By Jack Kinsella
There was a post in our member’s forums under the heading, “Unrepentant (Christian) Sinners” asking the question I am sure every Christian struggles with throughout their walk with the Lord.
“What about someone who professes to be a Christian and accepts they are a sinner, and admits Jesus died for their sins — yet they continue to live an unrepentant sinful life?”
We all know someone that went to church, accepted Jesus, then fell away and right back into the life they were living before they got saved. They still talk about Jesus and use Christian buzzwords when around other Christians, but that is about the visible extent of their conversion.
They don’t go to church but they still go to bars. They seldom pray but they swear like sailors. They claim to believe, but they don’t seem to obey. Are they really saved?
Taking the perspective of the forum questioner, the transformation of an angry, worldly person over a long, painful period didn’t just happen. It took a lot of willing sacrifice. It isn’t a question of salvation by works — the question is, if there are no works after salvation, then is the salvation itself real, or imagined?
Can someone believe themselves to be saved and heaven-bound without demonstrating any kind of relationship with Christ? Quoting the forum post directly, can a person “just claim knowledge of the saving grace of God, but never put it into practice?”
“I fully understand works don’t save — but works are a product (fruit) of our being saved. I’m just fully confused by this particular dynamic of a so-called Christian who lives a completely non-Christian life.”
I sympathize with the questioner and the question. Living the Christian life isn’t easy, and the transformation process from one extreme to the other is so painful that a lot of Christians prefer not to make the trip.
But is the transformation a requirement of salvation? For that, in the final analysis, is the actual question.
One of the most familiar parables of the New Testament is the one about the prodigal son. First, a little background. Jesus was responding to criticism that He associated with tax collectors and sinners.
“Tax collectors” were those Jews who collected taxes (often brutally) from other Jews on behalf of Caesar and were universally despised as traitors. To a Jew living in Jerusalem at that time, a Roman tax collector was a sinner so egregious as to warrant his own category.
By way of reply, Jesus told the parable of the man with two sons. The younger requested his inheritance early, which he then took and squandered on riotous and sinful living. Ultimately, the younger son found himself competing with pigs (the most foul and unclean destiny an observant Jew could imagine) for husks of corn in a pigsty.
Meanwhile, the elder, more serious son stayed at home and put his love for his father into practice, working the fields, obeying his father’s commands, serving him faithfully.
The contrast here is stark and deliberate. And if it sounds like the questions posed in the member’s forum, I don’t believe the similarity is accidental.
On one hand, we have an unrepentant, lustful, disobedient son squandering his inheritance on sinful living, shaming his father everywhere he goes. He cares about nothing but himself and wastes all that his father gave him.
On the other, we find the obedient, hardworking and honorable son, working at his father’s business, because he loves his father. He isn’t working at his father’s business to earn his inheritance. He already has that by virtue of his sonship. He is working that hard out of love.
So when the disobedient, lustful son shows up and is received as an equal to the obedient son, the obedient son says, “How can this be?”
“And he answering said to his father, Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends: But as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf.” (Luke 15:29-30)
The elder son had a legitimate point — when viewed from the perspective of the elder son. Still, the lesson seems to be that, even as the elder son wasn’t being obedient to earn his inheritance since it was his by sonship, the younger son didn’t lose his sonship because he squandered his inheritance either.
So the answer to at least one of the questions, which is, “Can a person be a son of God without putting their faith into practice?” would appear to be, yes.
One is a son of God or one is not. It is an issue of relationship, not behavior. One does not behave oneself into a family relationship. One need not even be in fellowship to be in a family relationship.
I know of many a father and son who have no fellowship to speak of, but that doesn’t make them unrelated. They are still father and son.
Which brings us to the next, and most obvious question. How does one enter into a family relationship with God?
“And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved? ” And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.” (Acts 16:30-31)
“That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.” (Romans 10:9)
“I said therefore unto you, that ye shall die in your sins: for if ye believe not that I am He, ye shall die in your sins.” (John 8:24)
“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.: (1 John 1:9)
“For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. (Romans 8:15)
“And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.” (Galatians 4:6)
(“Abba” is the Hebrew equivalent to “Daddy” — and that is how the Lord pictures the relationship between the Father and a Christian.)
Then there is this: No matter how one slices or dices or restates it, there is a moment of salvation. For each of us, there was a moment before we were saved, then there was that moment when we were saved, and then came the moments afterwards.
The English Bible translates repent from the Greek word metanoeo, which means, “to change one’s mind” — in this case, about one’s sin. So an “unrepentant Christian” is an oxymoron. If one is a Christian, one has already changed one’s mind about one’s sin.
The moments that come afterwards cannot undo the moment that has already occurred.
There are some other important lessons to be gleaned from the story of the prodigal son that apply here. First, note the status of the prodigal son. He is welcomed with a party and the father has killed the fatted calf.
He is still his father’s son.
But as the father tells the obedient son, “Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine.” The obedient son’s reward is that his full inheritance is intact. The prodigal son gets nothing but a warm greeting and a place to call home.
The obedient son lived a sheltered life, protected by the father and never suffered the indignities, pain, hunger, shame and guilt that racked the prodigal’s life. The obedient son will always be in charge. The prodigal is grateful to have a bed.
We get another picture of the difference between the obedient son and the prodigal son in Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians describing the Bema Seat.
“Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward.” (1 Corinthians 3:13-14)
This is the obedient son standing before the Judgement Seat of Christ.
He is the one that is confused by the Christian who seems to live a completely non-Christian life. When he stands before the Bema Seat, he will receive the rewards due him for his struggles and for his obedience.
Then comes the prodigal son.
Notice that he is also standing before the Judgement Seat of Christ. Not because of his obedience, but because of his status as a son. That status was extended to him at the moment of salvation.
At the moment of salvation, he changed his mind about his sin and accepted the Pardon extended to him. He asked to be washed clean of his sins and to be forgiven and adopted into the forever family of God and he was saved.
Now he stands before the Bema Seat of Christ to be judged for his rewards, or “inheritance.” Like the prodigal son, he has status as a son, but he squandered his inheritance on riotous living. He didn’t work alongside his brother out of love for their father. But he is still family.
“If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.” (1 Corinthians 3:15)
Those Christians that are like the prodigal son aren’t “getting by.” We have no idea what Heaven will be like. We only know what we’re told. Like the fact that some Christians will be made rulers over ten cities, others only five, and still others will have what little they have taken from them.
“Once saved always saved” does NOT mean one has a license to sin. Your sin WILL find you out. If it is a habitual sin, it will kill your body. It will kill your witness. It will kill your effectiveness for Christ.
Sin has consequences in this life. It also has consequences in the next.
There will be kings and princes among us. That means there will also be subjects and servants. There will be mansions, some greater than others, which suggests that there will also be shacks.
If one looks at the Bema Seat in terms we can understand, the reward for the one that is saved as by fire is that he is allowed to live.
That is what “being saved” means. You are saved from the second death. You are allowed to live. The rest is determined by your rewards, which is what you earn by obedience.
Maybe as a servant. Maybe as a citizen in one of those cities. Maybe as a city official. Maybe not. Maybe in a mansion. Maybe in an apartment.
Obedient Christians aren’t wasting their time being good when they could be out partying. They are laying up for themselves treasures in heaven, like contributions to a heavenly 401k.
You don’t have to have a 401k to retire, but if you don’t, you will regret it when the time comes, and for the rest of your life afterewards.
You don’t have to be an obedient Christian to make to heaven, either. But you’ll regret it when the time comes.
For an eternity.
This Letter was written by Jack Kinsella on June 27, 2012