*All Scripture citations are taken from the New American Standard Bible.
Over the span of nearly four decades at this juncture, I’ve had the privilege of ministering in hundreds of church venues throughout the country, including a few out of the country. As I reflect upon this span, I am prodded to confess that the word “privilege” is ill-fitted in describing many of these ministry opportunities. To clarify, it was a privilege to be used by the Holy Spirit to serve as a conduit of His voice on each occasion, however it was equally excruciating to witness what was unfolding within many of these venues—by way of toxic religiosity. My confession herein duly underscores my inability to fathom God’s capacity for mercy in awaiting the maturation of His Western Church especially.
Despite having seen-what-I’ve-seen, far and wide, and for so many years, I yet commit to looking for the “scarlet thread of redemption” within every ministry and/or church congregation I encounter. Within this posture, I often envision God as a professional athletic scout, covertly watching a game, while musing to Himself: “Come on folks, give me something I can work with!” (followed by another bite of a [Kosher] hotdog, while sitting in the hard, paint-flaked, wooden bleachers).
Recently, and upon recommendation, I visited a large congregation not too far from my home in Texas. As I drove to the venue; and as is common for me; I saw a picture (through spiritual eyes) of the heartbeat of the congregation; an experience which has been very consistent for me, since the early 1990s. And while actively searching for the scarlet thread of redemption within what unfolded in this large congregation on this morning, I first observed a series of songs sung, whereby the musicians, again, simply sang songs—to a large congregation who occasionally tapped one foot or patted one hip with one hand, and while also occasionally bobbing their heads up and down in rhythm—while also looking about the auditorium in boredom. The concept of authentic worship was a foreign affair. I yet chose not to be discouraged by what I had witnessed of the 20-minute song-singing, and, with a smile, looked forward to a redemptive element within what was then to be a “sermon.” Within perhaps five minutes of the unfolding message, I found myself mentally lowering my head into my hands, and then shaking my head side-to-side within my hands, in a posture of grief, resignation and sadness.
The “pastor” went on to engage an elementary theological diatribe which I had first heard nearly 40 years ago, and which even then struck me as an elementary theological diatribe—which happens to be wrought with toxic theological error. The “pastor” was preaching the “once-saved-always-saved” message, which happens to plague one particular mainstream denomination, and which has plagued such for more than a century. While inwardly begging the man to wrap-up his diatribe, and while inwardly apologizing to my two cats and one dog for robbing them of what could have been play-time at home, I was abruptly shaken from my saddened stupor by this “pastor’s” closing words, as follows:
“…and as you hold-fast to this truth, it will ensure your path on the highway to hell.”
Moments later, and as many in the audience audibly gasped, the “pastor’s” eyes then widened with embarrassment, as he realized the error of his final word (while of course wholly failing to realize the error of his doctrine), and quickly exclaimed, “I mean heaven, I meant to say heaven!”. A good one hundred of the several hundred in attendance then laughed-off the mistake, albeit nervously.
No, the speaker did not purposefully make an ill-attempt at humor. He fully embraced his pet-doctrine, and did not realize that God Himself was attempting to speak through Him—albeit through but one word, the final word, in his message (i.e. “hell”).
As I exited the building I was accosted by an usher, who first asked me to complete a “visitor’s card,” that I might in turn be fleeced via emails and phone calls, and second, with a wide grin asked, “How’d ya like the service!?”. Of course, there’s only one acceptable way to answer such a question. With a forced smile I simply said, “Oh, it was great,” as I strained my eyes over his shoulder and through the glass doors in the lobby, to locate my Jeep as quickly as possible—even before exiting the building.
One again, and as has been more common in my experience over the past decade especially, I drove home in a state of deep sadness over the confused, deceived and spiritually bankrupt state of formalized Christianity here in the West. During the drive home, I considered penning an article, the very article you are now reading. I refrained from such at the time, as I knew that it would be best to allow my emotions to settle before placing pen to paper—fingers to keyboard.
Though I am poised to allude to several excerpts of Scripture in the moments ahead, please rather consider the remainder of this article as representative, in your mind’s eye, as that of a “fireside chat,” wherein, in a casual conversational posture I share with you something deeply personal, which may in turn prod you to open your heart for a moment—just long enough to allow you to receive some timely and even timeless truth which will in turn forever answer the primary theological question herein. Think about it, you may very well need what I’m about to share, in the days ahead.
Now then, back to this notion of the “Once Saved, Always Saved” doctrine…
To settle this theological score, we’re going to have to digest several excerpts of Scripture which have been artfully swept under the carpet for a very long time—the same carpet upon which most pulpits sit, in this country. Before referencing each of them, I wish to remind the reader that I’ll make-good on my earlier promise to share a deeply personal chapter of my life, for the purposes of prodding your heart, that you may in turn more deeply meditate upon this article.
Revelation 3:5 reads:
“He who overcomes will thus be clothed in white garments; and I will not erase his name from the book of life, and I will confess him before My Father and before His angels.”
What is clearly stated in this verse, is that “overcoming” (an ongoing, lifelong act), is what is required to be “clothed in white garments.” Further, it is quite clear that one’s name can in fact be “erased” from the Lamb’s “book of life.
Am I saying that once a Believer’s name is written in the Lamb’s Book of Life when they confess Him as Lord, their name can be thereafter removed? No, that’s not what I’m saying—it is what Scripture is saying! You may wish to read Revelation 3:5 again.
Mark 13:13 reads:
“You will be hated by all because of My name, but the one who endures to the end, he will be saved.”
If you are not, with increased frequency, being “hated by all” presently, you will be, soon enough, for the Spirit of Antichrist has wholly enveloped this once-great nation. Such the spirit was granted fully liberty to saturate the nation between 2008 and 2016, as a form of God’s judgment. This saturation remains. Beyond this sobering reality however, lay the very clear warning that we must “endure to the end,” to be saved. Am I saying that unless you endure to the end, you will not be saved? No, Scripture is saying such! You may wish to re-read this verse.
1 Timothy 4:16 reads:
“Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation for yourself and for those who hear you.”
This is most pointedly an admonition to those who choose to teach, which includes a great many of us. Pay special attention to the word “persevere” – this recurring theme within what I am now sharing with you. As we “persevere” in “paying close attention to ourselves,” we “ensure salvation.” Am I saying that it is only perseverance which will ensure your salvation? No, Scripture is saying such! You may wish to re-read this verse.
It was maybe twenty-five years ago, that during one speaking/ministry session, the Holy Spirit spoke to me of the numerological correlation between John 3:16 and Revelation 3:16. The correlation and seeming coincidence is this: we crawl through the window of our salvation through John 3:16, and, thereafter, if we do not “pay close attention to ourselves” (i.e., by keeping the flame of our love for Jesus ever-present in our hearts), we will then be booted-out the backdoor of Revelation 3:16, which reads:
“So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth.”
Does being “spit out” of God’s mouth sound like a grand reception at the pearly gates? I think not.
What happens when we adopt this “once saved, always saved” doctrine and mentality? It can be deduced to but one word—the most critical word within the verse above—the state of being “lukewarm.” This condition happens to readily adorn everyone I’ve met to date, who has embraced this toxic doctrine. For in and through such, one is reduced to a posture of compromise in many critical areas of their lives, largely through ensuing spiritual apathy and lethargy, all the while believing that such compromise has no bearing on the placement of their name within the Lamb’s Book of Life.
Thus far, we have arrived at the theme(s) of overcoming, enduring and persevering – for the ultimate preservation of the free gift of eternal life (Rom. 6:23). Let us yet look at another verse of Scripture, which in turn underscores these three postures. This verse happens to be in the last chapter, of the last book of the Bible—where the figurative “buck stops” (i.e., “the buck stops here”). And, here we go; Revelation 22:14 reads:
“Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter by the gates into the city.”
Notice what this verse does not say. It does not say “blessed are those who have washed’” (a past-tense/one-time transaction) their robes. Rather, it says quite simply, “wash.” What we are talking about herein, is an ongoing act—the daily act of washing one’s robe. How do we go about “washing our robes” on a daily basis? We do so by seeking Jesus’ cleansing and forgiveness, daily, in an ongoing posture of overcoming, enduring and persevering—to the very end. Additionally, we fan the flame of personal intimacy with Him—intimacy in the secret place—where others have not the opportunity to witness our attempts at grandstanding, positioning, posturing, and marketing our hyper-spiritual façades.
With the latter in view, there’s an old saying which goes: “You can fool some of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.” Presently, in the 21st century, at our current level of confusion, deceit and delusion, I do believe this saying is due revision, at which point it should more appropriately read at this juncture: “You can fool most of the people most of the time, but you can’t fool a small percentage of the people, at times.” This “small percentage” of people who cannot be fooled happen to be mature Believers who have chosen to “earnestly pursue the spiritual gifts” (1 Cor. 14:1), to include the Gift of Discernment—thee most critical gift within the Revelatory Gifts available to us, presently. By the way, discernment and/or discerning of spirits, operates far deeper than sensory perception, intuition, a hunch, or “a gut-feeling.”
On a critical aside, and having alluded to the Gift of Discernment; I’ll share that between 1990 and 1993, one of the most pointed aspects of my fasts and extended prayer-times during this 3-year span, was that of asking the Lord quite literally, that the formula, essence and dynamics within John 5:19 and John 5:30 make their way into my eyes and ears. Jesus, in John 5:19, says that He only “does what He sees the Father doing.” Equally so, and just a few verses later, Jesus says that He only “does what He hears the Father saying.” I was personally challenged to pursue this prayer-model by a truly world-changing apostolic leader, who, before he went to be with the Lord, availed to me a life-changing ministry-opportunity, involving ministering with him on a powerfully-anointed platform, wherein in the course of but a few hours I witnessed some of the greatest creative miracles to date. My point: at roughly the 3-year mark in contending for such, I began to sharply “see” and “hear” what “the Father is doing” – within the core of church congregations especially – to include that of simply driving-by a church building, and simply knowing what is going on deep within the bowels of the congregation. Equally so, I began to see and hear what the Father is doing deep within the hearts of people at large. A mysterious switch was simply flipped into the “ON” position. This switch remains “ON.” And, it is a mixed blessing—especially when I fail to walk in Jesus’ compassion.
I have alluded to the above personal experience, to in turn say that if you ask the Holy Spirit to render to you clear discernment in weighing the heart of this article, you will find it to be nothing more than a loving reminder that the Lover of your soul is calling you to keep your lamp of love for Him burning at all hours of the figurative night—by intimating with Him in every area of your life.
Consider this excerpt from 2 Peter 1:19, as pertains to the same “lamp”:
“So, we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts.”
Discernment (a manifestation of Wisdom Himself) will tell you, if you remove and still yourself long enough from traffic and audio-visual system-overload, that our once-great-nation, now more aptly referred to as the following acronym: “DSPSA” (Disjointed Socialist Police State of America) – has gone mad, and is rapidly spiraling-into an abyss of spiritual harlotry—with the Western Church largely leading the way. And as discernment confirms such, you the reader do quite well to once again keep a strong clutch on your personal “lamp,” which will, among other things, ensure that “every wind of doctrine” has no affect upon the anchor of your soul—that anchor being Christ Jesus—Yeshua.
I mentioned a bit ago, that I’d share a deeply personal story, which may in turn prod the reader’s heart, and in turn enable the seeds of truth within this article to find fertile soul within the same. Deeply personal stories, and brutal honesty therein, have a way of making the figurative pasta stick upon the figurative kitchen walls of one’s heart—especially as they’re accompanied by sobering and probing Scriptural truths.
And so, fasten your spiritual and emotional seat belt, and give a listen to this one.
In the mid 1980’s, and having been separated from my first wife for quite some time, I began to date another Christian woman. Yes, I know, the act of dating another Christian, while yet married to another, is adulterous. To go beyond being merely adulterous however; I actually engaged in adultery with this woman. A few months into such the affair, I found myself so miserable within my soul and spirit that I asked the Holy Spirit to release me. I asked the Lord to let me go, exclaiming to Him that I no longer wanted Him in my life, and that I was quite content to experience the fleeting joys within this equally fleeting life (a “vapor” of a life – so says King Solomon), to then simply deal with eternal damnation when the time comes (which, at the time, I could not conceive of being any different than being a tax-slave to the IRS [*Note: IRS tax-enslavement still remains a “strong second”] ).
On the evening that I spoke this to Lord, I drifted into an unusually deep sleep—deep in the night. And it was deep in the night, in the Summer of 1985, that I met with the mystery within Job 33:14-16, wherein Scripture tells us that when God cannot gain our full attention, He will often choose to wait until we are “in a deep slumber, in the night, and seal our instruction in a dream, a warning, to keep our soul from falling into the pit.” And so it was, that at roughly 3:00AM, or thereabouts, I experienced the most terrifying darkness. This darkness was filled with such emptiness that it cannot be put to words. I am simply incapable of describing such. When I awakened, it was late-morning, on a Sunday, as I recall. I also vaguely recall my roommate at the time, an exchange student, from Zimbabwe, and with his beautiful accent, lightly tapping on my bedroom door, while softly inquiring,” David, are you OK?” He was aware that I was an early-riser and knew that something was awry. I vaguely recall greeting him at my bedroom door, and seeing his eyes widen as big as billiard balls, as he witnessed my troll-like hair standing straight up (every morning is like this, for me). But on this morning he could also see in my eyes an expression of fear that he had never before seen. He went on to ask what had happened overnight. I never did share it with him.
I would go on to spend hours in that bedroom, on my face before the Lord, pleading with Him to restore His salvation to me. It was maybe 24 hours later that I would begin to experience His unmistakable presence once again, deep within my heart. It was then, that I would discover the mystery within Lamentations 3:22-23, which reads:
“The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.”
In the event it has yet to become perfectly clear to you, understand that the Lord, in His mercy, enabled me to experience a brief glimpse of “outer darkness” (see Jude 1:13). Such darkness was far more deep than that experienced as an aimless and hapless soul prior to embracing Him as Lord and Savior of my life. It was truly terrifying.
Am I suggesting that my personal experience, albeit terrifying, is the basis upon which you or I should know that one can forfeit their salvation? No, that is not what I am saying. What I am saying, by sharing my personal experience, is that I am fully convinced that God wishes us to personally experience both His kindness and His severity in this lifetime, that the corresponding and ever-confirming truths in Scripture may “come alive” to us, and may also become an integral part of our daily lives. Perhaps then, it is timely to ask that you consider meditating for a moment upon Romans 11:22, which reads:
“Behold then the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you, God’s kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off.”
Does this verse really say that we can be “cut off” if we do not continue in His kindness—the same kindness that He has shown us? I do believe it does. Perhaps we do well to re-read the verse. The verse also challenges us to very soberly consider that God is both kind and severe.
My overarching point at this juncture? The voice of discernment should be telling you that we can in fact lose our salvation in this lifetime, if we are not careful to guard this precious and free gift—by shielding our hearts from every potential inroad of defilement—including that of toxic theology and doctrine. King Solomon was surly onto something, when he warned in Proverbs 4:23:
“Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life.”
I have long likened our hearts to that of a figurative garden, wherein we daily walk, as we pay careful attention to the condition of the soil, the condition of the leaves, being careful to keep the soil free of weeds, and the leaves free of damaging insects. A timely verse which underscores this analogy is that of 2 Peter 1:10-11, which reads:
“Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing [election of] you; for as long as you practice these things you will never stumble; for in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you.”
And so, we’ve looked closely at the words: overcoming, enduring, persevering, and now diligence. It is critical to clarify that these terms to do not suggest a work—as in “faith versus works” (e.g., Rom. 3:28). Much rather, these terms define a collective heart-posture—a heart-posture of the Believer who is earnestly contending to walk in the fullness of that to which they are called in this lifetime. This brand of Believer, as the result of the repeated resolve to “…forget what lies behind…and press on…toward the upward call…” (Phil. 3:13-14), is one who will never find occasion to question their salvation.
This life, as a Believer, is a perpetual battleground—warfare. There can be no if’s, and’s or but’s about this fact. Simply spend 5 minutes in any portion of Scripture (or any portion of the Interstate system in our country, for that matter) and you will readily recognize this reality—we are at war. Within the perpetual combat surrounding us, is the growing tsunami-like presence of deception, having reached levels that the early apostles could only perceive in visions, as they penned what was to come in the Last Days—days which are now upon us. The combat soldier must, at intervals, at this juncture, retreat from the battlefield, and spend moments in the figurative garden I spoke of earlier—the garden of the heart, wherein we then take close account of our condition. As we are diligent to do so, we will, through overcoming, enduring and persevering, not only live a victorious life, but we will soon enough ultimately meet and be embraced by the Lamb of God.