By Jady W. Copeland
In our former article we noted that being “right” with God is being righteous, and one can only be righteous if God pronounces him righteous. This is promised if one by faith accepts the terms offered by Christ for his salvation. Being “right” implies a standard of judgment of right and wrong, and only God’s standard is perfect; it is by that standard we will finally be judged (Jn. 12:48). Being “right” with God means we come into a right relationship with him, where he will acknowledge us as his child and we believe him to be our Father. This is, in effect, what the church is a relationship. Of course the church in its local sense is a group of those in a right relationship with God who have agreed to work and worship together in a fellowship of Christians.
A sinner gets into the fellowship with God through his faith in Christ and we are called into this fellowship by the Father (1 Cor. 1:9). He calls us by the gospel (2 Thess. 2:14) and accepting the call requires faith (Heb. 11:6), turning from sin (repentance) and baptism into Christ (Acts 2:38; Gal. 3:27; etc.). Those who accept the call have been saved from sin and given the promises and blessings to be found in Christ – that is, in the proper or right relationship with Christ. Those saved people constitute the church.
Can Saved People Become Lost?
The next question that comes up is, “Can these saved people be lost?” As long as they maintain their faith, no. But the question is, “Can they lose their faith?” And if they lose their faith will they then be saved eternally? Some of the early disciples lost their faith, as John said: “many of his disciples went back and walked no more with him! (1 Jn. 6:66). If they walked no more with him, were they disciples or followers? Judas, one of the twelve, lost his faith for “after the sop, then, entered Satan into him” (Jn. 13:27). Can a disciple have Satan enter into him? If he does, is he still in a saved condition? Every warning of apostasy is an argument for the possibility of apostasy. Peter writes, “Ye therefore, beloved, knowing these things beforehand, beware lest, being carried away with the error of the wicked, ye fall from your own steadfastness” (2 Pet. 3:17). The Hebrew writer says, “Let us therefore give diligence to enter into that rest, that no man fall after the same example of disobedience” (Heb. 4:11). Again Peter writes, “Wherefore, brethren, give the more diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never stumble” (2 Pet. 1:10). If one “stumbles” would he be finally saved if he never recovered from the fall? Another classic example of falling is 1 Corinthians 10 where Paul gives the example of thousands falling (because of their unfaithfulness) in the wilderness and the warning is directly to the saints at Corinth (1 Cor. 10:1-12). As someone has said, “Every grave in the wilderness is an argument for the possibility of apostasy for the Christian.” They fell, and we can fall. And when we fall, there is no promise unless we turn back to God.
Some can and did turn away from the faith. Paul writes, “But the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall fall away from the faith” (1 Tim. 4:1). HyMenaeus and Alexander made shipwreck of their faith, and Paul turned them over to Satan (1 Tim. 1:19-20). It is a little difficult to believe that, had they died in this condition, they would have been eternally saved.
Thus we have seen that a baby is born pure and sinless (see first article). But sin enters his life and because of his sin, he is lost (Isa. 59:1-2). But God loved us, Christ died for us and gave us a way whereby we can be “right” with him again. But then one can again separate himself from God with sin, even though he has been forgiven. Is he now a sinner! Of course! He is just as lost as ever, and a number of passages suggest he is worse off then before. In the parable of the steward (Lk. 12:41 ff), the steward who knew the Lord’s will and made not ready will be beaten with many stripes, whereas the one who knew not will be beaten with few stripes. The most graphic and horrible picture of the fallen saint is given in 2 Peter 2:20-21. One had “escaped the defilements of the world,” then had gone back to the world and was “overcome.” Could he be saved in this condition? I think not. But read carefully the illustration Peter gives. One of the most horrible and even nauseating sights I have ever seen is a dog returning to his vomit. This is the picture of the saint who goes back to the world. What a horrible and dreadful thought! Some call such people “erring children of God,” but I call them sinners. The fact that they do not need to be baptized again does not take away from the fact that such is sickening in the mind of God, for they have once known the way of righteousness. At one time they were “right” with God, but now they are wrong. Yet God still loves them!
So what can be done? Can they be saved? Of course, for God does not turn his back on the penitent person. First, it is helpful, if not necessary, for them to “remember” from whence they have fallen (Rev. 2:5). The Ephesians had left their first love and needed to repent. As with the one who has never become a child of God, they must realize they are lost. Many a fallen saint doesn’t realize that because he still “goes to church.” Because of habit, custom, or whatever, he still maintains fellowship in the local church, thinking, perhaps, that this will be sufficient. The church at Sardis had “a name that thou livest, and thou art dead” but evidently these brethren were not aware of their terrible state. I am truly afraid that we have so much traditionalism (tradition of men) among us that many have lost their first love, or they engage in worldly attractions, or in some other way give evidence that they are unfaithful, that they do not really realize they are lost.
Once they remember they have fallen, sorrow must be present. Paul says that godly sorrow works repentance unto salvation (2 Cor. 7: 10). But sorrow is insufficient. It leads to repentance (a turning) but it is not repentance. Sorrow may come from different sources, but godly sorrow causes one to repent or turn back to God. Judas “repented himself” but it was not the kind of repentance that led to forgiveness (Matt. 27:3). Godly sorrow leads to repentance that causes one to bring fruits of repentance.
But repentance is not enough. He may have turned back, but what of the sin that he has committed? The one who first came to Christ had to have faith in God and turn from his sins, but also he was required to be baptized for remission of sins. Faith and repentance were insufficient. Just so, the one who is coming to Christ after having fallen must do more than be sorry and repent. Sorrow and turning do not forgive. The fallen saint must then pray for forgiveness (Acts 8:22-24). Simon had been baptized. Then he sinned. But in order to get “right” with God, he was told to (1) repent and (2) pray the Lord. Again, repentance would change his life, but it took prayer to God to get forgiveness. When a saint sins, he separates himself from God. In order to get back into a right relationship to God he must remember from whence he has fallen, be sorry for his mistakes, repent of his sins and ask God’s forgiveness.
God’s child is constantly making adjustments in his life. I certainly would not make the argument that some make that the Christian sins every hour or even every day. But that Christians can and do sin is evident. But when we do, we have an advocate, and can turn away from sin, turn back to God, be sorry for our sins and ask God’s forgiveness. Of course if we have done another person wrong, we need to ask his forgiveness also. Peter stands as a good example. He sinned against his Master and against God in denying the Lord. He went out and wept bitterly, indicating repentance. Is there any question that he asked God’s forgiveness? Not in my mind there isn’t. I’m so very thankful that the child of God is on speaking terms with the Father so that he not only can give thanks, but can seek forgiveness when he sins. Then he is “right” with God. What a horrible thought to come before the great Judge without being right in his eyes. How terrible that pride, selfishness, jealousy and many other ungodly attitudes keep us from approaching God for forgiveness! And how awful to think that these same attitudes prevent us from seeking forgiveness of our brethren. We need daily to ask ourself: “Am I right with God?” If not, it is clear what needs to be done.
Guardian of Truth XXXIII: 9, pp. 262-263
May 4, 1989