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A true born-again Christian who doesn’t live the Christian life, would provide the perfect definition of an oxymoron. A Christian is not someone who merely says they believe in Christ as Savior, but is someone who fully embraces Christ and everything that pertains to Him. Just because I say I’m a baseball player doesn’t make me a baseball player. I have to actually play baseball in order for that to be true. Just because I say I’m a police officer doesn’t make me a police officer. I have to actually do the job of a police officer in order for that to be true. Just because I say I’m a physician doesn’t make me a physician. I have to actually do the work of a physician for that to be true. This is obviously true of every other imaginable example we could give. Why would it be any less true of those who claim to be Christians, if they don’t actually live the life of a Christian? In all the world why should Christianity be the lone exception? The answer to that is, It’s not, and the Bible doesn’t teach it.
This is an extended study of my last post, which you can find here. There, the idea that we as Christians can lose or forfeit our salvation, was shown to be false. Such a notion is based on a limited view of who we are in Christ. Here, it will be shown that true born-again believers cannot dwell in the same lifestyle of sin that characterizes those who are not in Christ. The Apostle Paul taught that not only can we not lose our salvation, but also that those who have experienced new life in Christ will live a life that is in harmony with that new life — as new creations in Him (2 Cor 5:17; Gal 6:15).
Since we have been freed from the law of sin that leads to death (Ro 8:2), we could, theoretically, live a life of sin throughout our lives and it would not have any bearing on our salvation. However, the Bible doesn’t present such an idea. On the contrary, it reveals that we will most certainly be inclined to live for God just as much as it reveals that we cannot lose our salvation. It’s a two-pronged salvation. On the one hand we can’t lose our salvation, on the other hand our lives will be forever changed. We have a spiritual awareness that we didn’t have before, which is manifested by a life that is inclined toward Christ and to His will. This new spiritual disposition is an inherent trait of the new birth, our new nature in Christ.
We are saved by faith, but the Bible teaches that saving faith is an enduring faith, which is characterized by faithfulness. Because of who we are in Christ, we will always be inclined or drawn to the things of God. In Paul’s writings, he routinely contrasted the life of the believer with the unbeliever, the life of those who are dead in their sins and those who are alive in Christ. He regularly compared the works of the unregenerate to the fruit of the born-again. We’ll see this contrast throughout the following scriptures. The idea that a born-again believer can live a life that is devoted to sin and to the things of this world, is just as illogical and absurd as the idea that an unbeliever can live a life that is devoted to Christ. There’s a harmony between the unrenerate and the type of life that proceeds out of that nature (old nature). Conversely, there’s a harmony between the born-again and the type of life they proceeds out of that nature (new nature). However, there is no harmony between those two natures.
In the case of believers, the new nature will dominate the old nature throughout one’s life. Not that we cannot fall into sin, of course we can and we often do. However, because of who we are in Christ, because of the Holy Spirit within us, we cannot dwell in sin without conviction and concern about God’s will. These types of situations are temporary. The Holy Spirit will always be working to lead us to repentance. The idea that we can continue in such sinfulness year after year, without conviction or concern, is completely contrary to our new nature and to what the Bible teaches.
As we work our way through this study, we must keep in mind the foundation that was laid in our last study. If you haven’t done that yet, you should do that first, or you will not be able to see the whole picture. We will start where we started before, and that is with Romans 6 and 8.
The Believer’s Freedom from Sin’s Domination
(We’re going to begin with verses 6-7 & 17-23, as they provide correct interpretation for this chapter as a whole)
(Ro 6:6-7) 6 We know that our old man was crucified with him so that the body of sin would no longer dominate us, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 7 (For someone who has died has been freed from sin.)
These are the key verses in this chapter. In Christ, with a new nature, we can no longer be enslaved or dominated by sin as we once were. Just as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:17: “So then, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; what is old has passed away – look, what is new has come! Our salvation provides a new way of life, one that exists in the realm and influence of the Holy Spirit, who is always leading us on to spiritual maturity.
(Ro 6:17-23) 17 But thanks be to God that though you were slaves to sin, you obeyed from the heart that pattern of teaching you were entrusted to, 18 and having been freed from sin, you became enslaved to righteousness. 19 (I am speaking in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh.) For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification. 20 For when you were slaves of sin, you were free with regard to righteousness. 21 So what benefit did you then reap from those things that you are now ashamed of? For the end of those things is death. 22 But now, freed from sin and enslaved to God, you have your benefit leading to sanctification, and the end is eternal life. 23 For the payoff of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
In verse 17 Paul declares that the Roman believers “were slaves to sin.” He repeats it in verse 20: “you were slaves of sin.” This is past tense. In verse 18 Paul reveals that “having been freed from sin,” they “became enslaved to righteousness,” as those who have been “declared righteous” (Ro 5:1). In verse 22 he states that they were “freed from sin and enslaved to God.” These are statements of facts, not merely possibilities. In Christ we are no longer slaves to sin. We’ve been set free from sin’s dominance. We are now slaves to God and to righteousness. This is who we are as new creations in Christ (2 Cor 5:17). Since we are no longer slaves to sin, sin can no longer dominate our lives. What characterizes our lives now as believers is righteousness, which is based on a genuine devotion to God as slaves to Him. Though we may fall into sin for a time, those are but temporary setbacks in a life that is generally dominated by a new nature that exists in the realm and influence of the Holy Spirit.
Note what verse 22 says. Our benefit in Christ as slaves of God, is a life of sanctification, which leads to eternal life. Just as eternal life is a gift, so is a life of sanctification. Sanctification speaks of the process of holiness that continues throughout our lives. This new relationship we have with God results in a life that is inclined toward Him and to His will.
With that as our foundation, we’ll proceed with the rest of the chapter:
(Ro 6:1-2) 1 What shall we say then? Are we to remain in sin so that grace may increase? 2 Absolutely not! How can we who died to sin still live in it?
Paul asks, “how can we who died to sin still live in it?” Based on what we learned about our new nature in Christ, we can’t. This is the point of this whole discourse.
(Ro 6:3-4) 3 Or do you not know that as many as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 Therefore we have been buried with him through baptism into death, in order that just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too may live a new life.
In salvation, we died, we were buried, and we were raised spiritually with Christ, so that not only do we have eternal life in Him, but also the grace and disposition to “live a new life” in this life. Again, this is not merely a possibility; this is a fact of every true born-again Christian.
(Ro 6:5) 5 For if we have become united with him in the likeness of his death, we will certainly also be united in the likeness of his resurrection.
While we will certainly be raised physically in the general resurrection, in the context in which Paul says this, I believe he’s talking about our spiritual resurrection that we have in Christ in this life. Being raised to new life in Christ spiritually ensures a changed life that is in harmony with this spiritual resurrection, that frees us from sin (verses 18 & 22) and the dominating influence of sin.
(Ro 6:8-10) 8 Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 We know that since Christ has been raised from the dead, he is never going to die again; death no longer has mastery over him. 10 For the death he died, he died to sin once for all, but the life he lives, he lives to God.
Just as Jesus “lives to God,” so do we. This is who we are and this is the type of life that is associated with our salvation in Him.
(Ro 6:11-13) 11 So you too consider yourselves dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus. 12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its desires, 13 and do not present your members to sin as instruments to be used for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who are alive from the dead and your members to God as instruments to be used for righteousness.
When Paul instructs us to “consider,” it’s not with the idea that it may not be true, but that it is true. We are in fact, dead to sin, and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Paul has already made this clear. And where he says “do not let sin reign,” he’s not saying that sin actually can reign, for that would contradict the overall teaching of this chapter. It’s just that the old nature is still with us, and it will always try to lure us into the sins that are associated with that nature. So we must be aware of this tendency and focus on living an obedient life as followers of Christ. While sin can no longer “reign” over our lives as a normal pattern as it once did, we can still fall into sin and be “ruled” in times of temporary failure. This struggle with the old nature will always be present, so we must be alert and practice “presenting ourselves to God.” We can’t present ourselves to God and give in to the inclinations of the old nature at the same time.
(Ro 6:14) 14 For sin will have no mastery over you, because you are not under law but under grace.
Under grace, sin is no longer our master. We can no longer be ruled by sin as a long-term pattern of life. That type of life is over-ruled by the Holy Spirit as he leads us and changes us in this new spiritual realm of influence.
(Ro 6:15-18) 15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Absolutely not! 16 Do you not know that if you present yourselves as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or obedience resulting in righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God that though you were slaves to sin, you obeyed from the heart that pattern of teaching you were entrusted to, 18 and having been freed from sin, you became enslaved to righteousness.
Verse 16 is a key verse for validating our interpretation of this chapter, and is a good one to finish this chapter with. Paul revealed that we are no longer slaves to sin, because if we were, it would mean spiritual death. Spiritual death only describes the unsaved. Therefore, if we as Christians can still be enslaved to sin, it would mean spiritual death. But we know we’ve been redeemed, that Christ has purchased our freedom from slavery to sin that leads to death. As those who now belong to Him as slaves to Him, the benefit of that relationship is that we are led into a life of obedience, resulting in righteousness. While we have been “declared righteous by faith” (Ro 5:1), obedience is the evidence of being made righteous, which can never end in death, but only in eternal life. The outcome of faith is obedience, which provides evidence of our righteousness in Christ. Sin is what characterizes the unsaved. Obedience to God is what characterizes those who belong to Christ. Our position of righteousness in Christ is evidenced by a life that is inclined to righteous living — as slaves to righteousness. Those who are no longer slaves to sin, “will obey from the heart that pattern of teaching” that applies to Christians and the life we’re to live — as given to us in the New Testament Scriptures.
Perhaps the best test of one’s salvation is, whether or not they respond to or “obey from the heart” the teaching of the Christian life. Salvation occurs in the heart, so if a professing Christian continues to refuse to respond from the heart to the commands of Scripture to live for God, to follow Christ, then that is evidence of a false faith and a false salvation. They are still slaves to sin which leads to death. If someone rejects the Christian life year after year, then there is no reason to believe that they have ever experienced salvation. It simply doesn’t line up with someone who is in a right relationship with Christ…..and by that I mean, a saved relationship.
(Ro 8:1-9) 1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the life-giving Spirit in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death. 3 For God achieved what the law could not do because it was weakened through the flesh. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and concerning sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 so that the righteous requirement of the law may be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5 For those who live according to the flesh have their outlook shaped by the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit have their outlook shaped by the things of the Spirit. 6 For the outlook of the flesh is death, but the outlook of the Spirit is life and peace, 7 because the outlook of the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to the law of God, nor is it able to do so. 8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. 9 You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, this person does not belong to him.
To interpret verses 4-8, we must allow verse 9 to be our guide:
(Ro 8:9) 9 You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you…..
Christians are not in the flesh, “but in the Spirit,” for we’ve been born-again and the Holy Spirit lives within us. So then, we know that verses 4-8 are contrasting the unsaved with the saved, those who don’t have the Spirit of God and those who do.
The “righteous requirement of the law” can only be “fulfilled in” those who belong to Christ. Therefore, Paul is talking about the unsaved and the saved, those who are of the flesh and those who are of the Spirit. The unsaved “walk according to the flesh,” in the realm of the flesh. Their lives are regulated by the old nature. The saved “walk according to the Spirit,” in the realm of the Spirit. Their lives are regulated by the new nature, created and empowered by the Holy Spirit. We walk in a manner that is consistent with our nature. Or put another way, we walk according the inclinations of our nature. The unsaved only have the old nature. As born-again believers, we have both the old nature and our new nature in Christ, and it’s to our new nature that we will always be dominantly inclined to. We walk according to the dominating influence of the Spirit.
(Ro 8:5) 5 For those who live according to the flesh have their outlook shaped by the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit have their outlook shaped by the things of the Spirit.
This is a key verse that contrasts the “outlook” (mindset, way of thinking) of the unsaved with the “outlook” (mindset, way of thinking) of the saved. Again, Paul is comparing the unsaved with the saved because in verse 9 he reveals that we as believers “are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you.”
Therefore, those who are saved, those who have the Spirit of God, will not have the same pattern of thinking that is characterized by the unsaved. It’s not possible. When we come to Christ our mindset changes. Our focus changes. We’re changed inwardly. We’re given a new heart. We’re no longer as we were before. The direction of our lives are reversed, for it’s our way of thinking that charts the course of our lives. We move in the direction of the way we think, according to the things that we are focused on.
There’s no doubt that spiritual growth and the way we live depends much on our will, but that is precisely the point. In Christ we have a new will to live for Him. We have a will that belongs to our old nature and a will that belongs to our new nature. In Romans 7:14-25 Paul describes the conflict between the two natures and the two wills. While that conflict will always be there as long as we’re in this “body of sin and death” (Ro 6:6; 7:2), Paul reveals here that we don’t have to give in to the old nature. In fact, he lets us know that a will that belongs to our new nature cannot be dominated by the will of the flesh — as a normal and general pattern of our lives. Our new will and our new heart is influenced and empowered by the Holy Spirit. Therefore, the will that belongs to our sinful nature must be subordinate. Our new nature rules over the old. We may lose a few battles along the way, but the general direction of our lives will always be God-ward, not sin-ward.
(Ro 8:6) 6 For the outlook of the flesh is death, but the outlook of the Spirit is life and peace,
Paul continues the contrast between the unsaved and saved. The mindset of the flesh is spiritual death. The mindset of the Spirit is eternal life and peace. Therefore, a true Christian cannot have the mindset of the flesh, for that would mean spiritual death and eternal separation from God.
(Ro 8:7) 7 because the outlook of the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to the law of God, nor is it able to do so. 8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
Paul is talking about the unsaved in these two verses. The unregenerate only has one type of mind or mindset, and that is one that is “hostile to God.” They “cannot please God.” The unsaved can never please God. That only occurs when someone comes to faith in Christ and comes into a right relationship with God at that point.
We know that Paul is not talking about the saved who are merely thinking according to their old nature, because in the very next verse he says, “9 you, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you.” So as we have been discussing throughout, Paul is contrasting the spiritual condition of the saved and unsaved. He’s contrasted the mindset or way of thinking of them both. Again, Paul makes it clear that he is not talking about a Christian who merely thinks according to the old nature of their flesh. This contrast or comparison between the regenerate and the unregenerate can be seen throughout both this chapter, as well as chapter 6.
The point of this contrast is to make us alert to the leanings of the old nature. While we cannot have the same mindset as we did before (our new nature and the indwelling Spirit makes that impossible), we can still be led back into sinful thoughts and sinful activities — not as a general pattern of our lives, but as sinful failures against the new norm of the type of living that characterizes those who we are in Christ. Again, Paul describes the battle between the old nature and the new nature in Romans 7:14-25, but as I said before, our old nature can never rule over us as it did before. Our new nature in Christ makes that impossible. We are not the same as we were before. We’re changed. We will always have the mindset of the saved, which is always in conflict with the old nature. The tendency of our new nature, while in conflict with the old, will always be moving us away from the old to live our new lives in Christ.
(Ro 8:9-12) 9 You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, this person does not belong to him. 10 But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is your life because of righteousness. 11 Moreover if the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead lives in you, the one who raised Christ from the dead will also make your mortal bodies alive through his Spirit who lives in you. 12 So then, brothers and sisters, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh…
Since we’re “not in the flesh but in the Spirit” as born-again Christians, we’re not “under obligation to the flesh, to live according to the flesh.” To be “obligated” to the flesh means, that we are not in debt to it to live as the flesh wants us to live. However, as Paul indicates throughout this chapter (and chapter 6), that this also involves the idea that we are also not bound to live according to the flesh. It no longer has the same grip on us that it once did. Before, we were not able to live any other way except according to the flesh, because that is who we were as unregenerate sinners. In Christ, the flesh can no longer rule or dominate our lives as it did before. As new creations in Christ (2 Cor 5:17), we have a new disposition in Christ, which means we will always be inclined toward the things of God. Can we fail and fall into sin? Yes, but it will always be a temporary situation out of the norm, because our sinful flesh no longer has ruling authority or power over our lives. Because of who we are in Christ, it’s not possible to live in perpetual sin. The Holy Spirit will always convict us of our sins and will always be leading us to live for Christ. We will always be drawn to Christ as His followers, away from sin and the things of the world.
If the gentle voice and leading of the Spirit doesn’t produce the response of repentance of our sins, then discipline may be required, as Hebrews 12:3-12 reveals. Those who truly belong to God as His children, will be disciplined, if necessary. If we go on year after year in sin, and there is no conviction or concern or discipline, then that reveals a false salvation. The idea that a born-again believer can live a perpetual life of sin without conviction, without a true interest in living for Christ, without the disciplining hand of the Lord, is completely contrary to what the Bible teaches. It’s contrary to who we are as new creations in Christ.
(Ro 8:13) 13 (for if you live according to the flesh, you will die), but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body you will live.
Paul continues to contrast the unsaved with the saved. Those who “die” are those who are without Christ. This is spiritual death that results in eternity away from God. On the other hand, those who “live” are those have Christ as Lord and Savior, who will dwell in the presence of God forever and ever. Therefore, we as believers with a new nature can no longer “live according to the flesh.” The presence and power of the Holy Spirit working within our new heart, makes the old way of thinking and the old way of living an impossibility. The new norm of our lives is “putting to death the deeds of the body.” In Christ, we’re forever changed. We will never be what we were before, and that is what Paul reveals throughout Romans, chapters 6 and 8. Thus, if someone professes Christ but is still living the life of the unsaved, being ruled by the flesh, then Paul is letting his readers know that they are still “in the flesh,” that they are still unregenerate, still without Christ. Whatever they think they have, biblically it’s proven to be a false faith and a false salvation.
(Ro 8:14-17) 14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are the sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery leading again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption, by whom we cry, “Abba, Father.” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness to our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 And if children, then heirs (namely, heirs of God and also fellow heirs with Christ) – if indeed we suffer with him so we may also be glorified with him.
Like begets like. Therefore, the idea that we can grow into anything other than who we are as God’s children, is completely contradictory. There is no sense to such an idea. Just as our physical bodies grow, so will we grow spiritually according to our new nature in Christ. Like begets like. We are offspring of God (Ro 9:8; Gal 3:26-29), and as His offspring, we will grow according to who we are. To suggest that our old sinful nature can dominate our new nature – being indwelt by the Spirit of God – is not only illogical, but contrary to what Paul taught.
There’s more that can be said about the remainder of this chapter in regard to our discussion, but we’ve hit upon the main points of this chapter, and so we’ll end it right here.
The interpretation of Romans 6 and 8 that we’ve given, stands on its own merit. However, there are several passages of Scripture that provides validation that we as Christians can no longer live a lifestyle of sin. To live a life that is contrary to the Christian life is evidence of a false faith and a false salvation.
The passages I’m referring to are Romans 1:29-2:1-11; 1 Cor 6:9-11; Gal 5:16-26; Eph 5:3-6; Col 3:5-7. We’re only going to look at one passage in its entirety, but we I will pull something from each one that will add to our discussion and the position that is presented in this study.
16 But I say, Walk by the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. 17 For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are contrary the one to the other; that ye may not do the things that ye would. 18 But if ye are led by the Spirit, ye are not under the law. (ASV)
While we walk according to the dominating influence of the Spirit as believers (Ro 6:6-7; 17-18,22; Ro 8:4-9.12), there’s still that moment by moment refinement of our lives that we must give attention to. For Paul describes the conflict between the old and new nature (empowered by the Spirit) in verse 17. This is the same conflict that Paul describes in Romans 7:14-23. While we live and walk in the realm of and in the dominating influence of the Spirit in the general sense of our lives, there’s still that struggle with the flesh that we’re to be aware of and turn away from with the power that the Holy Spirit provides (vs. 18). Living the Christian life is a partnership and cooperation with the Spirit of God as we seek to walk in obedience to God. While we live in the dominating influence of the Spirit, we still must make conscious decisions every day of our lives. We’re always presented with choices, and as believers we’re given the power and grace to make the right ones (vs. 18). The Christian life is a growing process. It may be two steps forward and one step back, but we will grow in Christ-likeness over the course of our lives as we present ourselves to a God in devotion to Him.
(Gal 5:19-21) 19 Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these: fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousies, wraths, factions, divisions, parties, 21 envyings, drunkenness, revellings, and such like; of which I forewarn you, even as I did forewarn you, that they who practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. (ASV)
These are the things that characterize the unsaved. It’s not that we can’t and don’t sin as Christians – we obviously do – it’s just that this is not the lifestyle that we live as followers of Christ. These things don’t stand out in our lives as they do with unbelievers. And this is precisely the point Paul is making. He’s telling his audience that if these are the things that characterize your lives (“those who practice such things”), then you’re not saved, you’re still in your sins. He’s making them aware that they haven’t experienced salvation. So the warning is, they need to repent of their sins and devote their lives to Christ as true believers, for that is what true believers do. Paul is providing them with the test of true salvation. If they fail the test, then they will experience God’s judgment as the unsaved sinners that they are, rather “inheriting kingdom of God” as true followers of Christ. It’s not that Paul is describing someone who has lost their salvation, but that they have never experienced it.
(Gal 5:22-24) 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 meekness, self-control; against such there is no law. 24 And they that are of Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with the passions and the lusts thereof. (ASV)
Those who have experienced salvation, dwell in the realm of the Spirit and under His dominating influence. Paul presents the fruit of that relationship. If these things are present in our lives and growing, then we know we’re saved. In verse 24 Paul states a fact of every born-again believer, that they that “are of Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with the passions and the lusts thereof.” This is something that not only God does for us at conversion, but is also a decision that we make to turn from our sins to live a life unto Christ, to live the life of a Christian. I believe this is essentially the same thing that Paul says in Romans 8:13: “but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body you will live” (also Ro 6:17). When we come to faith in Christ, it’s with the understanding that we are choosing a whole new way of life, that we are choosing to serve a new Master. That is the test of one’s salvation.
(Gal 5:25-26) 25 If we live by the Spirit, by the Spirit let us also walk. 26 Let us not become vainglorious, provoking one another, envying one another. (ASV)
Just as we’ve experienced new life by the Spirit (new creations in Christ), so are we to “walk by the Spirit.” As He leads, we’re to follow (vs. 18), for that is what true followers of Christ do. This new way of living doesn’t happen all at once; it’s a growing process. Nevertheless, those who have received new life in Christ, will be led of the Spirit. We will ever be drawn into a life of obedience throughout the course of our lives.
In regard to the other passages (Romans 1:29-2:1-11; 1 Cor 6:9-11; Gal 5:16-26; Eph 5:3-9; Col 3:5-7), it’s important to point out that each list of sins is a little different. It was not Paul’s intention to provide a complete list of specific sins that prevents one from “inheriting the kingdom of God.” In each passage he provides a list that merely represents the lifestyle of sin that characterizes the unsaved. Each list is meant to show that those who “practice such things” indicates that they have not experienced salvation, but are still dead in their sins. Only those who are dead in their sins, live habitually in their sins. Paul wants his listeners to make sure that what they believe is genuine, that they have truly embraced Christ as their Lord and Savior.
In three of those passages, Paul makes key statements about each of his believing audiences. Although Paul doesn’t make these statements in the other passages, he could have, for they are just as true there as they are in the others:
(1 Corinthians 6:11) 11 Some of you once lived this way. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
(Ephesians 5:7-9) 7 Therefore do not be sharers with them, 8 for you were at one time darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live like children of light – 9 for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness, and truth – 10 trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord.
(Colossians 3:6-7) 6 Because of these things the wrath of God is coming on the sons of disobedience. 7 You also lived your lives in this way at one time, when you used to live among them.”
In each of these verses, Pauls talks about these sins as being a part of their past life. This is important to realize, for it shows that this is not the kind of life that true Christians live. In every local church we can expect to find people among us who are not genuine believers. Thus he’s making his whole audience aware that if this type of sinful life describes their lives, then they’re not saved, and never were. This is the test of true saving faith. True faith follows what it professes to believe. And if someone professes Christ as Savior, but continuously refuses to repent and live for Christ, then they’re not genuine Christians, they have never experienced regeneration. By nature of who we are in Christ, as new creations, true faith will endure and will produce the fruit of salvation (Matt 13:23). Indeed, this is exactly what Paul teaches in Romans 6 and 8.
The idea that Paul is teaching that a Christian can lose their salvation in all these passages, must be assumed, because nowhere in these verses is that idea presented. That is something that must be assumed, and as I often say, we cannot build a doctrinal position based on assumptions.
Furthermore, there are those who teach that once we “walk through the door of faith,” it doesn’t matter what kind of life we live after that. Thus in regard to the above scriptures, what they’re actually teaching is that if the “saved” live such a life of sin, they’ll still go to Heaven, but if the unsaved live such a life of sin, then they’ll go to hell. But like the other position I described, that idea has to be assumed. We cannot draw conclusions based on assumptions. Paul is emphatic: those who live such a lifestyle of sin, “will not inherit the kingdom of God.” Thus those who do, reveal the absence of salvation.
There’s still another group who teach that as long as there is some “fruit of salvation” after one “comes to faith in Christ,” then it doesn’t matter if they turn away and live a life of sin for the rest of their lives. Like the other two positions, that idea has to be assumed, because nowhere in these passages does Paul indicate such an idea. On the contrary, he flatly states that those who live such a life as he describes, will not “inherit the kingdom of God,” which means that they will instead be judged as unbelievers. The only thing that Paul indicates in any of these passages is, that he is referring to those who have never been saved. This is not an assumption, but is what he actually indicates. Even if it looks like there was the fruit of salvation in the beginning, if it does not endure, if one drifts into a life of sin and rebellion to the will of God, and they have more of an interest in the things of the world than the things of God, and this goes on year after year without conviction or concern, then that’s the evidence of false fruit.
In regard to Ephesians 5:9, Paul speaks of the “fruit of light.” This is the same as the fruit of salvation. Those who have experienced true salvation, will manifest the fruit of salvation, which “consists in all goodness, righteousness, and truth – trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. What Paul describes here is what the true Christian life looks like. If a professing Christian is not characterized by these things and growing, but still manifests the works of darkness of his old life, then they can’t be saved. It’s one thing for Christians to fail at times and to fall into sin, but it’s quite another for one to stay there. That’s the key. Are they comfortable living in sin? Or are they being convicted of their sin? Are they responding to the “truth” that instructs them to repent and follow Christ? Or do they continue to rebel in self-will? Let’s be clear, those who have experienced the new birth, will “try to learn what is pleasing to the Lord,” and seek to live accordingly with a sincere heart.
The Christian life is a growing process. We all grow at different speeds and at different levels. Some have a much deeper relationship with the Lord than others do. Nevertheless, among those who are saved, there will be a definite inclination toward the things of God. There will be fruit that can be observed over the extent of a believer’s life. When we sin, there will be conviction that will lead to repentance and restored fellowship with God. There will be sincerity of faith and a sincerity of love for Jesus. There will be a sincere desire to live for Him. Over the course of our lives, we may get off track and slip into sin for a time, but because of the inherent nature of our relationship with Christ, we will not be content or be a peace about staying in such a situation. Such a sinful situation will not be comfortable. Instead, it will be miserable. It won’t feel right. We will feel like fish out of water, out of our natural habitat. We will know in our heart of hearts that we don’t belong there. And so, eventually, we will abandon whatever particular sinful situation we find ourselves in, and return to where we belong in the will of God.
Becoming like Jesus is gradual, which takes place throughout our lives. It doesn’t happen overnight, and not without challenges. Dealing with the sinful nature is a battle, but it’s a battle we will surely have as believers. If we’re not experiencing a true battle, but instead we’ve actually surrendered to the enemy (sin, the flesh, the world), and we remain happy prisoners of that type of life, then we’re looking at a false salvation.
Perhaps the best test of one’s salvation is, whether a professing believer responds to the call to repent. If one continues to harden themselves to God and to His will year after year, then that is a sure indication of a false salvation. If a professing Christian continues to refuse to turn from sin to follow Jesus as Lord of their lives, then they can’t be saved. Following Christ is what a true believer does (Jn 10:27). True faith follows the One we profess to believe in. Otherwise it’s a false faith. Hardening one’s heart to God is something unbelievers do, not something believers do. We may rebel for a time, but before long we will respond to the promptings of the Holy Spirit in repentance of our sins. It takes time to learn to walk with Jesus. It takes time to overcome sin in our lives. Growing in Christian maturity is often a slow progression. It may be two steps forward and one step back, but our disposition to the things of Christ will forever be there and lead us onward to spiritual maturity.
If someone professes Christ, but gives the excuse that they’re saved and it doesn’t matter how they live their lives, then they’re deceived about their salvation. That’s not how a true believer thinks. That’s not the attitude of someone who is a new creation in Christ. A true born-again believer is Christ-centered. We have a new nature that is inclined to follow Jesus: “My sheep listen to my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:27)
It’s important to note that we as Christians grow in conjunction with the instruction of the Scriptures, especially the New Testament. While “the Spirit himself bears witness to our spirit that we are God’s children” (Ro 8:16), and that we will be inclined to the things of God, Christian maturity can only be realized through the written Word of God. The Scriptures are written by the Holy Spirit, thus, He uses His own Word to develop us in Christ. There’s power in the Word of God, power to change lives. Before our salvation, it was not possible to be inclined to the things of the Spirit, which are found in His Word. But in Christ, a disposition to the things of the Spirit is what characterizes our lives. Those who claim Christ as Savior, but don’t have a genuine love for the Word of God and are not convicted or persuaded by its teachings, can’t be saved. The Holy Spirit secures not only our salvation, but also grants His constant influence to lead us on to spiritual maturity.
When someone continuously rejects the commands of Scripture and rejects the will of God and rejects the encouragement and counsel of Christians, then they’re deceived about their salvation; it doesn’t exist. When someone rebels against God and His Word with such an enduring tenacity, it’s ample evidence of a false faith, a false conversion — because that type of rebellion to the truth is what characterizes the unsaved, not those who belong to the truth. There is a marked difference in the way an unbeliever responds to God and the way a true Christian responds to God. Those who are genuine Christians will be characterized by the traits of a genuine Christian.
Yes, a true Christian can fall into sin, but because of the nature of who we are in Christ, it can only be of a temporary nature, for sin cannot dominate our lives as it once did. If a true believer can end up traveling down the same road of sin and rebellion as an unbeliever, then where is the difference between the two? The unsaved are unregenerate. The saved are born of the Spirit, indwelt by the Spirit, have been brought into union with Christ, have been transferred out of the domain of darkness and into the kingdom of Christ (Col 1:13). We no longer belong to the kingdom of darkness, but to the kingdom of light. All this being true, how is it possible that we can live as we once did when we were dead in our sins and enslaved to our sins (Ro 6:6,17) and without Christ? Where’s the difference? The idea that we can continue on in our lives as we did before is contrary to what the Bible teaches regarding who we are in Christ, and as slaves to God (Ro 6:18,22).
The test of salvation is primarily for ourselves. But we can also be fruit inspectors of others who claim to be Christians, especially as it relates to our loved ones. As members of the body of Christ we’re to have a concern for one another. We must be discerning. We can’t always know for sure if someone is saved or not, because someone might be in a temporary situation that they’ve fallen into. It’s only through time and observation of one’s life can we get a good feel for where someone is in regard to salvation. It’s important that we be fruit inspectors because we never want a person to have a false sense of security. We don’t want them being comfortable in their sinful lifestyle. At some point – sooner rather than later – the sinning person must decide what they really believe and who they really are. It’s our responsibility as truth-bearers, to challenge such a one — but lovingly and gently, and without a self-righteous attitude. Anyone who professes Christ should be willing to listen. A true believer may resist for awhile, but eventually they will listen as conviction and concern sets in (1 Jn 2:19; 4:6). If the resistance is perpetual, if they continue to rebel against God and His will, then there is an absence of true salvation.