by Matt Slick
Are those who teach that they can lose their salvation but keep it by continuing to believe in God really teaching salvation by a form of works? Some would say yes and others no, but this question is not answered so simply. After all, we are commanded by God to believe, and believing is not classified as a work in Scripture other than to say it is the work of God in us (John 6:28-29). Furthermore, since God grants that we believe (Philippians 1:29), then we cannot classify believing as a work - at least not under the Old Testament legal sense.
Nevertheless, if a person believes he must maintain his salvation based on his obedience to the Old Testament Law (not lying, not committing adultery, being honest, etc.), then he is probably not saved. Why? Because of what the Bible says about justification. Justification is the legal standing with God where we are declared righteous in his sight. Only Christians are justified, and it is not by the works of the Law.
- Rom. 3:28, "For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law."
- Rom. 4:5, "But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness,"
- Rom. 5:1, "Therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,"
- Gal. 2:16, "Nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we may be justified by faith in Christ, and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law shall no flesh be justified."
Clearly, we are justified by faith without the works of the Law (Romans 3:28; 4:5), but not many know that the works of the Law include the following:
- Deut. 6:5, To love God with all your heart and strength.
- Lev. 19:18, To love your neighbor as yourself.
- Lev. 25:35, Feeding the poor.
- Exodus 23:9, Not oppressing the stranger.
- Deut. 10:19, Showing love for the stranger.
- Exodus 23:5, Bearing another’s burden.
- Lev. 25:14, To wrong no one when buying and selling, etc.
Therefore, if we are justified by faith apart from the works of the law (Romans 3:28), then we are justified before God without the work of loving God, loving your neighbor, feeding the poor, etc. This means that we are justified by faith alone. However, because we are saved and because we are regenerated and because we are changed to new creatures (2 Corinthians 5:17), then we will love God, love our neighbors, feed the poor, not oppress the stranger, show love for the foreigner, bear one another's burdens, not wrong people when buying and selling, etc. These are manifestations of regeneration and not the cause of it; nor are they the anchor that keeps us regenerated and saved.
Now, let's turn our attention to the question at hand: Are those who teach they can lose their salvation but keep it by continuing to believe in God really teaching salvation by a form of works?
Is our believing a work?
Yes, our believing is a work, namely, the work of God.
- John 6:28-29, "They said therefore to Him, “What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.”
- Philippians 1:29, "For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake."
Our believing is the work of God, and he grants that we believe. But once we are believers, is our salvation dependent upon our will and ability to continue to believe from that point on? And if so, is that salvation by works?
The only way faith is said to be a work is when Jesus tells us that it is the work of God (John 6:28-29). I believe that those who teach you can lose your salvation are wrong, but I also believe that God in his grace overlooks the theological errors regarding this. Those who teach they can lose their salvation by walking away from it or by rejecting faith but do not believe that salvation is maintained by keeping the law are, in my opinion, saved. I say this because they are not seeking to maintain salvation by obedience to any form of law. Instead, they're doing what God commands, which is to believe - something that is not defined as a work of man in Scripture.