I received the following question:

In light of passages like Heb 6:1-8, Jas 2:14-16, 1 Jn 5:18, as well as numerable others like Matthew’s parables, can someone be truly saved if their is never any fruit or transformation in their life? I am not asking about eternal security, but if someone has been saved by grace through faith will their life then naturally show signs of change? Similarly if someone “gets saved” in 2008 then their whole life changes, but in say 2010 they mentally reject what they once believed and go back to their pre-conversion life was this person ever saved to begin with? Is it possible not is it likely.

Thanks for your question.  This is indeed a difficult issue.  One passage that I like to use in dealing with it is Romans 6.  There, the Lord asks through Paul, “What shall we say then?  Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?”  This seems to have been the attitude of some believers…that it’s okay if I sin because that gives grace more of a chance to work toward me.  Yet the answer is given, “Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?”  Sin no longer has power over us, therefore we should not choose to live any longer in it. That we can choose this appears to be implied by this passage. Yet your question seems to be, “What if I abandon the struggle and simply embrace sin?  Does this mean I was not truly saved?”

In II Timothy 4:10, the Lord speaks of one like this.  The man Demas had been one of Paul’s close group of helpers, as we read in Colossians 4:14, “Luke the beloved physician and Demas greet you.”  We also read of him in Philemon 24, “Epaphras, my follow prisoner in Christ Jesus, greets you, as do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas…”  Yet in II Timothy 4 we read, “for Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world, and has departed for Thessalonica.”  This man chose the world over the ways of God, and thus abandoned God’s leader, Paul.  Yet he had been one of Paul’s close followers, and little doubt can be expressed regarding his salvation.

In the same book, we read another sad fact.  In 1:15 we read, “This you know, that all those in Asia have turned away from me.”  Can we believe that no one in Asia, the region where Ephesus was and where the believers had earlier expressed such love for Paul (see Acts 20:38, where they wept at the news that they would not see Paul again,) can we believe that no one here was truly saved?  Of course not!  Yet they had turned their backs on Paul, and, since he was God’s chosen leader, they had turned their backs on the Lord as well!  No, people can be believers and yet choose to walk after the world.

Now for the passages you mentioned.  In Hebrew 6:4-6, we read, “For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame.” Some would suggest that this passage speaks of what they call “the unpardonable sin.”  Others suggest that it is a justification for excommunication.  Yet what is this passage talking about?  What is this “heavenly gift”?  Does this mean that they were saved?  No, as we read on we learn what is meant.  These people were partakers of holy spirit. In Greek, this reads pneuma hagion or “spirit holy.”  There is no article “the” before “holy spirit,” and thus this is not talking about the person of the Holy Spirit but rather about His power.  These people have tasted of holy power.  How have they done this?  They have tasted the good (or right or appropriate) word of God and the powers of the age to come.  The good word of God is the word that is appropriate to the situation and the people who are receiving it.  When we teach the Scriptures to anyone, we try to choose passages that will reach them and present them in a way that will be appropriate for them.  For example, I would teach a passage far differently to a kid in my Sunday school class than I would to a student in the Bible class I teach in prison.  What would be appropriate for one might not be appropriate for or reach the other.  Yet when I do this, I use my own judgment.  What Paul and the Lord are speaking of here, however, is the word of God as it was given through direct inspiration by the apostles who taught during the Acts period.  God gave them the words to speak, and thus they were always the appropriate words for the audience.  This was the heavenly gift that these people tasted…not just any word of God, but the word that was tailored just for them.  Secondly, they tasted of the powers of the age to come.  What is the age to come?  In Greek this is aion, similar to the English “eon.”  An “eon” is a flow.  We live currently in an evil flow of things.  The flow to come, however, is a flow from God, when He will flow out to the world in mighty power.  And the believers in the Acts period had tasted of or experienced this power.  When they believed, they did so after seeing signs and wonders performed by God’s apostles.  This was the most positive sign to them that the words they heard were correct, and were the very message of God to them.

What God is dealing with in this passage is people who heard the inspired Word of God especially tailored to them and their situation, and who saw powerful miracles proving that what they heard was true. These people were left without a shadow of a doubt that what they were hearing and seeing was the work of God.  Now, what would happen to these people if they should reject that word of God to them?  Could the word be preached to them later, so that they could change their minds and believe?  Paul answers this question for us with a resounding “No!” These people have had every opportunity God could give them to believe.  If they still refused to, then there is simply no way they can be reached.  God completely gives up on them at this point, and any further attempts to lead them to Christ will be useless.

This passage has no possible application to anyone today.  No one hears the word of God especially inspired for them and their situation. Moreover, no one sees an accompanying miracle or miracles to prove that what he hears is true.  We cannot say that people today who reject the gospel have had every opportunity to know that what they hear is true. Thus, we cannot apply this passage to the situation of anyone today. There is no one that God has given up on today as He did those who rejected the inspired apostles and their powerful gifts in the Acts period.  Anyone can come to God at any time no matter how many times he has heard and rejected the gospel before.  There is nothing that we can do that can put us beyond the reach of God’s grace if we will only open our hearts and believe in Him.

So, in conclusion, this passage is not talking in any way about believers who fall away.

James 2:14-16 says, “What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works?  Can faith save him?  If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?”  This is a passage I covered recently in my message on “Faith, Works, Salvation, Grace.”  I believe that, as Romans 10:17 says, “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”  Faith is when we hear God’s words and believe them.  Yet often a response is required before we can truly say we believe a passage.  As Otis Q. Sellers says, “Faith is taking God at His Word and acting accordingly.”  When it comes to salvation, no work is necessary to believe the truth in God’s record of His Son.  All we have to do is believe it.  Yet other passages require more of us to believe. For example, “Be ye angry and sin not.”  In order to express faith in this passage, more is required of us than just saying, “I believe that.”  When we get angry, we must not sin.  If we continue to sin when we are angry, we cannot say that we are truly having faith in that passage.  As far as that passage is concerned, our faith is dead, for we have not truly believed what it says to the point where it has changed our lives.  Thus our faith is dead, as James says.  But James is not talking about saving faith, but faith in the commands of God. Faith in such passages requires a response.  Yet salvation requires nothing but an open and believing heart.

There were Pharisees and other Jews who would actually do what James is talking about here.  Since they were rich and well-able to help the poor, sometimes people would look to them to aid those in need.  Yet their response would be to do what is suggested here: to pray for the poor and wish them God’s help, and yet not lift a finger to help them! This is what James is condemning here.  This has nothing to do with salvation, and nothing to do with falling away from it.

I John 5:18 reads, “We know that whoever is born of God does not sin; but he who has been born of God keeps himself, and the wicked one does not touch him.”  The important factor here is the word “born.”  In Greek this is the word gennao from which we get our English word “generate.”  This is what the word basically means.  To be born of God means to be generated by Him.  When something in us is generated by God, something new that was not there before, then we have been “born of God.”

Now we need to understand that being “born of God” is not the same thing as being “saved.”  I can have things generated in me and not be saved.  For example, Caiaphas the high priest spoke by the inspiration of God in John 11:49-50, even though he was certainly unsaved and rejecting Christ.  Thus this word of God was generated in him even though he was not saved.  In the same way, after we are saved, certain things can be generated in us.  These things have nothing to do with salvation, yet they are things given to us directly from God, and thus are generated by God.

What John is talking about here are the official actions of those who are God’s apostles or otherwise the leaders or representatives of God. These men were given tasks, were given words, were given orders directly from God.  These things were born or generated in them by God. Thus, while they were carrying out the actions that God had generated in them, it was impossible for them to sin.  For example, if the action generated in them by God was to judge someone worthy of being struck down dead, as Ananias and Sapphira were in Acts 5, then while carrying out that action it was impossible for Peter to sin.  As he was committing an act of miraculous punishment generated in him by God, he could not be influenced by the wicked one.  He could not be led astray by his own sin.  What he was doing was generated in him by God, and as such it was impossible for him to sin at that time.

Now that does not mean it was impossible for him to sin period.  For example, Peter sinned in Galatians 2:11-14 by withdrawing himself from some Gentiles that he was fellowshipping with before.  Yet this was not an official act or him acting on something God had commanded him or generated in him to do.  This was something he did on his own because of personal pressure he faced, and thus was not the right thing to do, and was in fact a sin, and Peter was “to be blamed.”  (Galatians 2:11) So this never meant that a believer cannot sin, only that one acting by the power of God cannot sin while thus acting on what God has generated in him.

So in conclusion, I do believe that believers can fall away or even claim to no longer believe in God.  I don’t know how likely this is…I suppose it is quite likely, and there are people who do it all the time.  And it is also very possible.  In this dispensation of grace, every man does what is right in his own eyes, as they did in the time of the judges.  Yet what is right in our eyes is as changeable as our moods and whims.  Some come sincerely to our Lord, and then later turn from Him by the influence of their own sin and pride.  This not only can happen, but, alas, happens commonly.  We who would seek to serve God in truth must seek to always live our lives as would be pleasing to our Savior.  There is nothing forcing us to do so, but it is a choice we must continue to make.  We didn’t just believe in Christ, we must continue to be those who ARE BELIEVING.