When I was a kid some of the guys and me were playing ball. We were having a good time until someone got hit with a ball and let fly a cuss word. In the fundamentalist circles in which I ran, this was not acceptable.
He apologized but we all shook our heads as we imagined the ground opening and him descending into hell. Then went back to playing ball, staying a little distance from our foul-mouthed friend and keeping an eye on the sky in case of a lightning bolt.
After the game I vaguely remember a cursory discussion about how we have access to grace and could find immediate mercy after committing a sin such as a letting a random cuss word slip in the heat of a hurt moment.
I sort of believed that. But I also harbored the fear of falling from grace, losing my religion.
The preaching we heard in our church often warned against slipping, falling, letting go, backsliding, and losing our salvation.
The general idea was that you could commit an intentional sin, like stealing a candy bar. Or an unintentional sin, like swearing in anger. And if you didn’t seek immediate forgiveness and mercy and died in some macabre random accident you’d go to hell because you were “unrepentant.”
Your faith would be forfeited by your foolishness.
Some of my pre-teen theologian friends even posited it was possible to have a “bad” dream while you were asleep and wake up vulnerable to the flames of hell.
A common refrain to justify this attitude was the scripture that declares “the LORD said, My spirit shall not always strive with man” (Genesis 6:3, KJV).
As many sermons I heard regularly outlined, sinning was easy and there were a multitude of pitfalls just outside the church doors waiting to suck us down. In other words, the “world” was mottled with spiritual tar pits of disaster. Invisible tar pits to boot!
Based on the amount of guilt that line of reasoning generated in me, I knew I must be falling into all of them even as I tried not to. After all, we were being admonished to reconfess our faith in Christ at every service. This meant at a minimum twice on Sunday and once on Wednesday evening. The rest of the time we were on our own.
Some things when it came to sinning I got, like when I lied to my parents or sassed them, or thought about girls in a way I wasn’t supposed to (and there seemed to be no way to think about them that wasn’t a bad way), or when I listened to rock ‘n’ roll, or when I had “ought” (or is it “aught”?) in my heart against someone who had bullied me at school, or when I felt a pang of jealousy when one of my friends got the toy I coveted, or when I didn’t show appreciation for the gift I received which was something I specifically said I didn’t want, or when I wouldn’t eat Brussels sprouts, or when I took pride in something I had accomplished, or when I insisted on wearing jeans to church, or when I basically got out of bed in the morning.
Okay, maybe I really didn’t get it all of the time. Some of these “sins” always had me scratching my head. Like that thing about “ought.”
I’ve never confessed this to anyone, but there was a good spell of my childhood when I feared I was certainly the antichrist, or at least one of his close associates. After all, my little head reasoned, if I was so bad all the time (based on the feedback we got in children’s church and youth camp) then, well, what else could I be? Obviously not good.
Fortunately, in the midst of this I did learn some real positives about faith, developed a love for Scripture, and had a God-given desire to read and study on my own. In other words, God elected to give me just enough holy rebelliousness allowing me to quietly burrow through the dross of misinterpretations down to the gold in His Word.
One of the essential things I learned was the importance of understanding scripture in context. This helped me see that Genesis 6:3 (see above) really had little or nothing to do with my personal faith and relationship with Christ. It certainly had no bearing on whether or not my faith could be severed from me against my will.
A better passage is Romans 8:38-39 which securely states, “For I am sure 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,” (ESV).
I still believe that it could be possible to “lose” your salvation, but not like a set of misplaced keys or the life savings stashed away and later accidentally given to Goodwill. I don’t believe God forces us into heaven or hell but rather that there is some degree of choice on our part determining where we end up.
(And now my Reformed friends are going to take me out back behind the theological shed for a spiritual tanning. Pray they are gentle!)
Anyway, as I was saying, if such a loss can happen, it can only happen through a determined, willful, arduous, persistent walking away and denying; a sustained, dogged intention to turn against God and embrace evil. It boils down to us making a choice to either conform or not conform to our God-designed purpose. When the break actually occurs, I don’t know.
What I do know is that grace abounds in my pursuit of Christ as I choose daily to allow Him to live in and through me, even imperfectly.
I also believe when we are choosing to live for Christ and walking in the mystery of His mercy, an occasional lapse, intentional or otherwise, doesn’t disqualify us from God’s grace. In other words, even when someone gets hit with a ball and lets fly a cuss word, heaven will still be open to them while the ground beneath them will remain closed.
The bottom line is this: choose daily to walk with God and everything else will fall into place. Grace wins.
Where do you stand? Once saved always saved? Predestined? Arminian? Reformed? Something else? Please share your thoughts and reasons why you stand where you stand in the comments!