The Letter to the Seven Churches (Study # 3)
Study 3 – The Letters to the Seven Churches
V. The letter to the Church in Sardis
The Dead Church
1 And to the angel of the church in Sardis write, These things says He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars: I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead.
We have seen that the figure of the seven Spirits refers to the Holy Spirit in the fullness of His ministry. Our own spiritual life depends upon the presence of the Holy Spirit in us and in the midst of our congregations. The seven stars are the pastors of these seven churches. The ministers are to be as stars through whom the light of Jesus Christ shines.
It is very probable that the church in Sardis had many members who were persons of high society. Perhaps it was a church that enjoyed prestige and a good reputation among the other churches. People could point to it and say, “Now that is a large church. It’s really on the move!” There is the same tendency today to talk about a congregation in terms of its size, the cost of its edifice, and the number of people who attend.
But Christ said that the church in Sardis was dead. The Lord has a system of values very distinct from the human system. Many churches that are considered large and of great influence for the Lord are, in fact, dead, without any spiritual life. The Lord is not looking for great numbers. He is looking for people who are faithful, and who have a high quality of faith, devotion, and love for Him.
2 Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your works perfect before God.
3 Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent. Therefore if you will not watch, I will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you.
Here again we see the patience of the Savior. He is not willing to cast off this church without giving it an opportunity to repent. But, Jesus warns, the church must not abuse His patience lest He come suddenly against her. Many are the congregations which have disdained the patience of the Lord until He has acted in judgment. They have fallen, ceased to exist, or remained like cadavers -- having an appearance of godliness but denying the power thereof (II Timothy 3:5).
4 You have a few names even in Sardis that have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white, for they are worthy.
Jesus is almost at the point of blotting out the name of this church. Nevertheless there are a few faithful persons in it, and the Lord says, “They are mine.” These people will be kept who have remained firm in the purity of their faith and their love. An individual has to consider his own spiritual condition. He must maintain his own fellowship with the Lord. Though others who call themselves Christians may walk badly, one must answer for himself.
5 He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels.
Jesus had said in one of His sermons that when He came in glory: “Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” (Matthew 13:43). It seems that He was referring to this text when He promised that His followers would wear white garments.
Let us examine the promise: I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life. There is mention made of such a book in Exodus 32:31-33: “Then Moses returned to the Lord and said, “Oh, these people have sinned a great sin, and have made for themselves a god of gold! Yet now, if You will forgive their sin -- but if not, I pray, blot me out of Your book which You have written.” And the Lord said to Moses, “Whoever has sinned against Me, I will blot him out of My book.”
The hand of the Lord was extended against the Israelites because of the golden calf which they had made and worshipped. Moses was so concerned for his people and he loved them to such an extent he offered to be condemned in place of them. But the Lord answered, “Whoever has sinned against Me, I will blot him out of My book.” What we see in Exodus, and here in Revelation, is that God has a Book of Life. In it are written the names of every one of His followers. It does not make any difference the church in which one is enrolled. What is important is that one has his name written in the Book of Life in heaven.
There are those who insist that salvation cannot be lost. They say that a Christian can commit any sin and that he still retains his salvation. They even teach that if a Christian behaves very badly God will punish him by taking his life, that is, by taking him home to Heaven. This is often actually preached from the pulpi t and over both radio and television. But, how can a name be blotted out of a book where it has never been written? Is our Lord giving a warning of something that He is not thinking of doing, or that He cannot do? Of course not. The truth is that one can have his name written the in the Book of Life for years and then, by his own choice, become rebellious and obstinate, giving himself over to sin. In such a case, the Lord will blot his name out of the Book of Life. Only those who remain faithful to the end will keep their names in the Book of Life. (For more on this topic, please see the appendix at the end of this chapter.)
Again, the last part of verse 5: but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels. On one occasion Jesus said to His disciples: “Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 10:32). We confess Jesus before men when we show by our words and our actions that we love Him above all else. It will be a moment of inexpressible joy when the believer, there in the Celestial Kingdom, hears the Savior say before God the Father and the holy angels, “This one is Mine. He has loved Me and served Me faithfully to the end.” That moment, without even considering all the glories of Heaven, will more than repay the overcomer for all the trials and difficulties of this life.
6 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
VI. The Letter to the Church in Philadelphia
The Church Faithful to the Word of God
7 And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write, These things says He who is holy, He who is true, He who has the key of David, he who opens and no one shuts, and shuts and no one opens.
By this greeting of the Savior, it is shown that He has a message of consolation. Jesus Christ is He who is holy, because He possesses absolute perfection. By means of the Holy Spirit the Lord shares His holiness with the believer. He purifies him and He prepares him for his eternal kingdom. Jesus Christ is the One who is true. He is the fountain of truth who brings liberty from the slavery of sin: Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make your free” (John 8:31,32). The true Christian loves the One who is true and he keeps His Word.
There is mention made here of the key of David. It belongs to the Savior. God made a pact with King David in which He promised: “And you house and your kingdom shall be established forever before you. Your throne shall be established forever” (II Samuel 7:16). With these words God the Father was saying that the promised Messiah would be a descendant of King David. God the Son existed from eternity past, but when He entered the world He received a human nature and he was born of the lineage of David.
Jesus is the God-Man, the Messiah, whose throne will be established forever. “Messiah” is the Hebrew word that means “the anointed of Jehovah.” The word for “Messiah” in the Greek is “Christ.” Jesus Christ has the key of David. He gives entrance into His eternal Kingdom to any repentant sinner who comes to Him for salvation. When Jesus opens the door to someone, no church, nor any ecclesiastical official, can close it. Likewise, Jesus denies entrance to those who continue in sin and/or place their hope in some other person, some other religion, or some other philosophy. In such a case, no person or church can open the door. Jesus Christ, the God-Man, alone has the final word concerning our eternal destiny.
8 I know your works. See, I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it; for you have a little strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name.
Like the church in Smyrna, it seems that the church in Philadelphia was composed of very poor people from the lower classes of society. Although the members of this congregation had neither strength nor influence in their city, Jesus Christ assures them that they have an open door to reach many souls and lead them into His kingdom.
The Lord promises His blessing on this church because it has kept His Word. This statement says it all. The believers in Philadelphia had maintained the fire of their first love. They had kept sound doctrine and purity of life. They also were working arduously for the cause of the Gospel. Jesus gives great importance to the keeping of His Word because it is by means of the Word that the Holy Spirit does His work in human hearts. The apostle Paul wrote in II Timothy 3:16,17: All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.
Notice the last part of verse 8: and have not denied My name. In spite of the mocking, the provocation, the oppression and every kind of threat, the church in Philadelphia had persisted in giving a faithful testimony for Jesus Christ. On the occasion when Jesus spoke of the blessing of confessing Him, He also warned of the consequence of not doing so: “But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 10:33).
It could be for reason of cowardice that one keeps quiet and does not identify himself as a follower of Christ. It could be that he goes back and again commits previous sins. Or it might be that he becomes so occupied with material things that he does not take care of his relationship with the Savior. Whatever the case, it is the same as if a person had denied Christ with the mouth. If we deny Him, says Paul, He will also deny us. The believer must be ready to suffer any kind of loss -- friendships, possessions, even life itself -- rather than deny his Savior. Paul writes that any kind of loss for Christ, in reality is gain: This is a faithful saying: For if we died with Him, we shall also live with Him. If we endure, we shall also reign with Him. If we deny Him, He also will deny us (II Timothy 2:11,12).
9 Indeed I will make those of the synagogue of Satan, who say they are Jews and are not, but lie -- indeed I will make them come and worship before your feet, and to know that I have loved you.
From the earliest years of its existence, the Church of our Lord Jesus Christ has had to combat the pretensions of false cults. To this day, she is still withstanding attacks from such cults as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Mormons, the Adventists, and many others. These false groups have at least two things in common: they twist the Scriptures and they affirm that only they possess the truth. But in this verse, we have the promise of Jesus that the day will come when these cults of Satan will be ashamed of their errors and will recognize that Jesus has loved us.
10 Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial
which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth.
There are many sincere Christians who interpret this verse as saying that the church will be raptured out of the world before the Great Tribulation. They teach that the seven churches of Revelation represent seven successive stages of Church history. According to this teaching, we are now living in the stage of the Church of Philadelphia. Very soon, they say, the faithful believers will be taken into Heaven and only the Church of Laodicea will be left on the earth. But we need to take into account that the seven churches of Asia did not exist one after another; they all existed at the same time, including the Church of Philadelphia. In each epoch of the history of the church, there have been the seven kinds of churches. Certain kinds of churches have predominated in one epoch and other kinds in another epoch, but always the seven classes or kinds of churches have been present on the earth.
What distinguished the Church of Philadelphia was her faithfulness to the Word of God. But what is found in the typical evangelical church today? The preacher reads two or three verses from the Bible and from there he launches himself into orbit, giving a sermon full of his opinions and man’s theology. After years of this kind of preaching, how much do the members know of the Word of God? And, if they do not know the Word, how can they keep it? The truth is that today churches in the style of Philadelphia, where the Word is preached and practiced, are a small minority. It is a very mistaken idea that we are presently living in the epoch of Philadelphia, and we are certain to be raptured out of the world before the Tribulation. We will see, later on, that this idea does not agree with many other prophecies in Revelation. What is going to happen to believers that have been taught that they will be taken up to Heaven before the Great Tribulation, but then find themselves in the midst of it? Many will lose their faith, believing that the coming of Jesus Christ for His Church is never going to take place.
What of the promise, then, in verse 19, that the church of Philadelphia is to be kept from the hour of trial which is coming upon the whole world? There enters into play here the rule of the double fulfillment of prophecy. Sometimes a prophecy has a partial fulfillment, but its complete fulfillment is for some later date. When these letters were written to the seven churches, the Christians of that time had suffered the fiery persecution of Nero and there awaited them more persecution on the part of other Roman emperors.
Jesus warned the believers in Smyrna that they were going to suffer as we studied in Revelation 2:10; but afterwards they would receive the Crown of Life. At the same time, He exercised His sovereign will by saying that the church in Philadelphia would be kept from the hour of trial which would come upon the whole world. We see this same contrast today. In some places, Christians are suffering for their faith, such as in the Sudan, China, and Chiapas, Mexico. Meanwhile, in other parts of the world, Christians enjoy a tranquil existence. The sovereign Christ decides each case according to what will result for His greatest glory and the greatest spiritual benefit for those who are His. It may also happen that a church which has thus far been kept from suffering will later take its turn of passing through the fire of persecution.
The hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world will have its complete fulfillment in the time of the Great Tribulation. We know that the Church will still be in the world according to the vision that John had of the Antichrist, or the Beast, as is seen in chapter 13, verse 7: And it was granted to him to make war with the saints and to overcome them. . . Now, if the Antichrist will be at the peak of his power during the Tribulation, then he can only make war against the saints if they are still on the earth. But here and there, believers will be kept from persecution as was the church in Philadelphia. As that church was not taken out of the world, but rather was kept while in the world, so will be those faithful believers in the future. An example of this can be found in Revelation 12:13-17.
11 Behold, I come quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take you crown.
We are in danger of losing our crown, that is, of losing our salvation, if we do not do our part in cooperating with the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. We cooperate with the work of the Holy Spirit by being diligent in prayer, in reading the Word, in obeying God’s will, and in gathering together with our brethren in the faith. The soon return of our Savior should encourage us to love each other more and to conserve our purity of life: Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! Therefore the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure (I John 3:1-3).
We cannot imagine even a small part of the glory that awaits us, but we have the assurance that we are now sons of God, and when Christ is manifested, we shall see Him as He is and we will be like Him. We will share His glory! Everyone that has this hope in Him purifies himself as He is pure. Amen.
12 He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more. . .
John wrote, when he saw the New Jerusalem: But I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple (Rev. 21:22). When Jesus says that He will make the overcomer to be a pillar in the temple of His God, he is giving another promise that the believer will enjoy the presence of God the Father and of Jesus Himself forever. The faithful Christian will have an eternal dwelling place in the New Jerusalem. It doesn’t make any difference how poor our earthly dwelling might be, but it is of utmost importance to have a dwelling place in Heaven. Let us always keep fresh in our hearts these words of our Savior, found in John 14:1-3: “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am , there you may be also.”
12 . . . And I will write on him the name of My God and the name of the city of My God, the New
Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God. And I will write on him My new
In another study, we will see that during the Tribulation it will be required that everyone receive the mark of the Beast, or the Antichrist, on their right hand or on the forehead. That mark will be the sign that one belongs to the Man of Sin (the title given to him by Paul in II Thessalonians 2:3). Those who refuse to receive the mark of the Antichrist will not be able to buy or sell. If they have families, they will have the anguish of seeing their wives and their children slowly die of hunger. On the other hand, the Word of God warns that those who receive the mark of the Beast will be condemned to suffer eternal torment (Rev. 14:9-11). One will have to choose suffering with those of his family for a brief time in this life, or suffering eternally in the next life -- also with his family.
Those who remain faithful to Jesus Christ, cost what it may, will have the privilege of bearing the name of God. Eternally they will belong to the Savior and will be citizens of the New Jerusalem. We read in Matthew 10:39: “He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it.” This life, as long as it might be, is still of very short duration. Will it not be better to suffer and lose this life but gain eternal life, than to escape a few months of earthly suffering only to live in torment throughout all eternity?
13 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
VII. The Letter to the Church in Laodicea
The Church of Lukewarm Faith
14 And to the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write, These things says the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God:
Jesus is about to deliver a message to a church that is both rich and proud. He presents Himself as the Faithful and True Witness -- He cannot lie; neither can He be mistaken. His authority is due to His being the Beginning of the creation of God. This means that Jesus Christ is the origin of creation; He is the Creator of the universe. We quoted in the first study, John 1:3 and Colossians 1:16,17, to show that God the Father did His creative work by means of the Son. This can also be seen in Hebrews 1:1,2: God, who at various times and in different ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoke to us by his Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also he made the worlds.
15 I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot.
16 So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth.
The church in Laodicea was neither ardent in its faith nor was it completely dead. Jesus, in anger, uses very strong language. Since this church is neither cold nor hot, He will vomit it from His mouth. Thus, is expressed the nausea that God suffers for superficial faith. Many say, “I believe in God.” That is not sufficient; it does nothing to win us any favor with the Almighty. We read in James 2:19: . . . Even the demons believe -- and tremble! There are many who attend the services of their church and do a little bit of good when they can, but say that they don’t want to be “religious fanatics.” Jesus says to such people, “I will vomit you out of My mouth!” When the Lord was here on the earth, someone asked Him, “What is the great commandment of the law?” Jesus responded: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment” (Matt. 22:36-38). We need to ask ourselves, “Is my faith a strong faith? Is it a burning faith? Do I love God with all my heart, soul, and mind?” Only thus can we be approved by the Lord.
17 Because you say, “I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing” -- and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked --
18 I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see.
The church in Laodicea boasted of its influence, its wealth, and its reputation. Jesus made a contrast between its material prosperity and its sad spiritual condition. In the city of Laodicea, special fabrics were made that were very fine and very famous. They were woven of a long, black wool produced in that region. Though beautifully dressed, the Savior criticized this church for being naked; it was not dressed with His righteousness. Laodicea was also a great commercial center with many banks, but Jesus said that the church there was poor and miserable because it lacked the gifts and fruit of the Holy Spirit. Laodicea had an university of medicine in which was produced a salve for the eyes. The Lord said to the Christians there that they were blind. They did not have the spiritual vision to recognize their true condition.
Today, many churches and Christians are in a similar situation to that of the church of Laodicea. They measure their spiritual state in materialistic terms such as prestige, riches, and health. The teaching that if we are right with God, God will bless us with health and wealth, has no place in sound doctrine. People who hold to such teaching do not understand that before God they are poor, miserable, and naked. We must come to Jesus to receive from Him His purity and spiritual riches. May the Holy Spirit give us the honesty to examine our true spiritual condition.
19 As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent.
The Lord rebukes and chastens those whom He loves. There are those who would like to enjoy the love of God but they want to continue living without any change in their lives. Such a thing is impossible. God demands that we submit ourselves to the discipline of His Word.
Let us meditate carefully upon the inspired exhortation that the Apostle Paul writes in his letter to the Hebrews: And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons: “My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; for whom the Lord loves he chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives.” If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons. Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness. Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but grievous; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:5-11).
20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.
In this passage, Jesus is requesting entrance into a church that bears His name. What a tragedy! At the present time, there are people claiming to be Christians, who say, “Why do I need to receive Christ as my Savior? I’ve always been a Christian.” Not so. By a definite decision one has to give Jesus Christ an invitation to enter into his life or he is not of His.
Many years ago, a young woman began to attend the services of my congregation in Puerto Rico. One day as we were talking, she told me that, although she had been religious all her life, and had gone to church every Sunday, she felt empty. Something was lacking. I read for her the promise of verse 20, and said that Jesus was knocking at the door of her heart; the “something lacking” was that of giving a welcome to the Savior. I explained that receiving Jesus was not a complicated process, but was as simple as opening the door to a neighbor who had come to visit. “But,” I also told her, “Jesus is a Gentleman, and He will only enter when He receives a sincere invitation.”
That glorious afternoon, shedding tears of repentance, she asked Jesus to pardon her sins, and invited Him to enter her heart. The transformation of her life and the happiness she received in those moments have lasted to the present day. (Seventeen years later, when my wife and daughter visited her in her home in Puerto Rico, she was still serving Jesus.) At various times, I have heard this sister testify that the only thing which had been lacking in her life was that step of giving a welcome to Jesus Christ. It has been my privilege to see the same miracle in the lives of others who have taken that same step. It you do not know Jesus Christ as your Savior, if you realize that He is knocking at the door of your heart, now is the time to open your heart to Him. I can assure you that you also will experience a new life -- a life full of the blessing of the Lord.
21 To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.
Again, Jesus promises the overcomer that he will reign with him in the coming kingdom. What can be more sure, and understood more literally, than a promise made by our blessed Savior? We need to guard and keep at all costs our heavenly inheritance.
22 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
Can Salvation Be Lost?
Romans 8:9: . . . Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His. Our belonging to Christ, our certainty of going to Heaven depends upon the Spirit of Christ (or Spirit of God, the terms are synonymous) dwelling within us. The core issue is: Can the Holy Spirit leave a person whom He has indwelt? Stated another way: Is the Holy Spirit a prisoner within a person who once believed but who now has now returned to a life of sin?
The answer to this question is found in the case of Saul, King of Israel, to whom the promise was made: Then the Spirit of the Lord will come upon you, and you will . . . be turned into another man. . . And so it was, . . . that God gave him another heart” (Samuel 10:6,9). In fulfillment of this promise, Saul received the Spirit of God and was turned into another man. After Saul’s rebellion and repeated refusal to confess his sin, as told in I Samuel 15, . . . the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul . . . (I Sam. 16:14). Here is a man who definitely had received the Spirit of God, and who just as definitely lost the Spirit through sin.
King David faced the same danger after committing adultery with Bathsheba, and then arranging the death of Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband (II Sam. 11). Therefore, he begged the Lord in his prayer of repentance: “Do not cast me away from Your presence, and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me” (Psalm 51:11). When one has lost the Spirit of God, he has not just lost fellowship, he has lost his salvation!
The prophet Ezekiel preached: But if a wicked man turns from all his sins which he has committed, keeps all My statutes, and does what is lawful and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die. None of the transgressions which he has committed shall be remembered against him; because of the righteousness which he has done, he shall live (Ezekiel 18:21,22). When the wicked person truly repents, his sins are no longer remembered against him. He shall surely live; he shall not die; that is, in the spiritual sense, since everyone must die physically.
Ezekiel then gave this stringent warning in verse 24: But when a righteous man turns away from his righteousness and commits iniquity, and does according to all the abominations that the wicked man does, shall he live? All the righteousness which he has done shall not be remembered; because of the unfaithfulness of which he is guilty and the sin which he has committed, because of them he shall die. The righteous deeds of the one who departs from serving God will not be remembered. Because of his sin, he shall die. Again, this refers to spiritual death, separation from God. (See entire text of Ezekiel 18:19-32).
This principle is as true in the New Testament Dispensation as it was in the Old. Jesus said: “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them into the fire, and they are burned” (John 15:4-6). Here we see the importance of abiding in Jesus. To abide means to remain. One cannot remain where he has never been. Believers in Christ are the branches. Jesus exhorts us to abide in Him. This clearly indicates that the believer can choose not to abide in Him. If anyone does not abide in Jesus, he (not his works) will burn.
In Romans 11:17-24, the Apostle Paul compares the Jews to branches of a domestic olive tree and Gentile (non-Jewish) believers to branches from a wild olive that have been grafted into the domestic olive tree. He writes: . . . Do not be haughty, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, He may not spare you either. Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off (verses 20-22). Note the small, but important, word if. Enjoyment of the grace of God is conditional oncontinuing in it. Otherwise, just like the unfaithful Jews, we also will be cut off. This term can only mean the loss of our salvation.
The Apostle Paul again teaches that salvation is conditional on continued obedience in I Corinthians 15:1,2: Moreover brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you -- unless you believed in vain.” The Gospel is the means of our salvation only if we hold fast to it; that is, we must continue to live according to its precepts.
Hebrews 6:4-6 says that . . . it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come. . . These are terms that can only be applied to born-again believers. The writer says that it is impossible for such people if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame” (verses 4,6). This shows that it is possible for believers to fall away. This passage even seems to say that it is impossible for the person who falls away to come again to repentance.
The 1971 edition of the New American Standard Bible indicates in the margin that the word while is an alternate meaning of the Greek, translated since. Thus, this passage should read: it is impossible for those who fall away, to renew them again to repentance, while they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, . . . While they are sinning, there is no forgiveness. The implication is that when they cease to crucify again . . . the Son of God, Divine mercy will yet be extended to them. Some Bible scholars try to avoid the plain teaching of this Scripture by saying that it was written for Jewish believers and not for Gentile believers. Can Jewish believers lose their salvation, but Gentile believers cannot? Ridiculous!
James 5:19,20: Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins. James is speaking about anyone among the brethren, that is, one who is born again. If a believer wanders from the truth, he becomes a sinner. Since it is a soul that is saved from death, the reference here must be to spiritual death, separation from God. There is no room here for the teaching of some that if a believer is too “naughty,” the Lord will punish him by taking him home to Glory!
II Peter 2:20,21: For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the later end is worse for them than the beginning. For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them . Peter can only be talking about believers (not “apparent” believers, as some would tell us), since he speaks of those who have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. If believers cannot lose their salvation, why is the latter end worse for them that are again entangled in sin? If they are still saved, why would it have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness?
Jesus says in the letter to the church at Sardis: “He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; . . .” (Revelation 3:5). If the believer cannot lose his salvation, why would Jesus even suggest the possibility of blotting out his name from the Book of Life? One cannot have his name blotted out from a book where it has never been inscribed! Jesus’ promise to the overcomer is paralleled by His statement in the Olivet Discourse: “But he who endures to the end shall be saved” (Matt. 24:13). It is not enough to make a profession of faith and then to persevere for some months or, even, many years. One must endure to the end.
It is in the light of the aforementioned Scriptures (and others like them) that we must interpret the words of Jesus in John 10:27-29: “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.” This is indeed a precious promise. How tragic it is that so many twist it to their own destruction (II Peter 3:15,16). No external force, either of men or demons, can snatch me out of the Father’s hand. As long as I yield my will to His, I am secure. But this promise does not mean that by becoming a believer I have lost my free will. I can choose to remove myself from the Father’s hand. In such a circumstance, He will let me go, even though it be to my eternal loss. There are no slaves in God’s family; there are only free men and women.
Having eternal life is like having electricity in a house. As long as the wiring is in good condition and the light bills are paid, the house has electricity. As long as I am faithful to the Lord, as long as I am obedient to His Word and the guidance of His Holy Spirit, I continue to enjoy eternal life.
This does not mean that we can be saved one day and not the next. Suppose I am returning from a trip. A couple of miles from my home I have a flat tire. If I get out and change the tire right there, not much damage has been done. But suppose, since I am so close to home, I just drive on in, on the flat tire. In that case, I will not only have ruined the tire, but the rim will have been damaged as well. There will be the need for extensive repairs.
In the same way, when the Holy Spirit convicts me of sin, and I immediately confess my sin and repent of it, not much damage will have been done to my relationship with the Lord. On the other hand, if I excuse my sin and persist in sinning, the time will come when the Holy Spirit will say, “This house is too dirty for me; I’m moving out.” In that case, I will be in need of major spiritual repair.
One final point: If the Scriptures do not mean what they seem to say, if I am completely mistaken, what will I have lost? Nothing! Absolutely nothing! I will just have been more careful that I needed to have been. How about those who have followed my teaching? When they get to the other side and find that I have been in error, will they reproach me for having received more rewards than they would have, had they not been so careful? On the other hand, what will be the consequences for those who have taught and believed that they cannot lose their salvation and then find themselves to have been mistaken? If, in their false sense of security, they have given themselves to loose living, they will have lost everything. Those who believe in “Once-saved, always-saved,” call their belief “Eternal Security.” But which position is really more secure?
Dear Friend, make sure of your salvation! Repent of the sin in your life. Prayerfully and regularly read the Bible. Order your life by its teachings. By God’s grace, endeavor to live a holy life. For without holiness, “no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14).