FAQ: What if a person claims to be a Christian but is not living like a Christian?

Suppose Jack claims to have become a Christian at the age of 16, and for some time his walk with God was fairly consistent. He seemed to really want to love God, love others, tell people about Jesus, be actively involved in church, care for the poor, etc.

But at the age of 23, Jack’s Christian life becomes very rocky. He still claims to be a Christian, but he no longer obeys God consistently, he drops out of church, stops telling people about Jesus, and cares less and less about the things that God cares about. Some Christians would describe Jack as ‘backsliding’. This period of ‘backsliding’ might be for weeks, months or even years.

Jack

Because these situations are not all that uncommon, typically the question is asked: “If Jack was to die, where would he spend eternity?”

Will Jack make it to heaven?   

People asking this question are usually not trying to imply that Jack has to earn his way to heaven. They firmly believe that Jack is saved because of Jesus’ finished work on the cross. But they also believe that if a person was really a Christian, then they wouldn’t live the kind of life that Jack is living.

Some wonder if Jack has lost his salvation? Others wonder if he was ever saved to begin with?

So what’s the answer? Unfortunately the situation is not as clear cut as we might like. There are actually two possibilities…

Possibility #1 – Jack is definitely a Christian who will go to Heaven

At the age of 16, Jack really did become a Christian. He came to a place where he realized that he was a sinner under the judgement of God, unable to change himself or save himself. He cast his entire life and eternity into Jesus’ hands, trusting Him to save him. As a result, Jesus did two things for Jack…

A. CROSS
Jesus paid for all of Jack’s past, present, future, deliberate and accidental sin by His death on the cross.

B. HOLY SPIRIT
Jesus gave Jack the Holy Spirit who came into his life to wage war against his sinful nature and change him from the inside out.

Jack 2

Once Jack became a Christian at 16, he began to walk with God. The Holy Spirit worked powerfully in Jack’s life to make him more like Jesus.

But at the age of 23, something changed. It might have been that Jack got led astray by the wrong people. Or perhaps his girlfriend died in a car accident and Jack became angry with God. Or maybe Jack just got busy at work and overtime he got distracted.

Regardless though, if Jack is really a Christian, then his eternity is secure because Jesus has paid for his sin in full.

Possibility #2 – Jack is not a Christian and he will not go to Heaven

At the age of 16, Jack thought he became a Christian because he did two things…

A. COMMITMENT
Jack made a commitment to try and obey God’s commands. He figured that if he could obey, or at least try and obey, that God would accept him into heaven.

B. CULTURE
Jack started to conform to the church culture. He talked the talk. He behaved the right way. He even got into church leadership.

Jack 3

Because Jack made a commitment at the age of 16 to try and obey, he did everything he could not to put a step wrong. Outwardly it looked like Jack had a close relationship with God. But the truth is that Jack was terrified of God. He had no sense of peace. He felt constant pressure to perform. He was always worried that God might take away his salvation if he failed to keep his commitment.

So at the age of 23, Jack had finally reached a point where he could no longer stand it and he walked away. He wasn’t necessarily angry with God. He wasn’t even necessarily upset with the church. He just couldn’t keep walking closely with God if heaven and hell hung in the balance every time he sinned.

So unfortunately Jack would not go to heaven, not because he sinned too much, but because he never trusted in the finished work of Jesus on His behalf.

How do we know the difference?

In comparing Possibility #1 to Possibility #2, there are various things that could be looked at. Here’s a couple…

hypocrite1


A. IS JACK TRUSTING IN JESUS’ FINISHED WORK ON HIS BEHALF, OR IS HE TRUSTING IN HIS COMMITMENT TO OBEY JESUS? 
Ephesians 2:8-9 says: “It is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast”.

Our salvation rests on what Jesus has DONE, not on what we have to DO. A true Christian is saved by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone! 

B. HAS JACK RECEIVED THE HOLY SPIRIT? 
Galatians 5:16-17 says: “Walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other”.

Here we find that if Jack is truly a Christian, the Holy Spirit will be waging war against his sinful nature. Sometimes Jack will be led by the Spirit, and he will love God and love others and hate sin. Other times Jack will be led by his sinful nature, and he will love sin and crave sin.

This means two things. Firstly, over time, we should be able to see fruit of the Spirit in Jack’s life. Secondly, when Jack does sin, or begins to ‘backslide’ as some Christians call it, the Holy Spirit will be at work in his life calling him to confess his sin and walk with God.

The key is not to expect an absence of sin or even an absence of sinful desires (for Jack still has a sinful nature that loves sin and craves sin), but rather to look for evidence of the Holy Spirit at work in Jack’s life. 

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F.A.Q: Why do I need to ask for forgiveness if God has already forgiven me?

confessionA CHRISTIAN CAN’T BE CONDEMNED FOR THEIR SIN

According to the Bible, once a person becomes a Christian,  because Jesus was condemned on their behalf, they can no longer be condemned for their sin:

Romans 8:1
“There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”.

Romans 5:9
“Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!”

2 Corinthians 5:18-19
“All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ…not counting people’s sins against them”.

So if Jesus copped the punishment for a Christian’s past, present & future sin, deliberate & accidental sin, confessed & unconfessed sin, what is the point of confession?

A CHRISTIAN IS AFFECTED BY SIN

Just because a Christian can’t be condemned for their sin, doesn’t mean they can’t be affected by sin. There are several reasons for a Christian to continually confess their sin:

1. INTIMACY WITH GOD
Consider the relationship between a father and his child. When the child disobeys his father, he doesn’t get kicked out of the family. The relationship stays intact. The child still belongs to the father. But the quality of their intimacy will be affected. Until the child apologizes to the father for his wrongdoing, there will be tension in their relationship.

In the same way, the Bible teaches that when disobey our Father in Heaven, we don’t get kicked out of the God’s family. The eternal relationship stays intact. We still belong to our Heavenly Father. But the quality of our intimacy will be affected. Until we apologize to our Heavenly Father for our wrongdoing, there will be tension in our relationship.

2. ANSWERS TO PRAYER
The Bible seems to indicate that if we fail to confess sin, it will affect God’s decision to answer our prayers:
> “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.” (Psalm 66:18).
> “Your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear” (Isaiah 59:2).
> “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives” (James 4:3).

3. GOD’S POWER BEING UNLEASHED IN OUR LIVES
The Bible tells us to “be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18). To be filled with the Holy Spirit means to be controlled or empowered or driven by the Holy Spirit. This happens when we confess our sin to God, acknowledging that we have been trying to control our own lives, and asking Him to take over.

4. PERSONAL WELL-BEING
After failing to confess for a prolonged period of time, David eventually comes to realize how personally destructive unconfessed sin can be. In Psalm 32:3-5 he says: “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy on me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord'”.

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ILLUSTRATION: ABC

simpleWE CAN BE SURE THAT WE’RE GOING TO HEAVEN BEFORE WE DIE

One of the best things about Christianity is that it teaches us that we can be sure we’re going to heaven before we die.

At the crucifixion, Jesus was placed on a cross between two criminals. One of these criminals became a Christian just before he died. Here’s what happened…

LUKE 23:39-43
One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”

But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”

Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

HOW TO BE SURE THAT YOU’RE GOING TO HEAVEN

The criminal was assured a place in heaven because he placed his faith in Jesus to save him. Here are the three things he did…

(A) ACKNOWLEDGE: He acknowledged that he was a sinner who’d done the wrong thing and deserved punishment.
> He did not promise to make up for his past sin. He certainly would not have been able to.
> He did not promise to never sin again. It was irrelevant. He was about to die. He could offer God nothing.
> He simply acknowledged that he was a sinner who’d done the wrong thing and deserved judgement.

(B) BELIEVE: He believed that Jesus was able to save him.
> He did not believe the whole Bible. It hadn’t even been completed yet.
> He did not necessarily understand a lot of theology.
> He did not even understand how Jesus could save him. He just believed that he could.

(C) CAST: He cast his entire life & eternity into Jesus’ hands.
> He did not promise to live for Jesus. He was about to die.
> He did not promise to obey. Again, he was about to die.
> He simply bet his life and eternity on Jesus. He had no other option. Everything rested on Jesus.

So just like the criminal, we too can be sure that we’re going to heaven. All we need to do is ‘ACKNOWLEDGE that we are sinners who deserve judgement’, ‘BELIEVE that Jesus is able to save us’ & ‘CAST our entire life & eternity into Jesus’ hands’.

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FAQ: What if I have doubts?

doubtMany people feel like they can’t become a Christian until they are 100% sure that Christianity is true. This is completely understandable. Becoming a Christian is the most significant, life-altering decision a person will ever make.

But does a person have to be 100% sure that Christianity is true in order to become a Christian?

FIRSTLY, WE DO NOT HAVE TO BELIEVE THAT THE ENTIRE BIBLE IS TRUE, WE JUST NEED TO BELIEVE THAT JESUS DIED & ROSE AGAIN

We do not have to believe in Adam & Eve, Noah & the Ark or Moses & the Burning Bush in order to become a Christian. Consider the following…

A) The Early Christians were not 100% sure of the entire Bible because the entire Bible wasn’t even written yet.
Andy Stanley makes the point that “there was no Bible as we know it for the first three hundred years of Christianity. People were becoming followers of Christ before the Gospels were even written” (Deep & Wide, p 246).

B) Most Christians alive today have not even read the entire Bible, so how can they be 100% sure that it’s true?

C) We are saved by our faith in Jesus, not the Bible.
The Apostle Paul wrote: “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved” (Romans 10:9).

SECONDLY, ALTHOUGH WE HAVE TO BELIEVE THAT JESUS DIED & ROSE AGAIN, WE DO NOT HAVE TO BE 100% SURE THAT JESUS DIED & ROSE AGAIN.

Certainly the Bible is clear that we need to believe that Jesus died for our sins and rose from the dead. The Apostle Paul said: “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:17). But we do not have to be 100% sure that Jesus died and rose again. Consider the following…

A) We do not have the luxury of waiting until we are 100% sure
A lot of people think that becoming a Christian is like crossing a busy road. We look both ways and we don’t cross until we are 100% sure that it is safe to cross. Although this scenario seems correct, it assumes that we have an endless amount of time on our hands.

But unfortunately the decision to become a Christian is not without time constraints. All of us will die one day. We only have a limited amount of time to decided whether or not we will place our life and eternity into Jesus’ hands.

Perhaps a better analogy is to think of becoming a Christian like jumping out of the way of a big truck. Suppose we find ourselves in the middle of the road. We look up and see the truck coming straight towards us. We are forced to make a decision. Do we jump out of the way, assuming the truck will continue straight along its path? Or do we stay where we are, assuming the truck will swerve around us? We will never be 100% sure of either. In fact, we may be 51% sure of one, and 49% sure of the other. But we have to make a decision, so we make our decision based on probability.

In the same way, all of us have death coming straight towards us. Do we jump into the arms of Jesus, trusting Him to save us? Or do stay where we are and face death on our own? We may be 51% sure that Jesus rose from the dead, and 49% sure that He didn’t. But one way or the other, we need to make a decision.

B) We do not need to be 100% sure
Suppose a young child has never been on an elevator. One day, she walks into a very tall building. She notices people walking into the elevator, the steel doors close, and they never come out. As you can imagine, this could be quite frightening. After some time, the child decides to take a step of faith and jumps into the elevator. She hears the big steel doors close behind her. She notices that everyone has turned around, and is now facing the front. She then begins to feel this weird sensation in her stomach as the elevator begins to ascend. After some time, she starts to get freaked out by the fact that nobody is talking to each other, and there is some weird music playing in the background.

But no matter how anxious the child becomes. No matter how significant her doubts, no matter how much she may regret her decision, the fact is, she will get off on the 10th floor just like everyone else.

Her doubts are only significant if they stop her from getting on the elevator in the first place.

In the same way, a person can become a Christian and still have significant doubts. What matters is that they are willing to jump on board. Certainly, their experience as a Christian may be plagued with doubt. They may be much more likely to question whether or not they’ve made the right decision than a Christian who has less questions and doubts. But they will still be taken to heaven. Jesus will still be with them on the journey.

We don’t need to be 100% sure that Jesus died & rose again. We just need to be sure enough to place our life and eternity into Jesus’ hands.

THIRDLY, ONCE WE COME TO BELIEVE IN JESUS’ DEATH AND RESURRECTION, WE CAN THEN BELIEVE IN THE REST OF THE BIBLE.

Andy Stanley says: “I’ll tell you why I believe Adam and Eve were actual people. Jesus did. I’m a simple man. If somebody predicts his own death and resurrection and then pulls it off, I’m with him. I don’t really care what he says, I’m with the guy who rose from the dead. I would like to do that someday myself. And he said those who believe, even though they die, they will live. So I go with what Jesus said” (Deep & Wide, p255).

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MISUNDERSTANDING: We are only forgiven for past, accidental & confessed sin

Suppose you had to participate in the following activity…

(A) USE THE TABLE BELOW TO WRITE OUT A LIST OF ALL YOUR PAST, PRESENT, FUTURE, ACCIDENTAL & DELIBERATE SINS… 

Lifetime of Sins

Obviously there will be lots of sins from your past that you’ve forgotten you committed. Obviously it’s impossible to predict what sins you are going to commit in the future. And obviously this table would not be large enough.

But for the sake of the activity, let’s imagine that you were able to fill in the table accurately.

(B) GO THROUGH AND CROSS OFF ALL THE SINS WHICH YOU HAVE CONFESSED TO GOD…

Lifetime of Sins Crossed out

Obviously there will still be many sins not crossed out. Some remain unconfessed because you forgot you committed them. Some remain unconfessed because you did not even realize they were sins. And some remain unconfessed simply because you did not find the time. But whatever the reason, all of us live with unconfessed sin on our record.

(C) DRAW A CIRCLE AROUND ALL THE SINS THAT JESUS HAS PAID FOR…

Possibility #1
Many people would only place a circle around their past, accidental, confessed sins.

Lifetime of Sins Crossed out & Circle 1

Possibility #2
Others would place a circle around all their past, present and future accidental sins.

Lifetime of Sins Crossed out & Circle 2

Possibility #3
Some would place a circle around all their past, present, future, deliberate & accidental sins.

Lifetime of Sins Crossed out & Circle 3

So which is correct?

If ‘Possibilitiy #1’ is correct, then no one would make it to heaven.

If ‘Possibility #2’ is correct, it also means that no one would make it to heaven because everybody deliberately sins. Despite what some people might think, nearly all sin is deliberate. We sin because we have a sinful nature which loves sin and craves sin.

Therefore, the only option that makes any sense is ‘Possibility #3’. Jesus died on the cross to pay for sin in full. He wants us to be sure that we are forgiven, sure that we are going to heaven and sure that we have escaped God’s condemnation. This can only happen if Jesus has paid for all our past, present, future, accidental & deliberate sin.

The Bible teaches that we are not forgiven because we avoid deliberate sin, or because we confess our sin. But rather we are forgiven if we place our life and eternity in Jesus hands, trusting Him to pay for our sin in full.

“God not only forgives the former sins you have committed; but looks through his fingers and forgives the sins you will yet commit” – Martin Luther

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FAQ: Can I lose my salvation?

There are three main positions that people take on this issue…

POSITION #1 – YOU CAN LOSE YOUR SALVATION BY NOT BEING FAITHFUL

Some people would argue that we can lose our salvation if we fail to walk closely with God. Sometimes Christians refer to this as ‘backsliding’. People who hold this position would argue that if we continue to ‘backslide’ and embrace a life of sin, then we will eventually destroy our relationship with God and we will no longer be saved.

POSITION #2 – YOU CAN ONLY LOSE YOUR SALVATION IF YOU STOP HAVING FAITH

Others would argue that we can never ‘backslide’ our way out of heaven. They believe that we were saved by grace, through faith, and that we remain saved by grace, through faith. As a result, it is impossible to ‘sin our way out of heaven’, just as it was impossible to ‘do enough good works to get into heaven’.

However, just as it was necessary to place our faith in Jesus in order to be saved, they believe that it’s necessary to keep our faith in Jesus in order to remain saved. We don’t have to walk closely with Jesus in order to remain saved, but we do need to keep our faith in Jesus in order to remain saved.

POSITION #3 – YOU CAN NEVER LOSE YOUR SALVATION

Many others believe that we cannot lose our salvation under any circumstance.

We cannot ‘backslide’ our way out of heaven’. They, like those who hold to ‘Position #2’, believe that it’s impossible to ‘sin our way out of heaven’, just as it was impossible to ‘do enough good works to get into heaven’.

Nor can we lose our salvation by losing our faith. They argue that it is actually impossible for a true Christian to ever lose their faith. That faith is a gift from God. And that God has promised to continue to work in and through our lives until we get to heaven. If a person once claimed to be a Christian, but now no longer has faith in Jesus, they would argue that they were never really a Christian in the first place.

SUMMARY

Can you lose your salvation table

‘Position #1’ is clearly not correct because it contradicts the message of grace…
It relies on what we continue to do, rather than Jesus’ finished work on the cross. People who hold to this view have most likely never trusted in Jesus to save them.

‘Position #2’ and ‘Position #3’ are both possibilities…
Similarities:
(a) Both can argued from the Bible.
(b) Both have to deal with certain ‘difficult Bible passages’ in order to maintain their case.
(c) Both can point to respected Christian leaders who hold to their view.
(d) Both believe that our salvation is secure because of Jesus’ finished work on the cross, not because of our ability to stay close to Jesus
(e) Both believe that those who remain saved continue to have faith in Jesus.

Difference:
The main difference is that according to ‘Position #2’, it is possible to disown Jesus and completely stop believing, whereas according to ‘Position #3’, a true Christian can never disown Jesus and stop believing because faith is a gift from God, and God has promised to continue His work in us until we get to heaven.

ILLUSTRATION
One way to think about this is to consider a mother carrying her baby as she walks across a busy street…

Position #1 says:  If the child lets go of the mother, the mother will let go of the child.

Position #2 says: If the child lets go of the mother, the mother will continue to hold onto the child. But it is possible for the child to kick and scream enough till eventually he pries his way out of his mother’s arms.

Position #3 says: If the child lets go of the mother, the mother will continue to hold onto the child. And no amount of kicking and screaming will make it possible for the child to pry himself out of his mother’s arms.

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ILLUSTRATION: Why should God let you into heaven?

Heaven-Hell2Suppose that you were to die today and stand before God and he were to say to you, “Why should I let you into my heaven?” what would you say? *

Many of us would probably appeal to our good works. We’d talk about how we’ve tried to live a good life by treating others well, working hard, and being a responsible citizen of society.

Others of us who would appeal to our religious practices. We’d bring up times when we were baptized, took communion, attended church, prayed, and read the Bible.

Another group again would appeal to our commitment to Jesus. Knowing full well that our good works and religious practices are not enough, we would begin talking about the commitment we made to live for Jesus. We’d explain how we always tried to be faithful. We consistently obeyed the Bible. Everything we did was done with a heart to please God.

Essentially all three of these approaches are about ‘WHAT I HAVE DONE’. They rely upon my good works, my religious practices, or my commitment to Jesus.

But the Bible teaches that there is another way. That Jesus is the one who paid the price for us to get into heaven. He lived the perfect life that we could not live. He died the death that we should have died.

The person who gets into heaven is the person who says: “I am a sinner. My good works, my religious practices, and my commitment to Jesus mean nothing before a Holy God. All that matters is what Jesus did on my behalf. I am not relying upon ‘WHAT I HAVE DONE’. I am trusting solely in the finished work of Christ. I am betting my eternity on ‘WHAT JESUS HAS DONE'”.

(* This extremly helpful opening question is taken from Evangelism Explosion)

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