Sin, Salvation, And Rewards

Q. My question is related to eternal security. In one of your responses, I read that when we are saved, it’s for eternity and there is no way we can be “unsaved”. However, several passages in the Bible warn against falling off or having to “work out our salvation” (Philippians 2:12), or “save ourselves through continuing in the doctrine” (1 Timothy 4:16), or loosing the reward (2 John 1:8), even the book of Revelations mentions “taking away the part from the book of life” (Revelations 22:19).

These passages and many others show that one may loose his reward if he falls off. As a saved person, I will still sin because of my human nature. However in 1 John 3:9, the apostle says that whoever is born of God does not sin and cannot sin. This is a bit confusing too. Suppose after I am saved, I sin and die before confessing my sins committed before I die, what will happen? Will I loose my reward?

A. You’ve asked a very complex question, but let me try to summarize it in my answer.

First of all, remember this principle. Salvation is a free gift, while rewards are something you earn. So if a passage is exhorting us to work, it can’t be speaking about salvation because there’s no work we can do to earn it or keep it. It’s unfortunate that the translators used the word “work” in Philippians 2:12 because the idea is more one of making a deal or coming to a resolution, like working out a problem with someone. The very next verse shows who is really working. “It is God who works in you to will and act according to His good purpose.” Earlier in the same letter Paul had written that “He who began a good work in us will carry it on to completion.” (Phil 1:6). Besides, the clearest passages on salvation all tell us we’re saved because of what we believe, not because of how we behave (John 3:16, John 6:28-29, John 6:40, Romans 10:9, Ephesians 2:8-9, Titus 3:4-7)

In 1 Timothy 4:16 Paul was admonishing Timothy the Pastor to make sure he always taught sound doctrine because his followers depended on Him for the truth that would lead them to salvation, too.

The best argument for making sure you fully understand context of a passage is the is the one you cite using 1 John 3:9. If anyone born of God cannot sin, then who among us is saved? We all continue to sin. Armed with the clear promise of guaranteed salvation from Ephes. 1:13-14 and 2 Cor. 1:21-22, and knowing that God’s word cannot contradict itself, we have to conclude that John was dealing with a specific sin, not a general condition. And he was. His letter was a warning against the sin of gnosticism. No one who is born again can believe in it. And if he was speaking against all sin in general, he wouldn’t have included our remedy for sin in 1 John 1:9, because people who aren’t sinners don’t need reassurance that confession brings forgiveness.

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