Can One Stop Believing?

When discussing the matter of salvation, there is much disagreement about how one is saved (which we covered in a recent article), and just as much disagreement about whether or not one may so sin as to lose their soul after initial obedience. Some hold to the belief that once one is saved from their past sins, there is nothing they can do, no sin they may commit, that will affect their soul's salvation in the least. The argument often is, "Once a child of God, always a child of God." Others disagree, and teach that the Christian is just as liable to sin, and those sins will condemn the Christian just as sure as one who has never believed or obeyed.

Those who claim that the Christian can never be in danger of losing their hope of salvation are even divided on the explanation as to how this is possible. One group argues that Christians cannot even sin, others argue that since sins are "in the flesh," the spirit is not affected and are not marked against the Christian's account, and still others simply say that, to a Christian, all the sin in the world would not change his eternal destination, even if he went into complete idolatry or became the most proliferate mass murderer the world has ever known.

First of all, for us to know what the correct answer is, we must admit to what sin is, by definition. According to the dictionary, sin is an offense against God, religion, or morals. But, the God-given definition (as found in the Bible) says that "sin is the transgression of the law." (1 John 3:4) There are no further qualifications on this definition, meaning that when an unbeliever transgresses the law he has sinned, and when a believer transgresses the law he has sinned. We also find within God's word that "the wages of sin is death" (Rom. 6:23), and there is no qualification on this, either; it does not say that the wages of sin is death only to those who have never believed and obeyed. Sin is a transgression of God's law, no matter who is doing the transgressing, and death is the expectation for anyone who walks in it. These passages alone should be sufficient to show that the sins of even a Christian endanger their souls, and should eliminate the old argument of "once saved, always saved." Yes, if a child goes against the will of his father, he is still his child, but that doesn't mean he can't be written out of the will.

One of the few things that is agreed upon in this whole debate is that unbelief will prevent anyone from the eternal reward. Jesus told his apostles in His final words on earth that "He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned." (Mark 16:16) John wrote, "He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him." (John 3:36) Jesus would say, "Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for if you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins." (John 8:24) When the Philippian jailer asked what he had to do to be saved, he was told, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household." (Acts 16:30) Though there are many things on which we disagree, we all agree that belief saves and unbelief condemns.

If we can agree that unbelief condemns, then the next question should be: Can one who has believed in Jesus as the Christ stop believing? Or, Can one who has expressed belief be guilty of unbelief? As with all questions regarding our spiritual standing before God, we should go to the Bible for the answer. Let's look…

The best example we may look to is one familiar to us all: the Israelites. In the book of Hebrews, the writer attempts to convince many Jewish Christians that they should not turn away from their faith in Jesus Christ and go back into the Old Law — an argument for this topic in itself. In his writings, he points them back to the example of their forefathers and notes their unbelief as a warning to them lest they should follow in their steps. He begins by warning them, "Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God" (3:12), and then asked, "For who, having heard, rebelled? Indeed, was it not all who came out of Egypt, led by Moses? Now with whom was He angry forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose corpses fell in the wilderness? And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who did not obey? So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief." (3:16-19) He would later point back to this and exhorted them to "be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall according to the same example of disobedience." (4:11)

We should note some very important points to consider from these passages. First, these were the Israelites, God's chosen people. Second, they had rebelled against God, sinned, did not obey, and were guilty of unbelief. Now, were they still God's children? Yes. But did they receive the reward? No! The Israelites who were brought out of Egyptian bondage died in the wilderness and were prevented from entering into the promised rest because they sinned and because of unbelief! Because of their unbelief, God cast them off (Rom. 11:20).

Did they stop believing that God was God? That He existed? No, they just stopped trusting in Him and obeying His will. They forgot about His promise of victory and sought a different way than the one He had determined. Their plan was sure to fail and their constant murmuring, complaining and unjustified fears eventually led to them all dying in the wilderness and their children entering in.

Now, let's stop and think about the parallel here. The writer of Hebrews used the example of the Israelites because it was a parallel to their own lives and the end would be the same (failure to enter the promised rest). The Christian has been brought of bondage (to sin), been made a child of God, and has been promised rest (eternal life). The parallel is that if we rebel and if we sin and if we are guilty of unbelief, then we, too, may be prevented from entering into the promised rest of eternal life, though we may be God's children. Unbelief is certainly possible (remember, he began by warning them of the possibility, 3:12) and it will just as surely condemn us as the Israelites of old. But, our fate will be worse than if we had never known the truth (2 Pet. 2:20-22).

Beware of unbelief!

By Steven Harper

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