How do Christians Receive Salvation from Sin?

Many authors, including myself, believe that God has dealt with humankind differently through several dispensations or ages. These progressive ages are historical time periods in which God dispensed various methods of social organization and management to his people. The ages were not separate ways of salvation, but ways in which humans are reconciled to God as they learned spiritual truth. As new knowledge was gained, the old was not discarded, because the benefits were successively added and were cumulative.1

The last age during the Old Testament period was the ‘Age of Law’, named so after the Mosaic Law. And the New Testament began the ‘Age of Grace’, explaining God’s new plan for forgiveness of our sins. The Bible explains thus, “The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ,” (John 1:17, NRSV).2

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The span between the Old and New Testaments — sometimes referred to as the Second Temple era3 — was a transition time between those ages. Like all the other periods of change, God would once again deal with humankind differently, this time by sending the long promised Messiah.

The New Testament begins with four accounts (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) telling the chronicle of the birth, experiences, teachings, and death of Jesus the Christ (or the anointed one). This long anticipated savior gave us instructions for regaining the everlasting life that was lost by our first human ancestors, Adam and Eve, while in the Garden of Eden. The Age of Grace is now in its end stage after two thousand years. When our Lord soon returns, another new age will begin, the glorious ‘Millennial Age’ with the reign of Jesus Christ as King. And then will begin one thousand years of converting this earth back into its original state of paradise conditions.

So, how many people will make it into God’s Millennial Age? Does everyone receive the gift of entering and gaining everlasting life, or only a few? A line from a Negro spiritual tells the truth: “Everybody talkin’ ’bout heaven ain’t goin’ there.”4 It is a reference to our Lord saying that not all will make that journey to the new promised land. And the apostles emphasized that fact: “Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers — none of these will inherit the kingdom of God,” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10).

This Bible study highlights a few wrong ideas people have about securing their positions in the New Age. Don’t be misled in your understanding about what it takes to get your ticket on that Millennial train.

 

A Wrong Idea from the Past

Many centuries ago, the early church told people they could buy their way into heaven and have all their sins removed. Called ‘Indulgences’, it was a complicated theological system to help people achieve their eternal salvation through the payment of money. Any suggested services, obligations, or goods needed to obtain mercy for sin could be converted into a corresponding monetary payment.5

That extortion may no longer be going on in our modern churches, but there is still an inclination to suggest that giving money will grease the pathway to heaven for a sinful person. The more you give, it is sometimes proposed, the more you are sorry for your sinful life. And television evangelists sometimes also suggest only the knowledge presented in the books they sell will easily gain your entrance into God’s paradise.

And many religious charities entice you with trinkets and other gifts, to get you started on a continuing donation to their cause. You are made to believe God expects your donations and they will improve your acceptance into the heavenly realm after death. Their attitude suggests that the more money you send, the faster those pearly gates will swing open for you. It is hard to believe that all these religious leaders missed reading the scripture that has Jesus himself saying, “You received without payment; give without payment,” (Matthew 10:8).

Please understand, I am not against supporting charities and I am not against supporting a ministry or church, just do not let anyone manipulate you in doing so through guilt or intimidation. Use due diligence in determining whether money is needed and where it will be spent. Such personal decisions should be made through investigation and with true love and through prayer. Do what your heart says, not what others tell you to do.

 

Is it true that once saved, you can never lose your salvation?

Another idea I’ve heard some people repeat is “once saved, always saved.” It is a very popular term, so most Christians have heard this term at some time or other. But could that attitude be true? If we got saved once, but backslide and continue to sin, are we still guaranteed eternal security?

There are several scripture quotations that believers of this attitude use as proof,6 and one of the best known is when the Apostle Paul said, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord,” (Romans 8: 38-39).

The Apostle Paul was here speaking about outside influences. He is letting you know that nothing can suddenly come swooping down and sever believers from God’s love, if you don’t doubt your faith.7 However, some influences can cause you to doubt your faith, if you allow them take hold, and that can lead to backsliding. Backsliding is breaking the agreement you made with God to live a righteous life. Break that contract and there is a penalty, one of which is possibly losing your entry into the New Age. If you do backslide, remember that our Lord is very forgiving; make the corrections you need to return to your protected position.

Although this ‘once saved, always saved’ theology was in existence during the early church period, it is still popular among some Baptist groups as well as many reformed groups of Congregationalists, Presbyterians, and Anglicans. These mentioned is not an all-inclusive list, for there are others too. One modern Baptist preacher wrote this about his belief in the eternal security doctrine. “Even if a believer for all practical purposes becomes an unbeliever, his salvation is not in jeopardy . . . [because] believers who lose or abandon their faith will retain their salvation.”8

I don’t wish to debate that theology any further, but I will express my opinion. I don’t believe salvation is unconditional. The promise of salvation comes with conditions; it is an agreement, a contract. We learn from Jesus and he expects us to put what we learn into practice. The Apostle Paul wrote that those who were hostile and doing evil deeds are now believers reconciled with Jesus and can present themselves as holy and blameless before our Lord. And he adds “. . . provided that you continue securely established and steadfast in the faith, without shifting from the hope promised by the gospel that you heard,” (Colossians 1:23a).

Like a steam engine running out of coal and water, I’ve seen many new believers become eager disciples of Jesus, then soon fell into temptation as the fuel of their excitement began to run low. It is Satan that causes this to happen; he is experienced in his attacks upon new brothers and sisters of the faith. Being able to refuel through continued study, and keep ourselves on the proper spiritual track, is called maturing in the Christian faith.

Jesus can sympathize with our weaknesses because he also had been tested by the devil, so we can approach him for help, “so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need,” (Hebrews 4:16). One author stated, it is clear from such verses that our time of need is when we are tempted.9 As we mature in the faith, let us continue to work as shining lights in the world. Paul explained it this way.

“Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

“Do all things without murmuring and arguing, so that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, in which you shine like stars in the world. It is by your holding fast to the word of life that I can boast on the day of Christ that I did not run in vain or labor in vain,” (Philippians 2:12-16).

 

Can we leave the burden of belief in Jesus
on the shoulders of others?

Some Christians believe it only takes one member of a family to believe in Jesus, then salvation of all members will be assured. They are quick to quote supposed evidence of this thought in the New Testament. They point out such an incidence in a story during one of Paul’s missionary journeys, when sharing the good news of Christ.

When the Apostle Paul and a church leader, Silas, traveled to Philippi, they encountered a demon-controlled slave girl fortune-teller. One thing that angered Paul was that her owners were making a lot of money from her demonic possession. So Paul exorcized the evil spirit — in the name of Jesus Christ — and that made her owners furious. The missionaries were bound and dragged before the city officials, who quickly imprisoned them for being Jewish troublemakers trying to promote an illegal religion.10

Now, let me add a note here. In the Roman Empire, each city had specific gods the people were expected to worship so the region would be blessed (Acts 19:28). While Jews were authorized to worship their invisible God, they had to be careful not to interfere with the Roman worship practices.11

Anyway, the pair is flogged and then chained in a prison cell, but that doesn’t prevent them from singing hymns long into the night. Suddenly, around midnight, there is an earthquake causing all the cell doors to open. Thinking the prisoners had escaped, the jailer was prepared to commit suicide, because he knew he would be responsible for any escaped inmates.12

But Paul, seeing what was about to happen, reassured him that no one had escaped. Paul said, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” Trembling, but impressed with their honesty, the jailer asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They answered, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household,” (Acts 16:16-31).

Because of this Bible story, some believe that only one person in a household needs to accept Jesus, and through that person all those who live with them — spouses, children, relatives, servants — will also gain everlasting life.

But other Scripture says, “No!” Each person must first trust in Jesus and surrender their life to him. Jesus himself said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me,” (John 14:6-7). Therefore, we cannot receive salvation through other people, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved,” (John 3:16). So, why do Paul’s words in Acts 16 seemingly imply otherwise?

As one commentator wrote, Paul’s words to the jailer were only the first interaction with the jailer, and other accounts in Acts show us that Paul and the first apostles typically taught all associated persons during their journeys.13

The point is, the jailer most certainly heard more than just, “Jesus saves!” Since the immediate circumstances don’t tell us all that the jailer heard, the broader context of Paul’s customary way of teaching the gospel suggests it. The jailer would have probably heard about who Jesus was, and what he did about humankind’s lack of morality, and that he rose again after death, and that he promised eternal life to anyone who believes in him.14

It was for that reason that Paul later also addressed everyone in the jailer’s household. The Jailer brought Paul and Silas, “. . . up into the house and set food before them; and he and his entire household rejoiced that he had become a believer in God,” (Acts 16:34). Surly everyone’s eternal salvation could not be secured by only his own faith, but if also his household believed, then they would be entitled to the same spiritual and everlasting blessings.15 For a better understanding of Acts 16:31, please read the whole portion of Acts 16, verses 16–40, which will indicate that there was more to the story than just “if only you believe, everyone in your house will be saved.”

 

Did Paul have a “Get Out of Jail Free Card?”

In the latter verses of Acts 16, you will find that Paul and Silas, although Jews, were Roman citizens too. When authorities later sent word to release them, the traveling ministers refused to leave until the officials came in person. For a Roman, his citizenship was his passport in distant lands — a talisman in times of difficulties and danger. Since both Paul and Silas had Roman citizenship, they ranked as powerful members of society and were shielded from the impulse of municipal law and the injustice of local magistrates.16

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So why didn’t they use their ‘get out of jail free card’ earlier? There are a number of theories. Perhaps the uproar at the trial (verses 19-22) kept him from being heard.17 Than again, maybe he wanted to wait until the most favorable circumstances.18

A well-known biblical commentator, Matthew Henry, said it was not just a mere point of honor that they stood upon, but justice — not justice for themselves, but for their cause. “And when proper apology is made, Christians should never express personal anger, nor insist too strictly upon personal amends. The Lord will make them more than conquerors in every conflict; instead of being cast down by their sufferings, they will become comforters of their brethren.”19

Paul was a very smart fellow and could always picture the overview of a situation, so I agree with another author who said that waiting to indicate his citizenship furnished a public display of his innocence. “This would provide official affirmation that the Church had done nothing illegal and would further strengthen the Church and the position of the new believers in the community.”20

 

Conclusion

While some people may find it easy to guarantee their entry into the arriving New Age, others find great difficulty in achieving that goal. And I get a lot of push-back from many who interpret some scripture out of context and think we can get automatic admission and never lose it.

Some people may disagree, but I believe that if one sincerely believes in Jesus, they have a contractual obligation to change their life in such a way that they embrace the Messiah’s characteristics and demands; this is what is meant by surrendering one’s life and following him. All serious Christians must reject the devil’s ways as evil and accept Christ’s ways as righteous. Although we will never achieve perfection in this evil world, we must strive — as best we can — to achieve that goal.

Partaking of Satan’s ways are called ‘desires of the flesh’ (Galatians 5:19-21), whereas embracing Godly works are called practicing the ‘fruit of the spirit’ (Galatians 5:16-17). For an article explaining these concepts, see the OBS article titled “Fruit of the Spirit – Works of the Flesh” listed in References & Notes.21

This website also has an article with helpful information designed to keep you from losing our Lord’s precious gift of salvation from sin. It was written many years ago and asks the question, “Can we lose our salvation?” See the citation in References & Notes.22

I’ve always taught that to make it into the Millennial Age, we must not only believe Jesus is our savior, but have the faith that he will do exactly what he promised. At the same time we must strive to emulate what the Messiah taught. Knowing our salvation is secure, our first priority is to instruct our family, and then we can work on the others around us. If our personality is that of an introvert, or we are socially shy, we can still serve God in ways more comfortable than through direct confrontation.

At the very least, we can set an example to others by outwardly demonstrating our moral Christian character and living by Godly ethics — let us help others, by shining our light, showing our love. And the song selected to demonstrate this attitude is ‘Let Your Light Shine’ by the Australian Christian singer, Colin Buchanan. Lyrics are below and a link to the music video is listed in References & Notes.23

When you’re feeling happy,
When you’re feeling sad,
When things go well,
Or when things go bad,
Let your light shine, let it be seen,
Let everybody see your love.
Let your light shine, let it be seen,
To the praise of the mighty God above.

Copyright © 2024, Dr. Ray Hermann
OutlawBibleStudent.org

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References & Notes

  1. Hermann, Ray, “Dispensationalism: A Tool for Bible Interpretation”, (The Outlaw Bible Student, OBS, 11 February 2019), https://outlawbiblestudent.org/dispensationalism-a-tool-for-bible-interpretation/
  2. All scripture is quoted from The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1989). Used by permission.
  3. Two temples were built in Jerusalem as centers of worship for ancient Israel. The First Temple was sometimes called Solomon’s Temple and was totally destroyed about 587 BC. The Second Temple was a rebuild by Herod and is sometimes called Herod’s Temple. Its construction began in 516 BC, but was destroyed in 70 AD.
    “Second Temple”, (Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundations, 3 April 2024), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_Temple
  4. Coleman, Lou, “A Line from a Negro Spiritual Says It Well!” (Westside Story Newspaper, 16 November 2023), https://www.westsidestorynewspaper.com/a-line-from-a-negro-spiritual-says-it-well/
  5. Duggan, Lawrence G., “Indulgence: Roman Catholicism”, (Encyclopedia Britannica, 28 April 2005), https://www.britannica.com/topic/indulgence
  6. Other scripture quoted by people to imply “once saved, always saved”: John 10:28-29; Ephesians 4:30; 2 Timothy 2:11-13; Romans 5:8-10.
  7. Walvoord John F. and Zuck, Roy B., (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), vol. 2, p. 475.
  8. Stanley, Charles F., Eternal Security, (Nashville, TN: Oliver-Nelson Books, 1990), pp. 1-5.
  9. Harris, Tom, “Once saved, always saved?” (Active Christianity, retrieved 26 March 2024), https://activechristianity.org/once-saved-always-saved
  10. Knowles, Andrew, (Ed.), The Bible Guide: An all-in-one Introduction to the Book of Books, (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 2001), p. 552.
  11. “Acts 16:31″, (Bible Reference, [Got Questions – BibleRef.com], retrieved 14 March 2024), https://www.bibleref.com/Acts/16/Acts-16-31.html
  12. Ibid.
  13. Examples: Acts 2:23-24, 36; 3:18-20; 4:2, 10; 5:29-31; 10:39-40; 13:29-30; 17:3; 26:22-23
  14. Bing, Charlie, “Misunderstandings about Acts 16:31″, (Grace Life, retrieved 15 March 2024), https://gracelife.org/resources/gracenotes/?id=88&lang=eng
  15. Joseph Benson’s Commentary of the Old and New Testaments, (New York: Carlton & Phillips, 1846-1854), vol. 4, [NT #1].
  16. Orr, James, et al., (Eds.), The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, “Paul: Roman Citizenship,” by A. T. Robertson, (Chicago: The Howard-Severance Company, 1915), vol. 4, p. 2273.
  17. Porter, Stanley E., CSB Study Bible: Notes, (Nashville TN: Holman Bible Publisher, 2017), p. 1749.
  18. Toussaint, Stanley D., in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, (Eds.) Walvoord & Zuck, (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), vol. 2, p. 400.
  19. Henry, Matthew, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1991), vol. 6, Acts 16:35.
  20. Barry, John D., et al., Faithlife Study Bible, (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012, 2016), Acts 16:37.
  21. Hermann, Ray, “Fruit of the Spirit – Works of the Flesh”, (The Outlaw Bible Student, OBS, 11 June 2021), https://outlawbiblestudent.org/fruit-of-the-spirit-works-of-the-flesh/
  22. Hermann, Ray, “Hebrews 6:4 — Can We Lose Our Salvation?” (The Outlaw Bible Student, OBS, 20 August 2018), https://outlawbiblestudent.org/hebrews-64-can-we-lose-our-salvation/
  23. “Let Your Light Shine”; Artist: Colin Buchanan; Album/DVD: Practise Being Godly, (Copyright: Universal Music Publishing, Australia, 2020). Used under ‘fair use copyright’ for teaching under Section 107 of United States Copyright Act of 1976 – MUSIC VIDEO: https://youtu.be/Ez4q882GDqc
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