The most basic doctrine of Protestant Christianity is that we are saved, not because of any works we do, but simply and only because of God's grace. What that has come to mean is that our salvation is not dependant on us doing anything except confessing with our heart that Jesus is Lord (Rom. 10:10). Such a belief then leads to a further conclusion that since we are not saved by anything we do, then it follows that we cannot lose our salvation by anything we do or don't do. This doctrine has been summed up in the saying, "once saved, always saved." Therefore, it is the firm conviction of nearly all Protestant faiths that any church that teaches there are certain things we must do in order to be saved or even to keep our saved condition is said to be violating the teachings of the Bible, and is therefore preaching false doctrine. .
While it certainly seems that this is what the Bible teaches, based on the scriptures quoted, such an interpretation presents a problem with explaining what can be refer to as the "if" scriptures. By that we mean these are verses of scripture found in the Bible that say, "if you do this then this will happen." In other words, the "if" scriptures set conditions for us to meet in order to get certain results. At the same time, what they also clearly imply is that "if" we don't do certain things "then" we will not get the promised results.
To better understand this principle, let's take a look at a few examples.
Paul told the Christians who were living in Closse, "in the body of his flesh through [His] death, [Christ died] to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight: if ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope in the gospel, which ye have heard" (Colossians 1:22,23).
Paul says that Christ died so that He could present us "unblameable and unrepoveable" in the sight of God. What that means is that through Christ's death our sins can be removed, and therefore we will be sinless when we appear before God. And if we are sinless, then there is nothing that God can blame or reprove us for. But Paul also states that there is a condition we have to meet before this can happen. He says that this will only happen if we remain "grounded and settled" in the faith, and if we are "not moved away from the hope" we have "in the gospel." What that also means is that if we don't "continue in the faith," or if we allow ourselves to be moved away from our hope in the gospel, then we will not be presented "unblameable and unrepoveable" in the sight of God. Yet, such a statement doesn't fit the idea that once we've become saved there is nothing we can do to become unsaved.
In John 8:31 we read, "Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, if ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed." It's important to notice who Jesus is making this comment to. The scripture specifically tells us that He said this to "those Jews which believed on him." In other words, Jesus wasn't making this statement to non-believers or those who were not saved but to those who had already confessed with their heart that Jesus is Lord. In John 15:14 we read where Jesus told another group of believers, "Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you." Again, we need to take notice that Jesus is not saying this to the unbeliever. He is specifically talking to those who already considered themselves to be friends of Jesus.
What makes these statements even more striking is what Jesus didn't say. If salvation comes solely through grace and not because of anything we do, then we should have expected to read that Jesus told His followers, "All you have to do is confess with your mouth that I am the Lord and you shall be saved forever and no one will ever be able to pluck you out of my hand." But He didn't say that. Instead, He clearly set forth some conditions that His followers were expected to meet. Jesus would consider these believers to be His disciples and His friends only if they continued (endured to the end) in keeping His word. If they didn't do that then it's clear that Jesus doesn't consider them to be His disciples or His friends. It doesn't make much sense to say that a person can still be saved into heaven if Jesus doesn't consider them to be His disciples, and it's hard to image someone spending eternity in heaven if Jesus doesn't consider them to be His friend.
Jesus also said, "If a man keep my saying, he shall never see death." (John 8:51). To never die is to live forever, which is the common understanding of the term "eternal life," and nearly all Christians understand that the only place where a person can experience eternal life is in heaven. Therefore, what Jesus is saying is "If you want to have eternal life in heaven with Me and never die, then you must keep my sayings. If you do no keep my sayings, then you will perish and not inherit the kingdom of God." What this tells us is that in order for us to have eternal life, there are certain conditions we must meet. If we don't meet those conditions, then we are not saved into heaven.
The apostle Peter told the believers that they should "give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, [then] ye shall never fall: For so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ" (2 Peter 1:10,11).
Peter said that we are to be diligent in making sure that our calling and election is secure. But how do we do that? In verses five through seven Peter gives us a list of things we must do, and then says that if we do all of those things, then we will have an entrance into the kingdom of Jesus Christ. But if we don't do those things, then we will "fall" from our calling, and our election into heaven will not be secured.
However, it's interesting to notice that Peter says it takes more than just doing those things to meet the condition for entrance into heaven. He adds that we must be "diligent" in doing them. That clearly implies that if we are not "diligent" then we can "fall" from our calling and election into heaven. But how can that be if once we've been saved there is nothing we can do to lose or fall from our salvation?
Paul told the believers in Christ living in Corinth the same thing when he wrote, "ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you" (1 Cor. 15:2). But what happens if a believer doesn't "keep in memory what [he] preached unto [them]?" The clear implication is that they are not saved. But that is just the opposite of the doctrine of that says "once saved always saved."
Paul taught the same message to the Romans when he said, "For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee. Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off" (Rom. 11:21,22).
Paul told Timothy, "If we suffer, we shall also reign with him: if we deny him, he also will deny us" (2 Tim 2:12). It could be said that if we don't suffer as a Christian for Christ's sake then we merely lose our reward of reigning with Christ, but in the end we still get to live in heaven with Him. But, then Paul added, "If we deny him" then Christ "will deny us." It is hard to imagine someone believing that they can inherit the kingdom of God if Christ has denied them.
But, there is something more important for us to notice in this verse and that is who Paul is saying this to. His comments are not directed to some non-believer, nor is he talking about those who only have a fleeting and imagined acceptance of Christ. He is saying this to Timothy! Timothy was the bishop of the church at Ephesus. He was the person in charge of watching over the flock of God in that city and making sure the saints were living a Christian life and growing in the faith. And before he became a bishop he was a fellow missionary companion to Paul. There can be no doubt that Timothy was a saved and faithful Christian.
Yet, Paul wasn't just talking about Timothy. In verses 9 and 10 he says, "I, Paul, have suffered trouble and I, Paul have endure all things for the elect sake." Then in verse 12 he says, "If we - that is you, Timothy, and I - deny Christ, then Christ will deny you and He will deny me." It is important for us to realize that Paul is including himself in this saying! That means, Paul, as well as Timothy, have to meet this condition for getting into heaven because if they don't, then they will be denied entrance into heaven. But such a statement makes absolutely no sense if we can't lose our salvation once we've been saved. In order to make that kind of interpretation we'd have to say that Paul and Timothy had not yet become saved.
It is argued that when we accept Christ we become sons of God through adoption (Rom. 8:15; Gal. 4:6). Therefore, if we are sons of God then God will never disown us. This is based on the idea that no matter how bad a child might behave, no parent divorces or completely turns their back on their own child. They point to the Old Testament where God likened Israel to His bride and said that no matter how much iniquity they had committed, He would never divorce her (Isa. 50:1). This then reinforces the idea that once God has claimed us as being His children, then there is nothing we can do that will cause Him to divorce us. Hence, once we have become His sons and He has saved us by His grace, then we are His saved sons forever.
Yet Paul told the believers, "If ye endure chastening, [then] God dealeth with you as with sons. But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons" (Heb. 12:7). Paul says that in order for God to consider us as one of His spiritually begotten children, He must not only chastise us, but we must "endure" His chastening. That's one of the condition we have to meet. If we do not endure God's chastening, then God doesn't count us as being one of His sons. Instead, He considers us to be nothing more than illegitimate and illegal offspring belonging to someone else.
Paul explained to the Christian believers living in Rome, "if [you are] children, then [you are] heirs; heirs of God, and joint- heirs with Christ; if it so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together" (Rom. 8:17). Protestants point out that the Bible refers to saved Christians as "sons of God," meaning that God considers all believers to be His children. Therefore, if we are His children then that means we are heirs to the inheritance that belongs to the children of God.
But Paul says there are conditions that we must meet in order to become "heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ." Such a condition can only happen if "we suffer with him." Only then does God considers us His heirs and joint-heirs with Christ. What that also clearly implies is that if we do not suffer with Him, then we don't get the inheritance belonging to the heirs, nor will we be glorified together with Christ.
Paul told the Hebrew believers "But Christ as a son over his own house; whose house are we, if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end" (Heb. 3:6). What Paul is saying is that Christ, as a son, has been given authority over his own household, and we believers are considered to be part of Christ's household. However, Paul tells us that there is a condition we have to meet first in order for us to belong to the household of Christ and come under His authority. We will be considered Christ's "if we hold fast" to the gospel, if we continue in His word, and if we persevere to the end. When we have met those conditions, then we are considered as belonging to the household of Christ. But if we don't meet those conditions, then we are not considered part of Christ's kingdom.
None of this supports the doctrine that what we do has no effect upon our salvation and that we can never lose our standing with God once we have been saved.
There are twenty-nine verses in the New Testament that make "if" statements, and we have only examined just a few of them. But, in reality, there are many more that are not directly stated as "if" scriptures but which nevertheless give conditions that must be met for salvation. For example, Paul said, "Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God?" (1 Cor. 6:9). What that means is that if we do things that are not righteous then we will not inherit the kingdom of God. But if we want to inherit the kingdom of God then we must do what is right. That's the condition that has to be met for entrance into heaven. If the condition isn't met, then we "shall not inherit the kingdom of God."
Paul wrote, "For ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise" (Heb. 10:36). What he is telling us is that if we practice patience in doing the will of God, then we will receive the promise. At the same time Paul is warning us that if we don't patiently continue doing the will of God then there will be no promise for us to receive.
To the saints living in Smyrna, Jesus told them, "Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life" (Rev. 2:10). He could have just as easily said, "if thou art faithful unto death, then I will give thee a crown of life. But if thou are not faithful, then ye have no such promise."
There are many other scriptures like this that could be cited. But we've discussed enough to show that in order to claim that the Bible teaches that salvation is a free gift, that it is given with no strings or conditions attached, and that it's something we can never lose once we have received it, then we have to ignore an awful lot of verses in the Bible that set conditions for our salvation by directly or indirectly using the qualifying word "if."
Return to main menu