I recently received this email and realized that many of you may have a similar question. Feel free to read the letter and consider the following passages from the bible given to us for our instruction and comfort. My prayer for all of you is that you will know the depth of the riches of the goodness of God and embrace the finished work of Jesus Christ. That work includes abiding in a place of rest knowing we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus, unto good works, (Eph. 2:8-10). Resting in that finished work brings truth and freedom from condemnation and offers us the only way to know the will of God. As we follow Him the fruits of righteousness, peace and joy become the best evidences of our faith.
For simplicity sake I will break down each statement in my response.
I believe as a born again believer in Christ we are sealed with the Holy Spirit, but if a born again person willfully sins continually can they ultimately grieve the Holy Spirit & God at some point could remove the Holy Spirit from them because their heart gets hardened from sin and they can no longer repent? I have thought that we must walk in the Spirit & not walk in the flesh for if we walk in the flesh we will die – so it seems even born again Christians, if they go back & remain in a state of sin, can lose their salvation, but if they repent & walk in the spirit they shall live. My thought being that we are eternally secure as we walk in the spirit. It’s hard to explain, hope you understand what I am asking. Thanks!
– “I believe as a born again believer in Christ we are sealed with the Holy Spirit,”
That is true. II Cor. 1:22 confirms that it is God “who also has sealed us and given us the Spirit in our hearts as a deposit.” Ephesians 1:13 also says, “In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory.”
Being sealed as a result of believing in the gospel brings with it a personal guarantee by the Holy Spirit. As long as He abides and resides and is present in us, His work goes on to complete the work of redemption begun by Christ on the cross.
Make note here that the Spirit is given as promised by Jesus in John 16:12-13 as His role as their teacher was about to change and He was to be crucified. “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth…”
– “but if a born again person willfully sins continually”
Sin is defined in many theological terms, with the result being defined as anything (action or behavior) that in doing, will separate us from God, ourselves or others. Sin separates. That separation causes death. That is why the bible tells us that “The soul that sins shall die.” (Ez. 18:20).
Sin comes, not from depravity, but as a result of being deceived. Eve was not depraved, but she was deceived. (Gen. 3:13). She had no concept of sin or Satan, or evil itself for that matter. Her innocence and naivety made her a prime target for the deceiver. She believed the lie told to her by the Liar, who was the Father of lies, as described by Jesus in John 8:44, and believed the lie and lost her freedom. She became enslaved by fear and condemnation. (For more see: Cravings manual)
When we believe lies, either before or after salvation, we sin. Just because we are saved does not mean we automatically stop doing sins nor does salvation make us immune to the spirit of deception or his lies. (For more see: IF I’M SAVED-Why Do I Still Sin?).
Before we can understand the role of sin or determine if it has the power to cause us to lose our salvation, however, we must understand the difference between salvation and sanctification. God does not see salvation and sanctification as the same thing. In order to “rightly divide” the Word of God, and answer the question of sin and what is too much sin in a believer’s life and can too much sin cancel out our salvation, we must separate these two issues.
The bible does not teach that our getting to heaven is based on good works, or the absence of sin. We “get to Heaven” by accepting God’s invitation to partake of Christ’s death and resurrection. We are saved simply by accepting His death and the shedding of His blood as the atonement for our sins, (Rom. 10:9-10). Accepting His death and resurrection as the full atonement for our sin is what saves us and causes us to be “born again”.
Sanctification follows salvation, just like life follows birth. The sanctification process is a process of making us more like Jesus. It allows us to grow in grace and in the knowledge of God. Through faith in Him, we receive His promises, (II Pet. 1:3-4). It is through those promises that we partake of the divine nature. Jesus likened our relationship to Him as that of a vine to a branch. As we abide in the vine we cannot help but become like the vine. (Jo. 15)
It is the work of the HOLY SPIRIT to oversee our sanctification and the transformation God has intended for us. As we cooperate with HIM, the Holy Spirit leads us into all truth. All too many are trying to “figure out” what is the will of God and how to stay saved by themselves. They take on the burden of keeping their own salvation by try to manage their sin through the crucifixion of their own flesh. They end up struggling on the torture rack of “try harder – never enough” in a futile effort to avoid condemnation and perfect themselves.
Psalm 138:8 tells us that God will “perfect that which concerns us”. Paul committed the keeping of his salvation and the sanctification of his soul to the One Who was able to keep him until that day. (II Tim. 1:12). In Philippians Paul again reassures his disciples, “being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ;” (Phil. 1:6).
Jesus tells us to “follow Him, and make disciples”. How that works out specifically for each believer is the job of the Holy Spirit. Too many of us are trying to “be good enough” to get to heaven even after we are saved and have confessed that it is the blood of Jesus that is our righteousness. We are still wearing ourselves out trying not to sin and keep the commandments to get to heaven even after God has proven to us that “there is none righteous, no not one”. (Rom. 3:10).
Jesus proved in His conversation with the rich young ruler, that “there is none good, but One and that is God”. And though Jesus acknowledged the young man’s effort, He went on to define more clearly the “sin” that yet remained in his life. “Then Jesus looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “One thing you lack; Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven, and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.” (Mk.10:21).
The commandments could not identify the sins of omission as determined by Love. The covetousness of keeping his riches and relying on them kept the rich young ruler from freely following Jesus. His faith was built upon himself. He was still in control although his life looked clean.
The Bible also proves over and over that neither those whose stories are recorded there, or we, are able to keep the Law. God would not ask us to do something that He had already deemed impossible and make it the requirement for salvation. That is why Jesus came to fulfill the Law and open up the door of salvation to “whosoever will”. Salvation is given as a free gift, a gift of grace. It is not earned by merit. We do not go to Hell because we are “bad” or because we “sin”. We do not go to Heaven because we are good! We go to Heaven or are cast into Hell according to our response to the work of Christ, the Son of God, the Lamb of God sent to take away the sins of the world. Rejection of Him condemns us to Hell.
If you understand that we are not saved and sealed for heaven because of good behavior, the converse is also true. We are not lost and go to Hell because of bad behavior. The matter of salvation has NOTHING to do with sin or the absence of sin. It has everything to do with accepting the free gift of God’s grace as given in the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity.
If our salvation then is not determined by sin or based on the absence of sin, the keeping of our salvation is not decided by absence or presence of sin. Our performance is not periodically reevaluated nor is our salvation status recalculated according to some final “goodness profile”. The Holy Spirit does not come and go in a believer’s life, depending on how responsive and victorious we are that day. He is here to keep Jesus Christ’s promise that He will never leave us or forsake us, no matter how intense the battle for truth rages inside of us (Heb. 13:5).
So, if getting to heaven, one of the main benefits of being “saved” or “born again” is not determined by good works in the first place, why would God make it the final requirement in the end? He would not! And if it is the Holy Spirit that is working in all who “walk in the Spirit”, as opposed to walking “in the flesh”, (Gal. 5:16), then the SANCTIFICATION of the believer is HIS JOB!
Too many of us think we have yielded to the Holy Spirit because we are now more conscious of our sin and commit ourselves to trying harder to be good and not sin. If you are still managing your own sanctification, you will be unsuccessful in completing the distinct command made by God to “rest” found in Hebrews 3:7 – 4:11. We are like the rich young ruler, still trying to control our own spiritual sanctification and development. To not let the Holy Spirit control and captain our lives is still to live in our own strength. This by far is a greater sin and more often committed than any of the ten listed in the original commandments!
Though we are in no way advocating the practice of sin, we must understand that salvation does not make us immune to sin or keep us from being tricked by the Tempter, to sin. We will still sin, even after we are saved. The Apostle John addresses sin in the believer’s life in his first epistle.
I John 1:8-9 is written to and read by believers. John takes a look at sin and the believer and says, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not is us.” Verse 10 presses the point, “If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.” To deny our sin is to call God a liar! God does not tell us to deny our sin, but to deal with our sin by confessing it. By admitting we sinned, we admit we believed and came into an agreement with a lie. That lie brought us into bondage. Confession cancels out the agreement we made with the lie and releases us from the authority that agreement had given the Devil to enslave and control us.
In other words, believers still sin. Why? Because believers are still “deceive-able”. All sin starts with two things; having a need and believing a lie. Getting saved does not whisk us up into heaven. And even though we are now “seated with Christ in heavenly places”, (Eph. 1:3), we are still caught in the rush hour traffic. We will still have needs and still face situations that are not exactly heavenly.
Salvation does not make us “fool-proof”, though we now have access to the Holy Spirit Who knows the truth and is present to bear witness to it. Having access to the Holy Spirit gives us an option the unsaved do not have. We can now choose to walk in the Spirit as opposed to using the old, corrupt, soul soft-ware that guides the unregenerated. The “flesh” is a word used to identify both the body, the vehicle that carries the soul, and the soul which is the operating system used by the person to determine what to do based on prior knowledge and experience. Much of that information has been programmed by the Liar and downloaded into our minds as part of the “body of death”, (Rom. 7:24) operating software from Hell. (For more see: Cravings manual)
The soul is made up of the mind, will and emotions. (For more see: Who Am I? cd) The soul has compiled and cataloged the events and experiences of our lives according to categories. Fear colors our perception of those experiences and creates an internal grid of information from which we judge current events and anticipate outcomes. We use those perceptions to make choices to act. We are using our free will to chose between the options fear has given us. We make “bad choices” not because we want to do the wrong thing, but because we were tricked into believing the lies. Because we do not realize the power fear, and the lies fear tells, has over our mind and will and emotions to control us, we are swept away into sin and separation from God and His holy, righteous plan for our lives. The strength of our faith diminishes as our feelings or thoughts run with fear. Fear’s main objective is to override our faith. In an unbeliever’s life, the “candle of the Lord” Pr. 20:27, has not yet been lit. They have not yet been “quickened”, (KJV) or “made alive”, (NKJV) (Eph. 2:1-3). Their spirit is yet unresponsive to the Holy Spirit. They have no other choice but to sin, though their deeds may appear more righteous than those of the saved. If “whatsoever is not of faith is sin”, (Rom. 14:23),becomes God’s standard definition of sin, then there are none who have not sinned, even after they have become believers. It is a very good thing our salvation is not based on or kept by our sinless conduct.
– “can they ultimately grieve the Holy Spirit & God at some point could remove the Holy Spirit from them because their heart gets hardened from sin and they can no longer repent?”
Repentance means to “change your mind”. It is the job of the Holy Spirit to lead us to the truth which then gives us the opportunity to “change our minds” about some of the things we have believed, i.e., the lies, that are not true according to what God says. Every time we “see or hear or understand” that what we have believed and acted upon is not the truth, we are being led by the Holy Spirit to change and conform to the truth. “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Rom.12:1).
The Enemy resists that transformation in tempting us to not make the decision to change or worse still, forcibly resist the changes we desire to make for God. (See Rom. 7: 16-24). Distractions, old mindsets, fears, other people’s opinions, confusion about God or who I am, are just a few of the many things the Devil uses to hinder our conversion, which is different that our salvation. Peter was already a chosen disciple who did miracles in the name of Jesus when Christ told him to “strengthen his brethren after his conversion.” (Lu. 22:32). (For more see: Untangling The Lies Of The Enemy)
– “I have thought that we must walk in the Spirit & not walk in the flesh for if we walk in the flesh we will die”
To walk in the flesh means we continue to believe the lies of our old nature and practice doing the works of the flesh, (Gal. 5:19). “Those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” (Gal. 5:22). This means there is a place where God must judge sin. There is, however, also a promise, that even “if my heart condemns me, God is greater than my heart and knows all things.” (I Jo. 3:20-21). The final determination of my heart is made by God. I am not able to rightly know or judge my own self and Paul so clearly points out in I Corinthians 4:3-4. “But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by a human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I know nothing against myself, yet I am not justified by this, but He who judges me is the Lord.”
We are not called to define the edge of the cliff or those who walk too closely to it. The truth and justice of the fine line between life and death is determined, by the ignorance of those who frequent it and second, by the unbiased power of the cliff itself to destroy those who casually disregard it’s dangers. Those who get too near, even once belong to destruction.
From these passages we see the intensity of the “war” that goes on in a believer’s soul; mind, will and emotions. If Jesus makes a promise, which He did when He said, “I will never leave you or forsake you”, “I will not leave you orphans”, (Heb. 13:5) and (Jo. 14:18), then He is obligated to keep it.
-“so it seems even born again Christians, if they go back & remain in a state of sin, can lose their salvation, but if they repent & walk in the spirit they shall live. My thought being that we are eternally secure as we walk in the spirit.”
Judas’ heart was overcome with grief and the fear that his sin was unforgiveable. His desperation drove him to take an untimely death and commit suicide. We often see that scripture used to warn believers that they could suffer a similar fate. But before we conclude that this is an appropriate application of this example, let us listen on Jesus talking to the Father in the presence of his disciples, (Jo. 17:12). He said, “Those whom You gave Me I have kept; and none of them is lost except the son of perdition that the Scripture might be fulfilled.”
Judas was definitely “lost” as one of the twelve in the final list of apostles. He no longer operated in the office of an apostle. But because he lost his place, was he condemned to Hell, this “son of destruction”? The fate of Judas’s soul is hardly one we could conclude without presumption. His judgment is not ours to make. (Rom.14:4). To conclude he went to Hell or apply our understanding of what happened to Judas to today’s believers who have been given the Holy Spirit to lead them into all truth, may be just as presumptuous. Many, however, would use Judas’ assumed fate to intimidate others to “behave”, and keep the rules and not sin too much, lest they also be lost.
If getting to heaven is not accomplished by good works, but by the working of the Holy Spirit in us, and we are called to follow Christ out of love and not fear, why would we even wonder how close to the edge of the cliff we could run and play before we slip over the edge? Salvation is determined, not by degrees, but by a definite set of criteria. You are either saved or you are lost. We cannot be “sort of saved” anymore than we can be “sort of pregnant” or “sort of catch the bus”. You either catch the bus or you miss the bus. Those are the only two options for any given moment, though you can take the measures necessary to catch the bus next time, even if you have never done so before.
A salvation based in fear of going to Hell has no power to keep us from sinning. A salvation based in works has no power to comfort us or keep us from fear. A salvation based on works is not one based on grace. (Rom. 11:6). A salvation not based in grace continually examines our works and puts the burden of proof of worthiness back on us. It cancels out the work of Jesus Christ on the Cross and redefines God the hall monitor of Heaven. It makes man’s behavior the criterion for entry. It erases the one and only thing that God desired in creating creation in the first place; a family. “We love Him because He first loved us”. (I Jo. 4:19). That love has no condition other than that required by His Justice, which was fully met by His Mercy. Justice says that the soul that sins and is cut off will die, but His Mercy says that whosoever will, can come to Him and receive pardon and forgiveness because of the generous provision He made by His Grace in making full payment for the sins of the whole world. The only contingency that remains is “whosoever will”.
To say that we can lose our salvation one must disregard the words of Jesus Himself where He says, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, Who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand.” (Jo. 10:27-29).If we are kept eternally secure by the Good Shepherd, whom shall we fear? Our salvation is kept by Him.
Sins of commission and its counterpart, those of omission and lack of faith, determines rewards or the lack thereof, not salvation. Sin determines fruitfulness, ” But others fell on good ground and yielded a crop; some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.” (Mt. 13:8).
The only acceptable motive in approaching God is love. It is His love for us that causes us to get up when we fall, and keep going when we fail, and continue “practicing righteousness”, when we hit a sour note. (I Jo. 3: 7). And just as absolutely as John declares in I John 1:8 & 9, that we will sin, he just as astonishingly declares in I John 3:9 that “whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him and he cannot sin, because he had been born of God.”
Is this a contradiction or a sacred mystery? Or is it neither. Are we only invited by John to see sin from two different and distinct perspectives, ours in 1:8 & 9 and God’s in 3:9. God has told us He has forgiven us and cannot see our sin, past, present, or future, through the Blood of His Son. The only one that sees our sin is the one who authored it! That is the Devil, who then comes to use it as evidence to bring us into the place of condemnation, as far from the place of our Father’s love as he can find.
-“My thought being that we are eternally secure as we walk in the spirit. It’s hard to explain, hope you understand what I am asking.”
You have asked a good question, but as you can see from the length of this answer, not a simple one. Paul wrote about his fear for the Corinthians when he said, “But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.” (II Cor. 11:3). The Enemy would have us worry and fret and take on the position of the captain of our own salvation or wonder if the Judge of all the earth will be Just. If we follow Him out of love and obey the Holy Spirit as He teaches us out of the Word of God, we can rest that “It is well with my soul”.
You are welcome!
Marjorie Cole – Founder of Life Recovery, Inc. a counseling and discipleship ministry
For more information and a full line of teaching tools go to www.liferecovery.com or call us at 763-785-4234