived a life in service to God, bearing fruit that lasts, our work will be like gold and precious stones, surviving God’s testing fire. This will lead to rewards in heaven.
One final point…a person who claims to be a Christian but yet never bears fruit and continues in a habitual life of sin, may not, in fact, be a Christian. (Indeed, Scripture says fornicators will not enter the kingdom of God, referring to those who live a lifestyle marked by this sinful pattern (1 Corinthians 6:9).)
1 Corinthians 6:9 (NKJV)
9 Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites,
Obviously, all Christians sin while here on earth, but the issue is one of continuing to practice in a sinful way that it suggests an unchanged (unsaved) heart.
1 John 3:7-9 puts it this way:
1 John 3:7-9 (NKJV)
7 Little children, let no one deceive you. He who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous. 8 He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil. 9 Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot be sinful, because he has been born of God.
Obviously, some Christians will practice righteousness better than others. Ultimately, however, only God knows who is truly a believer and who is not.
Therefore, we must be careful that we don’t go make subjective judgments as to who is and is not a Christian based on their works. Still, we may have reason to doubt the confession of one who by his works appears to be unchanged. Ideally, of course, we’d expect to see some evidence of a changed life in the behavior of a true believer. While there are degrees of change from believer to believer, Scripture tells us that God has prepared us for good works, so this should be our expectation as well.
“The author’s biblical interpretations and conclusions presented in this document rely on original teaching used by permission of Verse By Verse Ministry International (VBVMI). The author’s views may not represent the views of VBVMI, it’s Directors or staff. Original VBVMI teaching may be found at http://www.vbvmi.org.”
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