Thursday, April 21, 2011

Should Christians Question the Salvation of Others?

This article was revised, edited, and expanded (04-21-11, 1530 hrs).

Our Customer Service Representatives at Living Waters do a phenomenal job providing answers to questions varying from information regarding Living Waters resources to weighty theological questions. They are not counselors, but they do their very best to answer the call to give answers for the hope that is within them, with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15).

One of our CSR's recently entered into a protracted email discussion with a man named Gary. I was asked to join the conversation. I asked Gary to summarize his question for me. Gary wanted to know if Christians should ever question the authenticity of the salvation of other professing Christians. Gary wrote, "I am talking only about saved individuals -- real confession and belief per Rom 10:4-13, the object of their faith the Real Jesus. Is anything else needed for salvation?"

Here's the answer I gave him:

Gary,

The short answer to your question is, yes.

There is something critically important and essential beyond a verbal declaration of faith in Christ, beyond one's own perceived sincerity regarding their confession and belief, that is necessary for salvation.  Many people sincerely believe they are Christians who deny the truth of God's Word, who deny the exclusivity of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and who deny the just and holy character of God.

What is this critically important and essential element? In a word, it's conversion, which is something only God can accomplish in a person’s life.  The undeniable truth is that those who are soundly saved, those who have been converted by God, are born again--not because of what a person says or does (although every person is responsible to repent and believe), but because of what Jesus Christ accomplished on the cross.  They are people who have repented of their sin and believed, by faith alone, in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.  And they continue to repent and continue to believe by the wonder-working power of the Holy Spirit who dwells within them.

We must remember that without the shedding of Christ’s blood there is no forgiveness of sin (Hebrews 9:22b). Unless a person is born again, born from above, they will not enter the kingdom of Heaven (John 3:3, 7). Unless a person is saved by the grace of God alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone (Romans 1:17; Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:4-7), they will perish in their sins and spend eternity in Hell as the just punishment for their sins, regardless of the verbal profession of faith they have made. Those who do not repent, turn from their sin and turn toward God, will perish (Mark 1:15; Luke 5:32; Luke 13:1-5; Luke 15:7; Luke 15:10; Acts 2:38; Acts 3:19; Acts 17:30; Acts 26:19-20).  Christ alone receives the glory for the Christian's salvation.

Salvation is of the Lord (Psalm 3:8; John 1:12-13; John 6:44; Hebrews 5:9-10). There is salvation in no other (Acts 4:12). God alone is sovereign and omniscient.  And, in the end, only God knows with 100% certainty who is saved and who is not.

You and I, Gary, do not know the true condition of anyone's heart. We likely do not know our own hearts as well as we might think. And no one other than the Lord Himself knows perfectly the true conditions of our hearts. I shouldn’t presume to know your heart, and you shouldn’t presume to know mine. And we shouldn’t presume to know the hearts of others. That being said, there are millions of people around the world who would say, “I’ve really confessed Jesus as Lord. I’ve really put my faith and trust in Jesus as my Savior. I believe in the real Jesus.” Yet they might not be saved. They might not be converted. Again, salvation is not based on what a person says and does. Salvation is of the Lord, according to His sovereign and gracious work in a person's life (1 Peter 1:2-3).

The fact that a person professes faith in Christ does not mean that we must take them at their word, simply because the words come out of their mouth. At the same time, no person has the right or authority to declare another person saved or unsaved, simply because of what the other person says or does. The question, then, is not so much are other people saved. The question, then, is do we believe they are saved. Are we obligated to believe someone is saved simply because they say they are saved? The answer to that question is, no.

Should we extend grace to others when it comes to their inherent human frailties? Yes (Romans 12:10; Ephesians 4:1-3). Should we give those we see as our brothers and sisters in Christ the benefit of the doubt regarding the genuineness of their profession of faith in Christ? Yes (Romans 14:10-13; 1 Corinthians 4:1-5).

However, as Jesus discerned the hypocrisy of the Pharisees of his day, so too Christians are called to discern, to the extent we are able, true converts from false converts.  After all, we will know them by their fruits (Matthew 7:15-19).  That being said, we should not set out arbitrarily or with malice in our heart to separate the weeds from the wheat, because in doing so we may injure the wheat--we may hurt those who are truly saved by causing them to doubt their salvation (Matthew 13:24-30).

In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul goes as far as to say that those who profess to know Jesus Christ yet are practicing immorality should be put out of the church (1 Corinthians 5:1-13). James makes it clear that those whose faith does not produce good works possess not a living, but a dead faith (James 2:14-26). Jesus declared that those who are in willful, unrepentant sin should be removed from the church and treated as unbelievers (Matthew 18:15-17). And the writer of Hebrews warns that those who profess faith in Christ yet sin willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, those who willfully disobey God, should live with a terrible expectation of judgment (Hebrews 10:26-31). All of these admonitions are pointed at people who claim to know God. With the exception of the Pharisees, the rest of the people spoken to in the before-mentioned passages were people who professed to know Christ.

Jesus taught that we should judge, not by appearances, but with right judgment (John 7:24). By appearances, Jesus means that we should not judge people by setting one person over another or one people group over another. There is no caste system in Christianity. There are no “haves” and “have nots” in Christianity. There are no divisions between the worthy and the unworthy in Christianity. That being said, by appearances, Jesus does not mean we should not judge the behavior of others. Jesus affirms this in John 15:1-11.

In the end, Gary, what we as Christians should be doing when we see a professing follower of Christ in willful and habitual sin, or when we hear a professing follower of Christ spouting false doctrines or affirming a false gospel; we should speak the truth in love to them (Ephesians 4:15-16). We should lovingly encourage them to examine themselves and test themselves to see whether or not they are in the faith (2 Corinthians 13:5).

Again, we do not have the right or authority to declare someone saved or unsaved. But we do have the freedom, even the obligation, to warn people to question the authenticity of their faith in Christ if they are not bearing fruit in keeping with repentance (Matthew 3:8); if they are not exhibiting the fruits of the Spirit as a way of life (Galatians 5:22-24); if they are living a life of wanton sin (Hebrews 10:26); if they are refusing to repent (Matthew 18:15-17); and if they are claiming to know Christ while believing a gospel other than that which is proclaimed in the Scriptures (Galatians 1:6-9). To do otherwise, to simply turn a blind eye to the hypocritical life example of another in deference to their verbal profession of faith in Christ is to be unloving to our brother. We must love both the true convert and the false convert more than that.