Recently I was given a church bulletin from a church that is located not very far from our home. Mildly interested I started reading through the rudimentary newsletter noting names of people who were being singled out for various reasons, announcements of upcoming events, and thanks for different reasons: normal church bulletin fare. Finally arriving at the back page I saw some outlined boxes containing text which proclaimed in one box, “What to do to be saved,” and in the other, “How to secure eternal salvation.”
This nomenclature caught my eye, for I thought if one is saved he or she is saved with eternal salvation. If one is not saved when becoming a Christian, then there is no salvation only probation. This concept is problematic with me, and obviously with millions of other professing Christians, based upon their teaching of “once saved always saved.”
The problem lies in our conflating to important concepts: the concept of eternal salvation; and the concept of permanent salvation. To further confuse the fact and muddy the water most Christians have a fundamental misunderstanding of the distinction between salvation and reward. Let’s take a few moments and think about these things and try to come to an understanding as to why we misunderstand such a vital part of Christianity.
First I think that it must be pointed out, and agreed upon, that when one becomes a Christian that individual is saved. Said another way, their sins are forgiven and they are no longer guilty in the sight of God and therefore no longer deserving of punishment. This salvation is eternal in its nature. That is to say that it cannot be revoked. Allow me to add, however, that one can still be lost while having claimed eternal salvation. How is this possible? It’s possible because after receiving salvation an individual decides to forsake his vow of following Jesus and returns to the world. Salvation is not revoked at that point but it is suspended for the simple reason that a soul bearing the offense of sin cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven. One need not go through the first principles again to receive salvation because salvation has already been granted. The individual in question need only to reclaim his rightful place in the family of God-much the same way as is illustrated in the parable of the Prodigal Son.
Secondly and just as important is our misunderstanding of the distinction between salvation and reward. Salvation occurs when one is forgiven of sin. It stands to reason that if sin in our life is the reason for God turning his back upon us, that when that sin is eradicated then God embraces us as his own. That is salvation. Salvation occurs on the mortal side of death. Reward on the other hand occurs on the spiritual side of death. Heaven is our reward for maintaining our salvation. Heaven is not our salvation as many teach. If that were true we could not know until the day of judgment whether or not we were in a covenant relationship with the Lord and being in such a state of uncertainty would at the very least inhibit our effectiveness as a teacher if not cripple it altogether. In Hebrews chapter 10 we are told that we are to be people who have confidence, how can we have confidence if we are unsure of our salvation?
The idea then, of salvation and then eternal salvation is spurious. There is only one salvation, which is the forgiveness of sins secured in the cleansing blood of Jesus that occurs when one becomes a Christian. At death the Christian inherits the reward, in this case heaven. To misunderstand this is to destroy the confidence of Christians, the efficacy of the gospel message, and the joy we are instructed to have in being Christians. Nothing is quite as destructive to joy as uncertainty. Christians need to be sure of their salvation and speak with confidence looking toward their promised reward.