Commentary on Ephesians, 5:5-7 (2 of 2)

Ephesians 5:5-7

5 For this you know for sure, that no sexually immoral or unclean or covetous person, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.
6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things falls the wrath of God upon the sons of disobedience.
7 Don’t you, therefore, be partakers with them.

We now come to what some of you may have been waiting for. Can a Christian lose his or her salvation? Or more accurately, can someone forfeit, or walk away from true saving faith (conditional eternal security)? I believe Paul makes it clear that we can, if we’ll just allow him to mean what he says.

“this you know for sure”

(Greek: you know, being aware of…absolute certainty)

These Ephesian Christians knew with absolute certainty the truth of what Paul was about to say.

Those whose lives are characterized by a lifestyle of sin, “has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.” (Co-Rulers, a clear reference to the deity of Christ).

The argument by those who believe the Bible teaches unconditional eternal security or OSAS (once saved always saved), is that passages like this one refer to the unsaved, not to Christians. My question is, where is the evidence for that in this passage? It’s helpful to examine what Paul says elsewhere about this issue. Paul says a lot in support of conditional eternal security, but there are a few passages that are very similar to this one that we want to compare with in order to correctly interpret this passage:

Galatians 5:16-25
Romans 2:1-11
1 Corinthians 6:5-11
Colossians 3:3-10

I will provide commentary as we go along:

Galatians 5:16-25:

“16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.
17 For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are contrary the one to the other; that you may not do the things that you would.
18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

Paul is obviously talking to Christians and about Christians. He’s instructing us on how not to “fulfill the lust of the flesh,” and how to “walk by the Spirit.” He says that if we don’t walk by the Spirit, we WILL fulfill the lusts of the flesh. He then informs these Galatian Christians what those “lusts of the flesh” are:

19 Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are [these]: sexual immorality, 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 those who practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.

Still talking to these same Christians, he says “of which I forewarn you, even as I did forewarn you (I warn you as I warned you before), that those who practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.” If Paul is not referring to Christians in the second part of this statement, how can this be a “warning” to Christians? Either this is a true warning to Christians, or Paul is trying to confuse them.  

Put yourself in the place of these Christians, who had very little of the New Testament at the time, and you’re now hearing these words being read to you. When you put all this together, are you not seeing this as a warning to you personally, and to all the other Christians in your assembly? It’s unreasonable that you would be thinking anything else. It’s unreasonable that you are thinking that Paul is at this point talking about the unsaved. There is not even a hint that Paul is suddenly switching gears and talking about unbelievers. No, the warning is real, and it’s being addressed to Christians, and is about Christians. To come to any other conclusion, you have to make assumptions, and there just isn’t any allowance for that here.

Surely Paul knew what he was writing and how it would be interpreted by those hearing his words, for he makes very plain and clear statements that would be commonly understood in their natural sense. If Paul is going to say something in such a plain and direct manner, then it’s our responsibility to understand him accordingly. We don’t have the freedom here to force Paul to mean something that he is obviously not saying.

Note also that Paul reminds them of a previous warning about the consequence of living according to the flesh, and that he’s now warning them again. He most certainly wants them to get it clear in their minds that to live in such a manner as Christians, will not have a good ending.

Before I move on, in case you’re not familiar with my position on this, we are saved by faith and we are kept saved by faith. Works DO NOT save us nor do they keep us saved. However, genuine faith will be manifested by faithfulness. Furthermore, it’s an enduring faith that saves us, not an act of faith. I will continue to discuss this as we move along.

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.

Right after Paul states the consequences of living according to the flesh, he then presents the “fruit of the Spirit.” There is a very natural flow here in this passage. If we go with the flow, we will not misinterpret what Paul is saying, and who he is saying it about. Paul tells us that we will indeed fulfill the lusts of the flesh if we are not walking by the Spirit. If we are walking by the Spirit, then we will see the fruit of that in our lives. There simply isn’t any indication that Paul has unbelievers in view at all in this passage.

24 And those who are of Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with the passions and the lusts thereof.

Where Paul says, those “have crucified the flesh,” I believe he is referring to what we do when we turn to Christ in faith, and that is to make a decision in our heart to turn from following sin, to follow Christ as Lord of our lives. It’s a decision to forsake our own will to live according to His will. We do not get saved apart from that decision. If we receive Christ as Savior with no intention of changing our lives for Him, there is no salvation. Faith must be accompanied with a true recognition of who Christ is as our authority, which in turn is accompanied with a sincere surrender to that authority. Thus, I believe the idea Paul is trying to get across, is that true faith begins with that decision, and must continue throughout our lives. The same faith that got us saved, must keep us saved.

25 If we live by the Spirit, by the Spirit let us also walk.

Since we “live by the Spirit” (born again), we’re also to “walk by the Spirit.” Again, that indicates that it is possible not to as Christians. However, those who walk by the Spirit provide evidence that their faith is genuine.

Now let’s examine the Romans passage:

Romans 2:1-11

1 Therefore you are without excuse, O man, whoever you are that judges: for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge do practice the same things.
“practice the same things.”

Paul does not differentiate between someone who is saved or unsaved. Simply, those who “practice the same things.”

2And we know that the judgment of God is according to truth against those who practice such things.

Again, Paul makes no distinction between the saved and unsaved. Simply, “those who practice such things.”

3 But do you suppose this, O man, who judges those who practice such things, and do the same, that you shall escape the judgment of God?

Does this not describe those in the OSAS camp? They have no problem condemning the unsaved who practice a lifestyle of sin, but you never hear such condemnation from the “saved” toward the “saved” who live in such a manner. But Paul makes no such distinction.

4 Or do you despise the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?

The “goodness” and “forbearance” and “longsuffering” of God is meant to lead a straying Christian to repentance. That is, to be brought back into a right relationship with God.

5 but because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God;

Christians who wander into sin, and refuse to turn back to God in repentance, will suffer the “righteous judgment of God,” because this type of refusal reveals an absence of true faith.

6 who will render to each person according to his works:

A life of faithfulness, is evidence of true faith.

7 to them who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life:

If there was any doubt before that Paul was including Christians in this passage, that is removed with this statement. Here is a clear example of the Bible’s teaching that faith must be an enduring faith. Those who by patiently living faithfully for the Lord, do so because their faith is genuine; they are living with eternity in view (“seek”). The result of their enduring faith will be eternal life, the ultimate salvation of their souls.

8 but to those who are factious, and obey not the truth, but obey unrighteousness, [shall be] wrath and indignation,
9 tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man who works evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Greek;

Those who don’t obey the Word of God (“every soul”), who live an unrighteous life, demonstrate an absence of true, sincere faith. Even though in their minds they may have “accepted Christ as their Savior,” the way they live their lives tell a different story. They may have faith in their mind, but not in their hearts, where salvation occurs. The result of this type of “faith” will be the wrath of God in judgment.

Notice it says, “upon every soul of man who works evil.” Again, Paul makes no distinction between the saved and unsaved. It makes no difference. Those who live that kind of lifestyle have either strayed from their original faith, or they were never saved to begin with.Those who genuinely trust Christ at one point, but gradually slip back into the world and into a lifestyle of sin, and are no longer concerned about following Christ and His will, have strayed from the faith that got them saved. They’re no longer believing as they once did.

10 but glory and honor and peace to everyone who works good, to the Jew first, and also to the Greek:
11 for there is no partiality with God.”

“Glory and honor and peace to everyone who works good,” for those are the ones who have genuine, sincere, faith in Christ. There is no partiality with God — He will judge a person’s faith according to what He sees in their lives. If a person professes Christ but lives like an unbeliever, He will judge them as an unbeliever, for that is what they really are. True faith changes a person’s life. If a person slips back into their old lifestyle, it shows they have slipped in their faith. Only true faith can change a person’s life, and only true faith can keep a person moving onward in Christ.

Now let’s look at the 1 Corinthians passage:

1 Corinthians 6:5-11

“5 I say [this] to move you to shame. What, cannot there be [found] among you one wise man who shall be able to decide between his brethren,
6 but brother goes to law with brother, and that before unbelievers?
7 Nay, already it is altogether a defect in you, that you have lawsuits one with another. Why not rather take wrong? why not rather be defrauded?
8 Nay, but you yourselves do wrong, and defraud, and that [your] brethren.
9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with men,
10 nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.

Verse 9 is referring back to the unbelievers he’s been talking about (verse 6), that “the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God.” However, this further demonstrates the point that Paul has been making all along as we’ve examined these passages, that those who live “unrighteous” lives prove themselves to be “unrighteous” — whether it’s someone who was never saved, or somehow who once had a genuine faith in Christ and living faithfully for Him, but now living an “unrighteous” life.

11 And such were some of you: but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Spirit of our God.

Paul knew that this was a church full of true believers who were living for Christ, even though they had their issues.

Now for our last passage in Colossians:

Colossians 3:3-10

3 For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.
4 When Christ, [who is] our life, shall be manifested, then shall you also with Him be manifested in glory.

Paul is obviously talking to Christians.

5 Put to death therefore your members which are upon the earth: sexual immorality, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry;

Paul tells the Colossian Christians to “put to death your members….” Which means, we can indeed allow these sins to reign in our lives. We must by a sincere faith in Christ and a complete dependence upon Christ for power, put these sins to death. In other words, we must make a heartfelt decision in our hearts that we are going to live for Christ and for His glory.

6 for because of these things the wrath of God will fall upon the sons of disobedience:

If we profess Christ, but live lives that are characterized by “disobedience” to God, then we prove ourselves to be “sons of disobedience.” In other words, we demonstrate that we are not true sons of God (sons of obedience),    and will experience the eternal “wrath of God.” Those who have a genuine, sincere faith in Christ will live lives that are characterized by obedience.

Note: Some modern translations omit “upon the sons of disobedience.” However, our Ephesians passage (Eph 5:6) contains the whole phrase.

7 wherein you also once walked, when you lived in these things;

Paul knew this was a church full of true followers of Christ.

8 but now you also put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, railing, shameful speaking out of your mouth:
9 lie not one to another; seeing that you have put off the old self with his doings,
10 and have put on the new self, who is being renewed in knowledge after the image of Him who created him:”

“But now you also put them all away….”

This means that the things we are commanded to put away from us, can dominate our lives if we don’t. Then he mentions the fact that they “have put off the old self,” and have “put on the new self.” This refers to the fact that at conversion we must be willing to turn from our old life (our old self), to live a new life (new self) under Christ’s authority, who is our Lord and King. Those who do, demonstrate true, sincere faith in Christ. And again, the faith that got us saved, must keep us saved.

If we’re required to surrender to the Lordship of Christ at conversion (this is what true faith does), and we most certainly are, then that same faith that got us saved in the beginning, must keep us saved throughout our lives. If at some point we decide we no longer want Christ ruling our lives, but want to return to the world to a live a self-seeking life, then we are no longer believing as we did in the beginning. We can’t just decide to change the composition of saving faith as we go along. We can’t change the form of faith and still expect to be in a saving relationship with God. The faith that got us saved must keep us saved. True faith endures in faithfulness throughout our lives.

Now let’s return to our text in Ephesians:

“5 For this you know for sure, that no sexually immoral or unclean or covetous person, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.
6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things falls the wrath of God upon the sons of disobedience.

After examining all those like-passages, we can now determine who Paul is talking about here. He is talking to Christians and about Christians. He is giving them warning, as he did to the Colossian church. Except here, instead of using the word “warning,” he exhorts them not to allow “anyone to deceive them with empty words.”

If those words do not refer to those who try to convince us that a Christian cannot walk away from true faith, then what in the world is he talking about? We must consider the context in order to determine what he means. Note Paul’s next phrase:

“for because of these things falls the wrath of God upon the sons of disobedience.”

He is letting the Ephesian Christians know that anyone who lives in such a manner prove themselves to be “sons of disobedience,” who will experience the “wrath of God.” He is warning Christians, not the unsaved. We must begin our Christian journey with a sincere faith, a faith that is accompanied by a recognition of Christ’s authority. The same faith that we began with, we must end our lives with. The faith that we placed in Christ at conversion must endure throughout our lives. We cannot change the form of it by deciding to return to living for ourselves, and still think nothing has changed. Those who believe that, are deceived, and this is exactly what Paul is warning them about.

7 Don’t you, therefore, be partakers with them.”

I consider this to be one of the strongest statements in the Bible for the support of conditional eternal security. It doesn’t get much clearer than this. Paul is exhorting these Christians “not to be partakers” with those who will be judged for their sins as “sons of disobedience.” He’s exhorting them to remain faithful in their faith, as the verses following this passage demonstrate. We’ll deal with those verses in our next post.

A lot of people get hung up on the idea of going from being saved to being unsaved, from being born-again to being unborn-again, and then back to being born-again and….etc. First of all, I don’t believe it works quite that way. I don’t believe it’s so easy to lose our salvation. I believe it takes a lot to get us to that point — and a lot of time. God is our loving Father, and He’s compassionate and understanding and patient. I believe God gives plenty of time to repent of our sinful ways (Rev 2:21) as He works in our hearts and in our lives to draw us back into fellowship with Him. How much time God gives us, only He knows. Therefore, if a professing Christian is living in sin, it’s wise not to delay returning to Christ in genuine faith — faith that is characterized by a sincere devotion to Him.  

We may not fully understand how the loss and restoration of salvation works exactly, but we’re responsible to accept the plain statements of Scripture that teach it — such as we’ve learned in this study.
I realize that many Christians have a hard time accepting the conditional eternal security position — I was one of them for most of my Christian life. The reason for that is because of scriptures that seem to teach that we cannot lose our salvation. But the reality is, there are far more scriptures that support conditional security. Furthermore, those few verses that do seem to indicate that we can never lose our salvation, must be interpreted according to a correct understanding of saving faith. Once we understand that, interpretation of both sets of verses becomes clear.

For further study, I encourage you to read the following articles:

(This will take you to the whole Hebrews series. This is a must read.)

I have far too many articles on conditional eternal security to put here, so I encourage you to go that category on The Arminian Files website. You may start here: