John 3:15-18 & Hebrews 6:1-12

Once Saved, Always Saved?

This morning we have the last of our “Tough questions” sermon series. In the past month or so we’ve considered such things as “What do we do with violence in the Bible?”, “Why do good things happen to bad people?”, and “Are demons real?” If you missed any of those, and for some reason find that you have more some time on your hands at the moment, then do go over to our website where you can find recordings of some of them. So, the final question we’re looking at in this series is, “Once saved, are you saved for ever?”

But why is this even a question? I think that I’d expect the Bible to be clear on something that is so fundamental to the whole question of our lives and eternal destinies. But, as with the other tough questions that we’ve looked at, it isn’t quite that simple, that’s why they’re tough questions. I’m actually glad of this. I’m glad because it seems to me that the more we have to wrestle with a question, the more we’re forced to engage with it and think it through for ourselves, then the more we can own the answers we come up, and the more likely we are to act on them.

So, let’s begin by looking at some of the perspectives the Scripture does give us on this question.

Let’s start with what we heard from John’s account of the good news of Jesus. In these three verses we get this repeated refrain, “everyone who believes may have eternal life.” “whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” “whoever believes in him is not condemned.” That all sounds pretty uncompromising. Believe and you’re saved, that’s it, no ifs, buts, or maybes. It’s a done deal.

But then, what about our reading from Hebrews. We heard this writer say that it is impossible for those who have fallen away to be brought back to repentance. This seems to suggest that it is possible to lose our salvation, that we aren’t necessarily saved forever.

The writer goes on to use an agricultural image, that of a two bits of land, one which drinks in the rain and produces good crops and is blessed, and the other which produces thorns and thistles and is cursed. This reminds me of two farming parables that Jesus told, the first of the sower and the second of the prodigal son.

In the first we see a warning from Jesus of the dangers that can divert us from our faith – of the devil plucking away the seed of the word of God, of not having deep enough roots in our faith that mean that we get shrivelled up in the sun of the troubles of the world, and of the weeds and thorns of the cares of the world that can strangle our faith. Balanced with these warnings we get the encouragement that we can be fruitful if we develop good soil in our hearts and minds that responds positively to the word of God.

And in the second we see the lost son, who had gone away from the family, who had insulted his Father, and yet is welcomed back with open arms. As the story goes on, the warning in this story is actually for the older brother who is jealous of the ease with which the younger son is welcomed back.

So, it seems to me that in our readings, and even in the teaching of Jesus, there is no clear answer to this question. “Once saved, are you saved for ever?” But, the more I’ve thought about it this week, as I’ve wrestled with this question, it seems to me that finding an “answer” is actually less important than working through what the possible answers might mean for our lives. Let me try and explain what I mean.

Let’s start by considering the two options in turn:

What if the answer to this question is, “no”? Even if you have believed in Jesus, turned away from your sin and wrongdoing, said sorry for it all, been baptised, it doesn’t guarantee that you are saved and safe in God’s care for ever.

It seems to me that there are two basic responses to that answer.

The first is to be fearful. We’re not safe, so we worry about it. We are hyper vigilant over our every action. When we mess up, and do what we know we’re not meant to do, or don’t do what we know we are meant to, it ties us in knots. What if we’ve finally done the thing that means that God isn’t going to want to know us any more? What if we’re crucifying Christ again? What if we’ve finally put ourselves beyond the pale. We end up so tied up in knots that we are no use to anyone, we never get anything done. We can slip into despair, and stop trying – we’re never going to be good enough, so what’s the point – we might as well give in. This doesn’t seem to me like it’s going to be very fruitful.

The second basic response is to be spurred on. We take the warning seriously, and behave accordingly. We want to keep our salvation, we want to keep our relationship with God strong, we want to continue tasting the heavenly gift, the word of God. We want to continue sharing in the Holy Spirit, the power of the coming age, so we choose to grow in maturity and in discipleship. This sounds much more fruitful.

But, what if the answer to this question is “Yes”? Once those foundations are in place – you’ve believed in Jesus, you’ve said sorry and turned from your sin, been baptised, you’re saved- safe in God’s arms and in his family and you can never leave. Once you’re saved, you’re always saved.

Again, it seems to me that there are two basic responses to this answer as well.

The first is to be presumptuous, to take it for granted. Heinrich Heine, a famous nineteenth-century German poet, allegedly spoke these last words: “Of course God will forgive me; that’s His job.” So, we take no care to live well, or in a Godly way, because we’re already saved – what would be the point? We run the risk of becoming lazy and complacent. This doesn’t sound very fruitful to me.

The other response is one of assurance, and gratitude. Living lives on a solid foundation, anchored in our hope in Jesus, with confidence in the God who holds us and loves us, even when we fail, we are released to try things, to take risks, to explore. We are grateful for what Jesus did on the cross, we take seriously the cost of our salvation, and so we don’t treat the grace we’ve received lightly or cheapen it. This, again, is a much more fruitful way of living.

You see, it seems to me, that whatever else the Bible is or isn’t clear on, it is very clear on the fact that God wants our lives to be fruitful. We read of the fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self control. We read of the fruit of sharing our faith and seeing people come to faith, we read gardening and farming story after story in which Jesus talks about fruitfulness, we are urged to bear fruit in keeping with repentance, we’re told that by their fruit you shall know them. This isn’t about productivity or usefulness, this is about being released to be who we were created to be, and living life in all its fulness.

So, how do we do that?

We get our foundations in place: repentance from acts that lead to death, faith in God, baptism, laying on of hands in prayer and commissioning, knowing about the resurrection of the dead and reality of eternal judgement. We build on those by continuing to taste the heavenly gift of the word of God and by receiving and using the gifts and empowering of the Holy Spirit. We are diligent in living out our faith. That has practical implications at a time like this. We don’t hoard, we share. We reach out to those who vulnerable and on the edge of things. We are ready to explain the hope that we have in us.

Finally, back to our initial question. It seems to me that the weight of evidence in Scripture is that once we are saved, we are saved for ever, and I believe that releases us to live with assurance and gratitude but we want to avoid taking God for granted so, I encourage us to take the warnings seriously. They are not intended to make us anxious, but they can spur us on to diligence, good works, and fruitfulness.

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