Soteriolology, the Study of Salvation
by James T. Bartsch
"For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:38-39)
I was excited to receive your recent letter! I was glad to hear that, after all these years, you have decided to trust in Jesus Christ to forgive your sins and to give you eternal life! You will never know how much you made my day and my week! I’m glad God used your near-fatal car accident to catch your attention! God works in mysterious ways!
You asked an excellent question in your letter. You wanted to know whether it was possible for you to lose your salvation. You wanted to know, for example, what happens to a Christian who sins. Does he lose his salvation?
The answer to both your questions is “No.” Let me explain about two different kinds of forgiveness for the Christian – Legal Forgiveness and Family Forgiveness. Let’s talk about Legal Forgiveness first.
The Bible makes it clear that when we trust in Jesus, in God’s sight we are Legally Forgiven for all of our sins (Acts 10:38-43)! You are familiar, of course with John 3:16. There Jesus tells us that if we trust in Him, we will not perish, but we will have eternal life. Eternal life is, by definition, life that does not end! In John 3:18 Jesus goes on to say that whoever trusts in Him is not judged. The person who does not trust in Jesus has already been judged. That’s another way of saying that if we trust in Jesus, we are no longer the objects of God’s judgment. In John 5:24 Jesus tells us that those who respond positively to what He says and who believe in God will not enter into judgment because they have passed from the realm of death to the realm of life. Paul the Apostle assures us that there is no condemnation or judgment for those of us who are in Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:1).
The reason we are not under judgment as believers is that Jesus has paid the complete death penalty for all our sins, past, present, and future! Paul told the Corinthian believers that God made sinless Jesus to become sin for us so that in Jesus, we in turn might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21). It’s like an enormously beneficial bank transaction – when we trust in Jesus, we benefit from the fact that God placed all our sins on Jesus and He places all of Jesus’ goodness and righteousness on our account!
We Christians are not supposed to sin (1 John 2:1). But if we do sin, we have the world’s greatest Lawyer pleading our case before the Father – Jesus! Not only is He God’s anointed King (that’s what the title Christ means), but He is also a good Lawyer – a righteous one (1 John 2:1)! He is such a moral and ethical Lawyer that His death to pay for human sins met all God’s legal requirements and then some! His death was valuable enough to pay for the sins of all human defendants – the entire world (1 John 2:2)! Unfortunately most people will trust in their own abilities and will try to represent themselves before God instead of trusting Jesus as their Lawyer. They will never trust in Jesus as their lawyer, and so His death to pay for their sins does them good – but that’s another story.
The bottom line is that, when we trust in Jesus, we are Legally Forgiven for all eternity! In Romans 8, Paul summed it up this way: Those who are in Christ Jesus – who are depending on Him as their Lawyer, so to speak, will not face judgment (Rom. 8:1), will be raised from the dead (Rom. 8:11), are adopted as sons (Rom. 8:15, 23), await a glorious inheritance (Rom. 8:17 ), have God’s Holy Spirit praying perfectly for them (Rom. 8:26-27), and know that all things in their lives work together for good (Rom. 8:28). That is true because those who are in Christ are the group of people God knew intimately as His own from eternity past (Rom. 8:29). This same group of people He predestined to become like Jesus. This same group of people God called to Himself (Rom. 8:30). This same group of people He justified. (That means he declared them righteous.) This same group of people He glorified. (That means He gave them sinless, immortal bodies!) As far as God is concerned all these things are so certain that, no matter whether they are in the past, the present, or the future, they have all already happened at a point of time. The whole package is a done deal!
It’s no wonder that Paul concludes, “If God is for us, who is against us (Rom. 8:31)?” He asks who will dare bring a charge against God’s chosen ones (Rom. 8:33)? It certainly won’t be God – He has already justified us! Who will try to condemn those who trust in Jesus (Rom. 8:34)? It certainly won’t be Jesus – He has already died to pay for our sins! He rose again and is presently situated at God’s right hand so He can constantly and effectively plead our case for us! In fact, there is nothing in all creation – no hardship, no man, no angel, nothing in our present or our future, nor is their any conceivable condition – that will ever be able to separate us from God’s love for us in Jesus (Rom. 8:35-39)!!!
Tony, I know of no more convincing argument than this that we cannot lose our salvation! Jesus has provided a complete payment for our sins and if we have decided to trust in Him we have eternal Legal Forgiveness! It’s no wonder there are so many Scriptures that tell us all we need to do is to receive Jesus (believe in Him) to be born into God’s family and become one of God’s children and receive eternal life (John 1:10-13; 3:1-8, 16-18, 3:36; 5:24; 6:40, 47; 11:25-26; 20:30-31; 1 John 5:1, 10-13). It’s no wonder that Jesus said He is the Good Shepherd who died for His sheep (John 10:11, 14-15), who gives His sheep eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one can snatch them out of His hand or His Father’s hand (John 10:27-29)! When we trust in Jesus, we are born into God’s Family, and we receive His Life within us (John 1:12-13). Since God is eternal, His life is eternal. We can no more lose our eternal life than God can self-destruct! He is eternal and so is His life within us! God has said He would never leave us (Heb. 13:5-6), and so has Jesus (Matt. 28:20)!
Now that we’ve made it clear about the permanence of Legal Forgiveness, what is Family Forgiveness? The Apostle John wrote 1 John to tell Christians how to maintain fellowship in the Family of God (1 John 1:3). How does a believer in Jesus relate to his Heavenly Father when he has sinned against Him? 1 John 1 identifies for us three false claims to fellowship with God. (1) If we claim we have fellowship with God but we are living a life of sin, we are liars (1 John 1:6). (2) If we claim we have no sin nature, we are only deceiving ourselves and are not truthful (1 John 1:8). (3) If we claim we have not committed acts of sin, we are, in effect, accusing God of being a liar (1 John 1:10). Packaged away in this passage is an effective antidote to our having sinned. This is what we need to do to restore fellowship in the Family of God – we need Family Forgiveness! If we admit that we have sinned, God is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins, and He will cleanse us from the dirtying effects of unrighteousness (1 John 1:9)! That is Family Forgiveness. The issue is not whether we have Legal Forgiveness – that has been assured for eternity! The issue is restored fellowship between the repentant believer and his heavenly Father.
When we as believers sin against God, we don’t lose our Relationship with God, but we do lose our Fellowship with God. The antidote to a Christian’s having sinned is not being born again into the family of God – we have never been expelled. The antidote is confession. It is the same thing that happens in a human family. If my sons disobeyed me, they didn’t suddenly cease to be my sons. That could never change. I would never kick them out of my family! Our relationship would never change. But our fellowship certainly would. When a child disobeys his human father, there is a breach in fellowship. Things are not the same. There is a barrier that the disobedient child has erected between himself and his father. Fellowship cannot be restored in the human family until the rebel admits he has disobeyed his father and asks for forgiveness. Forgiveness is then extended, and the breach is healed. The same holds true in the Family of God. When a believer sins, God does not expel him from the family and destine him for hell! No, but there is a breach in our fellowship with God. He has not changed, but we have. Our sins present an impenetrable barrier between us and God (Psalm 66:18)! So how do we restore Family Fellowship? How do we obtain Family Forgiveness? The answer is simple, yet profound. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).” The word confess means “to say the same thing.” In other words, we have to admit or acknowledge to God that what we have done is wrong. God says it is wrong, and we must say the same thing about what we have done! – God, it was wrong – I was wrong! If we do that, fellowship can be restored to us. We have, by an act of confession, been forgiven by God, and we have been cleansed from the dirtying effects of our sin against God! What a privilege and relief to obtain Family Forgiveness and be restored to Fellowship with God in His Family!
Tony, I hope this explanation will help answer your question. I look forward to your response. If you have further questions, feel free to ask them.
a Christian Lose His
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This study is based on, and the links reference the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE ®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation.
(Scripture quotations taken from the NASB 1995. Used by Permission.)
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Updated February 23, 2022