“Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you – unless you believed in vain.”
1 Corinthians 15:1-2
The Bible calls the gospel “the power of God for salvation” (Romans 1:16). In other words, the gospel is the power God uses to save us. Without that great gift we would have no hope!
Yet, how does the gospel save us? The Holy Spirit inspired Paul to write to the church at Corinth about the gospel in 1 Corinthians 15:1-2. Notice that he mentions that the gospel saves them, but there is a condition attached: “…if you hold fast to the word I preached to you – unless you believed in vain.” Grammatically, that word “if” both in English and in the original Greek is a conjunction, a primary particle of conditionality. Because of that one word, we see that God is telling the saints at Corinth that the gospel will save them…but only on the condition that they hold fast to God’s Word. If they did not hold fast to God’s Word, their faith would be in vain.
This is important to note because it goes against a very popular notion about salvation held by many in religious circles: that one can never sin so as to be eternally lost once they have obtained salvation by God’s grace. I understand why this idea is held by many. During my college days, the end of each semester would always be a hard time for me because that’s when all the papers and projects were due and the final exams were given. Once I turned in that final paper and gave my last completed exam to the professor, a tremendous feeling of satisfaction would always come over me, a felling that said, “Now I don’t have to do anything else. I have no more responsibilities. I can relax, take it easy and do nothing.” It’s tempting to have that same mindset when it comes to Christianity. If I was told after my conversion that salvation was mind and would always be mine no matter what, that would make it quite easy for me, wouldn’t it? If salvation would always be mine regardless, why inconvenience myself by trying to do what is right and repent whenever I do wrong?
Is this notion of “once saved, always saved, no matter what” what the Bible actually teaches? We’ve already seen that it contradicts God’s plain teaching in 1 Corinthians 15. Let’s examine some other passages.
“But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin…If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:7, 9). Contextually, John wrote this to Christians, those who have had eternal life made manifest to them (1:2) and have fellowship with the Father and the Son (1:3); in other words, he wrote this to the saved. Yet when God inspired him to use that word “if” again, that primary particle of conditionality, John made the promise of fellowship, cleansing, and forgiveness conditioned on whether the saved walk in the light and confess their sins.
The Spirit also inspired Peter to urge his Christian readers to obtain and grow in certain Christian qualities (2 Peter 1:5-9). Yet God then said, “…for if you practice these qualities you will never fall” (1:10), thus telling Christians that they have to have these Christian attributes in their lives to be sure God has called and elected them. Otherwise, the salvation they initially obtained at their conversion would be lost because they would have fallen away.
Consider also the numerous warnings given to Christians in Scripture (Galatians 5:4; 1 Corinthians 3:17; 10:12; Hebrews 6:4-6; 10:26-31). None of them would apply if the Christian’s salvation would always be theirs even if they decided to stop obeying God. The repeated urging by God for Christians to repent when they sin would also make no sense (Acts 8:22; 2 Corinthians 7:9-11; etc.)
God offers salvation to us all, but we must remain faithfully obedient in order to keep it.