The notion that we could lose our salvation is not a popular one among Christians. It is far more comfortable to believe that God will welcome us back with open arms no matter what we do. And yes, we do see that God rejoices over repentant sinners (Luke 15:4-7) and welcomes back prodigal children (Luke 15:11-32). We have all sinned and we’ve all been “justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:24).
But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more, so that as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? (Rom. 5:20-6:2)
Though we are not suddenly incapable of sin once we receive grace, the direction of our lives must be moving away from sin. God’s love covers a multitude of slips and stumbles on our walk with Him, but our hearts must change so we can learn to practice righteousness instead of sinfulness. We could talk about this in theory indefinitely, but let’s go to an example instead.
A Lost Kingdom
We all know about King David, the “man after God’s own heart” who was so faithful that God promised to establish his kingdom forever (1 Kings 9:5), even including him in the genealogy of Messiah (Matt. 1:1). David is an example to a man who sinned, sincerely repented, and received grace so he could continue to walk with God. He was even forgiven for what we think of as Really Big Sins, like committing adultery and then murdering the woman’s husband.
But before David, there was a king who did not measure up. Saul was offered the same promise made to David — that his kingdom would be established forever. He could have been in the line of Messiah. He could have been David, but he lost that opportunity.
And Samuel said to Saul, “You have done foolishly. You have not kept the commandment of the Lord your God, which He commanded you. For now the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. But now your kingdom shall not continue. The Lord has sought for Himself a man after His own heart, and the Lord has commanded him to be commander over His people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you.” (1 Sam. 13:13-14)
This happened after Saul’s first sin at Gilgal, when he stepped out of line by offering a sacrifice that could only be offered by a priest. On the surface, that doesn’t look as serious as David’s sins, but at it’s core there was a much bigger issue. Saul’s heart was not obedient, and he didn’t change. In fact, he just kept getting worse.
Saul’s second sin at Gilgal was also one of direct disobedience. He was ordered to “utterly destroy” Amalek, but he thought it would be a good idea to spare the king of Amalek’s life and save some of the best livestock. Compounding sin upon sin, Saul insisted that he had “performed the commandment of the Lord” (1 Sam. 15:13). When he was confronted about his disobedience, he kept back-peddling and blaming everyone but himself, insisting he was actually doing what was right because he intended to sacrifice the livestock to God. This is in stark contrast with David’s attitude after being confronted with his sins (2 Sam. 12:7-14; Ps. 51:1-19).
So Samuel said, “When you were little in your own eyes, were you not head of the tribes of Israel? And did not the Lord anoint you king over Israel? Now the Lord sent you on a mission, and said, ‘Go, and utterly destroy the sinners, the Amalekites, and fight against them until they are consumed.’ Why then did you not obey the voice of the Lord? Why did you swoop down on the spoil, and do evil in the sight of the Lord?”
So Samuel said: “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, He also has rejected you from being king.” (1 Sam. 15:17-23)
Saul was rejected because he thought he had a better idea for how to conduct himself than God did. He rejected the leadership of God, and so God said, “I greatly regret that I have set up Saul as king, for he has turned back from following Me, and has not performed My commandments” (1 Sam. 15:11).
Could that happen to us? could we do something that would make God “regret” choosing us? Are there things we read about in the Bible and rebel against, thinking we could come up with something better than what God commands? How about some of these (just as an example to give us something to think about):
- Love your enemies (Matt. 5:43-44)
- Don’t seek revenge (Rom. 12:17-19)
- Keep the Sabbath (Ex. 20:8-11; Heb. 4:9)
- Respect governmental authority (1 Pet. 2:13-16)
- Put others before yourself (Phil. 2:3-4)
“I Never Knew You”
Jesus told us that if we love Him, we will keep His commandments (John 14:15). The love comes first — what God is chiefly concerned with is having a relationship with us, like He had with David. But obedience is also essential, and that is something Saul lacked.
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching. (Heb. 10:23-25)
This is one reason why fellowship and friendship with other believers is so important. We help keep each other on-track and encourage each other to never give up. God gives us these people to help save us.
For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries. Anyone who has rejected Moses’ law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace? (Heb. 10:26-29)
Brethren, these are scary scriptures. It’s talking about turning our backs on and actually despising what God has offered us. This is doubly scary when we read Matthew 7:21-23, where Christ says that there will be people who thought they were being faithful but were really “practicing lawlessness.” To them, He will say, “I never knew you; depart from Me.”
Never Let Go
The good news is that this doesn’t have to happen. God is committed to pursuing a real, life-giving relationship with each one of us. He doesn’t just sit around twiddling His thumbs waiting for people to wander towards Him. He is constantly working to develop real relationships that save lives.
The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. (2 Pet. 3:9)
God gives us every opportunity to come to Him. We are precious in His sight, and He is pursuing our hearts in the greatest romance ever told (Is. 43:1-7). If we do lose our salvation, it will be because we turned away from Him and walked away, not because He gave up on us.
Therefore do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise: “For yet a little while, and He who is coming will come and will not tarry. Now the just shall live by faith; but if anyone draws back, My soul has no pleasure in him.” But we are not of those who draw back to perdition, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul. (Heb. 10:35-39)
These are the verses which follow the warning in Hebrews about rejecting Christ’s sacrifice. It’s like the writer is telling us, “Look, you need to know how serious it is to turn away from God. Let that scare you — it should. Now that you know how bad it is to reject the Lord, don’t do it! We’re not that kind of people. We are the ones who can and will continue in the faith with God. Take courage, because the Creator of the whole universe is on your side and He wants you to succeed.”